Episode II: The Facade of Amidala (Part V)

Star Wars, Episode II: The Facade of Amidala (part five)

by Mr. P

DISCLAIMER: The characters in this fan fiction, notably Amidala, Anakin, Obi-Wan, etc. are not owned by me, but are owned by George lucas and Lucasfilm, Ltd. I'm just playing with them; I hope I won't break them! Don't sue me, I don't have enough money right now anyway. :)

NOTE: Please read/review away! If you want more but can't wait, you can follow this story at the thread at the Jedi Council. As said, I loooove reviews and they really help me keep going.

ANOTHER NOTE: Somewhere down the line, towards the bottom, Word stopped with the bold/italics, I don't know why. Oh, well. It's better than nothing, no? So thoughts/emphasis won't necessarily be bolded/italics. Just letting you know.

--Mr. P Links to the other parts:







"And how exactly did this happen?" Urilie' Panaka asked Queen Amidala. They were walking through the Republic Central Intelligence Building, where there was a commotion that would drown out any normal conversation. Panaka and the Queen were screaming at the top of their lungs to get over the incredible din. The building spanned kilometres; a labyrinth of cubicles, communication centres, and offices. It only had ten floors, but employed tens of thousands. Hoards of people moved from one section of the building from another, moving information, papers, reports and the such.

The reason that there were thousands of people who worked here was that they had to cover every square metre of the galaxy, every aspect of it, in order for the bureaucracy to work at peak efficiency, which wasn't that much. Each part of the room was made up of sections, divided into sector, and then by system. Large portions of the room, also, were for general categories, such as the Jedi and their missions, and taxation.

"Well," said the Queen in an unnervingly calm manner, "I was at the casino with the handmaidens on a night out, and a fight broke out. Someone accused Eirtae' of cheating at a sabacc game she was in. She was killed in the crossfire, and we all would have too if some other people didn't intervene on our part." They had been frequenting the Naboo section, mainly because it particularly interested them. Alderaan's was right next to theirs, so they would repeatedly run into Bail, Owen and other Alderaanians.

"So there was nothing anyone could have done?"

"Nobody except Eirtae'. We don't know whether the accusation was true or not; she never had a chance to tell. She-"

"Your Highness!" called a young man, perhaps thirty years old, came up, running, behind them.

Both the Queen and her accompanier turned suddenly from walking down the corridor. "Don't call me that!" exclaimed Amidala. "My power comes from the people. Seeing as they have basically disowned me from the planet, it is now baseless. It is a title that I don't deserve." After the death of her friends Sabe' and Eirtae', she had decided to drop the title of Queen. If anyone wanted to serve her, they could. But no one was required to.

"Whatever you want, my Qu- sorry... what would you like me to address you as?"

"Amidala, or Padme'," replied Padme'.

"Very well, Amidala. We have a communication from Naboo," he said excitedly.

They walked towards the Naboo communications center. "You are from Naboo, I suppose?" asked Amidala.

"Yes. I'm from Rabeed; majored in communications. It saddens me immensely that such sad things have befallen you and our people of late."

"Thank you; it won't do much help. So," she said as they entered the crowded, noisy and extremely busy Naboo Communications Center. People were arguing, forwarding and reading messages all over the place, and others were watching intently their boring screens, waiting for messages, while even more were sending message after message. Continuing: "who is this message from? I assume that this is against whatever Mandalorian policies have been thrust upon them, seeing as they want to make sure there is no communication with the Republic. I assume."

"Well, we almost missed it. It's a couple days old; I only saw it when I did a search for messages from Naboo since you left there. The reason we missed over it is because it is a text message."

"A text message?" asked Panaka curiously.

"Yes. Years and years ago, people actually didn't communicate with voice mail, but with text messages. At one point, they coexisted, but voice messages won out, and that's what we have today."

"And the computers can still intercept text?" asked Padme'.

"Of course. Nobody ever sends text, though. Apparently, our friend had to send one."

"Well, let's see it!" said Panaka. "If it's from Naboo, it's probably important."

"Yes, sir." He brought it up, and printed out a copy for both Panaka and Amidala. Handing it to them, he continued: "I'll read it for you. It says:

Amidala, I would like to say hello. We are not doing so well here. The Mandalorian Invaders are not too kind to us. They have destroyed your palace in Theed-"

"What?!" exclaimed Amidala with a choked sob. "I don't believe it! They wouldn't dare! Destroy an entire city..."

"Your Highness-"

"Don't call me that!!"

"Of course, Padme'. As I was saying, let's hear the rest of this message."

"Go on," said Padme'.

"Yes, Amidala. It continues:

... and they also have imposed strict laws and regulations on every aspect of our lives. It is hard. We have had to endure much.

Either way, we have been able to construct a communications device, hidden in one of our sacred temples, that we believe the invaders do not know of. We can only send you a primitive text message, for now. We do not want to risk getting caught by the Invaders. This is much faster to send than to contact you directly, and at this point to waste time sending a bulky message would make the chances of getting caught much greater. If we do, my life will be forfeit. We can only hope that the Intelligence Agents on Coruscant will be able to detect that it is there. If you could, contact me at the frequency 5-10-A34-43.2.

If you wish, we can speak whenever you wish about plans. We could coordinate plans for a revolt to coincide with any liberation that the Republic plans. I would also be interested in the state of the Republic, on Coruscant, and when such a mission would take place, when we would be rid of such tyranny that is taking place here.

--Boss Nass

That's it," said the technician.

"Well?" Panaka asked Amidala. "What do you propose we do? I suggest that we consult with the Supreme Chancellor."

What to do? Padme' asked herself. There's only one possible choice. "I will do nothing of the sort. I know more than enough to converse with Boss Nass himself. We will contact him immediately, of course. Haste is the thing we need; in a war, the more time you have to plan, the more the chance of surviving you have."

"Very well then," said the tech. He keyed in the communication frequency, and opened the communication. "Here you go," he said. "I'll be recording it, so we can refer to it later." He moved off to the side with Panaka, so they would not be seen in the communication.

A small, blue hologram appeared from the communications projector. "Yousa Highness," said Nass. "Mesa been'a waitin' for yousa. Tsk-tsk-tsk." Amidala could see a few bodyguards in the background. He was dressed in his normal ceremonial garb, with the green, flowing robes and the extremely long ears. He was still quite fat.

"For how long?" asked Padme'. "And don't call me 'Your Highness'. Call me Amidala."

"Yousa betcha, Amidol. Tsk-tsk-tsk. Wesa been waitin' foren tree dais. Do yousa haven de answersan tosa mesa questions?"

"Yes, Nass. There will not be a liberation plan for Naboo for quite some time." A stifled groan could be heard from the hologram. "There are numerous missions that have to take place before then – Alderaan, and Malastare, for example. Also, on the Republic, Chancellor Palpatine has taken control of the army. Now..."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Boba Fett sat in his commander's chair in the Death's Head Battalion-Class Mandalorian Strike Cruiser. Three other capital starships orbited the planet, monitoring it. There were above twenty garrisons on the surface, and four of them had communications centers which communicated problems, outbreaks and other happenings from the planet to the ships orbiting Naboo. He looked out over the planet, and it's moon, Endor. It was a large green orb, almost two-thirds the size of Naboo, occupying an interesting orbit around the planet that was abnormally elliptical. It's size presented an affect on the orbit of Naboo. In a way, they orbited each other.A forest moon, a sanctuary, it was home to indigenous, primitive species such as the Yuzzum and the Ewoks.

"Sir! There's a communication from the planet!" exclaimed one of the techs.

"Is it from one of our communications centers?" asked Fett.

"No... I don't think so. I'm checking up on that."

"Good. Track it's location."

"Yes, sir," said the tech. After a moment, he called up again: "It's not from one of our comm centers. The location is... 27 degrees north, 34.5 degrees west."

"This must mean that it is not one of ours that is communicating. Patch it up to me, listen-only."

"Yes, sir."

Two small holograms appeared before him. One was the primitive, stupid Gungan leader, Nass, and the other one was Queen Amidala of the Naboo, if he wasn't wrong. "Now, he doesn't have to consult with the Senate in order to utilize the army," said the Queen.

"This sounds like we may have to intervene," the Mandalorian Commander announced. "Send fifteen troops within a hundred metres of the communication. They will raid it when I give the word."

"Done," said one of the techs in the Bridge pit.

The Queen was still talking. "You were speaking about the possibility of coinciding a revolt-" Revolt? Thought Fett. She continued: "-with the liberation of Naboo."

"Yesa," said Nass. "Wesa changen arund ours food-clonin' makaniks, des heyblibbers, to Gungan-clonin' makaniks. Mesa hidin' by clonin' meself. Methinks wesa can, tsk-tsk-tsk, maken a granden army."

"You can clone?" the Queen asked in shock. Quickly picking up her composure, she continued. "I do not know when a liberation mission will take place. Perhaps Chancellor Papatine does-"

"Issa de Supremen Chancellor there? Tsk-tsk-tsk."

"He would be here, but he is quite busy with the war effort and all," the Queen lied.

"Send them in," said Fett.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Well... datsa okeday, for now. Tsk-tsk-tsk," said Nass. His bodyguards stood behind him, ready incase there was a raid. Queen Amidala stood before them in holographic form, at her full height.

Suddenly, they heard a shuffling in the roughage surrounding the Temple clearing. The Gungans looked around. Included in them was Captain Tarpals. "Mesa dunno whats it is, but mesa dunt liken it!" he said. Immediately afterwards, fifteen Mandalorian troops, in full battle gear, surrounded them, stepping out of the brush in unison that would have made any army commander proud.

"Whatsa goingen on?" asked Nass. Oh... no.. whatsen goinga to happen to usen?

"You're under arrest for treason and revolt," said the commanding officer.

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Amidala, catching her breath.

"Wesa... wesa surrenduren," said Nass. It was the only way he could possibly save himself. They were outnumbered, cornered, and at any time, the Mandalorians could just fire from space and kill them all.

* * * * * * * * *

"What's going on?" asked Panaka.

"The Mandalorians – they found our communication. They've raided Boss Nass," said Amidala. "I have no idea what to do."

"You can't do anything," said Panaka. "You're not there, remember?"

"Yeah, I know. All we can do is sit an watch. I just hope this isn't going where it seems like it will."

* * * * * * * *

"What should we do?" Boba Fett asked Boba Tih, the captain of the Death's Head.


"I think," said Tih, "that we should give an example to all the people of the Sith Empire of what will happen to them if they revolt."

"We will lose some troops... but they don't matter. We can always make more. Yes... that makes sense." He opened up his communication with the other three ships, and said, "On my mark, open fire on the planet. Destroy everything. Three, two, one: Mark!"

All the ships orbiting the planet of Naboo opened fire immediately; it was like it was raining fire. Eighty turbolasers, in total, could totally destroy the planet. And they did. The storm of fire reached the surface, and totally obliterated anything it touched. Plumes of fire erupted from the surface where the powerful turbolaser beams touched; rocks ruptured, and broke. Rubble took the place of swamp or plain quickly. Fire reigned supreme.

Soon, there was no life left on the planet. But the starships continued to fire, and fire. They appeared not only to want to destroy all life on the planet, but to destroy all physical features, too. To make it a pile of worthless rubble that could be mined away. It broke the surface, making explosions of rocks soar up into the atmosphere. Over about half an hour, the atmosphere began to seep it's way into the core of the planet, and the watery core began to seep out into space. The water expanded quite quickly into a vapor that no one could see, use or recognized. All Naboo was was a bunch of rocks, now.

Naboo was no more.

********************

It was morning on Coruscant. Sunlight streamed in through the eastern windows in the Jedi Council chambers in the spire of the immense Jedi Temple. Twelve plush, immense red chairs of varying sizes, but all incredibly deep, were seated with twelve even more varying beings. The most powerful Jedi in the Galaxy, the Jedi Council.

Here, they discussed pressing matters such as the Sith, aspects of the Force, specific political and social matters going on at any specific time, and did much, much meditating. Rumor had it that when all twelve members of the Council meditated together, their force-presences almost merged, and they could see far off, all around the Galaxy. But, these days, certain things were preventing that.

All twelve members of the Council were present that day. They were meditating, concentrating on locating the Sith. But they couldn't find them. It was as if there was a great wall that went throughout the Galaxy that prevented them from sensing what was behind it. The Council knew what it was, but had no way of getting behind it. It just wasn't possible without converting to the Dark Side. It was the Mandalorians.

The Mandalorians, with their cloned midi-chlorians, created an incredible disturbance in the force. When they were around each other, it amplified that effect. All the Mandalorian-held worlds had a substantial amount of clones on and around them. This created this incredible disturbance that any Jedi could not really get past. It was like a wall. Also, in the presence of this incredible amount of clones, a Jedi would have a hard time controlling the Force.

This created an impenetrable wall that the Jedi could not get through, and so the Sith were quite able to be rampant behind it. The Jedi had no way to sense what was behind it, but something incredibly great, like, for example, if a great amount of people were killed in a few moments, could be felt, just a little, tiny bit. Like a dampened piano key against it's string, it could be felt, but very faintly.

"Did you feel it?" Mace Windu, one of the two senior members of the Council, asked, breaking the silence that had reigned just a moment ago.

"Yes," said Yoda. "Felt it I did. Behind the Clone Wall, it was."

"I felt it as well," Deppa Billaba said. "If I am not incorrect, it felt many voices cried out, and then were silenced. As if a great many people were killed in only a moment."

"But we may be wrong," pointed out Ki-Adi Mundi. "That wall makes anything we sense behind it suspect to skepticism. It could just be a working of the Sith."

"But isn't that what this all is?" asked Adi Gallia.

"Correct, that is," said Yoda. "Just as the placement of the Cloning Facility on Corula was. Did it on purpose, the Sith did."

"Yes," said Depa. "They placed that there for the specific purpose of having the disturbance it creates there prevent us further from sensing what is happening in the Galaxy."

"This we know," said Mace. "The Sith have some contact in the Senate. It's the only way. They have to be playing both ends against the middle. We can't find him or her, but obviously, this person has quite a lot of influence. I fear it may be the Chancellor."

"It isn't the Chancellor," said Adi. "I have had meetings with him quite recently, about the possibility of the Jedi entering the War. I probed his mind incredibly deep. He has no memories whatsoever of ever of a contact with the Sith, and has no dark tendencies."

"Speaking of that," said Ki-Adi Mundi, "What will we do with this War? Are we to stay here, cooped up in the Temple, and sit it out while millions die and suffer, or take up arms and join?"

"One other war did we involve ourselves in," said Yoda. "Not well it boded for the Jedi. And more Jedi, we were then."

"We lost too many Jedi in the last war we let ourselves act in. We lost over five hundred thousand all those years ago, and almost as many to the Dark Side," said Mace. "While I believe we should help at least a little, there is not much we can do. The news from Skywalker tells us that we cannot use lightsabers against them as an aggressive weapon."

"And those are our primary weapons," said Deppa, eyeing Yoda. "The only other way we could help the attack would be to use the force."

"The Dark Side, that is," said Yoda in a finalistic tone. He stamped his gimer stick against the floor to make his point. "Allow it, we should not."

"Then what should we do?" asked Adi Gallia. She looked around, stopping her glance at Yoda and Mace Windu.

"Time will tell," said Mace.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"My lord," said Tih to Fett, "I must discuss something with you." He looked out the window at the recently destroyed planet of Naboo. It was still there, in the general form of a sphere, but all features that were there originally, were now totally demolished. The four Mandalorian starships were still pounding away at the planet, destroying it, but the sanctuary moon, Endor, they left as a marker, a signifier of what the planet of Naboo was once like. Green, lush and full of life. Naboo wasn't now.

"What about?" the supreme commander of the Mandalorians asked. Well, he wasn't the real supreme commander. Sidious was, but he gave them pretty much free reign of their territory at this point. But that's sure to chance quite soon. With Sidious taking more and more control of the Republic, he will soon want it here, as well.

"I am becoming impatient, Lord Fett. When will we get our revenge on our Masters? The Sith have held us for too long in slave labor, fighting their wars for them."

"We must be patient," said Fett. "We hold the true power, the military. The Republic, now, I am told, is making clones. If we could convince them to join us, we would have more military power than both the Sith and the Republic. The Sith, we can deal with. The true power of all is not this 'force' that the Sith claim to control, and the same with the Jedi, but the military. You can make all the laws and tractates you wish, but no one will follow them if you do not enforce them. And that takes a military."

"But how long will it be?" asked Tih. "It could be forever before we take control." He decided to play on some of Fett's feelings as well. "And, Sidious could get rid of you, and put another clone of you in your place. I have seen it done."

"Then I'll just do what he says, no matter what, until he comes into power. And this about the Republic's clones, it could make the day come much closer, because they would make it possible for us to shove off the yoke of Sith slavery at that very moment that they join us. We could-"

"Sir!" a tech yelled up to him from the crew pit.

"Yes?" Fett asked.

"We have a communication for you. From Lord Sidious."

"Can he give us a moment?" asked Fett. He looked over at Tih, and sighed.

"No, he needs to talk to you immediately," said the unknown tech from the pit.

"Alright," said Fett. "Get out of the way," he said to Tih. "But you can stay and hear the transmission." He turned to the pit, and said, "Pipe it through!" He got on his knee in front of the holoprojector that was placed before the commander's chair, in between two sets of windows.

Soon enough, a life-size projection of Darth Sidious, flanked by his apprentice, Darth Vader. "You may rise," said the Sith.

"Thank you, m'Lord. What gives me the honor of talking to you?" he asked. His face was looking at the ground, unable to look at the Sith.

"I have felt a disturbance in the force," said the Dark Lord. "Coming from the relative location of Naboo. I knew you were here, so I contacted you. What has happened that I have felt it?"

"As a matter of fact, m'Lord, there was just a conflict here. Nothing to worry about, rest assured." He still didn't look up. He shuffled his feet, and continued: "We found that the leader of a faction of one of the planet's species, a primitive group known as the Gungans, had set up a communicator that was communicating with Queen Amidala on Coruscant. To give an example to the rest of your empire, we have totally destroyed the planet for their rebellious action."

"That must have been what I felt. It was a good decision. What of the forest moon, Endor? Was it destroyed as well?"

"No, m'Lord. I felt that it would be superfluous to destroy that as well. It was not needed. I also felt that it would prove to be a nice contrast to the ruin of Naboo, if anyone came into the system."

"That was a good choice. Please, promote the exchange of this information throughout the Empire. But make sure that the reason we destroyed it is true – we want it to serve it's purpose. Also, I can use that planet, even after it is destroyed. It has many minerals and rare metals in it's core, I am sure of it. Set up a mining colony there. A large one. I can use the metals to make more ships, and more armor. Within a few years, it should be totally depleted."

"Yes, m'Lord." The transmission ended. He looked at his subordinate, Tih, and fell back into his chair. Tih gave him an odd look, and Fett said in response: "Well, get to work! We've got a lot to do!"

****************

And then, the transmission went blank. Not like when then-Senator Cos Palpatine had contacted Naboo just moments before the Trade Federation fiasco, where it had faded out. It just went blank, dead. As if it had, rather than been jammed, been cut off.

Amidala hoped that wasn't happening to Nass's life. "What's going on?" she asked nobody, lightly banging her hand on the transmitter box, which was off to the side.

"Don't do that," the tech said. "You might break it; it's expensive. It must have been cut off at the other end."

"Yeah, that must be it," said Amidala. "And it's my fault!"

"No, it's not, your-"

Panaka was cut off suddenly when Amidala said: "Don't you dare call me that! I am no longer a Queen; just a refugee from Naboo, like you! You may continue." And she was silent, like she had tested the fire, and had been burned, streaming back from the trial.

"As I was saying, your highness, there was nothing you could have done. It's not your fault, your highness."

She opened her mouth as if to say one thing, but closed it just as fast. "If I hadn't spent so much time beating around the bush with political small-talk, and hadn't gone to the expense of sending a bulky holographic message – I could have, could have send a text message! And they wouldn't have been caught by the Mandalorians. There's so much that I could have done!"

"Yes, but -" Panaka tried to say, before he was cut off again, but this time, not from Amidala.

Bail Organa came running into the room. All heads turned to see what the commotion was, running incredibly fast down the corridor, as one would not think he could. He took a right turn into the comm center, and after entering the room, he was trying to slow down, head over heels, flailing his arms about, trying to keep his balance. He ran into Panaka's chair, and regained his posture. "What's all this commotion?" the former queen of the Naboo asked.

"I need to talk to you..." said the Viceroy of Alderaan mysteriously. He beckoned her over to a soundproof segment of the cubicle portion of the floor, while everyone went back to what they had previously been doing. It was outside the communications center, though not far away. It had tinted glass walls, so no one could see in, but they could see out. It was meant for delicate conversations of classified or confidential information that nobody could really hear without it being a security risk. It had a light grey desk with a computer terminal on it, and two chairs: one behind it, and one in front. He continued: "I have a message from the Chancellor."

"The Chancellor? Why?" asked the former queen. "Why can't he come himself? Or ask me to come to him?"

"He says he is quite busy. I have news that there is some 'mission' that can take place."

She brought her hand to her mouth. How could she have forgotten? "Oh... that."

"What's it all about?" the Viceroy asked. "It sounded important."

"It's not really," she said, sitting in the blue chair behind the desk. "At one point, I promised – you know my friend Anakin?" What an understatement, she thought.

"Yes, I believe I am acquainted with him," said Bail.

"Well, Bail – I can call you Bail, correct?"

"Yes, Your Highness."

"Don't call me that!" exclaimed the former queen. It was quickly becoming one of her sore spots. "My power comes from the people; without their support, I have none. So, I am not their queen any longer."

"Whatever you say, Amidala. I like your train of thinking, though. I have no power at this point over my people, so I am just plain old Bail."

"Alright, alright. But let me get to the point. At one point, Anakin asked me for some help. I don't think you know this, but I knew Anakin as a young boy. He was from Tatooine, and was a slave there."

"A slave?" asked Bail. "But... then how did he get to the Jedi?"

"It's a long story; one that I don't have the time to tell now. He was freed by the very late Qui-Gon Jinn. I believe you are familiar with him; he was killed by the Sith a short time afterwards. His mother, however, was kept a slave on Tatooine. She would not be bet upon by their master. She is still, to our knowledge, a slave on Tatooine."

"A sad thing," said Bail. "That Skywalker man is a gentleman; I would assume that his parents were too."

"She was. And hopefully, still is. But either way, Anakin, during the recent voyage to Coruscant, requested that I help him free the slaves. I said that I couldn't do much, but I would ask the Chancellor to sacrifice some ships, men and other resources to run a mission to free the slaves."

"A noble cause," said Bail. "So that is what this is all about. I am sure not many people would be happy to know that some of the resources that could be used in the war are being sent off to the Outer Rim on a matter that is of little importance to most of the galaxy. But I would be glad to help; the fact that slavery still exists in the galaxy sickens me. I will volunteer any soldiers, ships and diplomats I have that would voluntarily come to help you."

"I thank you very much. I was appalled at the fact that slavery still exists, too, when I found out."

"It is a sad thing. It needs to be stopped. A crusade such as this will make the Hutts think twice about conducting the slave trade."

"But if we take control of their planets, to do a thing that is good, like abolish slavery, are we not on the level of the Mandalorians, terrorizing people to get their way?"

"We'll just have to do it in a peaceful manner."

"Well, I must admit," she said, looking at her watch-chrono, "I am quite thankful for this help, but I have other things to attend to. If you would excuse me," she got up from her chair and moved towards the exit of the soundproof office.

"Of course. I have my things, as well."

*******************

The Coruscant Symphony. The greatest orchestra in the Galaxy, existing beyond memory, with over a hundred and fifty of the most elite instrumental musicians in the known universe from every species, class and creed. If one were to be asked to join it, no one would turn it down, it was such a great honor. They performed in a grand concert hall a few kilometres south of the Senate building. Once a year, they played two concerts in the Senate complex: one in the actual senate chambers for the Senators, and then afterwards outside free for anyone who wanted to come, on Founders' Day, the celebration of the formation of the Republic some forty thousand years ago.

But these days, even on Founders' Day, people would probably not show up for a concert anywhere, with the chaotic turn of events that had plunged the Galaxy into a costly, dangerous and bloody war of clones. But not necessarily with the Coruscant Symphony. For the time being, the War was far away from here – and if you couldn't get it off your mind, a nice concert would be a good way to escape the horrors. The Coruscant Symphony had a large group of season-ticket holders; one season ticket cost past the hundreds of thousands of credits for a mediocre seat. The ticket holders didn't want to waste their money, so they still went to the concerts. It was a little bit more roomy than normal, but that was alright, because single tickets went for less these days, too.

The Coruscant Symphony played great music from all over history – classical from the dark ages before the Republic, contemporary from the time of the Republic, and there were new pieces getting written all the time. For a piece to be played by the Coruscant Symphony, was a token of greatness. 'The Symphony,' as it was known throughout the Galaxy, played in Kremlin Hall, which had a seating capacity of one hundred thousand. It was normally full every night there was a concert during peacetime. There was a concert, normally, twice a week. And each time, they played something different.

Anakin Skywalker looked over the program for the night, as he looked over at his date, the Queen Amidala of the Naboo. She was sitting to his left, in a purple and blue handmaiden's robe, with the hood down. Her chocolate-brown hair flowed down in waves, like it was actually melting. Over her forehead were three jewels, a yellow, blue and green, shining like her soul. Of course, they didn't shine that bright, or else they would have irritated the people around them. They were off to the right of the center of the hall, near the third aisle from the far right wall. The interesting thing about this hall was that it was designed like the inside of a violin, so that the walls reciprocated the sounds from the stage and amplified them, harmonized them and made the orchestra sound better than it did.

It was only half full this night, mainly because most of the bureaucrats, members of high society and celebrities were quite busy these days with the war and all. But the Queen had managed to get a night off, and decided to spend it with her friend. As opposed to during the casino escapades of three nights before, the three remaining handmaidens had not come along with them. Amidala had said that she knew how to defend herself, and 'how could I get hurt with a Jedi by my side?'

The walls of the great hall were sheer, coming down from hundreds of feet. There was two levels of balconies above Ani and Ami, and on the walls were murals inspired by great music. Countless ribbons of all colors hung from the ceiling, and spotlights galore. It was like a rainbow projected from the ceiling, the lights coming through the partially transparent silk ribbons. The orchestra played chord after chord to finish Baird's seventeenth symphony.

The audience's applause was almost deafening, literally. People generally wore earplugs for the applause; the acoustics of the hall made it much louder than it was already, and it was quite loud to begin with. After a few minutes, it began to die down. The orchestra took so many bows, their backs began to ache. The conductor, a Malastarian dug, had to sit down and rest from all the hip action.

"I'll go get us something to drink," Ani finally said, when they could hear themselves think.

"That's a good idea. Could you get me a Utairin?" she asked. A Utairin was a drink native to Naboo; it reminded her of home. Home...

"Actually, I don't think I'll be able to," said Ani, standing up and overseeing this great crowd all trying to get out for some fresh air, a little food and a talk. "By the time I even get out of this place to the lobby, I'll have to wait in line, and the second half of the concert, after the intermission, will have already started."

"I think you're right. Oh, well. I don't really need something to drink right now; I can wait a little bit," said Ami.

"I am thankful you understand, rather than the other possible action: get up and walk out because I can't get a drink."

"Well, trying to get out of here would be quite a task, anyway you look at it. I wouldn't want to do it, so I see the way you look at it. Besides, I bet anyone trying to get out won't get back in until the concert's over."

"How much do you want to bet that's right?" he asked.

"Ani..." said Ami.

"Oh, sorry... I didn't mean it that way. It's just a figure of speech."

"I know, I know." She sat, thinking, looking out upon the almost quarter-full concert hall. "You know, the weirdest thing happened yesterday. Take a guess," she played.

"I can't really guess... but I'll take a shot. Did Boss Nass contact us?" he said sarcastically. "No, really. I have no idea."

"Well, actually, you do," said the Queen. "Boss Nass contacted us. It was a text message telling us to call him back, and we did. We discussed things like the liberation of Naboo."

"Oh, that's good. But I think Alderaan and Malastare have to happen first. Naboo's kind of out there, if you know what I mean."

"That's what I told him, basically. But, obviously, the Mandalorians traced the communication, and cut it off. I have no idea what they could have done to Nass-"

"Or Naboo. They could do something to Naboo."

"I doubt it. They aren't that cruel... are they?"

"I certainly hope not. But it's all my fault! I beat around the bush with political small-talk, and... if! There are so many things, if I just did it that way, Nass would not have been caught! Just-"

"Listen to me, my Queen..." Ani said, placing his hand on her shoulder to calm her.

"Don't call me a Queen! I'm not a queen if my people don't say I am, and at this point I don't think they would want me to be their Queen."

"But you'll always be a Queen to me, my queen. What I was saying was that you can't dwell on the past. It isn't good for you. If you keep thinking about the what-ifs, and what you could have done to help anyone, you'll go mad. There was nothing you could have done at that point, I think. You can't change the past. It can't be done, and if you did, it might make the future worse."

"You're right. I am just making things worse by going over it again and again." Ani took his hand off her shoulder, and sighed. I really should tell him, Ami thought. It'd make him quite happy... Why the hell not? "Um..."

"Um... what?" asked Anakin playfully. I sense something big. Could it be?

"I need to tell you something. Do you remember how you asked me to help you about your mother?"

"Of course I do, my Queen." He smiled, thinking of his mother. If only this war would end and I could go to her...

"Well, I went to the Chancellor. He said he could let us borrow some ships and clones, once they have enough they can spare a few. Just yesterday, after my little encounter with Boss Nass, Bail told me that we'll be able to go through with it in three weeks, and he would help, too. We can do it!" ...if the Council will let him go... a small voice in her head said to her.

"I... I..." he couldn't bring himself to say 'I love you' yet. She hadn't said it to him yet, either. For some reason, he couldn't, either. Even though he knew she felt the same way about him as he felt about her. We are great friends, and we care for each other... and we are also attracted to each other. Isn't that what love is? He asked himself. I don't know, he answered back. "... am very thankful for all this, Ami. It's wonderful. It's good to know I will be able to go to Tatooine right after the war."

"We could go as soon as possible, Ani," she said. "Can't the Council do without you for a week?"

"I don't know. They might let me go, but probably not. They've in effect told me I'm not going to get within a hundred fifty light years of Tatooine until I'm Knighted."

"Just like a Jedi isn't supposed to have a romantic relationship until they're Knighted?"

"Well – yes. I see your point. I'll talk to them. If they don't let me go, I'll find out a way."

"I love your system of logic," Ami said, giving him a peck on the cheek, as people were still trying to get out and the Coruscant Symphony began to file onto the stage for the second session.

****************

Tatooine. A desert planet, the home of Jabba the Hutt's crime empire. The whole planet was a great waste; sand entered everything. Two binary suns orbited each other, while Tatooine orbited the two of them. The planet, at one time, had been green and lush with life, but somewhere, somehow, sometime, something had happened to it. Where rivers once flowed, canyons existed. Where there had been a reat sea, there were only dunes. There were a few cites, such as Mos Espa, where people who did not want to be found subsisted on meager gruel that they were able to scrounge up.

But Jabba did not live in the cities. He made various appearances there, such as on the Boonta Eve, but that was a long time from now. Most of the year, he sat around in his palace, enjoying his court, and running his legendary crime regime. His mate, Gardulla the Hutt, also stayed there in his great palace. It was a little over thirty kilometres from Mos Espa, and much of it was unexplored by Jabba's cronies. They had found the palace abandoned, which extended much under the ground.

Jabba was still a young Hutt, generally for his species. Only three hundred and twenty-three years old, he was still small enough he could move around on his own power. He was currently taking a small nap in his private rooms, when a small commotion began in his communications center. Bib Fortuna, the right-hand lieutenant of Jabba, was walking through the normally busy communications center of Jabba's crime empire, for a late-afternoon stroll. He did not usually take such a walk, but he felt he was getting a little fat lately, and needed exercise. There were about twenty techs that worked in twelve-hour shifts in the communications center, where it was needed up twenty-four hours a day in case something happened. Normally, Jabba kept close watch on his empire, but today, there was not much to report.

There were ten techs, sending out reports to Jabba's lieutenants, and receiving messages. They had had very straight orders that any calls for Jabba should be taken down as messages, as Jabba was sleeping. They worked quietly, in contrast to the communications center on Coruscant, quiet enough that the only thing you could hear was the drummm sound of the tapping of the keys by the comm techs. Sir?! a Trandoshan tech called up to Bib, as he walked past.

Yes? Bib asked. What is happening? I dearly hope we must not disturb Lord Jabba.

I am afraid of that, Sir. But we have quite a strange character on the line. He requests to speak with Jabba the Hutt directly, right now.

Tell him to go away and Jabba will call him back. He will get very annoyed if we disturb him. It could cost you and I our lives.

I have told him that, said the Trandoshan. But he won't listen. He looked around, and stayed silent.

Let me speak with him, said Bib. I wonder who this could be, he thought. A hologram came up; Bib said, Well? What do you want? Who the hell is this character, dressed up in that strange robe? I can't even see his face...

I will speak with Jabba now. I have an interesting business deal to give him. It would profit even you, Mr. Fortuna.

How do you know my name? Bib asked aloud, surprised that he had said it aloud even more than this strange man knew his name without any introduction whatsoever.

It does not matter. I must speak with Jabba now. It is of utmost importance. You will be greatly rewarded if you let me speak with him now.

I am sorry, sir, but the Lord Jabba the Hutt is sleeping at this time; he has given straight orders that he is not to be disturbed.

He calls himself a lord? Ha! Compared to me, he is no more than an oversized maggot. You will not be happy if you do not place me in contact with him, he said, waving his hand slightly.

I will see what I can do, Bib said. Why did I say that? He asked himself.

* * * * * * * * *

Jabba was taking a nice nap. Well, almost nice. He was having a nightmare, that a man that looked like an older version of one of the slaves he used to know came back and destroyed him. Just as he was getting to the scariest part so far, that this man killed his precious Rancor, he was startled awake by the noise of the bell that came echoing unwelcome into his private quarters of his palace. What is it? he asked in groggy huttese. When no one came in, he said, Come in, please. If no one is there, I'll just as well go back to sleep.

Bib Fortuna came in, trembling. What would Jabba do to him? My Lord, there is a man who wishes to speak with you... he said.

Jabba's mind flashed to the man who he was just dreaming about. Who is it?

I'm not sure. I don't know his name. But he seemed odd enough to me. He said that he has an interesting business deal to propose to you, and that you would be very happy if you listened to him. He looked at Jabba through the eyes, trying to figure out if Jabba would have him killed for disturbing him. I... I could have the message piped into you.

Ho! I do not mind this. I can always conduct more business. Pipe it through, and get out. Does he speak Huttese?

Yes, My Lord, Bib said, sighing with relief. He ran out, and shut the door behind him.

A great blue hologram appeared before the crime lord Jabba. It was life-size, projected from a holoprojector in the ceiling. The mysterious man on the other end of the connection was wearing a dark robe, which disguised most of his face. He wasn't that tall, and he spoke up first: I hear you call yourself a lord?

That is correct, Jabba said. What is your business? Are you just here to mock me? If so, you woke me from a nap; I am not so happy about that. But I am told you have a business proposition for me.

Oh, that is correct, said the mysterious figure. It could make you very rich, over two million credits more.

Ho! This is the kind of talk I like. What does it entail?

It includes a number of bounties. First off, I believe you knew, about ten years ago, a junk dealer who went by the name of Watto?

Oh, yes, I know him. He won a slave from me many years ago, and the slave gave him another slave!

Well, this slave that he owned, was freed ten years ago. He was Anakin Skywalker, who won the Boonta race that year.

I remember that. It was quite the upset.

It does not matter. The boy is now a Jedi, or at least, close to being one. His mother, however, was not freed, and he abandoned her to join the Jedi. I know for a fact that he will be coming to Tatooine within a few weeks to free her, with a small entourage of idealistic friends who will try to help him. I want to place a large bounty on his head, of thirty thousand, alive.

Ho! This is good. But how does thirty thousand make two million? Where's the rest of the deal? And where would I deliver him? Jabba asked.

The man looked off to the side. What is on the other end of this transmission that I can't see? Jabba wondered. That is the other part of the deal. I have two other bounties: for Obi-Wan Kenobi and Queen Amidala of the Naboo. Twenty thousand on each of their heads, dead.

That's seventy thousand. Still not two million credits. Jabba's empire spanned most of the Outer Rim, and a little bit into the Republic, in the underworld, so he would take republic credits, unlike Watto, who hadn't taken credits because he didn't do business where they were worth anything.

That's where the other half come in. I am offering you one million credits if you kidnap the Supreme Chancellor Cos Palpatine. In order to earn the one million, you also have to place an absurdly large ransom on him, and tell the Republic where he is so they can give you the money. So, you make the million, and also the ransom for the Chancellor. And, if you do this in accordance with the Skywalker deal, you will receive an additional five hundred thousand credits. So, you will make over two million credits including the ransom if you do everything I say.

Jabba cracked a smile at this. An interesting proposition. I assume that all the bounties and other essentials are effective now?

No! They are effective twenty-one days from now. I do not want anything of this deal to take place before then, or else you do not get paid.

I see. I can have my men on the ready before that time, no?

Yes, of course. It would be good if they were. I would like you to deliver Skywalker and the bodies of the Queen and Kenobi to Naboo. That is the rendezvous point where you will receive payment.

And what assurance do I have that I will be justly paid?

My apprentice, Darth Vader. A tall man stepped into the hologram beside the mysterious contact. He was also wearing the strange robe, and Jabba could not see his face, either. He will be coming to join you in short order; he will make sure you follow my orders exactly. That way, I know that you have done everything I say, and you can be paid. If I do not follow up on my payment, you can execute him. He is my collateral.

Very well. This sounds like a sound deal. I will be awaiting your... ahem, apprentice in a few days. And how may I address you...

My Lord.

Yes?

No, no, said the mysterious man with a small chuckle, if it was possible for Jabba to believe. Address me as 'My Lord'. I am known as Lord Sidious.

Yes, Lord Sidious. I hope our partnership is profitable for both of us.

*******************

The transmission went off. Jabba had turned it off; he ended his business when he wanted to, not the other party. Darth Vader stood off to the side, where he had watched the deal take place; he moved towards his Master. "Why did you do that?" Darth Vader asked his Master, Darth Sidious.

"What do you mean?" inquired the Dark Lord. They were on Corula, where they had been making their abode for the time being. From the far side, near the construction site, they could make all the transmissions they needed without being intercepted by Republic Intelligence. Besides that, Palpatine had arranged that the far side of Corula not be monitored by surveillance crews because of the construction, and the clones' disturbance in the force masked them.

At this point, they could let their tools do their work for them unwatched, like it was a very intricate clock they had built and set in motion, and now did not have to watch every motion and movement of each part to make sure it did not break down. The mists began to clear as they looked out at the beautiful starfield, with no ships or other objects in the way of what would soon be their domain, and Vader continued, "Why did you do all that? What is the purpose of kidnapping the Chancellor? And of telling that crime lord that beforehand? It makes no sense whatsoever."

"Since when do I have to explain myself to you?" scowled Darth Sidious. He regained his composure, and said, "Actually, there is very much this does for us. The Chancellor is not popular with everyone, and the kidnapping would increase his popularity, when they realized that he is really in a vice."

"I don't see how that works," said Vader. "They would just send a few Jedi, and it would be over. The Bounty Hunters don't have anyone who can fight off a Jedi. It is a fight they could not win."

"They will soon. The ransom will make sure they know where he is, and that the Bounty Hunters think that they can demand things from the Republic. And they will send Jedi. It is their way. And the Jedi will do it for them. When they find that they cannot free the Supreme Chancellor, and see the great ransom I am sure 'Lord Jabba' will place on his head, they will panic, and when he is freed when I betray the bounty hunters, his popularity will have risen tenfold. And besides that, there will be numerous Jedi and bounty hunters killed: it all serves our needs. The bounty hunters might have been helpful in the past, but I do not need them now, except for the Jedi bounty. It is better to dispense of them in a way that will help us than to let them stay alive and eventually betray us, as they always will of anyone. Even though they help us, they are our enemies. All our enemies help us."

So he gets rid of anything that he sees no use for. What if I see no use for him? thought Vader. "I see. But how will they fend off the Jedi? I do not presume that you will fight them, at your age."

"I may be forced to do that. But I believe that if I place send some of our special clones, they will fend off the Jedi for a period of time."

"And what of the money? We don't have two million credits lying around. How will Jabba be paid?"

"It's quite simple, actually: he won't, because I won't pay him. None of his cronies can destroy you, when they ask for the money, take Skywalker, and get out of there. They are no match for you."

Just as you will soon be no match for me, Old Man. "It works. I must admire your ability to take something that needs to be done and make it into something that suits our needs so much more than it had to." Almost as an afterthought, he added: "...my Master."

* * * * * * * * *

"So what do we do with her?" Anakin asked Amidala, Obi-Wan and the three handmaidens. They were in Amidala's suite, where Anakin had quickly spliced together some spare parts and the freezers in his Master's, the Handmaidens' and Amidala's suite, to create a freeze chamber where Eirtae's body could be preserved for the time being, so it wouldn't rot and decompose.

The large off-white block dominated Amidala's kitchen. Because she did not want to be in the presence of a dead person, Amidala had been staying in the Handmaidens' suite, taking up the holoroom during the night, and moving out during the day. "Well?" asked Obi-Wan. "What should we do? I don't know the customs of Naboo as well as you do; what do Nubians do to and for their dead?"

"Normally," said Yane', "there is a formal funeral, as you obviously noted when we were last on Naboo. But that is not really possible at that point, because we do not have either the time or resources to make that happen."

"When a Naboo dies offworld, what is most commonly done is to have them cremated, and their remains compressed into a jewel, which is either given to friends or family, or rocketed into the sun of the Naboo system," said Rabe'. They were standing out on the balcony of the Handmaidens' suite, during the late evening. The air was cool and damp on her neck, and she shuddered. It was a beautiful evening to be out; the lights from building and vehicles throughout the city flickered like a swarm of fireflies, and the starfield completed the picture. Cars flew past at dizzying speeds, and the moon was overhead, dominating the sky, but the only direction that these friends could look was inside.

"This is true," Amidala said, leaning back, "but it places us in a unique predicament. I always felt that giving a good friend or family member the cremated remains in the form of a jewel was sick. To wear a dead person, in effect, is insanely disgusting. I believe our only choice is to send her cremated remains in the sun of Naboo. We'll get over there eventually, I suppose."

"It works," said Anakin. He was looking far away, not totally concentrating on the conversation, at the moon. "But something tells me that that we won't get there for quite a while. There's something about this whole thing that makes me hesitate at anything. I think that we may be playing right into our enemies hands." He walked away silently, going towards the Jedi Council.

******************

"We cannot let you go," said Mace Windu. They had reluctantly let him in, and had denied all he had asked.

"But-" said Anakin.

"No!" exclaimed Yoda suddenly. He had been quiet until this time; but now he spoke. "As Chosen One, you are, careful we must be in your training. Slightest mistake we make, and doom us all it will. Much fear do I have for you."

"But Master Yoda, doesn't fear lead to anger, anger... well, you know the rest." Anakin smiled at his wit, and stared out at the city, with it's cityscape in the darkness looking like a giant quilt. But it was not an intelligent thing to play games with the Council; he had thought the water was cool, but had been burned when he tried it and found it boiling.

Yoda closed his eyes, and spoke. "Matter not, that does. Much suffering will happen either way. But even more, if mistakes are made with you. Balance, the Force needs. Without it, befall many horrible things will. Already, in you, I sense much fear, just as when you were tested."

Anakin saw how much this was like the first time he was tested. It was the first time in ten years, the first time since his testing, that he had stood alone before the Council. Every time since, it was with his Master. The main reason that they had been reluctant to let him in was that they never let a Padawan in without his or her master: but there was a first time for everything. Yoda continued without stopping: "Fear for your mother, you do, especially. If die, she does, then anger will appear. And hate, you will, her killer. And hate leads to suffering. But much suffering, will happen either way. My fear, much different kind of fear than yours. Fear for the Republic and the Jedi, I do."

"What?" asked Adi Gallia. This was news in and of itself. "I see no reason to fear for the Republic, and even less for the Jedi."

"See it not, you do? For past nineteen years, eroded has the balance been. Balance, we had achieved, but eroding it was. Much curious, I was at why. Now, know I do. Active again, the Sith were. The boy," he said, getting up from his chair, waddling over to Anakin, and hitting his arm, and sitting back down again before continuing, "his conception was caused by this. To destroy the Sith. But the means to the end, not told in the prophesy are they."

"That's not what I'm here to talk about!" exclaimed Anakin. "Amidala, Queen of Naboo has made it possible that I could go and free the slaves. I ask you again: do I have leave to go?" It is a sad thing, thought Anakin. I have to ask them for leave to free my mother, but not to break the Jedi Code.

"No, Anakin," said Master Windu. "I wish you could go, but you cannot. Even though we do not have a war to fight, we do still have jobs to do. And for now, this is not your job. You will go when the force calls you."

"And what if that time is now?" Anakin shot back. "What if I procrastinate, and my mother dies before I go? What if... I'll never see her again."

"Impatience is not needed, Padawan Skywalker," said Ki-Adi Mundi. "You must be patient. It is the Jedi way. If you are meant to free the slaves, then she will not die. You must not let fear control your life; if so, you are of the Dark Side. Your training must be completed. This will delay your training, and your destiny."

"I see," said Anakin. "But still! What if I die? I promised my mother I'd come back and free her. I have to keep my promises; it is the Jedi way."

"Listen to Master Mundi, you must, as well. Only as a Jedi will you be able to free the slaves; for now you must stay with your Master," said Yoda. Even though Anakin thought it couldn't be done, he continued: "Too much like Master Jinn, you are; taking unneeded detours at all stops. Not needed, this is. We do not permit you to you in any case. Too deep in the living force, you are. Even more so than Master Jinn. Concentrate on the future, Padawan. It is not needed now."

"Not needed now, my ass!" exclaimed Anakin. "I promised her I would free her; and I will! The time does matter, Master Jedis. She is not a young woman anymore. Time is running out." He turned to leave, but was stopped cold.

"And time is running out for you, as well, Skywalker," said Mace Windu.

*****************

A Gundark, fat from eating passer-bys, sat by the road that led to the  Palace. It looked up to the starlit sky, where a shrill noise was coming down. One star became brighter, and still brighter. Soon, the Gundark could tell it was not a star, but rather strange object. It had light projecting from about five different ports along its sides, and it cast an eerie glow about it. Suddenly, when it was about twenty metres above the ground, it stopped, and the lights abruptly went off, and the Gundark scuttled away, to hide from the object that inspired so much fear in it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The interestingly designed ship landed out in front of Jabba's Palace on Tatooine. Sand came up and clouded the air around it as it set down, engulfing it in a cloud of dust. When it settled, one could notice that it had a long front nose, and half-circle fuselages that used solar power to help generate power, and stabilize the ship. A relatively small opening came down in the back of the ship with a small hiss in the middle of the night. The vapor from the hinges condensed into tiny water droplets on the pad that came down from the Sith Infiltrator. A deep red glow came from inside.

A dark-clad man came out, and shut the opening. He was literally impossible to see as he walked through the sand, the pitch-black atmosphere around him combining with his clothes to camouflage him. He stepped up to the great durasteel doors, and knocked three times. A large eye-shaped object popped out of a hole that he had not noticed, and observed him, apparently looking him up and down. Suddenly, it went back into it's lair, and the door slowly began to open, creaking as it would. The man wondered how anyone would be able to sleep with this insolent noise going on.

He stepped in, and was not surprised to find three guards waiting for him. The were primitive gammoreans, quite fat; they stuck their ancient vibro-axes out to stop him, but he just waved his hand. They quietly walked outside, and began to attack each other viciously. He smiled as the great door began to close, shutting off the spectacle. Of course, when he left, he would have a nice little treat waiting for him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bib Fortuna had not been happy when he had been awaken to be told their interesting guest, Lord Sidious' apprentice, had arrived. How could he have arrived at this time? He asked himself. He couldn't answer. He had thrown something on, and came out, drowsy and the whole nine yards. What brings you here at this hour? he asked the mysterious guest.

My master's command, said the man.

Yes, I understand completely, said Bib. How may I address you...

Lord Vader.

He shuddered at the name. The way the man had said it sent chills up his spine. As a matter of fact, he thought, just his presence sends me a piercing chill... Of course, said Bib. You have to understand that you cannot speak with His Lord Jabba the Hutt at this time; he is sleeping.

I must speak with him now. I have news from my master.

You cannot; it is the middle of the night. Perhaps in the morning...

That will do. Tomorrow will not be any different from today.

Very well. I will make you up a room.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jabba was not happy. He hadn't been woken up during the middle of the night, but he almost had. If Bib Fortuna hadn't held his own, that Vader man would have woken him. He had already been woken one time too many in his life. Now, the man known as 'Lord Vader' stood before him. What a man without a sense of respect, he thought. People didn't stand in front of Jabba, they kneeled. What is this? he asked.

My master has two changes to our deal, said Vader.

Does he think he can renege on our deal? He had better not. What are these changes?

First off, the deal is called off-

Called off! exclaimed Jabba exuberantly. How can he! After all the work I've put into the kidnapping... he trailed off, going over what he had lost in the whole shenanigan.

No, no, that's not what I mean, of course! The news from my master is that it the bounties are not happening until Anakin Skywalker and his companions land on Tatooine.

Ho! That's actually not so bad. To tell the truth, that's a good thing. Now, my people have more time to set up. He paused, and took a drink with a gurgle. You said two changes. What is the second one?

My master has also, taking effect the day that Skywalker sets foot on this planet, placed a bounty of eight thousand republic credits on the head of any Jedi: dead or alive.

Ho! I am liking this. He stopped, and closed his eyes. He mumbled, Ten thousand... multiplied by eight thousand... equals eighty million. Ha! Eighty million is not bad at all.

Eighty million is not so bad, that is true. But do you think you could kill all the Jedi? You may end up losing a lot of Bounty Hunters.

I might... I might...

*****************

"And so, after five weeks, we are going to finally leave tomorrow," said Ami.

"Really?" asked Ani, sitting down in the chair in front of his computer terminal as the morning sun came shimmering through the window. The Queen was lying back on his bed head hanging off the edge so she saw everything upside-down. "I thought it was odd that you could leave a week and a half ago, and you didn't. How come?"

"Well..." said Ami, shaking her head when she began to get dark spots in her eyes, "I figured that a week and a half won't kill us. Also, that would help the Republic, as they are producing a hundred thousand clones a week, and then the war front will be more secure when we – I mean, I, leave. Also, the quality of the clones will be better by now."

"Yeah, that makes sense," said Ani. Gods... he thought. She's so beautiful. Her hair was hanging down, touching the floor, with her head upside-down. Her eyes sparkled with hope on this mission, and her hair glistened as if it were silk. "Speaking of the war front, how are they doing now?"

"Well, I can't tell you most of it, because I don't know." He's so handsome, you know, she told herself. With her head in the inverted position, she felt very heavy. With her head upside down, she was starting to think that way too, so she had to sit up. She pulled her head up with some effort and a small grunt, and sat up. Her head cleared, and she spoke again: "What I do know is that we have lost many systems, the entire of the mid-rim and some of the core systems. We have basically called on a retreat that is having us fortify our current holdings. Eventually, we'll burst out, and take back what is ours."


"So basically, we're on the defensive while the Mandalorians pillage and rape the mid-rim?"

"Yes. So this is a big step, this mission; to go to the outer-rim while we do not hold the mid-rim is a big risk."

"When are you leaving?" Ani asked. I have to do something... he thought.

"Tomorrow," she said, sure of herself. There was no way this could go wrong. "Why do you want to know?"

"I want to contact you, and speak with my mother," he lied. "And what ship are you taking?"

"We are taking two Star Destroyers, and a small counselors ship, a Nubian M-type 236. Not that much, but it'll do. Hopefully, it'll intimidate the Hutts into freeing the slaves." I wonder what that has to do with contacting us, thought Ami.

"You won't actually attack the planet, will you?" asked Ani skeptically. She better not...

"No, of course," said Ami. "Of course, I might threaten to. It is a tool of negotiation; I'll probably blockade the planet." She had a flash of memory to the Trade Federation fiasco, when they had blockaded her to get her to sign a treaty. You know, you're not much better than them... a small voice in the back of her head told her.

**************

Their lightsabers clashed, and locked. Mace Windu looked across the blue T that they had created at Anakin Skywalker. The noon sunlight streamed through the skylight in the otherwise barren sparring room; they were surrounded by the four other life members of the Council: Yoda, Adi Gallia, Yarael Poof, and Oppo Rancisis, and also Anakin's Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. "You are doing better, Padawan Skywalker," said Master Windu, "but I am not even putting out any effort. On the other hand, you are breathing heavily, and are tiring easily. Let go, and you can fight without any physical expenditures at all."

"I know, Master Windu," said Anakin. "But I have much to think about, particularly my Mother, and it is making me lose my focus."

"See?" said Master Poof. "Your mother, she is a force on you that you must let go of. When you let go of your fear for her, you will be able to look at the situation rationally, and focus. Fear leads to the Dark Side; let go."

"Yes!" exclaimed Master Yoda. "Listen to Master Poof, you must. But understand, as well, you must, why free your mother you cannot at this time. A war, there is, and to go now, caught up in it you might. As well, not complete your training is. If free her you do before fully trained as a Jedi Knight you are, as foreseen you have in the dream that keep having you do, go away she will, perhaps forever." Anakin had been having this repetitive dream, or vision if you will, since he began to train as a Jedi. In his dream, he went back to Tatooine, and freed all the slaves. Afterwards, he found his Mother, and  gave her a hug, but she just evaporated in his arms.

"I know there are risks," said Anakin, "but I believe that if I don't go now, something might happen to her."

Anakin and Master Windu exchange parry for stroke and block, and Mace said: "There, your fear is taking control of your life again. You have to let go of it, and then you will be free. Let it rise above you like a cloud, and it will dissipate like fog in the morning sun."

"I'll do that," said Anakin. He stepped back, and closed his eyes. "You know," he said, "I think that the thing Master Yoda said a while back, when I asked if I could go to Tatooine, that 'stay with your Master you must...' was a little much. I know from experience, from being a slave, that this sounds too much like slavery. I don't have to stay with the Jedi; I could go rogue. It seemed out of place, that it was very strict and harsh, like I was a slave and that I had to stay with my Master wherever he went, and couldn't go anywhere else without him."

"I agree with you, Padawan Skywalker," said Master Gallia. "I spoke with Master Yoda about that almost immediately after. But what I think he was trying to point out is that if you wish to complete your training, you cannot run off from the Jedi, and especially, your Master, to participate in idealistic crusades that will not help anyone but yourself. You were, and still are, being selfish. Do you wish to complete your training, Padawan Skywalker?"

"Of course, I do," said Anakin, attacking Master Windu. At this point, he was seemingly not tiring at all, attacking with a ferocity not seen in recent months.

"There is one more important piece to the puzzle of why you must complete your training, and not stall. You are the chosen one, Padawan Skywalker," said Master Rancisis. "Do you know what that means? You will fulfill the prophesy: to bring balance to the force. We do not know exactly how this will happen; but we have a vague idea. As you know, from your personal studies, the Jedi believe that this means that you will destroy the Sith. How do you expect to destroy the Sith, to bring balance to the Force, if you are not fully trained as a Jedi? A fully trained and experience Jedi Master, Master Qui-Gon Jinn failed to destroy even the apprentice. How do you, a Padawan, expect to destroy both the new apprentice and the Master? Only a trained Jedi Knight could kill a Sith, and even then with difficulty. The only way you will be able to fulfill the prophecy is to be fully trained as a Jedi Knight."

"All the moreso," said Mace, who was still holding his own against Anakin, "on the way, you may be tempted at many points by the Dark Side. If you fall, I and the rest of the Council have no idea how the prophesy would be fulfilled. But either way you look at it," he said, taking a strike at Anakin's midsection, "you have to be able to control your emotions, and as a fully-trained Jedi Knight, you will be able to do this better, and will not have much of a chance of falling. If you fall, then all our hopes are muted."

"Yes! Fully trained, you must be. If patient you are, then much good will befall you. Patience, you must learn patience!"

"Yes," said Mace. He had been holding his own against Anakin very well this whole time. He jumped up, and somersaulted over Anakin, kicking him from behind and knocking him down. His Master's master might have been the greatest swordsman in the Jedi Order, but this one doesn't show it... he thought.

His Master wasn't fully trained in the swordfighting arts before he was promoted, reminded Adi.

That's right. Why don't I show him something good? Asked Mace.

That's a nice idea. To show him how much he has left to learn before he becomes a Jedi Knight. A good lesson, said Adi.

Master Windu allowed Anakin to get up, but then, he attacked as if Anakin was a Sith Lord. He attacked with such ferocity and speed that Anakin was taken aback, and within moments, Anakin was down on the ground against the wall, defending himself against the seemingly impossible foe that was sending strokes at him more than ten times a second. He could barely see Mace Windu's blue blade, it was moving so fast. But the Force was telling him where to move his saber, and for the most part, he was protecting himself. But he was tiring now, afraid that he would lose. But he knew he would. A Padawan barely ever defeated a Jedi Master in combat, especially one on the Council.

Just as quickly as Master Windu had been to say that Anakin could not be trained, he said, "Kill point."

********************

Owen Lars relaxed on the sofa of his suite, which was shared with Bail Organa. Organa was at a meeting with the Queen, talking to the Alderaanians and a whole bunch of other people about who were possibly going to go on the mission to free the slaves. Bail had asked him to come, but Owen had given him a flat-out no.

Since Bail was out, he had the run of the suite, and had decided to watch an old holovid. No sooner had he started to get into it was there a ring on the bell. I wonder who it is this time... he thought, irritated. He moved quickly towards the door, trying to get this over with so he could get back to the holo, and threw open the door. "Oh... you." He said. "Why did you have to come speak with me?"

"Because I need to, sir," said Anakin.


"Please, you can use my first name. We've been through enough as it is. What is it you need to talk about?" Owen asked, motioning Anakin to come in and sit down on the couch in the holoroom, where he turned off the holovid. There's no chance I'll be able to watch it now... he thought to himself.

"Well, I think you know. Tomorrow, Queen Amidala and Bail Organa, and some other people will be going to Tatooine to free the slaves. Now-"

"You better not be trying to recruit me," said Lars. "Because I won't come. It's a damn idealistic crusade that's baggage on the Republic. You'd be worth more to stay and fight for the Republic than to run away to get revenge on your old slave-owners."

"I'm not trying to recruit you, Owen," said Anakin. "I need your help."

"You need my help?" asked Owen, bewildered. The great Jedi Knight needs my help... why?

"Yes. Well, not really. I guess I do. The Council has not given me leave to go to Tatooine and free my Mother."

"Oh, well. So you won't waste your time, and you can actually help the Galaxy rather than run around the Galaxy in an attempt to help heal it."

"That's not the point!" exclaimed Anakin. "The point is that tomorrow, they are leaving. Without me. I need someone to know. I want to tell someone."

"Tell me what I already know? Why me?" What the hell is going on?

Anakin completely ignored him. "I'm telling someone in case I don't come back. In case something happens."

"What are you talking about?" His head swirled, this made no sense. He tried to put two and two together, but they wouldn't fit.

"I want to tell someone that I'm going with them."

"What?" asked Owen. "What is it you ask?" he said. What the hell does he think he's doing?

"I said that I'm going to go with them," Anakin replied dryly. "I have to go now..." He got up, but Owen said:

"No!" he exclaimed, pressing Anakin back down onto the couch. "You will not go with them. If the Jedi say you aren't allowed to, then you can't go. They have to have a reason for this!"

"They don't; they just don't want me to be out of their sight!" And you already are, he thought to himself, reflecting on the recent dealings he'd had. "And no matter what anyone thinks, I will free my mother."


"You must be insane," Owen muttered under his breath. "You have to understand, Anakin. You won't do any good for anyone but yourself by running away – and that might even not be good for you!" He paused.

You were, and still are, being selfish

"What I'm saying," said Owen, "is that you," he pointed at Anakin, "will do no good for anyone if you go on this crusade. Did you ever hear the story of the ruler who went to conquer a rich, beautiful and valuable planet, and when he got there to do it, it was in ruins? Did you?"

"No; I never heard that," said Anakin. "No, I do not believe I have."

"Well, there's no time to tell it to you now. But the important thing is that you understand that it won't do any good. In the story, the planet would not have been destroyed if he had been patient; the ruler of the planet got word he was coming, and used destroyed the planet. And when the man was away fighting for a planet he didn't want, the people from the other planet came and conquered the other man's planet."

"I don't think I follow you."

"What I am trying to tell you, Skywalker," said Owen, "is that this is too idealistic and I know what will happen: it will either never happen, or you will die in the process, because idealistic people do stupid things, even putting their life in danger, to reach their ends. And often times, they run into these things too fast, and it costs them everything. Only a damn fool would do this, at this time, with these circumstances, Skywalker. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Lars, I do understand that," said Anakin. "So what if I'm a damn fool. Did you ever hear the story of the wise fool?" He got up, and walked straight out the door without further ado.

***********

Obi-Wan Kenobi paced the empty bay floor in the Jedi Temple. Well, almost empty. The YT-2400 transport Chancing Catch was stored over on the side, the transport that would take Amidala and her cohorts to Tatooine, against the advice of the Council. Out the bay, he could see the cityscape of Coruscant glitter like a pile of jewels in the afternoon sunshine. There was not a single cloud in the sky; it was a beautiful summer day.

There's something odd going on here, he thought. The Supreme Chancellor had given him a message to be here, with his Padawan. But Anakin was out somewhere, he didn't know where, and he was here, waiting for the Supreme Chancellor. Alone.

Obi-Wan pondered the recent events as a republic shuttle arrived, flanked by three Y-Wing fighters, the Chancellor's escort. Cos Palpatine stepped out of his white shuttle, in his blue robes. "What brings you here, Chancellor," Obi-Wan said with a small bow.

"A great deal, Obi-Wan," said he. Over the past ten years, he had developed a friendship, one might say, with Obi-Wan and his Padawan; frequently, he had requested them specifically to escort him on unstable diplomacy missions. They had gotten him out of one or two sore spots that none save a Jedi would have been able to, and that had been how it had all started. "But I ask you first, my friend: where is young Skywalker? I have not seen him since he arrived on Coruscant. Of course, I have heard much of him, particularly from Amidala of Naboo."

"To tell the truth, Chancellor," said Obi-Wan, "I do not know. He must be out somewhere with his friends. But let us get to the point. This time is not a time for socializing. I am taking you away from your duties as the Chancellor, even though you actually asked me to meet you here. What is it you have to say?"

"It is         quite important, truly. I came to warn yo-" he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence, and clutched his throat.

"What is the problem, Sir?" asked Obi-Wan. He kept clutching at his throat, clawing at it as if he could not breath. "I'll call a healer," he finally said after a moment, a little panicked. But there was nothing really to panic about; the Jedi Healers could cure almost anything. He took out his comlink, punched in the code for the healers, and said, "We need a healer in docking bay 945 right now. The Chancellor seems to be having a respiratory problem." He turned to the Chancellor, who was kneeled on the ground, and gasped.

The Chancellor continued to claw at his throat. A trickle of blood fell down his neck, and it seemed as if he was trying to say something.

You disobeyed me, said Darth Sidious. I told you not to tell a word of any of our plans to a soul. And now look what you have done to yourself...

I'm just trying to help the Republic...

You must realize that you are not needed. I could easily replace you, now. The only thing I need to do is destroy the Jedi. All the rest is baggage.

Obi-Wan probed the Chancellor's body, and found, surprisingly, that it was surrounded by a dark aura, as if a Sith were mutilating his body. He also felt that his mind was blocked, by this... He tried to get past it, but he was only pushed away as if there was an impenetrable wall there. Apparently, Palpatine had some latent force abilities. How did the Chancellor get elected into the Senate initially and not have been born in the Republic? He asked, assuming that the reason that Palpatine had not been taken through the crèche was that he was born outside the Republic.

I threatened what would happen to you if you leaked, Palpy, Darth Sidious mocked, using his personal nickname for Palpatine. And now, look what it has done for you. If you let go of the idea of leaking totally, this will stop... and also, it serves you in the end. In the End, it will make it all much, much easier for you.

Within moments of Obi-Wan's observation, the healers came running into the hanger bay. They had a repulsorstretcher, and breathing apparatus on a tray next to it. They lifted up the seemingly mad Palpatine onto the repulsorstretcher, and rushed him off towards the Healing Wing of the Temple.

* * * * * * *

The Healing Wing of the Temple was a suite of operating and training rooms and sick bays of titanic size. More than eighty percent of it was not used at any particular point in time. The Emergency Operating Room where the Supreme Chancellor was soon to arrive was barren, except for rows upon rows of supplies along the deep grey duracrete walls and an operating table in the center. The flood lights made it dim, but light enough that it surgery and other more delicate procedures could be accomplished. They needed it dim so that certain materials which were invalid in bright ambient light would stay good. As for living beings, it was empty, except for An-Paj and his assistant, his apprentice, Kri'a.

An-Paj watched the man come in, followed by Obi-Wan Kenobi and two other healers. The Chancellor was almost blue in the face and short of breath, as opposed to Obi-Wan and the two other healers, who were breathing normally and not perspiring at all after running almost thirty kilometres per hour, and Palpatine was clawing at his throat continuously. It was not like anything An-Paj had ever seen.

"Calm down, calm down," he said to everyone, particularly Palpatine. "Sir, why are you clawing at your throat?" he asked politely. If he died, it would not be good for anyone.

All the same, Palpatine was trying to take control of his body back. He tried to say something, but he couldn't. Only a little, tiny croak came out. He felt as if he had been caught in a whirlwind of pain and hurt and suffering; it was the Dark Side. He felt as though he was flying and someone else was controlling him, and he couldn't stop it, no matter how hard he tried.

He still wanted to tell them everything, how the Sith planned to take over the Republic; everything. What if I dispel of the idea? He considered. Sidious wants me to do what he wants; if I don't, I will die. What is better, to die, or to be a puppet?

"Bring me a electrobreather!" said An-Paj, calm and in control. His apprentice ran over and got one; An-Paj was the head healer, and knew that a breather would put any normal form of choking under control. He placed it on the Chancellor's face and it turned on. But nothing happened. "Sith!" he exclaimed. "What's going on?!" He probed the Chancellor's neck, and found that his windpipe was slowly but surely getting crushed. Holy shit! He thought. What the hell is going on?

Palpatine  hid his thoughts in the small corner of his brain that Sidious could not get to, let go of it, and suddenly, it stopped. Palpatine had found that, even when in the presence of the Dark Lord, there was a small part of his brain that Sidious had never sensed, he believed. He sat up, and tried to say what he wanted to say, and he felt a slight pressure around his windpipe. He realized the breather on his face, and pulled it off. He still hadn't opened his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, and then stopped.

Darth Sidious' secrets were safe with him.

*****************

Who is it this time? asked Jabba the Hutt to his right-hand man, or rather, right-hand Twilek, Bib Fortuna.

There are a group of bounty hunters who seek work, said Bib. They claim to be the best in their field. I do not know them. That was saying a lot, seeing how Bib Fortuna kept watch on all the bounty hunters in the Outer Rim – and all the bounty hunters worked in the outer rim at some time or another.

Really? Send them in. I think I have work for them, said Jabba. This could help me greatly... he trailed off to himself. Bib walked to the entrance to Jabba's court, where he motioned in a few bounty hunters. Jabba thought there was something odd about them, but put it aside for the time being.

Eight bounty hunters entered the scene; the floor of the court was littered with bodies of Jabba's lieutenants, members of Jabba's gang, and bounty hunters. Some were sitting at tables, eating and chatting, others sat up against the wall in hangovers, and still others were making business deals. Against Jabba was a dancing girl.

Jabba's court was the place to hide when the Republic was trying to find you – they had no influence there, and no contacts. Jabba kept very good security on his territory. So far, no Republic agent had entered Jabba's palace and exited it alive, let alone exited it at all.

Jabba's guards in the teethed masks let them come down the steps, and the eight bounty hunters stepped onto the floor. Suddenly, everything in the room stopped. People stopped talking, people woke up, and all heads turned in the direction of the strangely-clad mercenaries. Sunlight streamed through the skylights, glinting off their helmets. They all wore matching uniform, black, except for the one who appeared to be the leader, walking ahead of the rest, who wore a green one.

They wore the armor of the ancient original Mandalorians: They wore helmets with macrobinocular lenses, and on their heads were boad-band radio antennae that connected them with their ships in port and gave them the ability to intercept and decode transmissions. On their backs were cloaks of their respective colors, and also a concussion grenade launcher. The Leader had five thermal detonators along his waist, while the rest had three each. Each also had a BlasTech EE-3 rifle, wrist gauntlets that housed lasers, a miniature flame projector, and a fibercord device that could be used for whipping and grappling. As well, they were equipped a back-pack jet pack and a turbo-projected magnetic grappling hook with a 20-meter lanyard; they also had knee-pad rocket dart launchers.

I welcome you, said Jabba. You may address me as Lord. What is your business here?

We do have business here, thank you very much, the leader said. I have news that you are looking for bounty hunters. Is there any truth to this?

Well, I am, said Jabba. I have superb business deal I could make with you. But first, I need to know who you are. I track every bounty hunter in the Outer Rim, and have never heard of you and you band. I need credentials.

I am afraid that our credentials are not known to anyone inside the Outer Rim.

Inside? asked Jabba. Do you mean to say that you do your work in the Unknown Regions?

We do do our work in the area known to you as the Unknown Regions. But to us, we refer to it as home. And I am Boba Fett, mercenary extraordinaire. These, he said with a motion, are my companions; we work together to capture any fugitive anywhere in our home cluster. We ventured here, hearing rumors of great amounts of work, and heard of this opportunity. Would you go into detail on it?

Jabba glanced around at his court. It still might be a week before Skywalker landed on Tatooine, so he had to keep close raps on the information. It won't hurt now, thought Jabba. They can't do anything on Tatooine, and I have my people in position, and they couldn't beat me to it. Very well. I need you to either stay here on Tatooine, or to go to Coruscant with my other hunters. You have your choice.

We would do neither, said Fett. We cannot stay on Tatooine for a long time, due to the heat. As well, we cannot go near Coruscant. We would be sensed quite easily by the Jedi and it would ruin your mission. That is why we cannot do either; in fact, it is the reason we came to you in the first place, now that I look at it.

These Bounty Hunters know a lot about the Republic from being in the Unknown Regions... thought Jabba. I'll have to get rid of them. Then you cannot help me, said Jabba, and I would request that you leave my court immediately.

As a matter of fact, we can help you quite a lot, said Fett, stepping closer, over a grill on the floor, where his seven companions stood behind them. It was just then, with them lined up, that Jabba realized what was so unnerving about them. They all wore the same uniform; they all were the same height and build; they all looked the same. As if they were clones. We could go to the rendez-vous point for your kidnapping of Chancellor Palpatine; we could protect him from the Jedi who the Republic will no doubt send to retake him.

What? How do they know? Asked Jabba. No one answered back. Obviously, that swindler Sidious had advertised his deal to more than one crime organization. That bastard! he thought. Jabba would have to be more careful, or else he might lose the whole deal. Under different circumstances, he might even call it off, but he wouldn't. He had to pay his men and smugglers and other scum, and his recent ventures hadn't gone well at all. He glanced over at his mate Gardulla, and said: I would be grateful to have you help me. I will give you the coordinates at a later time.

**********

As the chrono struck two o'clock in the morning on Coruscant, an alarm went off. Not a large, blaring, light-flashing alarm. It was a small, silent alarm that awoke none but Anakin Skywalker. He had programmed a concealed circuit with the chrono on the nightstand next to his bed in the Jedi Temple to send a small shock through his right leg. It woke him silently and efficiently; no one knew that it even existed.

Anakin checked to see if Obi-Wan was stirring; he wasn't. Sleeping like a baby, thought Anakin. He got up; he was already dressed for the occasion. In his Jedi robes, he could easily move around without creating any noise at all. He disconnected this most irritating wake-up circuit, and hid it in his robes so no one would find it. He quietly opened his door; it didn't make a sound. He stepped out into the common room, and noted that Obi-Wan was moving around in his sleep. Probably dreaming that I'm running away to free my mother, Anakin thought with a chuckle. He would get quite a shock when he woke up and found that his nightmare had come true.

Anakin didn't want to check if that was what he was actually dreaming about; he couldn't risk a mind probe or it might wake him up and everything would be ruined. If he didn't hitchhike with them, he would never be able to get there, at least for a very long time. He quietly glided across the common room, and opened the door. The dim lights lit the corridor that was outside their suite, and Anakin looked around. He could hear Obi-Wan snoring from his room, and before he could wake up because of anything at all, he walked out and closed the door. The lock clicked almost without any noise at all.

The lights in the corridor were dimmed for the night, but Anakin could still see; he had acquired the talent of night-sight while a slave on Tatooine, staying up late at night with the lights dimmed, working on his brain-children. He silently and quickly ran down the hallway to the turbolift center. He could feel that the Council was active up in the spire; no one knew about these late-night meetings. It's a shame I can't tell anyone about them now, thought Anakin.

Each floor had a turbolift center, and it could take one to any place in the whole temple, if they had the authorization. Anakin entered the one all the way on the left, the one that he had found that didn't remember who had gone where; it was defective. But at this point, that helped him, and didn't help the Jedi. He keyed in the code for hanger bay number nine hundred and twenty six – the guest hanger bay. Within moments, he was down in the bay.

No one would be able to find him.

He skulked across the almost empty bay, the immense shadows alternately extending and them coming back into themselves with the flickering of the landing lights, and came to the freighter Chancing Catch. He looked at the entrance keypad, and was about to use the force to press every combination possible into the keypad, but remembered the Council. If they caught him, they would most definitely suspend him from missions and all other things possible: he wouldn't be able to go anywhere whatsoever outside of the Temple, to have communication outside the Temple; it would be just like when he started.

He reached inside his cloak, and pulled out a small card. There was a small card slot next to the keypad, which, if used, would give enterer complete control over all the systems once they got in. Anakin prided himself in the design; of course, it was untested: he had never used it. He sent the card through the slot once, and it recorded the combination onto it. The second time through, a light lit next to the entrance pad, and the ramp came down with a small hiss. Anakin probed the force again, and found that the Council wasn't even giving him any though; he was safe.

The air was musky at night, it was more humid at that time of the day on Coruscant. It weighed heavily on Anakin, but he pressed on. He entered the ship, and closed the hatch. He placed the card back inside his cloak, and pulled out a small flashlight: even with his good night-eyes, he could not see in pitch black.

The flashlight created a lightsaber-like beam of light that cut through the dark like a Jedi through a group of ancient, obsolete first-generation battle droids, and he flashed it around. He had to find someplace to hide. He walked around a bit, flashing the light here and there. There was the cabin, and the common-room, and the cockpit, to name a few. It was clam-shaped, with the cockpit on the right, on an extension of the ship backed by another arm, whose backside followed around the back of the ship to the engines. There were two sets of dual laser cannons on the ship: on the bottom, and the top. This particular ship was heavily shielded so that if they were attacked, the counselors could retreat onto a capital ship and save their skins. The Chancing Catch was actually downgraded; for this mission, it was only a counselor's ship.

Anakin found a moderately large storage box, and looked to see if anything was inside. The light flew over some tools, and some cleaning materials. It would be large enough to hold him, and he could lock it from the inside. He slipped in, and locked it.

Once he was inside, he noticed just how claustrophobic it was. He had not much room to move his arms around, and it wasn't that comfortable. But it gave him a place to stay, and no one would be able to find him.

He got ready to send himself into a trance, and contemplated the choice he had made. If he sent himself into the trance, there was no turning back; by the time he had woken, they would have already left for the rendezvous. At this point, he could still slip out, and go back into his bed. Could I? Do I want to?

He rested his head against the back of the hard metal storage box, and sighed. It was the same as when he had heard that the 'Queen' was dead, with Obi-Wan. He never had a chance to say good-bye. And no, he wouldn't go back; he couldn't go back. He was on the very verge of seeing his mother again, and freeing her, and from this, there was no return.

*****************

"So. We have the reports from Malastare, and it doesn't look good," Mace Windu said. The Council Chamber was dark, but it was dimly illuminated by the lights outside the Jedi Temple, moving about like fireflies caught between fire and water.

"Do we join the war effort, or do we stay off to the side without moving a muscle, as many die?" asked Ki-Adi Mundi. "We must make a choice."

"There is nothing we can do besides help them," Adi Gallia said. "If the Sith are cloning themselves, and are using them as special-action troops, to combat any Jedi that come their way, the only option is to send Jedi to protect them."

"We saw what they did to the troops on Malastare," said Depa Billaba, "the Sith clones cut through them like it was nothing. Almost nobody escaped from the disaster. If we do not act, then the Republic will not win any battles at all: the Sith will just destroy them; it doesn't matter how many troops we have, but if we do not have something or someone that can protect them from these clones of former Sith Masters, all is for naught."

"Agree with this, I must," said Yoda. "Do something, the only option is. Need support against the Dark Lords of the Sith, the troops need. Destroy them we must, besides that, to remove from the galaxy Dark Jedi. Send the Jedi to fight, we must."

"We must do this," said Mace. "We have to get rid of these Dark Jedi before we are overrun and destroyed ourselves. We have to send Jedi to Alderaan when their mission goes the day after tomorrow."

******************

Obi-Wan Kenobi woke up with a start, as his alarm went off. He opened his curtains and found that sunlight was already streaming down through the windows, but even though that wasn't an odd turn of events, it was at an unusually large angle that it fell onto the floor. He looked over again at the chrono, and noted that it had awakened him at eleven o'clock in the morn. He had no idea who had messed with his alarm, but it was set for eleven, even though he knew for a fact it was set for seven. He had wanted to be awake, and make sure that Anakin didn't run off with the Queen to Tatooine, which he suspected Anakin of thinking about.

He had had the weirdest dream the night before. He dreamt that Anakin had run off in the middle of the night, and got away. He got dressed quickly, thinking about it. He searched for Ani, to see what he was doing, but he couldn't find him. It was the most odd thing. He finally put two and two together, and ran out into the common room; Anakin's door was ajar. Oh, no... thought Obi-Wan. If Anakin had ran away, Obi-Wan would be in deep poodoo with the Council. He was still calm, though. There was probably a good explanation for this without Anakin running away.

Anakin's bedspread was not made at all, and Anakin wasn't there, just as Obi-Wan had figured. There had to be some explanation for this other than what he feared. But Obi-Wan somehow knew, innately, that it couldn't be that way. Anakin had run away. Obi-Wan had always admired the way that he was so passionate about certain things – such as opposing slavery across the galaxy, and how he would not let them pass, under any circumstances. But this, this particular time, Obi-Wan would be the one not to let it pass. He had been letting his guard down lately, Anakin hadn't been following the Code, and he was beginning to get tempted to do things in a faster, easier way, just to get them out of the way – the dark side. And the most powerful being in the force in the history of the Galaxy corrupted by the Dark Side was not a happy thing.

Obi-Wan had been expecting to talk to Anakin about it today, but he couldn't, since Anakin was gone. Anakin had a three-hour lead, but Obi-Wan could catch up easily. But still, Obi-Wan didn't know if Anakin had actually run off. He needed proof before he told the Council that that was what he had actually done.

* * * *

Owen Lars had kept his mouth shut about Anakin Skywalker for one reason alone: he knew that Anakin's action would get Obi-Wan out there, to catch Anakin, and in the process, there was the chance that his brother could get hurt, even killed. He didn't really like his brother, who he considered less than a half-brother. The Jedi were child-stealers, and even though his brother hadn't been directly active in the process, he was a mere shadow of what he could have been if he hadn't been so damned force-sensitive. They could have been partners in business, something that didn't bother anyone else except them and was relaxing, being a farmer or something along those lines.

Owen had always wondered what life would have been like for him if his 'long-lost brother', whom his parents talked about constantly to him, hadn't been taken by the Jedi. What if? But what ifs don't count; they don't change anything, they are just escapist. Owen hadn't had any other siblings, unlike any of his friends. He always wanted a person – a sibling to be exact – that he would always be friends with, to grow up with. They could have led a good life – ruined from the start by the Jedi. They could have done so much together, making livings, marrying, raising families, just be friends, so much. All ruined by the Jedi. He had never had a brother, all he had was a Jedi.

He was just about to eat lunch, when he heard the lock click on his door and Obi-Wan ran in. "Don't you ever unlock my door from the outside, you, you..." Owen searched for the proper cuss word. "jedi! What the hell are you doing here? What do you want?"

"I need your help..." pleaded Obi-Wan. What game is he playing?

"Oh, so you need my help? You won't get any here. Get out. Now." He turned his back on Obi-Wan, and said no more.

"Look. I need help with Anakin. I would expect even a brother would help his own."

"Anakin, eh?" asked Owen, eyeing him with his back still turned to him. "What about Anakin? He hasn't run off, has he?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, he has. I think. I need to know if you've seen him this morning." He breathed heavily, and probed his brother's mind, to see if he knew anything.

"Well, I haven't seen him. But I saw him yesterday..."

"And?" asked Obi-Wan. What did Anakin say to him?

"...and Anakin said that he was going with them."

"What?! Why didn't you tell me?" asked Obi-Wan, astounded. Why didn't he tell me?

"I have my reasons," said Owen mysteriously. "Now, you've got what you wanted. Get out of here."


Obi-Wan would have stayed and found out exactly what those reasons were, but he had to go talk to the Council.

********

"I need to speak with the Council," Obi-Wan Kenobi said.

"I'm sorry, but they are in a private session right now," sullenly replied the clerk. "You'll have to wait until they are done."

"But I need to talk to them now!" yelled Obi-Wan. "You will let me in to the Council Chamber, now," he said with a wave of his hand.

"I will let you into the Council now," she replied mindlessly.

"As a matter of fact, Obi-Wan, use of a mind-trick isn't necessary to get in and talk to us," Mace Windu said, coming towards them. The clerk sat at a desk, guarding the way into the Council Chamber, marking who went in and who went out, calling people up and sending them back down again. "We were actually just about to call you up here."

"Well, that problem seems to have been solved," said Obi-Wan. "What's the matter?"

"You'll find out when we get inside."

* * * * * * * * *

"Where is your Padawan, Obi-Wan?" asked Adi Gallia. "We called him up, as well."

"Well, actually that's what I –"

"Adi, I found him trying to get in, and didn't call him up," said Mace. "He is not needed for this, right now."

"Yes he is!" said Obi-Wan. "He is needed right now, but he isn't here. Not on Coruscant, not in the Republic."

"Padawan Skywalker, where is he?" asked Yoda. "Dead, he is not, I suppose?"

"He is not dead – I don't think. But yesterday, Amidala started a mission to free the slaves on Tatooine, and –"

"And he hid on board," said Depa Billaba. "I was expecting it; he constantly does not listen to us. He runs off on these 'detours': just like Qui-Gon did. That's why we turned on his tracker."

"His tracker – but I thought it was taken out?" asked Obi-Wan. Why the hell does he still have it in?

"It was never taken out: it was just deactivated and the code changed to a random number. This way, no one can use it against him. But we know what the code is, and we have it set to track him, nothing else. This way, we can know where he is at any time," explained Ki-Adi Mundi.

"I see... so we can find out exactly where he is at any time, even in hyperspace?" asked Obi-Wan.

"Do this, we can," said Yoda. "But know that left, he did, we did not know. News, this is. And good news, it is not, either."

"Actually," said Mace, "we were going to call you up because the Alderaan mission was moved up a few weeks: we need to send Jedi on the missions. The Sith have been cloning themselves, and sending them around as special-action troops. It poses no problem for the rule of two; they must have something wired into them that prevents them from thinking about betrayal. It is the only way it would work. Either way, we wanted to send Jedi, or else the Republic would not be able to win a single battle this whole war. They were decimated on Malastare, and they need our help. However, it appears that you cannot go."

"Yes," said Plo Koon. "You cannot go without your Padawan. You must go and get him back. Going to Tatooine, therefore, is your new mission. Bypass the rendezvous point, it will give you time over them. Take another ship to Tatooine and wait for him."

"Yes. Go, you must, to Tatooine," said Yoda. "Send Padawan Binks, Master Gallia and others we will."

*************

Anakin Skywalker felt the ship come out of hyperspace; the vibrations changed. He pulled himself out of his trance, they were at Tatooine. He heard the shuffling of feet as people moved into the room, unknowing to his presence.

* * * *

"And so," said Amidala, "we have embarked on this mission to free the slaves on Tatooine."

"Yes, we have," said Bail Organa, sitting across the round table from the former Queen. The table took up most of the common area of the ship, except for the holotable and storage closet. It was bleak, but the Republic had taken this YT-2400 freighter and modified it for reconnaissance means. Bleakness didn't matter when you had your enemies on your tail. "But how will we structure this mission?" he continued. "How will we free the slaves?"

"It seems quite simple," said Jan Dodonna, a general in the Republic Navy who had volunteered for the mission. He had a dark black beard, and short black hair contrasted with his starkly pale face. "We send Amidala, Bail, and any other ambassadors we have with us into Jabba's palace with a group of guards, and plead our case."

"They probably won't take it," said Panaka. "You remember, they see the slaves as property. To free the slaves – that's them losing their property. And if someone comes to you and says 'I'm taking away your property for the sake of your property and the rest of the Galaxy,' you probably won't be too happy."

"And that's why we have the star destroyers," said Amidala. "We have three of them, the Freedom, commanded by General Dodonna, the Tolerance, commanded by Senator Bel Iblis of the Narma system, and the Artisan's Touch, commanded by... I'm afraid I don't know you're name," she said to the only clone at the conference.

"My official name is AA45-YTGH-98F7," said the clone, "but you can refer to me as Admiral Grant'en Kre'feey. I am Kre'fey's clone; he is one of the admirals of the fleet, I believe."

"Very well, Kre'feey," said Bail. "It'd be a pain to try to remember all those numbers, if you will try to understand." I can't believe this. I am talking to a person... no, a clone, who is a symbol that stands against all the moral beliefs I hold, one on the foremost which is against cloning.

"Oh, I understand completely."

"Thank you," said Bail.

"What I propose," said Garm Bel Iblis, "is that we keep the star destroyers in the outer portion of the Tatooine system. We can then call them in if we need to use force as part of our argument."

"Would you like to come and be one of the Ambassadors, Garm?" asked Bail. "We would welcome you and your expertise in this field."

"I'd be grateful. But who then would be in command of the Tolerance?"

"I could command it from my ship," said Jan. "I doubt we'll see much action, anyway."

"I don't like this," said Amidala. "I don't like using force for our negotiations. We don't have to blockade Tatooine in order to force them to sign a treaty that would free all the slaves – there are other, more peaceful ways. The reason we have this force accompanying us is for two reasons: one, to protect us if we are attacked, and two... to... to well, I'm not sure of the second reason. We don't need to use force. If we blockaded them, we'd be just as bad as the Trade Federation."

"We don't need to blockade, Amidala," said Bail. "We could simply say, if need comes to need, 'We have three battleships that are in range – we could call them in and blockade the planet, perhaps even bombard it.' That's all. If we can make them afraid, we can make them sign a treaty."

Amidala sighed. "Let's leave the topic for now. We can decide on this later. The first thing we definitely need to do when we get there if find Shmi Skywalker, and find out how things have changed since ten years ago."

"That makes sense," said Jan. "I believe she's our contact?"

"Yes."

"How long is the travel-time through hyperspace to Tatooine from here?" asked Kre'feey.

* * * * * *

How long is the travel-time through hyperspace to Tatooine from here?

We must not be at Tatooine, thought Anakin.

Five days.

Anakin threw himself into another trance, and then, everything went black.

************

Not many people were staying on the actual consular ship; it was basically Amidala and her three handmaidens. They could pull it out of hyperspace; they knew how to do that, at least. Everyone else was staying on one of the star destroyers – but nobody on the Artisan's Touch; they didn't want to stay where everyone except themselves were clones. It was unnerving. So the Queen and her handmaidens stayed alone on the Chancing Catch.

They had the run of the ship, obviously – they were alone. They could talk about anything, literally, and nobody would know. They thought.

* * * * * *

Anakin Skywalker stirred; he felt something. It was as if he was being told you should wake up; you don't want to miss this... He heard some noise as there was a cluttering sound outside his hiding place.

* * * * * * *

"What's inside this storage compartment?" asked Yane', studying it. She had the feeling that there was something about it that was just out of her reach.

"I don't know," said Amidala. "It's locked; I've never seen inside it."

"I'll see if I can get it open. It might just be stuck. It's a Republic transport, you know," Yane' said. She tried to open it, and the handle turned well enough – but it wouldn't open. It was as if some supernatural Force was holding it shut. "There's something odd about this..." she said.

"Yeah, and it doesn't matter," said Rabe', who was just entering the common area. "What difference does it make what's in there?"

"I don't know, but it's bothering me," replied Yane'.

"Well..." said Sache', sitting down at the holotable next to the storage cabinet, I've got to talk about something with Her Formal Royal Highness. You guys can stick around, of course."

"Oh! More gossip stuff, I assume?" asked Yane'. "I bet it's about our favorite little Jedi."

"It is... actually. Of course, you can hang around and pick up the new gossip material," said Sache'.

* * * * * *

This was interesting. Anakin Skywalker would have an opportunity to hear what they actually said about him. What they thought about him, what Ami specifically thought about him that he never felt or heard, which he doubted was anything at all, just to give a few examples. It would give him much more gossip material than they got – but he would never be able to use it.

* * * * * *

"So, has he popped the question yet?" asked Sache'.

Uhh-oh, thought Ami. This might not be pretty... "No, not yet. We've only been going out a month and half, remember?"

"Just wondering. You really should ask him, you know," she said. "You aren't a little girl anymore – you're starting to get old. So are we. We haven't settled down, got married, had families, for one reason, at least for me, because of our loyalty to you. We would most probably been married five years ago if we weren't permanently attached to you like prosthetics," she continued.

"Yeah – that's right," said Rabe'. "It's not like I'd like you to ask him – it's much more romantic the other way around. But he's in a sound line of work, if you take my meaning. Being a Jedi is a dangerous job, but if what I've seen of him is any proof, his missions should be the least of his problems in surviving."

"I agree," said Yane'. "I mean, does it really matter just how long it has been? Do you know he's in love with you? Do-"

"Well, he hasn't said it out-right yet. Neither have I, as a matter of fact," Ami said.

Yane' continued: "As I was saying, do you love him? Are you sure? You seem, at least from what I can see, to have fallen for him – damn hard."

"I think so," said Ami.

"Yeah, you should ask him, or at least start to move towards the topic. After the Alderaan mission next month, you could easily settle down – at least, if the Jedi let him," said Sache'.

"Yeah – I might. That sounds good."

At this, they heard a choke from the cabinet to their back.

* * * * * *

Well, he hasn't said it out-right yet. Neither have I, as a matter of fact.

As I was saying, do you love him? Are you sure? You seem, at least from what I can see, to have fallen for him – damn hard.

I think so.

Yeah, you should ask him, or at least start to move towards the topic. After the Alderaan mission next month, you could easily settle down – at least, if the Jedi let him.

Yeah – I might. That sounds good.

Anakin choked at this. It was a harsh, covered-up choke. But it was audible, and he suspected that they had heard it. His cover was blown. He hadn't given this topic any thought at all. It was far into the future; he was concentrating on what was happening now. What was in the future, he would deal with then, not now.

But this was something. She was going to move towards the topic of marriage – the future was now. And the Jedi, that was another story. How would he explain this to them, when it happened? Never mind the running away part, but getting married? As a Padawan? He wasn't even supposed to be having romantic relationships, and he would get married? He didn't want to think about it. He'd figure out how to deal with it when he was confronted with the problem.

He heard the cabinet trying to be opened – and he had let his guard down a little too much – it opened.

* * * * * *

Anakin Skywalker came flying out of the storage cupboard as the four women finally forced the cabinet open. He was disheveled. Everything was changing so fast. Now, his cover was blown; he was thrust into a situation he did not want to be in – he would be forced to talk about the topic he didn't want to right now. Perhaps not.

"What are you doing here?" asked Sache'. "You're supposed to be on Coruscant!!"

"You mean – you could hear everything?" asked Ami, burying her head in her hands on the table. "Everything? Gods..."

"Look, Ami, I'll talk to you about it later. We can leave it for now."

"So, you know everything? About the mission?" asked Yane'.

"Yes. I heard everything. But I was in a trance the whole time, so I missed everything except the rendezvous point and this."

"A likely excuse. I used my Jedi powers to not listen to you! Yeah, right. And you just happened to wake up right now?" Rabe' asked. "If you ask me, you're a compulsive liar."

"Look – he's stuck with us, okay?" Ami said. "Actually it might help to have a Jedi along. And also, we can't exactly take him back, we'd be abandoning the mission. And we can expect Obi-Wan, too, since I bet the Council's sent him to get Ani back."

"Yeah? And what good does that do us?" asked Yane'. "We shouldn't have to depend on a Jedi to free slaves – we can do it on our own. And also, we shouldn't be eavesdropped on, alright? Even if you can do it, it doesn't mean you have to."

"Whatever you say," Ani said.

"But Ami's right," Sache' interjected. "We can't exactly take him back. We'd be betraying everyone."


"Whatever you say," Ani said. What had he done? What had possessed him to stow away on a ship that was going where he had been forbidden – explicitly – not to go? "Whatever you want, I'll do. Just get me out of this hell and back home!"

**************

"We're almost at Tatooine," Anakin said with glee. He looked out the cockpit window at the swirling matter of hyperspace, waiting for just a glimpse of his home planet anxiously. He was sitting in the copilot's chair, and everyone else was standing around.

"Put a sock in it," said Rabe', sitting in the pilot's chair. "I'll pull us out of hyperspace with the rest of the ships."

"I still can't believe you were listening to us," said Ami. "You heard everything!"

"I'm sorry Ami," Ani said, looking back. "But that's when I woke up, and you just happened to be talking right next to me."

"But it wasn't a coincidence," said Ami. "There's no such thing as a coincidence. I betcha that you were supposed to overhear us with that."

Anakin had slept in the storage closet, for the handmaidens to get back at him – he'd have to stay in there at night, like he was going to originally. "Actually, that's not half off the mark," Ani said. He turned the chair around, and continued: "I kind of heard the Force telling me to come out of my trance."

"Just another excuse for eavesdropping," said Yane'. "I think you shouldn't be with those kinds of guys, Amidala. You know, the kind that always follows up on you, to see what you're doing when you're not around him."

"Look, Ami and I will continue this conversation outside, without annoying handmaidens interjecting their own thoughts into the argument, like it has been continuously for the past few days," said Ani.

"Yeah. This time, we don't want people listening in."

* * * * * *

"So why didn't you just tune out when you heard us? You know, find something else to do?" asked Ami.

"What else was there to do?" asked Anakin, leaning back in the chair in Amidala's room. "I mean, what is there to do in a storage closet? Play with a mop? Mix chemicals?"

"Well... I don't know. I've never been stuck in a storage closet before."

"The same with me before this. But you've got to understand... it's not about you, Ami. It's about my mother. That's why I stowed away. I couldn't bear that I would have the opportunity to see her again, and that it wouldn't happen. That's why I came. It's like Jar Jar, leaving Naboo. We didn't know that he was there, but he listened in on our conversation. And we didn't care. Why is it different now?"

"Because the circumstances are different! We weren't discussing controversial topics then, were we? This was something I was going to talk to you about afterwards! Later! Not now! Look, I think I'll be like you and procrastinate a little. You know, now, some things I'd rather keep to myself, to tell later."

"To keep to yourself? Since when have feelings that we've had for each other been kept to ourselves?"

"Well, there was the time when we didn't know that the other one of us felt the same way as we did for each other... but that's a long time ago. I can't think about any time like that. I admire the fact that you are so passionate in wanting to free you mother, but this isn't the time for this. Let's keep an uneasy peace for the time being, and ignore those crazy handmaidens for the time being. We'll figure something out."

"Yeah. The topic has been run over multiple times anyway over the last couple of days, and it's just the same arguments from the same people. It's getting redundant. I think we should do that."

* * * * * *

The blotchy, spinning sky of hyperspace mutilated, and shortened to the starfield. It didn't look familiar like the sky of Tatooine to Anakin, but that was understandable – they were on the very fringes of the system. The Chancing Catch, under the control of Anakin Skywalker, moved quickly into the hull of the Tolerance, and landed in the main hanger bay.

Senator Bel Iblis, Bail and Panaka were the only ambassadors who were staying on the Tolerance, and they brought their things on quickly.

"Who's this?" Garm asked when they came on board.

"I'm Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Padawan," said Ani. "I well... I... um, I stowed away to come free my mother here. I'm the one who started this whole thing."

What the heck is a padawan? "Nice to meet you, Jedi Skywalker. It's a pleasure."

Hopefully, they hadn't been spotted yet.

* * * * * *

Bib Fortuna walked through the tech center in Jabba's palace. The Republic idealists were supposed to be here soon. Have they arrived yet? he asked.

I have picked up a trace, one of the techs said. Bib walked over to the technician, and looked onto the screen. There's three unidentified capital starships, and one YT-2400 freighter, heavily shielded.

What are those identified ships? asked Fortuna.

I don't know, but from the specs I'm picking up, I wouldn't want to tangle with them.

I'll deal with that later. Let them land with no questioning or anything. And send out the signal to our forces near Coruscant.