Obi-Wan walked briskly down the corridor towards Anakin's quarters. It had been two days since the disastrous trip to Mustafar, and thanks to the high-profile Jedi involvement in the mission, he and the rest of the Council had been buried in political fallout amongst all the other issues they were dealing with. Whatever Padmé had commed him about, he hoped it would be an interesting distraction.
But not too interesting. She hadn't sounded concerned enough to make him think Anakin had gotten involved in something dangerous again, but with the way his life had been going lately, he wasn't going to rule out an entirely new and probably horrifying type of trouble.
Thankfully, when he walked into the apartment, it was to see the pair of them sprawled out on Anakin's couch. Anakin waved him in and Padmé, who had a datapad in one hand, looked up at him with a satisfied expression that made him discount any of the worst possibilities. "I've found something," she announced.
Obi-Wan dropped into an armchair. "Oh?"
"About Damask," Padmé told him. She stood up, walking over to him and handing him the datapad she'd been holding. "Aside from looking at every issue he ever publicly allied with Palpatine on, I've been chasing down his money trails all over the place. While you were gone I discovered a large transaction he'd made about thirteen years ago into a corporation that never existed."
"Thirteen years…" Obi-Wan repeated, leaning forward in his seat. "Around the time of the blockade of Naboo?"
Padmé nodded. "Before, but the timing was enough to make me suspicious. And when I dug a little further, I found similar transactions going back decades, and all of them lead to the same place." She sat back down next to Anakin, who flashed her a proud smile.
"All right, you have me curious," Obi-Wan admitted, tapping his fingers on the arms of his chair. "Where? Somewhere I've heard of, I take it."
This time, it was Anakin who answered him. "Not just heard of, Master. You've been there." His expression grew serious. "Kamino."
Well. They'd known from the moment the clones turned that the Kaminoans must have been hiding something. The Council had, for the time being, decided against sending someone to investigate—if the Kaminoans were actively complicit in the plot to destroy the Jedi, they'd have the thousands of clones in various stages of development on their planet to attack anyone who came, and simply bombing the place from orbit wouldn't garner them any answers. Moreover, all the Order's resources had been tied up trying to retrieve stranded Jedi before the clones could get to them.
Still, it was an interesting development. And a timely one: even before Padmé had called him, he'd been on his way towards Anakin's quarters. Now, it seemed that the task the Council had assigned the pair of them had taken on a new intriguing dimension. "Our prisoner finally woke up earlier today," he told Anakin. "I think it's time we ask him a few questions."
Obi-Wan at his side, Anakin headed down the twisted passageways through the depths of the Jedi Temple. Here, far below the main floors of the building, below even the storage room full of Palpatine's possessions he'd visited a few days before, was located a part of the Temple that he'd only been to rarely.
Prison cells. It had been centuries since more than one or two had been used a time, and more often than not, none at all had been occupied. The Jedi had long since agreed to allow the Republic's criminal justice system to take precedent, and the government had its own prisons. Generally speaking, only dangerous Force-users were to be held captive here, and before the re-emergence of the Sith, those had been few and far-between.
The captive they were visiting today was not a Force-sensitive. A pawn of the Sith, and currently an enemy of the Jedi, yes, but certainly not an actual dark-sider. Two weeks ago, he might have been taken to a Republic military prison.
Times had changed since then. For starters, the military prisons weren't operating at the moment, since the clones in charge of them were dead or AWOL thanks to Order 66. But then, if it weren't for Order 66, this man would never have been a prisoner.
The pair presented themselves to the Temple guards keeping watch outside the cell and were waved through. Anakin paused outside the ray-shield door and took a moment to look at the man sitting inside.
Physically, Captain Rex looked much as he had the last time Anakin had seen him before Mustafar, when he and Obi-Wan had handed over command of the mission they'd been forced to abandon when the call came through about the Separatist attack on Coruscant. Dressed only in black fatigues, he was standing in the middle of his cell in a parade rest and apparently had been since before they'd arrived. Though he was staring straight ahead, he didn't make eye contact or give any indication that he'd noticed their arrival.
It was his eyes that had changed, Anakin thought. They'd never looked that flat before. That and his Force-signature: despite their identical DNA, each clone's presence had its own individual flavor to it for anyone who bothered to look for it. And Anakin had always made a point of looking. Even if Rex had been standing in a lineup with a dozen other clones, his Force-presence would have made him as easy to pick out as his blonde-dyed hair.
Right now, though, there was something off about what Anakin was sensing. Rex's presence was muted. The change was subtle—Anakin wasn't sure he'd have noticed it if he hadn't been looking. Rex didn't feel dark, or angry, or malicious, or anything else that would mark him as an enemy if it wasn't for the fact that he'd tried to kill Anakin two days before. Nothing was there for Anakin to sense that hadn't been there for as long as they'd been working together.
But something was missing. He couldn't quite put his finger on what.
"Hello, Rex," Anakin said quietly. Though he hadn't been there for it, he'd heard that the clone had woken briefly while being transported here and attacked the Jedi guarding him. Nobody had been seriously injured, but it was the sedative the medics had given Rex after that incident which had forced them to push back questioning the clone until today.
Rex still didn't acknowledge him.
Anakin shared a glance with Obi-Wan, who shrugged at him and then stepped forward until he was immediately in front of the door. "Captain Rex," Obi-Wan snapped in an authoritative voice that Anakin had heard from him a number of times, both before his Knighting and after, usually when he'd done something Obi-Wan considered not just disobedient or reckless but also spectacularly stupid, "you are under arrest for treason and the attempted murder of your superior officers. Report!"
That wasn't technically true—Rex wasn't being formally charged with anything—but it appeared to have an effect. Rex lifted his chin and met Obi-Wan's eyes.
Apparently encouraged by this small response, Obi-Wan tried again. "CT-7567, explain your actions!"
"Good soldiers follow orders," Rex said, and nothing more.
Anakin swore. They'd expected that, yeah. And it wasn't that he wanted for Rex to have tried to kill them entirely of his own volition: he'd had enough of betrayal lately. Still, convincing Rex to give them information about the other clones would have been a hell of a lot easier if it had just been a matter of persuasion. This made things trickier—there were medical complications for starters, and it was entirely possible there were redundant forms of programming beyond the one they knew about.
"And what are your orders, Rex?" Obi-Wan asked softly, the imperiousness gone from his voice.
Rex stepped forward until he was standing just inches in front of the ray shield. His military posture was impeccable, his head held high as he stated, "The Jedi are traitors. Kill the Jedi."
"He sounded just like Tup did," Anakin told the Council a few hours later. "Same phrases, same look in his eyes, same everything."
Standing beside him, Obi-Wan nodded his assent. "I think his behavior can lay to rest any doubts that we had. The chips that we became aware of earlier this year are responsible for the clones' fanatical execution of Palpatine's orders."
Obi-Wan had told Anakin earlier that the Council had suspected as much from the beginning. Fives's claims of a plot to destroy the Jedi using the clones had sounded ridiculous when he'd first made them. But it was even less likely that the entire army, to a man, would go rogue against the orders of the new Acting Chancellor and try to kill the Jedi they had once fought side-by-side with.
Now, they had proof that Fives had been right. Anakin couldn't help but think that maybe, if he'd been willing to listen to the clone when he'd still been alive, he might have been able to prevent this. All of it. Some of it. Any of it.
It had been Fives's assertion that the Chancellor had been the one behind the plot that had been the final straw against him in Anakin's mind. He'd been unwilling to hear a single bad word against Palpatine, and now thousands of Jedi had paid the price.
He'd been so blind.
And he hadn't told the Council about the accusation against Palpatine. Mostly because he'd taken it for the ravings of a madman, but partly because he'd known there were Masters on the Council—Obi-Wan among them—who didn't trust Palpatine, and he hadn't wanted to create more unwarranted suspicion. Leaving that detail out of his report had seemed an obvious way both to protect his friend and to serve the Republic by not driving a wedge between two of its highest authorities in a time of crisis and war.
An easy decision, at the time. Deceptively easy for a choice that had turned out to have the fate of the Jedi Order—and the galaxy—hanging in the balance. And even though Anakin knew that probably nothing would have come of it even if he'd chosen differently, because Palpatine had been too smart to leave evidence around to confirm anybody's suspicions, he couldn't help but wonder. Even a slim chance that the Jedi could have been ready for Order 66 was still a chance.
He also couldn't help but wonder how the hell Fives had discovered the truth about Palpatine. Maybe Palpatine had just told him, wielding honesty about his true nature as a weapon just as he had with Anakin. It had been Fives's attack on the Chancellor that had led to him being hunted and killed, after all.
They had all been pawns. Puppets dancing on the ends of Sidious's strings.
Anakin tuned back in to the conversation going on around him.
"I see no choice but to contact the Kaminoans," Windu was saying. "If they're willing to help us stop the clones, we could use their knowledge. If they're not, then they're working with the clones, and we definitely need to know whatever they're hiding."
"We don't have the military strength to force them to give us anything," Tholme pointed out. "If they refuse to cooperate…"
A heavy silence fell. "We'll cross that bridge if we come to it," said Obi-Wan eventually. "First we need to determine if they'll even talk to us."
The good news, Obi-Wan reflected twenty minutes later, was that the Kaminoans had been willing to answer their call, and the Council had soon found itself in the communications center speaking to the holographic forms of Lama Su and Taun We.
The bad news, of course, was that despite the Kaminoans' assurances, they had no guarantee that hundreds of clones weren't lurking just out of sight of the projector, and also that Taun We was categorically refusing to give them any information about how the chips worked, let alone how to disable them.
"You must understand, Master Jedi, if we went around giving out the scientific advances we made in the course of our experiments, we would soon be out of business." She paused. "Surely you wouldn't wish for us to give the secrets of this technology to anybody who asked for it?"
"We're the one the clones are trying to kill," Mace said. "We aren't just anybody." He shared a glance with Yoda. "But I'd prefer if we didn't have to make this an issue of your legal liability. I'm sure you agree. Just name a reasonable price, and we'll transfer you the credits."
"Very good," said Taun We, inclining her head in his direction. "But you misunderstand me, Master Jedi. The science behind our programming is more complicated than I can simply explain to you. We must meet, in person, if I am to give you the information."
Mace leaned forward. "Why not just send it to us?" he demanded.
Lama Su shook his head. "The data we collected is valuable," he said. "Too valuable to transmit over a holo-connection, even a secured one. You must collect and pay for it in person."
Well. That sounded like an invitation to walk into a trap if Obi-Wan had ever heard one. "With all due respect, Prime Minister," he said carefully, "you've deceived us before, and if there are clones at your disposal then you could ambush any number of Jedi we sent to meet with you."
Lama Su swiveled his long, graceful neck so that his head was turned in Obi-Wan's direction. "We have no reason to betray you, Master Kenobi. We did nothing but fulfill our contract to Sifo-Dyas and Tyranus, and now that they are dead, only the Republic remains for us to work with. Making an enemy of the Jedi simply wouldn't be profitable."
What was it Dex had told him when he'd first asked if the Kaminoans were friendly? It depends on how good your manners are…and how big your pocketbook is. Dead men didn't have pocketbooks, which meant there was a chance Lama Su was telling the truth.
It wasn't a chance Obi-Wan would have liked to stake his life on. Looking around, he could sense that the other Masters were similarly suspicious. Beside him, Anakin had his arms crossed tightly over his chest, and his lips were pressed together in a thin line—no Force-use was necessary to tell Obi-Wan how he felt.
One part of Lama Su's response stuck out to him. "Your contract with Sifo-Dyas and Tyranus," Obi-Wan repeated. "Tell me, were you aware that Tyranus was Count Dooku?"
"Was he?" said Lama Su. Neither Kaminoan appeared surprised at the revelation. But then, their tranquil expressions held no trace of guilt or alarm at the Jedi's knowledge either, Obi-Wan noted, and the Force wasn't giving him any hints.
"I'm afraid we had no idea," Taun We added.
Obi-Wan exchanged a glance with Anakin. "Of course you didn't."
"We'll discuss the matter and be in contact," said Mace shortly. He cut the connection then stepped back from the projector, a frown on his face.
There was silence. "I don't see that we have any choice but to meet with them," said Tholme after a moment. "We need that information."
"And if we had any assurance that whoever we sent wouldn't be ambushed and killed on the spot," added Luminara drily, "it might even be a good plan."
Stass Allie, newly returned from Saleucami, folded her arms. "We could send a non-Jedi. The clones so far haven't been aggressive towards civilians."
Mace rubbed his eyes. "The clones who shot up the Senate weren't trying to avoid collateral damage. If it meant keeping information from us, I doubt they'd hesitate to kill anybody." He paused, considering. "And that's assuming they wouldn't blast the ship into pieces first and ask questions later."
"Besides," cut in Coleman Kcaj. "If they're lying to us, then they won't be bringing the information, and it won't matter who we send."
"So a question of trust, this matter becomes." Yoda shook his head. "Believe, do we, that the Prime Minister is telling the truth? Or not?" Another silence fell, this one uneasy. Yoda had reduced the problem to its heart, but, Obi-Wan knew, that didn't make it any easier to solve. The Kaminoans had never been easy to read, and that was doubly true now that they knew the cloners had been withholding important information.
Which didn't mean it wasn't a risk worth taking. "My impression of the Kaminoans is that they wouldn't stay loyal to a dead employer if it meant taking a financial hit," Obi-Wan said finally. "They're self-serving, not malicious. But we should still take precautions. If nothing else, the clones themselves have the military might to strong-arm the Kaminoans into acting on their behalf."
Anakin spoke up for the first time in several minutes. "So we play it smart," he said. "We can't meet them at Kamino, and I don't think they'll send anyone to Coruscant, but we could set up a meeting on the outskirts of some other system. Give the location only at the last minute so there wouldn't be time for clones to set up an ambush, and so that whichever of us goes can be there already, ready to jump if they bring in more than one ship."
Obi-Wan nodded. "We'd have to convince them to transfer over to our ship for the negotiations," he added. "If they're unwilling, that could be a sign that the situation is a trap."
Not that he was always opposed to walking into traps, but there was a fine line between purposefully allowing the enemy to play their hand and committing strategically unnecessary suicide. Walking onto the Kaminoans' ship and trusting they wouldn't immediately jump back to the middle of a clone-controlled fleet would definitely be closer to the latter.
Mace let out a sigh. "All right," he said. "Let's break for now. Yoda and I will choose a system for the rendezvous; everyone else, try to think of any additional precautions we should put in place for the meeting. We'll reconvene in a few hours."
The group dissolved, and Obi-Wan was unsurprised when Anakin fell into step beside him as he walked toward the door. "Master Windu talked about stopping the clones," Anakin said quietly as they emerged into the hallway. "If it's really only the chips making them act this way—we're going to try to undo it, right? Fix them, not kill them?"
Obi-Wan sighed. The suggestion had been raised in a previous Council meeting, as soon as they'd connected the clones' behavior to the incident with ARC-Trooper Fives, and been shot down almost as quickly. "Fix them how, Anakin?" he asked. "Perform brain surgery on thousands of highly-trained soldiers who are determined to kill us or die trying? If it were that easy to capture them, we wouldn't be in this predicament!"
"Oh," Anakin frowned. "Right." Then he brightened, looking over at Obi-Wan hopefully. "We could do it with Rex, though, right? I mean, all we have to do is scan his head for his chip and take it out."
There was a pause. "We will certainly do that at some point," Obi-Wan said.
"At some point?" Anakin turned to face him. "Why not right now? Why not today?"
"Because we still don't know if removing the chip contributed to Fives's breakdown." Anakin started to protest, and Obi-Wan held up a hand. "I'm not saying we should leave it in his head forever. But the information we get from the Kaminoans may tell us how best to remove it safely, without causing any brain damage. There's no harm in waiting."
Anakin scowled at the floor. "I don't like it," he muttered. He looked up, meeting Obi-Wan's eyes. "I mean, I get it. But I don't like leaving him like, like that, with no control over his actions."
"I know," said Obi-Wan.
Three days later, Obi-Wan watched with no small amount of relief when a single ship—clearly nonmilitary—emerged from hyperspace into the uninhabited system that they had decided upon.
In the end, the Kaminoans had agreed to the terms with very little protest: one representative from the Jedi would meet one representative from Kamino in neutral territory. As Obi-Wan had suspected, the most difficult part was convincing Taun We to transfer over to his ship, something the Jedi hadn't brought up in negotiations so as to avoid potentially giving the enemy the chance to come up with a trap. He didn't blame her—had their situations been reversed, he would have been wary of being taken captive. But though the Jedi Order had been forced to make some difficult moral decisions over the course of the war, they certainly had not stooped to kidnapping scientists who, at the moment, didn't appear to be working against them. Still, he could understand her caution.
"Very well," Taun We said eventually. "However, Master Jedi, you should be aware that the datachip I am going to give you requires a passkey to be opened. Only once I am safely returned to my ship after our conversation will I transmit it to you."
Obi-Wan paused. The largest risk in the operation was the possibility of ambush, either before or after the negotiations had taken place. He was less concerned about what would happen while Taun We was onboard, since he doubted the Kaminoan would risk her own life if she thought his ship was going to be blown up in the near future.
But if she thought she would be able to get back to her own ship and then have time to transmit a message…
No. He didn't sense any deception, and this mission was too important to call off because of a chance that his life might be in danger. And if it turned out that he was wrong about her allegiance, he'd just have to trust in the Force to guide him to safety, or not, as it willed.
"Understood," he told her. "Prepare to dock." Slipping out of the pilot's chair, he made his way through the small ship to the docking area, one hand resting on his lightsaber. When the door slid back to reveal Taun We, alone and as far as he could tell unarmed, he relaxed only slightly.
"Master Jedi," she said, bowing gracefully. "A pleasure to see you again."
"I wish I could say the same." Obi-Wan stepped back, allowing her to enter. "Under the circumstances, I'm afraid I'm a little caught up in the fact that you've been deceiving us for years."
Taun We looked at him as if surprised, perhaps taken aback that he was cutting to the chase so quickly. "That is...a harsh way of putting it," she said, and Obi-Wan wondered if she was genuinely bewildered about why he was upset.
"You knew the clones were intended to kill Jedi," he said. "You knew about Order 66 and you lied to us about it."
Taun We met his eyes steadily. "We knew the purpose of the chips," she admitted. "We were told that it was to be a contingency, in case the Jedi ever became a danger to the Republic."
Obi-Wan crossed his arms. "And you didn't find that at all suspicious?"
"It is not my job to be suspicious of my employers," she said, voice icy. "I simply do as I am paid for."
Rubbing at his eyes, Obi-Wan sighed. Casting blame about wasn't what he'd come here for. "What can you tell us about how the programming works?"
At that, Taun We seemed to brighten. "Our behavioral programming is very thorough," she told him, with more enthusiasm than Obi-Wan felt the situation really called for. "First the units were genetically modified while in the fetal stage to be obedient. Though we couldn't strip them of their independent decision-making abilities entirely without losing the creativity that makes them superior to droids, they are more receptive to orders than their genetic source was."
Obi-Wan nodded. This part, at least, he'd heard before.
"All units were then given ten years of training," Taun We continued. "In addition to imparting fighting abilities and teaching them how to work together on the battlefield, we also conditioned them for a number of specific scenarios at Tyranus's request. Order 66 was one of the contingencies they were trained for, in case any Jedi ever went rogue."
"Order 66," Obi-Wan said flatly. "Killing Jedi."
For the first time, Taun We hesitated before answering. "Yes," she said. "If given the order by the Chancellor, they were to cease all other activities and eliminate the Jedi threat."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes briefly. "And the chips?"
"Given to us by Tyranus and implanted in the embryonic stage," she told him. "As part of the modifications to make the units more obedient. The chips were intended to suppress aggression, and also to ensure that the contingencies Tyranus gave us would be executed faithfully if it ever became necessary. We suspected the units might become more...independent...the longer they were away from our conditioning centers, and we didn't want to take the chance of disobedience."
Right. "But the clones didn't listen when the Acting Chancellor ordered them to stand down." Which made sense, unfortunately, though that hadn't stopped them from trying it: Palpatine had clearly planned for contingencies, wouldn't have allowed for his plan to be derailed so easily. "So the chips won't respond to anyone other than Palpatine?"
Again, Taun We hesitated. "Well," she said.
Obi-Wan stared at her, a flare of hope blooming in his chest. "Well?"
"There is the override transmitter," Taun We said. "Though, I'm not sure you'd want-"
"Override transmitter?" Obi-Wan cut her off. "There's an override transmitter?" Relief warring with anger, Obi-Wan resisted the urge to grab Taun We and demand to know why it had taken so long for her to mention it. Why hadn't the Kaminoans tried to sell the remote to them the moment Order 66 had been executed? Had they decided to purposefully wait to be contacted, allowing the situation to become more and more desperate to drive up the price? "In that case," he said, with a calm he didn't feel, "I'd like to buy it."
"No," she said. "That would be impossible."
Obi-Wan wondered if she didn't have it on her. It seemed improbable that she wouldn't have predicted the request, but perhaps she hadn't wanted to risk bringing such an important bargaining chip until she knew he could pay for it. "You should understand," he began, "the Jedi Order is prepared to pay for such a device. We will compensate you."
Taun We shook her head. "I'm afraid it's not a matter of money, Master Kenobi," she said, sounding genuinely regretful. "Like the chips, it was created by Tyranus, and as far as I know, he was the only one to ever have a copy."
A/N: Sorry for the long wait between updates, you guys. It's been a busy semester. Also, just to reiterate one more time - this story is going to continue using Legends canon, so don't be surprised if there are discrepancies between the fic and new canon (for example, Rex's fate as seen in Rebels). As always, thanks for reading!