The two Jedi Interceptors skimmed the length of the star destroyer in perfect tandem then dove over its edge and into the maelstrom. The Battle of Coruscant was in its third day, the space around the planet thick with debris, bodies and clouds of frozen gas, but still the giant capital ships slugged it out with batteries of missiles and flaming broadsides, while the tiny fighters danced their deadly duels between and around them. On the planet below the orderly cityscape was rent with the blackened tracks of crashed ships and spotted with flaming infernos engulfing entire blocks.
It was as close to hell as Anakin Skywalker ever wanted to come. 'Padme and the others will be fine.' he told himself, 'Typho will see they take shelter. They're okay, they're safe. Focus, Ani, focus on the moment if you want to get back to them!'
Artoo Detoo, snug in his wing socket, bleeped excitedly. Anakin glanced at the translator screen and nodded approval. "Good work Artoo. Obi-Wan, the command ship is straight ahead, the one crawling with vulture droids."
His brother's answer fairly dripped sarcasm. "Oh, this is going to be easy." Anakin grinned. "Oddball do you copy?" Obi-Wan continued to the clone squadron tailing them.
"Copy, Red Leader. We're right behind you, General Kenobi" the clones all sounded alike over com-link, Anakin thought idly, it could have been Cody, or Red Two or any of the hundreds of others they'd worked with during the war.
And the vultures were coming out to meet them. They rose from the surface of the cruiser in a dense cloud. "Here's where the fun begins." Anakin muttered, mostly to himself though he knew his link was open and the other pilots would hear. He thought he caught a few smothered guffaws from the clones.
"Cut the chatter, Red Five." Obi-Wan said sharply, then. "Let them pass between us."
The Vultures flowed around and over them to engage the clone Arc fighters. Six ships blew up in the first seconds of the engagement, twice that number of vultures were taken out but the clones were badly outnumbers. Tit for tat wasn't good enough. Anakin flinched as Oddball Leader's fighter disintegrated just aft of his port wing. "I'm going to help them out!"
"No!" Obi-Wan's commanded, crisp and cool, "They are doing their job so we can do ours."
He was right. Of course he was right. Heck Oddball and his pilots would be the first to agree. Anakin's job and Obi-Wan's was more than important - it was vital. And every single man out here, clone or born, would gladly give his life to get the two of them on that cruiser.
Obi-Wan's voice came again, more gently. "It's hard for me too, Anakin, but let's not waste their sacrifice."
He let out a long breath, letting go of guilt and regret. "Yes, Master."
Artoo shrilled a warning. Anakin didn't need to read his translator, he could see the problem coming at them. "Missiles!" he snapped, rolling to starboard as his partner went to port.
"They overshot us." Obi-Wan reported.
Anakin shook his head. Damn. Homing missiles. "They're coming around." Two fixed themselves on Obi-Wan and two on him. He grinned a little to himself. Spinning was still a good trick, even if it did make poor Artoo scream every time. The missiles corkscrewed, trying to match his course and collided eliminating each other.
Now where was Obi-Wan? Anakin squinted through his canopy, searching the crowded sky. Then two words came over the comlink that almost stopped his heart.
Where? Where? Then Anakin spotted him and his heart gave another sickening lurch. "Buzz droids!" the nastiest of all the nasty weapons the war had produced. Buzz droids were spidery things with a whole array of specialized tools programmed to take fighters apart in mid-flight. And that was exactly what the half dozen or so crawling all over Obi-Wan's Interceptor were doing.
The dome of his Arfour unit tumbled past Anakin's cockpit. "Oh dear." said Obi-Wan, then: "Get out of here, Anakin, there's nothing you can do."
He had to be kidding. Anakin worked his controls, trying for a clear shot. "Stop weaving around will you?"
"How?" Obi-Wan snapped. "I've lost steering controls."
"Never mind." the Interceptor silhouette flashed as the shot aligned, Anakin's thumb came down hard on the firing button. Two of the nasty little buzzers vanished in gouts of flame. Unfortunately so did Obi-Wan's starboard wing vane. Oops.
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan squawked. "You're not helping."
"I agree. Bad idea." he groped for a better one. Got it. Carefully he matched vectors with the damaged ship, edged closer...closer...there! his wing smashed two of the remaining buzz droids to bits - but the third managed to jump from Obi-Wan's ship to his.
Jarred by the collision Obi-Wan gasped. "What in the name of - ? Anakin, you're going to get us both killed!"
"Always with the complaints." Anakin answered, one eye on the buzz droid as it squared off with Artoo.
"I'm fogging up, I can't see."
"Don't worry about it, I'm with you."
"That's what's worrying me!"
Meanwhile Artoo Detoo exuded a beam cutter and blasted away at the buzz droid. The thing danced aside, looking for an opening to use its saw arm. "Get him, Artoo!" said Anakin.
"Artoo, aim for the buzz droid's center eye." Obi-Wan advised.
"That did it." Anakin said with satisfaction. "And there's the command ship, dead ahead."
Obi-Wan sounded a little shrill too as he echoed the warning. "Have you noticed the shield is still up?"
Oops. "Sorry about that." Anakin did a roll over Obi-Wan's damaged Interceptor and fired on the shield controls. The blue field went out and the massive blast doors began to close.
"Oh, I've got a bad feeling about this!" Obi-Wan exclaimed just before the two fighters skimmed through the narrowing opening to crash on the deck within.
The hanger was full of battle droids. No problem. Anakin sliced his way through them to stand back to back with Obi-Wan.
"Artoo, locate the Chancellor." the General snapped. Obediently the little astro-mech rolled over to the nearest computer outlet and linked in as the two Jedi cut down the last of the battle droids.
Artoo's schematic showed the Chancellor was in a sort of observation deck atop a high spire. Anakin looked around uneasily. "I sense something...something dark."
"I sense a trap." Obi-Wan agreed calmly.
Anakin looked at him, "Next move?"
Obi-Wan smiled. "We spring the trap."
Anakin grinned back. "I can work with that plan."
They started for the aft corridor, Artoo rolling behind them. Anakin stopped and turned. "You stay here, Artoo."
The little droid's wheeps and whistles made his feeling about that order quite clear. Obi-Wan took a comlink from his belt and tossed it over to him. "Here, stay in contact and wait for orders."
A resigned but slightly sulky sequence of bleeps followed them into the passage.
With the command cruiser's compliment of vulture droids destroyed there was nothing to challenge the stealth pod that fastened itself onto the forward hull. Distracted by innumerable alarms and the presence of two Jedi in the aft compartments the ship's crew failed to notice the entry of two more intruders.
The access corridors veining the reactor and generator emplacements were awash in an exotic blend of coolants, propellants and hyper-matter fuels with more spouting from a dozen leaks. Qui-Gon Jinn stood ankle deep in the iridescent mix, calm blue-grey eyes fixed on his companion Yan Dooku. The two aged Jedi Masters formed a fascinating contrast; Qui-Gon a magnificent, battered gray lion of man with his flowing mane of hair and well worn robes of sand and brown; and Dooku, equally tall but blade like in his lean elegance, his crown of silver hair gleaming in the dim emergency lights and his dark robes immaculate.
Dooku studied the holographic schematic hovering over his palm unit. "The Chancellor is atop the aft spire." he said and frowned. "An oddly insecure location for so valuable a captive. Your boys are on their way to him - " he broke off, frown deepening. "Looks like they've run into trouble. We'd better get to them, fast."
The elevator lurched to an unexpected halt jarring both passengers. "Did you press the stop button?" Anakin demanded.
"No. Did you?"
"No." the younger Jedi looked up and drew his saber. "There's more than one way out of here!" he began to cut a hole in the ceiling.
"We don't want to get out, we want to get moving." Obi-Wan told him pulling out his comlink. "Artoo, activate elevator 31124." Nothing happened. "Artoo, do you copy? activate elevator 31124."
A circle of ceiling clanged to the floor and Anakin Force leaped up and out. Obi-Wan shook his head. "Always on the move." he muttered, and kept trying to get through to Artoo Detoo.
The little droid had his own problems. He peeked around the piled crates at the two super-battle droids studying Anakin's Interceptor, Obi-Wan's voice echoed hollowly through his innards. Really, was the Jedi Master trying to get him caught?
Still, an order was an order. And he had been left here to cover Master Anakin and Master Obi-Wan's backs. With a final wary look at the two busy droids he rolled out of cover to the wall socket and inserted his datajack.
The elevator lurched into motion hurling Obi-Wan to the floor, but as he picked himself up he saw he was going in the wrong direction - down.
As the lift dropped from under him Anakin leaped upward to catch at a door sill. Somehow he wasn't at all surprised when the doors opened to reveal two battle droids aiming their blasters down at him. "Hands up, Jedi."
"You've got to be kidding!" Anakin replied.
"Up, Artoo, we want to go up. Do you copy?" Obi-Wan repeated insistently into his link. What was the matter with that little droid? Again the elevator lurched, throwing him to the floor, but then it started to go upward. "That's better!"
Artoo was glad Master Kenobi was happy, because the two super-battle droids surely weren't! One picked him up off the deck. "Stupid little astro-droid!"
Now that was getting personal! Artoo vented all his store of lubricant oil, then flamed it with his mini-rockets as he broke free of the big droid's grip. He put down a few feet away and swiveled his dome to enjoy the sight of the two super-battle droids burning. As Master Anakin always said; the bigger they came the harder they fell!
Anakin saw the elevator rocketing up towards him, pushed off the sill flipping to a narrow beam on the opposite wall, then rebounding onto the top of the lift after it demolished the two droids. He dropped back through the hole and nearly onto Obi-Wan's lighted saber.
"Oh it's you." he doused it.
"What was that all about?" Anakin demanded.
"Well, Artoo -" Obi-Wan began, only to be sharply interrupted.
"No loose wire jokes!"
"I didn't say anything."
"He's doing his best."
"I didn't say a word!"
The fluid mess on the deck was getting deeper, the two Masters were wading calf deep now, their way aft blocked by a sealed blast door. Closing his eyes Dooku used the Force to reach into the intricate labyrinth of circuitry and apply pressure at the proper point. The doors opened and a wave of exotic chemicals washed over them, sweeping them off their feet and several yards backwards.
They picked themselves up. The liquid was now waist deep. Soaked but somehow still elegant Dooku looked speculatively up at the corridor ceiling. "Time to make for higher ground I think."
"Perhaps a more conventional point of entry would have been better after all." Qui-Gon murmured.
His old Master gave him a darkling glare that broke into a sudden, rueful smile. "Perhaps so. I don't think we should mention this to the boys."
Qui-Gon returned the smile. "I couldn't agree more."
"Let's look for a hatch or ventilation shaft."
They waded on. Suddenly Qui-Gon stopped. "Master, something just moved past me."
Dooku peered into the semi-opaque liquid. "Any idea what?" the question was scarcely out of his mouth when the answer launched itself into the air to be cut in half by Dooku's instantly ignited blade. The bisected body of a creature mostly mouth and tail floated on the scummy surface.
"Nitto Fobos." Qui-Gon said grimly.
"Another unfortunate development." Dooku agreed. "Qui-Gon, I am beginning to feel this was not one of my better ideas."
"I don't think we should tell the boys that either." his former Padawan observed as they turned back to back.
"They may not need to be told." Dooku answered dryly.
The liquid around them churned then dozens of the fuel dwelling parasites jumped at the Jedi. The Masters' blades flashed with blinding speed, slicing the creatures to pieces. Slowly they began to move again, trying to divide their attention between the threat of the Nittos Fobos and scanning the ceiling and walls for an escape route.