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Daniella's Bureau; A Fanfic And Desktop Site


"For the same reason that men do it -
the economics of the arrangement.
It's intimacy without intricacy."


Part 7: Thoughtful Insights.

Shortly after Obi-Wan aired this thought they were called back into the conference room, where a chastened politico apologised for the allegations which called for the recess in the first place. From his demeanour it was clear that the apology was a difficult duty to perform, one impressed upon him by his governing body back home rather than something he personally felt was due. Nothing his local authority said had changed his originally held opinion, that much was clear by the ill grace with which he chose to deliver his apology.

However, his views were known to those who had gathered there and that publicity had lost him whatever weight his beliefs might have previously held with his colleagues. If there was one thing which politicians hated to lose it was their ability to spin every argument into convincing anyone who was listening. Now that the entire room knew what he believed, it would be impossible to assuage support from the occupants in the future.

Talks resumed and continued into early evening, the words less charged with attacks directed at the parties involved. Everyone who spoke took care over what they said and to whom they said it to. While this caused much discussion it did nothing to ease the tensions between the parties nor the atmosphere that was a result of the earlier, more heated debates.

Though mindful of this freighted atmosphere, the Paisian lengthened the afternoon session in view of the long recess, so it was not until late evening that the parties were dismissed back to the restaurants, bars and rooms. Most sought the privacy of the latter, taking advantage of the hotel's room service menu, before seeking their beds. Only those used to coping without sleep, either due to training, habit or metabolism ventured else for relaxation.

Bail Organa mentally calculated the time difference between Pais and his home planet of Alderaan before abandoning his original desire to speak to his wife in his room and heading for the bar. Breha would be asleep by now, a rest she sorely needed after their recent tragedy. He still laboured under a burden of guilt that he had been and continued to be absent from her side when their latest attempt at having children ended in another miscarriage. Inwardly he brushed away the grief associated with that word.

One would supposed they would be used to such a term by now, but repetition only dealt a deeper degree of emotion to each event. As always he admired his wife's courage and determination to try again, even though both of them wondered if such a course of action was wise. The tragedies had taken a toll on them, mentally and physically, especially in Breha's case. Some physician's wisdom would have to be consulted before they contemplated trying once more.

He paused at the threshold of the bar, taking in a single glance the swift evaluation of each patron currently within residence. A politician's reflex, but useful in many other, often more honourable professions. Jedi was one, and he caught sight of the young master he had spent much of the recess in conversation with. Obi-Wan Kenobi was seated with another sand coloured tunic robed companion, one who bore a startling resemblance to him, causing Bail to idly speculate the possibility that their relationship ran deeper than ties of Force and friendship, into a sibling connection.

Across from them sat their other recess companion, Padmé Amidala. The young Senator from Naboo remained typically unaware of her alluring beauty which was drawing the attention of every patron within the bar, including the notoriously emotionally detached gifted warriors and diplomats opposite her. The body language of one in particular seemed reverent to her conversation and outwardly attractive appearance. Bail had witnessed a similar position favoured by the Jedi earlier in the day and he wondered once more if either of them were aware of the candle they held for each other.

He had been privileged to witness Padmé make her entry into the nest of Krayt dragons that was the Senate, acquiring a wisdom, dignity, poise that most envied in one so young. As for Master Kenobi, he was more of a mystery to Bail, the Order applying their usual penchant for privacy around the raising of their young, and usually exceptionally gifted students.

He had caught scattered reports of the man over the years, growing more detailed since the events on Naboo and the acquisition of his own equally gifted Padawan, a known protégé of the Chancellor. Not enough to form a definitive impression of the Master, but enough to gain an understanding of him, if somewhat limited. This morning's conversation with him enabled him to fill some, if not all of the gaps.

Obi-Wan was a gifted diplomat, experienced and fluent in reading situations and characters. Confident, but never to the point of arrogance, if anything Bail suspected the man to be humble despite his abilities. Treating as a commonplace event that he was the first Jedi to defeat a Sith in over a millennia was a case in point. He had to be a gifted warrior as well as a diplomat in order to defeat such a monster, as well surviving the massacre on Geonosis, if the severity of the reports were anything to go by.

There were rumours that he would soon succeed to a seat in the Council, an honour rarely given to one so young and his presence here as a member of the Jedi delegation certainly seemed to indicate confirmation of the Order's trust in him. He had a natural charisma about him which drew everybody's attention when he spoke, which together with his good looks and charm made quite a compelling combination.

Bail could imagine him at home in the Senate if the Order had not found him first. A profound loss for himself and his colleagues, for there were too few honourable Senators left nowadays, those who were deeply committed to the welfare of their people and the Republic rather than their own nefarious desires.

Padmé was one of those honourable politicians, and clearly respected Obi-Wan's opinion, judging by her decision to facilitate their introduction and subsequent demeanour during the conversation. A respect that was returned by the Jedi Master, suggesting he held much more than simple admiration for her. Clearly their friendship had been forged during the events on Naboo, so they knew each other better than he did either of them in some respects. Yet was something between them, a barrier both seemed unconsciously aware of and rather cautious in breaching, as if it would have far reaching consequences if they did.

If it wasn't for the Code, Bail knew the perfect solution and Pais was just about as good a place as any where such an arrangement could be managed without attracting attention. He may have left the group some time ago, but he still had the com device, encoded and waiting for use. Since his marriage he had never even been tempted, but he did use it to sponsor Padmé's admission, and it was not uncommon for a Jedi to use the group, such urges typical for them just as much as other species.

Of course it would have to be done without the prior knowledge of the couple, for he knew both would refuse and adamantly deny there was such a need or attraction between them. Even then, if the scheme managed to get them together, he doubted if they would surrender and let the barrier between them fall. Something held them back, preventing them and they were too honourable to forget that even for a moment.

Bail took a sip of his drink and turned his mind back to the limited progress made during the conference today. His keen political mind already knew whose support he could count within his own colleagues to urge the progress forward. Among the Jedi he could count probably Obi-Wan and those who knew of his spoken defence during the Quarren allegations, which had attacked the heart of the Order's traditions and practices concerning taking in and training members from childhood.

To some species such a custom might seem barbaric he knew, but he also understood that the discipline taught to those who were Force sensitive could take a life time to learn. But as for those to whom he could count on for support within the Separatist movement, he was less certain. He understood their misgivings, their reasons from breaking from the Republic, even their desire to protect themselves, but not their alliances with the Trade Federation, or Malastare or Geonosis. Yet Count Dooku seemed to have those questionable corporations under his control.

It caught him by surprise when the former Jedi Master declared his intentions to form the treaty which they were on this planet to create. His recent actions on Geonosis suggested that peace was the last thing the Separatists wanted. No one, neither in the Republic, Separatist, or the rest of the universe would have expected this move after the massacre on that planet, the full report of which still had yet to be publicised. Even Palpatine was surprised and Bail knew that it took a lot for the Chancellor to lose his composure. After what he had learned from Master Kenobi, a part of him regained that emotion, as he wondered what advantage peace would be to a Sith.

The identity of the Master was still unknown, a shudder passing through him as Bail idly speculated who it could be that had held such power in the dark side and the universe to have manipulated events so far. It had to be someone deeply connected within the Republic, possibly allied to or even a member of the Senate, for no private, business, or wealthy citizens could not enact laws. Perhaps someone in the law courts, relishing the power of life and death that they had over each criminal who came to be judged. Experiencing an evil, sadistic pleasure in dragging out every case, the delays for a resolution interminable.

It was all too easy to imagine a Sith at home in such a system, which was why Bail discounted the possibility. Everyone knew that the law courts in the Republic were a mess but one they were unable to reform without a concentrated effort from the Senate. Nearly everyone, no matter what form of life they lived treated them as a joke or with contempt.

He doubted that a Sith would like hiding under such ill respected chaos, and lawyers did not have that much power of the order of the Republic. No, it was more likely that the Sith was in the Senate, and he wondered if the Jedi, while not knowing who it was, held suspicions as to who it might be. His own list would fill several pages of flimsi as there were few Senators whom he did not suspect were using their positions nefariously.

Bail sighed as he realised that his wandering thoughts had managed to successfully distract him again. He was meant to be planning what he would say at the conference tomorrow, his actions to further the peace between the Republic and the Senate. Not speculating over the identity of the Sith lord or contemplating the matchmaking of a Jedi and a Senator. Picking up his glass, he drained the rest of his drink and rose from the stool, deciding to seek his room and his bed. Clearly his mind needed sleep before it could concern itself with the care of the Republic.

"I congratulate you, Obi-Wan, for choosing the impossible yet again," Garen remarked as he joined his friend in the bar that evening, some time before Senator Organa entered the recreation area.

Obi-Wan glanced at his friend, confused as to what he meant, but upon seeing the all knowing smirk barely concealed by Muln's deceptively serene features, he groaned as he divined the topic of conversation. Ignoring him for the moment, he rattled off their drinks and refreshments to the waiter, letting his friend continue to voice his point.

"First Cerasi, a deeply committed freedom fighter with a tragic end awaiting her," Garen added, "then, Siri, one of the most fiery and maverick Padawans of our generation, and now Senator Amidala. Congratulations, you could not have chosen a more high profiled woman to fall in love with. And let us not forget Duchess Satine as well, another famous pacifist leader of her people."

"At least I'm consistent," Obi-Wan pointed out, the wryly delivered comment only serving to make his friend chuckle.

"That's one way to look at it," Garen mused. "The question is, what will you do when the reforms to the Order have been accomplished? Do you really love her that much to put all other possibilities such as Siri and Satine aside?"

"I loved Padmé almost from the moment I met her," Obi-Wan confessed. "Before I met Satine, after Siri and I resolved to obey the Code. I made the choice to love her knowing what the Code advised and of my Padawan's feelings for her. Falling back on old loves would be settling, doing myself and them a great disservice."

"You're too honourable for your own good some times, " Garen observed.

"I know," Obi-Wan replied, causing another chuckle.

"Speak of the angel," Garen murmured, causing his friend to look up and catch sight of the Senator from Naboo entering the bar and making her way over to them.

"What are you two talking about?" Padmé asked as she joined them.

"Obi-Wan's love life," Garen replied, causing his friend to direct a look to him, pleading that he would not reveal the full extent of their conversation.

"I didn't think Jedi were allowed to have a love life," Padmé remarked, raising an eyebrow at their companion, whose face was currently flushed with embarrassment.

"Oh yes, the notorious reputation of the Code," Garen chuckled, "most knights, masters and a Padawan or two from what I've heard, tend to ignore that attachment rule, or forget it exists when they set their eyes on someone interesting. Despite his untarnished reputation," he jerked a shoulder at his friend, "there are a few ladies who broke their hearts over his initial struggle, then resolve to follow the Code."

Padmé raised an eyebrow at that revelation. According to her husband, his master lived the life of a monk, and from what she saw of him during the Blockade Conflict on her homeworld, he had been too serious, too committed to the Jedi to return the admiring looks many of her handmaidens had sent him. But his face was still flushed, his expression a warning to friend to rein in his teasing to contradict what Garen had revealed.

"And once the reforms have been deployed," Master Muln continued, "we'll have official sanction to satisfy the dreams of the members of our adoring fan clubs."

Padmé stilled, barely able to believe what she was hearing. If only she had counselled Ani to wait, half their current turmoil over worrying about the consequences if someone discovered their union would never have existed. "The Jedi can marry?"

"Knights and Masters," Obi-Wan confirmed, disappointing her hopes for Ani was a Padawan still, "provided they have full blessing of the Council," he added before taking a sip of his drink.

Inwardly Padmé sighed at hearing the conditions. Few of the Councillors approved of Anakin to give him permission even when he reached knighthood. While they could not fault his determination, they still argued that he was too emotional, too reckless, too rebellious to be ready for the trials. "Why now, after so long?" she asked, careful to make her tone casual and unassuming.

"Count Dooku's departure gave the Council a lot to think about," Obi-Wan replied. "His objections to the Code and our regulations regarding the Republic were sound, but few of the Council members cared to admit such a fact. With the reappearance of the Sith, they decided that it would be advisable to conquer our remaining weaknesses caused by the sacrifices of the Code." He paused to take a sip of his drink. "What with so many of the Masters, Knights and Padawans ignoring chastity and an exception regarding marriage granted to one Councillor, the reforms almost seemed overdue."

Padmé shook her head, unable to conquer the feeling of wide-eyed astonishment inside her. "Anakin painted such a different picture while he was guarding my life on Naboo. He made the missions sound wildly adventurous and interesting, but the life of a Padawan he sketched as very restricted. I find it difficult to believe so much has changed from your generation to the next."

"Oh, Anakin wasn't a saint either, " Garen remarked, causing Padmé to gasp and Obi-Wan to direct a warning look at his friend. "Many's the time me or Obi-Wan had to drag him away from the racing gangs in the Wicko district before the Council got wind of where their Chosen One was. Or conduct a search of the Temple in quest for a droid or two who had their circuits tinkered with. And of course then there's the meetings with the Supreme Chancellor; although none of us can prevent those, no matter how much we try."

Padmé blinked, quietly disturbed by what she was hearing, so much of it in direct contradiction to what Ani had told her on Naboo. He had made the Masters in the Temple seem strict, to the point of imposing draconian methods upon their much maligned Padawans. She recalled his criticisms of Obi-Wan before they left for Naboo, followed by those he uttered during his outburst on Tatooine.

She took in a quiet breath as she remembered receiving the impression of a spoiled young boy throwing a petulant fit in order to gain her sympathy. Silently she compared it with her own upbringing on Naboo; which had been balanced by her personal self-discipline and determination for her future career. There had been little time for jaunts out to clubs or rebellion, even if she had wanted to.

Training to be a Jedi seemed hedonistic by contrast.

But then she had risen to the height of her profession when she was fourteen and Anakin was still a Padawan back then, barely five years into his training. Perhaps she was misjudging him, for he was different from the typical raised from birth Padawan without knowledge of a mother or of the hardships suffered living in the Outer Rim.

Resolutely she pushed her doubts to the back of her mind, reminding herself that he was her husband, older and wiser now since the tragedy of Tatooine, enduring separation from her, the burden of their secret union, the loss of a limb, and the pressure of being the Chosen One. He was entitled to a little rebellion from time to time.

"Why is there concern about his meetings with the Chancellor?" she asked them, realising it was the one thing she had yet to focus on.

"It creates a certain reputation within the Temple," Obi-Wan replied. "There are more than a few Jedi who regard the communication between the Supreme Chancellor and Anakin as a sign of undue favouritism. Some see the relationship as one wishing to exert influence over the other, or to have a permanent informant within the Order. Palpatine's friendliness is also considered disruptive by some to the bond between myself and Anakin, causing doubts about the training, which reflect on myself as well as my Padawan."

"You mean they doubt your ability to train him?" Padmé queried.

"Quite a few masters are of the opinion that the training of the Chosen One should have fallen on much more experienced shoulders," Obi-Wan revealed. "That my training was too unorthodox to be considered a good example for the one destined to bring balance to the Force. Some of that however does come from Qui-Gon's reputation." He paused to drain the remnants of his drink. "Much of Anakin's future will be decided during my absence, seeing how he responds to the tutelage of someone else, his conduct as a Senior Padawan, as the future hope of the Order. Especially when the reforms come through."

He rose from the table and bid good night to both of them. Garen departed soon afterwards, leaving Padmé to the discomfort of her thoughts, as she wondered what Anakin was doing this night, quietly hoping he was in the Temple, meditating, training, confessing to Yoda about the events on Tatooine, their secret marriage even.

Anything but having dinner with the Chancellor.

Part 8: Supping With A Sith.

"Thank you for inviting me, Chancellor."

"You're welcome, my boy," Palpatine smiled as the young man before him glanced curiously around the residence of the Supreme Chancellor. Anakin had never been invited to visit the apartment before, and as Palpatine hoped he was somewhat surprised by its red and grey coloured interior, a sharp, almost dark contrast to the blue and cream of the Senatorial residence.

Palpatine intended for the whole evening to unsettle and provoke Anakin into confessing what had happened to cause him and Senator Amidala to be on Tatooine when Master Kenobi reported back from Geonosis, and of the ceremony recently performed by a holy man on Naboo, involving a Jedi and a Senator. To deepen their relationship while at the same time distancing Anakin from the Order once more.

"It will be nice to have dinner with someone who isn't a politician," Palpatine added, as he led the boy to the richly decorated dining table, bordered by two tall back chairs, adorned with gleaming white china. "Or a businessman seeking my patronage."

"I hope you haven't gone to a lot of trouble," Anakin remarked, feeling overwhelmed by the grandeur, causing the old man to laugh and shake his head.

"Oh no, my dear boy, no trouble at all," he replied, "my chef on the other hand, has been slaving away all afternoon. Do not be concerned, he is a perfectionist who has never served a young Jedi knight before."

Anakin grimaced at hearing the word he had no real claim to, an expression caught all too easily by his host. "Oh, forgive me, I forgot. Is there still no word on when you will face the Trials, as I believe they're called?"

"No," the Chosen One shook his head, the word coming from him lips sourly. "Master Yoda and Master Windu seem more concerned about me adjusting to my arm, rather than judging whether I'm ready for the Trials."

"And have you?" Palpatine asked gently. "I can only imagine how difficult the loss of a limb must be."

Unconsciously the Padawan flexed the servos within the limb as he answered the Chancellor's question. "I think so. Well enough for the Trials."

"So, forgive an old man's curiosity, but what do these trials entail?" Palpatine inquired as he held out the seat for Anakin to take before sitting down in the other opposite him.

"They're meant to be unique to every Jedi," Anakin explained. "To test their ability, their training, encourage them to depend on only the Force."

"Has Master Kenobi given you some insight into them?" Palpatine asked. "I imagine his own was memorable."

Anakin shook his head. "My Master didn't take the Trials. Master Yoda considered his killing of the Sith enough for him to become a knight."

"Well, it was unique," Palpatine reflected. "In this age, at least. Still, I wonder what he thought of that."

"He didn't like it," Anakin replied, "but there wasn't time for him to take them, as he had me to train."

"I don't see why," Palpatine murmured. "You could have stayed in the Temple while he did so. Younglings don't normally become Padawans until their teens."

"The Council granted him immediate training for me," Anakin explained.

"I see," Palpatine acknowledged, using his tone to convey to the boy some uncertainty concerning his Master's care for him. Carefully he watched as the young man shifted uneasily in his chair, an image of Obi-Wan being ordered to take Anakin on traversing across the planes of his mind. The illusion penetrated the memory banks, causing him to inwardly smile at his success.

The sound of door servos expelled around the room, causing Anakin to glance round for the source in surprise, for their colour was apparently designed to purposefully blend in with the surrounding decor. He had not noticed them during his initial survey of the apartment.

A man entered with several trays of food, his manner graceful and discreet. He made no comment on the guest or what he brought them, just silently laid the dishes down before the Chancellor and Anakin, then made his way out the same door through which he entered. Anakin watched the man throughout his journey, wary at how much similarity his manner bore to that of a slave.

It almost seemed as if he were conditioned or under orders to conduct himself in the way that he did, yet Anakin could not imagine the Chancellor giving out such commands. It contradicted entirely with Palpatine's kind, almost grand fatherly way with him, a manner he only saw life when he was holding court within the senate.

"I hope everything is to your satisfaction," Palpatine remarked, causing Anakin to turn back to his meal, focusing on the dish for the very first time. To his surprise it was one of his favourite's; food he normally expected to see in Dex's diner. He took a bite, and closed his eyes, savouring the perfectly cooked morsel.

"Its delicious, thank you, sir," he replied, his eagerness betraying his youth. "I had no idea you knew my favourites."

"Oh, it was merely a guess," Palpatine added modestly. "I consulted various sources on what young people liked, asked the chef, who was only too happy to try something more complicated than my simple tastes."

Anakin glanced at the meal the Chancellor was eating; recognising it as a native dish from Naboo; one he had seen Padmé consume from time to time. "I'm sure its still delicious," he remarked, careful to disguise his knowledge of the meal, in fear that his recognition might betray his relationship with Padmé.

"Oh yes, the reputation of my chef is untarnished," the Chancellor chuckled. "So, my boy, what has happened to you since I saw you last? Any exciting missions?"

Anakin happily relayed the last missions he had undertaken since his most recent meeting with the Chancellor. In the aftermath of Geonosis there had been a few tasks assigned to him by the Council, and one while the conference on Pais began.

Pais. He wondered what Padmé was doing now. There seemed to be much more than just talks taking place on that planet as she said that she had been in the bar with his Master and Garen Muln. He had assumed that all the delegates would do on the planet was attend the talks. They were supposed to working on a peace treaty after all, surely that would matter more than free time spent in the bar.

Part of him wasn't sure he believed Padmé when she said she had been with his Master and his friend. He remembered the last time Obi-Wan had been in a bar, here when they were chasing that changeling assassin. He had looked conspicuous and uncomfortable in the place, though the way he had easily dismissed the boy selling death sticks was effortlessly smooth.

He couldn't imagine Obi-Wan in a bar, not even with Garen, who he knew through the countless times the knight had pulled him out of activities that, if the Council heard about them, would subject him to severe reprimands. Garen was a rogue, or at least he claimed to be one, but his master was nothing less than the most code adherent Jedi.

"I've been reading reports of what happened on Geonosis," Palpatine began when his guest finished relaying his adventures. "Was it truly as dangerous as they described?"

"Of course," Anakin answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Confederacies offer peace for only two reasons, Anakin," Palpatine remarked. "Either they're so outgunned and out-manned that they're desperate, or they're numbers and weaponry are so overwhelming that the other side have no choice but to talk." He leaned forward. "I read the report from the Jedi Council. They admit there were losses, but nothing significant. Certainly not as large as the rumours circulating suggest. What I want to know is, what are they not telling me?"

Anakin hesitated, worrying that if by telling the Chancellor the truth he was betraying the Jedi. But the leader of the Republic deserved to know the truth. "We lost a great deal of Knights and Masters on Geonosis, sir. If it goes to war, the Order will be spread thinly about the galaxy."

Palpatine stilled, outwardly pretending to be shocked, when in reality the information only confirmed his suspicions. So the Order were starting to lie to him. Good. It would make his continued efforts to alienate them from the Republic all the more successful. "I heard that you travelled from Tatooine to Geonosis with Senator Amidala," he revealed, "your proximity proved vital to aiding your Master on Geonosis. But why were you on Tatooine? It seems an odd choice for the Council as a suitable place to protect a Senator."

He paused to observe the young man before him, hiding his satisfaction the reaction he received for his continued audible speculations. "Or has something happened to your mother? I remember you telling me about your nightmares. I'm glad the Jedi agreed for you to go there."

As he expected, he felt a murky defiance coming from his companion. "The Jedi didn't send me," Anakin uttered, "I went of my own accord."

"To find her yourself?" Palpatine casually queried. "That was very courageous of you, Anakin. I am glad you were able to free her from slavery."

"I didn't," Anakin corrected, his tone resentful, as though he wished he had been able to free his mother from Watto by himself. "Someone else had. He married her and then let her get captured by the Tuskens."

"The Tuskens?" Palpatine pretended ignorance. "Forgive, me, my boy, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with those species of your native planet."

"Monsters," Anakin uttered angrily, the burst of emotion sudden and deadly, causing Lord Sidious to laugh inside his facade of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. "They're nothing but monsters. They tortured her. She died in my arms."

Palpatine affected a sad, compassionate expression and gently took Anakin's hand. "I'm so sorry, Ani. It must have been terrible for you, not being able to avenge her death. But the Jedi deal with things differently, as I understand."

"Revenge is not the Jedi way," Anakin replied, but the Chancellor could see that it was more out of an effort to convince himself than his dinner companion.

"Yet you wish it was," he murmured, watching for the tell tale flicker in the young man's eyes. "You can speak freely here, Ani. What did you do?"

"I killed them," Anakin answered.

"Good," Palpatine complimented, causing the Padawan to look up in surprise. "They were monsters, Ani, you said so yourself. It is good to kill monsters."

"You don't understand," Anakin replied.

Oh, but I do, my boy, Palpatine answered inwardly. "Then explain it to me."

"I killed them all. Not just the men, but the women and the children too."

The Sith inside Palpatine chuckled. He had expected that reply and it pleased him immensely to hear that Anakin had massacred the Tuskens. Sooner than he had expected, the boy that was the hope of the Order and his future apprentice had taken a step into a much larger world. Everything was proceeding exactly as he had foreseen. "There is nothing wrong in what you did, Ani. The children would have grown into monsters and the women would have only created more. You were right in choosing to dispense such justice."

For a moment the Padawan appeared as if he were about to object to the reasoning, but only for a moment. Palpatine smiled. It was so easy to convince the boy, but he still received an enormous amount of pleasure in doing so. "Still, I don't think we should tell the Jedi of this incident. Their reaction might not be as enlightened."

Anakin shook his head, just as the door slid open again and the same attendant who had given them their meals came to take the empty plates away.

"Congratulations, by the way," Palpatine added almost offhandedly when the attendant had disappeared once more behind the door.

"For what?" Anakin asked.

"Why your marriage to Padmé of course," Palpatine replied, smiling. "I heard about it from the holy man who presided over the union. I hope the two of you will be very happy together. He was overjoyed in being chosen for such an honour."

"B-b-b-u-t..." the young man stuttered as he attempted to gather his thoughts. Palpatine waited for him to form some sort of response, but none came. Still, he was a patient man, and the attendant would return soon with desert. He waited.

Sure enough things went as he had foreseen; with the return of his servant and the desert being placed in front of them before Anakin managed to collect himself enough to make a reply.

"No one was supposed to know," he whispered, as though he had heard the rumours that the Chancellor's residence was littered with audio surveillance. Palpatine smiled as he silently emphasised one word of that rumour; was.

"If the Order were to find out...." Anakin shivered, while the beast inside him chattered to itself and grew another increment.

Palpatine shook his head and reached across to pat the boy's hand once more. "Don't worry, Anakin. It'll be our secret." He returned his limb to the desert, taking a few bites while he waited for his future apprentice to calm himself. Then he began to plant the next seed of mistrust between the Padawan and the Jedi. "You won't have to keep it secret for long, however."

Anakin stilled, his hand pausing from the journey to his mouth. "Of course I will, sir. Attachment is forbidden."

"So the Order proclaims," Palpatine replied. "But they have made an exception for one of the Councillors. And then there's the arrangement they have with those members of the Order who originate from Corellia. Did Master Kenobi not tell you about this?"

"No," Anakin replied. "But how would he know?"

"Your Master is a protégé of Master Yoda, Ani," Palpatine reminded the boy. "His future promotion to the Council has been rumoured ever since he became a Knight. Even before." He paused to take another bite of his desert. "I'm sure he's been in the Council's confidence for a long time."

His dinner companion said nothing, but Palpatine observed what he had expected his comment to produce; a flicker of outrage filtering across his expression which would only serve to deepen the pre-existing mistrust between the boy and his master.

"I'm sure Master Kenobi could persuade the Council to make the same exception for you and Senator Amidala," He remarked, his gaze remaining on the boy's face.

This time the reaction was instant, and not as discreet as the last, but then his guest had never learned the art of subtlety. Petulant scepticism journeyed across Anakin's face, pausing for a minute before the boy remembered the respect his master was owed.

Inside the Supreme Chancellor, Sidious smiled in sithly satisfaction.

When Anakin left, Palpatine used the other concealed entrance within his residence to access the office where he left the identity of Supreme Chancellor far behind in favour of his true, much more darker, name. If used his sithly senses, he would feel the attendants nervously emerging from their quarters to tidy the dining area and ready the rooms for the night and the morning, warily glancing around the residence, fearfully anxious to make sure their preparations were finished before their master reappeared.

Sidious accessed the communications panel before him, opening a comlink with his contact whom he had managed to send in one of the delegations to Pais. A mysterious person, whom he kept to the shadows, informing no one of their existence, not even his apprentice. He trusted this source far more than Count Dooku, whose actions since his delivery of certain technical plans from the Geonosisans were in direct opposition to the master strategy.

"Good evening, my child," he greeted when the young woman's figure materialised on the holo pad before him.

"My lord," she returned, dropping to her knees.

"Firstly, how are the peace talks proceeding?" he asked with dangerous intensity.

"Quite well," she reported.

"What about Darth Tryanus," he inquired. "What has he been up to within this little rebellion of his?"

There a pause before his contact replied. "I didn't think peace was what you had in mind after Geonosis."

"Quite right, my child," he confirmed. Peace was due to the galaxy, just not quite the sort that the Republic had envisioned.

"He has had Master Kenobi over for dinner, my lord," she revealed.

Sidious raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. He didn't mention that particular in his report this evening."

"Master Kenobi seems to think the meal went well, my lord," his source added. "He said as much to Senators Amidala and Organa afterwards."

"I shall have to have another conversation with Tryanus, it seems," Sidious mused. "Did Master Kenobi and the Senators reveal anything else?"

"Unfortunately Master Kenobi used the Force to counteract the hotel's usual surveillance systems where they were talking, my lord," she answered. "I was unable to recover anything more."

"No matter," Sidious uttered, dismissing the apology before it was even uttered. "You have given me enough. I shall call Tryanus later and see what else he let slip. Now, my child, I have a task for you."

"I am ready to do your bidding, my lord," she said.

"I wish for you to provide the peace talks with a small explosive argument, to direct the conference into producing the right conclusion."

"Forgive me, my lord, but explosive is not your usual style," she pointed out.

"Exactly, my child," Sidious added. "Which, is why it shall prove a useful distraction. No causalities, but enough damage to convince them that it was sheer luck that there were no lives lost. Tryanus will not be told of this development, nor any of our other allies upon Pais."

"I understand, my lord," she uttered with a small incline of her head. "It shall be done."

"You may go," Sidious commanded, shutting the communication on his end.

On Pais, Nineve Jade, Emperor's Hand, rose from her knees and set about her master's bidding.

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.

Part 10: Eyes Within The Storm.

Within his private meditation chamber, Master Yoda breathed deeply, submersing himself in the Force. The ancient power surrounded him, as it surrounded others, penetrating every fibre of life that existed, binding the universe together. As usual he could feel the darkness which had been clouding the light since the re-emergence of the Sith, steadily increasing its intensity as night conquered day. He dove beneath it, searching for a pocket of light in which to anchor himself. A single candle could hold back the dark, just as the end of the night brought another day.

He could sense the light of other Jedi, communing with their ancient ally, their brightness breaching the dark, like shards of broken transparisteel. Pockets of evil remained, greedily seeking out vulnerable servants, beckoning them to answer, seducing them with false promises of reward for their deception. If he focused on that serpent like energy, he would become aware of its voice, and the voice in turn would become aware of him. Hungrily it would latch on to his vast potential, for potential it was, nine hundred years old he may be, but learned everything there is to learn about the Force, he had not! Envious of such potential, the dark side would yearn for him to harness all his negative emotions, and channel them into becoming a Sith.

Turn he would not. Others before him, tempted they had been, even fallen prey had some to the dark side. Learn too late they would that the darkness was never satisfied, that always craved more than any could give, it would. Were such souls lost forever, he wondered, remembering the hope within Obi-Wan that redemption was possible for those once lost who still lived; such as the man who had trained his late master, Count Dooku. Such generosity was typical of Master Kenobi, though Yoda knew that others often wondered that the reason he possessed such compassion was not due to his Jedi training but rather the concerns he held for his own Padawan.

Anakin Skywalker. For a moment Yoda let his senses stretch out to the signature of the boy who had become the hope of the Order, the prophesied Chosen One, as Qui-Gon had once proclaimed to the Council. Saw through Qui-Gon's motives that session he did, misguided as they were. Wished to redeem himself the Master did, for the failure in training Xanatos to resist dark side. Failed to realise that redemption he already had, in the form of another apprentice he foolishly chose to discard. More than capable, Obi-Wan was, a master few could hope to emulate.

Recalled for a moment he did the voice of Master Jinn, when he heard him cry out during Anakin's painful outburst on Tatooine. The loss of his mother, a profound effect had it upon the boy. Determined his future, perhaps? If so, grave consequences there were, for the Jedi and for the Republic. Yet he could not help but wonder if foreseen, such an outburst could have been. Uncertain they all were once, of training the boy, his future master included. Swayed their decision had been, by the re-emergence of the Sith. Too dangerous to leave the boy untrained, his colleagues on the Council had argued, it was. But in training him, also a danger there had been. Forced their hand was by Qui-Gon's stubbornness, his insistence that the being of prophesy, Anakin may be.

But lately, he had pondered, if misread, that prophesy was. The Chosen One was meant to bring balance, it said. Conceived by the midi-chlorians, it said. Yet such truths could be said of all Jedi, as they strove to balance their potential, their emotions, to serve the ancient being that gave them life. Genetics, bloodlines, determine their ability such things did not, only the Force and their character did. Yet so certain they had become of Anakin, despite Zonama Sekot, despite Tatooine. When had their uncertainty given way to blind faith, he knew not. Doubts Obi-Wan spoke of, not just of Anakin, but of himself and his ability to live up to the promise Qui-Gon demanded of him.

Questioned those doubts when spoken of they did, when perhaps learn to take heed they should. Concerns Obi-Wan perceived about the boy from the beginning, whether due to the rejection of the Council, or his own perceptions within the Force, he had not said. Change his mind he did, but only after Qui-Gon asked of him a final obligation. Willing to go against the ruling of the Council he had been, so determined to honour his promise. Become so certain, when did he, that the boy must be trained, or to prevent him from becoming the warrior that he faced down in the melting pit of Theed Palace had he wished?

It is possible, his compassion knows no bounds.

Yoda stilled as the voice he had not expected to ever hear again, spoke to him for a second time. Spoken once before it had, a cry of despair uttered, as a boy made a gruesome discovery, leading him to expel the rage of a thousand lifetimes. Uncertain of what quenched that rage, he still was, despite many meditations upon the matter. Surprised he should not be, not when the Force was his ally, but that was the emotion which was foremost in his mind all the same.

Greetings, Master Jinn. Learned the path to immortality, have you?

Suddenly he was no longer alone in his meditation chamber. Across from him a blue figure materialised into being, upon one of the seats reserved for guests. His features were surrounded by a shimmering haze, but it was clear to whom they belonged.

Qui-Gon Jinn.

The Force was generous enough to instruct me, Master. Learning which I must pass on, among other things I have been charged with.

Yoda smiled as he observed the spirit acquire a sheepish expression. Repentance is one, yes? My forgiveness you do not need to seek. To others you must make your amends.

I know, the spirit of Qui-Gon murmured, bowing his head in shame. Obi-Wan most of all. I did him so much wrong.

Fear his response, do you? Yoda asked.

A bitter smile graced the face of the blue figure. Yes and no. He will say he has already forgiven me, and yet will not accept that I did him wrong. I gave him too much humility.

The Grand Master idly wondered if spirits could feel a sharp rap from a certain gimer stick. Probably not, unfortunately. Words of wisdom he must make do with. Past injuries, change you cannot. Adhere to your own adage you must. Or deliver the warning which the Force has told you to.

Qui-Gon bowed his head in acceptance of the rebuke. The Force adores Obi-Wan, as you and I both know. And yet we have never cared to ask why.

Mysteries certain things should remain, Yoda mused. If known, arrogance in one's abilities, such discoveries can cause.

Like proclaiming to a nine year old boy and the Council at large that he is the Chosen One? Qui-Gon countered ruefully. Don't worry, Master. I have learned my lesson. The strike of your gimer stick is nothing next to a lecture from the Force on misreading prophesies.

Yoda raised an eyebrow at that, mildly wondering once more if spirits could feel the poking or rapping of such instruments. However time for 'I told you so' this was not. Easy to make such a mistake perhaps, when clouded by the dark side as everything is.

For the Force that is no excuse. Qui-Gon informed him. Too narrow our focus has become, encased by years of unflinching rigidity and tradition.

Changes to the Order we are making now, Master Jinn, Yoda revealed. Hope we must that too late it is not.

Qui-Gon shrugged, an almost imperceptible movement from his spirit. Timely for some, too late for others. But then the future is always in motion.

What of Anakin, Yoda inquired. Other insights about him, have you learned?

His visitor sighed, the posture of his spirit form slipping, as though a great burden had been placed about his shoulders. I made so many mistakes about him, Master. About him and with him, ones for which the galaxy will suffer.

So quick to forget your own words of wisdom are you, Yoda admonished with a wave of his gimer stick, noting with some satisfaction that his old pupil could still flinch. In motion the future always is. Immutable, mistakes are not.

Qui-Gon shook his head. Some are, Master. There are some mistakes I have made which will forever dominate his destiny.

Powerful words you speak, Yoda warned him, condemning words. Yet forget you do, that Anakin's choice is his to make. Decide alone his own destiny he will.

What if he is not allowed to do so, Master? Qui-Gon asked. Outside forces manipulate him, compel him to live up to an impossible standard. A standard I wilfully bestowed on him in my impassioned desire to have him trained. He bowed his head in shame once more. I thought I had learned not to repeat the mistakes I made with Xanatos. But I have learned nothing, for I failed Obi-Wan and Anakin just as much.

Yoda raised his gimer stick and pointed it at the spirit in threatening rebuke. Too quick to despair are you. No faith in your Padawans have you? A great Jedi Obi-Wan has proved himself to be.

But you can't deny I made mistakes with him, Qui-Gon persisted. That I failed him during the times when he needed me the most.

Think you are the first to fail your Padawan? Yoda shook his head, waving the gimer stick at his wayward colleague. Perfect no master of a Padawan ever is. Many mistakes they make, the Padawan too. Traits they pass on, stubbornness, recklessness. Defiance in the face of Council rulings.

A smirk graced Qui-Gon's face as he caught the tone behind the thought, implying that Master Yoda's opinion of those traits was not as harsh as he claimed. Despite his self- recrimination, he knew the Grand Master was right. Every member of the Council had at least one failed Padawan behind them. He was not the first to have one turn to the dark side, not by a long shot. Yet the guilt stung him, even now when he was one with the Force. His mistakes haunted him, he who had focused so much on the here and now, frequently reflected over the past, and contemplated possible alternatives. After ten years without his apprentice, he had at last learned the importance of realising the big picture.

There is more to the prophecy than any of us have realised, Master, he warned, words to which Yoda merely raised his eyes. My interpretation wrongly believed that it hinged on finding the Chosen One, when I should have concentrated my focus on what would be needed to achieve the balance they and the Force so desperately seek.

Something between a hum and a huff of breath escaped Master Yoda's lips, indicating that the Grand Master was not happy with his pupil. Qui-Gon had expected such to be the case. He freely acknowledged that he was stubborn, that despite his Padawan's fervent belief, there were concepts which contradicted the code he refused to embrace absolutely. It would surprise Obi-Wan to learn that most of tenets were established after he lost Xanatos to the dark side. None of the covenants had been breached until recently, when he became one with the Force, and learned that certain things he once trusted as certainties were mere illusions within the eyes of that ancient being who bound the universe together.

Balance, Master Yoda echoed the word admonishingly. Goal of all Jedi to achieve such that is. Strive for harmony everyday they do. When found it is unattainable, some times, much suffering they endure in striving to achieve it. Yet always achieve it, they do. It is the way of things. The way of the Force.

There are two sides to everything, Master, Qui-Gon continued, ignoring the admonishment for the moment. Even to the Force. Light and dark, each striving for balance, unable to exist in harmony with each other, without control, except in nature, as shadows do by the sun. Living, Unifying, only the latter is not an illusion. How can one focus on the now when it is gone as soon as one notices it? You have always said that the future is in motion, Master. I did not realise the full truth of your words until I became one with the Force.

Stubborn, always you have been, Yoda reminded him, shaking his head, yet there was a certain pride within his expression, proud that one of his most obdurate Padawans had finally unlearned what they had learned.

Better late than never, Master, Qui-Gon replied, smiling as the Grand Master chuckled in reply.

One of his fingers parted from the others, raised itself and motioned towards the door, the usual silent command of dismissal, causing Qui-Gon to frown.

But I haven't told you everything you need to know, he protested.

Know already I do, that which you wished to tell me, Yoda revealed. Said have you all that needed to be. Found the answers that were sought, I have. Another awaits your apologies.

As always, Qui-Gon knew he was right. Silently he rose from the soft furnishing to bow before the Grand Master, then dissipated into the Force.

Mace Windu surveyed the wreck of the training arena, the sight before him bearing an uncanny resemblance to a junk store after a sandstorm had hit it, a wry grin threatening to break out from under his stern facial facade. He had to admire Skywalker's reasoning. The boy had protested that he only tore the room apart so he could put it back together again. Which, he was in the process of doing so now, seated in the middle, the so called eye of the sandstorm, a training sphere in one hand, a hydrospanner in the other.

It was at times like these when Mace most admired Obi-Wan Kenobi. How the Soresu Master put up with this daily chaos was a miracle which only the Force could begin to comprehend. A stray memory pierced his mind; of that same master as a young Padawan, using Katas to work through his once unruly temper. Perhaps his friend coped because he knew and understood the need to vent one's frustrations.

But the recollection did nothing to ease his concerns about the Padawan before him. From the first moment he met Anakin Skywalker he could sense the conflict within the boy. The large fear hidden deep inside, untamed and uncontrolled, threatening to grow until it overwhelmed not just the youngling who carried it, but all of those around him.

He had been one of those who refused to allow him to be trained, believing that the harnessing of the incredible Force ability inside the young man would do nothing to negate the fear that was also present. The majority of the Council had overruled him, arguing that the boy had to be trained, for the power inside him was too strong to leave undisciplined forever.

For a time he allowed those arguments to convince him, despite Anakin's antics within and without the Temple, his tinkering with every droid he happened to come across, the swoop racing that Garen Muln and Obi-Wan continually retrieved him from, hoping no one on the Council would find out. Even when the latter began to express his own concerns about his Padawan, questioning his ability to train him, Mace denied the possibility that there was some truth to his concerns, reminding him of what his former master believed. And now, when the Master was all but converted, the doubts silenced, swept aside in the wake of the need to focus on larger matters, he and the Grand Master of the Order found themselves questioning the boy's future.

Obi-Wan had asked him to handle Anakin's training while he was on Pais, he had even suggested that he teach the young man some forms of Vaapad, his reasoning being that it might help Anakin gain a greater control on his more darker emotions by learning how to channel the dark side through his unique lightsaber form. But Mace had been reluctant to do so, fearing that once Anakin was allowed to let loose the darkness inside him, he might not be able to rein it in again. The boy did have a tendency to let his passions get the best of him, which was very dangerous when it came to using Vaapad.

The form required the strongest discipline, allowing one to focus only on the energy they were channelling, the quantity of it, the flow of it, a rather detached technique which differed utterly from the usual style of duelling. At the same time the form was rather intense, self-involved, allowing little room for other cares, carrying dangerous consequences if there was a sudden loss of focus. At times it was almost a constant fight against the darkness within oneself. You had to recognise that there was dark side to everything, accept it, channel it, then let it go. It was, Mace mused, the ultimate test of balance, and suddenly he realised that perhaps it was exactly what Anakin needed.

Crossing the threshold of the training salle now known as a sand storm wrecked junk store, the Korun master announced his presence to the Chosen One. "Good morning, Padawan Skywalker."

Startled, Anakin shot a quick glance at his chrono, realising that it was indeed the early hours of the morning, before he returned the greeting. "Good morning, Master Windu."

"Master Kenobi suggested you might like to learn Vaapad," Mace remarked, noticing that the boy's eyes sparkled at the word. "Is this correct?"

The young lad hesitated, glancing around at the chaos of the training salle, wondering what he had done to deserve this. "You aren't going to reprimand me about this mess?"

"After witnessing you following through with your explanation that you tore this room apart so you can put it back together again, any reprimand would be rendered moot," Mace replied. "Besides, this is merely another example that you need something with which to channel your negative emotions."

Realising the Council Master was serious, Anakin made one final adjustment on the training sphere he had been fixing, and then with great care lay the machine aside, before rising to his feet. "I am here to learn, Master Windu."

"Then we'll begin." Mace motioned with his fingers and the remnants of destroyed training spheres, sabres, droids and other equipment which had once made this sand storm wrecked junk store a training salle were swept aside to rest against a far wall by the command of the Force. Then he ignited his lightsaber, raising the purple vertical in salute to his new apprentice.

Who returned the gesture with a smile that bordered on sithly eagerness.

Only later, would the Korun Master realise the significance of that expression.

Part 11: A Visit From the Ghost of Padawans Past.

A canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to a crescendo. Responses flew back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace. Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people.

Count Dooku of Serenno, formally Jedi Master Dooku, fell into silence for a moment as he listened to the response fielded to him by one of the Republican Senators, concerning a point which he had just offered up for debate. As another Separatist broke into the conversation, along with the voice of one of the Jedi Masters attempting to add a supportive and calming tone to the proceedings, he reflected over all that led him to this peace conference on Pais.

One evening on his native homeworld, he had received a visit from a man he had never expected to meet with ever again, at least until he became one with the Force. During his meditation, he had felt a sudden chill steal over him, which no amount of sensitivity in the ancient being whom he served, or alteration to the internal thermal regulator system could dissipate. Parting his eyelids, he began to blink as he took sight of the figure in front of him, who bore a striking resemblance to his former Padawan; Qui-Gon Jinn. The lately lamented Jedi Master bowed in greeting, before declaring that he had become bitterly disappointed with his former mentor.

Such an opinion had taken him completely by surprise, especially when expressed in so blunt a manner that was typical of his old Padawan's character, not to mention the form and figure of the sight before him, who had clearly been sent by the Force to buck up his ideas. Within minutes, Dooku was awakened into an epiphany concerning the wayward path he had been heading down ever since he left the Order.

Until that evening, he had never realised that his idle wish expressed to Master Kenobi in what had been nothing more than a tactic to get the Jedi to talk, was in fact a very real desire to have a conversation with Qui-Gon, from whom he really needed some advice. Evidently the spirit of his former apprentice was an eavesdropper upon that interrogation, able to detect what his fervent Padawan had not, the unconscious, unspoken wish lying beneath the tactically voiced words.

He had left the Order not as result of the death of Qui-Gon Jinn, but due to the culmination of various, long standing disagreements with the Council, over the way with which said Council governed, and their relationship with the Senate and the Republic. During the years he had spent within the Order, he had witnessed it becoming increasingly detached from the universe in which it existed and recruited members from, and rigid within the structure of life which it established in the wake of the Ruusan Wars. Not that he disagreed with the need for discipline within the Order, or with some of the restrictions which had been placed upon its members as a possible prevention from such conflicts repeating themselves, but unlike others he had not seen the need for isolation from the Republic, or the deprivation of attachment, save for certain exceptions.

Unfortunately, he had been in the minority, one which continued to decrease in size as the years passed by and the Order settled into the new system. For awhile he had followed the practice of his apprentice, calling the Council to account when he could, blatantly disregarding their commands when they gave him no other option. But he was becoming an old man, and he grew tired of continuous debates.

As he began to revaluate his position within the Order, several events occurred which set him on his wayward path. Firstly, his relations had contacted him with the news that his elder sibling had died, leaving him the next incumbent of the ennoblement which had been accorded his family on Serenno for over a millennia. Just as he was debating on whether to accept the title, or allow it to be passed on to the next heir after him, news reached the Order of the blockade by the Trade Federation.

Due to the Council deciding that Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice would answer the request of the Chancellor to mediate over the tax dispute, Dooku had kept an interest on the events which followed. His astonishment over the Council rejecting a nine year old boy unusually strong within the Force was profound, but it was nothing next to his reaction concerning his apprentice's decision to put Padawan Kenobi before the Trials and take the nine year old boy as his new apprentice.

Barely had he time to fully comprehend these events before everything was thrown into confusion with the announcement of an election for a new Chancellor, and return of Qui-Gon and Kenobi to Naboo, to assist the young sovereign in her attempt to free her planet from the clutches of the Trade Federation.

No one expected what happened next, nor were they likely to forget it. Vividly did he recall the state of the Grand Master as he delivered the news, Yoda seeming to age another decade before his tear stricken gaze. The old troll held a profound respect for Qui-Gon, despite, or indeed perhaps because of their frequent disagreements, and was choked by the news of his passing at the hands of the Sith.

Dooku remembered preparing to declare himself ready to take on the young nine year old that his Padawan had so impetuously taken into his care, only to learn from Master Yoda that Kenobi had requested for the boy to become his apprentice, his defeat of the Sith considered enough by the Council to make him a Knight.

Yoda revealed that it had been Qui-Gon's last request to his apprentice that Kenobi take the boy as his apprentice, an act which surprised Dooku, for it seemed unlike his former Padawan to burden a man who had just become a Knight under difficult circumstances. That Kenobi was determined to follow through with the obligation did him credit, but the agreement of the Council, against Yoda's opinion, troubled him deeply. Abruptly he saw what the Grand Master had not, that a dark force was seeking to control future events, not just within the Order, but the Republic as well.

He resigned from the Jedi, soon after Qui-Gon's funeral had taken place, intent on discovering the identity of the Sith behind this dark force. His investigations led him to Kamino, where he discovered the cloning operation, along with the record that a mysterious being, claiming to be Jedi Master Syfo-Dias had requested the army be engineered.

Not wishing for the Order to interfere with his discoveries, for they would likely make the information available to the Republic, causing it to come to the attention of the dark force which he was investigating, Dooku had returned to the Temple and eliminated the location of Kamino from the archives, grateful that his old access codes still worked within the wake of his recent resignation.

Upon arrival in Serenno, he had been contacted by the Viceroy of the Trade Federation, who gave him the ability to get in touch with the dark force, the being having expressed a desire to meet with the recently resigned Jedi and former Master of the lately departed Qui-Gon Jinn. At first the being had hidden his true identity from him, causing Dooku to make himself appear receptive to the dark force's schemes, in the hope that, given time, he would learn all he needed to know.

But he had no idea of the danger into which such openness had thrust him. So subtle was the being's machinations, that he was seduced by layer upon layer of seemingly enlightened beliefs until he no longer knew how to untangle himself from the web he was meshed within. Only when the spirit of his former apprentice visited him, did he begin to see the glow of a candle in the darkness, pointing the way out.

Which led to him declaring a desire for peace, using his position as leader of the Separatists to couch the petition in formal terms, as something he could put before the Senate rather than the Supreme Chancellor, who unwittingly revealed himself as the being behind the dark force when the Military Creation Act was put forward. It was the only option which could perhaps rescue the Republic and the Jedi from the clutches of the dark being.

The Sith had stirred the conflicts into existence in the first place, knowing that the potential of a civil war would place the Republic under his control, granting him the power to dictate events, build up armaments, in all amass himself an empire. It was why Dooku had assumed leadership of the Separatists, in order to assure that this conflict came about.

By petitioning for peace, he could sabotage the Sith's schemes. Providing said peace was established, that is. Splitting the Republic had awakened ancient disagreements, many unresolved, causing the road to peace to become strewn with potential obstacles that might interfere or even prevent the treaty they were attempting to bring into being.

The Count broke from his internal introspection for a moment to glance across at the other people who had braved old disagreements to help him in this endeavour. Like his Padawan's Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who had grown into a fine Jedi Master, much as he protested against such an opinion back on Geonosis.

He remembered being surprised when Qui-Gon told him that he had taken on a new Padawan, one previously assigned to the Agri-Corps, despite being a favourite of the Grand Master. After all the grief Xanatos had caused his apprentice, Dooku doubted Qui-Gon would ever surrender to Master Yoda's constant hinting about the young man that the Force adored.

But once he had, the surrender was incredible. Bit by bit, Dooku witnessed his old apprentice revert to the man he had once been before Xanatos destroyed him, all due to the training of the Master who sat across from him now.

In the scant three conversations he had taken with him, Dooku could see why. There was something about Kenobi which drew you to him. Aside from how the Force regarded the man, from crechling to master, there was something else, an indefinable charisma, subtle yet disarming. A natural negotiator in appearance, drawing in confidences, inspiring confidence.

He spoke now, offering up a compromise, his fluent Coruscanti accent gently cutting across the room, overriding dissenters, persuading them to agree by the mere strength of his words. Qui-Gon had trained him well, yet he could recognise nothing of Jinn in him. But that was how it should be. No knight became a master without adapting the teachings of their training to their own style and character. Once they made themselves unique through negotiation, physical combat, then they earned the right to be called Knights or Masters.

Kenobi's first promotion was unusual, at least it was considered as such. Ordeal by Sith was an old trial for a more pre-russan age. That it was accomplished at the price of a master, and the acquisition of a Padawan was even more unorthodox. Dooku recalled being surprised that the Council had acquiesced to his Padawan's dying request that Obi-Wan trained the reputed Chosen One. Inwardly he grimaced as he thought of Qui-Gon's last stray. It had been a shock to sense the boy at his Padawan's funeral, the sheer power within him almost overwhelming him.

At first he had not noticed the fear lying underneath, slumbering, waiting to be stoked into an immutable fire. Only later, when he left the Order, when he discovered that the being behind the dark force wanted that fire, wanted that boy, craving him as a hunter would his prey. Coveting such power was the way of the Sith, he knew, but the sheer strength of that desire had terrified him when he first learned about it.

Even now, it still possessed the ability to discompose him, particularly since he had crossed lightsabers with the boy. Because he had seen the unconscious- or perhaps it was conscious, he was no longer sure of the difference - desire to acquire power, in the vain hope that it would satiate the flame of fear within him.

He wondered if Kenobi knew, recalling that moment an evening ago when he had warned him that Sidious coveted his apprentice, the fleeting expression which played across Obi-Wan's face. No surprise, only anticipated terror, almost as if he had confirmed a previous suspicion. Once more, he experienced a certain admiration for the pupil of his apprentice, for he had let the emotion show only for a second, before responding with his usual inscrutable serenity.

If anyone was Qui-Gon's enduring legacy, it was he and not the supposed Chosen One. Yes, his apprentice had disappointed him by placing a tremendous burden upon a young man barely into knighthood, but it was to Obi-Wan's credit that he had not shied away from assuming that burden, rising to the challenge of it, even if he perhaps doubted himself capable of accomplishing the task.

And he had succeeded, as much as anyone could succeed in training a boy who possessed such a sizeable amount of power. True Anakin was reckless, impetuous, arrogant and unsure of himself, but he was also a competent warrior, capable of formidable strength when solely focused on his opponent. When he fought them on Geonosis, Dooku remembered admiring the boy's achievements inspite of himself. The skill with which he handled his lightsaber, and for a brief time his master's, the strength in his character for not quailing in the face of a superior and more experienced opponent. Kenobi had accomplished more in ten years with the boy that any other master might have.

Someone else broke into the debate taking place before him now; a lighter voice, yet still possessing the same strength of character and eloquence as the previous speakers; Padmé Amidala, Senator from Naboo. She too he had first encountered on Geonosis as she pleaded for Kenobi's freedom, arguing the cause for peace. Young she might be, but formidable, he could not help but admire her as well.

He had yet to have a peaceful conversation with her, but he had observed her throughout this conference, her interaction with Master Kenobi, Master Muln and Senator Organa. Despite her youthfulness in both age and appearance, she had a way about which made you believe she was older than she truly was, as though she possessed experience and wisdom the length of several lifetimes, not twenty-four years. Many looked upon with admiration, not just for her intellect, but for her beauty, which she seemed unconscious of, though perhaps a part of her made use of it.

Politicians needed many strings to their bows if they were to be successful in their terms within the Senate, especially in times of darkness and intrigue, such as this. Despite all her charms, all her wisdom, all her youth, all her passionate desire for peace, she was a natural politician, commanding the same ability as Master Kenobi, to draw people in with her eloquent words, her ceaseless belief in the notion of peace. For all his cynicism Dooku admired that strength within her, that she was able to keep faith when all those around her had lost it long ago. Perhaps it was a factor of her youth, for he vaguely recalled being that fired with the beliefs of the Order before age and circumstance interfered.

When the being behind the dark forces ordered him to kill her, Dooku recalled feeling incredulous at the idea of such a young woman becoming a threat to the Sith. True she had foiled the being's plans once before, as a girl of fourteen, uniting the two disparate races on her world to defeat the blockade set up by the Trade Federation, but surely she could not further upset their schemes?

In the end he had been proved right, despite her surviving three attempts to kill her, she had not been able to prevent the acquisition of the clone army, or the Separatist's declaration for war. Yet she had succeeded as well, for here they sat, arguing for the very peace she had fought for so desperately.

He could see why Master Kenobi admired and respected her, why Master Yoda held the same opinion. Why she had risen to the post of Leader of the Opposition, held membership in the Loyalist and Security Committees. She posed a formidable threat to the schemes of the dark lord of the Sith. After all, she was native of the same planet, overseen his rise from governor to senator to chancellor. She had proved instrumental in paving the way for him to acquire the post. Yet he had also sensed the emotion the Chosen One held for her, a passion which held no bounds.

Anakin believed it was love, he could tell that much from the boy as he had stood beside her, the silent bodyguard while she argued for his master's freedom, but Dooku doubted it was. She loved him, or at least believed she did, though he suspected that it more out of a need to prove that it was possible for a Jedi to love rather than the man the boy she knew had become.

He wondered if the Order knew, Yoda certainly, not much escaped his former master, Obi-Wan perhaps, after all he had trained the boy long enough not to be insensible of the full nature of his character or attachments. Certainly Sidious knew, for he nurtured the emotion within the boy, manipulated him, all the while scheming to do away with the woman in the belief that it would prove the catalyst to the boy's fall to the dark side.

Dooku doubted Sidious' wisdom in turning such power, such a reckless young man to the nature of the dark. Anakin had not the ability to handle the negativity, the overwhelming anger against everything one had ever known, the desire to acquire knowledge and power, to rule over the universe. If Anakin proved his master's expectations, along with those of the Order, those of the Republic even, he could easily defeat Sidious, reason enough for the Sith to desire to turn him.

Yet even if he was turned, there would come a time when he craved more than Sidious could give him, and would seek to end his life, it was the way of the Sith. Ultimately, unless he could develop the ability to accumulate the boy's power within the Force into himself, in the end Sidious would regret turning him.

Senator Organa offered up his voice to the floor now, causing Dooku to consider him. He was the other person whom Obi-Wan chose to trust, a man who despite his ardent support for the chancellor, neither he nor Dooku had trusted to use as an ally for the Separatists. While Organa supported peace, he also believed that the Republic should have the means to protect itself, in the form of a commissioned army rather than constantly relying on the Jedi.

Like Amidala he ruled a world which practised non-violence, banned weapons, valued intelligence and wisdom over age. He was a the member of the Loyalist and Security committees, as well as various other branches of the Senate, a long serving, well loved and respected representative of Alderaan.

Palpatine respected the man's ability, his intelligence, experience, his eloquence, but felt threatened by his natural leadership qualities, the alliances he had discreetly accumulated in such formidable colleagues as Valorum, Mothma, Bel Ibis and Amidala. It was only to be expected that the Jedi would soon seek him out, realising only now that they needed allies within the Senate to protect them against the sithly stoked fires of the negative propaganda campaign that the chancellor's lackeys engineered. If someone ever possessed the daring to propose a vote of no confidence, any one of those, including Amidala and Organa himself could succeed to the post of chancellor.

Dooku pondered for a moment what would happen if Palpatine lost his seat of power, lost the chance for a war, his schemes ultimately all floundered by this conference. He doubted it would be the end of the Sith, or the end of the being's schemes. But he hoped it would give the universe a breathing space, a chance to arm itself against the next rise. That unlike Naboo, Geonosis would become a warning to all, of the peril of relaxing on one's laurels, turning a blind eye to the injustice carried out day after day in the limits of their universe.

He did not want to be here in another ten years time, fighting for a Republic which had become a shadow of its former greatness, for a Jedi Order struggling to reform itself after too many years of rigidity and isolation, for a motley band of systems and Federations, loosely grouped together, laughingly calling themselves a confederacy, when in reality the one thing they possessed in common was self serving desire for profit and power.

He caught something out of the corner of his eye just then. A flash of red hair, fleeting across his gaze, disappearing before his vision could properly make sense of the significance of such a colour. Someone called out his name and he turned away from his introspection back to the conference, respectfully asking for them to repeat the question, so he could answer in a competent manner.

The canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to crescendo, had no idea what was to come. Their responses, flying back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon, would never anticipate such an event, believing it to be impossible. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation, but never in the least suspicion of what was to come their way.

Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace, believing that they would remain protected as they had always been, by Pais' enduring ability to guard the lives of the beings who sought their neutral planet and hospitality.

Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal, only deliberate sabotage could threaten their continued participation. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people, but in view of what was to come, perhaps pride would be mollified by a dignified retreat, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Explosions rocked the conference room.

Light came first, a cascade of red, orange, yellow, punctuated by harsh streaks of black, followed by the shock waves which served to shatter the transparisteel viewscreens, the glasses beside each being's position. Last to arrive was the sound, echoing throughout the cavernous room, rebounding off walls, doors, tables, chairs.

And suddenly the idyllic world of Pais was covered in debris, metal, wood, glass, and most terrible of all, bodies of unconscious beings, who had risked so much to come here in the aim of forming a treaty, and now had risked their lives as well.

Part 12: A Besetting Sin.

A canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to a crescendo. Responses flew back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation.

Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace. Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people.

Bail Organa withheld from offering his viewpoint for a moment, his mind still troubled by the suspicion which Padmé had made him aware of the night before. In a way it was obvious that the peace conference would be a target for terrorism by those who wished to sabotage any possibility for a potential treaty between the Republic and the Separatists.

But at the same time, it was inconceivable. Such things were not meant to happen on Pais, the world and its citizens strove to keep the planet neutral from conflict, unblemished from the often petty concerns of the universe. A safe haven for those who wished to fight for peace using words, not blows.

If an explosion were to occur here during the conference, that reputation which the beings of Pais had been nurturing for a millennia would be destroyed. And it would send a dark message to the rest of the known universe; no one, no planet was invincible. Yes it was a harsh reality of life that most were aware of, but few accepted such a truth, preferring to dream that some day, immortality would be possible.

One consequence he feared to contemplate, yet knew that he had to, was the end of the conference, the end of peace between the Separatists and the Republic. No matter which side was responsible, it would be difficult to trust anyone who had attended to form a treaty worth only the datapad it was written on. Even the Jedi would not be immune from suspicion, thanks to a dedicated propaganda campaign which was currently being waged against them.

As far as he was concerned, he did not suspect any of the delegation from the Order here to be a saboteur, but nor did he know enough about them to justify that assurance. Despite his conversation with Master Kenobi, his knowledge of Padmé's respect for him, the rumoured future Jedi Council Master was still an elusive character. A typical Jedi trait, but one considered unfavourable in such dark times as these.

Bail glanced over at the man now, watching him as he and his colleagues silently sat listening to the member of the Separatist delegation who was speaking at this moment. His hand was idly stroking his neatly trimmed beard, his expression a mixture of concern and the usual serenity all Jedi possessed. Of what Obi-Wan was thinking behind that thoughtful gaze few could even begin to descry, let alone be accurate in their assumption.

It was the same expression he held during their conversation, leaving the speaker convinced that before them was a serious committed listener to whatever they had to say. The natural face of any priest, diplomat, politician, or physician. As the holder of similar poses, he knew that such a mask could conceal a wealth of thoughts, unexpressed yet considered, all the while remembering what the person before them was saying, so they could answer with an eloquent response if required.

Deceptive perhaps when described like that, but everyone carried within them a natural ability to deceive, however unconsciously or consciously it was practised. Most would find it unpleasant and distasteful to be the bearer of such characteristics, but everyone was a hypocrite when it came to stripping down emotions to their barest forms. Based on this, one should not hesitate to suspect everyone within the room capable of committing an act of terrorism.

And that included himself. He might never admit it, but Bail knew he was not above dirtying his hands when the occasion called for such measures. Not that those measures included terrorism, but he did employ a highly capable intelligence network, who supplied him with information which he had not informed the Chancellor or his colleagues in the Senate that he was aware of. Information was a commodity and an expensive one at that, particularly in such times as these, where possessing certain facts could mean the difference between war and peace.

However, a lot of knowledge as well as a little was just as much a dangerous thing. When Obi-Wan explained the true vulnerability of the Jedi to the Sith, he understood why so much of the Order remained a mystery to outsiders. If the truth were known, the tide would turn against the Jedi irrevocably.

Which brought him to consider the Count of Serenno. Like the rest of the Senate, and he half suspected, the Chancellor, as well as the Jedi, he was surprised when Dooku requested this peace conference. Geonosis might be presented as a victorious rout by the gushing HoloNet journalists, but to those who had access to the security reports, or a first hand account of the battle, what occurred was considered a very near thing.

If what he heard from his intelligence network was accurate, - and he had never had an occasion yet that proved otherwise -the Jedi would be severely stretched even in peacetime, let alone during a war, and that was including the vast resources of the clone army from Kamino.

Bail let a frown fleetingly cross his face as he considered the clone army. For those who were observing him in the conference, no one would question the expression, the current speaker happened to be offering a rather disturbing view point. No one except perhaps the Jedi probably suspected what he was really frowning about. Unlike Padmé, he had argued for the Republic to have an army, not because of the threat from the Separatists, but because he believed the army would provide support for the Jedi.

When it emerged that such an army had been found, and that it was made of clones, he had witnessed a good number of his colleagues, who previously offered only cautious support to the MCA, breathe a sigh of relief. He had understood that emotion; no one liked sending their citizens off to war, but he had also been disgusted by perception of the clones becoming cannon fodder. Reducing them to the same level as droids, although there were some who felt disgust in assigning that term to machines as well.

Now, thanks to Master Kenobi, he had confirmation of the information he received from his intelligence network; that the clones had not been ordered by the Jedi. He didn't doubt the assurance of Obi-Wan that no Jedi had asked the Kaminoans for these clones to be engineered, but there was so much secrecy nowadays that he wouldn't be surprised if someone in the Order had.

However, he did think that a Sith or a Separatist was a more likely suspect. And it troubled him, deeply, because they could have just as easily ordered an advanced series of droids to be built. Using clones suggested that they wanted the perception of cannon fodder, that they wanted the Republic to lower their morals, revaluate their ethics. To what end he was uncertain, but he could easily speculate; the beginnings of xenophobia. And if this peace conference failed, and the war turned into one of race, the Republic was heading for a very dark end.

For a moment he wondered if that could narrow down the number of possible identities for the Sith lord the Jedi were looking for; human with a distaste for other races. But it could easily mean that the Sith was a being with a distaste for humans, even more so perhaps given that the clone army were made up of human males. Deliberately he moved his mind away from the subject. Curiosity was his besetting sin.

Resolved to concentrate on the conference, he roused himself from his introspection in time to catch the rising level of voices within the room. The disturbing notion which a previous speaker had offered as a viewpoint was now being hotly argued against by several others, and also, much to his disgust, argued in favour of as well. Quietly seething, he listened to each of the voices in turn, before taking a deep breath, preparing to offer his own arguments and set a number of his colleagues, as well as those belonging to the Separatists straight.

At the last he was prevented, as Master Kenobi intervened, his serene voice suggesting an eloquent compromise designed to answer everyone's concerns. In some respects it was similar to his own unvoiced response, although, he reluctantly conceded, more diplomatically worded. Whether such was more due to his education or the benefit of the Force he did not know, nor did he care to choose.

Since Geonosis the Jedi had been placed under a large HoloNet spotlight, their deeds offered up to the Republic's hungry, and so far, adoring ears and minds. But the novelty would only last so long. Questions would ensue, then the Jedi would be judged and suddenly the pedestal which they had been placed on for over a millennia would be in danger of toppling forever. They needed all the friends they could get.

He could understand why people questioned the Order's actions, their motives, he questioned them too, more through a desire to test presumptions assumed about them, than doubt in their practices. Preconceived arrogance about one's capabilities to the detriment judgement they held of others irritated him, usually because it was a character trait which a lot of beings he had to deal within his capacity as Senator and a scion of his House of Alderaan believed he possessed.

Despite his privileged upbringing, he had been taught that with wealth and authority came responsibility. He had trained in self defence, although he understood that theory was nothing when compared to the real thing, but nor did he think that his position on Alderaan or in the Senate gave him a certain immunity from the harsh realities of living.

From her chair beside him Padmé spoke, her graceful eloquence carrying a wisdom beyond her years. Bail reflected over when he had first come to hear of her, as an advisor on the Antilles campaign for the post of Supreme Chancellor. Her brief speech to the Senate was legendary, not just because it had replaced Valorum with Palpatine, but due to her courageous actions afterwards, when she freed her planet from the Trade Federation blockade and united Nubians and Gungans.

When she stepped into her predecessor's shoes, everyone assumed she would resemble Palpatine in her style; a provincial Senator thrust into the spotlight, somewhat out of his depth. They failed to comprehend that the events during her first term as Queen of Naboo were not a fluke, but an example of the measures she was willing to take to make difference.

Bail had not been one of those beings. He welcomed her into the Senate, to the committees on which he served, knowing she would be well suited to such challenges and might even be able to make a difference where others had failed. Not only did she fulfil his expectations, she rose above them, achieving nearly all her aims. The Military Creation Act was one of her few failures, if indeed it could be counted as such, for Jar Jar Binks, her representative, had put forth the vote in favour, whilst she was on Geonosis.

During times when the Senate was in recess he had taken her to Alderaan to meet Breha, and witnessed the two of them become fast friends. Bail smiled as he remembered a time when his wife had tried to find a nice young man for Padmé, being a happily married woman, she only wanted her friend to find the same. But Senator Amidala had rebuffed the suitor, claiming not to be interested.

Whereupon when they returned to Coruscant, he had introduced her to the List, handing her a comlink and explaining the unique rules which members were required to adhere to; no names, no rough stuff, initiator pays for the cost of the room and any other charges entailed.

Initially he was hesitant in doing so, not knowing if she would treat the somewhat infamous anonymous group with contempt as some did when they heard of it. Yet she had tried it instead, telling him that she found the nights a somewhat salutary experience. It had been the same for him, when he had been an active member; having been retired except for sponsoring when he met and then married Breha.

He watched Master Kenobi as Padmé spoke, observing the same admiration he had seen in the bar a few nights ago. Out of the corner of his eye he caught another Jedi doing the same, the man who had been with the Senator and the Jedi in the bar, the Jedi who bore startling resemblance to his colleague. They had yet to be personally introduced, but he knew his name was Garen Muln. The Jedi Master nodded and winked at him, before returning to his previous observation, indicating possibly a shared knowledge, and perhaps an ally in possible matchmaking schemes.

Turning his focus back to the conference, Bail moved his own gaze on to Count Dooku, wondering at the man's motives once more. Obi-Wan said that when the Count was a Jedi, his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, had been Dooku's Padawan, the Count in turn being an favourite of Master Yoda. It was extraordinary that the man, coming from such a legendary line of training, would leave the Order, and according to Obi-Wan, train as a Sith.

Yet the former Jedi Master had also proposed this peace conference, warned himself, Padmé and the Order through Master Kenobi about the threat that the clone army posed to the Jedi. Bail did not know much about the Sith. Historical records from the last time they posed a threat to the Republic were over a millennia in age, vague and obscure, as well as being partially destroyed by time. Neither had Master Kenobi conveyed much in his explanation of them, aside from the somewhat disturbing fact that every Jedi was vulnerable to becoming immersed within the dark arts.

Negative emotions. Most Jedi claimed to be above them, leaving outsiders to assume that any feelings were alien to them, yet they used them everyday of their lives. Due to the HoloNet's gushing breathless reports of their heroic deeds, their words were becoming quotes used by every young fan; phrases such as 'stretch out with your feelings,' or 'I have a bad feeling about this.' Mere phrases some might argue, but emotions tended to govern one's outlook on life. They usually determined what you believed in too, no matter how rigorous a control was placed on them. Often they could lead you astray, alter your life drastically, but they also gave you a certain strength to survive a seemingly impossible situation.

Which was why Bail was glad that the Order was going through reforms. The news might not have been made public yet, but his intelligence network was reliably accurate when it came to acquiring information such as this. Alterations to Code which the Jedi lived by would doubtless prove not to suit everyone, but progress would never be made without ruffling a few feathers. And who knows, perhaps this would resolve whatever it was that prevented Obi-Wan and Padmé from admitting how they felt.

Beside him the Senator from Naboo paused, a gaze partially flickering towards him, causing Bail to panic briefly as he contemplated the possibility that she might have had descried what he was thinking by the expression on his face. In a second he was able to push the momentary worry aside as he realised that her glance had been a silent plea for support, as a member of the Senatorial delegation was continuing to resist conceding to the point she was making. Abandoning his introspection, Bail offered his voice to the cause which she was eloquently stating.

The member of the Senate wasn't being stubborn for the sake of it. He had genuine concerns, and as much as Senator Amidala had a way with words, her youth was not something that the confederate was willing to disregard. As soon as Bail began to add his support, he could see the being's resistance gradually subside. Sometimes perception outweighed one's ability to accept that their concerns would be taken seriously. Another view often led by emotions. Despite the noble ideals of the Republic, few were ever as unbiased or impartial as they tended to claim.

When he had fully assuaged their colleague's concerns, Bail fell silent, letting the Pais ambassador decide and put forth the next point they needed to reach agreement on. They were making good progress here. The peace treaty which most of his political colleagues had professed a certain scepticism in becoming established was gradually being realised. Between the three delegations present, each one had chosen who to send in good faith, selecting beings who were able to debate and resolves matters calmly and rationally.

When they all returned to their homes certain associates would probably do all that was within their power to try and prevent this treaty from properly being established. Bail could only hope that no one who had been instrumental in the construction of it would lose that faith when they encountered such opposition.

Across from him, he caught a sudden movement. Obi-Wan frowned, his expression of typical Jedi solemn serenity slipping from his visage. Bail knew that such incidents were rare, and immediately his thoughts returned to the possibility that somebody had come here intent on sabotaging the peace treaty before a single word was written.

The canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to crescendo, had no idea what was to come. Their responses, flying back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon, would never anticipate such an event, believing it to be impossible.

Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation, but never in the least suspicion of what was to come their way. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace, believing that they would remain protected as they had always been, by Pais' enduring ability to guard the lives of the beings who sought their neutral planet and hospitality.

Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal, only deliberate sabotage could threaten their continued participation. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people, but in view of what was to come, perhaps pride would be mollified by a dignified retreat, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Explosions rocked the conference room.

Light came first, a cascade of red, orange, yellow, punctuated by harsh streaks of black, followed by the shock waves which served to shatter the transparisteel viewscreens, the glasses beside each being's position. Last to arrive was the sound, echoing throughout the cavernous room, rebounding off walls, doors, tables, chairs.

And suddenly the idyllic world of Pais was covered in debris, metal, wood, glass, and most terrible of all, bodies of unconscious beings, who had risked so much to come here in the aim of forming a treaty, and now had risked their lives as well.

To be continued in.....
Parts Thirteen-Eighteen.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.