Author's Note: Thank you for your reviews, I am very grateful to receive them. In this part we find out what Obi-Wan was thinking when he received Anakin at the Temple following the padawan's trials. After the ceremony, Obi-Wan is contacted by Bail Organa, who gives him an unusual and dangerous mission. This mission covers the events in Karen Miller's excellent novel Wild Space. The conversation between Obi-Wan and Bail is taken from that source, and the protection that Obi-Wan uses is referenced in Timothy Zahn's trilogy; Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising & The Last Command.

Part 26: A Venture into the Wilderness.

Obi-Wan roused himself from sleep to greet Anakin upon his return, as soon as word reached him through the Temple communications network he was off, out of their quarters, down the corridors and turbolifts to the hangar bay. Hardly any one else was about at this time of night, Coruscant's reflectors having dimmed some time ago. All younglings were asleep in their beds, Padawans, Knights and almost all Masters as well, though the Council were roused from theirs to receive and welcome the Chosen One home from his mission.

He reached the hangar bay in time to observe the arrival of the craft, silently admiring the smooth docking his Padawan achieved. For Anakin anything mechanical was akin to a lightsaber, an extension of his body, every nut and bolt intimately familiar. Through his apprentice his own flying had improved, though he had grown out of the recklessness he still had to lecture Anakin over on occasion.
None of that was displayed today however. The cockpit cover popped up, and with a Force aided jump, his Padawan stood before him.

"Welcome home Anakin," he murmured, genuinely delighted to see him. "Did you have a successful mission?"

"I think so, master," Anakin answered.

Obi-Wan held back a frown as his apprentice fell into pace beside him. Usually Anakin was brimming over with enthusiasm if the mission went well, eager to boast of his exploits and brief the Council over how he believed it could go better. Rarely was he uncertain of a mission's success, as he appeared to be so now. Silently he wondered what had happened to cause his apprentice to doubt himself.

As they walked down the corridors towards the turbolifts, he also noticed that Anakin kept sneaking looks at him, as if he wanted to ask him something but was afraid of his reaction. Normally his apprentice wouldn't hesitate to venture a query, indicating that something was deeply troubling his Padawan. Realising this, Obi-Wan was tempted to come to a halt and confront his apprentice directly, even though they were duty bound to present themselves before the Council, where after Anakin had offered his report on the mission, his knighting ceremony would take place. Until they entered the Council chamber he still had time to offer his Padawan some advice, if indeed it was advice that Anakin was seeking. Once knighted, the need for independence would be required.

However, Anakin rarely volunteered when something was troubling him, nor did he confide when pushed to do so. The chances of his success in discovering what was a concern were minimum. So reluctantly he made the only delay he could, slowing his pace through the corridors until they reached the turbolift, where any attempt to manage the journey would be taken out of his hands by the mechanism controlling those conical tubes.

The delaying tactics had achieved little success by the time they reached the grand central entrance foyer, from where it was just a few steps into one of the turbolifts. Anakin continued to be silent throughout the short journey within that tube to the floor of the Council chamber. Delving into the Force, Obi-Wan tried to get a sense of what his Padawan was feeling, but to no avail. Even the training bond was silent, suggesting that his apprentice was exercising a vigorous control over his inner discipline.

Coming a halt before the entrance to the Council Chamber, Obi-Wan motioned the doors apart with a wave of his hand. At last he felt something emanating from Anakin, a whisper of surprise, causing him to realise that he had not informed his apprentice of his recent elevation to the Council. Nothing he could do about that now, short of stating the obvious.

Stepping the left, he gestured for Anakin to enter before him, and then for the first time since his return he felt a measure of the old Chosen One pride appear. Understandable in the face of what was to come, every Padawan deserved to feel some degree of pride upon obtaining their knighthood. His own had been present, though muted as it was by the loss of his master, the knowledge that the Sith had made a reappearance from the shadows of history, that he had defeated of them, and the prospect of a potentially dangerous padawan to train.

He followed his pupil inside, standing behind him as was customary for the debrief of a Padawan's trials, bowing deferentially to the masters present, who acknowledged their arrival with a nod. His empty seat would be moved into the chamber when the ceremony was over.

After the acknowledgement of their arrival, Anakin began his debriefing of the mission. Obi-Wan listened carefully to the details, for the trial missions usually remained confidential between Padawan and council until the former returned to receive judgement. This was supposed to allow for impartiality on the side of the master, so they could submit their apprentice forward for promotion with a clear conscience. He was surprised by how routine the mission sounded; domestic trade negotiations between a planetary council and a mining family. Something which should have been below the purview of a Jedi, even a Padawan on his trials.

If he was a cynical being, he would have suspected someone within political circles had done some manoeuvring in order to gift Anakin this plush assignment. Even though the Council operated sole control over what and who they dealt with, usually attempts were made to resolve the matters through other means, such as the Senate or local governments. The right word in the right ear could easily manipulate events so a matter became a Jedi concern. Masters had even been known to employ such underhanded methods in order to ensure such an alternative to prevent something unsavoury from becoming public knowledge.

Then again, considering the assignments he and Anakin were usually entrusted to handle, perhaps the banal was a useful lesson, teaching him that nothing was below the Chosen One's notice, and life in the Order was not always an exciting matter of life or death. He wondered how Anakin had reacted to the mission on first hearing, how he had dealt with the delicate art of diplomacy, not usually one of his strengths. Certainly nothing was betrayed through his manner whilst he delivered the briefing. His voice was monotone, the words unambiguous, his meaning succinct. Perhaps these weeks apart, and time spent learning the dangerous saber skills of the Vaapad form of combat had done Anakin some good.

When Anakin came to the end of his debriefing, Obi-Wan delved into the Force where he could hear the thoughts of the Council. Only recently had been granted the privilege of accessing such a level within the Order, though in this instant he was not allowed to lend his voice to judgement, only to submit his apprentice to theirs. Receiving the reply he expected, for he had been told by Yoda and Mace that this mission was merely a formality for the padawan's knight before they assigned Anakin to carry it out, he emerged from the Force and placed his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I humbly submit my Padawan learner for the ceremony of knighthood, masters," he uttered, before applying pressure to his clasp, motioning Anakin into a kneeling position.

The Council rose from their seats to gather around the crouching apprentice. Motioned by one of them through the Force, the lights within the chamber darkened, clothing them in the symbolic darkness which was required for the ceremony.

"Jedi we all are," Master Yoda remarked. "Speaks through us, the Force does. Through our actions, and what is real, proclaims itself it does. Here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed, today we are." He ignited his lightsaber and placed it in a hover above Anakin's shoulders as he continued. "By the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight of the Republic, I dub thee."

Obi-Wan ignited his own saber, and applied the blade to the Padawan braid he had first given his apprentice on Naboo, ten years ago. A smell of burnt feathers permeated the room, the plaited strands of hair falling silently to the floor.

"Take up your lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight," Master Windu instructed. "And may the Force be with you."

Anakin rose to his feet and ignited his blade, raising the weapon to the heavens. Obi-Wan followed suit, allowing a smile to form in recognition of the great achievement which his apprentice had just earned.

One by one the blades were extinguished and the lights restored. Obi-Wan blinked, letting his pupils adjust, and found his now former apprentice had left. There was something vaguely ominous in the manner of his parting, as though it foretold of a future darkness. Shaking the feeling away, he turned to his colleagues, finding that his chair had suddenly appeared. Feeling somewhat self-conscious, he assumed his seat, though a quick glance showed no one was observing him.

When all the Council members were seated, another door opened, from the corridor which led to the private meditation chambers, the ones that were reserved for Council members, or privileged masters. And in this case, former ones too, Obi-Wan noted, as Count Dooku walked into the chamber.

"Masters," the scion of Serenno greeted them, with a nod to the pupil of his pupil.

"Requested a temporary asylum, Count Dooku has," Yoda informed the Council at large, gesturing at his former initiate with a slight motion of his gimer stick.

"Has the Count committed some crime on Serenno?" Plo Koon asked, his tone inviting some source of amusement amongst the Council.

Dooku shook his head, his manner deferential. "Recent events have given me a desire to seek your counsel masters, and that of the Force. I was uncertain of which side I would hear if I chose asylum elsewhere."

"Immune to the dark side, the Temple is not," Yoda pointed out.

"I am aware of that, Master Yoda," Count Dooku replied. "Nevertheless, here I have the protection of the Order, should the Jedi chose to grant me such a privilege."

"Do you need our protection in any other matter?" Master Ki-Adi-Mundi inquired.

"I do not believe so, Masters," Count Dooku responded.

Mace Windu turned to the Grand Master. "Have you fulfilled your desire for further conversation with the Count, Master Yoda?"

"Learned all he wishes to tell, I have," Yoda answered. "A decision on this matter, I have already reached. Your counsel, wish to hear I do."

Obi-Wan delved into the that special level of the Force where the Council debated, feeling the presence and thoughts of his fellow colleagues. All were naturally cautious on allowing a man who had been responsible for the death of many Jedi to stay within the Temple walls, and enjoy the protection of the Order. But there was also present a Force aided overwhelming feeling that the Count's stay could prove useful, whether or not their doubts continued to remain unfounded. This was doubtless the conclusion which Master Yoda had reached.

"Reached agreement the Council has," Master Yoda stated when the members emerged from the Force and returned to the chamber once more. "An asylum we grant you."

Count Dooku bowed. "Thank you, masters." He said before exiting the room.

"And now, we will discuss the reforms to the Order regarding attachment," Mace Windu began. "Master Yoda has given us time to become accustomed to these rules. I take it that there are no objections to establishing them?"

"With due respect, Master Windu, I believe they are already practised," Obi-Wan remarked. "After all, who among us can claim to feel nothing when training a Padawan?"

"Excellent point, Master Kenobi makes," Yoda mused. "Agreement have we all reached?"

There was a positive answer within the Force, and the Grand Master tapped his gimer stick on the floor to indicate that the matter was resolved and meeting at an end. One by one the masters rose and slowly departed from the chamber, heading for their quarters.
Obi-Wan walked the short distance from the entrance of the Council Chamber to the turbolift, keying in the control for the quarters he shared with Anakin. Silently he waited for the tube to descend, contemplating how the rest of the Order would take to the new attachment rules, preparing himself to handle his former Padawan's reaction to them.

Anakin would be a mixture of smugness at being proved right, and anger at being denied the opportunity to attach himself before, namely to Padmé. For a moment he wondered too how Senator Amidala felt about that. She seemed to have forgiven him for his interference, but her feelings for his Padawan were more difficult to determine. On Geonosis and immediately after, when she fought to get access to him in the Temple halls of healing, her feelings were clear, but during their time together on Pais, the emotions were muted. As though her affections had changed, or lessened.

Exiting the turbolift, he crossed the grand lobby to another row of them, which accessed the corridors to the living quarters. Keying in the floor reserved for Masters and Padawans, he stood still once more, waiting for the tube to ascend.

He found himself puzzled by what he could sense of Padmé's feelings during their time together on Pais. Before she had seemed so certain in her attachment to Anakin, so determined to defy the Code which the Order lived by, almost flouting it in his face. But on Pais her manner had changed completely. She was reserved, anxious to be forgiven for the harsh words which had passed between them before she returned home, until summoned back to the Senate. Certainly he regretted much of what he had said to her, forced into the visit as he had been by Master Yoda. But her defiance had been such that he was surprised to see it so easily assuaged, their friendship restored, even strengthened.

As he reached the door to his and Anakin's quarters, his thoughts still dwelled on the nature of her affections, so much so that it took some time before the alteration of his surroundings penetrated his notice. When it did, he halted upon the threshold of his former Padawan's room in surprise. He had not expected to be confronted with bare walls and furnishings, devoid of occupancy. Not even the evidence of the previous resident, his late Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, remained to give him comfort.

Feeling bereft, he stood there for some time, a part of him unable to take the emptiness in. No note, no stray piece of possession could be found. It was as if he had never had a Padawan, or a Master. The room felt alien to him, uninhabited, devoid of any form of matter or substance to which he could claim a kinship.

When at last he could turn away, it was not by choice. Other needs prevailed through the method of a beeping sound emanating from the com device. Recollecting himself, he crossed the quarters to the desk on which it was located, keyed in his access code, and waited for the representation of the being who wanted to speak to him to materialise upon the holo pad.

"Bail," he greeted in surprise when the familiar form of the Senator from Alderaan came into shape. "What can I do for you at this hour?"

"I was wondering if you could come and see me," Bail replied. "I hope I have not disturbed you?"

"I've just come from a Council meeting," Obi-Wan explained. "I can be over in a few minutes."

"I'll see you then," Bail replied, before signing off.

Obi-Wan stared at the empty screen for a moment, wondering what was troubling his newly acquired friend from the Senate. He seemed to be collecting politicians. Then he keyed in to check his messages, before accessing the accommodations department. Within a few minutes his questions were answered. There was a new apartment waiting for him, a privilege granted to Council members. Ascertaining its location, he made use of another honour, and requisitioned for a squad of domestic droids to transfer his belongings. Finally he keyed in the code which allowed for his communications to be transferred to the device awaiting for him in his new apartment.

With one last glance at the empty rooms, he exited the quarters and headed for the hangar bay once more, where he took an airspeeder and plunged into the night traffic of Coruscant, heading for Five Hundred Republica.

"They call themselves the Friends of the Republic," Bail began once he had welcomed Obi-Wan into his apartment, seen to their needs for refreshment, then quartered themselves in the understated luxury of his living room at Cantham House. "They first contacted me a little over four years ago. At time the Alderaan government was in negotiations with Chandrila for a join mining venture on Aridus. My wife's family has connections to the Corporate Sector, and some of those connections were involved with the project. The information provided by this group helped avert a diplomatic and humanitarian disaster that would have engulfed not only Alderaan and Chandrila, but several other key Republic systems as well."

"And they did so because they are friends of the Republic?" Obi-Wan queried with a considering frown.

"And because they would have been directly impacted by the resulting scandal if the mining venture had been allowed to continue as planned," Bail added.

"In other words they were motivated by personal gain," Obi-Wan translated.

"I don't deny that enlightened self-interest was a factor," Bail allowed. "But its also true that many lives and many livelihoods were saved by their intervention." He shrugged. "After all, self preservation isn't a crime."

"And they assumed you would also act out of enlightened self-interest?" Obi-Wan mused aloud.

"They gambled that even if I wasn't motivated by doing the right thing, I'd use all my political power to avoid a scandal that would damage my House," Bail replied. "But even if doing the right thing had meant exposing my family and connections to censure, then I would not have hesitated. Many lives were on the line."

Obi-Wan nodded as he searched his memory for details about this narrowly averted disaster. "Not that I doubt you, Bail, I don't recall hearing anything about this."

"It was handled at the highest diplomatic levels, with the utmost discretion. If the details had leaked, we'd still be mopping up the political fallout today." Bail paused before continuing. "Since then, these Friends of the Republic have proven themselves five more times after our initial encounter. They were matters of internal Alderaan security," he added, refraining from going into detail, and Obi-Wan respected his right to privacy regarding such matters. "They also have informed me of the details concerning the truth behind the order of the clone army, and that Count Dooku was responsible for the injuries you and your Padawan endured on Geonosis."

Obi-Wan's frown deepened. "That would indicate that their resources are immeasurable and their pockets deep. How does your arrangement with these people work? Do you meet with them?"

"No," Bail replied with a shake of his head. "I've never seen or spoken to them. Their communications are text-based and encrypted. Coded messages sent in shortburst over a secure link they gave me at the time of the Aridus situation. And I can't contact them. They don't work for me. If they learn of something they think I should know about, they tell me."

"And what is they have warned you about that is so serious you have taken the risk of confiding in me about their existence?" Obi-Wan asked.

"A warning of a Sith plot to destroy the Jedi," Bail revealed. "Mention of a planet called Zigoola, followed by a series of coordinates which will eventually lead to its location where they will meet with us. An express request that I inform someone within the Order about the danger."

Obi-Wan leaned backwards into the confines of the furnishings, steepling his fingers together to stroke his beard in deep thought. "Zigoola," he mused, remembering the last time he learned of a planet which he had never heard of before. "I can't say I've ever heard of it."

"Neither have I," Bail replied. "I daren't risk searching the Senate archives, but I presume that those of the Order will be more reliable and discreet."

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan allowed. "But they have been tampered with before." He rose from the chair to pace a little. "Did they give you a timeframe as to the meeting?"

Bail shook his head. "I have taken the usual precautions of memorising and then destroying all record of the message." He paused, studying his friend's face. "What will you do now?"

"I'll need to talk with Master Yoda," Obi-Wan replied as he came to a halt before the Senator. "Possibly also with a contact of my own who has helped me in past with locating hitherto mysterious and unknown planets. If I can, I will inform you of what action we take. But be aware, this is now a Jedi affair."

"I understand," Bail assured him. "Shall I prepare a ship?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "That is a insightful question. While we are being such, I suspect you will hear from me within an hour or so, with instructions to meet. Until then, Bail."

"Good day, Obi-Wan," Bail returned before seeing him out.

It was fortuitous perhaps that Count Dooku was with Master Yoda when Obi-Wan returned to the Temple. Joining the Grand Master and his companion in the former's private meditation chamber, he briefly related the situation to them both

"A disturbing development this is," Yoda mused.

"If you'll forgive me, Master Yoda, disturbing is an understatement," Count Dooku added. "I know of Zigoola. The planet is a Sith haven, concealed from the Order by Sidious for decades. Only he would have allowed Senator Organa's friends to learn of its existence."

Obi-Wan turned to him. "Has Sidious infiltrated this group?"

"Yes," Dooku admitted. "Until now he has only been monitoring their activity, waiting for the moment when he can use something to ruin the Senator. Now he may wish to kill two mynocks with one stone."

"A trap for the Jedi and for the Senate, you believe this is," Yoda murmured. "Right you may be. But ignore this information, we cannot."

"I agree, Masters," Dooku assured them. "However, if I might venture to suggest whoever you send on this mission takes some precautions?"

"What precautions do you have in mind?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"A companion, immune to the Force. Not a squad of clone troopers," Dooku demurred, "though doubtless they would be useful," he allowed, "but such an assignment would attract undesired attention. A trained medic on standby would be advisable, and a the use of a Ysalamiri on a nutrient frame would be equally vital, so as to protect the Jedi from the affects of the dark side."

Yoda nodded thoughtfully. "All necessary requirements, I agree. Take it I do, that no one but to Senator Organa will these sources talk?"

Obi-Wan inclined his head in response. "Yes, Master."

"Then proceed he and Master Kenobi, will, on this dangerous mission," Yoda decided.

Such announcement did not take Obi-Wan by surprise. After all, he had all but accepted it the moment Bail first informed him. Nor was the company of Senator Organa unwelcome, but it did lend an added risk to the mission that they could have otherwise done without.

Rising from his seat, Obi-Wan bowed to Count Dooku and Master Yoda, then exited the meditation chamber. Stopping by his newly acquired apartment, he collected a few necessities, then called on the halls of healing, where a medic was already waiting with a nutrient frame on hand. Assessing the creature upon it, Obi-Wan silently wondered what his friend would make of the animal.

After receiving general instructions as to the Ysalamiri's care, Obi-Wan took a deep breath and mounted the animal about his shoulders. The effect was instantaneous. Within seconds the Force was gone from him, a physical blow that, had he not been prepared for it, would have doubtless crippled him. Crossing to the com device, he sent a message to the Senator, asking him to go to the hangar bay with his ship.

After the healer had stocked his backpack with a few medical supplies not normally included in the usual first aid kit assigned to all Jedi during field missions, Obi-Wan bowed in gratitude and headed for the hangar bay.

To be continued