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Shimmer Through the Woods.

Episode II.

Part 13: Threads of Passing Years.

"Congratulations on your re-election, your highness."

Behind the facade of Queen Amidala, Padmé smiled. Even though she knew the sentiment which he offered was nothing more than a perfunctory greeting, the words were kindly meant and a reminder of the overwhelming support that had been behind her campaign to seek a second term as Queen of Naboo. "Thank you, Chancellor. But there was no need for you to go to all this trouble merely to offer such a sentiment. How are matters on Coruscant?"

The former Senator from Naboo allowed his good humoured expression to transform into one of a man burdened by troubles he was helpless to heal, before launching to an explanation of the current state of affairs concerning Senate politics. Padmé listened, even though none of it was really her responsibility, nor was it her place to offer advice or suggestions. She was nothing more than a sounding board for the Chancellor, less than what he had been for her when she was a young, newly elected Queen, and he, her experienced Senator. But it was something which she could provide in return for all the advice and suggestions he had given her over the years. Palpatine had been a mentor who prepared her for the world which she entered when she was elected Queen in a way that no one else in her life could have done. His advice and suggestions had steered her through the difficult times in her first term. He had given her the courage to stay true to her convictions and trust her instincts, which had led her to form an alliance with the Gungans and overthrow the blockade of the Trade Federation.

Since his election to the position of Supreme Chancellor, Padmé had come to into her own as it were in her role as Queen Amidala of Naboo. She knew the duties and responsibilities of her title, and had the experience as well as the knowledge to navigate her way through the minefield of Republic politics which at times threatened to interfere with how she governed her homeworld. But she still listened to her mentor, and to the men who replaced him in the Senate, Janus Greejatus and Horace Vancil. She believed that listening had a vital part to play in being true to her people, and to democracy. Even if what she heard was something she found difficult to hear, or caused her to revise her actions or opinions. In listening to the Jedi she had heard that the Gungans had an army, who in turn fought against that of the droids in the army belonging to the Trade Federation, which together with her own actions lifted the blockade on her system.

Thoughts of the Jedi inevitably reminded her of a certain Jedi in particular, the one who had first mentioned to her that the Gungans possessed an army. Obi-Wan Kenobi had been her stalwart friend and protector during that blockade, but he turned into something else when they bade each other farewell with a kiss. She never thought to have a Jedi as a suitor considering the restrictions they placed on attachments, but even before their kiss Obi-Wan had explained to her that such was a common misconception concerning the code. Jedi kept their personal lives private in order that their families were not put at risk from the life that they led in serving the Order.

While she was queen it was not possible to entertain these thoughts. Sovereignty of Naboo was too public a title, especially since the Blockade Crisis. It would bring the Order too much unwanted attention if she was to declare an interest in Obi-Wan. Assuming he felt the such an interest in return that is. She could be presuming too much from the kiss that he bade her farewell with and despite their promise to keep in touch, they had held little communication since, due to her duties and his commitment to the Republic through the Order. Because of the Order's closely guarded privacy and anonymity concerning their members, she had not even heard what matters he had been tasked with since his promotion to knight.

Palpatine drew his tale of the state of the Republic to an end, allowing her to offer sympathetic words and what useful advice she could give. The Republic was in a precarious state of affairs, making Coruscant politics a difficult course to navigate at present. Her actions in saving her system from the Trade Federation may have helped Palpatine become Supreme Chancellor, but it had also given support to the rising negative propaganda that the Republic governing body was too ineffectual when in came to dealing with internal troubles. Some systems were withdrawing from the Republic in favour of independence and self-governance, which was becoming more and more attractive as the Senate continued to prove ineffective in many matters.

Padmé had no plans at the moment to withdraw her systems from the Republic, she hoped to effect reform from within, through the work of the Chancellor and his allies. Such a task might take longer to prove effective, but it would be accomplished without the threat of conflict or separation, and thus feel all the sweeter.

The holocomm beeped, signalling that their was another caller waiting for her. Padmé said her farewells to the Chancellor and accepted the hail. The blue lasers coalesced into the shape of a Jedi in desert robes. The quality of the holo was such that the Jedi's features were highly rendered, and easily recognisable. He had changed little in the four years since they last saw each other. His hair was longer, but his eyes were still kind, his features still handsome, conveying a charming and good-humoured nature.

"Congratulations on your re-election, your highness," Obi-Wan began. "It is a great pleasure to hear from you."

"It has been far too long, Master Kenobi," Padmé returned with a brilliant smile.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Still only a knight, your highness," he corrected her.

"You mean you have yet to choose a padawan?" she sought to confirm. "A solo knight is such a waste of your talents."

"I have been a knight for four years," he reminded her. "In my view that is not enough time to prepare me for the responsibility of a padawan."

"Four years is considered enough for a sovereign," Padmé argued. "Why not for a Jedi Knight?"

"Sovereigns serve the people, Jedi serve the Force," He countered. "When the ancient energy tells me it is time to take a padawan, I shall obey."

"Very well," Padmé conceded. "I shall not argue with you over the will of the Force. And it has been too long since we last saw or spoke to each other to continue quarrelling."

"I would rather call it a spirited discussion," Obi-Wan remarked. "For I do not wish to argue with you, milady. And you are right, it has been far too long. My apologies for not finding the time to contact you before. "

Padmé brushed the apology away. "There is no need. I know a Jedi knight has many demands on their time."

"I also lacked the courage," Obi-Wan confessed. "I was concerned that my manner of bidding you farewell might have been presumptuous."

She blushed, the emotion showing even through her white concealer. "Quite the contrary, I assure you." After breathing through the feeling, she added, "waiting four years to mention it however, is not the best way to show either your interest or concern over the gesture."

"I know," Obi-Wan added, "and I apologise."

"So now that you have," Padmé remarked, "how did you intend for me to treat the gesture?"

"As a promise," he replied.

"A promise of what?" She queried. "Friendship?"

"And more," he added, "if you desire it."

Padmé took another breath to calm herself as his simply spoken words gave voice to the hopes which she had harboured for some time. "You know that I cannot desire it while I am still the Queen of Naboo."

"I know," he replied. "And that could have been a reason for my delay in calling you and talking about it. But it wasn't, and neither was your youth. The time required was simply not my own. But now that it is, I ask that one day, when you are no longer Queen of the Naboo, when time is our own, could you desire it?"

She looked at his holo, the signal and image quality rendering his hopeful expression so vividly, as her mind recalled their farewell once more. How it felt to have his lips touch her own, his arms embrace her figure, the powerful sensations that their closeness produced within her, the feeling of his form against her own, as he clasped her to him.

"Yes," she replied. "I could."

Obi-Wan leant on the balcony rail of the viewing area and looked down at the large training salle thoughtfully. In the Force he could feel the anticipation that flowed throughout the Temple, though the room where he stood and looked was currently empty. There was always a buzz about when it was time for the initiate tournament. It was one of the most important events within the Order, the moment when young Jedi became apprentices or joined the corps. He remembered his own tournament, young and insecure, his heart set on becoming a padawan, the turmoil he endured until Qui-Gon decided to finally choose him. It was interesting to be on the other side of that rite of passage for the first time. Since his last mission he had been Temple bound, consulting with the clan and initiate masters, then Master Yoda in search for a padawan of his own. After nearly six years as a knight he felt ready to take on the task of teaching an apprentice.

Who that apprentice was, he had not yet decided. Some masters already had a student in mind before they approached their clan and temple bound colleagues, others waited for the results of the tournament before making their decision. Then there were those who had families within the Order, and wanted to train their own younglings, although the Council was a little leery in letting that become a widespread tradition. Obi-Wan could understand why, for there were times when the line between master and parent blurred. He could only imagine that occurring more often when they were related. The transition from parent to teacher could be hard on both the padawan and the master, and sometimes they became blind to each others' faults. Jedi families also tended to breed Force strong descendants. The stronger a youngling was in the Force, the more challenging they were to train.

And though he appreciated a challenge, Obi-Wan was cautious of taking on a strong initiate as his first apprentice. It was why he had spent most of his time before the tournament speaking with the clan and temple teachers, learning the strengths of those younglings who had yet to be selected by a master, so he was prepared for whomever the Force selected to be his padawan. He had to keep in mind too his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the type of missions that the Council assigned to him, as all of this would also shape his student, as well as himself. As a knight who had trained under one of the most unorthodox Jedi in the Order, who had been a student of a master that was famed for preferring the Makashi refined saber technique and undercover missions, who had been favoured by the Grand Master, he came with a reputation and a certain sense of responsibility towards such a legacy. Add to this that he was also the first Jedi to defeat a sith in a millennia and it led to a tendency of the Council giving him risky assignments. It would not do to take on a padawan who was not suited or prepared to handle the task of working beside him.

Since his encounter with the Sith, his assignments had involved the same level of risk, although perhaps to a lesser extent. The Republic had become a nervous, tense, at times querulous child, prone to attention seeking stunts and frequent quarrelsome outbursts, all the signs that it might be going through a typical adolescent phase. Yet it had existed for over a millennia, which made this mid-life crisis seem oddly-timed and all the more dangerous. With the return of the Sith, the Order had become more watchful, taking the Naboo blockade incident as a sign of their previous and perhaps ill-judged complacency.

As a result more and more Jedi were being sent to all ends of the known galaxy to put out the fires that appeared to be igniting more and more often. Old grudges previously thought buried were suddenly resurrected, while inter system alliances that had existed for generations seemed to be breaking down without warning. Some systems had taken the drastic step of cutting all ties with the Republic.

The most recent was Serenno, from which Master Dooku originated, and whom the Council sent to learn what he could. Dooku was already investigating the return of the Sith, along with the invasion of the Temple archives that resulted in the death of Master Sifo-Dyas, but there was no one else in the Order who would have an legitimate excuse to visit the system. Due to his involvement with Naboo and the re-emergence of the Sith, Obi-Wan was kept informed of all developments, which meant that his new padawan would also need to possess the ability to keep secrets and the potential to deal with such dangers.

They would also need training in field medicine as well, because of the state of the Republic and the increasing level of danger faced by Jedi during their services to the Galaxy. Obi-Wan had recently taken several courses in the art of healing for precisely this reason, much of which had required him to spend his days in the part of the Temple halls that were dedicated to such a craft, his least favourite part of the building. He reasoned however that this was necessary for learning the skill of how to tend wounds or fevers, in order that he might spend less time in the halls of healing in the future.

Below him the entrance to the tournament salle opened and the participating initiates began to enter. Sounds of other masters and knights drifted to him from behind, as they took up seats in the viewing area. Obi-Wan stepped back to take a seat as well, his eyes still fixed on the initiates below, who were performing their warm up exercises. Silently he singled out those who were yet to be chosen by a master, then turned his focus on them one by one as he recalled what the temple tutors had said of their skills. He let himself feel the Force, trusting in the ancient energy's ability to determine which of the initiates might be intended for him.

It was just a flicker, but he felt it all the same. His sea shade eyes fixed on the Echani, lithe in figure and graceful in her movements. She wore a blue and grey jumpsuit and carried a pale azure lightsaber. Her startling white hair, unique to her species, was coiled in a series of plaits that were pinned about her head, then gathered together in a long coil reaching down her back to her waist.

The initiates fought in their clans first, the winners and runner ups of each progressing further into the tournament. Those who lost performed exhibition matches amongst themselves, mostly for the benefit of the initiates involved that had yet to be claimed by a master. Obi-Wan watched each fight, but his focus kept returning to the Echani, unable to fix his attention elsewhere. He could feel the pull of the Force, the ancient energy whispering to him of the promise that lay within their partnership.

Searching his recent memories, he recalled what the Temple Masters had said of her. Bright, gentle and quiet, with a talent to turn saber form into art, which was typical of her species. Echani believed that the only way to know someone was through fighting them. They saw a purity in combat that few others could, including the Jedi. Due to this reliance on combat for self-expression and self defence they were skilled in predicting their opponent's next move. This predisposition did not put them at risk from the dark side, in fact it helped them to properly channel their aggression and discipline their passions through the discovery of the character of their opponents.

When it came to her match, Obi-Wan felt the pull of the Force, the ancient energy asking him to lend his strength to hers. But the initiate tournaments was for the participants alone, no Jedi was allowed to join, only to oversee. He gripped his seat, remaining in his place. For a moment he studied her opponent, a young Kel Dor from the same clan. Only now did he observe that the clan had been his own back in his initiate days. In terms of height the Kel Dor was taller, a natural perquisite of their species, but the Echani seemed quicker and more graceful. Kel Dor were sometimes encumbered by their need for breathing masks, the atmosphere of the jewel of the Core Worlds being richer than Dorin, their homeworld. Experience and the end of their growth spurt would lessen such unfamiliarity.

The initiates ignited their lightsabers and engaged. Only shii-cho, the first form of saber combat was taught to the clans, as they would come to know other forms under their apprenticeship to a master. Such training turned the matches into a contest of skills, Force ability and species, allowing spectators to judge each initiate equally. Every Jedi knew Form I of saber craft, by the time they became padawans it was a technique that was ingrained within them, something they could fall back on whilst learning the other saber styles.

Obi-Wan focused on the duel, his sea shade eyes observing each manoeuvre of the shii-cho, evaluating how both the Kel Dor and the Echani performed them in response to each other's movements, the pace of their strikes, the mood with which they struck. Initiates were a bundle of energy and emotions, every day spent reining in those two forces with the help of discipline and the ancient energy fuelled by the level of midi-chlorians inside them.

To show a high level of discipline at this stage of their training was rare, yet the Echani possessed a mindset which almost approached that goal. Her moves were a mixture of grace, flair and spontaneity, as though she were performing a freeform dance rather than participating in a saber contest. The Kel Dor looked to be in the middle of a growth spurt, his moves somewhat rough at times. Both knew the saber form well, their positions both instinctive and accurate, if at times a little ill-formed due to the pace of the duel.

In these tests of skill mistakes often proved costly and such was the case with this duel, the Kel Dor being the first to fall victim in committing an error, which the Echani fell upon and seized to her advantage, raising the pale blue lightsaber to point at her opponent's throat in signal of her victory.

A chime emitted from the audio receivers within the tournament arena, announcing the end of the match. The Echani removed her saber from her opponent's throat, shutting down the blade and clipping the hilt to the belt so it rested against her hip. In reply the Kel Dor bowed to her and she returned the gesture of respect, before the two clan mates parted and moved on to the next stage of the competition.

Obi-Wan remained in his seat as he watched the Echani progress through the clan all the way through to the final match that determined the winner and the runner up. After the clan contests there was a brief intermission before the remaining initiates fought each other until the first champion of the tournament was declared. That would mark the end of the first day of competition, allowing the initiates a break before the duels recommenced the next day.

At the end of the tournament, the champions of each day participated in a final series of duels to determine the ultimate winner. By then most padawans had been chosen by knights or masters and the remaining were left for the corps, though that did not meant that the interest in watching the tournament faded away. All participating initiates were allowed to stay in the temple and view the competition through to the end, to celebrate with the victors their clan mates and friends. Often the knights and masters joined in, recounting their own tournaments and congratulating or commiserating with the initiates.

During the intermission, he rose from his seat and sought out the temple and clan masters charged with tutoring the Echani, asking each if another knight or master had expressed an interest in her or claimed her for apprenticeship. Once armed with the knowledge, he accompanied her clan master to seek Master Yoda's opinion, as the Grand Master's blessing for the partnership was required before he sought out the initiate herself.

After leaving the Grand Master, he made the journey from the tournament viewing area to the changing rooms alone, and leaned against the wall that faced the entrance, waiting for the Echani to emerge. An absurd notion of finding a mirror to check his appearance briefly reigned over him, causing a rapid brush down of his robe and recently trimmed hair, restoring neatness to what little scruffiness had been bestowed upon him since he left his quarters to attend the tournament.

She quitted the changing rooms just as he resumed his pose against the wall, her focus a little distracted by the conversation within, which she contributed to before closing the door behind her. Turning, she caught sight of him and immediately assumed the form of an initiate adhering to the proper conduct required in the presence of a knight.

"Jehane Doah," Obi-Wan uttered her name formally, as his mind composed his remaining nerves into the steady focus of a serene Jedi. "I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. I came to ask if you would consent to become my padawan learner."

She didn't hesitate. Instead her feet conquered the distance between them to be stand before him, whereupon she bowed and spoke the required reply. "It would be an honour, Master."

Padmé cast a glance at the empty throne and felt no regret. Her people had clamoured for her to change the constitution and serve another term, but she refused them, knowing that it would not do for her to set aside rules she had put in place to reform the corruption which had previously existed. She believed in democracy, her predecessor had not. Veruna had been a corrupt monarch, allying himself with the Black Sun criminal syndicate to deal with foreign policy matters. During the ensuing scandal he was forced to resign. She had replaced him at the beginning of the Eriadu Trade Summit, winning the election by promising reforms, including term limits. She had not expected to become so popular a sovereign that her people would wish her to reign beyond what was originally agreed.

While she was relieved to hand over the reign to another, the move had left her without an occupation however. This was not unusual amongst the Naboo, most retired from public service at a young age, typically to have a family. Before she entered public service, Padmé had expected to also, but events conspired against her and changed her present inclinations. Her initial career plan had begun in the legislature, but due to her enthusiasm for reform and the mutual desire felt by the Naboo as well, she had become a sovereign instead. The subsequent political fallout from the Blockade Crisis had served to make her reign an example to the Republic, giving her a notoriety which limited her options. She could not go back to a minor role in Nubian Legislature, even if she wanted to. Nor could another career be her choice without attracting undue attention. She was a symbol of the Naboo and the Republic, and with that came specific obligations.

Fortunately however, there was another option. Since her former Senator had become Chancellor, the position had been filled first by a friend of his, Janus Greejatus. Unlike Palpatine however, Greejatus' political views were not shared by the Naboo, and so he was replaced by Horace Vancil two years later. Vancil agreed to becoming Senator only temporarily, as he had many family commitments which made it hard for him to be away from Naboo for any length of time. Shortly after Jamilla succeeded her as sovereign of Naboo, he had put forward the request that Padmé replace him in the Senate.

Padmé felt that she could not refuse the offer, even though she knew that her family would be concerned. In many ways the position would fulfil the obligations of her symbolism within the Republic, and allow her the opportunity to continue to effect the change she believed was needed. She also had another motive, for the role would oblige her to spend a significant amount of time on Coruscant, where the Jedi Temple was based. Though Obi-Wan Kenobi was a knight, and frequently called on to serve away from the Jewel of the Core Worlds, he would always be required to return to the Temple, which might grant them the opportunity to spend some time together.

Since his holo call congratulating her on re-election as Queen, they had not had a chance to talk properly, nor had he elaborated any further on what he meant by his promise of friendship and more, if she desired it. However, she had still been Queen when he spoke of it, a role which obliged her to refrain from forming such personal relationships while she held the office. Now that her second term was at an end, she was free from those obligations which were attached to that position. During their holo conversation, she had replied that when she was no longer Queen, she could consider a relationship. It was up to her to make such a consideration known to him, any move on his part could be misconstrued as exerting pressure on her to submit to his desires at the expense of her own. Such was a assumption on her part, but Padmé felt that she knew enough of Obi-Wan to make the conclusion about this aspect of his character.

So it was with this possibility in mind that she accepted the role of Senator. After informing her family of her new position and dealing with their concerns as best she could without immediately resigning the office, Padmé set about taking over from Horace Vancil. Her security was reformed under a nephew of Captain Panaka, Gregar Typho, who had served in the Palace Guard with distinction during the Blockade Crisis. He chose to employ the same methods his uncle had used, allowing most of the handmaidens who had served as decoys during her reign to become part of her senatorial household. Padmé was glad for most of them had become close friends.

As a Senator Padmé held more power to affect change within the Republic, something which she had become even more passionate about since the Blockade Crisis. The legal battle to bring the proper charges against the Trade Federation was still tied up in the Courts, she could use her position to see if she can speed the process up. While her actions as Queen had shown others that the Republic could be ineffectual when dealing with such a crisis, her decision to become Senator would spread the message that while she recognised that inability of the Republic, she was still willing to remain within its body and work to affect change from within, rather than leave, as some systems had chosen to do, forming a confederacy of independence. It was her hope however that her power would prove to be more than symbolic, that she would be able to put it to good use for the citizens of the Republic.

With her security arranged and her household staffed, Padmé travelled to Coruscant to set up her apartment and begin attending the Senate. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was delighted with her appointment and sought to give her Embassy the uppermost levels of the Senate Apartment complex, which was but a short distance from the Senate building. Padmé could not refuse the gift, though she still chose her own apartment within those levels, a penthouse suite that had the benefit of balconies that overlooked the Senate District and a veranda which contained a air speeder docking area. The layout flowed from one room into another, conveying a light and airy atmosphere which reminded her of her family's villa in Varykino, part of Naboo's lake country, where they spent many a vacation in her youth before she became Queen.

All too soon she was swept up in the various functions required of a Senator, such as the official acceptance of her position in a ceremony within the Senate chamber, and various diplomatic and political parties thrown by the Chancellor and her new colleagues to welcome her to their governing body. One such occasion was thrown by Palpatine in a chamber within the Senate building that was reserved for diplomatic dinners and the like. At either end of the room were large transparisteel panes designed to convey the most spectacular views of Coruscant, to impress upon the visiting dignitaries the magnificence of the Jewel of the Core Worlds.

A contingent of Jedi were attending too, partly for political reasons, partly to offer protection to certain members who felt their lives were in danger due to their positions, as Padmé could see when she entered the room, their brown cloaks easily distinguishable from the mass of richly hued dress that was favoured by most of the other dignitaries. As soon as she had ascertained this information she could not help but cast her gaze around the vast chamber in anxious search of one Jedi in particular. It was a likely possibility that he was not attending, there were many members of the Order on Coruscant and scattered across the Republic on missions, but once she had noticed the desert shaded cloaks, the hope of his attendance rose within her and would not die.

Of his appearance she had nothing to go on but the outline of the holo that she had seen the last time they talked, when he called to congratulate her on the eve of her second term as Queen of Naboo and the hope that his looks still held something from their last encounter eight years ago. She was thankful that hers was not the only recent addition to the Senate body, so her current inattention to other guests was left to go unnoticed at present. The main focus was on another new Senator, Rush Clovis of Scipio, whose connections with the Intergalactic Bank carried more weight than her reputation from the Blockade Crisis.

Just as she was about to give up, she caught sight of him. He was with another Jedi, which was perhaps why she had failed to spot him before. His companion was a young girl, her hair styled in the typical half chignon and thin plait of a padawan learner. The sight caused Padmé pleasure, she was glad he had chosen an apprentice at last. There was another in conversation with them too, one of the dignitaries who were visiting Coruscant at present. A stylish, elegant and slender blonde woman, whom Padmé did not recognise, but then that was hardly remarkable, there were few here that she did know. Obi-Wan seemed to know the dignitary well, his manner appeared warm and friendly, his posture relaxed and comfortable. Padmé was just about to make her way over to him when the woman touched his face, gently caressing his cheek. Obi-Wan made no attempt to brush the hand away, and his acceptance of the gesture caused Padmé to pause, doubting whether she would be welcomed or intruding if she joined them.

"Senator Amidala," a voice intoned from behind her then, and she turned to find another of her new colleagues standing before her, his hand held out towards her own.

"Forgive me," the tall, dark and kindly featured man began when it seemed to him that he had her full attention. "I have wanted to meet you ever since I learned from the Chancellor who it was who would replace Horace Vancil. I am a great admirer of your actions during the Blockade Crisis. Your decision to fight the Trade Federation independent of Senate aide was a bold move for a previously pacifist sovereignty, and yet brilliantly executed. It sets an example to others, along with your decision to form an alliance with the Gungans. I was pleased to learn of your desire to remain in the Republic to effect reform from within. It is a desire which many others within the Senate share, as I hope you will learn during your terms of service."

Padmé turned her focus away from the disappointing sight of Obi-Wan and the blonde dignitary to the man who stood before her, smiling as she took his hand. "Thank you, Senator, I am glad to learn that this is the case. It was one of my motives in accepting the post when I stepped down from the throne."

He nodded in understanding, his hand clasping hers in an eager yet gentle promise of friendship. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Bail Organa of Alderaan."

Padmé's eyes widened in recognition and she returned the handshake with more appreciation. "I am delighted to meet you, Senator. I have heard much of you from the Supreme Chancellor and Horace Vancil. I hope we can work well together."

"As do I, Senator," he replied. "And please, call me Bail."

She smiled at him. "Very well, if you will call me Padmé."

The coloured ribbons in her hair caught the light whenever she turned. Few Padawans earned the right to wear bands in their braids until after their first mission, except for the champions of the initiate tournament. Jehane wore two because she had won a bout in the winners tournament as well. If the second of those victories was as a result of her being accepted as a padawan she did not know, as her master had chosen to ask for her after the conclusion on the clan tournament rather than wait until the end of the champion duels. She was grateful that he had done so too, for it had been a relief not to worry about whether she would become a padawan or not throughout the rest of the competition.

She was pleased that she had earned such a distinction for it was only right that the padawan of the Sith Killer should have the potential to be a formidable saber duellist. While the Council might not have wished that news of the return of dark side users to spread beyond their hallowed chambers, it had done so nonetheless, and to be Master Kenobi's padawan was sought after among the initiate clans. Though the Jedi knight himself never referred to the mission, there was a difference in the way his peers and the Masters treated him that stood out to those who saw him when he was at the Temple. A certain note of respect which ran deeper than such emotion reserved for those who were recently promoted from the rank of padawan. Nor was there any difference in the way which he treated her as his apprentice. There were no seemingly impossible demands of skill placed on her, or the expectation to become a legendary Jedi. Master Kenobi wanted her to develop at her own pace, acquire a comfort in her skills before he instructed her in the next, just as her clan masters had conducted themselves before him.

Now she had risen to the rank of apprentice, there was a new regard shown to her as well, along with a sense of expectation that she must be someone extraordinary to have caught the eye of the knight who defeated a sith for the first time in a millennia. Jehane did not feel that there was anything extraordinary about her, nor that her master expected her to be so. He never talked about his past missions, nor did she prompt him to, yet the reputation that they garnered weighed upon their future. His was a formidable legacy, from Qui-Gon Jinn to Count Dooku, to Grand Master Yoda. To be anything less would diminish that.

Her clan had been lucky, in that most of the members were accepted by knights or masters. Only a few had gone to the corps, which though was an honour to serve in, was not sought for by any initiates. Jehane had expected to become a padawan, for the art of combat was the way of her people and there were no such roles within the corps. That may have given her an advantage over the rest of her peers, but in many ways it was actually quite the reverse. She had to learn how to exercise a greater rate of control over her instincts and emotions, tutor herself in the ability of coming to know someone through conversation rather than combat.

Since she had become an apprentice her time in combat had only increased as she began to learn new saber forms. These were more complex than the first which all initiates learned to acquire and required more time spent in the training salles in order to become skilled in them. For the most part Master Kenobi taught her the new forms, but she also continued to receive instruction from the Temple docents who had taught her when she was an initiate. Aside from combat she also gained knowledge and understanding within the Force, philosophy, science, history, culture, languages, diplomacy, economics, in short all the necessary skills that a Jedi needed.

Soon she would be able to leave the Temple and travel with her master about the galaxy, serving the Force and the Republic. For now she was to attend a social evening at the Senate building. A Jedi presence had been requested by the Chancellor in light of the going security fears which surrounded the Separatists. Many former members of the Senate had withdrawn their systems from the Republic and banded together to form a Confederacy, the growing size of which was becoming a daily concern to the Senate, who feared that their former colleagues might wish to attack them in order that their cries for reform would attract greater attention than they already were doing. Her attendance was a test to see if she was ready to represent the Order outside the Temple. If she performed well, then she would be allowed to go on missions with her master.

They had arrived at the Senate just as the sunlight was fading from the optical receptors that controlled Coruscant's environment. With Master Kenobi by her side she entered the vast chamber reserved for the social occasion, the sights and sounds clamouring for her attention, so different were they to what she saw within the Temple. Her training taught her to resist the temptations however, and so she looked towards to her master as a guide for how to behave. She could sense from him a mild distaste for parties such as this, along with a veiled sarcasm of opinion concerning the politicians present. Clearly this was an occasion to be endured for him, and that conclusion made her feel a little guilty that her further development was dependent on attending such parties as these.

"Do not worry, my padawan," Master Kenobi whispered gently to her as they advanced further into the room, "it is something I will suffer gladly for you. And our partnership should compliment each other, so it would not do for you to acquire all my bad habits," he added, making her laugh.

They mingled together for a time, her master introducing her to those dignitaries and Senators he knew, or who chose to make his acquaintance. Though the Order tried to keep the names of their members private, there were those whose missions caused them to acquire a certain reputation, and her master was one of them, though through no desire of his own to achieve such notoriety. As his padawan she garnered a certain curiosity, though it was up to her to determine whether or not it was kindly meant.

In a moment alone, her master seemed to cast his gaze about the room as if he were in search of someone. Jehane wanted to help him and was about to ask who he was searching for when another of the dignitaries interrupted, claiming an acquaintance.

"What a pleasure it is to see you again, Obi-Wan, it has been far too long," the woman said as she halted in front of them.

Her master bowed and Jehane followed suit. "Duchess Satine, I had not realised you were here," he replied. "It has been too long. I hope you are well?"

"I shall be when Mandalore is fully recovered from its troubles. I came to Coruscant to secure alliances and aid to relieve the suffering of my people. But you do not need to listen to my sales pitch, for you are all too familiar with the trials that my world has gone through, when you and Master Jinn visited. How is he, by the way?"

"He is well, thank you, Duchess," Master Kenobi replied. "I shall convey your regards the next time I see him."

"I see you have your own padawan now," the Duchess added, offering her hand to Jehane, who smiled kindly as she took it. "I hope you will forgive me for interrupting your time with your master, child. He and I spent some months together when he was an apprentice."

Jehane nodded, not sure what she should say in response to that. The Duchess accepted her silent gesture and turned her attention back to Master Kenobi, her hand moving from their clasp to caress his face in a gesture which hinted at a greater intimacy with Master Kenobi than Jehane had realised.

"I do hope we shall have a chance to spend some time with each other," the Duchess said to Master Kenobi, her hand yet to move from his cheek. "I have missed your company."

"I am afraid my young apprentice keeps me busy," her master replied, "but if you wish it, you may contact the Temple and they will see to it that I receive the message."

The Duchess nodded and then moved on to another set of dignitaries, leaving Jehane to stare at her master in surprise. He did not seem to acknowledge her astonishment however, for his gaze was fixed on something behind them, causing her own to turn round so she could see what it is was that he appeared to be looking it.

Across the room from them stood another pair of Senators in close conversation, a tall dark featured man about a decade older than her master, and a younger woman, older than her, but younger than her master. She too had dark brown hair, which made a startling contrast to her lightly tanned skin. The long curls were styled in a more elaborate way than her own, Jehane idly wondered how it took to achieve such an complex display.

She was dressed in a similarly elegant manner to the Duchess, her long purple gown interwoven with black thread and multicoloured jewelled highlights that sparkled in the light. Similar crystals were pinned throughout her hair as well, lending another layer of complexity and beauty. She and her colleague were deep in conversation, though from this distance it was impossible to discern the nature of their discussion, other than it was not of a violent nature, given their comfortable and confident stances.

Jehane wondered who she was and how she and Master Kenobi knew each other, for it was evident on her master's part that he did, from the way he turned to look at her, and his frozen watch upon her and her companion ever since he caught either sight or sense of them. Her master seemed unable to move his gaze or attention from her, yet his emotions were deeply veiled, she could not penetrate his thoughts through their training bond or sense what he was currently feeling through the Force.

Then suddenly she felt his focus switch back to her, the motion too abrupt for her to reach any further conclusions about what she had witnessed. "Come padawan, we must pay our respects to the Chancellor," he said, before leading her away to the part of the room where Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was currently residing within. With one final glance at the couple of Senators, who were still talking and had yet to notice either her or her master, Jehane walked away.

Part 14: Intrigues of Smoke & Ash.

The sliver ship exited hyperspace, escorted by three star fighters, swirling in a gentle arc as they approached the Jewel of the Core Worlds. Coruscant glittered darkly, the surface a brilliant facet in the endless night of space. No sound heralded their arrival, save for the noise of the engines, which rumbled like a gentle thunderstorm rolling into the previously calm tempered firmament. Slowly they broke the atmosphere and made their way through the city skyline, an endless formation of multifloor monolithic buildings and high powered airspeeders. Carefully navigating their way round both forms of obstacles, the sliver ship and the star fighters glided towards the floating platform adjacent to the Senatorial Apartment District. Their destination was deserted, though the sight of the empty platform gave the crew little comfort. Any number of hidden dangers could be lurking within that desolate floating structure of permacrete, from pressure bombs to time rigged explosions. No way of determining which, if any until it was too late.

Above the platform there were dangers too. The silver ship posed a tempting target even before it could land, its slender graceful lines displaying little in the way of defences and everything in the way of beauty and speed, two assets highly prized by pirates or other opportunists. Nothing was allowed to disrupt this calm sculptured exterior, save perhaps the shielding which was invisible to the naked eye. Like a winged creature it seemed to ride the currents of the atmosphere, swooping and hovering in the sky as it circled the area around the floating permacrete before gliding down towards its destination.

Inside the silver ship as well as outside lay only the appearance of calm. A sense of anticipation hung in the air, knowing that the wait for their arrival would soon be over, the nerves at an end, either in grief at the danger made manifest, or relief at being proved overcautious. In a effort to distract their thoughts the crew and passengers within busied themselves with the duties required of their positions in the household of a senator. Amidala was returning to Coruscant after a long absence spent on Naboo. There were many matters to arrange, committees to attend, flimsi work to be filed. None of them had time to stand and stare admiringly at the approaching skyline of the jewel of the Core Worlds, not even the pilots whose duty it was to ride the atmospheric currents towards the landing platform that awaited them.

One of those pilots was concerned with both the obligations required of her and her colleagues in the other star fighters, those charged with flying the large silver ship, and those of a leading politician of the Republic. In a bold move, Captain Typho had decided that Senator Amidala would not arrive on Coruscant aboard her silver yacht, but instead within one of the three star fighters escorting that vessel. During her absence from the Senate Padmé had spent some time acquiring a star fighter's licence, using her original surname of Naberrie, rather than the one she had assumed when she became Queen in order that the move remained undetected by those who threatened her life.

It was these security concerns which had caused her long absence from Coruscant. Tensions between the Republic and the Separatists had grown over the last two years, to such an extent that there was a motion in the Senate for the Republic to have an army. She did not support such an action, for she knew that it would only push the Republic and the Separatists even closer to war. But her opposition to the motion had put her life in danger, and there was chatter within the Republic intelligence that a bounty was set on her head. While she monitored the progress of the Military Creation Act from her office on Naboo, Typho had increased measures for her protection, preparing for when she would have to return to Coruscant and cast her vote.

She had left Naboo dealing with its own tensions for the jewel of the Core Worlds, as there were protests being held by the spice miners over their contracts. Such unrest was unusual on her planet and yet another example of just how much the galaxy was affected by the current divisions of the Republic. There was also another concern, the news that the Trade Federation had joined the Separatists. Padmé knew that there was good reason for the Confederacy to court the various commercial guilds for an alliance and the Trade Federation were still mired in the legal trouble which had emerged during the aftermath of the Blockade Crisis. It would make sense for them to seize the opportunity to distance themselves from the Republic, although she would have thought that most of the Separatists would be opposed to their membership, considering that it was the Trade Federation whose blockade of her world which began the division within the Republic in the first place.

If the chatter about there being a bounty on her head was true, then Padmé believed that it was Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation who was behind it. When he left Naboo under Republic custody to stand trial before the Courts, she had hoped the Trade Federation would wash their hands of him, but they had not, choosing instead to use their wealth to delay the legal proceedings against him. Ten years had passed since his blockade of her world and he was still a Viceroy. Padmé hoped that one of the prices of his alliance with the Separatists was not her head on a platter.

Captain Typho conveyed to her and the other star fighter pilot that they were allowed to make the final approach to the landing platform at that moment, causing Padmé to emerge from her introspection in order focus on landing the ship. She was qualified not only to handle small vessels, but big ships too, such as the silver craft which she was supposed to be aboard right now, instead of one of the escorting fighters. But though Typho decided that she would pose as one of the pilots, she would not be flying her yacht because the threat to her life was more likely to centre on the sliver vessel rather than one of the escort vessels. Padmé appreciated the concern her security felt over her safety, but felt that they were being perhaps a little over cautious. She also agreed with him that due to her stance within the Senate for continued negotiations with the Confederacy rather than resorting to the violence of conflict, it was unlikely that the Separatists would see her as a threat. So either the Trade Federation were acting alone, or it had been their price for an alliance with the Confederacy, or the chatter within Republic intelligence was nothing more than rumour.

As she closed on the platform Padmé smoothly engaged the thrusters and landing struts, gently adjusting her speed until the Naboo starfighter came to a perfect stop followed by that of her other escorts and lastly the silver craft itself. She waited for Captain Typho's vessel to set down beside her, before throwing back the canopy over the cockpit and climbing out of the ship.

"We made it," he murmured to her as she joined him on the permacrete, "I guess I was wrong. There was no danger after all."

"There's always danger, Captain," Padmé replied through the anonymous safety of her helmet. "Sometimes we're just lucky enough to avoid it."

He turned to say something else to her, but abandoned further comment as the ramp of the cruiser lowered and two of the guards aboard the ship descended. These two were joined another duo who stationed themselves either side of the hatch, all four assessing the security of their surroundings before allowing the senator, or rather, the passenger who was posing as the senator, to come forth. After a short pause she emerged, clothed in a richly woven gown of gold and dark brown threads. Her name was Cordé Velais, and she was one of her handmaidens whom Typho recruited from the Queen's household when Padmé accepted the position of Senator.

To anyone who might be watching, Cordé closely resembled her, right down to the elaborate hairstyle and costume that Padmé still favoured for her official duties, partly by choice, partly for the continued use of the decoy security measure, first employed when she came to the throne, in light of King Veruna's mysterious death, shortly after his abdication. Ten years later and still no one was sure what had happened to her predecessor after he stepped down from the throne, other than speculation that perhaps Black Sun had decided he was no longer a useful to them or was too dangerous to left to live out his retirement. He had been found lying in his bed, in the castle owned by the Earl of Vis, who was Veruna's cousin and a key supporter of his election to the throne. Although cause of death had been ruled as natural by the Western Reaches coroner, many within the governing body of Naboo still questioned his passing so soon after he had resigned from the throne.

Escorted by two further guards, Cordé swiftly descended the ramp of the silver yacht for the cover and protection offered by the waiting senate transport vessel, which would take all of them to the Nubian Embassy and then the Senate.

What happened next was too sudden and unexpected for anyone to do something to prevent it. Almost as soon Cordé's feet touched the permacrete there was an explosion, turning the platform into a port of chaos. Smoke surrounded them, shielding the extent of the damage from both the city and those involved. Everyone upon the permacrete and within the silver yacht were thrown from their stance or seat, stunned by the force of the blow.

Padmé could feel the smoke and ash caused by the explosion cling to her body, making her eyes sting. Her ears were pounding from the strength of the noise, she could hear nothing but the initial boom, echoing over and over as her mind struggled to come to terms with the chaos surrounding her. Forced by the violence of the explosion to fall upon the permacrete, it took her precious seconds to recover from the sudden stumble, both emotionally and physically. As soon as she had established that she was able to rise, Padmé rushed to her decoy's side, her own safety no longer her concern. Kneeling by the prone body, her grief soon turned into startled relief, as to her surprise Cordé held out a hand in a silent request for assistance so she could stand. Casting a glance around the explosion site, slowly revealed to her now by the fading smoke, Padmé saw that her pilots and the other members of her household that had accompanied her to Coruscant were also not injured by the blast.

Captain Typho along with the rest of her security detail surrounded her and Cordé at that moment, cutting off her view, as well as providing her and her decoy protection. "Milady, you may still be in danger. Get to the transport and leave the investigation of this to me."

Understanding that there was little she could do except get to safety, Padmé wrapped an arm around Cordé and under the protection of the anxious men of her security detail rushed to the waiting transport. As the airspeeder flew away from the floating platform, she turned her gaze upon it, unable to believe that so much damage had cost her so little. She could not comprehend who would go to the trouble of setting up a false explosion. It was possible that the device had failed to explode completely, but that still did not answer her question as to who was responsible for the attack. Part of her was still on edge as well, worried that whoever was to blame had learned that the explosion was not successful and was preparing or had something else lying in wait for her, to further ensure her death.

Fortunately she and her staff arrived at the Embassy unharmed, giving her the chance to push her speculation aside for now and on focus on what she was going to say to the Senate when she came to face them. It was impossible that news of the explosion would have escaped their notice, it was only the last in a spate of recent attacks against herself and her colleagues, all which were the basis of the arguments for the formation of an army for the Republic. It would not surprise her to learn if the Chancellor was delivering her eulogy upon the Senate floor at this very moment. Whether or not her colleagues would stop to mourn or use the event to further their own agendas was another matter.

Once she was attired in a dress that was much more elaborate than her pilot jumpsuit, Padmé returned to the transport for the short journey to the Senate. She could hear Palpatine speaking as she entered her pod, attempting to calm the outraged Senators who were crying for an army of the Republic.

"Must I remind the senator from Malastare that negotiations are continuing with the Separatists?" He asked rhetorically, his voice echoing across the Senate floor from his pod contained within the centre of the chamber. "Peace is our objective here, not war."

"You say this while your friend lies dead, assassinated by the same people with whom you wish to negotiate?" Ask Aak, the Senator for Malastare countered. "Did you not just name Amidala as your friend?"

"Order," Mas Amedda, the Chancellor's aide cried. "Senators, please!"

From within her pod, her arrival unnoticed as yet by the chaos within the Senate chamber, Padmé shook her head at the sight in disgust. "This is exactly why Count Dooku was able to convince so many systems to secede," she commented.

"There are many who believe that the Republic has become too large and disjointed," said Dormé Enchmaé, another one of her handmaidens and decoys, who like Cordé was wearing a cowl designed to conceal the resemblance to her Senator.

The pod left its moorings and moved towards the centre of the arena. Padmé caught the look of blatant shock upon the Supreme Chancellor's face, before he comprehended that the sight before his eyes was actually real and not a figment of his grief, and a wide smile broke across his face, as he inclined his head, wordlessly giving her permission to speak.

"I concur with the Supreme Chancellor," Padmé began, addressing all assembled. "At all costs, we do not want war!"

"It is with great surprise and joy that the chair recognises the Senator from Naboo, Padmé Amidala," Palpatine declared.

Padmé waited for the applause in appreciation of her remarkable escape to die down before she continued to speak. "Less than an hour ago, an assassination attempt was made upon my life. I was the target, but more importantly, I believe this security measure before you was the target. I have led the opposition to building an army, but there is someone who will stop at nothing to secure its passage. I warn you, if you vote to create this army, war will follow. I have experienced the misery of war firsthand; I do not wish to do so again."

"This is insanity," Senator Orn Free Taa yelled, interrupting her. "I move that we defer this vote immediately."

"Wake up Senators, you must wake up," Padmé continued, ignoring him. "If we offer the separatists violence, they can only show us violence in return. Many will lose their lives, all will lose their freedom. This decision could well destroy the very foundation of our great Republic. I pray you do let fear push you into a disastrous decision. Vote down this security measure, which is nothing less than a declaration of war. Does anyone here want that? I cannot believe that they do."

"By precedence of order, my motion to defer the vote must be dealt with first," Orn Free Taa demanded. "That is the rule of law."

"In view of the lateness of the hour and the seriousness of this motion, we will take up these matters tomorrow," Palpatine announced. "Until then, the Senate stands adjourned."

With the Senators dismissed, Padmé returned her pod to the chamber then left for the Chancellor's office. Palpatine would want a meeting with the Loyalist committee after this delay and attack upon her, and she was one of its members.

As she entered his office, she noticed that some representatives of the Jedi Council were already present, the most revered of them stepping forward to greet her when he sensed her arrival, his gimer stick quietly tapping along the carpeted floor.

"With you, the Force is strong, young Senator," he pronounced. "Your tragedy on the landing platform, terrible. Seeing you alive brings warm feelings to my heart."

"Thank you, Master Yoda," Padmé replied, touched by the Jedi's words. "Do you have any idea who was behind this attack?"

"We have nothing definitive," Master Windu offered from his place near the Chancellor's desk, which was situated on a dais away and above the entrance.

"Do you believe the Separatists might be responsible?" she asked them, anxious for a key as to who was behind the attack on her life.

"In dark times, nothing is what it appears to be," Master Yoda mused. "But the fact remains, Senator, in grave danger you are."

"Master Jedi," Chancellor Palpatine remarked at that moment. "May I suggest that the Senator be placed under the protection of your graces?"

"Do you think that's a wise use of our limited resources at this stressful time?" Senator Organa interjected. "Thousands of systems have gone over fully to the Separatists, and many more may soon join them. The Jedi are our-"

"Chancellor," Padmé interrupted her colleague and her friend, "if I may comment, I do not believe the-"

"Situation is that serious," Palpatine finished for her. "No, but I do, Senator."

"Chancellor, please!" Padmé pleaded. "I do not want any more guards!"

"I realise all too well that additional security might be disruptive for you," he remarked. "But perhaps someone you are familiar with, an old friend like Master Kenobi?"

Master Windu nodded in agreement. "That's possible, he has just returned from a border dispute on Ansion."

"Do it for me, M'Lady," Palpatine begged. "Please. I will rest easier. We had a big scare today. The thought of losing you is unbearable."

Padmé knew it was useless to continue to refuse. In truth she and Captain Typho could do with a fresh perspective on this matter, and her heart leapt at the thought of seeing Obi-Wan again, despite the slight pang of jealousy still present from the memory of when she last saw him, at a social event shortly after she had joined the Senate, when he was in the company of a blonde woman who seemed to know him quite intimately. She had never learnt her name, nor had she taken any effort to find out, worried that once she discovered such information, her fears would prove to have a secure foundation.

"I will have Obi-Wan report to you immediately, M'Lady," Master Windu informed her.

Master Yoda leaned in close to her as he exited the office. "Too little about yourself you worry, Senator, and too much about politics. Be mindful of your danger, Padmé. Accept our help."

Part 15: Thoughts on a Reunion.

Obi-Wan was snatching a few moments of peace within the Temple walls from a mission filled two years, training his padawan when the message from Master Windu about his new assignment reached his ears. He had not heard of the attempt on Senator Amidala's life, as his own transport was just entering Coruscant's atmosphere when the explosion occurred. When he entered the Temple, she was speaking on the floor of the Senate, transforming the tragedy into a miraculous escape and turning the attention back on the Military Creation Act.

Before he and Jehane had returned to the Jewel of the Core Worlds they were with another master and padawan team, Luminara Unduli and Barriss Offee, on Ansion, a minor planet situated in a major strategic position, whose government competing outside political forces were trying to manipulate for their own ends. The Council had sent them to secure Ansion's alliance for the Republic before the machinations caused it to secede to the Separatist Confederacy, taking a whole swathe of systems with it, thanks to a series of treaties which ensured certain alliances. It had been an interesting mission, full of experiences, from kidnapping, trekking across an unknown desert terrain, treating with nomads and city politicians, to a race from one end of the capital to reach Ansion's government building at the other, dodging pirates, terrorists and incendiaries along the way.

His padawan had distinguished herself well, proving capable of defending and protecting others, obeying the will of her masters and the Force, despite the all the trials which they encountered. Jehane was still young, but indisputably on her way to becoming a competent Jedi. She only needed a few more years of training to make her extraordinary. The Force had guided him well in forming the partnership, their skills complimented each other, which reflected through their reputation within the Order, though neither of them cared about that.

All of this rumination however was gone from his mind within moments of hearing the message from Master Windu. Everything within him had stilled when Senator Amidala's name was mentioned, his emotions too buffered by the shock as they learned of the explosion, followed by the overpowering relief that she was unharmed, and the anticipation that he and his padawan had been assigned to offer her further protection.

He had not seen her since that diplomatic function two years ago, one of the last domestic assignments offered to him before Jehane was judged ready to join him on missions away from the Temple. They had not spoken, she had been in conversation with another senator, a man he later learned to be Bail Organa of Alderaan, one of the rare beings in the Republic who was not in the Senate to further his own agenda or indulge in extra marital affairs. Had he known of the Senator's identity when he caught sight of them he would have sought her presence and conversation, but he had not, which tempered his desires and caused him to doubt if his intrusion would be welcome, so much so that he never made the attempt. But who she had been in company with that last time he caught sight of her was incidental to what he thought of her, despite the passing years since he showed her what he felt.

The kiss they shared a decade ago may have been a gesture of farewell, a product of the friendship they had formed over working together to lift the blockade on her planet, but it was also something which he had not forgotten during the ensuing years, or failed to meditate upon each sensation that he felt or sensed. When he contacted her to offer his congratulations for securing a second term as Queen of the Naboo four years after that farwell, the promise he made of the possibility that the kiss could lead to something more, was both impulsive and sincere, and that she returned such a declaration by confessing she felt the same, was welcome. She had added the warning that she could not act upon her feelings while she was Queen, an answer which together with the consideration for her youth, cautioned him to wait for her to initiate the relationship rather than doing so himself.

He should have called her earlier, and kept in touch with her during the ensuing years, but time had not been his own. Mission after mission dictated the first years of his knighting, then addition of training a padawan took care of the rest. Duty to the Force came first, followed by the same to his padawan and to the Republic, a prior commitment he came to terms with a long time ago and never harboured resentment over what sacrifices he might have to make in return. If he did so, then he had no right to be a Jedi. He also knew that whatever his own feelings may be, he had no right to presume that her own were the same, or to exert pressure until they came to be. She was her own woman, and he admired her for that.

Now circumstances and perhaps the Force had caused them to have time in each other's company again, and although he was saddened by the attack on her, he was glad of the chance to meet and talk with her. As Jehane shut down and tided away the training probes, calling to Obi-Wan's mind the first time he had encountered Padmé, and shown her how to defend herself with a lightsaber against the randomised laser beams that the devices produced in the cargo bay of her ship, he wondered if he should accept this assignment, in light of his feelings, which could affect how he handled the protection.

Some years ago, when he was a padawan, he had been tasked with ensuring the safety of another young woman whom he cared for, and he remembered the conflict the combination of feelings and pressures of the protection caused him. Qui-Gon respected his emotions, but also cautioned him to be mindful, for while he was a padawan he was forbidden to act upon his feelings. At the time, he had heeded his master, wisely as it turned out, for the feelings faded into a warm friendship, as had other attractions that he came to know during his youth.

Whether this would happen with Padmé he was as yet uncertain, for they had not spent enough time together for him to realise this since their parting ten years ago. Certainly plenty of years had passed to make such feelings fade away, and the fact that they had not was a possible argument in favour of confessing as much to the Council and refusing the assignment. But Obi-Wan also knew that one of the reasons why the feelings had not faded was that he and Padmé had not been in each other's company enough to ascertain such since. He also knew that even if he did make the Council aware of this possible conflict, they would very likely put the onus on him to prove to himself and to the Order that he was capable of dealing with such feelings whilst on such an assignment. As well as provide his padawan with a useful lesson in how or how not to handle her own feelings if she ever came to find herself in a similar situation.

There was also another conflict to caution him, that of their positions within the Republic. Discretion was impressed upon each Jedi when it came to relationships, for emotional connections made them vulnerable, and put their partners and offspring at risk. The Order also made considerable effort not involve themselves in the politics of the Senate, other than as advisors, although the Supreme Chancellor was in the habit of listening to their wisdom rather frequently of late, whether he chose to take heed of it was another matter. A relationship between a Senator and a Jedi would lead some to believe that the Order was not as impartial as they claimed to be, and in such times as these, with the tension relations between the Republic and the Separatists, that was a dangerous perception to create.

So even if they wished to explore their feelings, it would perhaps be wise if they did not, at least for the moment. Although hopefully, there was no harm in finding out whether they existed and to what degree. And to do so, he would need to spend time with her, so there was no question of refusing this assignment.

Obi-Wan exited the training salle followed by Jehane. His padawan had accepted the assignment with unquestioning obedience, her silence mind as serene as an undisturbed pool. She was far calmer than he had been at her age, but then girls usually matured faster than boys. He held no fears about her capability to undertake the protection of a senator, nor did he feel that the mission was beneath her talents, there was no place in the Order for such arrogance. Her acceptance was a lesson for him, another sign that their partnership was working well and had been accepted by the Force. He took it on board and quietened his mind, pushing aside all thoughts in favour of the task in front of him.

Pausing briefly by their quarters for the usual necessities required during missions such as these, master and padawan exited the temple via the public transport dock, where they boarded an airspeeder enroute to the Senate District. Around them beings gasped and whispered in awe amongst themselves but refrained from venturing from their seats to offer conversation. Jedi were not a rare sight within the capital but nor were they a common one either. Seeing them outside of the Temple walls or Senate chambers was still something to be treasured and remarked upon, though few chose to engage themselves more deeply within the encounter now.

Once there had been a time when there was no fear in approaching a Jedi, but the recent division within the Republic had made beings cautious and wary of known unknowns. Civil unrest bred distrust even amongst passing acquaintances and close friends, as no one knew who to support anymore; Republic or Separatist. The Supreme Chancellor had attempted a public relations campaign in order to boost morale, but so far it did not seem to be working. Every time he and Jehane returned to capital from an assignment the atmosphere of tension and distrust seemed to increase. Preventing Ansion from seceding to the Confederacy, along with all the systems whose alliances and treaties required them to follow should have alleviated some concerns, but then again perhaps the significance of what they had achieved was small in comparison to the size of the division within the Republic and the concern that if the Military Creation Act passed, the possibility of civil war was all the more likely.

Almost from the moment the Confederacy was formed, there was a proposal to have an army for the Republic on the Senate floor. Initially such a caution was easily dismissed, but as more systems left to join the Separatists, it slowly began to gather support. Now there was almost an even split between which Senators favoured having an army and which opposed such a precaution. Whilst the Supreme Chancellor continued to negotiate with the Confederacy and attempted to delay the passage of the Military Creation Act, patience for a decision faded and tempers frayed in frustration.

The Order had little influence over which way the decision went. They had no power within the Senate to cast a vote, and not enough members to protect every system within the Republic. All they could do was continue to offer what aid they could to the systems who asked them. As to whether they felt an army was necessary, opinion was divided, both within the Order and without. Those who asked them what they thought often received a cryptic answer which told them nothing. Each member knew that it was wise to hold their peace over the matter, than offer an opinion which was bound to carry great influence. Their powers and reputation were still highly regarded, it would not do to misuse them.

Reaching the Senate District, they disembarked from the airspeeder, crossed the permacrete decorative square which lay before the skyscrapers and entered the building that housed the Nubian Embassy. An empty turbolift awaited them, followed by a high speed journey within that small cylinder to the required floor.

"May I ask if you know Senator Amidala, Master?" Jehane inquired when the turbolift reached the midpoint of the skyscraper.

"You may, padawan," Obi-Wan replied dryly, as he chose what to reveal to her. "I met her ten years ago when she was Queen of Naboo, during the Blockade Crisis. The former Supreme Chancellor, Finis Valorum, sent myself and Master Jinn to negotiate with the Trade Federation. The Viceroy proved reluctant to listen to our entreaties, so we turned to the Queen, who along with the Gungans was more receptive."

A rather simplistic summary of what was to be his last assignment as a padawan, but Jehane knew enough political history, not to mention the rumours within the temple about that particular mission to surmise most of the details which lay behind her master's reply. As for his feelings towards her, Obi-Wan preferred to keep knowledge of their existence between himself and Padmé, for the present.

The turbolift came to a halt upon the required floor, its door sliding aside to reveal the empty foyer for the Nubian Embassy. Another door opened as the Master and padawan stepped out of the lift, from which emerged a well dressed Gungan, who until recognising the Jedi Master standing before him, appeared so dignified a contrast from their previous encounters, which made his transformation into the youthful joy which Obi-Wan had seen before quite startling.

"Obi! Obi! Obi!" he then cried, raising his hands in salutation before rushing forward to take the master's in their clasp. "Mesa so smilen to see'en yousa! Wahooo!"

"Its good to see you too, Jar Jar," Obi-Wan replied, clasping the Gungan's proffered hand warmly in an effort to calm the exuberance.

Jar Jar accepted the subtle pressure and resurrected his dignity, though it appeared to take considerable effort. Turning he caught sight of Obi-Wan's by now rather bewildered companion. "And this, mesa guessen, issen yousa apprentice."

"Jehane Doah, this is Jar Jar Binks, Gungan Representative to Senate," Obi-Wan remarked. "Jar Jar, this is my apprentice, Jehane Doah of Enshan."

"Mesa pleased to you," Jar Jar said, shaking the padawan's hand energetically. "Mesa take you to Senator Amidala."

Jar Jar turned rapidly and walked to the entrance of the apartment, leaving master and apprentice to follow. The doors parted to reveal a wide expanse of blues and creams, with an sunken seating area and a raised balcony, on which a young woman and her security officer surveyed the passing traffic. Another woman stood in the space between the two areas, her resemblance to the woman upon the balcony both striking and revealing as to her role of handmaiden and decoy.

"Mesa here," Jar cried, causing the trio to turn their focus towards the door and the visitors. "Lookie! Lookie! Desa Jedi arriven."

Obi-Wan's gaze never left the senator as she moved from the balcony to greet him. In the two years since he had last seen her, she had only grown more beautiful. Her slim curved figure was clothed in a dark purple gown which was parted down the middle and at the shoulders to reveal a lighter shade bodice, with full length skirt and wide long sleeves, both of which were embellished with elaborate stitching. Around her neck and hair were a series of gold circles arranged close together, fanning over the coiled brown tresses. While she was queen her clothes had been exotic, fit for a deity. When he last saw her she was attired only in a night gown and shawl, a look that was somehow both woman and girl at once. The contrast between what she wore then and what she was wearing now could not be greater, yet Obi-Wan still saw all those qualities which caused him to admire her a decade ago.

He greeted her in the same manner that he had the first time they saw each other, in the cloistered grounds of Theed Palace, with a gallant bow of respect and devotion. "It is a great pleasure to see you again, milady," he uttered, proffering his hand forward as he rose.

"It has been far too long, Master Kenobi," Padmé said, taking his hand in hers and looking up into his blue grey eyes with such an expression of warmth that he wished they were alone so he might express his admiration in the manner he desired rather than what common courtesy allowed.

"May I introduce my padawan learner, Jehane Doah of Enshan," Obi-Wan said, as he stepped aside so his apprentice could meet the Senator.

"I delighted to see you, Padawan Doah," Padmé said, taking the young girl's hand in her own. "I am so glad your master has chosen to take an apprentice at last. He is a good teacher, whose skills must not be wasted."

"It is a honour to learn from him, milady," Jehane replied quietly.

Pleasantries over, Padmé turned back to Master Kenobi. "While I am pleased to see you," she said, "I must say that I think that your presence is unnecessary."

"I am sure that the members of the Jedi Council have their reasons for assigning us to your protection," Obi-Wan replied. "They would argue that the Force was with you on that landing platform, but the fact that the explosion failed does not make you safe."

"Fail it did," she echoed. "And my security's investigation discovered that such a failure was by deliberate design."

"While that is true, I'm very grateful you're here, Master Kenobi," her security chief broke forth then, stepping forward to stand beside his mistress. "The situation is more dangerous than the Senator will admit."

"I don't need more security," Padmé protested as she headed for the living area, causing the Jedi to follow. She sat down, silently gesturing for them to take a seat opposite her. "I need answers. I want to know who is behind this. Someone must want me dead, or their attempts are part of a deliberate propaganda campaign to advance their agenda."

"That is what the Council have ordered me to establish," Obi-Wan assured her. "As well as protecting you from possible future attempts. They have also advised me to tell you some information which must not leave this room."

"You may be assured of our secrecy," Padmé avowed.

"When I returned from Naboo, there was a disturbance within the Temple Archives. Someone was trying to remove evidence of a certain system's existence from our records. Master Dooku was tasked with travelling there to discover why."

"Is that when he left the Jedi Order and formed the Confederacy?" Padmé sought to confirm.

"He has not left the Order," Obi-Wan revealed, "even though that is what the Council has let everyone believe. While he was conducting his initial inquiries, a crisis erupted upon his homeworld, which seemed to be linked to his investigations. His findings on Serenno led him to believe that there is a scheme to evoke a civil war within the Republic. With the approval of the Council, he decided to become the leader of one faction, in the hope that it would reveal who was behind desiring such strife."

"Instead it has only escalated matters," Padmé mused. "I do not blame Master Dooku for the current situation. Concern and paranoia has led to the Senate's present turmoil over whether or not to raise an army. All the same, I hope he realises that we are one small step away from war."

"Or peace, from a certain point of view," Obi-Wan countered. "You may be assured that Master Dooku will do what he can to prevent war breaking out, milady. He is one of the finest masters within the Order. Qui-Gon Jinn served as his apprentice."

"Now that is a good recommendation," Padmé commented sincerely. "Do you wish to familiarise yourselves with Captain Typho's security arrangements?"

"Jehane," Obi-Wan began, causing his padawan to switch her attention from the Senator and her household to her master. "Go with Captain Typho and take stock of the security systems downstairs. I need to talk further with Senator Amidala."

"Yes, master," Jehane acknowledged the directive with a swift inclination of her blonde head before rising from the sofa to follow the security officer out of the room.

Obi-Wan watched them go before turning his glance back on the Senator, to find that Padmé had dismissed her handmaiden as well, leaving them alone within the living area.

"It is good to see you with a padawan," she began warmly, smiling at him. "How are you finding teaching?"

"Interesting and rewarding," he answered in the same manner. "There are times when I find myself saying things Qui-Gon once said, words that I swore I would never say, having been on the receiving end of them and too young to realise the wisdom within."

"And how is Master Jinn?" she inquired.

"He is well," Obi-Wan replied. "I still see him when I am temple bound, if I the Council grant me the time to do so between assignments, or when our paths cross. He has a new padawan now, the boy he freed on Tatooine."

Padmé nodded. "I remember Eirtaé telling me of him. Master Jinn freed his mother as well, didn't he?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan confirmed. "They've been married some six years now." He paused before venturing one of his own questions. "How are you finding being a Senator?"

"A lot harder than being Queen," she laughed ruefully. "You say the title with some distaste, Obi-Wan. Do you not like politicians?"

"With all due respect, it's been my experience that Senators focus only on pleasing those who fund their campaigns, and they are more than willing to forget the niceties of democracy to get those funds."

"So I'm discovering," Padmé acknowledged dryly. "I hope you do not believe that of every politician?"

"Not of you," he answered honestly. "Or Senator Organa, perhaps. But most politicians are vulnerable to various forms of corruption. Even the Chancellor is very clever at following the passions and prejudices of your colleagues."

"I noticed that too," she agreed. "You know Senator Organa?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Only by reputation. I saw him with you once, at the welcoming party Palpatine held for you and Senator Clovis."

Padmé looked at him surprised. "I wished you had come to talk to me then. I saw you too, but in conversation with someone whom I didn't recognise." She paused before adding nervously, "it appeared quite intimate, so I didn't intrude."

He frowned slightly, puzzled. "Who do you mean?"

"I never learnt her name. She was blonde, with a slim figure. She touched your cheek."

"Duchess Satine Kryze of Mandalore," Obi-Wan answered. "Master Jinn and I were tasked with protecting her during the Great Clan Wars." He took a breath before he continued to explain their history. "It was a hard assignment. We were on the run for the most of it, living hand to mouth. Such missions tend to breed intimacy. She was attracted to me and for a time I believed that I returned her feelings. But when we returned to the temple, those emotions faded, for me at least."

"You made me a promise once, regarding such emotions," Padmé reminded him. "I told you that I could not accept it, not while I was Queen. But I realised soon after I became a Senator, that I still can't, for it would cast a perception of political bias on the Order."

"Even if that did not trouble the Order, while I'm tasked with protecting you, we cannot have a relationship," Obi-Wan added. "But I assure you that my memory has not forgotten that promise, nor have my feelings for you faded."

"Nor have mine," she returned. "Though at times I wonder how much of it is imagined, for it was only a farewell kiss, after a fraught mission."

Obi-Wan rose from the sofa and crossed the distance between them, until he could reach out his hand to take her own, raising her to her feet. Tenderly he cupped her face as he tilted his own, to touch her lips with his.

Part 16: Reckless Politicking.

When Jehane returned to the apartment she found her master and the Senator still in conversation, although they had moved to the balcony area. The topic of their discussion was the same business that occupied the Senate, the Military Creation Act.

"What is the Jedi's position?" Padmé asked him. "I know from the Chancellor that the Council desire peace, but what do other members of the Order think?"

"I cannot speak for all of my colleagues," Obi-Wan replied, "but I believe that opinion is divided. There are not enough of us to protect everyone within the Republic, and only a handful of us employ a military style to affect change during our assignments. I think there are some within the Order who would welcome the army, but there are also those who fear its existence will only provoke a war."

"Fear?" Padmé echoed. "I thought fear was of the dark side?"

"It is," Obi-Wan confirmed. "But only when we don't recognise that we feel it. The difference between the dark and the light, is a true understanding of ourselves. Only then can we reach a balance and remain true to the Force."

"Opinion is divided within the Senate as well," Padmé remarked, turning the topic of their conversation back to its previous subject. "No one knows whether the Military Creation Act will pass or not. Palpatine is trying to delay it because he believes that if votes are cast in the heat of the moment, many members of the Senate will later regret it. I know the Council is wary of doing so, but I often wonder if they had a voice and a vote within the Senate, if it would help decide which way the vote goes."

"There is a desire that we remain neutral," Obi-Wan commented. "But as it is, we advise Senators and the Chancellor, and our advice carries weight. Then there is the position of Master Dooku to consider. From a certain point of view, we have thrown our lot in with the Separatists. If we had a voice within the Senate as well, it could be argued that we are trying to control the governing of both the Republic and the Separatists. It would give us too much power, and that is the way of the Sith."

"What will you do then when Master Dooku discovers who is behind this plot to create a civil war within the Republic?" Padmé asked.

"I don't know," Obi-Wan replied. "It depends who it is, and how much power they have. Ideally, expose them, bring them to justice, and help resolve the divisions between the Republic and the Confederacy. But events never turn out to be that simple."

"Who do you think it might be?" Padmé inquired.

"Honestly, I don't know," Obi-Wan confessed. "I'm not sure we'll find out until it is too late to do anything about them. I worry that will turn out to be whoever it was that trained the sith I fought in Theed Palace. If it is, then it is a dark time for us all."

"Why do you believe its another sith?" Padmé queried.

"Because there are always two, a master and an apprentice," Obi-Wan explained. "And I do not believe it was the former fighting me on Naboo. He was highly skilled, more than my equal, but he lacked certain abilities that would make him a master. If he had been the master, I would not be standing before you now."

"I am pleased you are standing before me," Padmé uttered softly. "I do not need more security, but I need you, Obi-Wan."

"And I will be here for you, always," he murmured. "No matter where I am in galaxy, my heart will only be with you."

"I will keep it safe," she vowed softly, "and give you mine in return."

He reached across the small space between them to take her hand, raising the fingers to his lips in gratitude. As he lowered the clasp, something in the skyline caught his eye, and his attention was abruptly diverted elsewhere.

"Speaking of safety," he murmured, causing her to search out the same spot that his gaze was fixed on with her own. Padmé stilled as she saw a small probe hovering outside her bedroom.

Spherical in shape, with two bladed fins positioned top and bottom, the probe disabled the security fields before using a laser to cut a hole through the transparisteel. Another hole came into being as something emerged from the probe's innards to slither through the lasered aperture into the bedroom.

Calling his saber to his hand Obi-Wan darted from the balcony into the room, Padmé following. Her eyes widened in terror as she caught sight of what the probe had delivered. Kouhuns, poisonous creatures from Induomodo, anthropoids that hunted by body heat. Their shell cased bodies, supported by many tiny legs, crawled across the carpet to her bed.

Or would have, except that Obi-Wan was there, his lightsaber slicing them in half, the beasts falling back on the floor, their lives ended. The Jedi exchanged a glance with her as he shut down his lightsaber, reattaching the weapon to his belt, before leaping across the room to fly through the window, straight at the probe droid, the transparisteel shattering in his wake.

Padmé watched him go, her terror switching focus from herself to her Jedi friend and protector. In the wake of the damage to her bedroom, she could see that he had not plummeted to the ground below, his hands were gripping the bottom fin of the probe fiercely as the device shot across the city skyline. Silently she shook her head, not knowing whether to be angry at his sudden and reckless departure, or amused and impressed by the swift nature in which he went to her rescue.

"Are you all right, milady?" Dormé, her decoy and assistant asked her as she and Captain Typho came in. Though Padmé had dismissed her some time ago the former handmaiden was still dressed, probably waiting for her mistress to go to bed before she sought her own. As for her security chief, Padmé half suspected that he never slept, for he always seemed to be awake whenever she needed him.

"I'm fine," she assured Dormé, her gaze still on the view of the night sky, though the probe and its stowaway had long since disappeared from sight. "Its Obi-Wan I'm worried about now."

"A reckless move," Captain Typho remarked, his tone a mixture of disapproval, concern and grudging admiration. "My uncle warned me about him, that he and Master Jinn had used foolhardy methods to resolve the Blockade Crisis. And Kenobi's padawan is clearly another. I had to forestall her from following in his wake, though I have not the men to go after him and protect you," he added as he retrieved his comlink to call for maintenance to repair the window.

"Then I'll have to call in someone else's," Padmé murmured, picking up her own communications device from its resting place on a table nearby. After dialling a code, she put the small circular pod before her mouth and spoke."Its me. I'm sorry for calling you so late, but I need a favour."

Obi-Wan was regretting the reckless move as soon as he grabbed hold of the droid. The device that had transported and delivered the Kouhuns was remarkably sophisticated, and equipped with its own security system, which began sending out electric shocks in an effort to dislodge its hitchhiker.

Weaving through the Coruscant sky Obi-Wan gritted his teeth and held on, knowing if he tried to disable the shocks, the droid might lose its operating power. The device was crafting a dangerous path through the air traffic ways, causing him to bend this way and that in an effort to avoid passing speeders and other vehicles, which the probe was trying to use to lose its stowaway.

Abruptly the mechanical sphere slowed and Obi-Wan looked up to focus on the building ahead, where a speeder hovered, waiting for its driver, who stood monitoring the droid's progress with their electrobinoculars.

Obi-Wan watched the bounty hunter as they dropped the viewfinders to fetch something out of the vehicle, a long thin device which had to be a blast rifle. Splitting his focus, he used the Force to retrieve a tracking beacon from his belt, sending the device across the remaining distance to land on the speeder, even as the bounty hunter shot him out of the sky.

He fell over five hundred and twenty stories, or would have, if it had not been for a speeder coming to a halt directly below him. As a result of the vehicle's intervention he turned his fall into a graceful landing instead, smoothly sliding into the previously unoccupied passenger seat. To his surprise, the driver of the vehicle was not his padawan learner Jehane, but a man of dark colouring and superior clothes, who carried about him an air of sophistication which only old moneyed aristocracy tended to possess.

"Hello, Master Kenobi, my name is Bail Organa and I'll be your driver for this evening's chase," his companion said by way of introduction. "Where to?"

Obi-Wan glanced at the instrument panel and seeing that it had a GPS system, reached out and typed in the code for the tracking beacon.
"Well, I hate to sound like a character out of a holoflick," he replied, "but after that speeder."

His companion nodded and with a twist of his hands, steered the vehicle in the direction of the flashing dot.

Obi-Wan watched him as he drove, observing the speed limits, weaving in and out of traffic, avoiding other drivers with an almost courteous grace, allowing those who had or demanded the right of way to pass them, but always following the bounty hunter. Only then did the name with which he had introduced himself struck within his mind a chord of recognition, causing the Jedi glance at him in surprise.

"Senator?" He sought to confirm, even though he recognised the man from the welcome reception he attended a few years ago, when he observed him in conversation with Padmé.

The dark haired man shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry, I know the last thing you want is to put another Senator in danger. But I can take care of myself, and I did send my security out as well. I just found you first." He paused before adding, "I also wanted to meet you, I've heard a lot about you from Padmé."

"How well do you and she know each other?" Obi-Wan asked.

"She and I are on many of the same committees, despite our opposing views concerning the MCA," Bail answered. "She's a good friend."

"She is," Obi-Wan agreed, knowing that it was probably her who had sent the Alderaanai to rescue him.

"Is that all she is?" Bail queried, receiving a raised eyebrow in reply. "Forgive me, but the way she talks about you suggests the possibility of something more."

"We're good friends," Obi-Wan reiterated. For the moment, his mind silently added, as his memory recalled the kiss which they had shared earlier. Though they cared for each other and admitted as much, he did not desire to make the relationship known to anyone else but themselves as present, particularly considering the Order's need for discretion, not to mention the speculation and perception that a relationship between a Jedi and a Senator would create.

Bail Organa nodded wisely and then changed the subject. "Do you think the Bounty Hunter knows we're following them?"

"Possibly," Obi-Wan revealed. "I don't think they'll lead us to who hired them."

"And who do you think hired them?" Bail asked.

"If I knew, I wouldn't have put a tracker in that speeder," Obi-Wan replied. "There are layers within layers and all is clouded."

There was a moment of silence as the senator took that on board. As for Obi-Wan he was surprised by his words, wondering if something unforeseen in the Force had prompted their utterance. For Bail the phrase made Obi-Wan appear no longer just a man but a Jedi. With him the word still carried a certain measure of respect and awe, even influence. His fellow colleague had spoken often of him, her voice savouring his memory. Padmé chose her friends wisely and this one intrigued him. Idly wishing for a time when he could understand him better, Bail turned his focus back on following the bounty hunter.

The trail took them deeper into the lower levels of Coruscant, where few of the comfortable citizens, or indeed the politicians who campaigned for their votes and fought to provide them with their rights and needs ventured. Poverty lurked in every corner, the hungry faces of humans and other species staring at them from out of darkened alleys, their hollow deprived faces horribly highlighted by the streetlights or passing air speeders.

"Seeing this, I'm beginning to think Padmé is right," Bail murmured. "The Republic does not need an army, it needs a relief corps."

"I agree," Obi-Wan replied, causing the Senator to glance at him in surprise.

"I thought the Jedi were supporters of the Military Creation Act," he said.

"We're keepers of the peace, not soldiers," Obi-Wan pointed out, echoing Master Windu's words to the Chancellor some hours earlier. "We have little desire for war with the Separatists, but our numbers are diminished. We are hard pressed to prevent or negotiate with all those systems who wish for their rights to be given fresh consideration or those who feel ignored by a Senate mired in too many layers of procedure and corruption."

"You're right about the Senate," Bail conceded. "If it were not for the Separatist crisis there are many of us who would push for reform."

"If there was a Senate pushing for reform, there would not be a Separatist crisis," Obi-Wan argued. He glanced at the blinking dot on the GPS. "I think they've stopped."

Bail checked the GPS for the location, then took the speeder out of their current traffic lane and headed further down into Coruscant's seedy underbelly.

He parked the vehicle some distance from the bounty hunter's, but not so far away that they could not see what the would be assassin was doing. When they went into the club, Obi-Wan turned to the Senator. "Stay here, I'll handle this."

Obi-Wan did not linger to hear the Senator's reply, leaping from the vehicle as he focused his senses on who he was following. As he neared the club he could feel their increasing anxiety. They knew that they were being followed. They had gone into the club to hide. A mistake as they would soon find out, but their options were limited. He entered the gambling den, a plan forming within his mind.

Bail Organa watched the Jedi enter the club. He wanted to help, but he also knew that his presence would be both dangerous and distracting, for the Jedi and for himself. Not to mention that if a paparazzi caught sight or a holo of him, his reputation and career would be over within an instance. Instead he remained in the speeder, keeping the engine ticking over, waiting, while his mind pondered over the enigma that was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

He had met Jedi before and dealt with them during his years as a Senator, but all of them had been ageing masters, or ones in the prime of life with silent padawans in tow, or thoughtful, mysterious members of the Order's Council. None like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Padmé had been right when she labelled him as an unconventional Jedi during a conversation about the Blockade Crisis. Not as much as Master Jinn, whose reputation was widespread, but the Master had left his mark on his former padawan. Yet there were moments when Kenobi became just as mysterious as Master Yoda.

Overall however, based on this short acquaintance, Bail liked him. Kenobi was an intelligent man, whose opinions had converted Bail's previous beliefs in just one evening. He would be fighting for reform tomorrow and joining Padmé in her stance against the Military Creation Act. In fact, he suspected that is what she had in mind when she called him in the first place. Or perhaps it was an unexpected benefit.

Kenobi suddenly emerged from the gambling establishment, carrying the bounty hunter in his arms. Their wrists were shackled behind them, but other than that they appeared unharmed. Bail watched as Kenobi talked to the hunter for a time, then turned his gaze to something in the sky. Whatever it was, Bail could not see, but he saw Kenobi bow his head for a moment, then remove something from the now lifeless bounty hunter before he returned with the corpse to the speeder. Placing the body in the back, the Jedi climbed into the passenger seat.

"Where to?" Bail asked.

"Padmé's apartment," Obi-Wan replied. "Via the Court District Morgue," he added as he retrieved whatever it was he had removed from the bounty hunter out of his pocket.

"Who killed them?" Bail queried as he took the vehicle back up into the sky traffic lanes.

"I'm not sure," Obi-Wan replied. "Whoever they were, they wore Mandalorian armour, but this toxic dart suggests another system entirely. Somewhere I'm unfamiliar with." He stared at the dart for another minute, then put the weapon away. "Perhaps the analysis cubicles within the Temple will know," he murmured uncertainly. "If not, I have other contacts who might."

It was a silent journey back to Five Hundred Republica, via the Court District Hospital, both Bail and Obi-Wan being too thoughtful for conversation. Then Senator was busy composing his arguments for the debate about the MCA in the Senate tomorrow, while the Jedi was contemplating what he would be guided to do by the Council, when the analysis of the toxic dart was finished and his report delivered.

He also pondered his impressions of the man beside him, who was Padmé's friend and colleague. He did not usually like politicians and that was a tactful way of putting it. In truth he distrusted them, seeing all too often that they were more concerned with achieving their own needs than those of the beings they represented. Padmé was one of those rare exceptions who cared more about those who had elected her rather than anything she might desire from the position herself. And from what he could determine about Bail Organa, the Senator from Alderaan was the same. He and Padmé were alike in many respects. They both came from pacifist planets, valued democracy beyond personal desires, or ambition and were influential in the Senate. Yet until tonight, Bail had opted to vote for the Military Creation Act.

For Obi-Wan it was a sign of how far the Republic had deteriorated. Dooku's Separatist movement had begun as nothing more than a cover story for his investigation into the Master behind the Sith that Obi-Wan had fought on Naboo. Ten years later and it was now a viable alternative to the Republic. and if the MCA passed, there was a real possibility that the Jedi would be drawn into the conflict, into fighting against a cover story that they themselves created, not to mention one of their own.

But would the alternative make a difference? He doubted it. If the Military Creation Act did not become law, the gradual withdrawal of systems from the Republic would continue, until the Republic was no more. And all it would take was for one of those less pacifist inclined systems to fire the first shot and a war would begin. Where the Jedi would stand was difficult to determine. If they participated in the war, they would be accused of betraying their own ideals, not just by the Republic and Separatists but by themselves as well. But if they took no part in it, they would be accused of deserting the Republic when it needed them the most. Whatever the future might hold, the negotiations would continue, and Obi-Wan knew that Master Dooku would be better able to keep his faction peaceful if the MCA was not passed. And for that to stand a chance of occurring, Padmé Amidala had to continue working to gather the support in the Senate which she needed. Without the threat of death hovering over her or her retinue.

With the escape of the second bounty hunter this assignment required more than one Jedi and his padawan to complete it. As much as Obi-Wan wished to remain by Padmé's side whilst whoever the Council assigned to support him tracked down the bounty hunter, he knew it might not be possible or prudent. Bail Organa was right when he queried the depth of his relationship with Padmé. It went far deeper than friendship. He cared about her, loved her, and he would have refused this assignment on those grounds, but for the chance of being able to tell her and see if she returned his feelings.

He knew that his ability to protect her was clouded by them, his reckless attempt to catch the assassin droid was proof enough. But he also knew that he could put them aside for now, for no matter how important they were to him and to her, they were insignificant in the grand scheme of things, something to be considered only later, when the universe was not so topsy turvy.

Part 17: Parting Investigations.

Jehane and Captain Typho, along with Dormé and Padmé were studying the Kouhuns when Obi-Wan returned to the apartment. All four looked up from the creatures at his entrance.

"What have you discovered?" He asked them as he came to join their gathering.

"They have been rendered harmless," Jehane replied. "The poison removed from their bodies. What of the bounty hunter, Master?"

"A changeling, who after a spirited chase was killed by another, wearing Mandalorian armour," Obi-Wan replied. "Senator Organa sends his compliments, by the way, milady."

"Bail picked you up?" Padmé concluded, receiving the Jedi's nod before continuing. "I am glad you and he had a chance to meet. You'd like him, even though he's politician."

"I do," Obi-Wan confirmed. "He sends his regrets, he would have stayed, but the foray into Coruscant's seamier neighbourhoods has roused a conversion within him. I think you may have gained another supporter to your cause."

"I can't deny that was a hoped for afterthought," she admitted with a small smile, "but my primary concern was making sure you came back from that reckless leap. I hope you didn't pull that stunt in an effort to try and impress me."

"Perish the thought," Obi-Wan remarked with the same expression before turning his focus on the creatures which he had put a lightsaber through earlier. There had been no time for him to study them previously, so concerned was he that they might kill her while he was doing so. Kouhuns sought out prey by their body heat, so although they had been on course for her bed, in all likelihood the creatures would have soon turned in their direction, once they sensed the new location of such a source when he and Padmé entered. At first glance they appeared to be exactly what they were, poisonous anthropoids. But on closer examination he could see what his padawan had observed, that the stingers from which they delivered that deadly liquid had been removed.

"This is no coincidence," he concluded. "One could be explained away as a failed attempt, but two plans carried out and with such detail and precision points to there being darker forces behind this. Clearly someone wants you dead, Senator, but that someone also wants you to survive these attacks is equally apparent."

"The question is who," Captain Typho commented. "We're no closer to an answer to that question than we were before arrived."

"Perhaps we are," Obi-Wan remarked, as he produced the souvenir from his spirited chase across the capital. "This was the dart with which the changeling was killed. I intend to see if I can find records in the Temple Archives of this weapon. Who knows, it may point to a planet of origin that will provide us with a name of who is behind this."

"And what I am to do until then?" Padmé queried. "Keep enduring these attempts on my life? I cannot leave the capital, not while the Military Creation Act is being debated. This vote is too important."

"Not when compared to your life," Obi-Wan countered, "but I do agree that you cannot leave, Senator. If whoever it is behind this has been deliberately sabotaging each attempt on your life, then clearly they have been hired by somebody else either with that purpose in mind, or who is labouring under the misapprehension that eventually one of the attempts will succeed. Which means that you are in no immediate danger for the moment. Jehane will stay with you while I search for the origin of this dart and brief the Council."

"If the vote is held soon, these attacks may come to an end," Padmé speculated.

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan allowed. "Although that's if they are due to your position against the Military Creation Act. If not, they will probably continue, which is why I must find out who is behind them as soon as possible."

The room within the Jedi Temple which housed the analysis cubicles was always busy, full of padawans and masters studying, and today was no exception. Obi-Wan found one cubicle empty, with an SP-4 analysis droid waiting, the type he needed. Sitting down before the console, he retrieved the dart, moving to place it on the tray, as the voice of the droid began instructing him to do so.

After a few minutes of seeing diagram upon diagram of various weapons rolled past as the droid searched through the records, the screen went blank and the sensor tray delivered the dart back to him.

"As you can see on your screen, subject weapon does not exist in any known culture," the SP-4 analysis droid explained. "Markings cannot be identified. Probably self-made by a warrior not associated with any known culture."

Obi-Wan pocketed the dart once more and rose, walking away from the cubicles. He was surprised by the results, but not unduly so. He had other sources of information open to him, and one in particular might provide him with the knowledge that he needed.

He left the Temple and took a speeder to the business district of Coco town, far away from where he and Senator Organa had caught the would-be assassin, but in an equally distressed and industrialised area of Coruscant.

The foggy windowed metallic and red painted diner was not likely to be found on any list of recommended eating establishments for strangers visiting the capital. It was frequented by freighter drivers and dock workers, staffed by waitress droids, one of whom came up to Obi-Wan as soon as he entered.

"Can I help ya?" she asked.

"I'm looking for Dexter," Obi-Wan replied.

The waitress droid stared at him for a moment, sizing him up, then moved to the open service hatch behind the counter. "Someone to see ya, honey. Jedi, by the looks of him."

A large Besalisk appeared within the hatch, took one look at his visitor and cried out in a voice that rang clear across the diner. "Obi-Wan! Take a seat, old buddy! Be right with ya!"

Obi-Wan took one of the empty booths and accepted the offer of a glass of ardees from the waitress while he waited for Dex to join him.
He rose from his seat when his friend emerged from behind the bar, and returned the embrace that was offered just as heartily.

"So my friend, what can I do for ya?" Dex asked as they parted to sit either side of the table within the booth.

"You can tell me what this is," Obi-Wan answered, retrieving the dart from his robes and placing it on the table in front of Dex.

"Well waddya know," Dex murmured after a few minutes of study, "I ain't seen one of these since I was prospecting on Subterrel beyond the Outer Rim."

"Do you know where it came from?" Obi-Wan asked.

"This baby belongs to them cloners," Dexter replied. "What you got here is a Kamino saberdart."

"Kamino saberdart," Obi-Wan echoed. He had heard that name before. It was the planet that Master Jocasta Nu caught Master Sifo-Dyas attempting to erase from the archives. Had he managed to remove some files relating to Kamino before he was prevented from eliminating all record of the system completely? It would explain why the analysis droid had failed to recognise the origin of the dart. It was something he would have to check out when he returned to the Temple. For now he continued his conversation with Dex. "I wonder why it didn't show up in our analysis archive."

"Its these funny little cuts on the side that give it away," Dex replied. "Those analysis droids you've got over there only focus on symbols, you know. I should think you Jedi have more respect for the difference between knowledge and wisdom."

"Kamino, is it part of the Republic?" Obi-Wan asked. The attempt to erase all records of the planet from the archives had taken place over ten years ago, causing the Council to place all information regarding it under their protection. No one could access the files without seeking consent from a Council member first. Knowing that Master Dooku had been assigned to seek out the reasons behind the sudden need for those records to disappear, Obi-Wan had refrained from investigating further, trusting that the Council would inform him of anything he needed to know. In the decade which had passed since nothing had arisen that referred to the planet until now, the lack servicing to further quiet any curiosity he may have had.

"No, its beyond the Outer Rim," Dex replied, the location rendering it beyond the reach and authority of the Republic. "I'd say about twelve parsecs outside the Rishi Maze, towards the south. It should be easy to find, even for those droids in your archive. These Kaminoans keep to themselves, mostly. They're cloners. Good ones, too."

"Are they friendly?" Obi-Wan inquired.

Dex shrugged. "It depends," he answered.

"On what?" Obi-Wan persisted.

"On how good your manners are," Dex replied, "how big your pocket book is." He poked at the weapon lying on the table between them before adding, "was this used in that attack on the Naboo Embassy last night?"

"Not exactly," Obi-Wan revealed, "it was used to kill the bounty hunter who was involved, by someone wearing armour from Mandalore. How did you hear about that? I thought the Embassy was trying to silence reports of it."

"No chance of them being able to do that now," Dex remarked, "the bounty hunter's no longer dead."

Obi-Wan looked at his friend, mystified. He had examined the body himself, and taken the corpse to the court district morgue. "What?"

"Changeling got up and walked out of the building, so I heard," Dex informed him. "About near gave the caretaker a heart attack. As soon as they recovered, he spent his off hours spreading the tale around."

As extraordinary as the incident was, it made a curious sort of sense. If these attempts were being engineered with the intent to protect Padmé from whomever it was that wanted her dead, then keeping the bounty hunters away from the law was a wise precaution to take. If the changeling had died, their body placed under the authority of the morgue, then further examination might have found a piece of evidence which could reveal the identity of their employer, or the stingers that were removed from the Kouhuns, perhaps revealing the true nature of why the attempts had so far failed to whoever it was who wanted the Nubian Senator dead.

Obi-Wan put the dart away and finished his cup of ardees. He needed to brief the Council, something which he had put off until now, preferring to wait until he had found out the origin of the dart. The news of the second bounty hunter's survival only made the briefing more pressing. "Dex, I have to go. The Council must learn of this."

"Clear skies, my friend," Dex acknowledged the decision, offering him the traditional travelling farewell.

"And may the Force be with you," Obi-Wan returned before exiting the diner.

"Then the changeling was shot, by another, wearing armour which I recognised, Masters, as being from Mandalore. However the dart, I have since learned, originated from Kamino, the planet that Master Sifo-Dyas was caught attempting to erase all records of from the Temple archives. I also learned that whatever solution it was with which the dart was coated it, was not of a poisonous nature, for the changeling left the morgue before authorities could examine the evidence further."

A long silence followed the end of the Obi-Wan's briefing to the Council, as the members consulted each other through conversation within the Force. The words he was not privy to, for there were various levels of speech permitted by the ancient energy, and the Council Masters chose to use one which was only taught to those privileged enough to be included within their circle.

Eventually, Master Yoda chose to voice the decision of the collective. "Track down this bounty hunter you must, Obi-Wan."

"More importantly, find out who he's working for," Master Windu added.

"What about Senator Amidala?" Obi-Wan inquired. "She will still need protecting."

"Handle that, your padawan will," Yoda replied. "Remain on Coruscant, Senator Amidala shall. Require our advice while you are away, your padawan might."

Obi-Wan bowed, taking the words as his dismissal. "Thank you, Masters. I shall inform my apprentice of your decisions before I depart."

He left the Council chamber and headed for the turbolift which would take him back down to the ground floor of the Temple. He was fortunate that his path was familiar, for his mind was still pondering upon the journey from Coruscant to Kamino that he was soon to take, speculating on what he might find there, and what he was leaving behind. He had known as soon as he sought it, that one kiss would not be enough to satisfy either him or Padmé, though it confirmed to both of them that their feelings were the same. It was all they could exchange however, until the mission was over, bound as they were to their duties within the Order, Senate and Republic. Beyond the mission, they would be still be tied by that triumvirate of obligations, but if he could discover who it was behind the attempts on her life, then both of them may have the freedom to explore their relationship discreetly, until the trinity granted them the liberty to make it public. He did not like how their union would be received or perceived by others, but until there was no demand for such political intrigue and division, there was nothing he could do about it.

Arriving at her apartment, he found the Senator from Naboo in her bedchamber, a small suitcase lying open on her bed, in which she was in the process of either retrieving clothes from, or putting them in. She had changed her gown and hairstyle during his absence, into a grey blue full skirt with a darker bodice, embroidered and sleeved in the lighter shade, the silk sleeves bounded at the elbows and the wrists. Her hair was pulled tight against her scalp, and tied at both sides into seashell folds.

She looked up at his entrance, her brown eyes sparkling with dissatisfaction. "I haven't worked for a year to defeat the Military Creation Act not to be here when its fate is decided!"

"And you will be here," Obi-Wan assured her, causing her to cease her packing. "The Council sees no reason for you to leave Coruscant. Jehane will protect you while I track down the bounty hunter."

"Oh," she murmured. "I thought that's why you were absent for so long. You did not need to argue for me before the Council, Obi-Wan."

"I didn't need to either," he informed her. "If the attempts on your life had not been designed to protect you, I imagine that we'd be having a different conversation. Although I think that the Council understand the importance of fighting the Military Creation Act just as well as you, they value life more."

"And they don't think that lives will be saved if I'm not here to stop the Act from being passed?" Padmé countered.

"Milady, you are but one Senator," Obi-Wan pointed out. "There are others who are just as equally invested in the cause as you."

"Bail Organa may have come over to my side, but the result is still too close to call," Padmé informed him. "Every vote counts."

"Just as well that you are staying to place yours then," Obi-Wan reminded her. "One battle at a time."

She ceased her unpacking and took a deep breath before she continued the conversation. "You're right. Its a way of venting my frustration at things that are beyond my control to alter. Its just I was getting use to seeing you, having you close by, and now you're leaving again. And for how long?"

He frowned as his mind pondered possibilities. "I'm not sure. It depends what I find on Kamino. Master Dooku reported that there was a project begun there by Master Sifo-Dyas that he decided not to tamper with, a decision which many of the Council questioned at the time. But that was ten years ago, and to my knowledge, no mention has been made of the planet since. It may be that whatever's there now, Master Dooku has no knowledge of, as he moved to Serenno soon after, before taking on the mantle of the Confederacy."

"What was the project?" Padmé asked.

Obi-Wan paused to search his memory, before replying thoughtfully, "I don't think anyone asked, or if they did, Master Dooku gave no answer. He has enough of a worthy reputation within the Order that the Council rarely ask him to elaborate on anything, trusting on his judgement of the matter. Who knows, I might be able to find out when I get there."

During his reply, she had returned to unpacking the travel case which had been hastily and frustratingly half-assembled before he returned from his investigations and the Council briefing at the Temple. Now he watched her hang the last piece of clothing inside the wardrobe before coming to stand before him.

"I know I'm in danger, but am I allowed to see you to your ship when you have depart?" She asked him.

He took his hands off the bed to take hold of hers. "Providing you had an escort for the way back, I'm sure that could be arranged. Or I could depart from the docking port here, which would give us some privacy and less risk to your security."

"So I would be able to give you a personal farewell?" She queried softly.

"If you wish to," he answered. "Though I do insist that your security and my padawan remain within reach to ensure your safety."

"Would your padawan be required to brief the Council about such a parting?" She asked him. She could trust her security, but Jehane was an unknown quantity to her, and given the way in which a relationship between a Senator and a Jedi could be perceived, they needed to exercise extreme care for the present.

Obi-Wan glanced down at their joined hands as he thought about that for a moment. "Jehane's first loyalty is to me, then the Council. To her I have tried to be what Qui-Gon was to me during my apprenticeship. I hope she would wait to ask me about it, rather take such an event before the Council without knowing the feelings behind such a farewell."

They both knew what was being left unsaid, the hope that they could perform the same embrace that had formed their last parting, a tender kiss full of the promise of things to come, between two sworn to loyalties placed on them by others if not yet between themselves. The kiss shared between them since then stood as affirmation of that promise, if not the beginning of its fulfilment, due to the positions they held and the perceptions such an alliance would create, as well as the dangers to her life and the necessity of protection which would conflict.

Imagination had not served to cloud their emotions, only to provide strength during their absence from each other. Now that the truth was confirmed, there was the constant of anticipation for the moment when time and circumstance would allow them to focus on their relationship, when the threat to her life had passed, along with the decision within the Senate, and assignments from the Order.

Obi-Wan surveyed their joined hands once more, his mind for once reluctant to focus on that which was to come, except when it concerned themselves. Her skin was soft to the touch, her fingers slender and elegant, containing the natural grace which she had always possessed, ever since he met her, all those years ago. Conscious of the possibility that anyone of her staff, or his apprentice, could walk into her chamber at any moment, he pressed his lips to her hands, rather than to her mouth as he would have if there was the certainty of their being left undisturbed. Gently he turned them over to deliver another kiss, this time to her wrists, where his mouth widened alittle to softly suck the base of her palms.

Padmé gasped at the sensations which such a series of touches produced. His eyes met hers as he lifted his mouth away, the sea shades revealing a depth of passion she was just becoming familiar with. She shifted the balance of their joined hands to gain control of the grip, then raised his hands to her mouth, pulling him to his feet as she did so. Tearing her gaze away, she returned the gestures, her mouth lingering over his skin, savouring the moment.

When she raised her eyes to meet his own once more, he let go of his previous caution, relinquished clasping her hands in favour of her waist, and pulled her close for another kiss, this one less tentative and more passionate than the last, now they knew that their feelings for each other were the same, and had each other's consent to grow in strength. It could not last long, they had duties which must take precedent, so it was with regret that he parted from her to talk with his padawan, who was in the living room with Padmé's handmaidens.

Part 18: Of Clones & Bounty Hunters.

The starlines surrounding the Outer Rim system twelve parsecs south of the Rishi Maze, blipped as a hyperspace engine ring for a Delta-7 starship dropped into normal space. After a moment spent hovering whilst the pilot within confirmed that they had arrived at the correct co-ordinates, the Delta-7 left the hyperspace engine ring and approached its destination.

"There it is, Arfour," Obi-Wan commented when the cloudy and rather unremarkable looking sphere came into view. "Kamino, the planet that Master Sifo-Dyas lost his life trying to erase from the archives."

His copilot uttered a series of beeps, for which a translation scrolled across the screen before the knight, though he needed none, as the tone clearly indicated a question as to that Jedi Master's motive in erasing such information.

"I've no idea why he did it," Obi-Wan replied, "perhaps we'll find some answers down there."

As he flew the Delta-7 towards the planet, Obi-Wan took stock of the information that the starships scanners were collecting about it. He soon saw that it was an ocean world, with no visible natural land masses, and almost completely covered by clouds.

Despite this seeming inhospitable sight, his computer registered a transmission asking for identification, indicating that there was the means to support life upon the planet, though it was probably by artificial means, he concluded.

Obi-Wan sent the information, receiving a set of approach co-ordinates in reply, for a place called Tipoca City.

"Well here we go, Arfour," he murmured as he set the ship to head towards the new destination. "Time to find some answers."

Within a few seconds his ship broke the atmosphere to soar over rain-lashed, white capped seas. Due to the weather, the journey was rougher than the atmospheric entry, but the Delta-7 held its course, allowing Obi-Wan time to survey Tipoca City when it came into view, all gleaming domes and angled, curving walls, balancing on stilts that stretched down beneath the waves.

He did a flyby first, taking in all he could see, whilst the computer collected what information in could gather, then set the craft down on the designated landing pad. Pulling his hood over his head, Obi-Wan slid back the canopy and leapt out of the ship, before rushing towards the nearest shelter from the elements. A door slid open as he approached, and he entered into a brilliantly lit white room.

"Master Jedi, so good to see you," the Kaminoan who was waiting greeted him with. "I am Taun We. The Prime Minster expects you."

"I'm expected?" Obi-Wan queried, puzzled. He had sent no word of his arrival, and as far as he knew Master Dooku's last visit was ten years ago, before the crisis on his homeworld of Serenno and the Separatist Confederacy took him away from the planet, a long time to leave word that other Jedi would follow.

"Of course," Taun We replied. "Lama Su is anxious to see you. After all these years, we were beginning to think you weren't coming. Now please, this way."

The Kaminoan led him down a windowed brightly lit corridor, passing many rooms until they came to the executive office.

When they were inside, Taun We introduced him. "May I present Lama Su, Prime Minister of Kamino. This is Master Jedi..."

"Obi-Wan Kenobi," he finished.

"Greetings, Master Jedi," Lama Sun remarked. "You'll be delighted to hear that we are on schedule. Two hundred thousand units are ready, with another million well on the way."

All of Obi-Wan's training and discipline came into force to present a serene, composed reply in response to the shocking information that was being delivered to him. "That is good news," he said, while thoughts ran wildly through his mind, wondering why Master Dooku had thought it was a good idea to continue to let one million and two hundred thousand clones be built, and for what purpose they would be used for.

"We thought you would be pleased," Lama Su remarked. "Please tell your Master Sifo-Dyas that we have every confidence that the order will be met on time and in full. He is well, I hope, and proud of the army we've built for him."

Obi-Wan brushed aside the news that Master Dooku had concealed his identity to the Kaminoans for the moment, in favour of clarifying what he had just heard. "Tell me, Prime Minister, when my Master first contacted you about the units did he say who they were for?"

"Of course he did," Lama Su remarked serenely. "The army is for the Republic. You must be anxious to inspect the troops yourself."

"That's why I'm here," Obi-Wan answered, knowing he needed to learn as much as possible before he surrendered to the urgent need to brief the Council on what exactly the project was that Master Dooku had decided to leave unchecked. An army for the Republic, ordered by a member of the Jedi. It should be impossible and yet it was not. It was a relief that news of this had not reached the Senate, for it would render the vote being debated at that moment null and void, before escalating tensions between the Republic and the Separatists. He could not understand what Master Dooku had been thinking, given his current position as leader of the Confederacy and his desire for peace with the Republic. He thought that the plan was to work for reform within until the two divisions were one again.

With a deep breath he pushed aside his concerns. Such speculation could wait until he knew more than he did now. Returning his focus to the inspection, Obi-Wan listened to the Prime Minister's commentary on what he was seeing, and tried to control the rising sense of horror within him that grew with each new point of interest.

"Very impressive," he commented as they passed the hatchery.

"I hoped you would be pleased, Master Jedi," Lama Su said. "Clones can think creatively. You will find that they are much superior to droids and that ours are the best in all the galaxy. Our methods have been perfected over many centuries. We have several hatcheries throughout the city. This of course is the most crucial phase, though with our techniques we expect a survival rate of over ninety percent. Every so often an entire batch will develop an ... issue, but we expect the clone production to remain steady, and with our accelerated growth methods, these clones will be fully matured and ready for battle in just over a decade."

"An issue?" Obi-Wan queried as he caught the Prime Minister's pause in his commentary, an attempt to conceal something which he was not proud of, but was beyond his ability to alter.

"From time to time a defect will develop within the genetic makeup, which is impossible to prevent or eliminate," Lama Su explained. "When that happens, the batch is discarded."

Discarded. Inwardly Obi-Wan shuddered at the use of such a clinical term for what was in reality mass murder. He had hoped that there would be an simple solution to the problem of this army's existence, but evidently that was not going to be the case. Anxious to conceal his disgust from his guides, he recalled another point of interest within the Prime Minister's commentary. "You mentioned growth acceleration."

"Oh yes, its essential. Otherwise a mature clone would take a lifetime to grow. Now we can do it in half the time. The units you will soon see on the parade ground we started ten years ago, when Sifo-Dyas first placed the order, and they're already mature and quite ready for duty. You will find that they are totally obedient. We modified their genetic structure to make them less independent than the original, of course."

"Who was the original?" Obi-Wan queried.

"A bounty hunter named Jango Fett," Lama Su revealed. "We felt that a Jedi would be the perfect choice, but Sifo-Dyas hand picked Jango himself."

The notion that a Jedi might have been used floored him, and he was relieved to learn that Master Sifo-Dyas had possessed some sense when it came to engineering this potential mess, though a bounty hunter was hardly the right choice either. Of course if Master Sifo-Dyas had been thinking clearly, these clones would never have existed. As for Jango Fett, it was possible that he was the owner of the dart which had led him here in the first place. "Where is this bounty hunter now?"

"He lives here," Lama Su informed him. "But he's free to come and go as he pleases. Apart from his pay, which is considerable, Fett only demanded one thing, an unaltered clone for himself."

Obi-Wan shied away from contemplating what uses a bounty hunter would have for a clone of himself in favour of getting a few answers to his many questions. "I would very much like to meet this Jango Fett."

"I would be most happy to arrange that for you," Taun We said.

They came to a balcony which looked out on to a parade ground, filled with the two hundred thousand units of mature clones, all clothed in the white Mandalorian armour that Obi-Wan had last seen on the bounty hunter back on Coruscant. As he surveyed this mass of genetic modification, Obi-Wan could not help but picture them laying waste to worlds, silently weighing the devastating impact they would have on the Republic and the Confederacy. He was certain of one thing, news of this army must not be allowed to reach the Republic. Given the dangerous consequences of its existence, he decided that rather than briefing the Council as soon as he had finished speaking to the bounty hunter, he would wait until he returned to Coruscant.

Perhaps a detour to Serenno would prove fruitful, assuming of course, that was the current location of Master Dooku. Obi-Wan knew that without speaking with the Jedi Master, he would not find all the answers that he was looking for.

Jango Fett's quarters on Kamino were like the rest of the rooms within the domed complex, a brilliant shade of white. They were guarded by a very sophisticated security system, which Obi-Wan was still studying when the door suddenly opened to reveal an almost exact replica of one of the clones he had been seeing all day, the boy that Jango had requested for his own purposes.

"Boba," Taun We remarked, "Is your father home?"

"Yep," the boy answered succinctly.

"May we see him?" Taun We requested.

"Sure," Boba replied, before calling to his father. "Dad! Taun We's here!"

Obi-Wan wondered at the boy's and Taun We's use of the word, given that the occupation of the bounty hunter and that the child was merely another clone, minus the growth acceleration which the Kaminoans had applied to the rest of his kind. He was curious as to why a bounty hunter would want a personal connection, when one could prove dangerous to him, cause him to be vulnerable to those who would make use of any weak points to puncture his armour.

"Welcome back, Jango," Taun We remarked as the man himself came into view. "Was your journey productive?"

"Fairly," he answered, his eyes not on the Kaminoan but on Obi-Wan, sizing the Jedi up in the same manner that his visitor was evaluating him.

"This is Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," Taun We continued. "He's come to check on our progress."

"That right?" Jango murmured, his tone affecting a nonchalance which his studied evaluation of the Jedi Master belied.

"Your clones are very impressive," Obi-Wan began, allowing the deception to continue for the present. "You must be very proud."

"I'm just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe, Master Jedi," Jango replied without the slightest attempt at humility.

"Aren't we all," Obi-Wan agreed, taking his eyes from the bounty hunter to make what he hoped was a casual survey of the apartment. He caught sight of a storage room, where a collection of armoured parts were gathered, battered and stained from use. Before Obi-Wan could take a more studied view of the armour, its wearer moved, blocking the view.
Obi-Wan switched his gaze back to the bounty hunter. "Ever make your way as far into the interior as Coruscant?" He asked.

"Once or twice," Jango replied, his answers as succinctly worded as his son's, though perhaps with more of an attempt at politeness.

"Recently?" Obi-Wan persisted, although he half suspected that he would not get a direct answer to that question.

"Possibly," Jango allowed.

"Then you must know Master Sifo-Dyas," Obi-Wan concluded, venturing forth the name merely to test the man's reaction. "Is he not the one who hired you for this job?"

"Never heard of him," Jango replied.

"Really?" Obi-Wan queried sceptically, knowing that could not possibly be the case, for the Prime Minister had told him that it was the Jedi Master who had hand picked Jango for the genetic base of the clone army.

"I was recruited by a man called Tyranus on one of the moons of Bogden," Jango informed him, in a tone that conveyed a sense of truthfulness.

"Curious," Obi-Wan murmured, wondering how much of that reply was true. It was entirely possible that Master Sifo-Dyas had concealed his real identity from the bounty hunter, or hired someone else to recruit him.

"Do you like your army?" Jango asked him then.

"I look forward to seeing them in action," Obi-Wan replied, though in truth that was far from the case. His mind was contemplating all possible alternatives for preventing such a future from coming to pass, from ignoring the system and hoping that the Kaminoans would do the same, to declaring a problem within the clones' genetic makeup and having the entire lot discarded, despite the horror he felt in being responsible for such a massacre.

"They'll do their job well," Jango remarked. "I'll guarantee that."

"Like their source?" Obi-Wan countered but without expecting an answer. "Thank you for your time, Jango."

"Always a pleasure to meet a Jedi," Jango replied, his tone causing the pleasantry to sound like a threat, even as he held out his hand for Obi-Wan to take.

When he did so, the bounty hunter used the grip to pulled him in close and whispered in his ear. "Meet me at my docking platform, I'm sure a resourceful Jedi such as yourself will be able to find it. He said you would come, eventually. I'm to take you to him."

Obi-Wan nodded to show he had heard and understood the message conveyed, then withdrew from Jango, before leaving the apartment with Taun We. The bounty hunter's parting words were the last response he expected, but also proved to be exactly in line with what he intended to do next. Clearly the Kaminoans were being kept in the dark about the true purpose of the clones they were producing. As for whom Jango Fett spoke of, Obi-Wan could only conclude that Master Dooku must have decided to make use of the bounty hunter when he visited here ten years ago, though the questions relating to the attempts on Padmé's life still remained, for the separatists had nothing to gain from such tactics, unless they actually desired a war. However such a motive only made sense if they intended to succeed in their assassination attempts, which only made their use of harmless effects even more mysterious.

Taun We escorted him back to the door that led to the landing platform where his Delta-7 was waiting for him.

"May the Force be with you," Obi-Wan offered in farewell, along with a bow.

"And with you, Master Jedi," Taun We replied. "We look forward to hearing from you soon."

Obi-Wan acknowledged the hope, but failed to confirm it. As far as he was concerned he never wanted to set eyes on the system again, not if he could avoid it, though he had a feeling that the Council might have a say in such a possibility. Covering his head with the hood of his robe, he braved the elements once more, in the short dash back to his ship. When the canopy was shut, he dropped the hood and shook his wet hair away from his face, before powering up the craft and taking off.

Another flyby of Tipoca City allowed him to catch sight of the landing platform that belonged to the bounty hunter. Jango was already waiting for him, judging from the small speck of white located a near the half helmet like vessel. While Obi-Wan's ship circled the platform from above, the bounty hunter disappeared into the ship, then fired up the engines to take it into a similar orbit.

Behind him Arfour beeped, signalling that the signal beacon had received a message. Obi-Wan took his eyes off the craft to read the words that scrolled across his computer screen. It was the name of a system, and a series of hyperspace co-ordinates.


Author's Note: Just to clarify the timeline here, Master Sifo-Dyas went to Kamino, ordered the clones, picking Jango as their genetic foundation, using Tyranus as his alias, then returned to Coruscant and attempted to erase the system from the Temple Archives. After Dooku, Nu and Obi-Wan prevented him from doing so, Dooku went to Kamino, learned of the truth behind the project, and continued it.

Part 19: Duties Amid Reflections.

The memory of their second farewell still lingered in Padmé's mind when she woke the next morning. It had been all she had hoped for. He had not stayed long after leaving her room to talk to his padawan. The kisses they had shared a few moments before left her breathless and hungry for more, minutes passed before she could slow the beating of her heart and regain enough composure to join him and the others in the living area. A little conversation followed, then he led the way to the landing pad, where his ship was waiting.

She remembered taking stock of the light vessel, thinking how fragile it appeared in comparison to her sliver yacht. Not for the first time she was worried about the potential dangers that he could face, which all his calm and quiet assurances could not fade. He had taken her in his arms, she recalled hearing the beating of his heart as she rested her head against his chest. When she lifted her head to look at him, the back of his hand lay against her face, stroking softly. He touched her lips tenderly with his own, reminding her of the last time they had stood together in such an embrace before a ship ready to depart. Before it had been the girl he said goodbye to, a parting between friends that held the promise of something more if only they had the time to explore it. Now it was the woman he bade farewell to, a friendship serving as the promise of a further intimacy, for the present only briefly explored.

He parted from her reluctantly, she felt the hesitation his mouth, captured in his look, as he gazed into her eyes one last time. His arms were slow to leave her, but he did not look back as he turned and headed for the Delta-7. She caught sight of the Arfour droid as he leapt into the cockpit, and silently prayed that it would watch over him as her own Artoo did ever since she commissioned him for her staff after her two terms as sovereign were up. Artoo's ingenuity in destroying the droid control ship of the Trade Federation was fondly remembered, she hoped the newer model that was accompanying Obi-Wan was just as skilled.

Only when the ship was no longer visible did she return to the relative safety of her apartment. The remaining hours of the day were spent catching up on work, as she reviewed her arguments to be made in the Senate against the Military Creation Act. The vote was still too close to call, despite that Bail Organa had now crossed the floor. Padmé believed that the result could even depend on the day that Palpatine chose to allow the vote to take place, although the Chancellor seemed most reluctant to let it happen at all. Every point of order, every opportunity for a recess, he used to the fullest extent. If he hoped that the delay would allow cooler heads to prevail, he was mistaken, for the frustration and discontent were growing.

And with it, the appeal of the Confederacy. Its current size and recent foundation argued to outsiders that there would be less contention to wade through, governing would be more effective, and completed quicker. Padmé could understand the attraction, there were days when worn out by endless committee meetings and hours of senate attendance without anything to show for it, that she contemplated the alternative. She loved the Republic and desired to fight for reform from within, but there were days when achieving such an ideal seemed far from reach, the need to start afresh rendering that future perhaps more attainable. What Obi-Wan had told her of Count Dooku's loyalties increased the temptation to leave a Republic that was fast becoming a strange and foreign piece of the galaxy.

The alarm sounded once more, reminding her of the present. She rose from the bed and went to the refresher, before putting on her robe and venturing into the living area, where Captain Typho, Dormé, Cordé and Padawan Doah were waiting. At her entrance the latter rose from her chair and fetched the plate of food that had been kept warmed, placing it before the empty seat.

"Did you do all this, Padawan Doah?" Padmé asked her as she took her seat, surveying the spread of various fruit, bread, savouries and preserves laid upon the table.

Obi-Wan's apprentice shook her head. "No, milady, your handmaidens helped."

"Jehane's far too modest," Cordé commented, "most of this is hers. She's a marvel in the kitchen. Master Kenobi must be very proud."

"And blessed with a high metabolism," Dormé added wryly.

"I learned from the best," Jehane revealed.

Padmé broke her fast and sighed in appreciation. "Then I look forward to tasting Master Kenobi's culinary creations." After taking a few more bites, she inquired after messages. "I don't suppose there's any new information on when the vote will be held?"

"No, milady," Dormé replied. "Just the joy of committee meetings today."

"Any additions to the pre-booked line up?" Padmé inquired.

"No, but the relief meeting has been moved to an earlier time slot," Dormé informed her as she handed over the briefing pad.

"That's down to Bail Organa," Padmé murmured. "Since his ride with Master Kenobi he has become very passionate about how the Senate provides relief for those in need, particularly on Coruscant."

"The need for relief will only increase if the Military Creation Act goes through," Cordé remarked.

"Which is why we are doing everything in our power to make sure that it does not," Padmé reminded them. "Providing the Chancellor lets the vote be held," she murmured thoughtfully, remembering what Obi-Wan had said. "The Chancellor is very clever at following the passions and prejudices of your colleagues."

"He cannot put it off forever," Dormé reasoned. "No other legislation can be passed until it is settled."

"I'm not so sure on that," Padmé remarked. "There are ways and means of achieving such, certain loopholes in procedure and protocol."

"So he could be hoping that given enough time, it would be forgotten?" Jehane asked.

"I hope not," Padmé answered quickly, before adding more thoughtfully, "although that could prove equally effective. It would take away the possibility of war with the Separatists and allow the negotiations for peace to continue. However, it would leave the law unresolved indefinitely, and allow for those systems who can afford it to create armies of their own."

"Not to mention that there are some who will not let it be forgotten," Cordé added, causing her Senator and fellow handmaiden to nod in agreement.

"Even when it is dealt with there will be those who wonder whether we have done the right thing," Padmé mused. "Some who might strive to bring it before the Senate again in the hope that the resolution will go their way this time." She sighed sadly. "I'm beginning to see why Master Kenobi hates politics and politicians."

"Makes one wonder if it is any different in the Confederacy," Dormé added quietly.

"There must be some difference that makes it so attractive, aside from the novelty and size of its current membership," Cordé argued. "We hear of the systems joining, we would hear about them leaving, I think."

Padmé quietly wondered if it was the fact that a Jedi was the leader that made the difference, although no one knew that outside of the Order. Still, a former Jedi, which was the public reputation of Count Dooku must count for something. However the glaring contradiction was the interest of the Trade Federation, unless the events that had led them to declare their desire to join the separatists was nothing more than a lure on the part of the confederacy in order to bring them to justice. And if that was so, it would mean that the attempts on her life could be part of that lure, and her miraculous escape from injury each time a matter of protecting her, allowing her to continue her fight against the Military Creation, thus preventing war between the Confederacy and the Republic.

"Time is marching on, Senator," Typho remarked, bringing her out of her introspection. She glanced at the chrono and nodded in thanks to her security chief. It was almost time for the first meeting with the Relief Committee.

As she rose from the table, followed by her handmaidens, the Captain and the padawan, a thought occurred to her, causing her to pause for a moment. "Padawan Doah, do you think that we should keep your presence obvious, or would it be more advisable to use discretion?"

Obi-Wan's apprentice looked at her with a slight frown. "What do you mean, Senator?"

"I was wondering if you should change into the clothes worn by my handmaidens," Padmé explained. "It occurred to me that just having a Jedi Apprentice following me around without any sight of their master might call more attention to Master Kenobi's absence than the Council would wish. If you were styled as Cordé and Dormé are, it would allow you to remain by my side more than a Jedi could. You would be able to attend Committee meetings with me and the Senate sessions, rather than waiting outside."

"The Senator is right," Typho added, "It would lend an additional security benefit. Although Dormé, Cordé, not to mention you, Senator, are trained for and have experience in combat, they are not sensitive to the Force. And the assassin could easily try to attack within the Senate floor, or in one of the conference rooms."

"Would it not seem strange, a handmaiden who is Force sensitive?" Jehane asked.

"Not necessarily," Typho replied. "There are plenty of beings who possessed the ability, untrained through not being found or allowed to join the Jedi. If you practise discretion, your sensitivity should only be noticeable to those who possessed a similar talent."

"Then if you can find me suitable clothing, I accept, milady," Jehane decided, with a slight bow directed at her.

Padmé nodded. "Of course, Cordé and Dormé should have something that will fit." She directed a questioning glance at her attendants who inclined their heads in ascent before ushering the Jedi padawan to follow them to the door which led into their quarters within the penthouse apartment.

When the three were gone she turned her attention on her security. "I was wondering a moment ago if the Separatists had lured the Trade Federation into joining them so they might face the justice which the courts failed to deliver. What do you think?"

"Its a sound theory," Typho allowed. "But wouldn't news of such justice being visited on the Trade Federation have reached us by now?"

"They have yet to announce their membership formally," Padmé reminded him. "All we have is rumours that they are joining the Confederacy. I remember how cautious they were after the defeat of the blockade. Perhaps they want something in return before they will agree to join."

"Such as your death?" Typho remarked, receiving a nod from her in reply. "You make a compelling case, Senator. But it is only a theory. Nothing is certain without proof. I only hope that when Master Kenobi returns, he will have discovered who is behind these assassination attempts and have irrefutable evidence as well."

"I hope so too," Padmé added, along with a silent prayer that he would also come back alive and whole to her, so they might have a chance to explore further the feelings which lay between them.

"Has your master mentioned our prior acquaintance?" Padmé asked the padawan on the way to the first committee meeting, as they walked down one of the many corridors within the Senate building.

"He has, milady," Jehane replied. "But not in detail. I think he assumed I had learned much of the mission from the rumours about it that we tend to hear within the Temple, along with our lessons on Republic political history. However, some parts of the mission are still classified, so we have only been told the general story."

"Well, he and his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, were sent to my planet by the Chancellor in order to get a clearer report on the blockade by the Trade Federation," Padmé explained. "They found out that it was not just a blockade, but an invasion. I was serving as Queen at the time, and the Viceroy had seized me in order to force me to sign a treaty, making their actions legal. Master Jinn and Obi-Wan managed to rescue me and my court from their clutches. We escaped Naboo, but the ship sustained damage, forcing us to divert to Tatooine for repairs. While we were there, certain events caused Master Jinn to remain on the planet while your master and I travelled back to Naboo, where we managed to defeat the blockade."

"I see," Jehane acknowledged. There was a short pause, as the padawan cast a gaze at their surroundings. Captain Typho, along with two of her handmaidens had accompanied them from the embassy to the Senate, and as they traversed the corridors enroute to the conference room where the Relief Committee was to hold their meeting, various senators, officials, representatives, ambassadors, and assistants passed them by in both directions. When the apprentice next spoke it was in a tone designed so as not to be overheard by these passerbys, yet audible enough for the Senator to pick up what she said.

"Your recounting of the affair makes no mention of one rumour within the Temple," Jehane said. "That rumour has led to my master being given a certain title. The Sith Killer."

Padmé gave the seeming handmaiden beside her a careful glance. "I'm not sure how much I am allowed to tell you of that, padawan," she said carefully. "I was sworn to secrecy by members of the High Council."

"Please call me Jehane, milady," the apprentice requested before she continued. "When I first heard what my Master was being referred to as, I questioned him about it, and he did tell me what happened. I was wondering if you saw any of it?"

"Not at the time, for I was trying to reach the Viceroy, so our plan to relieve the blockade would succeed," Padmé replied. "But the palace security did record it, and I had to give the visiting members of the High Council a copy, which I understand they watched before giving your master his knighthood. I also watched it, but I have yet to ask him about it. What he did was extraordinary, there is no other word for it. As for his opponent, I was relieved that we managed to retrieve his body for burial. I would not like to meet with him again." She turned to her companion. "How did Obi-Wan describe it?"

"My Master is very modest," Jehane answered. "His recounting of the fight was succinct and matter of fact. He suggested I watched the security recording, which I did, although I do not think that either of the accounts managed to convey the full reality of the duel. It is something Jedi have not managed for over a millennia. I was told that it acquires a tremendous discipline over your emotions to defeat a sith. I am an Echani, milady, my people are taught that the only way to know someone is to meet them in combat. It is a constant struggle to discipline my emotions in the way that a Jedi should during a fight. Against a sith I imagine it would be even harder."

"When I won the election to become Queen, my security gave me and my handmaidens combat lessons," Padmé remarked. "My predecessor died in mysterious circumstances, and Captain Panaka, the chief of security for the palace, thought it would be wise to use decoys to protect me. Most of my handmaidens who are with me now are because of those lessons. It is why I thought your change of clothes would not be questioned."

"But I don't look like you, milady," Jehane pointed out.

"Neither did a few of my handmaidens then," Padmé added. "Eirtaé in particular. She had your hair, and a similar build to myself. However she also ran in the elections for Queen. I employed a elaborate series of gowns and hairstyles which helped hide the differences between my decoys and myself. It was important for my decoys not only to know how to protect themselves, but also how to conduct the affairs of state. While they were disguised as me, I served as a handmaiden. If they constantly turned to me all the time, there would have been little use of such a security technique."

"Where is Eirtaé now?" Jehane asked.

"She stayed on as an advisor to my successor," Padmé answered. "While your master was fighting the sith, I had to use my combat training to reach the Viceroy. It is one thing to learn the training, but quite another to apply the training to reality. I was quite young, too young I feel in retrospect. I'm not sure I was ready for the responsibilities which I had to assume. I remember during the fight how hard it was not to give into fear, even there were moments that all seemed lost. I can only imagine how hard it must be for a Jedi."

"We are taught to use our emotions, but not to rely on them completely," Jehane explained. "Our Code teaches us that while there is emotion, there is also peace. Ignorance, yet knowledge. Passion, yet serenity. Chaos, yet harmony. Death, yet the Force. Through the passage of time the phrasing of this mantra has changed, yet ultimately the meaning behind it is the same; to achieve a balance in all things. If one is uneven, suffering will ensue. That is the difference between use and the Sith, they use their darker emotions more than we do. But it is also our weakness, for if we copy their methods then we are in danger of falling to the darkside ourselves. The Sith are aware of this vulnerability and they try to use it against us, something which cannot be adequately conveyed by recording or recounting of the duel that my master took part in against one such creature."

"After that duel, your master helped me in the negotiations with the Viceroy which led to his temporary arrest," Padmé added, unable to hold back all of her bitter feelings as she uttered the last words. When the blockade was at an end and the ship from Coruscant arrived, carrying the members of the Jedi High Council and the Chancellor along with her then Senator Palpatine, it was also to serve as transportation of the Viceroy to Coruscant for trial at the Courts.

She knew that it would probably take a long time for Gunray to be tried, but she had not expected the Courts system to release the Viceroy when they had, claiming he had accepted what he had done was wrong, and served the appropriate time. She and Palpatine had registered their protest at such a judgement, but that was all they could do, until more support for Court reform was found within the Senate. She was thankful that Obi-Wan had been at the negotiations with her, otherwise she might never have learned who was behind the blockade of her planet, although neither she nor the Jedi Order had yet to find the mysterious sith named Sidious, that Gunray deemed responsible.

"I did not know that," Jehane commented.

"Afterwards he also took part in the relief operation to help my people get back on their feet after the occupation," Padmé added.

"I didn't know that either. Nor did I know until he left that he has feelings for you," Jehane revealed. "My master has always been very discreet about his relationships outside the Order. I only learn of them when we meet those beings who have met him before. Like Duchess Kryze. When I met her, my master said nothing of their previous acquaintance, I was left to learn of it from her conversation. Likewise with you, milady."

"And what is your opinion?" Padmé asked her.

"It is not for me to cast judgement on my master," Jehane replied. "He is my mentor until I am knighted, and even after that I suspect that I will seek out his advice, as Master does with his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn. I am not under any obligation to tell the Council. It is up to you and my master to decide when you tell them."

"Which will not be any time soon," Padmé confided, "not while I am still a Senator. Nor can we act on our feelings, aside from gestures of farewell. Our positions are too public. It would create a perception that the Jedi are allied with the Senate, making your Order's claim of independence in matters difficult to uphold."

"That perception of independence is becoming harder and harder to maintain," Jehane added. "Due to the division within the galaxy most of the beings we try to help now view us with ever increasing suspicion. But we cannot refrain from offering our assistance, not when the need for relief is now greater than ever."

"Hopefully that is something I can persuade the members of the Republic to assist with," Padmé remarked as they reached their destination, "once the Military Creation Act vote has been held. For now, an agreement within the Committee for Relief will have to suffice."

"So what do I do whilst you are in discussion with the other senators?" Jehane asked quietly as they entered the conference room.

Padmé handed her a pad. "You take a seat along the wall with the other assistants and keep an eye on this. It takes a record of the meeting, keeps track of other Senate business, and what is happening within the galaxy. It is has an alert system which will let us know when the vote on the Military Creation Act is to be held. If that or anything else comes through which you think warrants my immediate attention, you let me know by coming up to the table and handing me the pad."

Jehane took hold of the pad and nodded, giving Padmé a slight bow before she left her side to take one of the chairs that were placed along the wall. Padmé watched until the padawan had found her seat, then turned to take her own at the conference table, waiting for other members of the committee to take their places, so the meeting could begin.

With so many other concerns in her mind, it was hard for Padmé to remained focused on all her committee meetings that morning. She debated with her colleagues for more relief to be given to those in need, supported by Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and other like minded senators. At the end of the meeting an agreement was reached to bring the matter up in the Senate, but that would only be possible after the Military Creation Act was dispensed with.

As she attended each committee meeting, her weariness of Republic politicking grew, along with her concern for Obi-Wan, who she could only hope was safe and finding answers as to who was behind the attempts on her life. During the ten years that had passed since their time together during the blockade, she had often thought about him, wondering what missions he was employed on, if he was still alive. Now she had seen him again, and knew that he returned her feelings, thoughts about him became almost constant.

His padawan kept by her side through the day, keeping a diligent record of the meetings they attended, offering conversation only when Padmé initiated such talk. She was not surprised by Jehane's behaviour, Obi-Wan had adopted a similar manner when in company with her and the members of the Jedi Council on Naboo after the relief of the blockade. This reserved nature did nothing to harm Padmé's liking of the girl, whom she found to be confident, intelligent and good-humoured. Jehane also possessed the same grace which she often saw in Obi-Wan.

There was still no announcement of when the voting would take place on the Military Creation Act by the time Coruscant's sun had reached its zenith. Padmé took a working meal, as the committee meeting for justice reform ran over into the afternoon. She left that conference in silent disgust, for the other members had failed to reach an agreement to bring the latest proposal up in the Senate.

Annoyed at being faced by such constant ineffectual wrangling, her mind speculated on how the Confederacy managed such matters once more. She had spent two years serving within the Senate, and times she felt that she had accomplished more in the same period of time during her first term as Queen of Naboo. There was more regulation and corruption to wade through, which was to be expected, given the size of the Republic, but still there were days when it was hard to recognise the small accomplishments for the significant progress that they were, and harder still to find the strength to keep going. The attraction of leaving the Republic to join the Confederacy was becoming compelling, even though she knew nothing of how they conducted their way of governing. There were a few close acquaintances who had left the Senate to join the Separatists. Padmé resolved to talk to them when the committee meetings were at end for the day, and she was back in her apartment.

She was in the middle of the penultimate conference when a chorus of chimes broke through the discussion, the usual signal on the Senate pads for changes to the political schedule. Turning from the table, she glanced at Jehane who, like the rest of the assistants present, was scanning the message received. The padawan finished and met her gaze silently before rising from her chair to hand Padmé the pad.

It took no more than a few minutes to read the alert. A time for the vote on the Military Creation Act had been announced from the executive office.

It would take place within half an hour.

Part 20: Revelations On & Away From Geonosis.

Geonosis was a large red planet, located near an asteroid field. Obi-Wan's Delta-7 starship left hyperspace shortly after Jango Fett's craft had, but it still took time to locate the vessel waiting for him after he left the ring which housed the hyperspace engine. Engaging thrusters, he followed the bounty hunter's ship to the planet. When they had almost reached the atmosphere, Obi-Wan caught sight of a sizeable fleet of starships settled on the other side of the asteroid belt, the distinctive spherical shape identifying them as belonging to the Trade Federation. Either they were about to attack the Confederacy, or Master Dooku had persuaded Viceroy Gunray to sit at the negotiating table, for what reasons and motives he had yet to speculate. Whatever the truth, caution was vital. Keeping the asteroids between him and the enemy fleet, he entered Geonosis atmosphere.

The whole of the landscape below was a barren and arid red plain, populated by broken stones, buttes and mesas. An unlikely place for the headquarters of the Confederacy, if indeed that was what Geonosis was, but then it was also the perfect location to disguise the size and power of the Separatists as well. Obi-Wan continued to follow Jango's ship as the vessel skimmed over the rough desert landscape, heading for the distant activity which his ship's scanners had picked up.

Jango landed his ship on a mesa sheltered by a rocky overhang. Obi-Wan put his own vessel down next to it, and leapt from the craft to the desert surface. The night air had a strong metallic taste to it, but the temperature was comfortable, and yet there was a strong breeze.

The bounty hunter led him away from their vessels, to a cluster of great towers, a contrast to the natural stalagmites which dotted the landscape. The grandest one was heavily guarded by battle droids, who waved Jango and Obi-Wan by without so much as a second glance.

Count Dooku was waiting for them in one of the ante rooms off the main corridor.

"Master Kenobi, welcome to Geonosis," He began when they entered. "I am pleased to see that someone from Order has decided to come and visit."

Obi-Wan took a breath, calming himself before he began. "Master Dooku, may I speak frankly?" Though he was a master of padawan, he had not yet been granted the title as a master of the Force, which Dooku held and therefore was his superior in the hierarchy of the Jedi Order. When the Count nodded in silent answer, he continued. "I have just come from Kamino, where, as I understand it, you allowed an army of clones to continue to be created, an project that was begun by Master Sifo-Dyas before he returned to the Temple and lost his life in an effort to erase all records of that planet. Why?"

"In the hope that it would bring who he was working for out of the shadows," Dooku replied. "Which it has, after a fashion. What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of a Dark Lord of the Sith?"

"No, that's not possible," Obi-Wan uttered, shocked. "The Jedi would be aware of it."

"The dark side of the Force has clouded their vision, my friend. Hundreds of Senators are now under the influence of a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious. He was behind the order of the clone army, to bring about a civil war within the Republic. A veil hides his actions and identity from the Temple, slowly corrupting the Order. It is why I have stayed away from Coruscant for so long. If the Jedi do not leave soon, they will be killed."

"If this true, why have you not told the Council?" Obi-Wan asked. "Or sent Jango to tell them, instead of using him to deploy fake assassinations attacks on Senator Amidala."

"I cannot meet with the Council, not without the Sith learning about the truth behind the formation of the Separatists. I doubt they would believe a bounty hunter either, because of the veil that the Sith has in place, limiting their ability to use the Force. As for the attacks on Senator Amidala, they were necessary. Viceroy Gunray wants her dead, pretending to take up the contract was the best way to protect her and lure them into joining us, so the Trade Federation receives the justice which the Republic courts could never deliver. They are just as
corrupt as the Senate is. I also suspected that the Jedi would intervene, thus providing an opportunity for you and I to exchange news without the Sith learning of our meeting."

"How did you come to notice this veil?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"When I was on Serenno, I found that it had become somewhat easier to access the Force. My powers had regained the subtly and grace I previously believed to be fading along with my youth. One day I meditated, sinking myself deep into the waves of the ancient energy until I found out why. I had vision of Coruscant, with a sphere of red mist surrounding it. I saw a hooded creature casting this mist over the planet. Just before the vision faded, the being raised his head and looked at me. I could see nothing but darkness. It was disturbing."

He spoke with such confidence of the Force that Obi-Wan felt his frustration at what he had uncovered remaining hidden for so long fading away. There were still some issues to resolve, however. "Assuming the Council believe me upon my return, where will the Order go, and how shall we explain it to the Republic? And what is going to happen to the clone army? We will not be able to keep Kamino hidden forever."

"What happens to Kamino depends greatly on the results of vote on the Military Creation Act that is taking place within the Senate. As for the Order, there is only one choice open to us; leave the Republic."

Obi-Wan stilled, for though he had anticipated that prospect, it was a shocking one to contemplate. The Jedi had been associated with the Republic for over a millennia, since before the end of the Tionese War, when they relocated from Ossus to the Temple on Coruscant during the Great Sith War. "What will we do about the Temple?"

"Make it an embassy," Dooku replied. "Most of the Separatists still have ownership of the apartments and houses in which their Senators lived. We can make it a condition in our continued negotiations with the Chancellor." He said the last with some cynicism.

"Are the talks not going well?" Obi-Wan inquired mildly.

"They seemed to be stalled," Dooku answered. "Until the results of the MCA. Palpatine sounds determined for peace, but myself and many of my councillors are growing sceptical about his motives. If you cannot manage to convince the Masters to relocate the Order, I ask you to arrange a meeting with Qui-Gon on my behalf. I could use his help right now for a fresh perspective."

"I shall give him your message," Obi-Wan promised. "Whatever the outcome. So do you think it likely that the Masters will not believe me?"

"While the veil is clouding their ability to use the Force I do think so," Dooku judged. "I could not believe it at first when I learned of the possibility, but time away from Coruscant has confirmed its existence. You may be able to detect it, though I ask that you do not try until you are some distance from the system, for if the Sith comes to learn of your actions, he may be able to trace our whereabouts. If you cannot sense it, I hope that my reputation counts as a source of authenticity to the claim, that will make them agree to leave Coruscant until they realise it themselves."

"Will the attempts on Senator Amidala's life cease with the results of MCA?" Obi-wan inquired.

"The Trade Federation is nearly ready to sign themselves over to the Separatists," Dooku answered. "Once their membership is confirmed, the attempts will cease and their trial will begin."

"Is there anything else which I need to bring to the Council's attention?" Obi-Wan asked.

Dooku shook his head, then bowed. "May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan returned the gesture. "May the Force be with you, Master Dooku," he replied and left the room.

No one accompanied him back to his ship, Jango having remained behind, for what reason Obi-Wan felt no need to inquire about at this time. His thoughts were still reeling over what Master Dooku had told him. The idea that a sith had cast a veil over Coruscant to conceal his identity and limit the power of the Jedi Order was incredible. A part of him still refused to believe it. Yet he sensed no deception from Master Dooku, and the elder Jedi had pointed out to him the possibility that he might be able to sense the veil himself during his return journey to Coruscant.

He keyed in a command for the propulsion ring to drop his ship out of hyperspace about half way between Geonosis and Coruscant. Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan cleared his mind and focused his breathing. It took some time before he was ready for meditation, the revelations which he had learned only a few hours ago still troubling him. Slowly he felt himself open to the Force, the currents of the ancient energy surrounding and penetrating him. Deeper and deeper he sank into their embrace, allowing them to take him where they willed.

At first all was clouded, as it had been when he spoke to Bail Organa during his search for the changeling assassin. A formation of dust particles in desert shades, swirling around within a cavernous arena that opened to the sky. Gradually the circling waves lifted, taking him with them, leaving behind an area of chaos and destruction, a battle which he caught but a glimpse of, the grey and flesh tones interspersed with lasered shafts of greens and blues too numerous to translate into a recognisable scene.

The particles took him far away, into the blackness of space, into the realms of stars and planets, some easily distinguished, others too blurred to identify. Eventually he reached the jewel of the core worlds, the grey lit faceted sight that was Coruscant. Only now it shone red, courtesy of a halo which encircled the planet completely, like the outer layer around a sun.

For a moment his journey was halted, allowing his view to linger and hover over the planet, before rapidly assuming pace once more, a tumultuous descent, reminding him of when he had been forced to let go of the assassin's probe, plummeting through air traffic skies to the duracrete, thousands of feet below. Bail Organa and his speeder saved him then, but now there was nothing except the embrace of the Force. A wave of the ancient energy caught him gently, slowing his descent, and though he had used it almost all his life, Obi-Wan could not help but feel some fear and then relief when his view at last began to decelerate.

By degrees his surroundings became familiar, allowing him to recognise the Senate district before the rotunda of that building came into view. His perspective passed through the dome that housed the main chamber, to the executive office below. The Supreme Chancellor's room was empty, a startling sight, the eeriness catching him off guard. He drifted outside, through the large widescreen transparisteel aspect of the cityscape, towards the embassies and apartments nearby.

In one of the many penthouses, a cloaked figure stood on the balcony, facing the night sky. Darkness enveloped him, the sheer power akin to gazing into an abyss and feeling something within staring back. Obi-Wan could feel it pulling him closer and closer, the inescapable tug of the dark side of the Force. He had felt such a pulse before, as every Jedi did, waiting by the light to pull him from the path, but never before as a black hole, consuming him utterly. This creature would gift unimaginable destruction upon the galaxy, the Jedi unable to stop him, the inevitable certainty of such a defeat terrifying him.

As if sensing the fear, the creature began to turn, the darkness within latching on to the feeling gleefully, as though it were some new awaited delicious delicacy from an exotic place. He felt trapped, the need to flee growing inside him, threatening to consume his usual instinct to stand and fight. The last fold of the cloak faded into the night, threatening to reveal a face...

He fell against the seat within the cockpit of the Delta-7, the suddenness of his return to reality sharp and abrupt. Shaken anew, his heart pounding, Obi-Wan scrambled to calm both his body and mind. A sense of regret briefly took hold of him, as he wished that he had not decided to attempt such a meditation within the confines of the small cockpit in the middle of space, surroundings which rarely served to comfort him. Yet he was glad that he had not waited until he returned to the Temple, where the vision would have served to lend a dark disturbance to the peaceful serenity of his apartment, even if he had managed to pierce the sith veil to begin with.

Preparing himself to re-engage the hyperdrive took time, yet Obi-Wan felt an undeniable urge to leave his current location as soon as possible, all too aware of the vulnerabilities of his ship and the ever constant threat from the evils of the galaxy. As the Delta-7 settled into the starred streamlines of hyperspace, he sought to regain the calm serenity that he previously possessed, though such a state now seemed a distant past. There had been little downtime between this assignment and the last, both fraught with danger for all concerned. Such was indicative of the current tensions within the galaxy, which felt like it was just one blaster shot away from civil war. He could see peace becoming a desperate dream of the future, a gleaming oasis in a desert of turmoil, forever beyond reach.

By the time he reached Coruscant his faculties were working, the words of his briefing before the Council forming within his mind. Until now the prospect of the Order leaving the Republic had only been a possibility, arisen from Master Dooku's position within the Confederacy. Since his vision it had been a certainty, the power of such a conviction akin to that feeling he used to sense from Qui-Gon when his master was set upon achieving one of his unorthodox crusades. It was strange and unfamiliar, he was more used to witnessing those argue and defend their case, not deliver one himself. He was uncertain of the Council's response as well, though that he had become accustomed to over the years.

Leaving the hyperspace engine ring in orbit around the grey jewelled faceted planet, he guided his Delta-7 through the atmosphere into the numerous high speed sky traffic lanes. As a Jedi he was given certain vehicle privileges which allowed him to over take others, or go faster than the current laws permitted, but making use of such diplomatic passes would only serve to let others know that he had returned, and Obi-Wan had no desire to attract attention, not when he was the only one who could convey the information he carried to the Council. The longer they remained ignorant of the damage the sith was doing to them, the more vulnerable the Order would become.

Not even when he had reached the hangar bay of the temple, did he give himself a moment to recognise the relief of that achievement. The vision still unsettled him, especially that last scene, the turn of the cloak that threatened to reveal the face of the sith lord. As much as he had wished to learn the creature's identity, he also feared that the vision had been a two way revealing of information between the sith and himself. If the sith was aware of what Obi-Wan knew, the danger to the Order increased tenfold.

It was only when he reached the corridor that encircled the Council chamber that he granted himself a moment to breath. Not that he had much of a choice, for the doors were closed, signalling that a meeting was in session, and two others waited in the cluster of seats that were arranged by the door to be admitted into the Council's presence.

"Obi-Wan," one of them called out, rising from his chair. Obi-Wan pushed the cause of his current anxiety to the back of his mind as he met and returned his Master's greeting.

"It is good to see you, Master," he remarked, a smile coming to light his face.

"And to see you, padawan," Qui-Gon replied, taking a step back to take in all of the knight's appearance. "How was Ansion?"

"Eventful," Obi-Wan replied, although the troubles of that mission now seemed light years away, almost as if they had happened in another life time.

"Did they permit you a break?" Qui-Gon asked.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, I have been charged with protecting Senator Amidala. You heard of the attempts on her life?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "I have. Have you found who was responsible?"

"In a manner of speaking." Obi-Wan paused. "What of you, why are you here to see the Council?"

"It is not for me that the meeting was requested," Qui-Gon replied, with a slight glance directed to the padawan behind him. "I would be glad of your support, Obi-Wan, if you would bear witness to what passes before the Council after your own encounter has concluded?"

"Of course," Obi-Wan agreed, concerned. He took in his master's composure, the barely hidden anxiety. Something was troubling Qui-Gon Jinn, and it had something to do with his current apprentice. It was rare for a padawan learner to request a meeting with the Council, and even rarer for that body of beings to grant such a liberty. Glancing at the silent apprentice, Obi-Wan could conceive no idea as to what the matter could be. While his relationship with Qui-Gon was still almost as much as it during his own apprenticeship, his knowledge of Anakin Skywalker was limited. After he became a knight, Qui-Gon often invited him over to have dinner whenever he was between assignments.

He had always accepted the invitation, and enjoyed the subsequent evening spent in company with his former master and Shmi. Rarely had Anakin joined them, the boy always seeming to have study or friends to see. On the odd occasions that he did, it was only until the end of his meal, eaten quickly as was typical of a growing padawan. The boundless energy and insatiable curiosity that had once been innate within him disappeared, replaced by a quietness that was sometimes quite unnerving.

He had not inquired into what at times appeared to be a studious avoidance, it was not place to do so, even when he acquired his own padawan. Nor had Qui-Gon given him any concern that would have justified such interference, until now.

The doors to the Council chamber opened, and the Jedi who had occupied the Council's time exited, giving the waiting trio a courteous acknowledgement as they headed to the turbolift which would take them back to the main floor of the Temple.

Obi-Wan turned from his master and entered the chamber alone, bowing to the beings present when he reached the centre of the room.

"Welcome back, Master Kenobi," Mace Windu began. "What news do you bring from Kamino?"

"An army of clones, being created for the Republic, ordered by Master Sifo-Dyas before he returned to erase all record of the system from our archives," Obi-Wan answered. The information was met with startled gasps. "The being whose genes were the base of these clones was the bounty hunter behind the attacks on Senator Amidala. He was hired by Master Dooku, who had learned that the Trade Federation wanted the Senator dead in revenge for her part in the Blockade Crisis. By taking up the price on her head, Master Dooku intended to trick the Trade Federation in joining the Confederacy so they would face the justice which the Courts never managed to deliver."

"Did you meet Master Dooku on Kamino?" Mace asked.

"No, the bounty hunter took me to where Master Dooku was, on Geonosis," Obi-Wan replied. "Master Dooku also informed me that the Sith lord was behind the order of the clone army. He is someone in a position of power on Coruscant, who intended to use the clone army in order to bring about a civil war within the Republic. He has placed a veil over the planet to conceal his identity, which is limiting our ability to use the Force. Master Dooku believes that for our safety the Order should leave both Coruscant and the Republic."

There was a few minutes of silence while the Council took in the news and discussed the matter between themselves through the Force. Obi-Wan waited in silence, unable to contribute or even sense what they were talking about, for the conversation required a skill within the Force which was only taught to Council Masters.

"Decided it is," Yoda uttered abruptly as the masters turned their gaze on Obi-Wan once more, "leave the Republic the Order shall. Collect your padawan from Senator Amidala, Master Obi-Wan. Grant our protection to her no longer we can."

"Masters, before I go, Master Qui-Gon has asked that I bear witness to the meeting requested by his padawan," Obi-Wan informed them.

The Grand Master gestured with his gimer stick at the doors, waving them aside, allowing Qui-Gon and Anakin to enter. Obi-Wan moved to slightly to the left in order to give the master and padawan the centre of the floor.

"Anakin Skywalker, you have requested to be heard before the Council," Mace began.

"Yes, Masters," Anakin replied. "I wish to leave the Order."

Obi-Wan was stunned. Of all the requests which could be made he had not expected this. It was unheard of for padawans to ask to leave the Order.

"Eager you were to join the Order ten years ago," Master Yoda commented. "Reasons for leaving you must have."

"I am ready for the trials, but I am not allowed to take them," Anakin answered.

"What know you of being ready?" Yoda countered, tapping his gimer stick on the arm of his chair, a clear sign of his dissatisfaction with Anakin's reply. "For the trials, ready no padawan ever is."

"Master Qui-Gon has taught me all he knows," Anakin declared.

"Has he?" queried Mace, glancing at the master.

"I have taught him all he wishes to learn," Qui-Gon replied, his choice of words causing Obi-Wan to transfer his thoughtful gaze from the padawan to the master. For Qui-Gon to make such a reply indicated that there must be something very wrong between him and Anakin.

"Do you desire another master?" Ki-Adi-Mundi asked.

"No, I wish to be allowed to take the trials, or leave the Order," Anakin answered.

"The first we cannot grant," Adi Gallia informed him. "For neither we nor your master believe you are ready. So the second it must be."

Part 21: Decision Chimes.

Before casting her vote, Padmé took a look at the Military Creation Act once more. Having been one of the Senators who had witnessed the crafting of the original, she knew how much this final version differed from the first draft. The wording had changed, along with the definitions, a consequence of the many committee meetings it had to pass through before the senate. Each committee had attached, discarded or amended items to the wording. Padmé had spent many months working on attaching a number of clauses that she hoped would prevent anyone but a majority within the Senate from raising an army, a safeguard in case her work to defeat the Act failed. Now the loopholes which she had previously thought to be closed were open to exploitation once more. For example, although no governing body was allowed to raise an army without the approval of the Senate, a private individual might do so, merely by adding members to their security force, or creating such a body of protection in the first place. The ability to hire an army from an independent system as well, had not been forbidden, or recruiting a band of mercenaries.

Casting her mind back over each moment when the act was altered, she realised that she had allowed her determination to get the matter on to the Senate floor for a vote blind her to the modifications which had been made. She had been so certain that if she failed to secure a defeat of the Act, the main intent of the clauses contained within it would serve to prevent anyone from examining the wording for ways to escape retribution by defying them. Now she knew that her certainty had been naive, and she should have spent more time on making sure the original wording of each clause was accepted before they went to a vote.

A few minutes ago she had been triumphant with the achievement, now she was despairing, wondering if there was an opportunity to put the Act back before the committees so the language could be reworked upon. There would be clamouring and complaints, but some would probably find the motion a relief, particularly the Chancellor, who always expressed his fears about the vote to her and the other members of the loyalist committee, reiterating his desire for peace with the Confederacy.

She prepared the words in her head, reached out to press the control that would take her pod out so she may address the floor, readied herself to rise from her chair and speak, when her movements were interrupted by a soft chime that echoed across the chamber, rendering whatever previous intentions she may have had meaningless. Regretfully she cast a glance around the vast room, trying to locate the origin of the sound that signalled the first vote being taken. But it was a fruitless endeavour, for there were too many pods for her to try and distinguish one among the many. That vote meant the Act was no longer allowed to be transferred back to committee. Her only alternative now if the Act passed through the Senate was to come up with another which would take care of the loopholes that this one would exploit. Instead of focusing on her regrets concerning the current version, she should look upon the clauses as the foundation on which to build a more secure branch of pacifist laws.

That was assuming the result of the vote was in favour, however. Her recent inside polling had shown her that it was still too close to call. Even with the weight of Senator Organa's opposition, the Military Creation Act was still a controversial one across the floor. And given what her own view of the law was now, Padmé was no longer surprised by some of her colleagues reluctance to voice their opinion of it. If she had been sensible of the flaws earlier, or instead of clamouring so forcefully for its defeat, choosing to argue that the clauses were merely a foundation on which to build upon, perhaps support for her cause might be more widespread.

But there was little she could do to change that now.

Around her the chimes were steadily building towards a harmonious chorus, as more votes were cast. There was no indication from the sound as to whether each vote was for or against. Anonymity was the preferred method within the Senate, as a way of ensuring against reprisals, although most of the time the information as to who voted for what did get out.

Padmé hated the hypocrisy, retaliations and dealing that were the result of such knowledge, it was the seamier side of politics which gave Senators a negative reputation. She aimed to try and avoid using those tactics, and was successful in doing so. Yet while those around her continued to employ such tactics, she could not help but feel that there was little to be accomplished by way of reform within the Republic.

The desire for a better, more honest system was deep within her, and she wondered if the Confederacy had found such a way, though considering some former colleagues of hers that announced their intentions to join the Separatists, she doubted it was possible. Few of them had shown themselves to prefer honest dealing during their time within the Senate.

Pushing her general growing discontent with Republic politics aside, Padmé read the Act one more time, focusing her mind on what vote she felt was right to cast. Musing about what she could not change would only serve to waste time during a voting session which she had worked for almost a year to bring on to the floor. This read through however only served to confirm her current dissatisfaction with it. Almost the entire wording seemed foreign to her, devoid of any familiarity of language which she had once had with it.

Ignoring that, she turned to the clauses, considering if they were enough of a foundation upon which to build further laws that would eliminate many of the loopholes that she could see within it. While she had been against this Act from the beginning of its conception, for a time she had contemplated the possibility of working with it, ensuring that the creation of an army did not necessarily lead to war, even as she continued to voice her opposition within the Senate. This precaution had been wise, although very little evidence of her willingness to cooperate now showed in the final draft.

Above her the lights flickered, signalling that the session would be coming to an end soon. She was running out of time. Casting the Act aside, Padmé placed her vote, her pod emitting a chime to confirm that it had been verified and recorded. Reclining back in her chair, she let the sounds around her calm and clear her senses until there was nothing left but the resolve that came with making such a decision. The regret which followed was unavoidable and all too familiar a companion. It was a result that she found herself feeling ever since she had become a senator, a result of the many compromises which she was obliged to make in order to make a difference. She was used to making compromises, having made them when she was Queen of the Naboo, but those had been accomplished without regret and proved beneficial to her home world. In the Republic that was rarely the case, and she was growing tired of only being able to speak for change, rather than making it.

The chimes signalling the votes had become less frequent, indicating that there were few senators or representatives left who had not cast their ballot. In the centre of the floor she caught one of the Chancellor's aides emerging from the shadows to consult the datascreen before him, which was sorting through the results. Soon she would find out whether all her work over the last year had been in vain.

When the results flashed across the screen before her, it took time to comprehend the meaning. Even when she reached an understanding, there were none of the feelings that she had expected to experience upon gaining such an achievement. In other pods around her colleagues discreetly shook hands or openly raised their fists to the ceiling in joy or despair at the result. Bail Organa directed a smile at her which she valiantly tried to return, as did the Palpatine, although for one brief moment she could have sworn that the chancellor appeared quite dismayed by the result of the vote. She too was struggling to feel content with the outcome, even though it was what she had been working so hard to achieve. For some inexplicable reason she felt like she had lost. It had been a terrible Act, and that the Senate had rejected it should have been a reason to celebrate, but instead, she felt as though she was mourning the loss of something she held dear.

This had been nothing more than an exercise in futility. In her two years of serving as Senator, nothing in the way of reform had been accomplished. In Chancellor Palpatine's ten years of service, nothing had been done to achieve justice through the Courts, eliminate corruption, or relieve the suffering of ordinary citizens. The Republic was not dying, it had been visited by death a long time ago. Continuing to perpetuate its existence would achieve nothing worthwhile on her part, and may even increase the turmoil within the galaxy. She could understand why many of her colleagues had chosen the Confederacy. It was a viable alternative to what she faced now, and something which warranted serious consideration.

She had spoken to a few of her former colleagues about politics in the Confederacy, and on the whole, found the prospect, hopeful, if somewhat guarded. Conversation over the com was difficult, even if it was encrypted, for there was always the possibility that someone somewhere was listening and passing the information on or keeping it to themselves in order to take advantage of it. Added to this the Confederacy was in its infancy, governing only existing in fits and starts, some a reflection of the Republic from which it was splintered, as the former senators and representatives tried to reason what methods they preferred to put into practice, whilst disbanding those that they knew from past experience to avoid. It would take time before one could judge if the organisation would become a democracy, time that was wholly dependent on the members of its government.

Just as it would take time to erase the corruption that existed within the Republic. But that corruption had existed since before Finnis Valorum took office, over ten years ago. It was something Palpatine had promised to reform when he succeeded him. Yet as far as she could tell, nothing had changed. If anything the corruption seemed to be worsening. And there were not enough senators left who cared to do anything about it. She could probably count the number that were just using her hands. She would feel guilty about deserting them just when they probably needed her the most, but they would also understand her reasons as well. One or two of them might follow her, either by coming to realise what she had, or because the news of her parting left them with little to gain by staying.

There was one obstacle. Despite their dual role, the Jedi were still members of the Republic. If Naboo left for the Separatists, the chances of her seeing Obi-Wan again would be fewer than she had now. Her position would not be so high profile, and therefore would permit the possibility of a relationship, but the distance between them would be the same as it was when she was Queen. Then again, she had only begun to see him recently because of the attempts on her life. The absence would be more keenly felt as they had allowed their affection to be acknowledged by themselves and to each other. But she could not remain within her current position in the hope that in time she and Obi-Wan would be able to have a relationship, at the expense of what she could do to forge a better democracy. She also realised that one day the Jedi would come to reach the same choice she had before her now, and given Master Dooku's position, their own leaving could be planned.

A discordant note sounded within the arena, out of tune with the previous chimes, signalling that this session of the Senate was now at an end. Silence slowly descended over the chamber, as everyone began heading for nearest exit.

Keeping her own counsel, Padmé nodded to her handmaidens and security, allowing them to encircle around her, as she left the chamber.

Padmé returned to her apartment in a thoughtful mood, paying little attention to her handmaidens, her security detail, or the disguised Jedi apprentice that was also charged with protecting her. Crossing the living room to enter her bedchamber in a seemingly distracted manner, she was vaguely aware of them taking refuge in the living area to discuss the news from the Senate, Jehane deep in conversation with Cordé, Dormé and Captain Typho about her impressions of the Senate in session, something which usually only Jedi Council Masters earned the privilege to witness.

As soon as the door closed behind her, she began undo the high collar of the dress she was wearing, until a movement ahead captured her vision and she froze in her motions, coming out of her ruminations to see a figure sitting somewhat forlornly on her bed.

"Obi-Wan," she uttered. "When did you get back?"

"Alittle while ago," he answered quietly, looking up from his pensive study of the floor. He held up a hand, gesturing for her to pause. "Don't finish getting changed, you'll be summoned back to the Senate in a few minutes."

"Why?" she asked him, moving her fingers away from her collar.

"Master Windu will be making an address." He paused before adding, "the Jedi are leaving the Republic."

"What?" Padmé felt herself still in shock as she looked at him in disbelief. Although she had recently realised such a possibility, the reality of it occurring so soon was still a surprise to her. Something profound must have happened for the Jedi to reach such a decision this quickly.

"It is because of what I found out during my investigations into who was behind the assassination attempts on you," he explained. "I traced the bounty hunter to Kamino, where a clone army is being built under the orders of a Jedi master, who before he died trying to erase all records of the system, asked for them to be created, at the behest of a sith. The bounty hunter is the genetic basis of each clone. He took me to Geonosis where I met with Master Dooku, who has discovered that the sith lord can cast a veil over himself to conceal his identity, which is also limiting the Order's ability to use the Force. He believes that the sith ordered the army with the intention of creating a civil war within the Republic. He has reason to believe that the sith lord holds a position of power on Coruscant, one which would allow him to profit from the civil war and the diminishing power of the Jedi."

"Where will the Order go?" Padmé asked him.

"The plan is to scatter ourselves in conclaves about the galaxy in any system that grants us sanctuary," he answered. "The Council believes that we cannot afford to gather ourselves in any one place or on any given planet. Although I do not know who will welcome us when it is known that we are leaving the Republic."

She went to stand before him and he took her hands in his, seeking comfort in stroking her soft skin. She gripped his fingers, making him look up, gazing at her solemn expression as she made her reply. "I'm sure Naboo would welcome you."

"As a member of the Republic, that would be difficult," he pointed out, appreciating her generosity nonetheless.

Padmé shook her head, her countenance firm with determination of her own. "Not for long. After Master Windu's announcement the Chancellor is bound to call for a recess. I will return to Naboo and put the question to a vote. If they say no, then I will resign my seat and join you wherever you are sent."

Obi-Wan froze in his stroking, looking at her in shock. "No, you will not give up your career for me."

"I'm not," she assured him. "I reached this decision before I left the Senate after the vote. I cannot continue to fight for a democracy which is already lost. Nor do I want another ten years to pass by without us seeing one another. We need to spend more time together, to see if what it is between us can grow into what we have hoped and dreamt for ever since that kiss on the landing platform a decade ago."

"I won't deny that," he affirmed, "but nor would I have you grow to resent me for taking you away from something which you have spent most of your life working towards."

"My dreams of what I could accomplish as a Senator were somewhat naive," Padmé confided. "I achieved more in my tenure as Queen of Naboo than I have done in my terms spent within the Senate. I am sick of having to make compromise after compromise, with beings that I do not trust, or would do business with in any other circumstance. Few of my colleagues are concerned with working to benefit those they represent, nearly all prefer to better their own situation. Maybe it will be the same in the Separatists, I don't know. But I want to find out."

Obi-Wan pressed another kiss to her hand. "As do I," he avowed.

Part 22: Departures.

"It is with the deepest regret that I announce the Order's withdrawal from Coruscant and the Republic. For many years our alliance has been regarded as a source of strength throughout the galaxy, but our parting of ways now should not be seen as a sign of weakness or a loss of faith in one another. It has always been our desire to heal the suffering within the universe and to this end we seek to reach a better understanding with the Separatists, in the hope that we may cure the breach that lies between the Confederacy and the Republic. For that to be accomplished, it is necessary that we spend time upon their worlds and amongst their beings, as we have done with the Republic."

With this, Master Windu finished speaking, as the Senate reacted to the devastating news. His speech had been short but diplomatic, conveying all that needed to be said, while at the same time concealing what he must. He could not reveal that the Order needed to leave Coruscant for its own safety, or that the leader of the Separatists was still a Jedi, for both would convey that the Order was vulnerable within the Republic and yet wielded significant power within the Confederacy, creating an impression that their motives for quitting the former were not as noble as they appeared. While it was true that they would be in danger if they remained within the Republic, and that they could if they so desired, exercise a certain amount of power within the Confederacy, they were all too aware of the suffering within the galaxy that had been worsened by the corruption within the Republic, as well as the schism which had caused the creation of the Confederacy, and would remain unhealed if the Order continued to be blinded by the veil of the darkside that shrouded the Jewel of the Core Worlds. Until they identified the source, they could not reveal that they knew of the danger to anyone, for it would provide their enemies with a chance to destroy them.

And it would allow the Sith a chance to further conceal themselves, to enshroud or destroy whatever trace of them might be at risk of discovery. So far all the Council knew was that Dooku had traced the sith lord who trained Maul to Coruscant, because the veil was a powerful tool of the darkside, and difficult to control from a distance. It was the council's hope that in leaving Coruscant they would be free of this veil, as Dooku had become, and as two masters alone had managed to obtain a glimpse of the sith, their combined ability might serve to pierce the dark shroud and reveal the sith lord's identity. With the will of the Force they might be able to do it without detection.

The clamouring within the Senate chamber was loud and rancorous, making it difficult for anyone to speak, call for order, or hear themselves think. Master Windu glanced around the cavernous arena, silently taking note of those systems whose representatives were silent. Many of them were senators that the Order knew they could trust, such as Naboo, Alderaan and Chandrila. Before addressing the Senate, it had been agreed within the Council that the Order would seek to remain in touch with some worlds whose leaders and senators they knew were trustworthy, and now as he glanced around the room, Master Windu took note of their reactions, mentally sorting each into groups that required caution and observation before contact, and those that did not. If there was to be a healing of the schism that lay within the Republic at present, it would require a continued dialogue between both sides, something that the Chancellor was attempting, but so far with little success.

At last Mas Amedda's continued requests for order managed to achieve the desired effect. As the chamber descended into silence the Chancellor rose from his chair to deliver his reaction to the news.

"It is with sadness that I receive this news," Palaptine began, "but I understand the Order's desire to rid the galaxy of its suffering and I wish them every success. In light of this news and your reaction to it, I declare a season recess."

When Qui-Gon and Anakin returned from the Council Chambers, he found Shmi waiting for them, rising from her seat within the living area of their temple apartment. He watched Anakin go to her, listening as his former padawan told his mother that he was leaving the Jedi Order, but without any sense of the words which Anakin used. Qui-Gon's thoughts were too focused upon the events that led to this moment. He was more given to reflection than his pupils or colleagues realised, all too often hearing him proclaim that the moment was all that mattered.

It was ten years since he had first met the two extraordinary beings before him, on a desert wasteland populated with the scum of the universe. Drawn first to the boy, who possessed a powerful sense of the Force, his attraction to Shmi had taken him by surprise. Once realised however, he had reacted, harnessing his own ability to use the ancient energy to effect the roll of a weighted chance dice, resting hopes upon a race that the boy had won, against the odds of certain death or defeat.

After winning their freedom, he would have left the planet immediately, seeking passage from the boy and his mother on board the Nubian ship, but for the discovery that someone was tracking them, causing him to stay, while his padawan took the Naboo to Coruscant so the Queen could plead her case before the Senate. As he waited for someone to retrieve them, he and Shmi became closer, even as he began to comprehend certain truths about her and her son, some of which changed his opinion of the boy. He learned that she had suffered abuse during her enslavement, one event which caused her to conceive her son, even though she rarely chose to remind herself of that traumatic event in connection with him. While such an origin rendered the prophecy from applying, Qui-Gon still vowed to train Anakin, and offer a home to the boy and his mother within the Temple.

Upon returning to Coruscant, he had knighted Obi-Wan and took on Anakin as his new padawan learner. While the boy settled into his initiate classes at the temple, Qui-Gon gave Shmi the chance to make a life for herself, supporting her as she forged a place for herself at the Coruscant Botanical Gardens. He never once forced his attentions on her, although his affection was an open secret between them.

When she came to feel for him a bond that reached beyond gratitude and obligation for all that he had done to liberate her and her son from slavery, only then did he allow himself to venture forth with touch as well as gesture, thought, look and deed. This unorthodox courtship led to a discreet wedding within the Temple before Anakin reached his teens.

Since then Qui-Gon had become both father and teacher to the boy, who had grown into the vast potential that was once untapped and unrecognised. Anakin proved a difficult, challenging student, struggling in the academic and philosophic side of Jedi training, whilst excelling in the art of handling a lightsaber and the other physical demands of the Force. His understanding of machines was almost unique within the Order, and just as hard to govern as anything unfamiliar usually is. Many a time Qui-Gon found himself spending a wakeful and restless night outside the Temple, rescuing the boy from whatever scrape he had gotten himself into, whether it be garbage pit racing in the Wicko District, or modifying droids to perform pranks that were otherwise beyond their programmed abilities. A few more years and Qui-Gon would have seen him welcomed into the ranks of Jedi knights, albeit with a few more grey hairs than Obi-Wan, Xanatos or Feemor cost him, had it not been for Anakin's unexpected decision to leave the Order.

Though they worked well together as master and padawan, for many years Anakin had kept his own counsel. Qui-Gon could sense when the boy was dissatisfied with the progress of his training, or impatient and disappointed in his ability to master a necessary skill, for one of Anakin's weaknesses was the self-discipline to hide or master such feelings, but rarely were those emotions or disagreements admitted by the boy to his master and stepfather. Allowing for the boy's harsh upbringing on remote, desert, Hutt ruled world, where his mother would only be able to protect him to a certain extent from the horrors of their slavery and the cruelities inflicted by their onwers, Qui-Gon respected this silence, and never forced confidence, believing it to be central to the child's perception of his freedom, trusting in Anakin's ability to sort himself out, and the Force to provide for the future. Now he was regretting such a move to give the boy that privacy, for he could see now that it had built a barrier between them which nothing, not even the affection he felt for Anakin and for Shmi could overcome, although whether it would have had an impact on Anakin's decision to leave Qui-Gon did not know.

"You're staying, aren't you, Mom?" Anakin asked Shmi at that moment, causing Qui-Gon to emerge from his thoughts, casting a glance at his wife. The enormity of her choice was conveyed across her face, along with the turmoil it would cost them both. Silently he nodded, though the movement broke his heart.

The padawan between them remained oblivious to their grief, as though too caught in his own thoughts and feelings to be sensible of anything else. He would not leave them alone for a moment, seemingly unaware that they would need solitude for what would be a hard parting. Had Shmi some sensitivity within the Force, the boy's presence would not have posed a hindrance, for the ancient energy allowed communication during dual focus on others, but Shmi lacked what her son possessed in abundance, something which they had never found cause to regret, until now. Neither look nor touch which they felt able to convey at times was sufficent to relate all that needed to be said between them, the absence of any privacy was felt all too keenly.

Qui-Gon watched them pack, the scene bearing a startling similarity to that which took place ten years ago, when they were on Tatooine, after Master Windu had visited to tell him of the events on Naboo, and to take them back to Coruscant. Then as now, Anakin was the eager one, shoving things into boxes and cases, while Shmi took more time and used more care, her seemingly serene composure concealing the sadness she and Qui-Gon felt.

There were also moments which reminded him of other occasions when padawans had left his apartment, due to their knighting in the case of Feemor and Obi-Wan, and due to their leaving in the case of Xanatos and Anakin. All were memories coloured with sadness, even though he had been happy to see Feemor and Obi-Wan become first knights, and then masters of the Order. The emptiness and quietness of his apartment afterwards was stark and disturbing, something he never got use to, even when he felt that he should not take another apprentice after losing Xanatos to the dark side.

That failure had affected him profoundly, the recovery taking years, lasting through the beginning of Obi-Wan's apprenticeship. He had been reluctant to teach for fear of losing another padawan, concerned that he would repeat the mistakes he felt he had made during Xanatos' training. Yet it had been with Anakin and not Obi-Wan that the failure was repeated. He could see now that with Obi-Wan he had been cautious and hesitant, but with Anakin he had been too confident that he could succeed. This was not down to Obi-Wan being a less capable padawan, it was because Obi-Wan had been immediately after Xanatos, making him more concerned about his teaching methods. His success with Obi-Wan had led to a lessening of this worry during Anakin's training.

Ultimately, he would probably never learn what it was which had led Anakin into leaving the Order. He had asked the boy before their meeting with the Council, but Anakin had merely attested to a belief that he was being held back from taking the trials when he believed he could and should take them. Qui-Gon had tried to make him understand that he still needed to acquire a self-discipline over his emotions in order to be ready, but Anakin would not listen. When he had said to the Council that Anakin had learned all he wished to learn, it was the truth. It was the boy's decision, but Qui-Gon still felt that he had failed Anakin, and could not rationalise that belief away.

It had not occurred to Qui-Gon until Anakin asked his mother if she was staying on Coruscant that it would cause him another loss. True, the boy had always been close to his mother, but he was also old enough to manage such a separation. Yet Anakin had asked, and neither Qui-Gon or Shmi could decide differently without causing more hurt. He wondered where they would be staying, as the Temple would no longer be an option, and he had been too preoccupied to learn from Anakin's conversation during the packing, to ask now would betray that mindset. It should not be a concern, as Anakin was leaving the Order, but Qui-Gon quietly resolved to keep in touch with Shmi and through her hear of Anakin, by whatever methods he could. As for his own location now that the Order was leaving Coruscant, he had yet to learn that either. He knew that the Master and padawan pairs along with the Council were staying on Serenno, this had been decided before Master Windu announced the Order's departure to the Senate. Other members would be divided into conclaves that would settle on whichever worlds offered them welcome.

Anakin began shifting things out of the apartment, with the help of Threepio and Shmi, still providing little opportunity for Qui-Gon and Shmi to talk. Qui-Gon stepped into help, though he felt he was intruding, as his former padawan kept watching him each time he lifted a box or took one from Shmi or Threepio that he felt was too heavy for them to handle. To refrain from helping was not in his nature, and yet Qui-Gon could not help but feel that Anakin wished him to just stand and watch.

Qui-Gon followed the trio with the boxes through the corridor into the cavernous entrance hall of the Temple, then finally through the double doors to the stairs outside that led to the ground and the thoroughfares of the Senate district. He noticed a transport waiting at the bottom of the staircase, with the logo of the executive office. Anakin began transferring the boxes from outside the entrance into the transport, giving Qui-Gon a clue as to where his former apprentice and Shmi would be staying. He remembered the Chancellor taking an interest in Anakin after their return from Tatooine, after inquiring why a padawan without a master had taken part in the relief of the Blockade of Naboo. In the immediate aftermath there had been some concern in seeing that the abolition of slavery regulations were properly observed within the Outer Rim in the Senate, but that had faded away for one reason or another. Unlike the Chancellor's interest in Anakin, which despite the efforts of the Order had continued to flourish.

At the time, the Order had been concerned that no special interest was attached to one jedi more than another, for it was their desire that each member of the Order was treated equally. The Council also wished for no political associations to be attached to the Jedi, though that was often ignored whenever a member of the Senate or the Chancellor asked for their advice on a particular matter. But it was difficult to refuse the leader of the Republic, not without appearing disloyal or rude. So Palpatine had continued to ask after Anakin, and the Council or Qui-Gon had provided answers. How the Chancellor had managed to arrange living arrangements for them Qui-Gon was uncertain, for sometimes Palpatine found opportunity to talk with Anakin without his master or the Council being aware of it.

Qui-Gon watched the trio continue to pile the boxes into the transport, relieved that he now knew where they would be, yet uneasy also. It would be difficult to keep in touch with Shmi because of their proximity to the executive office, but not impossible. He felt uneasy about politicians, finding little to approve of in their characters or their motives for office. It was an opinion which all his apprentices but Anakin and Xanatos had inherited. He accepted that they probably had their reasons for liking what politicians they had come into contact with, and strove not to let such a difference affect his relationship with them. But because of Anakin's decision to align himself with such beings, and the Order's resolve to leave the Republic, Qui-Gon knew that the distance between him and the Skywalkers would only continue to grow.

The last of the boxes were put inside the transport. Anakin climbed inside, leaving Threepio and Shmi a chance to say farewell, an opportunity he seemed determined to decline.

"Goodbye, Master Jinn," Threepio said, his golden arms reaching out to embrace Qui-Gon, which the Jedi Master welcomed, quite touched by the gesture.

"Goodbye, Threepio. May the Force be with you," he returned.

As the droid stepped away to join Anakin within the transport, Shmi came up to embrace him. Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around her, wishing that time could stop so the moment would last forever.

"May the Force, and my love, be with you, Shmi, always," he murmured, his voice choked with emotions which he forbore from restraining.

"Whatever the distance between us, I will always love you, Qui-Gon," she uttered softly, her tone equally uneven. "I shall contact you when I can. Goodbye, my love."

He released her reluctantly, and watched her descend the stairs, then climb into the transport. The vehicle's doors closed before it moved away.

It was a long time before he returned inside.

Padmé and Obi-Wan, together with Jehane and her entourage of handmaidens and security walked from the Senate back to her apartment. He may be biased, but Obi-Wan believed that until they reached her penthouse above the embassy, he was still required to protect her. No one troubled them to query that opinion enroute either, though that may have been because everyone was too preoccupied with the news concerning the Order's departure from the Republic.

Stationed within the back of the pod for Naboo, Obi-Wan had watched Master Windu make the annoucement, and the Senate's clamorous reaction to the news. There were a few genuinely shocked Senators and Representatives, but also quite a number of those scheming to capitalise on the Order's departure to better their own reputations. Appeals were made from certain senators to reconsider or delay their leaving after the seasonal recess was declared. Some were meaningful, while others were merely token gestures designed to improve the reputation of the senator in question. He had been relieved when Palpatine managed to declare a recess, giving him the chance to leave, though that meant that his parting from Padmé would soon arrive.

It was not a long journey from the Senate to the Naboo Embassy, but they made it last, slowing their normal gait to a sedate walk through the corridors that led from the Senate arena to the entrance, then by walking from that building to the apartment block at Five Hundred Republica rather than taking a transport. Around them was a formal parkland of permacrete, topiary trees and flowers, above which the traffic laden sky thoroughfares hummed. Captain Typho and his security surrounded Padmé and Obi-Wan, who were further protected by her handmaidens and Jehane. His apprentice had shed the flamed coloured garments which Padmé's household had lent her before they left for the Senate. Jehane had commented to him that she much preferred their appearance to the simple combination of desert colours favoured by the Jedi, but she knew it was impossible for her to keep them. She returned them to Cordé, who promised her that she could have them again, if she ever visited Naboo in the future.

Returning to Naboo was something with Obi-Wan had more or less promised Padmé when they discussed the future of their relationship before they left for the Senate. As yet it was a possibility which depended on Naboo voting to leave the Repulic, agreeing to grant the Jedi sanctuary, letting the Council know that the Jedi were welcome to settle a conclave on their world, and the Order allowing him and Jehane to be part of that group. It would also depend on the Council granting him permission to explore his relationship with Padmé, something he would have inform them about sooner than he had thought.

While Padmé remained a Senator it was impossible to consider a relationship, so it had not been necessary that he informed the council of his feelings. But if she did succeed in persuading her people to withdraw from the Republic, then she would be required to step down from her position within the Senate. She could take up a similar position with the Confederacy's governing body, but as Count Dooku was the leader of the Separatists and a Jedi, being a member might not pose such a barrier as being a Senator had, as the Order was about to become more involved within the the group of systems which had banded together after leaving the Republic.

All of this was a supposition, it was unlikely he would know for sure until he declared his interest to the Council. Obi-Wan contemplated what their reaction might be, though it was impossible to predict, there were only two answers, yes or no. If it was the latter, he was no worse off than he was at present, although it might entail some difficult decisions after Jehane was knighted. If it was the former, then he and Padmé might be able to spend more time like this, walking through a park towards her home. The thought struck a chord within him and he turned to her.

"Where do you live on Naboo?" he asked her.

She turned her gaze from their destination towards him. "I live with my parents. Why do you ask?"

"It occurred to me that we might have another day like this, providing the Council and the Naboo grant us permission to do so," he explained. "Where is your home? Is it within Theed?"

"It is," she answered. "I was born in a mountain village that my parents founded, but we moved to the capital so my sister and I could have access to a good education. The first time I saw Theed, I was very young... I'd never seen a waterfall before. I thought they were so
beautiful... especially those near the palace. Our home is not far from there, so when I left school and became an Apprentice Legislator there didn't seem any point in finding a place of my own. When the Queen asked me to become a Senator, I was given the opportunity to take up residence in the Senatorial apartments within the Palace, but official residences have no warmth to me. Even my apartment here lacks something at times. Apart from my parent's house, the only place I feel at home is Varykino, a villa in the Lake Country that my family use."

"Does your sister live there too?" Obi-Wan asked her.

"No, she moved out when she married, though she visits with her husband and my nieces," Padmé replied. "The house is not large enough for all of my family to live there for a length of time. I probably have to find somewhere if...." she trailed off, blushing.

"We will find somewhere when we reach that point in our relationship," Obi-Wan remarked, smiling at her until her blush faded away. "Not that I mind you living with your parents, I think its nice that you're close to your family. So I am, from a certain point of view." He gestured at the Temple, signifying that he considered the Order his family.

"Have you ever wondered about your parents, Obi-Wan?" Padmé asked.

"Sometimes," he replied. "Each Jedi is granted the opportunity learn about their origins at knighthood. The Jedi found me in an orphanage on Stewjohn when I was very young."

"I'm sorry," Padmé offered, taking his hand in hers in sympathy.

"Don't be," Obi-Wan assured her. "I always considered the Order my family. I have no memory of Stewjohn. I was too young when the Jedi found me to retain a memory of it. Since I learned of my origins, I've felt no need to go back there. One day I might, but that is only a possibility."

"You'll miss the Temple though," she inferred.

Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes, but as it will become an embassy, I'll still be able to visit. The Council plan for knights and masters to take residence for a small period of time on a rotating basis. We need the Temple as a base for our investigations." He paused considering, before adding, "but it will not be the same."

At this moment they reached the entrance of Five Hundred Republica, causing them to fall into silence again as Capitain Typho made sure the reception was secure before allowing Padmé and her entourage to cross the marbled floor towards the turbolift.

"I have been thinking about asking the Queen to offer a part of the Lake Country as sanctuary," Padmé began when they were inside the turbolift. "There are some parts which are fairly remote, unless the Order would prefer a place in Theed."

"I don't know," Obi-wan replied. "Personally I would prefer the Lake Country, but the location will be up to the Council. Until then I'll be on Serenno, with the rest of the padawan and master pairings, as well as the Council. Master Windu informed me of that before I left the Temple to come to you."

"At Count Dooku's estate?" Padmé sought to clarify.

"Probably," Obi-Wan replied before they exited the turbolift after it arrived on the Naboo Embassy Penthouse floor.

He halted before they could enter the apartment, and her entourage quietly gave them a modicum of privacy, Jehane returning to the turbolift which she kept open, waiting for her master to join her.

Obi-Wan drew Padmé into his arms, resting his hands around her shoulders. He placed a kiss upon her forehead, and then her cheeks, before meeting her lips with his. There were no more words, there were none required, for both knew that they would contact each other when they could. Their parting kiss was a tender one, softly conveyed, reluctantly ended as he withdrew himself from her to step back into the turbolift.

The doors closed and the tube descended, swiftly parting them from each other.

Obi-Wan and Jehane arrived at the Temple to find the halls crowded with crechlings, younglings, initiates, padawans, knights and masters, who were shepherding boxes and droids towards the hangar bay. While the Temple was to become an embassy, the Council had decided it would house only a skeleton staff, on a rotating basis. This meant that nearly all of the contents usually housed within Temple were to be moved, including the Archives. The process would take months, perhaps even years, and no one knew where or when they would see the Order in one location again. The archives were being moved back to Ossus, along with a conclave of Jedi entrusted with the upkeep of the records, under the stewardship of Master Jocasta Nu. Another conclave was settling on Serenno, at Master Dooku's estate. One more was to be established on Kamino, to keep an eye on the clone army until an agreement was reached that would safeguard the force from the Republic. As for other systems in the Confederacy, Master Dooku was in conference with their representatives now, relaying their answers back to Master Yoda and Master Windu as soon as he received them.

He headed to his and Jehane's quarters in the master padawan area of the complex, passing more of their colleagues on the way. Every apartment was open to the halls as each Jedi began clearing them. Possession was forbidden, but the subtle meaning behind that phrase of the Code did not take into account furniture or other items. The Order considered themselves custodians charged with passing on the knowledge and paraphernalia of the Force, which included the Temple and any objects contained therein.

The Force was in a state of chaos, a reflection of the events within the temple at present. A jumbled collection of stray thoughts and feelings, all waiting for the moment that immediate plans to relocate were fulfilled, allowing for the necessary time to pause and reflect, in the quest to achieve a more disciplined state of mind. For some it would take much longer to reach it than others, depending on their ability within the Force, as well as their age and training, not to mention how well-informed they were as to the reasons why such a relocation was required.

Obi-Wan and Jehane entered their quarters, the latter diverting to the left upon crossing the threshold, where there lay a storage cupboard full of boxes that once housed the contents of their apartment.

"Have you been to Serenno, Master?" She asked him as she began emptying the cupboard.

"No," Obi-Wan replied. "Nor do I know much about it, other than what we've been taught in our apprenticeships."

"I hope its nice," Jehane murmured, her tone causing Obi-Wan to draw near and give his padawan a hug.

"I hope so too," he replied.

Their embrace was broken by the beeping of the com station beeped, causing him to part from her in order to answer the call.

"Master Kenobi," Bail Organa greeted him, the image of the Senator from Alderaan appearing on the screen. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"No, not at all," Obi-Wan answered as he sat down before the com, whilst Jehane continued to pack up their apartment. "What can I do for you, Senator?"

"Actually its more what I can do for you," Bail returned, leaning back in his chair in his office at Cantham House, Alderaan's Embassy on Coruscant. "On behalf of Alderaan, I would like to offer a place for a conclave of Jedi."

Obi-Wan sank back against the confines of his chair, stunned by the offer. "Bail, that's generous of you," he replied, "but I do not believe the Order can accept. It would put you and your world in a precarious position."

"I have spoken to my wife and my council and we are willing to take the risk," Bail assured him. "I will take care to make sure that no one knows of your presence, or your location."

Obi-Wan paused, considering. Alderaan was a Core world, it would be an important location and one that the Council might accept. But it was also still a member of the Republic, to settle a Jedi conclave there would put Alderaan in a difficult position. Yet he felt a prompting from the Force not to dismiss the offer.

"I can't give you an answer," he said last, trusting in the ancient energy's advice. "All I can do is take your offer to the Council."

"I'll await their response," Bail replied. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"And with you, Bail," Obi-Wan returned before ending the call.

Part 23: Sojourn Home.

Padmé departed from Coruscant in the midst of the Jedi Order's quitting of the jewel of the Core Worlds, though with far less luggage and little fanfare. As much as she desired to pack up the entire embassy, she could not do so without the permission of her people or giving away her plans to the rest of the Senate and in turn the Republic. She did not make use of a decoy while flying one of the security escorts either, for her return to Naboo would not result in an attempt on her life.

Leaving behind one of her handmaidens and a few members of her security who would pack up the rest of the embassy if Naboo voted to secede from the Republic, Padmé returned to her homeworld, arriving at the Palace when the last of the transport ships belonging to the Jedi quitted Coruscant. The sight of its graceful domed elegance in harmony with waterfalls and gardens soothed her unsettled thoughts, a sharp contrast to the long swathes of sharply glazed skyscrapers which dominated Coruscant's skyline. She took a step up into the palace's curved cloistered courtyard with the feeling that it seemed like a lifetime had passed since she last wandered these once familiar halls. In reality it was only a few months, but so much had happened during them to make that passage of time appear longer.

Queen Jamilla and her council were waiting in the throne room, the former rising from her seat of office to greet Padmé with an embrace and a worried query. "Is it true that the Jedi are leaving the Republic?"

"I'm afraid so," Padmé replied as the Queen stepped back. "They seek to gain an better understanding of the schism which lies between the Republic and the Confederacy, and the only way to do that is to live with the Separatists, as they have lived with the Republic." She could not tell Jamilla the other reason why the Jedi were leaving Coruscant, for until the Jedi discovered who the sith lord was, few could be trusted with such information, as they might betray that knowledge to the sith, however unconsciously or otherwise.

"Their departure will have grave consequences for the Republic," Jamilla prophesied. "Many will come to believe that the Jedi have lost faith in democracy."

"Who is to say the Republic is still a democracy?" Padmé countered. "Forgive me, my Queen, but the more I see of the Senate, the less I have come to believe in its ability to effect good for the beings which it governs. I have come to feel an empathy with the Separatists which will not go away. Despite Chancellor Palpatine's promise to eliminate corruption and bureaucracy, I have yet to see either dissipate. Just look at the lack of justice delivered by the Courts to the Trade Federation after the Blockade."

"Are you saying that you wish Naboo to leave the Republic?" Jamilla sought to confirm.

"I am," Padmé answered. "It is clear to me now more than ever that the Republic no longer functions as a democracy. I said so ten years ago to Chancellor Palpatine and nothing has changed since then. I made more of a difference during my two terms as Queen than he has as Chancellor. And it is not through the want of trying to make a difference, but being bound by things beyond your control to alter."

"It is distressing to hear such words from you," Jamilla said as she returned to her throne, causing Padmé to take her seat before the circular table that the council and sovereign sat behind. "You have always been a staunch supporter of the Republic."

"While I am here, far away from Coruscant, it is easy to believe that the Republic is continuing to live up to the ideals that it once held," Padmé explained. "But when I am on Coruscant, attending the endless committees and Senate meetings, I realise how much democracy we have lost in corruption, bureaucracy and politics. There is no interest in the common good, no civility, only greed. Chancellor Palpatine told me as much when I first visited the Core. At the time of his election, I hoped he would bring back sanity and compassion to the Republic. I now see that it is no longer possible."

"But will it be any different in the Confederacy?" Jamilla inquired.

"I don't know, but I think we owe it to the beings we serve to find out," Padmé answered. "This is not up to me, it is for them to decide. Naboo is truly a democracy, whether we stay in the Republic or not should be put before a vote."

"And if Naboo decides to stay in the Republic, what will you do?" Jamilla asked.

"I will step down," Padmé revealed softly, causing all those within the room to gasp. "I am sorry, but I will not continue to stand for something which I no longer believe in."

"You're right of course," Jamilla agreed in a quiet tone. "You've given us a lot to think about."

"I do not expect you to make the decision based on my perspective," Padmé said. "Look into the matter yourself, along with the rest of Naboo. The Chancellor has declared a recess, we have until the next session to decide."

She wondered what the outcome of such a decision would mean for the Chancellor. The executive office was supposed to be removed from all planetary affiliations, yet there had never been a member of the office whose homeworld did not belong to the Republic before.

However, Palpatine's term was due to come to an end soon, perhaps rendering that unusual instance moot. And although the term limit might persuade others to hold out in the hope that a new chancellor would be able to eliminate the bureaucracy and the corruption within the Republic, Padmé knew that would not be possible.

A short silence ensued after this piece of news, as everyone present digested the information received and lightly pondered the possible repercussions. Before it was allowed too long a reign, the Queen began to speak once more, upon a different matter.

"Your father came to see me yesterday, Padmé. He expressed much concern about you."

"Oh," Padmé acknowledged, a little disheartened. "I had hoped that news of the attempts on my life would not reach here before I could talk to my family and reassure them that I am well. I do plan to stay with them while I'm here, perhaps my continued presence will lessen their worry."

"It is natural and heartening that they worry about you," Jamilla remarked. "They obviously value you greatly. And in such uncertain times as these, concern for everyone's safety is heightened considerably."

"Indeed," Padmé agreed, but inwardly she became less eager to see her family as a result of this information. Before she left Naboo to resume her duties within the Senate, her sister and parents had expressed their concerned for her safety on Coruscant, the former going so far as to question why it had to be, and could she not find a safer career, or better still settle down to have a family, as many Naboo did after starting their professional lives so young. Sola had not the life that her younger sister experienced before her marriage. She had not been involved with politics or refugee relief, unlike Padmé, who had followed in the footsteps of her father before joining the legislative arena. This difference in background had led to some ignorance in understanding of what Padmé felt she owed to her people from the moment she became Queen. Sola felt that her sister's profession was like any other, one that could be discarded at any time. She did not understand that it held different obligations, placed upon it by the beings which Padmé served and the reputation that she had unconsciously built, leaving behind a legacy as Queen and Senator which was required to be matched and improved upon.

She remembered her last evening spent on Naboo, sitting in a swing in her parent's backyard, watching her nieces as they ran circles around Artoo. Her sister was nearby, delivering a lecture on how she should be giving up politics for a husband and producing her own offspring. At the time, Padmé felt that she had been unable to argue back an adequate defence as to why she was failing to follow her sister's advice. Now she was about to flummox Sola once again with another scheme to change the universe as they knew it.

Her sister meant well, but in some respects she was hopelessly naive about what Padmé did. Having followed a completely different career path attributed to that ignorance, along with giving it all up to have two children. Sola only saw the hindrances of the politics, not the benefits, even when Padmé was Queen and actually managed to make a difference. Nor could she ever comprehend enough to begin to see them either. Added to that, if things went the way Padmé hoped they would, in a few month's time she would be visiting with a certain Jedi whose presence would give Sola the pleasure of saying I told you so.

A part of her felt guilty for not taking the time to reassure her family that she was alive after the attempts on her life. She had been busy, but it would not have taken long. Fearing a repeat of the discussion about her resigning from state duties, the comm call had been pushed aside, as she focused on fighting the Military Creation Act and discovering who was behind the attacks. Delaying only made the inevitable harder to face, yet she knew that they would take comfort in her physical presence rather than that of a holo sent from several light years away. Though doubtless they would ask her to reconsider their advice to resign and settle down, she hoped that they would come to understand why she could not do so, as Naboo was asked to decide whether to remain a member of the Republic.

While she was lost in thought, the Queen ended the meeting with her council members and dismissed everyone from the chamber. Silently Padmé rose from her seat, bowed to Jamilla, then followed the councillors out of the throne room. Once in the grand corridors, she went to her office, where she caught up on the work which had accumulated while she was away on Coruscant.

Outside the sky was just beginning to darken by the time she was ready to go home. Captain Typho escorted her from the palace through the streets to the quiet and empty flowered courtyard in which her family home was located. For Padmé the contrast between one companion and her usual cadre of handmaidens and security officers who accompanied her whenever she went on Coruscant was startling, even though it was something which she had always experienced during the last eight years.

Leaving Typho at the door, she entered her family home, the soft light and comforting furnishings calming her senses. Whatever her misgivings about her family's wishes for her future safety, the familiarity of the place which she had called home since her youth would always hold the ability to comfort her.

Passing through the living room, she entered the dining area just as her mother and father emerged from the kitchen. She watched the realisation that she was home pass over their faces, erasing their previously concerned expressions.

"Dearest girl," her father uttered before sweeping forward to take her into an embrace. "We've been so worried. When we heard about the attempts on your life..."

"They were nothing," Padmé drew from him to explain. "A carefully crafted scheme designed to protect me from the real danger."

"But it looked so real..." her mother murmured.

"It was meant to," Padmé clarified. "The Separatists are trying to lure the Trade Federation into joining them, so they will finally face justice for holding Naboo hostage ten years ago. Viceroy Gunray was offering a contract on my life, which Count Dooku took up in order to protect me from the mercenaries who could have accepted it."

"The Separatists?" her father echoed in disbelief.

Padmé nodded. "This is why I did not call you to reassure you that I was safe. Their involvement is not something I could reveal over the comm. Or the Jedi Order's."

"Is it true that the Jedi are leaving the Republic?" her mother asked.

"Yes," Padmé answered. "They feel that in order to heal the schism between the Republic and the Separatists, they must come to understand both sides of the disagreement, which means spending time within the Confederacy, as they have within the Republic."

Her father stroked her face one last time then took another step back. "Well, as usual your timing is impeccable. We were just about to have dinner."

Padmé smiled, quietly relieved that the discussion about her safety was shelved, at least for the moment. "Good, I'm looking forward to home cooked meals. Coruscant dining, for all its finery, is never quite the same."

The three of them spent the next few minutes laying the table, then bringing out the meal from the kitchen. A convivial atmosphere settled over them as they ate, despite the topic of conversation returning to the dangers she endured on Coruscant.

"I also had Jedi protection," Padmé added after an inquiry about her personal security and Captain Typho. "Chancellor Palpatine requested it. Master Kenobi, who was so instrumental in relieving the Blockade." She tried to say his name without her tone or appearance becoming conscious of the feelings which Obi-Wan invoked, but she suspected that the attempt was a useless endeavour.

Her mother looked at her with concern. "I thought you said the attempts were crafted to appear real. Why would the Chancellor give you Jedi protection?"

"The Chancellor knew nothing of the scheme," Padmé revealed. "Only myself and the Jedi Council knew who was really behind the attempts on my life." she paused to take another bite of her meal before continuing. "And it was not until the second attempt that the Jedi discovered that the attacks were being faked." She shivered as she remembered the incident, those wiggling beasts, usually so poisonous, crawling across her bed. They may have been rendered harmless, but the memory of them still unsettled her.

"Master Kenobi," her father murmured, musing on the title. "He was only an apprentice during the Blockade. At times the horror of that occupation does not seem so long ago. These ten years have gone by so fast. He must have an apprentice of his own by now."

"He does," Padmé replied. "Jehane. She is very talented. Serious for one so young, like her master had been when I first met him. But she was also kind and charming, like Obi-Wan is now. Mentoring suits him."

Her father noticed the slight colouring in her cheeks when she uttered her protector's name. "You fought side by side during the Blockade, I recall. It must have been a comfort to have someone you knew protecting you."

"It was," Padmé replied. "Though its been some years since we last saw each other, he remembered me." Her parents knew nothing of Obi-Wan's call to congratulate her on her second term as Queen, nor of the moment when they caught sight of each other during the welcome reception for her appointment as Senator. However, by the way in which her father was looking at her, she knew that something in her voice or appearance had given away her feelings for Obi-Wan, if only a little.

"He is still a knight," she added, worried that the age difference might matter to her parents. "Master is a courtesy title while he trains Jehane. Once she has become a knight, then he will have earned the right to be called Master."

"It would be nice to meet him," her father remarked. "Though difficult, I imagine, when the Jedi Order leaves the Republic."

"The Temple on Coruscant will remain an Embassy," Padmé explained. "And I will be asking Naboo if we wish to remain part of the Republic in light of the Order's departure."

Her parents stared at her, startled by the news.

"Leave the Republic?" her mother queried. "But you have always been such a fervent supporter."

"While I was Queen, it was true that I believed in the Republic," Padmé replied. "But during my years as a Senator, I have seen so much injustice, the ineffectuality to achieve anything, to make a difference. Even the Chancellor cannot make reforms without the support of the Senate, and too many of my colleagues are using their power for their concerns, not those of the electorate. With the Trade Federation's monopoly dragging out our need for justice, there is little that can be done. Trying to make work reform from within is fast becoming impossible."

"But Chancellor Palpatine promised to rid the Republic of corruption," her mother recalled. "Has he accomplished so little during his time in power? He was your most ablest of ministers."

"He has tried," Padmé answered. "But as I said, without the support of the Senate, there is little that he can do. I know it must appear that Naboo has influence while one of our people is the Chancellor, but in truth we have no more now than when he was a Senator. The Confederacy is still in its infancy. Change is more possible within the Separatists, as well as being the main goal of their withdrawal from the Republic."

"And what if Naboo votes to remain a member of the Republic?" her father asked her. "What will you do?"

"I will resign from the Senate," Padmé replied. "Although I serve Naboo, I cannot continue to do so despite my own beliefs. It is not fair on my people, they must have someone in whom they can believe will still fight wholly for the Republic and not doubt because of her own differing conviction in its regime."

"If you resign from the Senate, does that mean you will withdraw from public life?" her mother inquired.

Padmé shook her head. "I cannot remain on Naboo if it decides to remain within the Republic. I intend to offer to serve the Separatists in some other capacity, or perhaps rejoin the relief movement." she paused as she caught their increased concern at the idea of her plans. "I know you wish me to settle down, like Sola has, but I am not like her. I would not be content with just raising a family. I must do something more."

The conviction with which she spoke gave them to understand that they could not argue with her. Since her election to the throne, she had removed herself from their parenting to her own self-reliance, despite living with them between brief respites from one role to the next. All they could do was hope that she would be safe, for either outcome of the choice for Naboo would result in her leaving again, even if Naboo left with her.

Breakfast was a subdued affair the next morning in light of what had been said during dinner. Padmé left early for her office in Theed, crafting her proposal to leave the Republic to present to the Nubian Council enroute, in the company of Captain Typho and Dormé, who came to fetch her. Despite the safety of Naboo and the false attempts on her life, it was still required that she had protection, however little it proved to be needed.

When she reached the Palace, Padmé caught up on what happened while she was away before she joined the Council for the morning meeting. The miners were still in talks with negotiators concerning their pay. She had seen their protest during her journey from her home to the capital. It was unheard of for such strife on Naboo, not since before the Blockade had the people found cause to be unhappy with their lot. It was yet another sign that the Republic was failing its members.

The Council welcomed her when she entered the throne room, many of them having served her when she was Queen. Jamilla arrived last, her handmaidens and security in the form of Captain Panaka taking up positions around the room while she took the throne before the rest of them could sit.

"I trust that by now everyone has seen that the Jedi are to leave the Republic," Jamilla began. "This departure of the Order is only the latest of many systems who have left and I hear from my fellow rulers in others that they are also considering their positions, in the light of the departure of the Jedi." She turned to her senator. "Padmé, what is the view within the Senate and on Coruscant?"

"There is a great feeling on Coruscant that the Republic is fast losing sight of itself and its ideals," Padmé replied. "Although their departure is a great loss, it will not be enough to make the Senate or the Courts realise that reforms are needed. Too many of their members are more concerned with themselves than they are with the needs of their people. The Separatists seem to be a reasonable alternative, one which I think Naboo should also consider."

Her words caused a number of shocked gasp from the Council members, although Jamilla appeared untroubled by them. "There are so few worlds of authority or reputation left within the Republic," she remarked. "And now with the departure of the Jedi, the end seems almost inevitable. Although I do believe we should not lose faith in the Republic, I also know that it is no longer what it once was. I think we should let the people decide."

Padmé bowed her head in gratitude. She had expected a lengthy debate, but it seemed that the departure of the Jedi had shaken the Queen from her firm support of the Republic. She wondered how many other worlds would be disturbed by their leaving. "I agree, your majesty."

The rest of the Council meeting was spent in preparing for the Queen to address her people, along with Padmé, who would speak after her sovereign. Words were crafted into speeches, vetted by various governmental departments, while Jamilla left the throne room briefly to inform the Chancellor of their intentions. Each member of the worlds or systems that had since joined the Separatists took the courtesy of informing the Chancellor first, it was only right that his homeworld paid him such respect as well.

As the holos were prepared for broadcasting, Jamilla and Padmé rehearsed their speeches. When the Queen stepped forward to address her people, Padmé went through her words one final time, not wanting to listen to Jamilla's live in fear she might get caught up within the power of the speech and forget her own. She could play a recording later, allowing herself to be swept away by their meaning and importance when she could fully focus on the words, laying aside all other concerns.

When Jamilla was finished, she stepped back, letting Padmé come forward to the dais and utter her own speech. Padmé spoke from the heart, asking the Naboo to follow their own in their decision upon this matter. That it was not up to the politicians or leaders to decide their future, only to provide a clear understanding of the Republic and the Separatists which might guide their choice.

All she could hope for was that the Naboo heeded her words.

Author's Note: This part references Qui-Gon's previous padawans which are now part of Star Wars legend, written in the books which were published before the sale to Disney. You can find out more about them on Wookieepedia.

Part 24: Pause & Reflect.

After the fraught tension filled air surrounding the Temple on Coruscant, residence within House Dooku, Serenno, was tranquillity itself. Situated on a cliff face, the stone palace featured a large segmented egg-like tower and crescent shaped finials, enclosed by three rose filled ornamental gardens. The many rooms were large and richly decorated, equipped with every home comfort and the latest technology. Despite a lavish interior, the Council together with the master and padawans pairings lived simply, much as they were used to on the Jewel of the Core Worlds.

Obi-Wan used the time waiting for news from Naboo wisely, by training Jehane. She was a senior padawan now, her readiness to take the trials under consideration by the Council. If he was to be given a chance to further his relationship with Padmé, it could only be after he had finished training Jehane, otherwise he would be limited to spending time with Padmé through comms, in between missions with his apprentice.

Another concern of his was Qui-Gon, who was watching him and Jehane train from where he sat on a small patch of earth beneath one of the many tall trees that were part of the landscaped gardens. Despite losing his padawan, the Council had requested that Qui-Gon join them and the master and padawan pairs on Serenno, to provide guidance to Obi-Wan in his first undertaking of training an apprentice for the trials.

Their invitation also held a dual purpose, that of Obi-Wan providing comfort to his former master, for as a padawan he had been the source of succour the last time Qui-Gon had lost an apprentice and the Council hoped he could be again. The circumstances had been different then, for Xanatos was the son and heir to a powerful conglomerate, not to mention that he turned to the dark side shortly after he left, forcing Qui-Gon to put an end to him. It had left his master determined to never train another apprentice, a decision he stuck to until Yoda had thrust the two of them together, a move which had eventually restored his former self-confidence.

Obi-Wan hoped that Anakin's departure would not end in the same way. How deeply it had affected Qui-Gon was difficult to determine at present. Obi-Wan had not known Anakin as well as he had Xanatos, for the boy had always been distant whenever he visited Qui-Gon. But he knew that his master had cared for the boy and his mother, and in caring his master was always steadfast and devout. From what he knew of Shmi, who unlike her son had always been kind and friendly to Obi-Wan whenever he visited, she must had been heartbroken to part from Qui-Gon, a decision he understood from the Council to have been made by the boy without any consultation on how his mother felt.

Why Anakin had left for a post as one of the Chancellor's guards was difficult to determine. He had seemed so sure of being a Jedi, though from what the Council had told Obi-Wan when they briefed him on the matter, it was possible that it was more to do with training dispute than a sudden want of career change. The consensus was that Anakin was not ready for his trials, though the boy believed himself to be, and that was what had caused him to leave.

However, none of that was a concern to the Council. They had given the boy the training he asked for, and could do no more. Considering the amount of midi-chlorians within him, it was a risk to let a partially trained Jedi quit the Order, but it would have also been dangerous to leave him untrained as well. What he did with that training was yet to be foreseen, for now their concern was making sure that they did not lose Qui-Gon Jinn as well. It had been the training of Obi-Wan which had saved Qui-Gon the last time, so the Council hoped that the knight could do so again, even though this time there was no training to offer.

Doubtless Qui-Gon was well aware of the Council's motives, and in choosing to obey them gave an indication as to how he may be feeling and coping with his loss. Though he had not admitted to needing assistance or company, the decision to obey the Council's request suggested that he did not feel ready to take on another apprentice, or undertake a solo mission. Nor had he given Obi-Wan any kind of support in training Jehane, save for his silent company each time they took to the gardens or the rooms of House Dooku to train, along with joining them occasionally for an evening meal.

Well aware of his master's stubbornness, Obi-Wan accepted the silence, knowing that it would take time for Qui-Gon to adjust, having spent so many years with a padawan much younger than his previous apprentice, in a training relationship that was undoubtedly quite different to what Obi-Wan's had been. A decade had passed since his knighting and though they spent time together during Anakin's apprenticeship, their relationship had evolved beyond that of master and padawan. Obi-Wan considered Qui-Gon a close friend, he hoped that the reverse was true also.

There had been a padawan before Xanatos, Qui-Gon's first apprentice after his knighting, a considered success by the Council, just as much as Obi-Wan was, if not more, for Feemor was a master now, having seen more than one padawan through to knighthood and was currently training another. Obi-Wan had last seen Feemor before he and Qui-Gon left for Naboo, when Master Jinn invited his first apprentice over for dinner. Feemor's padawan had joined them, a youngling fresh from the lightsaber competition held every year for those old enough to become apprentices and for knights and or masters to choose their next charges.

That evening seemed a lifetime ago, not the decade which had actually passed. Obi-Wan had not seen Feemor since, a not uncommon occurrence among the Order, for the Force took them across the galaxy. Last he heard, the master and apprentice were somewhere about the Outer Rim. Perhaps he could ask the council to get in touch with them, their return might remind Qui-Gon that he had more than one apprentice still within the Order.

Jehane reached the end of her kata, moving her lightsaber blade into a position of salute towards her master. Obi-Wan returned in kind, emerging from his thoughts, the sound of the ignited blades echoing loudly across the previously quiet grounds. Silently she inclined her head in the direction of the palace, an unspoken request to go inside. Obi-Wan nodded, watching her go as he turned off his blade before putting the weapon away.

"They grow up so fast," Qui-Gon murmured as he joined Obi-Wan, emerging from his patch of ground beneath a neighbouring tree. "Before you know it, they're knights, then training padawans of their own."

"But they never forget their masters," Obi-Wan remarked. "They remember their training fondly, and use it as a guide for their own."

Qui-Gon shrugged away the compliment. "Will you train another?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Not for awhile, no. I have something else which must take priority, first."

"If Naboo votes to remain with the Republic, that will put both of you in a difficult position," Qui-Gon pointed out.

"Padmé has decided to resign from the Senate if that happens," Obi-Wan revealed. "I do not want her to give up a post which places her in a position to help people, but she believes that the Republic no longer puts the duty of care towards their citizens first."

"Does she know the truth behind the Order's departure?" Qui-Gon inquired.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I told her after I returned from Kamino. She was already disillusioned with the Republic, my discovery only added to it." He paused before continuing, uncertain about voicing his next words. "Master, when I was on Naboo with Padmé, I could hear a resonance within the Force. It was almost as if the ancient energy was singing."

Qui-Gon smiled softly. "I have heard that too, my padawan, with Tahl and with Shmi. I am not sure if all Jedi who love feel it, but I choose to recognise it as the Force's blessing on the union."

Obi-Wan inclined his head in acknowledgement of his master's opinion on such phenomena, silently filing the information away for future rumination. Extended moments of intimacy, undisturbed by others, events or influences between him and Padmé had been rare, he would need more of them before he could accept his master's judgement as a comforting reassurance for a relationship that most in the Order would have an issue with, and not just because of their views on attachment. It was not because that he did not trust his master that Obi-Wan was not ready to take such information at his word, he was so used to defending Qui-Gon from arguments put by the more orthodox members of the Order, that he needed his own experience to help form the defence which was always required.

"What about you, Master?" Obi-Wan ventured cautiously. "Will you train another padawan?"

There was a long silence, as he had expected there would be in view of such an inquiry, though it was not long enough to cause him to doubt voicing such a question. There were few who could safely ask it of Qui-Gon, a few years ago Obi-Wan would not have counted himself among them, age and the experience of training his own had given him the confidence and style to frame the words and tone in the manner least likely to cause offence.

"That will be for the Force to decide," Qui-Gon replied enigmatically.

Not a yes, but not an outright no either, which was significant progress from the last time his master lost a padawan mid-training, Obi-Wan noted. He took a breath then ventured another question. "And what of Shmi?"

"It was decided that she would stay with her son," Qui-Gon replied. "For the moment."

Obi-Wan frowned over the peculiar choice of words used. "Decided?" he echoed.

"Anakin assumed and neither I nor Shmi chose to disagree with him," Qui-Gon revealed. "I hope to see her, if the Council grants me a place on the embassy contingent rotation. Until then, we'll have to rely on comms to keep in touch."

"Made through the Embassy?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm, as using the holonet from anywhere else on Coruscant would be considered a security risk by both the Republic and the Confederacy.

Qui-Gon nodded. "I hope she'll be able to return to the Temple without incurring inquiries. Anakin's new career should keep him busy."

"I'm not sure I understand why he decided to choose it, as opposed to remaining within the Order. I thought he wanted to be a Jedi?"

"He does," Qui-Gon replied. "But he wasn't ready for the Trials. Something he did not accept, but the rest of the Order, myself included, knew. If he had been patient, his knighthood would have come to him, but patience was not something which Anakin possessed."

Although Obi-Wan had known little of the boy, despite numerous attempts on his part to make friends, this glimpse into his psyche made things a little clearer. All Jedi needed to have an abundance of patience, it was something which was either learned or came naturally, enforced by years of self-discipline that too became ingrained, along with self-denial, serene composure, a desire to keep learning, as well as numerous other traits which made all Jedi into knights and masters. Once these essential skills were acquired, promotion from padawan came easily, but until then knighthood was denied, often for years. The motive behind such a delay was rarely admitted, as it was a lesson which some padawans might take advantage of if they learned what was holding them back, pretending to be all of these things until the promotion was achieved.

Still, taking an offer to work for Chancellor instead of remaining in the order... Obi-Wan found the decision questionable. Guarding the executive office was nothing compared to being a member of the Jedi Order. The Chancellor rarely left Coruscant, relying on the Jedi to handle matters of diplomacy. His duties were usually presiding over the Senate and the politics which did not require the approval of that body to be carried out. The last time a Chancellor had left Coruscant was too long ago to recall. Biased opinions aside, he stowed away his suspicions in favour of focusing on the present, as he did not know enough about Anakin to draw any further conclusions.

"Masters?" A voice shouted, causing them to rouse themselves from their thoughts and set sight on his padawan running towards them. Her composure was gone and not just from the exertion of the return to them.

"Jehane, what is it?" He asked her as she came to a halt before them.

"The Council requested your attendance," she informed them. "There's been an attack on Kamino."

Author's Note: Master Tu Anh is one of Grevious' victims, although I have changed the circumstances of her death to fit this version of events.

Part 25: A Song of Fractured Memories.

"Masters, I have grave news," a holo of Master Dooku was saying as Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon entered the chamber assigned to the Council, a large and lofty room, with high ceilings and windows that gave views which stretched from the horizon to the sky, as well as both sides of the estate lands.

"Kamino has been attacked," the holo continued. "We came to check on the welfare of the clones, landing as usual, only to find a heavy resistance to our presence. The clones on the planet have changed their loyalties to another, who claims he is there at the behest of his master, the Emperor. Apparently it was this Emperor who ordered the clones to be engineered through Master Sifo-Dyas. Neither the visitor or the Kaminoans would give us the Emperor's name. As for the newcomer, he called himself General Grevious. A cyborg, though I cannot determine the species behind the cybernetic implants surrounding his body, Masters, he is a formidable opponent, trained to use lightsabers, by this Emperor."

There was a pause, as the holo of Master Dooku bowed his head. "I regret to inform you that Master Tu Anh was killed in the encounter with General Grevious and our subsequent attempt to escape Kamino."

Silence followed as the Council digested that piece of news. Master Tu Anh was a well respected member of the Order, skilled in lightsaber combat, chosen to accompany Master Dooku on his investigations into the Sith in case he needed the support of another Jedi. No one had expected her to be defeated by someone unknown to the Order, her loss was a worrying sign of this General Grevious' skill with the blade.

"I shall return to Serenno soon," Master Dooku's holo continued, before making another bow prior to ending the transmission, which was replayed for their benefit, Obi-Wan came to realise, given the serene composure of the Council, suggesting that this news was not unknown to them.

"What of the other clones?" he asked them, for not all of the army was on Kamino, they were scattered about the Confederacy, engaged in various peacekeeping assignments, mostly putting out local bushfires between races and planets who were using their break from the Republic as an excuse to restart old rivalries, or forge new ones.

"Checked they have been by the masters with them," Master Yoda replied. "Loyal to the Order and the Separatists, they still are."

"When Master Dooku returns you will assist him in his investigations," Master Windu informed them.

"Yes Masters," Qui-Gon answered for both of them before he and Obi-Wan bowed, prior to leaving the Council Chamber.

While Obi-Wan explained to Jehane what their new assignment was, Qui-Gon stood in thought, waiting. When his former padawan joined him, they walked down the hallway three abreast, all pondering the situation.

"What is Kamino like?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Wet," Obi-Wan answered. "Constant rain, it never lets up. The only shelter lies inside, where all is light and lofty, rather like the Kaminoans themselves. I found the cloning chambers chilling in their science and the Kaminoans were quite proud of their creations. It is a cold planet and they are a cold and clinical race."

"Did they inform you of this Emperor ordering the clones?" Qui-Gon inquired.

"No, they only mentioned Master Sifo-Dyas," Obi-Wan replied. "Jango Fett, the genetic model for the clones, said that a man named Tyranus on one of the moons of Bogden recruited him for the project. I doubt that's the name of this Emperor though, which General Grevious spoke of. Fett struck me as the type of man who rarely lets something significant slip from his mouth, unless it can be used for his advantage."

Qui-Gon nodded in agreement. "Given General Grevious' own reluctance to reveal it, clearly they don't want the real name bandied about. Which begs the question as to the possibility of the name carrying some importance."

"To whom though?" Obi-Wan queried. "The Separatists, the Order or the Republic?"

"Perhaps all three?" Jehane nervously suggested.

"Your insight serves you well, my young apprentice," Obi-Wan assured her, calming her anxiety in voicing a possibly independent opinion in the midst of two masters.

"It is unusual for Master Dooku to accept help in his investigation," Qui-Gon remarked as they continued down the hall towards the hangar bay. "He has always worked alone, refusing another padawan when he finished training me."

"Who says he asked for assistance?" Obi-Wan countered. "It may be the Council's suggestion, one I suspect he will be unaware of, on his arrival here."

"Nevertheless, despite the wishes of the Council, it will take a great deal of persuasion on our part for Master Dooku to accept our help," Qui-Gon predicted.

They made their way to the hangar bay, where Master Dooku's unique Gree Enclave Punworcca 116-class interstellar solar starship gracefully flew into land. As Obi-Wan watched the fragile looking ship descend, an image of the same craft flying across a desert landscape was conjured into his mind, followed by the sound and fury of lightsabers clashing, red, green, blue, then green again, before the noise of blaster fire and pain took over, as the ship departed a cave hangar, the exit bringing the vision to an end.

As he blinked the vision away, the hatch of the ship lowered down, allowing the Count of Serenno to descend. He caught sight of them immediately, seemingly unsurprised, no doubt sensing their presence before he left the ship.

"What did I do to warrant such a welcoming committee?" Dooku asked as he joined them.

"The Council believes your investigations would benefit from some additional support," Qui-Gon replied.

"In other words they are annoyed at the loss of Kamino and Master Tu Anh," Dooku translated.

"They're grieved by the loss of the latter, and they hope that we can manage to get the former back," Qui-Gon corrected.

"There is no death, only the Force," Dooku reminded him, "and as for Kamino, that remains uncertain. It may take only a few, or it may need an army."

He remembered the start of their mission, the four of them gathering in the cockpit, before seating themselves at their respective stations in order to fire up the ship. However there was something strange about his memories of that moment, for when he recollected them he felt as though he was just an observer, who could only see the motions, unable to hear or feel as if he were experiencing them as an active participant. The scene before him remained silent, a holo montage on mute, unremarkable in the sense of similarity which it bore to the beginning of every other mission, yet there was something lurking over it, hovering like a shadow, an ominous portent of things to come, although a part of him felt that such a feeling was nothing more than hindsight colouring his memory of the past in light of the future events that were then still yet to come.

Once the ship was launched from the hangar bay, he watched as they left the planet for the blackness of space, entering hyperspace, the racing stars taking them far, far away and his memories along with it.

From that moment on, he could only recall fragments of what happened next, bits and pieces of events strung together like a incomplete jigsaw puzzle, with the gaps belonging to those waiting to be found calling out to him in the tone of sirens, haunting and hypnotic in their lure, promising relief if he dared to be near them, only to dash him against the rocks when he took the risk to focus upon them, in an effort to fill in the memory. The resulting shipwreck reaped havoc upon his body and mind, setting his recovery further back. It was perhaps the ultimate test of his character, his patience and self-discipline, as he endured once more the trials which he believed he had mastered years ago, to accept that they were another part of his continuing path within the force and that in failing them, however briefly, was not a lasting fault that would lead to graver offences.

When he resisted dwelling on the missing pieces of his memory, it was his present surroundings which awaited him, the medical bay in the Dooku estate on Serenno, where he had been lying since the flight from Kamino. He was no stranger to such facilities, the life of a Jedi often entailed dangerous missions leading to recovery time, though usually the recuperation took place within the Temple on Coruscant. As with all other rooms that the Jedi had taken on in the Dooku estate since their exit from the Republic, there had been an attempt to recreate the same atmosphere as before, a stillness and harmony in design and function, allowing for the Force to strive in endeavouring to accomplish what modern medicine could not yet perceive and understand, those things which still remained a mystery within the science of healing.

None of them had escaped from Kamino entirely unscathed, though Jehane was the only one who had not needed to spend time within the medical bay. Master Dooku and Qui-Gon had also toiled upon beds beside him, their injuries not as grave as his own yet of such a nature as to require recuperation. All of them proved reluctant patients, according to the judgement of the medical staff and Master Windu, who added that such a behavioural trait was fast becoming genetic in their line of training pedigree, receiving a snort of disagreement from Master Yoda, along with a hit from the venerable master's gimer stick in retribution for voicing that remark.

As for Kamino itself, the fate of the planet and those who lived there lay uncertain. He, along with Jehane, Qui-Gon, Dooku and a number of clone troopers went to the planet with the intention to restore the partnership between the Kaminoans and the Jedi, however they had barely escaped with their lives. General Grevious was waiting for them when he arrived, along with a number of clone troopers and B2 super battle droids. The latter carried a bacterial weapon within their arsenal, designed to strike at the clone army members under the command of the Jedi and reprogram their genetic makeup, forcing them to switch sides and support General Grevious.

That warrior was an equally formidable foe also. His cybernetic implants enabled him to fight with more than one opponent at once, his arms splitting into two, allowing two handed combat, or a weapon to be used in each limb. His weapon of choice was a lightsaber and his skill with that blade appeared to deploy methods which Jedi used to train themselves. Unlike the Jedi, however, Grevious was not sensitive to the ways of the Force, though such an ability had not provided the Jedi with much of an advantage over him either. All of them were highly trained to be considered masters of their chosen form, be it Makashi, Shien, Ataru, Soresu or Shii-Cho yet none of them, not even Master Dooku who was the most experienced, could over power Grevious enough to defeat him. All they had managed to achieve, was to live to fight another day.

Their flight from Kamino was a mad scramble as opposed to a strategically executed retreat, soldiers from what were left of their clone troopers shielding them while they ran back to the ship. It was not an event which Obi-Wan could remember, he had to rely on what his apprentice knew of the mission, until he was considered well enough to leave the medical bay and gain access to the reports posted by Qui-Gon, Dooku and the summary of the briefings which the two masters had each held with the Council, by which point it was the hope of the latter that Obi-Wan would have his own memories to report.

Jehane managed to tell him what she remembered of the mission in the midst of her visits to the medical bay as which she was allowed by virtue of being his apprentice. Obi-Wan believed that he would have persuaded Qui-Gon to tell him what he knew, had it not been for the Council posting Master Jinn to Alderaan after his recovery, to take charge of organising a place for a conclave of Jedi which Senator Organa had offered. As for Master Dooku, while Obi-Wan doubted that his methods of persuasion would work on him, he had requested time to investigate the origins of General Grevious, in the hope that by coming to understand the genetic and cybernetic makeup of their foe, they would find a way to defeat him.

Except for visits from Jehane and various Jedi physicians, Obi-Wan's only company was his own. Aside from his head injury which caused his partial recollection of the mission, there were some lightsaber wounds that made his recovery last longer than the rest of his colleagues who were involved. Sometimes he felt the pain from them in different places, phantoms from a vision he received during his recovery, of a darkened cavern and a warrior trained in the ways of the sith, whom he fought alongside an apprentice he did not recognise, Master Yoda, and Padmé.

She would have been a welcome visitor if he had requested that she was to be informed of his injuries, yet Obi-Wan had refrained from doing so. Not only did she have her own grave mission concerning the conflict within the galaxy, the referendum of her home world pertaining as to whether they would remain with the Republic or join the Confederacy, as well as her own role within the Separatists should Naboo decide in favour of the Republic, he did not wish to distract her from those duties by troubling her with his recuperation. He knew she would be angry with him for withholding this from her for now, but he also knew that she could not take time away from her responsibilities to visit him, however much the two of them would wish it so. He would tell her when he was released, when he became part of the conclave that would be stationed on Naboo, something which Queen Jamilla promised the Jedi would happen whatever the result of the referendum.

The decision to scatter the Jedi across planets within the known galaxy after leaving the Republic and joining the Separatists was proving to have a positive effect. It enabled the Order to respond more quickly to those systems who asked for help, to keep in touch with conduct of their governance, to sense a disturbance within the Force from the outer reaches more keenly. Serenno had become the new temple, but each conclave had authority over mission assignments, the masters briefing the council via holo. Such a decision to delegate gave a new diversity to the Order which was reflected within the Force.

As for the other discovery which caused them to leave the old Temple, once they were settled on Serenno, most members of the Council had been able to sense what Master Dooku had detected, a growing and dangerous evil within the Force, arising from Coruscant. Determining the exact location upon the planet itself was more difficult, for the dark energy lay cloaked in secrecy, requiring a careful delicacy of scanning the depths without being detected. So far each attempt had been fought back by whoever it was at the other end, either by shrouding the way with a more complex layer of cloaking, or a direct attack, causing the masters to retreat before they were injured from the counter assault.

Faced by such strong opposition the Council resorted to other methods in order to attempt to discover the source of the dangerous evil. Through their rotation of members of the Order in the now Temple Embassy on Coruscant, they laid the groundwork of an ongoing investigation into ways that the power might manifest itself without using the Force, such as seeking to establish wealth and authority throughout the galaxy. By choosing to hide their skill within the darkside of the Force, it followed that they would also decide to conceal the nature of their other assets, probably through illegitimate means. Those Jedi who were able in looking into business and politics, were currently taking up residence within the Temple Embassy while they quietly looked into the matter. In the meantime members of the Council continued to probe the Force in order to attempt to shift through the layers of cloaking, seeking not only to discover the identity of the Sith but to distract them from learning about their other methods of investigation into them.

It was difficult knowing about all of the activity within the Order and not being able to take part. Obi-Wan knew he was a reluctant visitor to the medical bays at the best of times, yet this moment was a true test of his patience to focus on healing himself before resuming his part in taking on the troubles of the galaxy. As it was his mind which required the additional rest, he could not focus the Force in the way that he usually would to heal himself. Missing memories could not be urged into place, they required a gentler touch, much like the probe into the layers of the Force cloaked around the emerging sithly power on Coruscant that the Council was currently employed upon.

Such techniques took time and he could not help but feel that there was not enough time for him to let them run their natural course. An ominous future awaited the galaxy, he could sense the growing unease of the Force, its ancient energy swirling restlessly. There was a storm waiting upon the horizon, one upon which the fate of all rested. Everyone had a part to play, the absence of one could have a significant effect on the end result. It seemed that the longer he took to recover, the more dangerous the future to come appeared to be.

Chapter 26: Take the Force of the Blow.

When the results of the Nubian referendum came through to her private holo portal at he parent's home the next morning, Padmé breathed a quiet sigh of relief. She had been concerned upon leaving the Palace the day before that the results would not work out in her favour. Exit polls taken late that night suggested that the decision would be a narrow one, the predicted outcome being that Naboo would remain within the Republic. The Chancellor was from an old family on Naboo, his previous office in the Senate lasting many terms. Before that Palpatine had been Governor, his political career a steady rise through the ranks of Nubian legislature, as her own was. Aside from his run for the executive office of the Republic, his positions had not been contested or polled by noticeable opposition. Like her, he had been asked to commit to another term in office, yet unlike her, he had not refused the wishes of the people.

She often wondered what would have happened if she had accepted and taken another term as Queen. Who else would have taken Palpatine's place within the Senate. She had been ready to leave the throne, prepared as much as she believed she could be for a life on Coruscant, the politics of the Senate. Her first term in office had been something of an eye-opener, although it was nothing to what she had endured during her first term as Queen of Naboo. Coruscanti politics were deadly, but not life threatening, intricate and complicated in a way which made running Naboo sheltered and naive. By the time her first term was over, she was no longer blind to what was going on behind the appearance of the Senate making the laws for the Republic, yet it was not until the threats against her life and Obi-Wan's protection that she came to understand that there was a darker underbelly than even she had been previously aware of.

Now that Naboo was leaving the Republic, she wondered if she would come to feel the same within the Confederacy. Compared to the spread of the Republic, the Separatists were scattered about, yet smaller in terms of how many systems had banded together under the rule of those now former Senators. The Separatist Council was still young and new, with none of the laws that the Republic had which served to deny, restrict or corrupt the ability to make a real difference, benefit and protect not just those she represented but the galaxy as well. Padmé hoped this infancy held the possibility of change, the chance to fix the mistakes which had grown within the Republic, creating Senators who focused on only advancing themselves rather than the good of the people.

Turning away from the holo, she went to get dressed, readying herself for what would be a long day at the Palace. There would be much to arrange, many people to talk to. She briefly reflected on the possibility that she might have to go back to Coruscant and announce the departure of Naboo from the Republic. It was something the Chancellor could do, but Padmé was concerned what political spin might be gathered from her absence. A quick visit would have to suffice, possibly on her way to the Separatist Council capital on Raxus. An Outer Rim world, it was much like Naboo, in that it possessed a heavily populated urban capital, with surrounding forests, vast oceans, plains and hills where its citizens led a more rural lifestyle. As the capital for the Confederacy, it was not perhaps the best choice, being located on the outskirts of the galaxy within the Tion Hegemony, a group not known for their inclusiveness. Yet Raxulon was highly populated with much of the trade and commerce which existed on Coruscant, though not to the degree that it was difficult to distinguish the original surface of the planet from what had been built upon it.

In terms of the Council members who made up the governing body of the Separatists, Padmé knew a few quite well, most having been former Senators before their worlds left the Republic. Mina Bonteri of Onderon for example had been a mentor to her throughout her political career. She had been shocked when Onderon joined the Separatists, it was not until recently that she came to understand why. Now she appreciated the system's foresight, privately wishing Mina had confided in her about the darkness she noticed earlier, before it was too late to rescue the Republic, though Padmé wondered when she became a senator, just as Onderon left, if it had already been too late back then.

The dining area of the house was empty when she arrived, it was still too early for anyone else to be rising yet. Padmé headed for the kitchen to make herself a quick breakfast before she left for the Palace. She left a note for her parents to let them know where she would be, usually she made an effort to join them for meals when she was home but on this occasion she knew that she needed to be at the Palace as soon as possible to help the Queen and the Naboo Council deal with the result of the referendum.

As she ate she checked on the breakdown of the result as much as she could from the data available to her at home, the age bands, gender, species and locations that polled over the system, for or against. The information that returned provided nothing in the way of clarifying the result, yet it was something she would be asked about by politico pundits and holonews casters when the time came to explain to the rest of the galaxy why Naboo was leaving the Republic. She remembered seeing other worlds going through the same briefings when they left, the intense scrutiny they suffered through to explain their motives which had suddenly become inexplicable to those who constantly questioned them before.

Captain Typho was waiting for her when she stepped outside, leaning against her transport to the palace. Usually Padmé was able to walk to and from the Palace alone and unnoticed, however, since the scheme of attempted attempts on her life, as well as the referendum, her security measures had been tightened. He greeted her with a silent short bow, before opening the vehicle and stepping aside, allowing her to climb in.

The journey to the palace was mercifully quick thanks to the requisitioned transport, soon she was crossing the court from the entrance to the Council chamber. Padmé entered, greeting the councillors as they looked up from their study of the business before them, then took her seat, turning on the console in front of her, scanning what was to be discussed during this meeting. Only one item was to occupy them; that of the results of the referendum and how Naboo would go about withdrawing from the Republic.

Queen Jamilla had yet to arrive, presumably still talking with the Chancellor, whom she had promised to inform of the results of the referendum as soon as they came in. Doubtless most of what they would be discussing in the meeting would already be decided between them, as Naboo would need approval from the Chancellor of their departure timetable. When other systems had left the Republic their departure arrangements were kept between the executive office and the governing body of that system. All the Senate knew was their intention to leave and then their empty pod within the building marked when they had.

Padmé had never inquired for further details, as she had mistakenly assumed that she would never need them. Even when some of her closest friends, like Mina Bonteri of Onderon, left the Republic to join the Separatists, she only asked them why, not the steps they took when they did so. Her faith that the Republic would overcome the struggles of corruption and self-serving had been strong. Until her life was threatened, until Obi-Wan confided in her the truths that the Jedi Order discovered, did she realise her belief in the Republic was naive.

When the doors to the Council Chamber at last opened to admit the Queen, Padmé rose from her seat with her fellow colleagues to offer a bow in greeting. Jamilla waved them to their seats as she took her own, her flame coloured robed handmaidens taking up positions around the room. As soon as she was seated, everyone else returned to theirs, the meeting began.

Some hours later, as she followed the councillors exiting the room, Jamilla called out to her, asking her to stay.

Padmé returned to her seat, noticing that the handmaidens had left, leaving her alone with the Queen. Immediately, a flicker of concern began to trickle its way through her mind.

"Padmé," Jamilla began, "after the Chancellor had talked through with me about the procedures for leaving the Republic, he mentioned to me some news which had just begun filtering through the Republic concerning the Confederacy. There was an attack on Kamino. An as yet unidentified being took the planet by force. When the Jedi tried to take it back, there was a brutal battle. They made it back to the Temple, however I understand that it was not without grievous injuries. I thought you needed to know."

"Thank you, your highness," Padmé replied, even as the sound of her heart began to pound its way through her head. Summoning her strength, she rose to her feet and exited the Council Chamber, trying to make her way to her office without too much show of the haste and anxiety that she felt.

After Captain Typho had conducted his usual security sweep and left her alone to continue her work, Padmé wasted no time in contacting the Temple on Serenno. She used Obi-Wan's direct line, one he had given her for privacy and discretion, as well as emergencies, though she never dreamt she would have occasion to use it for the latter, until now.

The wait for a reply seemed to be the most worrying moments of her life.

To see him appear alive and well upon the viewscreen before her was a profound relief. "When were you going to tell me?" she asked him.

An expression of contrition formed upon his features. "I didn't want to cause you additional anxieties," he replied. "I know how concerned you are over Naboo leaving the Republic and joining the Confederacy. I realise now that was a mistake."

"Tell me, next time," she reprimanded. "Despite my previous unwavering belief in the Republic, I am not naive when it comes to our relationship, Obi-Wan. I know a Jedi's life is not without risk."

He frowned at her. "You think you were naive to have faith in the Republic? I disagree. It is a belief many share. It has been seemingly peaceful for well over a millennia. It is all very well examining a matter in hindsight when the truth is unveiled, yet sometimes there is a tendency to judge oneself too harshly in doing so."

"Thank you," she smiled at him, "but you have deviated from my point. What happened on Kamino?"

"Master Dooku has been trying to uncover who was behind the order of the clones. Master Sifo-Dyas may have been the one who tried to erase the existence of the planet from the Temple Archives, however he could not have commissioned the production of the clones without significant funds. His accounts are clear, suggesting that the order came from someone else. After failing to trace the origin on Coruscant, Master Dooku returned to Kamino to see if he could work the route of the credits backwards. Just as he was getting close, his companion, Master Tu Anh, whom the Council sent with him to provide help and protection, was killed by a clone soldier.

"After that, events escalated rather rapidly. A hooded being arrived on the planet, who knew the signal codes that all the clones answer to without question, turning them against Master Dooku. This being gave his name as Grevious, and revealed that his master was the Emperor, who had ordered the clones. Whereupon he began to attack Master Dooku. Grevious has been trained to use lightsabers. During the fight Master Dooku discovered that his opponent was partly cyborg, expertly in many of the techniques in using such weapons, and thanks to his mechanised parts, capable of using several lightsabers at any one time.

"He barely escaped off the planet. When he returned to Serenno, it was agreed that a small force should accompany him back to the planet. The Council tested the clone soldiers that were with other Jedi away from Kamino, and concluded that they were still loyal. It was decided that they would accompany us back to the planet, but only as a reserve if a small strike force failed to succeed first."

Obi-Wan paused for a moment, taking a breath as he let some of his usual serenity slip to reveal the cost of the mission. Padmé reached out to touch the screen, a motion that he copied, taking comfort from the gesture, feeling the touch, though it was light years away.

"I afraid the rest of it is still something of a blur," he eventually continued. "I remember boarding the ship, along with Jehane, Qui-Gon and Master Dooku, and the squadrons of clone troopers. However the memories exist in my mind as a holo drama, not as something I took part in, even though I know the contrary is true. Everything after leaving Serenno is blank. I have had to rely on the testimony from the clone squadrons, and my apprentice for what happened on the planet.

"We underestimated our opponent. Grevious had us outgunned and outgunned from the moment we arrived. He seemed to delight in toying with us. Jehane believes that he could have killed all of us at any one point during the battle, yet he held back because he wanted to send a message that he was a force to be reckoned with. It was a mad scramble to get off the planet and return to Serenno. Along with Master Dooku and Qui-Gon, I spent a number of days in the Infirmary. Not my favourite place at the best of times, a belief I share with my fellow masters. We gave the medics a hard time of it."

"Did you think about contacting me?" Padmé asked him.

"I did," he replied. "Many times. I didn't want to worry you, Padmé. I didn't want you to see me at my worst, short tempered and defensive, when you were dealing with your own difficulties concerning Naboo. I know that it would have been hard for you to leave Naboo during this time and come to Serenno. I also felt foolish and ashamed that I underestimated the situation, not to mention partially responsible for how the battle went, and that I was at a loss to explain what happened."

"Obi-Wan, you don't need to be a pillar of strength all of the time," Padmé admonished. "I want to give you the support that you give me. Not just as a jedi, but as a being who cares for me as deeply as I care for you. We need to learn to be comfortable in being vulnerable when we are in each other's company. Not just in our emotions or thoughts, but with our bodies as well. I can handle seeing you hurt, even though I hate the fact that you have been."

"I know," he replied. "But I didn't think about that while I was recovering. All I could see was the unnecessary strife which my behaviour would cause to our relationship. I was worried it would prove to be too much, too soon."

"Well, I disagree," Padmé remarked, "however, I have never seen you at your worst, so I have difficulty envisaging such a sight. Next time, though I pray to the Force that there is not one, I know it is possible."

"I join you in that sentiment." He smiled at her before changing the subject. "Despite the lingering gaps in my memory, the Council has declared me fit for duty. As soon as Naboo has officially joined the Confederacy, I will come to you, as part of the Conclave of Jedi who will be living on your homeworld."

Padmé felt her own smile forming. "We start proceedings today, I shall do my best to make sure that things proceed as smoothly and as swiftly as possible."

He leant back in his seat, gazing at her fondly. "Though I know it is a costly use of the comm, can we just sit a moment together like this? We both need some time in each other's presence, albeit through communication, to sustain us during our absence from each other until we can be reunited once more."

"Of course," she replied, making herself comfortable.

To be continued...

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.