Five years ago, the Inter-Galactic DuroSteel Manufacturing Company had formally declared its alliance with the nascent Separatists union of star systems. Its factory district on Coruscant had been abandoned, its employees relocated or dismissed, depending on their patriotic affiliations, and the expansive area of land, buildings and machinery, was stripped bare of everything transportable. The rest had been razed out with a controlled fire. What was left of the once-teeming site was now an abandoned skeleton district, with decrepit buildings, and death traps of ware houses and hangars. A few of the local riffraff moved in. Boundaries were drawn between rivals and there were occasional clashes as these illegal residents defended their territory viciously. Yet despite their population, they kept to the edges of the district, leaving most of the area uninhabited. Why they did this, they probably would not have been able to explain. There was no sign of life anywhere in the area, not even the underground life of the lower levels of the huge planet; decades of chemical pollution from the factory had long wiped them out. Still, the slum people stayed away.
Somehow, on the most basic, most fundamental level of subconscious reasoning and instinct, they understood that there was someone - something - that had made a home in that district and that this entity would not take disturbances lightly.
The man stood at the edge of the hangar, his tall, dark figure like a black sword blade against the red glow of the fading daylight. His eyes tracked the path of the near-invisible craft that had just taken off from the hangar until it flew over the horizon. He remained standing there, hands clasped behind his back, a look of grim concentration on a face that had never been handsome, but was still strikingly aristocratic.
Yan Dooku was thinking.
"Everything is going according to plan."
His Master was keeping secrets.
On his arrival here from Geonosis, Yan had given his Master a full report on the situation, from the capture of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the arrival of Senator Amidala, the foiled execution, the arrival of the Jedi Knights, the clone army and that final confrontation in the hangar.
"So Kenobi's apprentice is dead," Sidious had murmured when Dooku was finished.
"No," Dooku had said, his right hand, his fighting hand, closing into a fist. "Badly injured, certainly permanently crippled, but still alive. It was not a mortal wound."
"And as you said, Yoda arrived before you could finish him off?"
The subtlest of inflexions in the Master's voice.
The subtlest of hesitations from the Apprentice.
The glare of the setting sun would be entering his eyes soon. Yan stepped away from the edge of the hangar and waved a hand at the controls. The sudden draft of the swiftly shut panel door barely lifted his heavy cloak. He turned on his heel and paced the length of the hangar, all the while deep in thought.
The link between Sith Master and Apprentice was thick and strangling; and against conventional Sith tradition, Dooku had not submitted to a complete bond with Sidious when he committed himself to his apprenticeship. He was no trusting Initiate nor was he an Outer Rim castaway that would blindly give another complete control over him. Yan was - had been - a Jedi Master and he was not prepared to bend his knee to any one.
Which was all well and good because the offer to form a complete bond had not been made. Apparently, the Master trusted his apprentice as little as the apprentice his Master. Sidious was no fool. He also must have been aware of the dangers of linking his mind with someone already as powerful in the Force as Dooku.
However there remained other - subtler - means of discerning a deception. And the most simple of them was simply paying attention to convenient coincidences.
It was convenient for the Jedi on Geonosis that the emergency powers had been given to Chancellor Palpatine so swiftly that the army was dispatched immediately. It was a fortunate coincidence particularly for the Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker who, to all intents and purposes, should have been dead long before the army arrived.
A Sith apprentice suffered from fewer illusions than a seasoned Jedi warrior. Darth Maul had been convenient for Sidious at a point in time in the Master's plans, but had Maul survived Naboo, Dooku was almost certain that the Sith Master would have found a way of killing his apprentice not soon after. Maul had been a skilled, dangerous and powerful warrior but as the leader of Confederacy of Independent States, he would have been out of his depth.
In a few years' time, when all of Sidious' plans had come to fruition, another redundant apprentice would exist: this time in the person of the leader of the Confederacy of Independent States.
Darth Sidious had not waited until his apprentice's death to search for a replacement - a fact that Dooku could personally testify to - and it was unlikely that he was doing so now. If Dooku's suspicions were correct, then Sidious had his sights set on…
Dooku weighed the idea carefully. Until this afternoon, he had been almost certain of his suspicions. He had long perceived his Master's carefully veiled interest in the Knight and his Padawan and he had monitored Kenobi's activities closely. A venerable Knight was Kenobi, Dooku had concluded, strong in the Force and a firm believer of the Code.
How utterly droll.
Yet Qui-Gon must have seen something else in the boy and apparently, so did Sidious. Thus Dooku had kept an open mind when he met Obi-Wan that afternoon at Geonosis. He had been as forthright as he could in the circumstances and he made his offer. And was turned down. Then there had been that ridiculous confrontation in the hangar. It was hard to believe that this Kenobi was the same man that had killed a Sith Lord when he was a mere Padawan. The duel would have been bitterly disappointing if it had not been so amusing. Dooku had tired soon of toying with the man and had decided to dispatch…
…Kenobi. And that was when the Sith Lord and one-time Jedi Master was thwarted by that boy.
"I am a slow learner."
Dooku felt his right arm contract with the echo of sympathetic pain that had struck him when he sliced off Anakin Skywalker's arm. The duel replayed surreally in his memory. Fighting in the dark hangar by the light of two lightsabers, using the heightened awareness of a Force-sensitive to see, the dark robed Padawan facing him like a mirror, imitating his stance, imitating his style. And finally, desperately, realizing the futility of fighting someone who was using his own tricks against him, he had consciously, deliberately drawn on the Dark Side.
An eighty-year-old ex-Jedi Master had been bested by a mere Padawan. It did not matter that in the end, Yan had been the victor. Dooku had defeated Kenobi with skill alone. With the Padawan, he had needed something more.
Humiliating. And enlightening.
It seemed that all this while, Dooku had miscalculated the focus of Darth Sidious' interest. It was not the Master, Kenobi; it was the apprentice, Anakin Skywalker.
"Padawan," Yan Dooku whispered to a man that had been dead for ten years. "It all comes back to you one way or the other, doesn't it? You always knew how to stir the waters…"
His words reached the high walls and bounced back at him, whispering in a high-pitched echo over the monotonous noises that filled the space: the swish of his cloak and the click of his heels as he paced, the hum of the pilot droid recharging from a port, the night noises from the distant slum dwellings, the soft answering whisper of a familiar voice in the Force…
The shiny boots halted in mid-step as Yan Dooku froze. Immediately, he reached out into the Force, wrapping it round his consciousness, probing it for that other... familiar… presence… He felt the minds of the slum dwellers, their tenacity, their violence, occasional bright spots of honor and integrity that blinked as brightly and as unapproachable as a star against dark sky of warped presences. The familiar presence was the brightest of all those stars, hovering like a fog at the edge of his consciousness. Yet Dooku could not touch it, could not make contact with it. He could feel it reaching for him, could almost hear a voice whispering 'Master'… His hands clenched in frustration as he stretched…but try as he may, he could not make a link and after a while, the bright presence faded, dimmed and vanished.
It took Yan Dooku a long time before he could regain full possession of himself. He was still standing rigidly in the centre of the hangar. His cloak fell in straight lines; the air was completely still; the overheard windows showed that it was well into the night.
Conflicting feelings of loss, regret, and doubt had risen up in him when that presence had touched him and with the Force, he stripped them off him ruthlessly. The Dark Side swirled around him and through him. All he had to do was to let go and he could reach any one of those minds he had felt and possess it, destroy it. That was power enough for now. He would not look over his shoulder like an inept Initiate.
He walked briskly to the pilot droid and unplugged it. The droid switched gracefully into ready mode, its lights blinking.
"I am departing," Dooku instructed.
It beeped its acknowledgement. The ramp of the sail ship started lowering gracefully. Dooku threw the hangar a cursory glance, making sure there was nothing of his or his Master's left behind. There were shields in this place to protect their hideout from being breached by the inhabitants that dwelled near by, and by other sentients, but those shields would be ineffective if a Jedi got it into his head to investigate this area. Highly unlikely. Especially now considering their present state of affairs. All the same, ruin many a good plan, sloppy mistakes did.
Yan flinched again.
The place was safe enough, he decided forcefully and walked swiftly up the ramp.
He settled himself into the cockpit; the droid followed soon after. Through the viewscreen, Dooku watched the hangar door flew open as his thoughts wandered back to their original contemplation.
His Master was keeping secrets.
Well, so was he.
The droid completed its silent countdown sequence and the sail ship floated out on repulsor lifts. At the edge of the steep plummet, the turbines powered up; defying gravity, the ship rose into the black starless sky, leaving the blaring night lights of the city planet behind it as it broke atmosphere. Its sails fanned out elegantly and wrapped around the pod-like vessel like a balloon shield.
Darth Sidious would not wait for Lord Tyrannus' demise to find a suitable replacement.
Lord Tyrannus had no intention of being replaced.
It was time to resolve this matter once and for all.