Author's Note: My thanks for all the reviews. This chapter was posted over at the Obidala Forums for the OVOC weekend, and is now available for you here. Enjoy.
Part 9: Foreshadowing Troubling Events.
"Tested the veracity of Count Dooku's assertion concerning the clones, we have," Master Yoda uttered. "Telling the truth, he is."
Obi-Wan nodded as he sat down before the holos of his fellow Council members. He hadn't been in doubt of the former Jedi's serenity, his honesty could clearly be sensed through the Force during their dinner, but he knew that the Council would want to confirm the existence of order sixty-six with their own eyes. "What have you done with the clone?"
"He is confined to one of our cells while we plan our next move," Mace replied. "If we choose to treat this matter solely as a Jedi affair, the Senate will raise objections concerning the chain of command between ourselves and the army of the Republic."
Leading to a debate over the Order's entire relationship with that body politic, Obi-Wan mused silently, knowing the same thought was being contemplated by his colleagues. "Yet there will inevitably be countless delays if we turn this matter over to the jurisdiction of the Courts," he added.
"Delays which, will only impede the efforts of peace," Adi Gallia remarked. "Which, is why the consensus of this Council is to keep this knowledge between ourselves and Senators Amidala and Organa."
Inclining his head in agreement, Obi-Wan put forth his next question. "Do you wish to me to see if I can find out anything more from Count Dooku about the Sith's plans?"
"If he is willing to continue to talk to you, we have no objection," Master Windu replied. "As to your petition for his possible readmittance into the Order, it is still subject to his continued behaviour."
"A revolution of changes you have suggested, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda added from his seat. "Reforms to attachment, recalls from the AgriCorps, and now lost Jedi you wish to reclaim."
"I merely wish to repay the efforts of the Order for the losses we endured on Geonosis," Obi-Wan replied humbly. While it was true he had begun the debate regarding a need within the Order for more Jedi, it had not just been him who suggested that reforms were needed. "Our numbers were depleted by a battle which, could have been avoided."
"Pointless it is to debate the past now," Yoda reminded him. "Deal with the present, we must. A progress report on young Skywalker we have."
Despite being a hyperspace journey away, Obi-Wan could feel the tension within the Council room rise, causing him to sigh as he wondered latest stunt his apprentice had pulled. "How is Anakin?" he asked instead, hoping his tone at least sounded casual.
"Palpatine invited him over for dinner last night," Mace revealed.
Oh. Well, that certainly called for tension. "Did he ask permission of the Council, or was this something you found out after the fact?"
"Ask no permission he did," Yoda replied. "Elsewhere Anakin was when invited."
Elsewhere? Obi-Wan frowned at that word, for it invited far too much speculation. He was also troubled by the Supreme Chancellor forgetting to ask the Council if he may have Anakin over. True, it was merely a matter of courtesy, but one that was usually observed, nonetheless. Not to mention what happened during this dinner. And afterwards, come to think of it.
"Returned late to the Temple, your Padawan did," Yoda remarked, and Obi-Wan was unable to refrain from flinching when the Grand Master finished. The last time the Council used such a turn of phrase was when a ten year old Anakin decided to take a Delta Twelve Skysprite out for a jaunt, causing general chaos among the traffic of Coruscant. "Took his frustration out on a training salle, he has."
He should feel relieved that at least this time the damage was confined to one room in the Temple. But he didn't. Obi-Wan knew that this display of temper was just another incident in the long list of reasons why his apprentice was not ready for the trials. It was after such moments as these that Obi-Wan wondered at the level of the Order's trust in his abilities, when he seemed to be failing Anakin at almost every turn. "I shall take some time to instruct him on the proper ways to manage his temper when I return, Masters."
There was a knock on the door at that moment, disturbing the tense silence which, existed within the hotel room. Obi-Wan stretched out with his feelings to determine the identity of his guest, a concerned look acquired by his face as he recognised the Force signature of Count Dooku waiting to be admitted.
"Pick this up later, we shall," Yoda remarked in farewell.
Obi-Wan bowed before them then shut off the holo emitter before waving his hand at the door release, allowing the former Jedi to enter.
As soon as the Count entered he glanced around the room, his eyes fixing on the now blank expanse of desk where the holo emitter had been switched off. "Who were you talking to just now?"
Inwardly Obi-Wan frowned, for he could detect a significant amount of concern leaking from the former Jedi Master's usually impressive shields. "The Council. They were updating me on the events occurring on Coruscant."
"Have you told them about the order embedded within the genetic makeup of the clones?" Dooku asked.
"Yes," Obi-Wan replied, wondering what the Count was driving at.
"Who else have you told?" Dooku queried, his concern rising up a notch.
"Just two Senators whom I trust to keep the information to themselves; Amidala and Organa," Obi-Wan informed him. "Why do you ask?"
Count Dooku stared at him for moment, his Force strength reaching out to try and penetrate Obi-Wan's formidable shielding. The Soresu Master dropped a layer, allowing the Count to see that he was telling him the truth. After a minute the former Jedi sighed, his concern levels lowering alittle. "I apologise, Master Kenobi. I have just had a rather disturbing conversation with Sidious. It has left me wondering who I should trust."
"Deception is the way of the Sith," Obi-Wan reminded him. "And I had thought your actions to be independent of his orders, now."
"To some extent, they are," Dooku explained. "However, I must appear to be serving him in some matters, so he does not grow suspicious of my efforts here."
Obi-Wan nodded and gestured for the Count to take a seat in the small sitting area of the hotel suite. "I believe it is time you and I had a conversation about Sidious and your loyalties to him, Count." He waited for his guest to sit down before he continued. "I know this peace treaty is your idea, and I gather Sidious wanted war, along with the possible destruction of the Republic and the Order, but what I don't know is how you intend to prevent this from taking place without his knowledge."
Dooku leaned forward in his chair as he replied. "It is more a case of attempting to circumvent what he could do to prevent the treaty rather than concealing the matter from him entirely, which, is impossible."
Obi-Wan stroked his breaded chin thoughtfully as his mind analysed the wording of the Count's reply. There was something about the way he had spoken, an implication that had to be a key to discovering the Sith lord's identity. "Clearly you distrust him, your loyalties are no longer with him. And yet you still decline to tell me who Sidious is?"
"I can't, Obi-Wan," Dooku answered. "More for your sake than my own. It would put you in an impossible position, requiring you to act on this at once. The peace treaty is far more important."
A Jedi response, which, made Obi-Wan smile. He could not deny that a part of him was pleased that his Master's former master was slowly reverting from the Sith he had become after Qui-Gon's passing. He hoped such a sight pleased the spirit of his Master and the Force in which, he resided now. "I will respect your secrecy, for now, Count. But as to your conversation with Sidious. What exactly did he say that caused your concern?"
"He's aware that you and I had dinner together," Dooku replied. "And that you had talked with Senators Amidala and Organa. He has no idea what those conversations entailed, Obi-Wan, but his inference was enough. He was on a fishing expedition, and I'm not sure how much I was able to assuage his suspicions."
"If at any time you believe yourself to be in danger, you can come to us," Obi-Wan offered. "I'm sure the Order will offer you protection."
Dooku raised an eyebrow at that. "I see you have inherited my Padawan's penchant for protecting waifs and strays."
"How could I not?" Obi-Wan shrugged. "I was one of them, after all. As was Anakin." He rose up from his chair and started to walk towards the small kitchen area. "Would you care for something to drink?"
"Tea, if you can spare some," Dooku replied. "Speaking of Anakin, I feel I should warn you, that Sidious coverts him."
Obi-Wan stilled, somewhat horrified by the warning. For he knew that Anakin had weaknesses which, laid him open to the dark side, more so than other Jedi. If the Chosen One fell... he tried not to shudder. It was something the entire Order feared could come to pass. "Thank you for that warning. I cannot deny that it is a constant concern."
Dooku nodded, waiting for his host to finish making the drinks and bring them over before he continued. "Anakin reminds me of myself. I was quite a plague on Master Yoda and Master Cerulian during my youth." He took a sip of tea, smiling as his tongue savoured the taste. "Another thing you and my Padawan had in common, the ability to make good strong tea."
Obi-Wan inclined his head in gratitude of the compliment. "I shouldn't be saying this, but I sometimes wonder if I was the right master for Anakin. If I was really able to live up to the promise I made to Qui-Gon."
"Its good that you have these doubts," Dooku mused, surprising him. "A constant confidence in one's abilities can lead to arrogance and in that the dark side lies. But you have been a good Master to Anakin, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon was right to place his faith in you." He paused to take another sip of his tea. "There is another reason for your uncertainty. The dark side clouds everything, thanks to that Sith."
"He has the ability to do that?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm. If this was true, then the Republic and the Order had more to fear from the Sith than previously thought.
Count Dooku's expression was grim. "There is little which, is beyond his scope."
Obi-Wan raised an eye at that, for the phrase seemed to be yet another unconscious implication as to the identity of the Sith. Yet something else occurred to him then, something far more pertinent than that continuous speculation. "Such as sabotaging this peace conference?"
The former Jedi Master's hands froze in mid journey towards his mouth. "I wouldn't put it past him. But I'm not sure if there are any agents within my delegation or the Republic's to whom he would entrust such a task."
"Not sure?" Obi-Wan echoed, frowning. "I thought every representative had been vetted before they were allowed to come here."
"You know as well as I do that vetting barely skims the surface of a being's loyalties nowadays," Dooku replied.
"Let us hope that the peace we are working towards here will change that," Obi-Wan mused wistfully. "I'll alert the rest of the Order's delegation to the possibility, along with Senators Amidala and Organa. Best not to inform the other, more worrisome members of the Republic delegation, especially if this concern turns out to be nothing more than a wild Bantha chase."
Dooku drained his tea and rose from his chair. "And I'll start running my own check on the Separatist delegation."
Obi-Wan walked with him to door, something in the Force telling him that Dooku had more to say, but was unsure if he should. It had to be something else the Sith were waiting to unleash on an unsuspecting galaxy. The last thing they needed was another weapon of mass destruction, yet forewarned was forearmed, all the same.
"There is also something else, I should warn you about," Dooku remarked as they halted before the door. "After Geonosis, Sidious ordered for some technical specifications to be delivered to him. It is a plan of a weapon which, when built, possesses the capability to destroy planets."
A small voice inside Obi-Wan's mind scoffed at his previously confident resolve. Forearmed was all very well, providing you had a defence for such a forewarning. How would the Order, or the Republic for that matter, be able to defend themselves against a weapon with that kind of firepower?
Unless they had an ally willing to give them as much information about the weapon as he could. "I don't suppose you happened to keep a copy?"
Dooku inclined his head in a slow confirmation, reluctant to speak it aloud, for fear that the Sith's agent might be nearby. With a wave of his hand he opened the door, revealing a seemingly empty corridor. "I'll see you tomorrow for the talks. May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."
Obi-Wan bowed in the traditional farewell. "And with you, Master Dooku."
The Count of Serenno stilled at the title, but then returned the gesture, a sign that he had not abandoned all of the old ways. Perhaps there was hope for him yet.
Padmé woke to the sound of a beeping communiqué, having nodded off in the midst of attempting to catch up on some of her flimsiwork. For a brief moment her heart leapt as she contemplated the thought that it might be Anakin calling. Then her worries surfaced about how he might have spent his day and who with, the thought of him enjoying a dinner with the Chancellor springing too easily to her mind. Their last conversation was besmirched by bitterness, as she lectured him for contacting her from her apartment, while he displayed a moody resentment at her mention of how she had spent her evening with his master and his master's friend. She hoped this one might end on a more pleasant note.
Brushing her clothes, face and hair into neatness, she turned the holo pad on, stilling for a moment as the figure of Obi-Wan materialised. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
"Obi-Wan, what can I do for you?" she asked him.
"Forgive me for disturbing you, Padmé," he replied courteously, his perceptive senses discerning her previous occupation.
She shook her head. "No apology necessary." Staring at his blue-tinged figure on the holo pad, she frowned at the seriousness of his expression. "What's wrong?"
"I had a visit from Count Dooku," Obi-Wan informed her. "During our conversation, we speculated over the possibility of this peace conference being sabotaged."
Padmé frowned, the flimsiwork scattered across her desk now the last thing on her mind. "By whom?"
"An agent of the Sith Lord who the Order has been looking for."
She hated to admit it, but he was right; there was a strong possibility. She knew of the search begun by the Order, for the emergence of the Sith had occurred on her planet, even if technically, Master Jinn first encountered the Zabrak on Tatooine, it was clear that the Sith had known what led them there. "I shall keep myself alert for trouble, Obi-Wan."
"Thank you, Padmé," he replied. "I would be grateful if you could also keep this possibility between ourselves and Senator Organa. If such knowledge were to become widespread, there is the possibility that the very idea might undermine the peace talks far more than the reality."
"Of course, Obi-Wan," Padmé replied. "I'll let you turn to informing the other Jedi."
"Thank you, milady. I'll see you tomorrow at the talks."
Padmé nodded, smiling as his holo sketched a bow before signing off. For a moment she let her eyes turn to the flimsi littering her desk. It was work she had been letting pile up since she returned to Coruscant for the vote on the Military Creation Act. In the end, the vote never took place, as events exploded out of her control, resulting in her representative granting the Supreme Chancellor executive powers which, he used to bring into the force that very army she had returned to fight against creating.
That attempt cost her the loss of a handmaiden and a dear friend, as well as several members of her entourage and security, before going on to lose many of the Jedi. She could not let her efforts fail this time. An acrimonious end to talks on Pais would spell disaster for any prospect of peace in the future. Though few had wanted there to be a confederacy within the Galaxy, if this treaty succeeded they would have to accept that the Separatists were a legitimate government, just like the Republic.
Which, could lead to other systems desiring to leave the Republic for the Separatists, or vice versa. Before Geonosis many Senators had expressed a desire to secede from the Republic, as distaste with the current system of government ebbed and flowed. The more systems that expressed a desire to leave the Republic, the more others feared the growing confederacy of the Separatists, inviting the distrust which, had led to the Military Creation being posed before the Senate floor.
If this treaty was established there would be little incentive for those who requested to leave to stay, and those who feared their exit, would insist that exit be denied, something which, if granted would spell the end of the Republic's democracy. But the alternative would mean war, and Padmé felt sure that no one desired to witness a repeat of Geonosis or Naboo on their own homeworlds. No matter how much profit their coffers could gain. If they did, the talks would have ended before they ever began.
All this rumination led her nowhere, other than delaying something she had been putting off, calling the very person she hoped had contacted her, before Obi-Wan revealed himself and made her aware of another concern. Hesitantly she accessed the control panel and set up the holo pad for long distance communication. Then she tapped out the code for her apartment.
Again she was disappointed. After what seemed a litany of beeps, Dormé eventually answered. "Milady, what is it?"
"Nothing," she replied, inwardly sighing.
Some of the frustration must have shown on her face, for her ever resourceful handmaiden smiled at her. "He did come by, milady, but only to convey that he would talk to you tomorrow, if he could."
"Thank you, Dormé." Padmé paused, wondering for a moment if she should ask this, if she really wanted to know or if she would be better off remaining in ignorance. In the end she ploughed ahead, deciding that the knowledge would merely confirm what she already suspected. "Do you happen to know if anything else brought him to Five Hundred Republica?"
Dormé's expression sobered. "I believe he dined with the Chancellor, milady. After coming here he then returned to the Temple."
Just what I had feared, Padmé mused. Along with his Master and the rest of the Jedi Council, as she recently discovered. "Thank you, Dormé. If you can, let him know I will call tomorrow. Arrange a time, then leave me a message."
"I will," Dormé answered. "Goodnight, milady."
"Goodnight," Padmé returned before signing off. Leaning back in her chair, she sighed away her initial frustration at receiving the answer she suspected. Now that she had confirmation, there was little she could do about it. Bringing up the matter with her husband would only result in another fight. Confiding in Obi-Wan would only give him more cause for concern. She just had to hope that when they returned to Coruscant, these dinners would given up in favour of spending evenings with her, or within the Temple.
It was a dim hope at best.
To be continued...