Contrary to any rumors or popular opinion...I do live. ;) And so, it would appear, do my Star Wars fanfic writing braincells. :)
The Force seemed to flare into a crystalline net around them, and Mace could feel the brand that was Anakin Skywalker, somewhere beneath the deckplates on which Mace now stood. The brand burned with purpose and a clarity that was almost frightening to behold, even through the Force. The burning fragments of determination fractured out exponentially throughout the ship, as Anakin instinctively made the adjustments necessary to grace the unassuming Silver Sunrise with nearly race-mod specifications. The Force…the ship…Anakin…fused together, integrated parts of a seamless whole fired with one goal—power.
Power to rescue Senator Amidala, to rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi. There was little in the dark mass beyond the crystalline net that made sense to Mace. The Darkness had encroached that far upon the Light. In the immediate moment, however, Windu could see the strength, the determination, the pulse that beat out I will not let them die. Beneath his feet, Mace felt the deckplates shudder just a bit, and the Sunrise seemed to leap forward in speed, and below the deckplates, that crystalline net trembled just a bit with satisfied joy.
Somewhere in the ether of the Dark Side that stirred, pulsed and pressed against the bit of light, Mace could also sense a perverse sense of…well if not joy, at least an odd sort of satisfaction. Just that quickly, almost like the retraction of a 'saber blade, the sensation drew away and the intricate crystalline latticework that had met his senses collapsed soon after.
"What is it?" Adi Gallia asked from nearby, her own senses aware of the disturbing tremor in the Force, a briefly nauseating sensation. Mace looked up into those azure eyes and his own expression was troubled.
"Something has happened." He said simply, unable to name just what that something was, but there was one thing he knew for certain. "Something dangerous."
Before either Jedi Master could discuss it further, Anakin returned to the common area of the ship, looking a bit messier than he had before going below-decks, but wearing a rather triumphant expression. "Got it." He said with a nod. "We'll be in the Jastas Prime system before you know it."
"Well done." Mace remarked plainly, for it was true that it took a rather high degree of skill to pull off what Skywalker had accomplished with a ship of this type; Mace had no doubt that they were running higher than point four past lightspeed.
"Thank you, Master." Anakin replied with an expression that said he knew he'd nailed it. An expression that melted into something else almost entirely. "Something's not right." He sensed the lingering warning in the Force as well; it felt like an alarm deep within. Now that he wasn't channeling his abilities into the ship, he paid close attention to what he felt. "Something dark…is moving." Skywalker tried to explain what he felt. Blue eyes fixed on Mace with a hard, sudden certainty. "Moving toward us!"
"Or we are moving toward it." Windu agreed, his dark eyes not flinching away from the intense gaze leveled at him by the young Jedi apprentice standing before him. In the Force, Anakin fairly bristled with the underlying tension, like a taut bowstring, plucked and vibrating.
"You know they're waiting for us." Anakin finally said, stating the obvious. "Dooku expects us to come. Otherwise Senator Amidala would have been dealt for ransom or killed by now." He felt his throat constrict at the idea of losing his wife. Icy tendrils snaked out to wrap themselves around his heart…and squeezed.
Mace watched the tall Jedi Padawan closely. He seemed to draw within himself, as if reining something in…or pushing something down. "What is it, young Skywalker?" He asked, as calmly as ever.
"I…we…have to be ready for them." Anakin asserted, and Mace saw the same expression of intensity settle over the young features. "They will be waiting for us when we drop out of hyperspace." The moment the words left Anakin's mouth, he was moving, rushing from the common area toward the cockpit.
"What…was that?" Adi asked him with a slight lift of her eyebrows. Mace shook his head. While he had felt the warning in the Force just as she had, neither of them had perceived anything more specific than that.
"I am not certain." Windu replied. "But I believe that things are about to become…interesting."
"I think you've mastered the art of understatement." Adi murmured as she joined Mace in following the impetuous apprentice. "Really. Just in case Master Yoda forgot to tell you." Windu simply shook his head.
"Thanks for pointing it out." That earned him some of that melodious laughter.
"You're welcome." Adi deadpanned, and then grinned, and at last, Windu simply gave up and joined her.
Padmé paced along the length of her new cell, rubbing her wrists from the biting clasp of the binders. There was precious little else she could do in her confinement in this planet-side bunker, although her mind was spinning with all that had happened. The initial intent to save Obi-Wan had exploded into so much more. She thought about Anakin, and the mysterious presence that he had sensed in the southern quarter of the mining colony. Had that actually been Master Kenobi's attacker? What had taken place between them…was Anakin safe?
Her thoughts turned to Josep Two and his small sister, and she unconsciously tugged at the filthy jumpsuit she still wore. What was happening to them now? Padmé wondered if they were simply continuing with their tasks or if Nucha Kri and Count Dooku had decided they were more liability than necessity. She hoped not. Of course, she was sure her own liability would be at an end once Dooku had captured Anakin and the crew of the Silver Sunrise, or had confirmed their deaths one or the other.
"You might as well sit down and relax, you know."
Padmé looked up, startled as the voice reverberated against the metal cell walls. She instantly replaced that expression with one of some disdain as she regarded Dooku's bodyguard, his languid posture against the wall belying his alert watchfulness. She had no doubt this man was just another hired killer, paid in the service of the Separatists.
"What do you want?" Padmé asked evenly, meeting the gaze of Dooku's hired gun.
"Come now, Senator." Ich'im straightened up and drifted further into the cell, effectively cutting off any idea Padmé might have entertained about rushing the door. "There's no reason we can't afford a little civilized conversation to pass the time."
His sense of civility did not impress her.
"What do you want?" She asked again, knowing there was a reason for his presence here in the cell, and she preferred not to allow her imagination to run rampant.
"Oh, I've already got what I want." Ich'im assured her, closing the door behind him now, the tantalizing glimpse of the hallway beyond sealed off. "Plenty of credits for my singular talents, and a certain level of...notoriety. Good for business, you see."
"I'm sure." Padmé replied archly, folding her arms and standing her ground. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her back away from him. "Being on Dooku's payroll must be a real attention-getter."
"Such a sharp tongue." Ich'im chuckled softly. "I see that being friends with the Jedi hasn't changed that at all." He shrugged loosely. "No matter; the Jedi are a failing breed. After all, for a hunter like me, the rarest prizes bring the greatest satisfaction."
"What are you talking about?" Padmé demanded a slight chill racing down her spine. I have a bad feeling about this.
"I never heard a Jedi beg for her life before." Ich'im said matter-of-factly. "It was a first, I must admit, but apparently it was her first mission with her master. Untried, and all that."
Bad feeling confirmed. Padmé's eyes narrowed into a defiant glare.
"You killed Master Varou and her apprentice."
"Right in one." Ich'im clapped his hands briefly, mockingly. "Very good, Senator Amidala. I look forward to adding your Jedi companion and…his master to my list of accomplishments." Padmé felt a cold knot in the pit of her stomach as she regarded her captor. This was Obi-Wan's attacker! "Tell me, how is Master Kenobi these days?" To her credit, Padmé remained silent, but the cold stare she leveled at him told Ich'im enough, and he smiled faintly. "Like I said; there's a certain satisfaction in doing a job well."
"I wouldn't count on enjoying those credits very long." Padmé finally shot back, and Ich'im's slight smile grew deeper at getting a rise out of the Galactic senator.
"Revenge is not the Jedi way; I'm surprised you haven't picked up on that." The assassin folded his arms in mock imitation of Padmé's stance. "I doubt I've got much to worry about there, Senator, but thanks for the concern all the same." Ich'im's smile melted away into something harder. "I'll be quite fine. You, on the other hand…" He shrugged. "I've enjoyed the company, Senator; it's a shame for it to be over with already."
The assassin slipped back out of the cell, promising to be back. After a few minutes, Padmé resumed her pacing, arms still folded and her lips pressed together in a tense, thin line.
She remembered Tatooine.
Why'd she have to die? Anakin's voice, tortured, flatly declaring his revenge on the Tusken Raiders that had taken his mother's life. I hate them! Padmé suspected that her captor would have much more to worry about than he believed.
She wasn't certain if that was comforting…or not.
"The Jedi Council is meeting now to discuss the measure."
Bail Organa kept his voice low, discreet; one thing about a planet-wide metropolis was that there were few enough places considered truly private. One never knew who might be listening in, and this discussion, in particular, required a good deal of privacy.
"Really, now?" Mon Mothma looked up from her cup of tea, blinking curiously. "And however did you manage to do that, Bail?"
"Master Yoda himself requested an audience with me at the Jedi Temple." Organa replied simply, and if he startled Mon Mothma, she didn't show it, simply shaking her head slowly.
"By the Force…they finally see it." She muttered before occupying herself with another sip of tea.
"Master Yoda sees it." Bail amended firmly, and leaned forward across the table. "He has taken it upon himself to convince the Council that the Jedi must be directly involved if the Republic is to survive this war."
A few moments' silenced passed between the two as Mon Mothma nursed along her tea and they both considered the ramifications of Yoda's meeting with the Alderaanian Senator.
"I have taken it upon myself to speak with the senators from Valaras concerning their voting intentions on Jedi inclusion." Mon Mothma finally said as she set aside the empty cup. "I thought the time was right to speak to them about the current climate of the Senate."
"And their intentions are…?"
"To vote with us." Mon Mothma nodded serenely, although Bail could see the underlying tension in the set of her eyes, her shoulders. She reminded him of his wife that way, perfect calm despite the storm within.
"And…?" He prompted again. Mon Mothma exhaled slowly.
"Fornsel Na'ad will stand with us. Sehni Khura is…undecided." She explained cautiously, also well aware that there could be ears to hear. Bail nodded slowly; they had been speaking cautiously with a number of Senators and their aides regarding the growing power levied by Chancellor Palpatine.
Already in the weeks following the outbreak of war and the granting of "emergency powers" by the Senate, Palpatine had moved shrewdly to take even more direct controls over the actions of the Senate, a consolidation of authority that had a growing handful of Senators worried about the future of the Republic.
"Khura has always been cautious." Bail hedged a bit, concern lining his features. "Do you think it is...prudent to approach them for further discussion on the measure?" The true question was in his eyes. Do you think they will support our intention to oppose Palpatine?
Mon Mothma fingered the edge of the teacup, wishing briefly for more of the warm liquid, as she felt somewhat chilled whenever they discussed these delicate matters. Still, her gaze met Organa's questioning look without flinching, and she nodded slightly. "The time is coming," She said thoughtfully, "When we may need to voice more than simply support of the Jedi Order…but that time is not yet." A faint smile crossed her features. "After all, we are only discussing rules of law and opinions on the measures before us."
"Of course." Bail nodded, leaning back and exhaling softly. In the space afforded by the lull in conversation, Bail allowed his gaze to roam about the room, observing the patrons in the upscale restaurant they had chosen, ostensibly to confer on several measures before the Senate.
Abruptly he reached across the table, touching Mon Mothma's wrist to gain her attention, and she looked up as well, startled to see the afternoon regulars gathering around the holonet projector in the center of the room. "Something's happened…"
A comm unit chirped and somehow Bail heard it above the growing commotion within the restaurant. Discreetly pulling it free, he acknowledged, "Organa."
"Senator…you must return immediately." One of his aides spoke urgently. "Count Dooku and the Confederation have launched a massive strike against the Mid-Rim Territories. The Chancellor is calling for an emergency session of the Senate to address this new threat."
"On my way." Bail replied, shutting down the comm and looking at Mon Mothma with no small amount of trepidation. "The war has begun in earnest. Dooku means to strip the Mid-Rim for resources, and then to sunder the Republic in two."
"Without the aid of the Jedi…he might well succeed."
He was nearly certain that his presence here must be as unusual as Bail Organa's presence in the Temple had been. However, that did not deter Yoda from his errand to the Hall of Naboo, the echo of his cane tapping upon the polished stone-cut floors announcing his presence.
"Master Yoda…" The voice was surprised, and belonged to Captain Typho. "What brings you here?"
"To see Senator Amidala, I have come." Yoda replied steadily, although the gaze that met security captain's eyes was slightly amused, as though the small Jedi knew something humorous about him in particular. Typho appeared rather uncertain how to take it.
"Senator Amidala is about to return to the Senate Chambers; an emergency session of congress is about to convene, Master Jedi." Typho found his voice, and it was apologetic.
"Still, speak to her before the session I must. Of great importance, it is." Yoda simply gazed steadfastly upward, leaning upon his gimer stick with both hands. There was no mind-trick, no suggestion through the Force of any kind, only the steady unwavering expression of ancient blue eyes. When Typho made no move to see to his request, however, the diminutive Jedi Master simply leaned forward a bit and said off-handedly, "Know, I do, that not the Senator, but a decoy, she is."
That gained the security captain's attention, and he frowned heavily. Not even he had been aware of a switch, if that indeed had taken place.
"I will see if the Senator is available to speak with you." Typho finally answered stiffly, and he retreated into the inner chambers. With a slight, humph as he made his way over to the window, Yoda gazed out onto the restless air traffic around them. Restless as the tide of the Force on the periphery of his senses, and the ancient Jedi frowned to himself as he waited.
"Master Yoda?" Padmé Amidala's voice greeted him, and Yoda turned aside from the window, regarding the woman before him with a curious gaze. "Captain Typho says you wish to speak with me?"
"Yes, I do." Yoda replied, glancing over at Typho. "In private, I wish to speak."
The handmaiden, as Yoda knew her to be, motioned to the security captain. "I will meet you below, Captain. No harm will come to me while Master Yoda is here."
Typho did not look particularly pleased with that, but as he was not yet convinced of her identity, could do nothing but obey. With a polite nod to the small green Jedi, the captain strode from the room to ready the air car that would transport them to the Senate chambers.
"Tell me your name, you should." Yoda said simply, disarming the deception from the start. "Speak with you about your Lady I must." Understanding that the ruse was up, at least as far as this particular Jedi Master was concerned, the slender handmaiden sat down on one of the couches, bringing her to a lower line of sight.
"I am Sabé, Master Yoda." She answered pleasantly, but there was an underlying tone of concern in her voice. "What news do you have of Senator Amidala?"
"With one of our Padawans, the Senator is." Yoda answered, hobbling slightly nearer. "Knew that already, you did."
"Yes." Sabé confessed, but did not break her gaze with the Jedi before her. "Senator Amidala and Padawan Skywalker approached me before their departure and the Senator requested I take her place." Yoda nodded in understanding. "Do you know where they are, Master Jedi? I am worried about them."
"Located, they have been, and returned soon they will be." Yoda assured the young handmaiden, and Sabé instantly became less tense. While the last report received from Mace Windu and Adi Gallia had only indicated finding the pilot carrying the renegade pair, he had no doubt that the two Masters would locate Obi-Wan's wayward apprentice soon enough. "Come to caution you, I have."
"Caution me?" Sabé echoed, and her resemblance to Padmé melted away into a moment of uncertainty. "What is it, Master Yoda?"
"Carry out this ruse carefully, you must." Yoda motioned gracefully with a small green hand. "Learned, I have that before the Senate an important issue has come."
Sabé frowned outright now and she clasped her hands nervously in her lap. "You have my attention, Master Jedi," she prompted as calmly as she was able, having been well schooled to mimic her Lady's confident demeanor, after all. She fell back on that training now as she frankly regarded the venerated Jedi and waited.
"Aware, are you that begun in force, the war now is?" Yoda asked first, and the handmaiden he addressed nodded.
"It is all over the holonet," Sabé said, her voice soft and sad. "The most distant Mid-Rim worlds have so little in the way of their own defenses. They'll simply be overrun by the Separatists." She paused briefly. "Unless they appeal to the Republic for help from this...'Grand Army' the Chancellor has announced."
"Appeal, they will," Yoda stated, matter-of-fact. "Back to the matter at hand, that leads me. Know, do you, the Senator from Alderaan?"
Sabé nodded. "Yes, Senator Organa; my Lady introduced us as part of my training to be a decoy. He was one of Naboo's strongest supporters during the Trade Federation blockade all those years ago."
"Mmm…yes, a strong advocate is he," Yoda agreed, and he gestured toward the young handmaiden with a small wizened hand. "Glad of his support, the Jedi Order is. A measure to include the Jedi in this Grand Army, he has proposed." Here he paused, looking at Sabé intently. "Agree with it, the Council does, and vote for it in Senator Amidala's absence you must. Sense I do, that pass it can without you, but a far closer thing will it be. Secure the confidence of the Senate, we must, or unable to aid the Republic in this war, will we be."
"I thought the Jedi were opposed to war?" Sabé's response was troubled. "If it passes, will it not affect the very nature of the Jedi Order? I may only be a handmaiden to the Senator, but even I know what that would mean."
"Peace, the absence of conflict not always is," Yoda prefaced before answering the rest of the question. "Keepers of it, we are but know we do that times come when fight to preserve it we must." The small green hand pulled back his robe a bit to reveal the lightsaber clipped at his belt. "Defend what, can we, if tied our hands are? Change us…yes, changed many will be. But swallowed whole the Republic will be if nothing we choose to do."
"I see," Sabé said softly, her eyes reflecting the concern in her voice. "Then let us hope many others are willing to cast a vote in favor as well, or we all go down together." She rose gracefully, slipping back into her role as Padmé Amidala, and favored the venerable Jedi with a smile. "But I will do the measure, or the Order, little good if I miss the vote."
"May the Force be with you, Senator," Yoda replied with a slight nod of his head. The deception was necessary, to be sure, but would never sit completely well with him. Already, the landscape of the Jedi Order was changed, and not for the better.
Grunting slightly as he leaned on the gimer stick, Yoda followed Sabé out of the official residence of Senator Amidala.
The Senatorial District was a massive hive of activity as Senators, summoned from across the planet and in some cases from off –planet, hastily returned to the Senate Chambers. The snarl of speeders, air-cars, and other transit delivering their very important persons seemed to reflect the agitation the sudden news of the massive Separatist invasion had prompted among them.
High above the commotion, Palpatine regarded it all with a thinly veiled contempt. Even the Jedi understood the weak-minded could be easily swayed and were not above using that to their advantage at times, but where the Jedi embraced service to these masses, the Sith knew that true power lay in commanding obedience from them.
After all, peace was a thing to be ordered and defined, not simply protected.
Gathering himself, Palpatine turned away from the frenetic activity below, to the relative quiet of his own offices. Shrugging his way into the mantle that accompanied his current robes, Palpatine relished the weight of power, of the Dark Side of the Force, drawing on its cunning.
The resolution to unleash the clones against the new war front would emerge from this session; as with Skywalker, the Order the boy served was gradually being outflanked. With both the Senate and the clone army firmly in his control, the Jedi would have little recourse. Secluded within their Temple, insulated by their Code, the Order would never see their doom until it was upon them, at their very door.
Properly attired for the convening of the Senate, the Chancellor mien firmly in place, Palpatine pushed aside his dark pleasure to concentrate on the moment. He'd lost sight of his focus somewhat during the last session; he was convinced the brief distraction had been what allowed Master Gallia to successfully plead her case with her companion's corpse. There would be no such interruption this time.
Mas Amedda was waiting for him at the outer door, and they exchanged a silent pair of nods before the Chancellor led the way into the central dais that would rise into the Senate Chamber itself. Amedda activated the dais, and as the ceiling overhead retracted to allow them entrance, Palpatine lifted his chin slightly.
The dais began to rise up slowly through the opening in the Chamber floor, into the familiar cacophony of various human and alien voices. A voice amplification clip beneath the ponderous blue chin switched on as Amedda thundered,
"The Senate is called to session! The Senate is called to session!" There was a brief pause while straggling representatives from various planets came to their places; extraneous chatter dying down despite the massive number of beings, and Palpatine sensed the almost breathless moment of anticipation stretch out. "Senators, and Gentlebeings, stand and hail, the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic!"
The 'Stand and Hail' was a time honored tradition of the Senate, begun long before Palpatine had ever entered the political arena. In his waning days of power, Palpatine's predecessor, Chancellor Velorum, had commanded only a fraction of the respect normally displayed. However, as Palpatine now entered the Senate Chamber, deafening applause cascaded around him. Putting on a distressed air, Palpatine raised his hands to halt the traditional greeting.
"My friends," he began to speak, his tone solemn as the grave. "Finally it is upon us. War has broken out in full against the Republic at a most alarming rate; the Separatists have already taken Utapau, Benai, and Nhomi Solan in the Outer Rim. They have begun sieges of Seleucami and Khesta as well as a half dozen other worlds. They have even been bold enough to take several select planets in the Mid-Rim, Dhalis II and Bahreen among them."
The buzz throughout the Senate arena was immediate, as beings too wrapped up in the moment were just now taking note of who was missing; empty viewing platforms from Dhalis II, Khesta, and the Nhomi system. Absent too, were the delegates from Ahjeila and the far-flung Benai.
"The early reports of losses from these invasions are devastating," Palpatine continued, "This Office of Chancellor has received several calls to arms and pleas for aid from these desperate worlds under attack and we must answer them. I propose we counter this massive front with a strategic deployment of the Grand Army of the Republic, taking the traitors head-on."
More buzz, louder now, rose as the various Senators murmured assent or dissent of the idea to deploy the clone troops against the Separatist Confederacy. Palpatine paused now, letting the assembly work itself into a fine state of distraction.
"And who will direct this Grand Army? It's a fair question." The strong, yet cultured tones belonged to Mon Mothma, and Palpatine looked upward as her platform drifted out into the Void. "Surely not the Office of the Chancellor… While we are certain you have a strong staff of military advisors at your fingertips, with all due respect, Chancellor; that is not your field of expertise. Certainly a better command structure could be obtained through the ranks themselves, guided by experienced strategists such as the Jedi to plan and lead the actual assault forces."
It was a bold stroke; Palpatine would give her that. He flicked an annoyed gaze toward the platform currently occupied by the Senator from Alderaan. Despite being the author of the "Inclusion Measure," Bail Organa looked almost surprised to hear Mothma's rather open question on the floor. He hadn't expected it, either.
Palpatine redirected his gaze back to the elegant woman hovering steadily before him. Mon Mothma's porcelain features were calm; Palpatine knew her to be an astute and observant representative of her people. She carried out her duties in the same intelligent and composed manner as the Jedi she consistently advocated, and that was an irritant in its own right.
He was more than aware of persistent rumors whispered in corners that Mon Mothma had originated the ridiculous Petition of Two Thousand; however even the Dark Side had remained silent regarding some speculation of secret activity among the loyalist leaders. There simply was no hard proof at this time that the Senator facing him had anything to do with it.
Palpatine directed his most engaging smile at Mon Mothma. Should it be proved, there were ways of dealing with such things. For now he simply spread his hands before him modestly. "Of course, your point is well noted that I am not trained primarily as a military leader, nor is my homeworld of Naboo noted for such things. However, you are also quite correct in establishing the fact I have an extensive network of military advisors to assist me in the direction of the war effort. I do believe…"
"Supreme Chancellor, fellow senators, I would speak," another voice interjected, and Palpatine was unsurprised as Bail Organa joined his quiet support behind Mon Mothma. The Alderaanian senator joined them in the Void. "While I agree that we must meet this threat with force if we are to protect the Republic, I respectfully submit that with the responsibilities that already weigh so heavily upon the Chancellery, that the burden of command is not one we should levy upon it at this time. The Republic and its citizens are better served, I believe, by a division of labor that will enable us to address the war effort without neglecting equally necessary matters of democracy."
Palpatine put on a curious air. "Is this a statement of…no confidence in this office?" he asked politely, but pointedly. There was a ripple of reaction throughout the chamber, and a faint smile appeared on his lips.
Bail Organa bowed his head slightly in a gesture of respect. "Quite the opposite, Chancellor; I merely state that even you are not indestructible. To put it bluntly, we need you in this crisis but we need you well able to handle the responsibilities before you, not overwhelmed by logistics of the war machine. For the sake of your well-being, let us remove this burden and consider the opportunity we have to ask aid of the Jedi Order. Let us put it to a vote. I motion that we move directly to a vote on the resolution to bring the Jedi Order into the ranks of the Republic's forces."
"I second the motion." The voice that called out now, did not belong to Mon Mothma. Rather, it was the voice of Padmé Amidala, Senator from Naboo.
Palpatine's smile grew brittle as a murmur of agreement rippled throughout the Senate Chamber, and the governing body prepared to vote.
The shatterpoint that had centered on Kenobi's apprentice and the Silver Sunrise had disappeared in an instant, but now that they were approaching Jastas Prime, a new one seemed to flare to life. It, too, revolved around Anakin Skywalker, but the crystalline structure was much more…delicate, a finer presence than Mace had been aware of earlier, and he had to admit it was a curious thing as 'delicate' wasn't a word he would normally ever apply to the headstrong Padawan.
It was also, he could tell, the result of some association, only he was uncertain who or what comprised that association. The influence was subtle, but different from Palpatine's form of subtlety. That was more easily discerned, and Mace's brow knotted in concentration as he approached the cockpit of the Sunrise, where Anakin was explaining the finer points of the new modifications to Khavi.
The slender trails of the shatterpoint seemed to reach out toward the planet ahead, disappearing into the ether of the Force and the very atmosphere of Jastas One, the first of the system's planets; an indication something of great import was taking place on the surface.
Anakin glanced up as he slipped into the cockpit, but Mace said nothing as the younger man completed his instruction of their Corellian captain; his attention was elsewhere as he gazed at the cloud-wreathed planet growing ever larger in the cockpit viewport.
"Master Jedi," Khavi greeted, perhaps a little sourly, on Mace's appearance. "There you have it; Jastas Prime. It's a lovely piece of real estate on the Rim whose main contribution to society is a steady supply of some of the galaxy's finest glitterstim, both the legal and almost legal varieties, if you follow." He cocked his head slightly. "Enough money runs through this place to fund the campaign budgets of the entire Galactic Senate, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that some of it does. Enough that as a whole, the Republic leaves the system alone, for the most part."
"I believe you," Windu replied with a slight cant of his head. The Jedi High Council might be regarded as secluded isolationists, and it might even be true, however these days they could not longer ignore the inner workings of the Republic, no matter how ugly. While the Jedi believed in the ideals of democracy, there was no denying that corruption had taken root in the Republic in general and the Senate in particular.
"There are four planets in this system…that Jedi hocus-pocus tellin' you anything, like which one we want?" Khavi asked as he shifted in his chair a bit, hands moving over the Sunrise's controls.
The warning in the Force was brief, quickening Anakin's pulse and prompting him to call out, "Break left!" Fortunately Khavi heeded the warning, pushing the little ship away from their present course, and avoiding the pair of blasts that would have taken them out from the capitol ship approaching on their starboard side.
"Where in the Five Fires did they come from?" Jash yelped as a third shot glanced off the back of the ship; the Silver Sunrise lurched and both Jedi struggled to retain their footing. "Shields holding," he reported a moment later.
"Where they came from doesn't exactly matter," Khavi retorted as he righted the ship and adjusted their course. "Getting out alive, that matters."
"Set stabilizers to max and hit reverse thrusters on my mark," Anakin said, with all the authority he could muster.
"Who died and made you captain?" Jash grumbled.
"I'd do it," Mace intoned seriously.
"Mark!" Anakin cried out, not having lost his sense of the moment and again, Khavi complied, throwing the ship into an abrupt reverse—thereby allowing enemy fire to overshoot them.
"Jash, get up," Khavi ordered shortly. "We've lost our port stabilizer; see what you can do it with it." As Jash obeyed, reluctantly, Khavi glanced back over his shoulder at Anakin. "Ever fly one of these, kid?"
"That hardly matters, either," Adi Gallia's voice called from just outside the compartment. "Anakin is the most gifted pilot I have ever seen."
"Then park yourself and give me a hand. Turning manual controls over to you," Khavi said, essentially switching the main piloting console over to the co-pilot's station, even as Anakin settled into the seat and took stock of the controls.
"Hang on, everybody," the younger Jedi warned, before throwing the ship into a series of evasive maneuvers. Most of them were successful, although the Sunrise suffered half a dozen hits, a few glancing, at least two more severe. "Now we'll see how good those mods are."
The improvements that Anakin had made to the Silver Sunrise were standing them in good stead; the ship was a wraith in the hands of her temporary pilot, in the sights one moment, out of them and nowhere to be seen the next. Twisting, diving, braking, shooting forward…adrenaline pushed Anakin, Anakin pushed the smuggling vessel to her limits, and the Sunrise responded.
"We won't be able to avoid them forever," Khavi ground out as he worked to help his girl deal with the abuse, "Now what?"
"Shoot back," Anakin directed, "Target their weapons and engines."
"We're not in range," Lera's voice called up through the comm from the gunner's position. "And even if we were..."
"We will be," was Anakin's answer, and the next moment, the Sunrise was looping over and down, and coming up on the belly of the Separatist ship faster than even he had intended. "Fire!"
The Sunrise bucked as a glancing shot from the Separatist ship caught the back end of the ship, and as Anakin compensated, Khavi added his own encouragement to Lera to fire. The Corellian ship's guns raked along the underside of the Separatist ship, looking to punch through the vessel's considerable shields and take out her weapons placements.
"That's one!" Lera called out when her firing was successful in removing one of the guns.
"Master!" Anakin's next call was to Mace, who was now standing at his shoulder behind the co-pilot's chair. "Take the starboard guns or we'll never get to the surface to rescue Padmé."
The Sunrise slewed around again, under Anakin's expert direction, to make another strafing run at the capitol ship.
The shatterpoint shifted.
Mace nodded and made his way back into the ship's main bay, diverting his steps to the starboard gun placements with Adi trailing after him.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" she asked as he settled behind the controls.
"Giving the 'Chosen One' a much-needed hand," Mace quipped dryly as he briefly swept the control array with his eyes and then adjusted several settings before taking hold of the firing column. The targeting system bleeped helpfully at him; he ignored it in favor of the call of the Force, and when it whispered the time was right, he let loose with a volley of laser fire.
"Nice shooting, Master!" Anakin's call came from the cockpit and Adi raised a curious eyebrow.
"It would seem to me, the 'Chosen One' just gave you a compliment, Master Jedi," she murmured amusedly.
"That doesn't change our situation. Or his," Mace shot back, adjusting the guns yet again. "Anakin, bring us around for another pass!" he directed.
As Obi-Wan's charge complied, Mace pushed aside the idea flickering at the edge of the shatterpoint, the possibility of Skywalker's expulsion from the Jedi Order. The boy's power was undeniable—and potentially explosive should it fall to Darkness. Instead, the Korun Master ground his focus down to a single point—the controls in his hands—and when Anakin pointed out an advantageous target, he fired.
"Nice shooting, Mace," Adi echoed Anakin's earlier sentiment, and then made her way to the cockpit, coming to stand behind Anakin as her fellow Master had done minutes before; something of a feat given the young Jedi's daring piloting.
"There's another ship coming in," she said, eyes closed as she reached into the Force and plumbed its depths for guidance.
"Got it," Anakin declared a moment later. "Coming on a heading of two-two-mark seven…let's see if we can stir up the gundark nest." With that, he took the Silver Sunrise on a dizzying path between the two enemy warships, using the Sunrise and the Force to spin a line of confusion between the two vessels.
His plan worked when the newcomer fired on the first, hitting the Separatist cruiser amidships and doing enough damage with the salvo to break off its attack on the Sunrise.
"They're dead in the water," Lera reported from her station. "I don't…"
"It's gonna go up," Anakin murmured a moment later, throwing the ship into a steep dive toward Jastas One; even if one of the other planets was their eventual destination, Khavi had been quite correct that staying alive was the important thing. Not getting caught in the blast zone would help.
The explosion was as phenomenal as Anakin had sensed it would be; he had a brief moment of smug satisfaction as the blast took out not only the capitol ship, but the second ship as well in a brief, scintillating flash. The Sunrise bucked a bit as he abruptly pulled up and the ship neatly skipped off the atmosphere but not out of his control.
"Let's keep the planet between us and their approach vector; there's sure to be more of them out there looking for us," Adi suggested prudently.
Anakin nodded, fiddling with a control for a moment before his head jerked up sharply; he listened. The Grey and the Force seemed to be speaking the same thing to him, and his smile was feral.
"This is the one we want," he confirmed a moment later. "Padmé's down there." Anakin redirected the Sunrise back toward the surface of Jastas One, but this time with a bit more of a sense of self-preservation as the descent was nowhere near as steep or as screamingly fast as the brief dive had been. He flew the smuggling ship with purpose, and once down through the atmosphere, headed for the planet's median.
Musing silently where he remained at the gunner's controls, Mace frowned briefly to himself as the shatterpoint fell apart like rare yhinira crystals dropped on permacrete.