VII- The White Knight (part 2). Rendezvous.

Nothing bigger than some small asteroids moved around the red dwarf star. It wasn't too far removed from the Triellus trade route, but its system contained no resources of interest, planets for settlement or any strategic importance whatsoever. So utterly unremarkable it was, that instead of an actual name it had only a catalogue designation formed by two dozen characters that had been assigned by the automated scoutships that had first prospected the area.

Uninteresting and out of the way, perfect for the discreet gathering of a Jedi task force. In the end, thirty two Jedi -including Dooku and Komari- had been contacted and commanded to proceed at best possible speed towards the rendezvous coordinates, which was a few more than Dooku had expected for this operation. Unfortunately, he was the only master among the thirty two, which was less than he had hoped for. Alas, all the other masters close enough to join the task force in time were involved in sensitive matters that couldn't be postponed and they would have to make do with what they had at hand, since Galidraan couldn't wait.

Indeed, according to the known facts, the planet had been under attack for close to thirty seven hours now. Despite the last knights being expected to arrive within the hour, it would take at least one hundred and fifty hours to reach Galidraan itself, since the gravity distortions in the proximities of the Maw supercluster made hypertravel an exercise in frustration. Much like arranging a briefing for thirty individuals (some of them of distinctly larger than human size) in the meeting salon of a Consular, which was designed to accomodate half that many people. Fortunately, the six knights and padawans who hadn't arrived yet were present only in holographic effigy which made the thing difficult and uncomfortable instead of downright impossible. Which was, master Dooku mused, a good description of life as a Jedi. Oh well, time to begin.

"May the wisdom and peace of the light be ours. May this be a moment of thought and words, mutual respect, nobility and unity of purpose. May we work together in trust, free from the restraints of ego and jealousy, in this hour and all others to come. Let us sit together, as equals, and may the Force be with us all."

Technically speaking the formula was a variation of the recitation uttered by the masters of the High Council before a meeting, which echoed in turn the words first uttered by the forebears of the Jedi in Ossus, but it was a nice declaration of principles and highly effective in reminding the gathered Jedi what they were here for. The ongoing conversations stopped and the younger Jedi kept their silence. All Jedi are equals, but some are more equal than others and Dooku was the most senior, the highest ranked and the one in charge of the mission.

"Good afternoon. We meet to discuss the specifics of the operation we are going to undertake and particularly inform everyone about some very grave complications that have arisen in the last two hours. I cede the word to Quinlan Vos, who learned of these particulars through his contacts and in doing this has rendered us a great service."

A young human with his face painted with yellow markings grew visibly uncomfortable when all the attention zeroed in on his person. After shifting uneasily on his chair for a moment, he finally started talking with his gaze firmly on the table.

"That was actually master Tholme's doing, master. It is just that the attacking fleet seemed too much to be piracy, smuggling or slavers, so I..."

"You asked your former master whether he could learn something about this matter, because no living Jedi knows the going ons of the criminal side of the galaxy quite as well as he does. And your question yielded important answers that we wouldn't have learned in time otherwise. Let that be a lesson for all of us. Wisdom can be found in unconventional places, sometimes. Now, please, repeat what you explained to me earlier."

"Yes, master. Does everyone here know what is a Trial of Supremacy?"

Some nods, coming from Jedi who had grimaced upon hearing the words, but most of the faces around the table showed polite incomprehension.

"I'll explain, then. A Trial of Supremacy or Kafowya Suska is a ritual way of solving disputes between Hutt clans which is arbitrated by the Hutt clan heads, what they call Council of the Ancients. Both clans in conflict choose a champion or champions that fight to the death in a battlefield chosen and belonging to the challenged clan, while mercenaries that answer directly to the Hutt council ensure that there is no outside intervention until there is a victor. The defeated clan then cedes a third of its assets to the victorious clan and a formal acknowledgement of inferiority. Of course, the defeated clan heads usually suicide or are murdered shortly afterwards."

Understanding and grim foreboding had replaced confusion in the face of all the Jedi. No one liked the direction that the explanation had taken.

"This invasion of Galidraan is a Trial of Supremacy. Worse, the clans in conflict appear to be Desilijic and Besadii, which are the second and third largest kajidics in the galaxy. They used to be allies of sorts to counter the influence of the Anjiliac clan, who have been the dominant players in Nal Hutta in the last half a century, but relations soured some years ago over a dispute concerning spice distribution channels and it is rumored that there were assassination attempts that made things personal. But I digress. The important part is that we probably are about to intrude on something that the Hutts consider an internal matter of the greatest importance. Why they have decided to hold the trial outside their boundaries we don't know, but we can assume that the local government is bought and paid for by one of the clans, since that's the only way that the Hutt elders would regard the planet as property of one of kajidics in conflict."

"Thanks for the concise explanation and once again thanks for your foresight, Quinlan. This is indeed a serious matter and I shudder imagining what could have happened if we had gone in blind. Now..."

"Excuse me, master, but has the High Council been informed?"

Dooku focused on the questioner. It was a young umbaran knight, pretty enough by human standards in spite of her baldness... With a little effort, Dooku managed to remember her from the dossiers he had glimpsed prior to the meeting. Bien ti Vigolio, formerly padawan to master Cho Leem who inducted her into the order in unknown circumstances. Skilled practitioner of Soresu and a competent healer, but no combat experience worth speaking of. Observed to retain slightly worrisome attitudes born out of traditional Umbaran social mores. Including, of course, pathological reluctance to act openly without the express approval of those in positions of authority.

"We have informed Coruscant, of course, but the masters can do no more than suggest caution. We have been issued a mandate to protect the lives of the people of Galidraan and, Force willing, we shall carry it out or die trying. That said, we will have to be extremely careful in every action we take once we reach the planet, since the consequences of our intervention could be far-reaching. We most definitely do not want to destabilize Hutt space or make two of their largest clans openly hostile towards the republic, if it can be helped."

"There is a discrepancy," grunted somebody from the far end of the table in heavily accented Basic. "If outsiders are not supposed to butt in in these things and we think that the local gov is in the Hutt's pocket, why have they called for us?"

And that would be... Neriel Urkus, one of the most experienced knights of the hodgepodge group with a Jedi career of twenty five years of service. Master level skills with a personal form of Ataru, modified to suit his non-standard Dug body shape, and above average psychokinesis. Noted to favor the brute force approach whenever possible.

"To be honest, we do not know. The leading theory is that one of the clans is cheating to invalidate the whole process, but there is too little information to give some kind of definite answer. Coruscant might be able to give us some answers before we reach Galidraan or they might not." Dooku stopped and folded his hands under his chin, before continuing. "Regardless, we must plan assuming that no new information will be gained. Our mandate requires us to safeguard the safety of the civilian population, but it does not demand us to put an end to the fighting. Ideally, we will be able to talk our way through the blockade and convince the mercenaries and whoever they are fighting against to kill each other without harming innocents."

A sound suspiciously similar to a loud snort came from the right. Dooku looked from the corner of his eye and waited, but the culprit apparently had decided to keep his silence after the outburst. Maybe it had been the Wookiee knight, Kirlocca? He was reputed to be wise beyond his years and disciplined, but if Dooku had learned something from his friendship with Tyvokka it was that no amount of Jedi wisdom could completely eradicate the savagery that the Kashyyykians carried in their blood.

"As we all know too well, this is likely to fail. And fail badly. Though mercenaries that are being paid by the Hutt high council are unlikely to open fire against consular ships, they might well decide to detain us or prevent our landing until matters in the planet are resolved to their satisfaction. So rather than play into their hands, what we are going to do is..."

"What is the point of showing me this?"

Mace Windu's words cut the explanation of past-Dooku. The true Dooku arced his eyebrow and snapped his fingers, freezing the mindscape around them both.

"The answer should be obvious, my friend. You have asked me 'why' and I am trying to explain, but just as I warned you this is a most complicated question to answer. Crude as it is, the saying that states that you need to put yourself into another person's shoes is correct."

"This is not what I wanted."

"But it is what you asked for. Did you think perchance that I woke up one morning and decided that betraying something that I had previously lived and bled for sounded like a fine idea? I had my reasons. Reasons that even with the hindsight I have now are still compelling. Some Jedi fall. I walked down the dark path and while I did not know where it led, at the beginning, I stayed the course when I could have turned back."

"Explain those reasons, then, and spare me this parade of ghosts."

"If you are to accept my reasons as valid, you must understand..."

"There. Are. No. Valid. Reasons!" growled Windu, invading the Count's personal space with an angry scowl in his face. "In this memory of yours, I see seven Jedi who have died in this war, two of them by your own hand, and two more you dragged to the darkness to make them your servants. I do not know what justifications and rationalizations you have come up to quiet your conscience, but I shall never accept them."

"Is that so? Or do you fear that there might come a time in which you might change your mind, master Windu? Because when you look into the abyss, sometimes the abyss looks back."

"You contradict yourself."

"But of course. Oh well, enough of this for now. Let us resume the lesson."

And before Windu could reply, the frozen tableau returned to life.

Notes: Very long time no see! In case anyone is still following this, please don't get your hopes up because of this update. This small segment was written over a year ago and posted elsewhere, but apparently I forgot to upload the story in . While I hope to continue (and eventually finish) the story, precedents suggest that doing so will take a very long while.