Part 6: Amidst Cloistered Fountain Gardens.

The third day on Pais brought yet another lengthy conference within the bowls of the hotel complex, as the Paisians continued to encourage the delegates of the Republic, Separatist and Jedi Order to form a peace treaty. Many had spoken to their associates after the conclusion of the first meeting, allowing for them to receive a sense of renewed encouragement and desire for the days on Pais to result in success.

Some however, having also spoken to their colleagues, were of the opinion that the peace would never succeed, causing a heady debate within the meeting, mainly about whether war or peace would ultimately prove more profitable for their planets, meaning of course, themselves and if they deigned to remember their existence, their family.

Inevitably, as the talks continued, the parties involved began to turn on each other, attacking insecurities unveiled by the war and the ever over curious HoloNet. Such incidents were not uncommon during negotiations and were often allowed to be vented by those presiding over the talks for it was a popular belief that once these insults finished being traded, there would be no barriers impeding either side.

However, the technique was employed by the people who usually could sense and ride the currents of hostility, carefully and subtly turning the waves into an empathy of harmonious peace, namely the Jedi. But they were powerless against this rising tide of animosity as it was directed at their very Order.

"Geonosis was a Jedi affair," one of the more prejudiced politicos declared. "Blood was shed by them and the Separatists alone. The Republic has been dragged into this war, tainted by association. We should withdraw and let the Order resolve whatever issues they have with the Separatists."

"How are we not involved?" Padmé challenged. "I was held hostage on Geonosis along with Master Kenobi and his Padawan learner. My life, and the lives of countless other Senators have been threatened for daring to fight for peace. We must not withdraw from this conference."

"You only went to Geonosis to rescue Master Kenobi," the politico pointed out. "An action rendered pointless when you yourself were captured. You, Senator Amidala, have dragged us into this war, despite all your protestations for peace!"

"I deeply regret that my actions have been perceived in such a way," Padmé replied. "Nevertheless, let me assure you now, that I am deeply committed to peace."

"Your assurances are as meaningless now as they were during your speeches in the Senate," the politico retorted.

"Senator," another voice remarked in such a tone of authority that it caused those still whispering amongst themselves about the quarrel to be silenced. "I can assure you that Senator Amidala is deeply committed to peace. I have worked with her ever since she joined the Senate and never in all my years of service have I encountered anyone whose private loyalty and principles resembled her spoken polices."

"Let us break for a moment," one of the Paisian officials declared, intuitively sensing that it was best for everyone to leave the talks and calm themselves down. Everyone rose from their chairs, shoving them away from the circular table and headed for the exit.

"Thank you, Senator Organa," Padmé remarked as he exited the conference room to find her waiting outside and politely paused to acknowledge her. "I am gratified that you spoke up for me in there."

"No thanks are necessary," the Senator and Viceroy of Alderaan replied. "I merely said what was right. What few Senators will admit, is that the events on Geonosis were inevitable. This situation has been building within the Republic for a long time. The Separatists know that as well as we do. What you said the Senate all those months ago is as true today as it ever has been. If we offer the Separatists violence they can only show us violence in return."

"Even so, I am grateful for your support, Bail," Padmé repeated, dropping formalities as they continued to walk through the hotel, away from the conference rooms to the leisure areas of the hospitality building.

"You're welcome," he replied. Despite the couple of decades between them, Bail held a great respect for the young Senator from Naboo. Though her outward appearance of youth and beauty sometimes placed her at a disadvantage when compared to the other, more experienced members of the Senate, there was no denying her passion for peace, and for the Republic, which, along with her sense of loyalty and principles, as well as a wisdom that was startling in one so young, made her a friend just as much as an ally. This friendship caused him to defend her in the conference room and now it caused him to linger beside her and inquire after her well-being in light of what happened on Geonosis.

"I am well," Padmé assured him. "My injuries were slight compared to those losses suffered by the Jedi."

Bail nodded, remembering what he had read from the recently published reports. "I am glad they decided to join us here for the talks," he continued, "we need to be united if this peace treaty is to be established, let alone given the chance to survive."

Padmé raised an eyebrow at his choice of words. "Of course the Jedi would join us here, there's no question of their commitment to peace," she added, in a voice raised for the benefit of those who were still passing them, not to reassure her companion. Bail was an outspoken ally of the Order, since his defence of the Quarren's baby snatching allegations. "Is there?" she uttered in a lowered tone.

"There are rumours," Bail elaborated in the same decibel. "That the loss on Geonosis was so severe that the Jedi have no choice but to debate for peace and need our and the Republic's assistance to survive. That if they thought themselves well resourced in numbers and weaponry, they would go after the Separatists by themselves." He paused to lower his voice even further. "And that there is a darker threat to the Order which, only the Jedi are aware of, something which, if made public, would undermine the loyalty of those who still trust the Order."

Padmé nearly froze, for she knew only too well the truth of that last rumour. She and the Chancellor had been sworn to secrecy concerning that darker threat ten years ago on Naboo. "Where have you heard these rumours from?" She asked, for she had been assured that the few who knew of the Sith could be trusted to keep silent.

Bail took in her expression and not for the first time wondered if there was some truth behind the had worked closely with Padmé for two years now, ever since she joined the Senate, as one of a group of the only passionate, wise and experienced Senators to advise on the safety of the Republic. If she was concerned enough to ask him about he had heard and who from, then something must be behind the rumours, perhaps even a kernel of truth. "I have certain sources, whose information is usually accurate," he revealed. "Now, what do you know?"

"Things which, I'm not authorised to tell you, Bail," Padmé replied with a look which, conveyed to him the futility in arguing with her over that. "By the Chancellor and the Jedi Council."

"Then what can you tell me?" He asked her. "Or allude to, at least?"

Padmé hesitated. A part of her dearly wanted to tell him everything she knew, Bail was a good man, someone she trusted and respected. But to do so would betray the confidence of another good man, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And through him, the Jedi Council. As much as she desired to hear Bail's view and advice on the matter, she could not do it.

But she could facilitate an introduction which, might allow him to earn the confidence of the Council. If his sources were this accurate, the Order might need his help, especially if this treaty did not succeed.

Glancing at their surroundings, she recovered her bearings as to their current location in the hotel. Their walk had taken them into one of the little cloistered gardens and in the centre of which, was an impressive fountain. Compared to those on her home planet it paled, but she freely admitted that she was biased in that opinion. However the fountain reminded her of when she had last been in the company of a friend before such a feature, ten years ago.

Obi-Wan had been meditating before it; the water held a connection to the Force, he explained to her when she asked; the living Force which, his late master had been attuned to and he had been attempting to find comfort from it. From that moment on they would always meet at the fountain in the gardens of the Palace at Theed, spending the afternoons, evenings and even mornings when she was free of her duties in conversation. Once she had the rare privilege to learn meditation from him, as he used the Force to ensure that they remained dry despite seated under a waterfall.

It had been an intoxicating and yet serene experience.

A quick survey of their cloistered area however revealed no Jedi meditating under a fountain, or just relaxing within the surrounding grounds. Motioning for Bail to follow her, Padmé returned to the corridor which, had took them outside, heading for the foyer. At the main desk she inquired after the whereabouts of Obi-Wan Kenobi and received the reply she had expected; that the Jedi Master was to be found in one of the deserted cloistered waterfall gardens on the edge of the hotel complex.

Paisians prided themselves on knowing the whereabouts of their guests at all times, just as much for their safety as well as the ability to cater for their every comfort. True to the receptionist's word, they found Master Kenobi where security had located him; in a secluded garden which, housed a waterfall by the eastern side of the hotel. As Padmé had found him once on Naboo, he was again seated underneath the water, utterly bone dry, his use of the Force causing a gentle translucent barrier between himself and the natural source of moisture.

Barely had she and Bail entered the garden before he was aware of their presence, immediately opening his eyes and rising gracefully to his full height before exiting the fountain. A slight motion from his hand caused the water to resume falling, and then he was before them, offering a slight bow of respect as he greeted them. "Senators."

It took some time for Bail to recover, impressed as he was by what he had just witnessed as well as aware that the sight had not phased his companion in the slightest, who returned the Jedi's greeting. "Hello, Obi-Wan. I hope we are not disturbing you?"

"Not at all," he replied evenly, his entire manner the picture of serenity.

Padmé inwardly blushed from the effect of his warm, gentle tone which, felt like the finest Nubian silk wrapping itself around her, yet revealing her soul to his sea shade gaze. "Bail has just informed me of some troubling rumours which, I thought best to make the Order aware of."

Obi-Wan nodded, and waited patiently while she succinctly recounted all Bail had told her. When she revealed the one concerning the illusion to the dark side, he let nothing of his concern betray within his features, but she knew that inwardly he was recalling as well as her, the incident ten years ago on Naboo, when he and his late master encountered the Sith.

"There seems to be a concentrated propaganda against the Jedi," he observed when she finished. "Geonosis laid us open to such an attack, but our hand was forced into that battle. Everything that has occurred these ten years was designed to engineer such a civil war."

Bail found himself not as startled by that observation as he expected to be. "You could hear the hunger for war in some of our colleagues within the Conference room earlier. Perhaps the Republic has been at peace for too long."

"Geonosis certainly woke the Separatists to the idea that bloodshed is not something they desire," Padmé added. "But I fear the Senate will need to personally experience such an event before we will hear their less self-serving views concerning the possible formation of this treaty."

"Master Kenobi," Bail began, somewhat tentatively, for he felt that his concern was penetrating the precious privacy of the Order, one that he respected if perhaps believed was greatly misunderstood by most; "is there some truth behind the rumours?"

Obi-Wan reached out with his senses to check that they were still free from eavesdropping before he replied. "More than we wish to be made public to the Senate and the galaxy at present." He paused, leading them to a seating area, gesturing for them to use it, personally moving out a chair for Padmé, before taking one for himself.

"Ten years ago, Count Dooku travelled to Kamino and discovered that someone posed as a Jedi Council Master had ordered a army of clones to be engineered. Anxious to learn more, he delayed contacting the Order, before returning to Coruscant to erase all records of the planet from the Jedi archives. Meanwhile on Naboo, myself and my Master fought a warrior whose existence is the truth behind those dark rumours you have heard. They are known as the Sith. And they are a grave threat not just to the Jedi but to the Republic, and the universe as we know it."

"The Sith?" Bail echoed thoughtfully. "If my memory serves, history records them being rendered extinct after the Ruusan wars over a millennia ago."

"Always two there are," Obi-Wan continued, unconsciously echoing the words of Master Yoda, spoken to Master Windu on Naboo during Qui-Gon's funeral. "Master and apprentice. We have been given to understand that I defeated the apprentice on Naboo, who has since been replaced by Count Dooku. The Master's identity remains unknown."

"Count Dooku is a Sith?" Bail queried, shocked. "But he was a Jedi, was he not?"

"Indeed he was," Obi-Wan confirmed. "My own Master trained under him, and he himself was a favourite of Master Yoda. It was a great shock to the Order when he left, deeply critical of our current practices and philosophies. When he displayed his prowess in the dark side on Geonosis it was an even deeper blow. That is the flaw of the Sith, Senator. Only someone who has knowledge of the Force is vulnerable to the dark side acquiring a power over them. Anger, jealousy and fear lay a Jedi open to the ways of the Sith, which, is why the Order has placed restrictions on emotions for so long, for once someone uses the dark side, forever can it dominate their destiny."

"This is why their existence has remained a secret," Padmé added. "Master Yoda swore my court and the Chancellor against revealing it ten years ago. Which, implies that the campaign of propaganda attacking the Jedi is deliberate."

"So the Council believes that everything that has happened over the last ten years a plot to destroy the Jedi, and in its wake the Republic?" Bail sought to confirm.

Obi-Wan nodded. "Master Yoda believes so. The dark side is clouding our access to the Force, preventing us from receiving anything to indicate otherwise, but perhaps that is a confirmation within itself." He paused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "I caught a sense of it ten years ago on boarding the control ship of the Trade Federation. But then I still had much to learn in the ways of the Force. Now the dark side has grown too powerful for the future to be so easily foreseen."

There was silence within the cloistered courtyard for a time as the two Senators and Jedi Master digested all they had learned. Last night in conference with the Council, Obi-Wan had been advised to collaborate with a Senator or two; preferably ones whose principles were considered impartial. The general consensus had been for Senators Amidala and Organa, and Obi-Wan was pleased that they had sought him out of their own concerns rather than the other way round.

It was uncommon for a Jedi to approach a member of the Senate, for it hinted that the Order was subservient to them. True the Jedi protected them and sought to heal any disruptions that the members discovered, but the Order needed to maintain its distance from the politicians, or their impartiality would be severely compromised. Revealing this much of their concerns and vulnerabilities was a risk, but then so was taking command of the clone army he had discovered on Kamino.

"You said that Count Dooku discovered that someone had posed as a Jedi Council Master, gone to Kamino and ordered those clones," Bail remarked, pulling them all from their reflections.

"Yes, that does seem suspect," Obi-Wan agreed, voicing the Senator's thought before he could do so. "It confirms what Count Dooku told me over dinner, that there is an order within the genetic makeup of the clone army which, when activated, will cause the soldiers to turn on the Jedi, with devastating consequences. While he was responsible for ensuring that the Kaminoans engineered them, the Sith Master, Sidious, controlled their genetic makeup."

Padmé raised her eyes at that piece of information. "If he was aware of that, why did he not reveal as much on Geonosis?"

"He says that he wasn't aware of their genetic makeup until after that massacre," Obi-Wan replied, but not without a healthy dose of scepticism. While he had not sensed any deception from the Count, he had felt that the former Jedi Master was not telling him everything he knew, including the identity of the Sith Lord, which, he sensed would cause grave consequences for both the Order and the Republic. Once again he let his mind speculate as to who it could be. The conclusions were as always logical and confusing.

Someone who had a position of power, in order to enable the passage of events these past ten years. They also had to be extremely powerful within the Force, Yoda's equal, or, Force forbid, his superior, while at the same time someone whose existence the Order had never learned of, for they were well aware of the potential threats within their rank.

Which, meant that the Sith was beyond redemption, unlike his current apprentice, for they had no concept of the benefits which, light enthused within the Force. Once accepted, such parameters never narrowed down the possibilities. In many ways Count Dooku had been the perfect candidate, save for his training by the Order.

Obi-Wan reflected for a moment on the tone the former Master used when referring to Sidious. The perfect mixture of fear and respect. Whoever the Sith Lord was, they were not a foe to underestimate.

"Do you believe Count Dooku is sincere in his desire for peace?" Bail asked.

"I do," Obi-Wan affirmed. "He seems chastened by the events on Geonosis. I sensed nothing in the Force to tell me that he does not deeply regret the loss of life, as well as his part in that massacre." He leaned forward to impress his final thought gathered from that dinner engagement upon them. "Something has shaken his previous convictions. He is no longer sure that the way of the Sith is for him, or of the position he has helped engineer ourselves and the Separatists into."


To be Continued