XII- An End For A Beginning
The first official reaction after the battle of Coruscant happened twenty seven minutes after Grievous' departure, when it was announced that Vice Chair Amedda would issue an official statement from the Senate within the hour. The fifty eight official holonet channels were prepared to take the words of the acting head of government to the most distant worlds of the galaxy. The image of the Chagrian, standing in the presidential pod, was seen not only in every world within the borders of the Republic, but in many neutral and even Confederate ones as well.
And when he spoke, his words left a galaxy speechless.
"In my long political career, I had never had to give news such as these and I hope that I shall never have to do this again. The images of Coruscant burning have already crossed the galaxy and I find that I have no worlds that can describe such evil. This world is the heart and the soul of galactic civilization as we know it. No one had attacked it in twenty centuries until this ill-fated day came. Today, hundreds of Jedi and millions of courageous soldiers have fought and died in a failed attempt to save it, but not even this ultimate sacrifice has been enough to save the billions of innocents that have perished this day."
"Among those who have abandoned us today, I have to mention two names. Cos Palpatine, Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, has been murdered by those who mock the galaxy claiming that they bring justice with their crimes. Likewise, I have just been told that Cound Loblanc Dooku of Serenno has also been killed by the very scum that took his message of peace and justice and perverted it to convince the unwary to join their unlawful rebellion. Their deaths leave us with a sadly diminished galaxy, for they were both great men and now that both these great leaders have left the prospects of bringing peace to our worlds are now more remote than ever before."
"By murdering an idealist, an old man who had just found out the truth about the crimes of the so called Confederacy of Independent Systems, the leaders of this criminal movement have finally crossed a line. Their wanton disregard for all existing rules of civilized warfare shows them as they truly are, disgusting vermin that can only be stopped with force, for force is the only thing they understand and fear and the commander of their military is just the most prominent criminal among many others. I hope that those who joined the rebellion by hearing the words of the late Count will find in my own the courage to leave this unholy darkness behind."
"I certainly hope so for their own good, because the Senate has approved the following statement: there will be no compromise, no peace and no truce with those who have viciously attacked the innocent citizens of Coruscant and the full might of this Galactic Republic will be used to bring those responsible before true justice. And they will be judged in the most severe terms the law allows us to."
"He might be the living embodiment of the evils that have corrupted the Republic, but I must acknowledge that Amedda knows how to deliver a message," noted Count Dooku of Serenno, alive and largely recovered, before disconnecting the holocomp. The blasted thing was one of the few distractions he had in the one hundred square feet cell he had been living in for the last five days, excluding the brief visits to the medbay located down the adjoining corridor for brief immersions in the bacta tank.
"Your turn to move now is, Dooku," replied Yoda, sitting next to the dejarik holoboard that had been installed in one of the corners. Nine hundred years of existence were not enough to understand something as strange as the human mind and Dooku's was stranger than average. His old protegee showed no worries about his present condition as secret prisoner of the Jedi Order and Yoda found this rather baffling, unlike the other Masters who considered it downright alarming.
Even now that his connection with the Force was weakened by extremely strong drugs, Dooku's mind was extremely well organized and prepared to defend against mental intruders. He was a good teacher, too good perhaps, because it was nigh-impossible to enter the human's mind and ascertain if the emotion was genuine or just a carefully prepared facade. It would require a rather forceful attempt to enter this mind and Yoda didn't want to invade his intimacy at the moment. He remembered enough about the young Padawan that Dooku had been to understand just how big a mistake this would be.
No, Yoda would not invade his intimacy in such a way and neither would any other Jedi, for as long as Yoda had a say on the matter. Not unless he had reason to do so and so far he didn't.
The Count of Serenno had offered Obi Wan Kenobi a pact in their last moments before leaving the Invisible Hand, right before being knocked unconscious by his serious injuries and a bit of help from a rather enraged Kenobi. Dooku had offered knowledge in exchange for life, information about the Confederate military and the Sith valuable enough to buy his survival... Somewhat grudgingly, a calmer Kenobi had told Yoda about the offer and the Jedi elder had decided to summon an emergency meeting of the High Council.
Several fellow Masters had been rather outraged when the idea of dealing with a former Sith had been presented, particularly when the convenience of doing this without informing the Senate had been noted and many voiced had suggested that this probably was some kind of complicated Sith scheme. In the end, Yoda's position, silently supported by Mace Windu, Kenobi's description of Dooku's weakness and apparent sincerity and some insightful comments made by Kit Fisto had convinced most of the Council.
Fisto had reminded some of the most outspoken detractors of the idea of some facts uncovered over years of careful research. Chiefly, he had mentioned that Darth Sidious had been proven to have a good deal of influence in the Senate and was suspected to be somebody in the Chancellor's entourage. If there was truly a renegade Sith Lord, putting him under control of the Senate would be reckless. At best. The Sith knew much about their enemy and the Jedi didn't. The Nautolan had stated that it might be a good time to change this.
Thus, the High Council had voted to do something that could well be considered an act of treason.
Preparing the deception had been surprisingly easy. The medical droids of the Majestic had picked a corpse of the correct size and used surgery to change the features, cloned a layer of Dooku's skin to fool genetic analysis and then wiped out of their memories the hour-long procedure. With the Senate completely focused in voting a new Chancellor, a few holographies and a medical report had been enough to complete the trick.
The corpse had been burned hours later, as per alleged family tradition, and the ashes had been sent to the old family tombs in Serenno itself. Case closed. It was funny realizing know just how easy it was to deceive the Republic, even when doing it almost in plain sight. It just took a bit of imagination and...
"Your turn now, Master Yoda," said softly the nobleman. Yoda focused in the game, leaving his musings for the moment. He wasn't bad playing dejarik, but Dooku could have become a galactic champion with the right environment. His Kintan Strider was now in such a position that Yoda had to attack the creature, but he soon noticed that doing this would open a hole in his own forces that would allow Dooku to force his surrender in six further moves.
"Surrender I must. No way out of this I can see."
"I know what you mean," replied Dooku with a grin in his old face. One of the few things in common between the young human that Yoda had trained and the old, embittered warrior sitting in front of him was their sheer competitivity. Winning against his old teacher in something, even something as small as dejarik never failed to brighten the human's day. "Do you have time for a rematch?"
Graku was an old Givin Jedi that had served the Order as Temple Guardian for thirty standard years. A long time, that had allowed the alien to see a great many things both good and bad. He had risked his life several times defending the Temple against Jedi who had fallen to darkness, abominations rising from the dark depths of the Undercity, mercenaries armed to the teeth and even violent mobs. He had rarely felt fear even when facing such foes.
But in the last years, Graku had found a new enemy. An enemy he had never dreamed might exist and that he had come to fear more than anything in the galaxy. Fans. The damned propaganda pieces in the holonews that praised the deeds of the heroic Jedi had done much to improve the morale of the people, but it also had the rather unfortunate side-effect of turning many Jedi into teen idols.
Almost every Jedi that had played a serious role in the war had earned for his efforts a small -or large- legion of somewhat fanatical followers, with rare exceptions like Ki-Adi-Mundi -whose personal tragedy had resulted in the discrete disapparition of his fanclubs. And while the devastation of much of Coruscant should have discouraged said fans in a sane universe, the presence of some of the most wanted Jedi in Coruscant (Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Kit Fisto and Anakin "Fearless" Skywalker among the most significative) had resulted in the Temple being under virtual siege for days now.
Every day, several thousand fans tried to enter the Temple uninvited to meet their idols face to face. Soon enough, the situation had spiraled out of control and the Temple Guard had been forced to ask for outside help -word had it that the breaking point had been Tirian Limerik's struggle to stop a young female Hutt from prowling the temple hallways looking for Master Yoda-. In the end, a clone company had came to reinforce Temple defenses and the terrible tide of fans had finally been pushed back. Suddenly, his communicator beeped.
"We have a little problem, sir," said the voice of the lieutenant commanding one of the main entrances. "There is a visitor who would like to see Knight Skywalker."
Graku had to make a conscious effort to avoid cursing. The officers didn't contact the Jedi unless visitors appeared to have a valid reason to visit the Temple, but there were orders from the High Council to deny entrance to anyone interested in contacting Skywalker. The Temple Guardian had heard that the young knight had suffered some kind of nervous breakdown upon finding his dead friend, the Chancellor, and that he had spent the last days isolated from the outside world in one of the meditation cells, refusing to speak even with his own master.
"Who is it?"
"Senator Padme Amidala Naberrie from Naboo, sir."
Naboo. Yes, Graku remembered something about this. Anakin Skywalker had been her protector a few years ago and she had somehow ended in the midst of the whole disaster at Geonosis."
"Skywalker is unavalaible at the moment, lieutenant. We told the press that much. Tell the Senator to try again in a few days. She might be luckier then."
"With all due respect, sir. The Senator seems sincerely worried about this. I think that it might be better if you explain this to her. Personally."
Graku touched his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He could almost touch the headache that this conversation was going to cause. But the soldier's words were rather sensible and a Givin never ignores good sense. "All right, lieutenant. Have one of your men escort her to the Reception Room. I will be waiting there."
Mas Amedda, acting Chancellor of the Galactic Republic and political corpse since the Battle of Coruscant, stood up to greet Senator Organa. The Alderaanian representative made a polite bow and sat in one of the offered armchairs without saying anything, giving the Chagrian the initiative for this encounter.
"These pointless elections in the Senate where we have failed to find any name good enough to get over a third of the votes are bad for the Republic in a rather critical moment. Do you agree with this, Senator?"
"Of course. I have seen the reports. Popularity is at an all-time low. Our morale is trembling. Something must be done, I agree, but..."
Amedda considered a sarcastic reply. Organa and his allies had managed to keep nearly a fourth of the Senate out of all the elections, demanding immediate reforms before voting a replacement. For the first time in five centuries, the position of Supreme Chancellor had now true power, as a result of Palpatine's campaign to get more and more emergency powers, but no other man could be trusted not to abuse so much power, according to Organa's faction.
"I have discussed about this matter with the leaders of the Great Coalition that still support me," finally commented Amedda, barely avoiding a grimace. The vast alliance forged by Palpatine over the last ten years had collapsed almost overnight, particularly after Sate Pestage had disappeared misteriously and a number of influential human Senators had refused to accept the Chagrian as leader. "We are willing to agree with roughly half of your demands, Senator. We are not willing, however, to leave the Chancellorship powerless. The Chancellor must be commander-in-chief. We are in wartime, although some of your allies don't seem to get it yet. A war cannot be run by committee."
"And what about the other points? Independence of the judiciary? That right to disband the Senate in a vaguely defined "emergency situation"?"
"We are willing to compromise in both issues, in exchange for your public support in the election of another Chancellor."
"Frozen hells! No! My political career is pretty much finished. I gave Grievous the time he needed to charge his weapons and actually worsened the threat I wanted to avoid. I can consider myself lucky not to be considered guilty of treason or some such thing. No, the Chancellor must be a man with influence in the Senate, that can win over the average man and that shows potential to give us the victory we need so desperately. There are very few Senators that meet these characteristics, yet I think that I have found one. Tell me, Senator. Don't you think that Chancellor Organa does have a nice ring to it?"
A destroyer of the Confederacy of Independent Systems left hyperspace above the allegedly neutral world of Utapau, dropped a starfighter and then turned to disappear in the depths of space.
The small fighter crossed the short gap and entered the atmosphere at high speeds, before diving into one of the craters that housed the few cities of this desolate world. He landed in the main platform of a TradeFed coreship that had been half-buried in the crater wall and that for the last month or so had been the residence of the members of the Confederate Executive Council, the leaders of the guilds that were the rulers of the Confederacy now that Dooku had disappeared.
The week that had followed the Battle of Coruscant had been a test for the cyborg. He had been forced to throw away whole groups to deceive the many fleets that the enemy had devoted to hunting him down and he had actually had to fought a full blown battle to secure the fuel reserves of a Republican outpost. And now that he had finally returned to territory held by the Confederation, the General knew that the danger was now over yet.
Amedda's Speech and the loss of President Dooku had hurt the CSI. Almost ten thousand worlds had tried to leave the boat and declare themselves neutral in the galactic conflict. Morale among the civilians had collapsed. His own image as mass murderer and world burner had been reinforced, but that was not exactly a good thing. The guilds weren't interested in being known as sponsors of the "scourge of Coruscant" as the media had decided to nickname him. It was highly likely that Viceroy Gunray and the other would show more than mild hostility. In fact, it was entirely possible that killing him and then sending him in pieces to Coruscant was in their list of things to do for this day.
They had no military background worth noting. They didn't see what Grievous did. Only a few dozen worlds among those thousands had managed to defeat the droid armies. No critical military positions had been threatened by the revolt. The Republic had weakened its frontline forces with their attempts to hunt him down. Many traitors and enemy agents had been forced to show their true colours in the last few days. And the civilians weren't truly important for the mechanical war-machine of the CSI. In fact, it could be considered that Amedda's Speech had actually been slightly positive for the Confederation, from a purely military point of view.
He just had to convince them that this point of view was the right one. And, fortunately, he knew just how to do this.
At the moment, Grievous was still Supreme Commander. His codes had the highest authority next to Dooku's own. Now that the Count was gone, the Confederation military was his for the taking with a dozen words if he wanted it. Did the members of the Executive Council realize this? Probably not. Gunray and the rest still considered him as some kind of violent and foul-mouthed droid. They seemed unable to understand that he wasn't programmed to protect and serve them.
Grievous' orders came from the Sith Lords and from the Sith Lords alone. And now that Tyranus was gone and Sidious failed to answer Grievous' attempts to communicate, the way was free.
The last couple of doors opened and Grievous entered, along with twenty Magnadroids, in the room where the members of the Executive Council were waiting.
It was time to make a few changes.
CoCo Town in Coruscant had been surprisingly lucky considering that it had been just eight hundred kilometers away from ground zero, but geography had put the Senate District and its powerful shields halfway between Vincavec Crater and CoCo. And this had saved the whole district from the fire that would have consumed both the titanic towers and the quaint restaurants otherwise.
And while in most of Coruscant millions of volunteers and veritable armies of droid workers laboured to remove the debris and find lucky individuals that might have survived the devastation, in the luckier areas life was almost back to normal. The Chancellor was dead, the sky was darker and the temperature lower, although the technicians had promised to remove the last of the dust from the atmosphere in a couple of weeks. But as far as everyday life was concerned, most factories had reopened and routine was again the unchallenged ruler of the lifes of billions in the city-world.
Perhaps it was the consequence of this rather disturbing fact, but entertainment had never been as profitable. Theaters and cinemas were full everywhere and CoCo was no different in this regard. Adler Roty, artist of illusion and representative in Coruscant of the very ancient order of the Sorcerers of Tund, hadn't seen his small theater so full in several years. It might have been the presence of so many living presences what deceived his sixth sense, because when he opened the door of his dressing room after a play he was surprised to find someone waiting inside.
It added a lot to his confusion the fact that the stranger was identical to Roty down to the smallest detail. And, unfortunately, that very confusion doomed the poor artist. Without giving Roty time to recover, the mystery twin uttered a single word in the arcane language of Tund and a blue sphere sorrounded the startled illusionist. Green flames consumed everything contained within the sphere and not even ashes were left to mark the passing of Adler Roty.
Rokur Gepta, now truly last living member of the order of the Sorcerers of Tund, allowed a tiny smile to form in his stolen face.
"And the changes are just starting."
"I wonder if we have done the right thing. Have you considered that the Others might have been right?"
"They are not. We have done the right thing, I am sure. You saw the destiny they had prepared. A century of conflict and bloodshed for the whole galaxy, with only a few short victories. What we have done could mean a true change. This is the first opportunity to break this status quo in a thousand years."
"They could change against us, couldn't they? Because he might have left darkness behind, but he has still a long way to go before he rejoins the light."
"I had considered this, of course. It was a very dangerous move. I know it. But I also have faith. He will do what is right when the time comes."
"I would like to have your faith. But then, he didn't murder you."
"For a long time, I also thought that there was no hope for him. But then there was that brief meeting with Yoda in Vjun. The Jedi of old, your friend and my Master, is still alive under all the hate and darkness that turned him into Darth Tyranus. We only need time and his light will return to the surface."
"I can only hope that your faith isn't as misplaced as my own was."
And with those words, the essence of the being that had once been Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas left the other presence. The spirit that had been known in life as Qui-Gon Jinn was left alone with his thoughts and his hopes.
Notes: This is it. After more than a whole year, "To Betray A Traitor" ends with this chapter that I hope you enjoy enough to review. I will begin work in the sequel (still titled "The Price of Freedom") during the next two months, although I want to read a couple of novels about this period in the GFFA before writing anything down. I also would like to make a heavily revised/betaed version of TBAT, but for the moment that is a project for the undefined future.
Many thanks to all those who have been kind enough to comment on this story of mine. You have given me the energy I needed to end it.