Chapter 16

Parallel Force

Qui-Gon held up his hand, stopping his padawan mid-stride.

Obi-Wan's brow creased. "Master?"

Qui-Gon peered into the crowd, sensing power—raw and unruly. He couldn't sense its origin or alignment, but it pulsed in his chest like machinery's thrum.

"Do you not sense it?" he asked.

Obi-Wan shut his eyes, reaching into the mass of scoundrels wandering Mos Espa. It was faint at first, but the padawan finally found it.

"Yes. I feel it." His brow furrowed deeper. "But it's not Darth Maul. Something more powerful, but far less disciplined."

"One untrained in the Force."

"If that's true, we must find them," Obi-Wan said gravely. "There is a darkness about this aura."

Qui-Gon glowered. "I sense only innocence."

"You sense what you wish."

The master's eyes blackened. It wasn't uncommon for Obi-Wan to forget his place. His confidence, forged in war, exceeded his knowledge—and the problem grew worse as Obi-Wan neared his twentieth birthday.

"You have much to learn of the Living Force," Qui-Gon said. "You would do well to trust my judgment."

Obi-Wan was neither meek nor fiery. He said passively, "Perhaps we should focus—"

"Help! Help! Help!"

The Jedi whirled at the scream of a frightened child. They sprang forth, fighting toward the desperate voice. Obi-Wan shoved aside a drunken Rodian, revealing a blonde-haired boy cowering on the ground, his bowl-cut hair framing a cherub face. A grizzled man stood above him, aiming a blaster.

Qui-Gon's lightsaber flashed on and cut off the barrel—nearly taking a limb from a passerby. Obi-Wan delivered a right cross that knocked the man off his feet.

The man blinked, tasting blood at the corner of his mouth. His head bobbed as he regarded his attackers. When he saw Qui-Gon' s face, cast in green light, he hurried to his feet and ran off in the night.

The crowd fanned out around the Jedi and the boy so that the three had air.

Qui-Gon clipped his lightsaber, looking down at the boy.

The boy was covered in grime, with full cheeks masking his malnutrition. He had an orphan's look of wild self-reliance. The danger gone, he lowered his hands and met Qui-Gon's gaze.

Though we profess a wide circle, there are few people we believe are truly special. You can count them on a hand. Qui-Gon felt new purpose rising inside him.

"Hello," he said warmly, offering a hand. "My name is Qui-Gon Jinn. I'm a Jedi Master."

Obi-Wan glanced between them. The boy looked like Qui-Gon grown backwards to the last days of innocence. The boy took his Master's hand, and Qui-Gon squeezed it.

Obi-Wan knew he wasn't a padawan anymore.

"How do you know my name?" Obi-Wan demanded.

"The Force has a way of filling in the blanks," Palmer said, smiling enigmatically. "But it doesn't know everything. So why don't you help me out—what brings you to the desert?"

Obi-Wan despaired at how he slithered from word to word. This wasn't the man who Windu described. "I'm looking for an artifact," he said. "A book."

Palmer made a show of thinking. "I believe I did have one of those. But I'm afraid I gave it away."

"To the Sith?"

"What if I did?"

"Then you're a traitor," Quinn gnarled.

"A traitor to what?" Palmer shot back. "I don't wear your robes, Master Jedi. Betrayal requires bonds I severed long ago."

"Surely your disillusionment with the Jedi could not blind you to the Sith's evil," Obi-Wan said.

"You think I care about your little war, one way or the other?"

"You should!" Julian growled. "The entire galaxy is at stake!"

Palmer shook his head mildly. "It's a crime so few remember their history," he said, looking at Obi-Wan. "You see, I know where we've been. I've studied our ruins."

He smeared dust between his fingers. "Five thousand years ago: the Great Hyperspace War. The Sith struck out with evil intent, but they were driven back and killed. When Exar Kun slaughtered everything that moved, the Jedi Council thought they were living in the End Times."

"This is different," Obi-Wan said. "The Mercy Seat is—"

"An ancient weapon of unimaginable power. Don't you think that's what they said when Revan found the Star Forge?"

"Is there a point in our future?" Landon quipped.

Palmer smiled coldly. "Evil often wins, but it seldom conquers. Even after five thousand years." He looked at Obi-Wan. "So, yeah, my man: when a band of Sith Lords rolls up and asks, 'What's it gonna be—your life or this book?' I don't carry the galaxy on my back."

Quinn scowled. "You're a coward."

Palmer never seemed to blink, like he had brille instead of eyelids. "It's more shameful," he said easily, "to deny fear than it is to run from danger."

There was nothing to hold onto. Every word was in shadow. Obi-Wan approach him with diminished patience. "What else did you give them? Did you translate the book? Show them anything else?"

Palmer allowed Obi-Wan a moment of study. Then he smiled slightly, crouching down by a crate. His jacket bunched on one side to reveal an old lightsaber. When he turned back, he was holding a parchment.

"There's something I didn't show them," he said. "Something special. Something only meant for Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Obi-Wan was still. "Show me," he demanded.

"I'm afraid the negotiations have stalled," Mon Mothma said, hands folded on the desk in front of her. "The Sith keep funneling millions of credits of aid into the planetary government, while we offer nothing."

Padme smiled sympathetically. "I wish there was more we could do, but with the way the war's going, we have to focus our resources elsewhere."

"I understand. And truth be told, there's not much to do now. It won't be long before the Sith annex Halm."

"It's that dire?"

"The Sith have expanded their embassy five square miles. They say it's to accommodate additional diplomats, but we've seen the transports—the soldiers."

Miler glowered. "And we're just letting it happen? They'll control all the fuel in this sector. The entire outer rim will fall."

Mothma leaned back in her chair. Her worthless mandate was a weight around her shoulders.

"If there was something I could do," she said, "believe me, I would."

A rush of pity, unwanted by its target, filled Padme. There's no greater pain than the realization you aren't useful.

"There's still a way to win this war," Aayla reminded them. "It's why we've come here, Ambassador."

Mothma sat up straight, eyes slightly brighter.

They didn't tell her the whole truth, but they told her enough.

Vader marched down the hallway toward the embassy command center. He had preparations to make. He required the support of key generals to complete his coup against Palpatine without damaging the Sith's infrastructure.

He didn't need their support. But a long internal struggle would let the Republic regroup and delay his plans.

"Lord Vader!"

He swiveled back to a low-ranking officer. The young man, restraining excitement, paused for a gulp of air before reporting: "I have word from our agent in the Republic embassy. Senator Padme Amidala signed the visitor log forty-five minutes ago. She and a small contingent are meeting with Ambassador Mothma."

Vader's back straightened. In his mind's eye, he saw Padme opposite the bureaucrat, looking too regal for her surroundings.

Despite Halm's importance, the Republic wouldn't send a senator to a dangerous outpost. There was only one reason to risk her safety: she was here to access the dig site. And she'd get her way, as she always did. Soon, Republic researchers would claw at Halm's innards and find the secrets of the Architects.

Vader's rage began to rise. While he knew he and his Horsemen could defeat this 'Mercy Seat,' he could end the threat now and crush the Jedi's hope. "Tell Commander Argyle to prepare his forces for immediate deployment."

"Which squadrons, my lord?"

Vader looked out the window. Beyond wisps of sand blowing through the courtyard, the town awaited. "All of them."

Palmer led them through the abandoned mine. They had no light but the thin beam from his palm beacon.

It was cold down here. The stench of death was strong. Countless miners had perished in these corridors.

Two miles down, Obi-Wan asked: "How much further?"

Palmer made a show of examining his map. "Not far. There's a fork up ahead; we'll follow it right."

"How do we know you're not leading us into a trap?" Landon asked.

Palmer let out a breath that may have been a laugh. No one could see his face. He angled the light to remain in shadow. "Trust me," he said.

Obi-Wan searched with the Force, perceiving no living beings. But the Dark Side was deceptive, and this cavern was touched by it.

"The air's getting stale," Julian remarked.

"That means we're close," Palmer assured him, before glancing at Obi-Wan. "I would've thought you could sense it by now, but you don't feel a thing, do you?" The young Jedi shook his head. "No matter. We'll be there soon enough."

Palmer had a sinewy strength that sometimes surprised people. He pulled back a jagged boulder and rolled it to one side, revealing the crawlspace leading into the chamber.

He entered first, then Obi-Wan and the others. They'd have been in total blackness but for Palmer's beacon, which he set on the ground.

Before its recent rediscovery, the chamber was vacuum-sealed for myriad millennia. There was air to breathe now, but it tasted foul.

"Someone wanna turn the lights on?" Landon quipped.

With a soft hiss, Palmer's lightsaber ignited. The purple edge lit his eerie smile.

He walked to the near wall. There was a deep groove in the rock face, filled with cloth, that circled the chamber. Palmer touched it with his lightsaber.

A low flame ignited, spreading in both directions to make a full ring around the chamber. It was enough light to see everything. The ceiling was transformed into a map of the galaxy. The other walls told a story in writing and pictograms.

Julian grinned boyishly. The colors had faded, but it was no less spectacular. He swept his eyes across the chamber, turning in a circle. "This is unbelievable," he marveled. "I've neither seen anything like it."

Obi-Wan grabbed Palmer's beacon, scanning the rock face. He took a few steps to Quinn's side.: "What do you make of it?"

"Just like the book" Quinn said. "A little Rakatan, a few other dead languages. The pictograms are consistent with Ancient Halmese, so at least some of this was done by the natives' ancestors."

Obi-Wan looked at Palmer. "And you? Can you read all this?"

Under his breath, Palmer chuckled eerily. "That all you notice? Pictures and words?" He squinted his eyes. "You don't hear the sound—the echo of people?"

Julian frowned. "Are you talking about ghosts?"

"There's no such thing," Palmer said. "Not like you think. Past and present—future—they aren't separate things. People invented time just to keep from hearing voices."

Obi-Wan shined the beacon on a new area of the wall. There was an image of two priests standing before an altar.

Julian cleared his throat. "For those of us who aren't…" He paused helplessly. "… in touch with the spirit world, why don't you just start there?" He gestured to the pictogram.

Palmer took a few steps to the middle of the chamber. He glanced all around, as if maybe he'd forgotten.

"You go far enough forward," he mused, "and all of history is accused of being myth. If it wasn't written down in a way we're comfortable with, then maybe it didn't happen. But I can tell you that the Architects were real. They were the first true sentients in the galaxy. And five million years ago, they set out into space."

Obi-Wan moved the beacon to a disc-shaped craft.

"They wanted to explore—make contact," Palmer said. "But there was no one out there—at least no one worth talking to. Every race was in a primitive state. And so they were the first to ask the question: what's the point? Why are we here?"

"Asking myself that right now," Landon mumbled.

"Eventually they stopped wondering at their origin and took creation upon themselves. They built cities covering planets; they made the hyperspace routes that we all use to this day. Every vestige of civilization is the result of their ingenuity."

Obi-Wan shifted the light to another area. Beneath some writing he couldn't decipher, there were drawings of many species—Iridonians, Killiks, Columi, Humans—crawling out of swamps toward a humanoid figure holding up shackles.

"But it wasn't enough to build things," Palmer said. "Power is meaningless when there's no one to hold it over. So they went back to those other planets. And they left pieces of themselves—a foundation for intelligence."

Julian squinted at the drawing, and his brain tumbled inelegantly toward an answer he didn't like. "Are you saying that we—all of us, the whole galaxy—are an experiment? We didn't develop naturally?"

Palmer smiled devilishly. "You say that like it's a bad thing, Doctor. Aren't you glad to know your origin? All our ancestors came out of the same swamp."

"Out of the swamp—and into slavery," Quinn said.

Everyone's eyes were on the humanoid holding shackles.

"Expansion requires sacrifice," Palmer said. "And if you're smart enough and strong enough, the sacrifice is someone else's."

Obi-Wan dragged the light along a series of images depicting slaves and city-building. "Their empire—how far did it reach?"

"It was limitless. The core worlds, the outer rim—even parts of the unknown regions. Wherever there was life, the Architects were known."

On one of the other walls, a brilliant limestone temple, surrounded by men in white and black cloaks, glittered beneath a sky with three suns. The men held long brown staffs punctuated at the top by glowing spheres. Could these have been the progenitor to the lightsaber?

"They knew the ways of the Force," Obi-Wan said.

"Some. Use of the Force was restricted to priests. Commoners and slaves were punished for its exercise."

Julian scowled. "These Architects sound pretty bloody backward. All that technology—all that influence—and not an ounce of conscience."

"Conscience is in the eye of the beholder," Palmer said. "You spray your house for insects, you call it fumigation. To the insects? It's a holocaust."

"That's a damn fine rationalization, but that's all it is."

Obi-Wan patted the doctor's shoulder. "Point taken." He looked at Palmer. "Their robes… black and white…"

"Disagreements developed. The 'Levolents' were the dominant priests for over a hundred thousand years. They used the Dark Side to drive the empire's expansion. Eventually, there was nothing else to conquer and the Levolents turned their attention to other realms—to controlling the incorporeal. That's when a new group emerged. They called themselves the 'Mercians.'"

In the next frame after the temple drawing, a pictogram showed two armies, one clad in black and the other white, facing each other on a grassy plain.

"A civil war," Obi-Wan surmised.

"The Mercians believed it was the Architects' duty to follow the will of the Force—the Light Side. They opposed imperialism, demanded freedom for the slaves. And eventually, they won the Prime Minister to their argument." Palmer smiled, amused by it all. "The empire fell into chaos. Most of the planets stood with the Levolents. The war seemed hopeless for the Mercians, until the slaves rose up and evened the odds."

Julian's eyes raked over the war's depictions. His face narrowed and wore down to the sharpest depressions. "Bloody butchers," he murmured. "The whole lot of them."

Obi-Wan studied the wall closely; his mind's eye and Palmer's words formed an illusion of experience.

"Before," he said slowly, putting something together, "you mentioned 'other realms'—controlling the incorporeal. What did you mean by that?"

"The Levolents were masters of the Dark Side. And there was one man in particular, one whose name wasn't recorded, as if even in life he was a spirit not to summon—one Levolent who knew secrets we can't imagine."

"What secrets?" Obi-Wan demanded.

Palmer laughed breathily. He was so cold, so deliberate and passionless. "The secrets. He got behind the curtain—saw the workings of existence. He took up creation like an author's imagination."

Obi-Wan looked down, cocking his head. "The Force. He became—not one with it, but parallel," he said, eyes shining with realization. "He influenced the midichlorians to—to what? Create life? Steal it?"

"That's a start."

"What happened then? A coup? He took over the Empire?"

"Don't think so small," Palmer chided. "Why would a man sit down to fish if he had the power to drain the pond?"

He watched Obi-Wan with interest, finding such depth in him. For most people, it's their brain does the work; for others, it's the heart. But Obi-Wan's activity was centered in the soul. It pumped thought and feeling like water from a well.

"That's what you meant by incorporeal," Obi-Wan said. "The Levolents wanted to transcend their bodies. And this one—the Nameless One—he actually did it. He became timeless. He became a focal point of beginnings and endings, like the Force."

Palmer nodded approvingly.

"Someone wanna tell me what the hell all this has to do with a magic chair?" Landon groused.

Obi-Wan shined the light on a drawing of a white-robed man meditating—surrounded by smoky shapes that looked like unformed humans.

"The Mercians worshiped the Force," Palmer said. "They could accept the Dark Side; they could accept that justice, while constant, sometimes moves backwards. But they would never accept something that existed outside the Force."

"So they created the Mercy Seat," Quinn suggested, "as a means to oppose the Nameless One."

Julian furrowed his brow. "Okay—" He paused to shake his head. "That makes sense on… some level," he said hesitantly, "but how—what's its function? What does the Mercy Seat do?"

Obi-Wan looked at Palmer expectantly.

But the archaeologist only smiled. "When you know that, you'll know everything."

Julian tracked the beacon to the ceiling; filled with drawings of star systems, it was a primitive planetarium.

"What's all of this?" the doctor asked.

"The Mercy Seat was constructed on a planet said to be a 'nexus' of the Force—a point of convergence," Palmer said. "It was a planet deep in the unknown regions, and almost impossible to get to. But a small group of Mercians createdd a narrow hyperspace route through all the asteroids and debris."

He gestured to another planet back in known space. "When they returned home, they told no one what they'd done. There were rumors, of course. But those who knew the Mercy Seat's location took it to their graves. The hyperspace coordinates were written only once: on a stone tablet hidden away in a Mercian sanctuary."

"What happened to it?" Quinn asked.

"During the war, the sanctuary came under siege and the Levolents found the tablet. There was a struggle, and the tablet cracked in two. The Levolents took one piece; the Mercians escaped with the other." Palmer gestured to a part of the ceiling too badly corroded to make anything out. "I can't tell you where the first piece ended up. The writing there—you can see it's damaged."

"What about the other piece?" Obi-Wan asked.

"The Mercians' piece ended up in the outer rim. Today, we call the planet Mareth."

"Then that's where we start."

Julian blanched. "Mareth?" He narrowed and his eyes and repeated: "Mareth? You can't be serious about going there. It's under quarantine!"

"What are you talking about?" Landon asked. "What quarantine?"

"Fifteen years ago, there was a disease—a planet-wide plague," explained Julian. "The Republic set up an orbital defense system so that any ships leaving are destroyed—and any incoming ships are blocked by a force field."

Obi-Wan stared at the drawing before switching off the beacon. He regarded the men calmly. "We'll have to find a way through. There's no other choice."

"There's always a choice," Landon balked.

"I will not allow this galaxy to fall to the Sith," Obi-Wan said sternly. "We all know the stakes. We must find the Mercy Seat—and the road starts at Mareth."

He wasn't only the Negotiator for his ability to foster truces. Everyone was silent.

Landon scowled and glanced off.

"Do the Sith know about the tablet?" Obi-Wan asked Palmer.

"Not yet," said Palmer. "But it's only a matter of time until they find this chamber."

Obi-Wan scanned the rock for weak points. "What would it take to destroy this?"

"Not much. Three—maybe four proton charges."

After a long moment, Landon sighed defeatedly. Reaching into his pouch, he produced a stout metal cylinder. He held the permacrete detonator for the others' inspection. "Will this do?"

Palmer smiled slowly, laughing beneath his breath.

A thousand soldiers blocked the horizon.

They marched behind the Four Horsemen in perfect synchronicity. Their rifles were drawn, held parallel to their bodies. And the glare from the sun washed out their faces. This made them anonymous, and the locals, like all of us, feared the unseen.

The Halmans peered through windows and alleys. A brave few stood in the open. For years, Halm's people had been diplomatically courted; they'd worn as a cloth the sense of their own importance. That was all gone now.

Vader imbibed their fear, feeling aroused. Perhaps in his psyche, some wires were crossed—or maybe fear is a kind of intimacy. Whatever its source, he felt pleasure and power.

The Republic embassy waited in the distance.

The door flew open, and the lanky many burst in. His eyes were wild behind glasses slanted down on one side. "Ambassador!"

Mothma coiled with dread. "What is it?"

"Outside! Something—" He shook his head as if to clear it. "Something's happening."

The Ambassador followed him, along with Padme and the others. They jogged down a hallway that ended in the lobby.

They looked out through the glass panels at a sea of black and gray. The faces were indistinct, but Aayla could feel Vader was at the helm. Even Padme, untrained, seemed to know. They stood transfixed; the entire war flashed in front of them.

Miler circled around, blocking their view. "We have t'go!" he said, directing it at Mothma. "Is there another way out? An evacuation route?"

She blinked a few times before nodding dumbly. "Y-yes. Yes. There's an underground exit."


"There's a false floor panel in the staff quarters," the lanky man said. "It'll take us through a tunnel to the landing pad."

"What about the others?" Padme asked.

"We can't help 'em if we're dead," Miler snapped. He spun the lanky man around, shoving him ahead. "Go!"

With a final glance at Vader's army at the gate, the group retreated. They hurried through the hallway, sharing an awkward rhythm.

Padme's mind flickered to Obi-Wan, but she forced the thoughts. This wasn't the time—if there'd ever be one.

"This way!" The lanky man turned a corner—only to meet three men. They cracked him in the face, knocking him to the ground.

Miler knelt to help the lanky man but froze at the sight of rifles. They gestured with their guns for Miler to stand back. After a moment's pause, he obliged them. The lanky man writhed, holding his chin where it was struck.

Mothma looked at the men, dressed in embassy uniforms. Her stomach sunk at recognizing her personal security guards.

"Hello, Ambassador," the lead man said, gray-blue eyes appraising her companions. "I'm afraid I can't let you leave."

With the flick of his wrist, Vader forced open the huge iron gates. They snapped to each side, testing the hinges before rocking to a stop.

Demic led a group to secure the perimeter, while Wrath, Malice, and twenty soldiers trailed up the steps. Vader's cape waved in the wind, dust scattering everywhere.

Vader could feel then men's anticipation; they had a childlike impatience to carry out violence. Of his three Horsemen, Demic was the thinker. The others need attention.

"They're to be taken alive until I say otherwise," Vader decreed, wiping Padme from his mind as Wrath and Malice nodded. "Be on your guard. I sense Jedi within."

At the top of the steps, Vader thrust his hand; the Force shattered a massive glass door. He stepped through the opening, his Horsemen behind him, and came face to face with the Republic contingent.

Mon Mothma received him defiantly. But all it elicited was a wicked smile. Vader had always, at least in his own mind, enjoyed a strong woman.

The smile fell from his face when Padme appeared. In the ugly sunlight, her porcelain skin sparkled, and her chocolate eyes were framed perfectly by the curled hair that fell on either side of her. Her glossy lips seemed to float through the air.

His eyes were yellow, then blue, and yellow again.

Padme held his eyes. His mouth twisted sharply on one side; he remained perfectly still, perfectly balanced. It only took him a moment to force entry into her mind.

Padme would never get used to Coruscant's coldness. The cityscape was a dark intruder; it got into everything, left you breathless. It was nothing like Naboo.

Today's Senate hearing was a miserable reminder of government's intransigence. The Yellow Party and Blue Party, and the constituents they represented, were so polarized that every debate devolved into insults and ultimatums—and every floor vote was blocked by filibuster.

There were times she wondered if democracy was plausible. There was, after all, a reason the Sith were winning. But as quickly as the thought came, her shame would vaporize it.

Padme climbed the steps to her apartment. All she wanted was a warm bath and a good night's sleep. They were the only comforts her life currently permitted.

At the front door, she keyed in her entry code, sighing contentedly as she walked into the foyer.

She set down her bag and entered the living room. She pulled the pins out of her hair, so that its knots unwound and it cascaded down her shoulders. Already, she could feel the day begin to fade.

"Lights on."

The computer obliged, and bulbs came to life.

Padme shrieked, jumping back as her eyes fell on a fourteen year-old Anakin Skywalker waiting patiently on her couch, hands folded in his lap. He looked utterly unashamed.

"Anakin! What—" Her heart fluttered. "How did you get in here?"

He smirked in an unchildlike way. "I'm a Jedi, Padme."

The lamplight filled his eyes, and they were totally blank. That was new to her; from the day they met, she'd read him easily; he was a bundle of nerves and sentiments straining against his skin. But now, seated in her living room, he was as empty as a droid.

"Jedi or not, it isn't right to break into someone's home," she said sternly.

Anakin regarded her perfect lips, twisted into a frown that reduced him to the least importance. He lifted his chin.

"I just wanted to see you," the boy said, making a sour face. "You're never around. I've been waiting to see you for weeks. I've gone by the Senate, but they say you're busy. Left you notes and no answer."

Padme's eyebrows forced a line in her forehead. She fell back on a practiced condescension she used on politicians. "I'm sorry you feel ignored, Anakin, but I'm very busy. War has its requirements. Perhaps when it's resolved, we can spend some time together. We could go with Master Obi-Wan to"

Anakin scowled. "I don't want to talk about Obi-Wan. That's all I ever talk about. No one talks about me." The anger gave momentum to his original purpose. He pulled a shiny locket from inside his tunic. A heart shaped-pendant dangled from a short chain unlikely to fit a grown woman's neck. "I bought this for you," he said in frustration. "I saved a week of meal stipends. And I bought you this."

Padme blanched as the boy opened the locket to reveal their portraits—one on each half. Hers was from a gala for visiting dignitaries. His was a posed image against an artificial backdrop. There was an unnerving intimacy about their pictures almost touching.

Her mouth opened and closed. She was conscious of her womanhood.

"Anakin…" His eyes bore into her. "That's—that's very sweet of you," she said nervously. "You didn't have to do this."

"I wanted to."

He held out the locket for her, but she stepped back to avoid it. At his puzzled expression, she said: "It's so nice of you, Anakin—it's beautiful—but I can't accept it."

Blackness flooded his eyes. He made a fist with his free hand. "I spent everything I had on it."

"I know. And it was very thoughtful, but—"

"I spent everything I had," he repeated in a high rasping voice. "I do something nice for you and you—you walk all over it. Just like you always have! I'd walk through fire for you, Padme, and you can't even return a message!"

His voice grew more shrill and childlike but his eyes more dangerous. They had a light yellow hue and none of a Jedi's patience. She felt a chill run up her spine. Her neck-hair stood up.

"Anakin," she said, harshly enunciating, "I think it's time for you to leave."

His fist clenched, his expression trance-like. He was newly conscious of all he'd been denied in life. He knocked over a lamp across the room without even realizing.

Padme gave him a wide berth but regarded him severely.

"Now," she demanded.

Anakin burned with feckless anger, out of all proportion to its cause, and he judged that her unreason was driven by an inseparable bond with the man who was ruining his life.

With one final look, full of longing, Anakin stalked to the door and left.

But as he walked home through the manic city, teeming with rights and wrongs, Anakin knew that he would have what belonged to him. Her rejection was naïve. The power was his. He was a Jedi—the Chosen One—and she was part of his domain, the same as his lightsaber.

Vader smiled darkly. "Hello, Padme."