Chapter I


Galactic Senate building

The Galactic Senate building in the light of day was truly a sight to behold. Towering above the nearby cityscape of the city-world Coruscant, the massive dome was the heart of the Republic. It was here that the Senate met to discuss issues of galactic policy and importance. On most days, the building was surrounded by tourists, crowds of people fighting to get one last look at the legendary structure.

Not today. Today, something was wrong, something that the people didn't see, but rather felt. The air, normally charged with energy and debate, was heavy and still. The massive dome, instead of brilliantly reflecting the rays of the sun, seemed darkened, foreboding.

Malevolence. The air around the dome was heavy with it. Few crowds clustered around the building today. Those few that did shuffled by quickly, hands buried in their pockets and staring resolutely at the ground. A cold, bitter wind blew several pieces of trash across the steps of the building. The Senate square was a ghost town.

Two small figures stumbled down the steps of the rotunda, insignificant against the massive bulk of the Senate building. Closer inspection revealed the two to be Jedi, wearing the distinctive garb of the Order. One was young, with a dramatic shock of brown hair and a mechanical hand, while the other was older, with a shaved head and dark skin.

They were definitely anxious, and the surrounding populace gave them wide berth. When the two Jedi finally reached the street, the younger one collapsed, sitting down heavily on the bottom step and burying his head in his hands. The dark-skinned Jedi leaned down and grasped the younger man' arm. "Come, Anakin," he hissed urgently. "We must warn the Council. If we move quickly enough, perhaps we can salvage this."

Anakin turned his face upwards to face the older man, a Jedi Master by the name of Mace Windu. With shock, Mace realized that there were tears streaking down the younger man's face.

"It's all my fault, Mace," he whispered. "I failed, and now the galaxy will pay the price."

Mace patted Anakin on the back. "The temptation of the dark side is extreme. Perhaps now you will realize how easy it is to fall into it. But now," he said, extending his hand to Anakin, "we must fly. The Council must learn of this treachery immediately. It will not be long before Palpatine comes after us."

Anakin nodded, setting his jaw and taking the proffered hand. A blue fire smoldered in his eyes as he stood. Mace was right. There was still time to stop the key from turning, but that time was running short. Palpatine would not delay long; there were probably troops hunting them as they spoke.

"Then let us act," he said grimly. Mace gave a nod of approval, and the two Jedi looked into a nearby speeder, Anakin piloting as they sped towards the Jedi temple. Normally the Jedi would have never dreamed of simply taking an unoccupied landspeeder, but in this case, the circumstances demanded it.

Anakin was glad of the wind as the speeder screamed through the busy sky-traffic lanes of Coruscant. It kept the tears from returning.

It had all started when Anakin had gone to the Chancellor of the Republic, Palpatine, when he had visions of his secret wife, Senator Padmé Amidala of Naboo, dying in childbirth. Palpatine offered way to save Amidala from death through the dark side of the Force, and that was when Anakin had realized that the leader of the Republic and Anakin's longtime mentor was actually a Sith Lord. Shocked by the magnitude and extent of this betrayal, Anakin informed the Jedi Council. Equally disturbed by the news, the Council sent Master Windu and three other Jedi to arrest the Chancellor before he turned on the Republic. When Anakin had arrived at the Chancellor's quarters, he found the other three Jedi dead, and Windu holding a lightsaber to the Sith Lord's throat. Palpatine-no, not Palpatine, Darth Sidious, Anakin reminded himself-had once more tried to tempt Anakin into falling to the dark side, and Anakin almost gave in. He was stopped, however, at the sights of the slain Jedi, whom he had known as friends for years. When Sidious saw that Anakin could not be swayed, he called in clone troopers to attack the two Jedi, forcing them to abandon their arrest of the Chancellor to defend themselves and escape.

"So stupid," Anakin murmured to himself, still in shock that he had been so easily taken in by the Sith Lord. He wasn't alone; the pseudo-Chancellor had duped most of the order as well.

In the passenger seat, Mace saw Anakin muttering to himself. The truth was Mace was in no better mental straits. He, of all people, should have seen this coming. Out of the entire Order, Mace had been the most distrustful of the Chancellor, but never in his wildest dreams would he have thought that the seemingly harmless old man would have turned out to be a murderer.

Both Jedi were so wrapped up in their thoughts that neither noticed that Anakin had begun to stray into the opposite lane until it was nearly too late. Mace had to grab the armrests to keep from being flung out of the speeder as Anakin wrenched the controls to the side to avoid an oncoming taxi. The driver of the taxi, an insectoid Rodian, flashed an obscene gesture at the two Jedi as he passed.

"Sorry," Anakin said as he once again settled into the correct lane. "I was a little distracted."

Mace merely nodded an unclasped his fingers from the chair. He could understand the younger Jedi's anxiety.

The two continued to draw closer to the temple, but Mace began to feel they were not going fast enough. Sidious surely would have had a plan for this contingency, and with the Republic's clone army almost entirely under his direct control, he had more than enough forces at his disposal to hunt down the Jedi and seize power.

Mace felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as he began to sense danger in the Force. He shifted nervously, glancing from side to side.

"Do you sense it too, Master?" Anakin asked.

Mace glanced at the other Jedi, surprised at the calm in the younger man's voice. Perhaps this latest encounter had humbled the normally brash young Jedi.

"Yes," Mace said slowly. "Someone is looking for us."

"Down and to the right," Anakin said.

Surprised at the rapidity of the young Knight's answer, Mace threw a surreptitious glance in the direction Anakin had mentioned. Sure enough, weaving through the busy sky-traffic lanes of Coruscant, was the distinctive orange and white paint job of a clone patrolship. Mace reached out with the Force, probing the minds of the clones to confirm their intentions. There he found a single order: "Kill the Jedi."

That sealed it. They were being hunted. "Cut over that building," he told Anakin.

"Huh?" Anakin said, casting a strange look at the older Jedi. That was something he would have done, but didn't expect to hear coming from the mouth of Master Windu.

"Cut over that building," Mace repeated, and edge in his voice. "We won't get to the temple in time this way."

"Yes, sir," Anakin said enthusiastically. He kicked the speeder into gear and jerked up, lifting the craft out of its traffic pattern to rise into the sky.

Unfortunately, it didn't go unnoticed. As Mace watched the patrolship suddenly pulled up to follow them. "We've got company," Mace said as Anakin increased speed even more, roaring over the roof of the skyscraper and nearly deafening the civilians on the top floor.

"They might try to arrest us first," Anakin started, but his statement was cut off as a pair of brilliant blue blaster bolts streaked past them and blew a speeder-size chunk out of a nearby skyscraper.

Mace glanced backwards, holding his stomach and fighting not to vomit as Anakin executed a violent barrel roll, and saw the patrolship maneuvering for another shot. He turned back. "I think it's safe to say they're not trying to arrest us," he said.

"Roger that," Anakin said. "Hold on to your seat, Master."

"Wha-?" Mace began, but was cut off as Anakin suddenly and violently threw the speeder into a high-speed dive, screaming through several traffic lanes and narrowly avoiding a collision with a gigantic passenger liner.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Mace said as Anakin began to level out. He glanced back to see the patrolship still following them.

Anakin shot him a rakish grin. "Watch and learn, Master."

The younger Jedi definitely had an aptitude for piloting, Windu found out. With breathtaking speed and skill, Anakin deftly piloted the clunky speeder through the bustling lanes of Coruscant, always staying one step of the patrolship. Mace winced as another pair of blaster bolts screamed by. Traffic was scattering to make room for the chase, but that only made things even more chaotic. As Windu watched, a pair of taxis slammed into each other with a brilliant fireball. Anakin whipped the speeder to the side to avoid the collision, narrowly avoiding another volley of lasers.

Those were too many lasers for just one craft. Mace glanced back just in time to see another two patrolships fall into position on either side of the original one.

"More of them," Mace said. He looked over and saw Anakin furiously manipulating the controls, tongue hanging partway out of his mouth. "Good," he said. "I always enjoyed a challenge."

Mace contemplated rebuking the Knight, but decided now was not the time. Instead he looked up to see another patrolship descending from the clouds.

Anakin saw it too. By now he was juking the speeder from side to side to avoid an incessant stream of blue fire. Without warning, Anakin inverted the speeder and dove, whipping through a pair of freighters with inches to spare.

"Would you at least warn me before you do that?" Mace asked indignantly, smoothing down the hair on the back of his neck.

Anakin gave a small smile as he flipped the speeder again to avoid another volley from their dogged pursuers. "You sound just like Obi-Wan," he said.

Mace snorted. He could now see why Master Kenobi had lost so much hair dealing with this man as a Padawan. "I'd rather sound like Obi-Wan than get killed in a-" Mace froze in midsentence as the pilot of an oncoming taxi panicked, sending his craft out of control. Anakin reacted smoothly, deftly slipping over the barreling taxi and whipping down a narrow corridor between two towers.

"-crash," Mace finished.

"Make yourself useful and tell me how many there are left," Anakin said, his brow knitting in frustration as he whipped the speeder from side to side, narrowly avoiding more beams.

"I'll try," Mace said, "but it's a little hard with you whipping us around like that."

Anakin gave a mirthless laugh. "You wanna drive?"

Mace shut up and turned around. "One pair left, he reported, ducking as a quartet of lasers passed just overhead, singing the paint job on the speeder. "We lost two of them."

"Halfway there," Anakin said optimistically. Both Jedi, however, knew they were in trouble. In this narrow corridor, it was becoming tougher and tougher for Anakin to dodge the streams of blaster bolts. If they didn't break out of here soon…

As if on cue, the speeder roared out of the gap between the two buildings and out into the open air. In the distance loomed the massive towers of the Jedi temple.

"Almost home," Anakin said, diving through yet another traffic lane. The area around the temple was mainly lower buildings, and Anakin took full advantage of that, descending until they were skimming mere meters above the rooftops.

Mace glanced backwards; the two remaining patrolships were still there, jostling for position to get another shot in. With the temple close, the clones sensed their prey was escaping and latched on to the speeder like a pair of mynocks.

Mace felt the speeder stabilize, a strange feeling now that he was accustomed to the violent maneuvers Anakin had been pulling before. He was shocked to see that Anakin had leveled out, flying relatively straight over the rooftops.

"What are you doing?" he yelled over the rushing wind.

"Just trust me," Anakin said.

Mace stared at Anakin open-mouthed and incredulous. "Are you crazy?" he yelled, ducking as a stream of blue sped overhead. "Do you know what-"

Mace's sentence was once again cut off as Anakin suddenly executed a gut-wrenching turn/dive. Mace saw the rooftops rushing at them and felt sure they would crash when the speeder dropped into a nearby alley. The two patrolships tried to follow, but couldn't get the right angle. Mace winced as the two ships collided with a rooftop in a fireball.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Mace turned back to face forward, letting out the air he hadn't realized he had been holding as they sped towards the temple.

"Just like podracing again," Anakin said nonchalantly.

Mace regarded the young Knight with something close to astonishment. He opened his mouth to rebuke Anakin, but quickly closed it. The Jedi had earned his right to a flippant remark.

The rest of the flight to the temple was uneventful, and Mace sighed with relief as Anakin set the speeder down on a landing pad. He quickly hopped out. "We don't have much time," he said, striding into the temple. "I'm going to call an emergency meeting of the council to get them to evacuate the temple. I know some remnants of the Fleet that will still be loyal to us. We can escape and pick up any survivors across the galaxy. Anakin?"

Mace turned, suddenly aware that the younger man wasn't following him. "Anakin?" He turned around, his jaw dropping when he saw the younger man climbing back into the speeder. "What are you doing?" he yelled.

"I need to pick up a friend," Anakin said, restarting the speeder and roaring off into the sky.

Mace was left standing on the platform, watching openmouthed as the speeder vanished into the sky. He knew Anakin had been headstrong but this was lunacy!

Mace shook his head and turned back to the temple. Anakin could handle himself; right now, Mace needed to act or the whole Order could be destroyed.