Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

A Long, Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Away...

It is a time of strife and division in the Galaxy.

In the wake of the dissolution of the Trade Federation and the confiscation

Of its contracts and assets by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the Senate has

Been struck with dissent. The charismatic former Jedi Count Dooku of Serenno has led

Thousands of systems in seceding from the Republic.

The newly-formed Confederacy of Independent Systems and the Galactic Republic's

Are now at war, vying for control of the embattled Galaxy...

The Jedi, champions of the Republic, lead the Republic's new Grand Army of clones

In defense of the loyal systems. Overtaxed and spread too thin, the Jedi struggle with

Their responsibilities as the war grows darker and tests their fiber.

In this climate of suspicion, fear and martial conflict, Senator Padme Naberrie

Returns to Coruscant to vote on Chancellor Palpatine's new emergency initiative...

Chapter One: Hypori

The Senate Docks were busy. Traffic moved sluggishly around the exposed platforms, speeders and the private ships of the representatives, delegates and Senators of a thousand systems. Standing at the viewscreen of her shuttle as it descended, preparing to land, Padme Naberrie reflected bitterly that it was less than a thousand now. Dooku and the Corporate Seats, the Techno Union, the Banking Clan, the Corporate Alliance and its subsidiaries...they had seen to that.

"This is Naboo One, requesting permission to land."

The rough voice of the ship's clone pilot cut through Padme's thoughts. She turned from the port viewscreen and glanced at the pilot, another of Fett's uncanny genetic duplicates. The man did his job well and without complaint, but the face, so often repeated on the holonet and on the propaganda posters that papered every wall on Coruscant, was unsettling.

"You are clear to land, Naboo One."

The ship, a gleaming silver Nubian K-type, glided in to its dock and settled onto its landing legs with a rumble of quieting engines. The clone released the control yoke and stood, turning. "Another successful landing, Senator," he said, and saluted.

"Thank you, soldier," said Padme, forcing a smile.

Mace Windu and Senator Organa were waiting for her on the landing platform. Padme stepped out through the ship's airlock as it cycled open. "Master Windu," she said warmly, raising her voice to make herself heard over the noise of the docks. "It's good to see you."

Windu's eyes widened in surprise. Padme felt her smile falter.

"NO!" shouted Master Windu, throwing out a hand. An invisible fist closed on the front of Padme's robes and dragged her from the boarding ramp just as the world dissolved into heat, wind and light. Padme heard a loud ringing in her ears, and then her knees and palms struck the Duracrete surface of the landing platform and she rolled, crying out. Strong hands hauled her to her feet. Dull sounds fluttered around her head like moths at a light, half-heard and indistinct. She twisted, spitting blood, and saw her ship aflame, its landing legs buckled beneath the weight its sagging wings and twisted fuselage. A fire crew was already storming onto the landing pad, four uniformed clones with a high-pressure chemical hose attached to a mobile tanker droid held between them. Greyish foam gushed from the hose and splattered over the ship, smothering the blaze.

"We've got to get you out of here, Senator," shouted Windu over the chaos of the panicked docks. "Stay close, and stay down!" He pulled her toward the reassuring bulk of the Senate Building as a patrol of Senatorial Guards came rushing out from a nearby turbolift shaft. Padme stumbled along between Master Windu and a pale, sweating Senator Organa, coughing on the thick black smoke pouring from the wreck. The Senate Guards fell into step to her either side without a word, heavy blasters unlimbered and ready. Two of them jogged past, heading toward Padme's spaceship at the epicenter of the blast.

Padme blinked. Her thoughts were slow and foggy, her hearing still tenuous at best. Master Windu's voice faded in and out as he pulled her inside. Padme felt tears sting her eyes when she remembered her first real meeting with the man, just after Qui-Gon's death. Qui-Gon...but no, she had set aside the tangled mass of emotions surrounding the older man's death. Her dreams about him had finally ended.

"...said can you hear me, Senator?"
Padme straightened and pulled away from Mace. "Yes, Master Windu," she said, her voice only slightly cracked with strain. "What...what happened?"

Mace guided her to the marble bench that ran along the hall. She sat, brushing loose strands of hair out of her eyes. There was smoke in the hall and the Senators of a score of different worlds were shouting over one another as the Senate Guard struggled to restore order. Padme took a deep, shuddering breath. "The pilot?"

"Dead," said Windu, turning back to the doors leading to the docks. "My lady, I suggest we go to the Temple as soon as-"

"Senator!"

Padme jumped to her feet as Palpatine burst into the hall, trailing bureaucrats and petitioners like a plague-cloud. The Supreme Chancellor wore an ankle-length open blue robe embroidered heavily with whorls and scrollwork over a darker vest and loose trousers. He swept down the corridor, Senators scrambling out his way, and gripped Padme's hands in his own. "My dear," he said, "this is a travesty, an outrage, and I assure you it will not rest. I insist that you join me in my office. It isn't safe here. Master Windu, if you would accompany us?"

Mace nodded, still frowning at the doors as the smoke cleared.

The Chancellor's office on the top level of the Senate Dome was much as Padme remembered it, a short hall decorated with bas relief murals of the end of the First Sith War that opened out on a broad, half-circular chamber walled on the south side with plate glass. An enormous desk dominated the depression in the center of the room. A diminutive being in Jedi robes sat cross-legged on a low seat in front of the desk. He rose at Padme's approach, a terse smile curving his wrinkled mouth. "Senator Naberrie," said Master Yoda, planting his cane between his clawed feet. "Good to see you safe, it is."

"An attack at the Senate Docks," said Palpatine as he circled his desk, lined face taut with strain. "Inconceivable. Dooku and the Separatists have grown bold indeed."

"You're sure it was a Separatist attack?" said Bail Organa, moving into the room as Padme took a seat in front of the Chancellor's desk. Her ears were still ringing tinnily. Her thoughts were fragmented and unclear.

"It would not be the first time," said Palpatine darkly. He sank down into his seat, hands laced together atop the hardwood surface of his desk. "Dooku has certainly proven himself willing to kill."

"Why the Senator?" asked Master Windu. "Reprisals for the Viceroy's death?"

Padme fought the impulse to flinch at the memory of Nute Gunray stepping off the edge of the Royal Dock and into empty air. "More likely it was an indirect strike at the Chancellor," she said coolly, pushing her troubled thoughts aside and slipping into the cold, amoral world of politics. It was a trick her father had taught her, a way to parse a situation objectively. "The war has dragged on, the Senate is on the verge of another collapse and the budget is in tatters. If the Chancellor loses votes, he loses control."

Palpatine looked deeply troubled. He turned to Yoda. "Have you an opinion, Master Yoda?"

Yoda shook his head slowly. "Clouded by the Dark Side, my vision is," he said. "Dooku's hand I sense, but nothing more."

Palpatine rose and turned to the window. He put a hand to the glass and said nothing for a long while. Padme could almost feel the weight on his shoulders, the four years of bloody, grinding war his term had overseen. He was as popular throughout the Galaxy as he had ever been, but the recent string of Separatist successes in the Outer Rim had shaken his support in the Senate. The war effort had been plagued by infighting in the Senate, Palpatine's initiatives barely finding the support to pass-and then only by the barest of margins and after lengthy debate. Public frustration with the Senate was at an all-time high. Wilhuff Tarkin, the Confederate Legate-Senator and the last conduit for diplomacy between the Separatists and the Republic, had been assaulted outside his apartment complex by a mob of furious citizenry and had barely escaped with his life.

"Your safety, Senator," said Palpatine, turning back to meet Padme's stare with his warm blue eyes, "is of the greatest importance. I'm afraid I must insist that you bolster your personal security."

Yoda nodded. "Agree with the Chancellor, the Council does," he said.

Senator Organa nodded. "I agree as well," he said.

Padme frowned. "I don't think that's necessary," she said. "More guards couldn't have prevented that attack, not if my clone missed the signs."

"I had in mind a different caliber of watchman," said Palpatine, glancing at Yoda and Mace. "Master Yoda, Master Windu, am I right in assuming that Master Kenobi and young Skywalker are on Coruscant at the moment?"

"You are," said Yoda.

Obi-Wan, and Anakin. Padme had seen them perhaps three times since the disaster of Theed's retaking. Once at Qui-Gon's official memorial, a vast shuffle of robed mourners and political opportunists. Once at the beginning of the Outer Rim Campaigns, a brief exchange of hellos at a state dinner, and once just a year previous in passing in the Senate offices. Anakin had been alone, gaunt and red-eyed, dressed in long, roughspun robes. He had looked so different from the dirty youth Qui-Gon had taken from Tatooine. They had exchanged awkward greetings, traded pleasantries, and then parted ways.

Palpatine raised a thin white eyebrow. "Surely old friends would be less of an intrusion on your duties, Senator? Master Yoda, I'm certain the Council can spare two of its own to safeguard an ally."

"Mmm," said Yoda. He sounded thoughtful. "An excellent idea, it is. With your permission, Senator, Master Kenobi and his apprentice to your protection I will assign."

"My security," began Padme, frustrated.

"Is insufficient," said Mace firmly. "Master Kenobi is one of our best, my lady. It would ease the Council's mind if you accepted our decision, at least for the present."

"For the present, then," said Padme, frowning.

Palpatine smiled sadly. "We live in dark times, my dear," he said. His smile faded, replaced by a look of weariness and sorrow. "May the Force be with you, Senator."

"And you, Chancellor," said Padme. She stood to leave, Senator Organa falling into step beside her. The office door hissed open and a tall, dark-skinned man with cropped black hair and a stern, angry countenance stepped through. He wore a crisp grey uniform with blue and red insignia on its breast. Padme stopped where she stood. "Admiral Panaka," she said quietly. "It's good to see you."

"Senator Naberrie," snapped Panaka, without once looking at her. He strode toward the Chancellor's desk, hands clasped behind his back. Padme watched him for a second, and then Senator Organa gestured toward the door and they left the office as Panaka and the Chancellor began to discuss fleet movements with Windu and Yoda.

The hallway outside the Chancellor's office was cold. Padme stopped, folding her arms. "Go on without me," she said to Senator Organa as he turned, arching a dark eyebrow. "I'll catch up. I want to stop in on the Gungan legate."

"As you wish," said Bail. "I'll look for you in the Rotunda, Senator."

Padme smiled, waited until he had gone, and then took a turbolift to the Senate Atrium. With the house in session, foot traffic in the echoing space with its ornamental fountains and lush vegetation was sparse. Padme drifted between rows of painstakingly trimmed and cared-for trees with wavy purple foliage. She found the memorial in the shadow of a particularly large tree. They had sculpted him in a meditative pose, one hand on his chin, the other open at his side. He seemed to be looking off across the Atrium, past the fountains and statuary, past the Rotunda to the distant sky of Coruscant. Padme stared at him for a long while, hardly feeling the tears that traced their paths down her cheeks.

"I miss you," she said to the silent marble effigy.

Qui-Gon stared through her, and said nothing.

******

The droid lines advanced over the bodies of a legion of fallen clones, their metal feet crushing white plasteel armor as they neared the wreck of the sphere section of the lucrehulk-class cruiser Aat'sor. The burst and gutted command sphere had been playing host to a small contingent of Republic holdouts and, more importantly, their commanders. Jedi. General Grievous watched the advance from the boarding ramp of his personal shuttle, a beetle-like Neimodian model Count Dooku had given him as a gift. His cloak snapped and fluttered behind him in the cool wind of Hypori's northern continent as he clung one-handed to one of the ramp's hydraulic struts.

The droids below proceeded, firing as they marched, and halted a hundred meters from the crashed sphere, skeletal B-1 models and hulking B-2's with their smooth, knife-like builds and integrated repeating blasters. The last clones defending the sphere fell or were dragged from the outlying maze of wreckage and shot point-blank. Grievous felt a thrill of anticipation. He turned back toward his shuttle. "Patch me through to the broadcasters," he snarled at the MagnaGuard standing just inside the shuttle's airlock. A moment later he felt something click in his chest, a circuit completing itself. His harsh breath echoed over the broad and muddy valley of Hypori's eastern continent. "You have fought valiantly, Jedi.

"I am impressed."

Grievous's shuttle started forward as he spoke, its engines firing with a soft thrum of power. It drifted toward him and he stepped onto the landing ramp as it passed, clinging to one of the hydraulic struts. The shuttle left the bluff and sank, heading for the crashed sphere. "As a reward for your bravery and skill," he rasped, "I will kill you myself."

The sea of battle droids passed by beneath the shadow of the shuttle. Grievous narrowed his eyes, staring at the skeletonized bulk of the cruiser Aat'sor, at its towering superstructure, warped and twisted by its crash landing. He was past the droids, flying toward an especially large tear in the hull. His ruined face worked behind his mouth, torn muscles twitching pointlessly. This was what Dooku had promised him in return for his services. This was why he had plotted and schemed and directed a thousand monotonous operations against the Republic, carrying out the convoluted schemes of the Sith.

Revenge.

The shuttle slammed through the ragged hole in the Aat'sor's hull. Grievous leapt free of his ship's boarding ramp, heedless of the seventy meters between himself and the wrecked cruiser's lowest deck. He fell like a stone, plummeting through the air to land with an echoing crash on a half-intact storage level. Shadows fell across him, light pouring through the shattered hull in dim, diffuse bars. Grievous slipped through the dimness and the dark, his clawed feet clanking loudly. The sound of his footfalls echoed and reechoed from the walls. He slipped down another level, and then another, swarming down empty turbolift shafts and dropping through holes in the deck. He could almost smell the Jedi, though he had smelled nothing in the four years since his accident and recreation. He could almost taste their blood.

"What was that?" came a loud, nervous voice.

"Be quiet, Sha." A second voice, cultured and mature. Ki-Adi Mundi of the Jedi Council. "Maintain your focus."

Grievous coughed violently, let the sound hang in the air and then dropped through a gaping rent in the deck and onto a support beam. The loud clang as his claws struck the metal struck the Jedi below silent. He scuttled along the beam, silent for all the weight of his hateful Durasteel shell. A moment later and the voices resumed. "It's everywhere," hissed the nervous voice. "I can hear it."

"That is enough," said Ki-Adi.

"Silence," said another voice, deep and almost unintelligibly rough. "I sense something."

Grievous craned his neck over the edge of the beam. The Jedi were clustered together in the center of the yawning cavern that had been the sphere's reactor core, now a cold and blackened jungle of twisted girders and strewn garbage. There were six of them. The Cerean, Mundi and Shaak Ti, a red-skinned Togruta, both on the Council. With them were another, younger Cerean, a hulking Whipid, a blue-skinned female Twi'Lek and a young, terrified-looking human with a patchy beard. Mundi was speaking to the Whipid in a low voice, saying something Grievous couldn't quite hear. The young human was moving restlessly around the expansive reactor chamber, his wide eyes darting between shadows.

It was as good a place to start as any.

Grievous flung himself off of the beam, silent as a ghost. The young Jedi looked up a moment too late to avoid his fate. The General's weight bore down on his chest, crushing it like a tin can. Grievous straightened up atop the boy's mangled corpse, brushing his cloak back over his left shoulder. He flexed his clawed toes, gripped the human's skull in one foot and eyed the other Jedi. Everything I have been promised. Everything I've worked for.

"SHA!" cried Ki-Adi in horror.

"No!" screamed the Twi'Lek woman.

Grievous plucked two lightsabers from his cloak and ignited them as the others charged him. He did not wait for them; instead he flung himself headlong away from the corpse and into their midst. His lightsabers were a blur around him, turning a dozen blows in the space of an instant. He laughed raggedly and spun, stabbing at the Whipid. The tusked Jedi recoiled, parrying with frantic speed. Grievous kicked out with a clawed leg and caught the Twi'Lek in the chest, sending her flying. She hit the ground twenty yards away and did not get up. He roared, the sound echoing like murder from the curved walls of the spent reactor core. Shaak Ti flew at him and he swatted her aside, wielding his sabers in either hands or feet with equal ease as he spun and twisted, contorting his mechanical body. Four years had given him time to learn his new limitations, to discover a new prowess.

Dooku had taught him well.

The Jedi rushed the General as one, sabers raised. He bent his legs and leapt forty feet straight up, catching the edge of a piece of the blasted reactor assembly and dragging himself up onto it. He vanished into the shadows, alive with violent glee. At last they would know what it was they faced, the author of so many of their defeats. General Grievous, warlord of the Kaleesh, Supreme Commander of the Confederacy's Droid Armies. He scuttled along the curve of the reactor assembly and then launched himself again through the air. Mundi saw him coming and managed to throw himself out of the way. Grievous hit the ground and threw his entire body into a lunatic lunge with his right-hand saber. The green blade punched through the Whipid Jedi's chest and out his back. The Jedi gave a hoarse moan and collapsed, smoking. Grievous bounded over the corpse, bulling past Shaak Ti and the younger of the two Cereans as they moved to intercept him. He turned in mid-stride, catching the Togruta woman's thrust at his chest between his lightsabers. He leaned toward her, eyes narrowed, and heard the young Cerean approaching at a run from behind.

He lashed out with a foot and seized the Cerean's skull in his claws, keeping Shaak Ti at bay with great sweeping slashes. The Cerean struggled, lightsaber forgotten in the dirt. Grievous slammed his head against the filthy deck and it broke with an echoing crunch. He flung the body away, laughing as Shaak Ti cried out in wordless anguish and threw herself at him with redoubled ferocity. Vengeance filled him with a savage pleasure. He disarmed Ti with a practiced flick of his left-hand saber and slammed her to the ground beneath his foot, claws digging into the flesh of her stomach. Her dark eyes narrowed and Grievous snarled in anger and disgust as he was caught in the Force and thrown twenty meters to slam into a wall of wreckage. He rolled to his feet, his cloak tearing on a jagged protrusion from the deck, and caught Ki-Adi's saber across both of his own. The Cerean Jedi fought with admirable serenity, his blue lightsaber slicing effortlessly through the air. Grievous parried, jabbed and gave ground. Shaak Ti and the Twi'Lek joined the fray. He ducked, wove, spun and jumped. He turned their strikes and slashed at them, shifting forms at random.

A snap-kick flung Shaak Ti into a pile of scrap forty meters distant. Grievous hacked the Twi'Lek's arms off and stabbed her through the throat in a single looping movement. She slumped to the deck, dead, and it was only he and Mundi, a Master of the Jedi Council. Grievous snatched up the dead Twi'Lek's lightsaber in one foot and ignited it. He stood, balancing on one clawed foot, staring at Ki-Adi. The Cerean brought his saber up slowly to the high guard. For a handful of seconds they stared at each other, eyes narrowed.

And then Grievous struck. Mundi ducked and weaved, turning his sabers. Grievous hammered at the Cerean's defenses, transferring lightsabers from limb to limb at lightning speed as he slashed and cut. After Dooku the Jedi seemed so slow, so sluggish and constrained. Grievous disarmed Mundi with a flourish and kicked the Cerean to the ground, pinning him with a foot.

"I am GENERAL GRIEVOUS," bellowed Grievous, thrusting his face close to the Cerean's to give the other man a clear look at his eyes. "Go back and tell your Council I will have my revenge for the death of Kalee, for the death of Ronderu. Tell them I will wear their skins."

"I am not a messenger," spat the Master, blood flecking his lips.

Grievous's left arm split in two. He seized Mundi's throat. "You will tell them," he choked out.

The General sprang away and fled before Mundi could strike, vanishing back up into the forest of girders and broken machinery. His heart sang with the thrill of murder, with the power of conducting battle from the front lines, of taking the light from an enemy's eyes with the strength of his own arms. His shuttle was waiting for him where he'd left it. He leapt up onto the landing ramp and stalked inside. As the ship turned and left the sphere, Grievous felt his lost hands shaking, though his metal ones were still and cold. For a moment, he had forgotten... He looked out through the viewscreen, out to where the droids were abandoning their encirclement. Mundi would flee undeterred.

Grievous coughed, hacking, and sank heavily into the pilot's seat. His claws tapped out a rhythm against the arms of the seat. He would kill them all before the war was done; every Jedi.

Every last one.

******

Anakin stood beside Obi-Wan in the turbolift as it shot up the side of Senator Naberrie's apartment highrise. The view of Coruscant at midday was spectacular, but Anakin had seen the city-planet's sprawling vistas too often in his life to be truly awed. And besides, the attractions of the city had paled for him. He heard too much of its true voice, its presence in the Force. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and tugged at the collar of his dark overtunic. It was chafing his neck again.

Obi-Wan glanced at him. "Must you fidget?" he asked.

"I can't concentrate," said Anakin. "I've been trying to shut the planet out, but the exercises aren't working. I can still hear it, like a murmur."

"These things take time, Anakin," said Obi-Wan. He scratched his bearded chin. "Try not to worry. It took Qui-Gon years to teach me the basic disciplines."

The turbolift slowed and ground to a halt, clamps engaging. The lift doors slid open and Anakin stepped out into the apartment's luxurious entrance hall, a wide space centered on an ornamental pool in which colorful fish swam lazily, lit by the bronzium chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It was a stark contrast to Anakin's room at the Jedi Temple. He looked around with mild interest at the ornate furnishings, the sculptures and busts in their niches along the wall. The door furthest from the reflecting pool slid open and Senator Naberrie stepped into the room, flanked by a pair of Senate Guards. She looked just as she had on the day Anakin had met her in Watto's old parts shop, slender and beautiful with her oval-shaped face and long brown hair, caught up at the back of her head in an elegant knot. She wore a silver collar and belt over a trailing white dress. Strings of white seed pearls dangled from her ears. "Master Kenobi," she said warmly. "Anakin. It's good to see you."

"Likewise, Senator," said Obi-Wan, bowing as he took her hand.

Anakin forced a stiff smile. "The pleasure is all ours," he said.

"Please," said Padme, gesturing to the door. "Come in. It's been so long."

Anakin and Obi-Wan followed her into a wide, airy room with the breathtaking view that it seemed inevitably graced the apartment of every wealthy sentient on Coruscant. Anakin gave the skyline a cursory glance, then returned his attention to the Senator. Watching her walk was, he decided, a great deal more interesting than staring out at the sunset. Just the right amount of sway, and that dress didn't leave much about her legs to the imagination... He blinked as Obi-Wan elbowed him in the ribs without breaking stride. The older Jedi glared at him. Anakin grinned.

A tall, dark-skinned man with short, curly hair and a patch over his left eye stood waiting for them by the low couches in the center of the room. He wore a polished leather jerkin over a dark shirt and coarse tunic. "Captain Typho," said the Senator as she came to a halt beside the man and turned back to Anakin and Obi-Wan, "may I present Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan, Anakin Skywalker."

"An honor," said Typho, shaking hands first with Obi-Wan and then with Anakin. He had a firm, decisive grip. "Commander Skywalker, I saw your maneuver at Naboo. Damned brilliant, if you don't mind me saying."

Anakin forced himself not to react. In his mind's eye he could see Admiral Tagge staring at him wide-eyed across the tactics table. He could see clones choking at his feet. "Got a lot of people killed."

"That's war," said Typho with a philosophical flip of one gloved hand. "People die."

"Captain Typho heads my security detail," said Padme.

Panaka's name hung unspoken in the silence.

"I'm confident we'll be able to get to the bottom of this morning's attempt on your life, Senator," said Obi-Wan. "Captain Typho, have you gleaned anything from the ship?"

"Trace chemicals," said Typho, frowning. "Nothing conclusive, though. I believe the bomb was planted on Naboo, though why it didn't detonate at once is beyond me."

"At any rate," said Padme, raising her voice slightly, "I have a session to prepare for. Captain Typho can acquaint you with the building's security systems, if you'll excuse me?"
"Of course, my lady," said Anakin, half-smiling. "We have everything under control."

"Good evening, then," said Padme, and she swept out of the room through the nearest of three identical Durasteel doors. Anakin forced himself not to watch her go.

Typho folded his arms. "She's been under considerable strain," he said. "The new Queen's had her back to Naboo twice a month for debriefings and public appearances, and the mess in the Senate is taking its toll as well."

"The Senator's temperament needs no explanation," said Obi-Wan. "It is a trying time for us all. Under the circumstances I would say she maintains a remarkable poised and composure."

"Remarkably poised," Anakin agreed, earning a swift glare from his Master.

Typho seemed not to notice. He was staring out the plate glass window at the city. "I'm damned glad the Council sent you," he said, turning back. "I'm out of my depth on this one."

Obi-Wan sat down on one of the low couches, hands on his knees. He said nothing for a long while. Anakin drifted over to stand with Typho at the window. He let his eyes drift out of focus and opened himself to the Force, let it pour into him. It was like opening the floodgates on a dam. Sensation swamped his mind, drowned his senses and submerged his thoughts. The base emotions of a trillion beings, love, lust, hate, fear, greed, jealousy, worry, all mixed together in a potent slurry. Anakin took a deep breath and fought for focus and clarity, imposing order on his mind. Gradually, the tumult receded to a dull roar, and then to nothing.

He expanded his senses, let his perceptions encompass Padme's apartments. He sensed Typho beside him, resolute and worried. Obi-Wan, thoughtful. Servants, Senate Guards, Padme's private security detail...and the Senator herself, alone in her office. Her thoughts were ordered and guarded, but Anakin could feel the sorrow and exhaustion rolling off of her in waves. He withdrew. The city lay beneath him, lighting up as the sun set on the iron horizon. He turned back to Obi-Wan, still sitting at the couch. Typho had left, and the shadows on the floor had changed position.

"You lost track of time," said Obi-Wan, not looking up from his apparent examination of the carpet's pattern. "But your focus was excellent. An improvement, Anakin."

Anakin nodded, and neither of them spoke for a minute or two.

Obi-Wan stood up and crossed the room to stand beside Obi-Wan. "Have you any suspicions as to Senator Naberrie's malefactors?" he asked.

"Count Dooku is the obvious choice," said Anakin. He raked a hand through his short hair, brushing his Padawan learner's braid with his thumb. "From what Master Windu told us, I think Padme has the right idea. The Count could destabilize the Chancellor by killing the Senators in his camp. It could bog down our whole war effort."

"I agree," said Obi-Wan. "Anakin, I want you to meet with Senator Naberrie's closest colleagues, the other politicians who support Palpatine's policy. You'll start tomorrow before the Senate is in session, and I think it's best you go in company with the Senator. I'll be leaving her protection in your hands while I pursue another line of inquiry."

Anakin had long ago given up questioning Obi-Wan's penchant for making vague statements. He nodded. "Yes, Master."

"That's settled then," said Obi-Wan. He looked tired. Everyone looked tired these days. With the war it was always one thing or another. "You can-"

Obi-Wan's comlink chimed. Frowning, Anakin's Master retrieved the device from his belt and triggered it. A finger-sized holographic image of Master Windu snapped into being above its projector plate. "We just lost Hypori," said Windu heavily. "Masters Mundi and Ti are returning to Coruscant now. Aayla, K'Kruhk, Sha'Gi, Tarr Seir...Ki-Adi says they were murdered by a cyborg, a lightsaber duelist called General Grievous. The Separatists have a direct line to the Galactic Core, now. It's only a matter of time before they try for Coruscant."

Anakin felt a sharp stab of grief. Tarr Seir had been in his dueling class with Master Koth for three years, and the mild-mannered, sagacious Whipid, K'Kruhk, had accompanied he and Obi-Wan on several missions in Hutt Space. He'd liked the Jedi.

"Damn," swore Obi-Wan. He set the comlink down on a polished wooden end table and began to pace, robes sweeping over the carpet. "Six Jedi..." He paused and rubbed at his temples. "We'll need to withdraw at least one of the rim fleets to protect Coruscant."

"The Senate won't like it," said Mace darkly. "The Rim Seats, what few of them haven't gone over to Dooku, are going to raise hell. Come in when you can." The hologram vanished.

Obi-Wan sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He turned to Anakin. "Inform the Senator that I've gone to the Temple," he said. "I'll need to consult with High Command and the Admiralty, and it's possible I may be sent off-planet. I have every confidence that you can fulfill this mission in my absence, Anakin."

"Of course, Master," said Anakin. He had learned to take things like the fall of a planet to enemies of the Republic in stride.

Obi-Wan snatched up the comlink and fairly dashed from the room, pausing at the door to shout "And good luck!" before vanishing out into the entrance hall.

A minute later Anakin saw his Master's speeder pull away from the building's docking platform. He sighed, clasping his hands behind his back, and turned to the Senator's office door. He supposed he should tell her about Hypori, but somehow he couldn't quite bring himself to burst in on her work with a portent of doom. She'd been through enough, the war on top of Theed's occupation and Amidala's murder. He could feel her through the walls, the barely-contained stress and fatigue wound around the bright core of her determination. He sighed and crossed the room to knock on her door. There was no answer. Anakin pressed a hand to the palm pad and stepped into the Senator's office as the door slid open. It was a small room, windowless but well-lit with wall-to-wall bookshelves and a heavy hardwood desk. Padme was asleep with her cheek on a stack of documents, Senate reports and military memos. Anakin stood in the doorway for a short while. A loose strand of brown hair hung across her face.

He turned and went back to the window, leaving her to sleep.