Actions

Work Header

Star Wars Episode II: The Phantom Menace

Chapter Text

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

 

STAR WARS

 

Episode II

 

THE PHANTOM MENACE

 

War! The galaxy is in chaos. The Republic is crumbling under the ruthless attacks by the Separatist commander, GENERAL GRIEVOUS.

 

The next to fall is the Core Worlds Orbital Defense, a series of space stations tasked with protecting the heart of the Galactic Republic.

 

General Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker have been dispatched with a fleet of Star Destroyers to defend the station....

 

 


 

 

The Core Worlds Orbital Defense began life in the aftermath of the Battle of Alderaan. Alderaan’s very nature as a pacifist world, lead by a Queen and her husband who were shining examples of resilience in the face of tyranny, became a propaganda symbol for the war effort. “Join the Republic Forces—Fight for Peace” the slogan said, and the enlistment numbers swelled.

So that no other world underwent the same bombardment as Alderaan, the Republic Senate unanimously approved the creation of Orbital Defense, a series of spherical space stations armed with a laser powerful enough to damage any capital ship that threatened to breach the line. Protected by a shield tinted orange-gold, the Hub for these stations was the largest sphere of all, with long-range targeting capabilities concentrated at a central ellipse.

Four Lucrehulk-class dreadnoughts targeted their batteries on the Hub’s closest hemisphere, the red turbolasers causing the Hub’s shield to flash orange and fizzle gold. In response, the Hub emitted a green laser beam. The laser caught a dreadnought in rotation, the momentum aiding the beam’s efforts to bisect the Separatist ship lengthwise. The lights flickered out, the oblong halves drifted apart.

The downside to Orbital Defense was the elapsed time between attacks. The kyber crystals that powered the laser needed a full cycle to recharge, giving the Separatists time to retaliate. Red turbolaser blasts battered the Hub’s closest hemisphere, causing its shield to finally sputter orange-gold and die. Red turbolasers slammed into the Hub’s surface, scorching the hull, flames spurting for mere seconds before being snuffed out in the vacuum of space.

At that moment, a fleet of Republic Venator -class Star Destroyers swept out of hyperspace. The six Destroyers paired off, two against one dreadnought, and their batteries unleashed blue turbolasers. The Separatist ships responded in kind, both sets of capital ships suffering damage. From the Republic Destroyer Victory, the red topside panels parted and a squadron of V-wing starfighters launched out of the docking bay, and aligned themselves in attack formation.

In his Actis-class interceptor, Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi keyed in to his squadron: “This is Red Leader to Red Squadron. Split into two group. Follow Padawan Skywalker and aim for the hyperdrive engines. We want to stop their escape.”

His comm crackled with confirmations with his Padawan’s voice topping off the chatter: “Roger that, General Kenobi.”

The starfighter squadron broke off into two teams as instructed, their maneuverability and speed bringing them into the Separatist dreadnoughts’ defenses. A red turbolaser struck one V-wing and it burst into a ball of flames. Obi-Wan dodged a red turbolaser that would have taken off his starboard wing.

The Republic Destroyers moved into flanking position, trapping the Separatist ships between them and Orbital Defense. The Victory aimed all batteries at the closest dreadnought and blue turbolasers pierced the dreadnought’s hull, through one end and out the other.

Anakin Skywalker’s team dodged a hail of red turbolasers. The padawan’s Actis-class interceptor broke off from the group and slipped beneath a dreadnought. In the cockpit, Anakin bypassed his targeting computer and fired. Green lasers struck the undercarriage hyperdrive engine, the explosion swallowing Anakin’s starfighter, and he sailed his ship through it. When he surfaced and swung around, he spotted his team engaging in feint dives: by skimming so close to the dreadnought’s surface, the batteries couldn’t recalibrate for close firing, and the V-wings unleashed rockets that left the dreadnought’s hull pockmarked and smoldering. One V-wing took a red turbolaser blast and exploded. Anakin keyed in to his team:

“Squadron Team, turn your attentions to the next dreadnought — this one’s done.” Next, he punched in a line to the Victory: “Captain Greniss, it’s all yours.” Then Anakin angled his interceptor to join the raid.

Obi-Wan lead his team in a focused run on a dreadnought, but as the V-wings unleashed a hail of green laser blasts, the Separatist dreadnought jumped into hyperspace — going up . Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. Of course , he thought. He ordered his Squadron Team to swing around and launch an assault on the last dreadnought, but by the time he angled his interceptor around, that dreadnought, too, launched into hyperspace, also going up. Red Squadron drifted to a halt. Obi-Wan looked around. Both the disabled dreadnought and the remnants of the bisected one hovered in space.

Obi-Wan keyed in to the bridge of the Star Destroyer Victory to announce the end of engagements. At that same moment, a green beam from the Hub sliced straight through the disabled dreadnought. Obi-Wan stared, flabbergasted. As he watched, the vacuum of space ripped the dreadnought in half, the lights winked out, bodies and debris spiraled into the black.

He slammed the console. “Captain Greniss, what’s going on? We won. We were supposed to take prisoners.”

Captain Greniss’s heavy accented Daiquilian voice filtered into his cockpit. “New orders from Forward Command: Show the enemy no quarter.”

Obi-Wan gagged. He opened his mouth to refute, to lay out his reasons, but Captain Greniss ordered Red Squadron back to the Victory. Out the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan glimpsed the V-wings as they passed him by. At last, he heard Anakin’s voice crackle into the cockpit, waking him up. “Master. Let’s go.” Obi-Wan blinked, but the image of a war crime flashed behind his eyelids. He followed Red Squadron, through the force field, into the docking bay, and forewent the post-checks. Obi-Wan grabbed the handles and pulled the transparisteel dome open, then hopped out.

The grind and clink of the docking bay assaulted his senses, the metallic odor of Malastarian fuel burning his nostrils. Obi-Wan marched out of the docking bay and arrived on the bridge of the Victory without remembering how he got there. He sensed Anakin at his flank, his Padawan’s presence a steady reassurance, but then Obi-Wan was sweeping past the officers at their command stations, alien and human both. He spotted Captain Greniss at the comm. Obi-Wan wouldn’t call the emotion fury, roiling there under the surface, but it was a severe distaste.

“Captain Greniss,” Obi-Wan began. The Daiquilian turned. Reptilian gills flared in recognition, the solid blue eyes in direct contrast to the red scales. The gray command uniform had been tailored to accommodate the tail, and it snaked upward, sinuous, ending in a barbed point.

“General Kenobi.”

“No quarter? I was never informed of such an order.”

Captain Greniss moved to the next command station, saying, “Check in with your Jedi Council. They’re the ones who approved it.”

Obi-Wan stopped in his tracks. That couldn’t be true. He shot a look over his shoulder, trading a look with his Padawan. Anakin raised a brow, short hair and short braid shaping his face into a younger version of itself. Then Obi-Wan turned back, but Captain Greniss had moved on, a tacit dismissal. Well. Anakin’s heavy hand clapped Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Small comfort, but this wasn’t over.

Obi-Wan commandeered an empty station in a shadowed corner, observed Anakin blocking him in, and then entered the code to the Old Folk’s Home. Master Mace Windu and Master Ki-Adi-Mundi appeared as small, blue holograms seated in the otherwise empty Jedi Council Chamber.

“Master Kenobi,” Master Ki-Adi-Mundi said, his measured speech pattern at odds with Obi-Wan’s annoyance. “Orbital Defense is secure?”

“Yes, Masters.” Obi-Wan cursed himself – he forgot about debriefing. “Orbital Defense has been defended. But what’s this about giving the enemy no quarter?”

Both Masters appeared to settle into a meditative silence. Obi-Wan waited. Even Anakin stuck his thumbs in his belt and reined in his patience. At last, Master Windu said, “Don’t think this was an easy decision to make. With his cloning technology, Count Dooku has an inexhaustible supply of enemy combatants, and according to our calculations, the Republic is losing fifteen hundred soldiers every hour of this war. We had to do something.”

Obi-Wan clenched his teeth, preferable to slamming the console with his bare hand. “How are we meant to engage in prisoner exchanges if we kill our enemy? This will only lead to escalation.”

“That may be so,” Master Ki-Adi-Mundi said, “but one Jedi dies every hour of this war, too.” Obi-Wan blinked, shocked. He had never heard the statistics before. With a rustle of his robes, Anakin straighten behind him. “We need to bring an end to this conflict, and quickly.”

“And it’s good you contacted us,” Master Windu said. “We’ve received a request from the Prince of Alderaan, Bail Organa. Seems he’s discovered an anomaly and requested the Jedi investigate.”

Obi-Wan nodded. The Masters signed off, the blue holograms fizzling out.

Anakin cleared his throat.

Obi-Wan looked up into bright blue eyes, cheeks twitching in a hesitant smile. Ah, yes. Alderaan. Obi-Wan faked a frown. “Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed so quickly. I mean, Alderaan’s lovely and all, but – ”

“Obi-Wan.” Anakin had the most piercing whine. Obi-Wan grinned, dropping the act, and then stood and clapped his friend on the shoulders. Anakin smiled, his excitement brimming at the seams. “I’ll get a shuttle ready.”

Anakin hurried off, long legs swallowing the deck whole. Obi-Wan followed at a more sedate pace. His Padawan’s affinity for the “Heart of the Republic”, as Alderaan was informally called, stemmed from Anakin’s affection for a certain Naboo Queen. Obi-Wan wondered if he should be alarmed. Or not. After all, they were just friends.

It would do well to have a furlough, even if it meant working a mysterious investigation. At least they would be away from the front lines.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

He felt Obi-Wan’s regret.

The metallic gold bone structure of Anakin’s leg gleamed in the faint light of the ship. He touched a hydrospanner to it and the golden foot flexed in response. The appendage had been lost during the Battle of Rishi, to a rock slide. Utterly crushed. And the cause of Obi-Wan’s regret: A Separatist rocket had slammed into the rock face overhead and the explosion shattered the mountainside. Anakin pushed Obi-Wan out of the way, but hadn’t moved fast enough to save his own leg. The replacement had been installed on Alderaan, the planet acting as the designated medical world for the wounded Republic forces. Neuro-Saav Corporation had been given free rein to increase its repli-limb prosthetic replacements division, creating BioTech Industries as a subsidiary — and this war gave their profits a windfall. Their products were still in the rudimentary stages, but with a final tightening of the bolt, Anakin slipped his boot back on and looked up with a grin.

Obi-Wan’s face took too long to shift from a concerned frown to matching grin. But the eyes were dulled, even in the blue-white medley of hyperspace.

Anakin turned his attention to the console just as the navicomputer beeped, signaling their arrival. He engaged the sublight engines and their T-6 shuttle dropped out of hyperspace. A blue gem planet beckoned, bright against the blackness of space. Anakin ran through the landing clearances, then angled their shuttle downside.

Wispy clouds parted around their ship. Out the corner of his eye, he caught Obi-Wan’s concerned glance. And then realized why. Anakin’s hands cramped he was gripping the controls so hard. He eased his grip, flexed his hands, and exhaled.

“You seem a little on edge.” The levity in Obi-Wan’s voice sounded like a chore.

Anakin shook his head. “Not at all.”

When he turned, Obi-Wan was grinning, the one he wore whenever he was ready to needle a friend. A genuine grin, thankfully. “I haven’t felt you this tense since we fell into that nest of gundarks.”

Anakin’s jaw dropped. He whirled and nailed Obi-Wan with a incredulous glare. “You fell into that nightmare, Master, and I rescued you, remember?”

“Oh. Yes.” Obi-Wan chuckled, strangely enough. According to Anakin’s recollection, the gundark misadventure involved more panicking than a Jedi should admit. “You’re sweating.” Obi-Wan’s voice took on a comforting tone. “Relax. Take a deep breath.”

Anakin obeyed, then they punched through the clouds.

Alderaan. Jagged mountains capped in white spread out below, touched the horizon, and then dipped into foothills made of rounded earth and stone. Green blanketed the hillsides where the first cities made themselves known. Open balconies carved out of rock, glass windows surrounded by stone, the sun shimmered on gleaming façades, but nothing seemed excessive or out of place. Elegance was the word. Whereas Naboo was set in its past, the history worn on its exterior like a patina of time, Alderaan built towards its future, modern without excess, understated and beautiful.

Anakin loved it on sight.

He guided their shuttle toward the Mountain Palace, the home of House Organa. Towers and spires thrust up out of the mountain, not only carved into the rock, but complimenting it. A lake filled the bowl of the valley where the sunlight reflected off its rippling surface, like illumination fractured through shattered glass. Anakin guided their shuttle to the blinking lights of a landing platform. When they touched down, he unstrapped his harness, waited for Obi-Wan to do likewise, then followed his master down the gangplank and into the bracing wind.

Cold, though not frigid, the mountainous air swept their Jedi cloaks around their legs. At the end of the gangway, two figures waited. One wore a sleek silver tunic and trousers complete with a cape that billowed to one side. The other, petite and standing at his shoulder, had a colorful dress that fluttered and rippled, her very appearance at odds with the understated elegance of Alderaan. In fact, her garments would be better suited on Naboo.

As they neared, Anakin smiled. Padmé Amidala’s face broke into a wide grin. Her brown eyes sparkled. She looked no different than he remembered her three years ago. Except his heart hurt to look at her.

The dignified Prince of Alderaan, Bail Organa, sketched a bow. Obi-Wan and Anakin followed suit. “Welcome, Jedi Ambassadors. Please, our guest is waiting.”

The Prince escorted them inside, the howling wind silenced behind a transparisteel door. Their destination was an audience chamber off the main hall where an elderly man waited. His violet robes marked him as a member of the Republic Senate, and Anakin’s suspicions were confirmed when Bail introduced the stranger as, “Senator Palpatine.” Seating at the round table ended with Anakin across from Padmé, Bail next to her, Obi-Wan on Anakin’s right, and Palpatine remained standing. The Senator would have the opening remarks.

Palpatine began pacing. “The longer this war drags on, the more the greedy, squabbling delegates look out for themselves and their home systems, driving a wedge in the common good. No civility, only politics. It’s disgusting.

“I must be frank, Your Majesty, Your Highness,” Palpatine continued, pausing in his pacing to address Padmé and Bail respectively, “the only end to this war will be the capture of Count Dooku.”

Padmé nodded. “I agree.”

Palpatine sighed. “If only he weren’t so well hidden.”

Padmé traded a look with Bail, then turned her attention to Obi-Wan and Anakin. “Why do you think I requested Jedi protection?”

Anakin blinked. Obi-Wan’s confusion was a virtual presence in the room and Anakin’s mind slammed the clues together so hard, he gasped. “You’re sending us after him?” Anakin demanded as Obi-Wan said, “Your Majesty, we have tried to find Count Dooku, but whenever we zero in on his position, he’s more slippery than a forshan eel.”

Bail raised a hand, calling for silence. “Alderaanian intelligence has received new information.” Bail tapped a few keys on the keypad and the tabletop screen came to life, displaying star charts. “During routine maintenance, our Technology Manager discovered a glitch in the system. The Manager traced it back to the source at the Republic Archives.” Obi-Wan’s head snapped back, and Anakin felt a mild shock strum through his friend. Even Palpatine looked startled. The star charts zoomed in, and in, and highlighted a section of space just outside the Rishi Maze. “Here. Notice anything?”

Anakin leaned forward, squinting. “No.”

Padmé gestured to the spot. “Exactly. Gravity is pulling all the stars in this area inward to this spot. There should be a star here …”

“… but there isn’t,” Obi-Wan finished.

Anakin looked up, catching Padmé’s eye. “What makes this glitch worth your attention?”

Bail tapped more keys and the star charts faded away to be replaced by similar, but separate charts, also zooming in. Padmé was saying, “This glitch appeared two days after the Battle of Nemoidia.”

“One of the few Republic victories,” Obi-Wan muttered only loud enough for Anakin to hear.

Padmé continued, “And the Technology Manager figured that it was only specific to the Republic Archives. All the Republic worlds pull from the Archive, so every world’s database was affected.”

“Except for Alderaan,” Bail said. The same region of space dominated the tabletop screen, except the gravity pulled all the stars toward a blue-gray planet Anakin had never seen before. “We keep a separate database. The Marjan Hyperspace Disaster taught us a valuable lesson.” Anakin had read up on the disaster: Inaccurate star charts had lead Alderaanian passenger transports to miss Marjan and enter the planet’s sun. Thirteen million people had been killed in a single hyperspace jump.

Obi-Wan stared at the screen, brows furrowed. “What is it called?”

“No one knows,” Bail said, leaning back in his chair. “At least, no one we’ve consulted.”

Anakin bit his lip, noting the particulars. “It’s deep in Separatist space. The Nemoidia victory was a decisive blow against the Separatist — they lost a quarter of a million troops during our surprise attack.” He tapped the screen, curiosity getting the better of him. “What could be hiding on this planet?”

He glanced up just in time to see the light flare in Padmé’s eyes and her lips tilt into a pleased smile. Anakin ducked his head, a blush burning his cheeks.

Obi-Wan sat back, thumb and forefinger rubbing the edge of his beard. “Just because this planet was deleted from the Republic Archives doesn’t mean it’s of interest.” Anakin looked up in time to see the light in Padmé’s eyes blaze in reproach, but Obi-Wan continued, “A glitch is a glitch, and chasing after incomplete information is a waste of our time.”

Padmé opened her mouth, to protest no doubt, but Palpatine sat forward, cutting her off. “Master Kenobi is right, Your Majesty. It’s suspicious, yes, but nothing to send the Jedi after.”

“But it wouldn’t hurt to investigate,” Anakin said, and then glanced at the combination of hopeful and incredulous stares directed at him. Obi-Wan, it seemed, made his stare especially incredulous. Anakin spread his hands. “Why not? Why would such a glitch affect only one planet? And if it was deleted, it must be important.”

“Listen to what you’re saying,” Obi-Wan said. “You’re implying that there’s a mole in the Republic.”

“You saw what happened at Orbital Defense – it’s like they know our strategy.”

Obi-Wan sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Most of the war has been that way. But a mole …”

Bail steepled his hands on the table. “If we operate under the assumption that there is a Separatist mole in the Republic, then Padawan Skywalker is right: we should investigate.”

Anakin’s head whipped around, brows furrowed. “ ‘We’? ”

Padmé spoke. “Figure of speech. Bail has vowed to pledge Alderaan’s assistance to the investigation.”

And if we don’t investigate, you will, right? Anakin shuddered, such a thought making his insides crawl with fear. Padmé would put her life in jeopardy to hunt down any clue. And if it meant ending the war, all the more reason for her to leap into the fray. For Naboo. But he couldn’t have Padmé endangering herself. If he could keep her safe, he would. “Fine. We’ll look into it.”

Obi-Wan swung his chair around, brows raised. “Padawan.”

Censure and recommendation; Obi-Wan had dulcet tones. Anakin ducked his head, more for appearance than actual penitence. “Sorry, Master.”

Obi-Wan addressed the Prince and Queen. “Your Highness, Your Majesty, we cannot accept the investigation. I apologize.”

At that moment, a chime sounded and Bail and Padmé sat straight in their chairs. “Incoming wounded,” the Prince said. He led the way out the audience chamber and down the corridor to a large ballroom; only Palpatine stayed behind. The ballroom’s blastdoors were flung wide, a ship’s cargo bay docked at the entrance. Alderaanian medtechs carried the wounded out on cots, gray uniforms and white plate armor, alien and human alike. A dozen doctors performed triage, the cots carried through to an operating theater and bacta center, med droids moving forward. Bail and Padmé rushed to the ship, and then began helping patients stagger to a free cot. Obi-Wan and Anakin joined the effort.

Although healing wasn’t his forte, Anakin helped as best he could, lifting patients on and off gurneys, putting pressure on a wound until the medical droid could cauterize it. But the clincher came when he had to hold someone down while their limb was being amputated. The human officer fought, bellowed in Anakin’s face, gripped Anakin’s tunic and shoved, but Anakin waved a hand over the man’s eyes and whispered, “Relax.” The med droid’s unflinching arm lasered through a twisted leg. The ripe stench of roasting flesh burned in Anakin’s nostrils. Trapped under a Force-suggestion, the injured officer could only stare, his green eyes boring into Anakin’s, and Anakin unable to turn away. The look in those eyes was hate — hate that he couldn’t feel it, hate that he couldn’t scream, hate that Anakin had taken away the man’s only outlet against something he didn’t want.

Anakin stumbled away after that. They no longer needed him, the triage completed, the med droids busy with patients. Anakin didn’t see Obi-Wan, but he spotted Padmé laying a blanket on a patient, smoothing it down and tucking in the corners. He turned away and missed how she looked up to see him exit.

 

* * *

 

By the hunch of his shoulders, he looked to be in pain. Padmé glanced around to see if she were still needed, but with the nurses taking up their rounds in recovery, Padmé made her way outside.

Alderaani nights whipped brutal and cold. She had learned to wear layers after the first night on the planet, shivering in her bed, so used to the regulated climate of Coruscant or the temperate one of Naboo. Still, the wind knifed through her layers; Padmé gripped the hem of her outer skirt and drew the capelet around herself, then glanced both ways down the balcony. The wall sconces lent little illumination, but she made out a figure limned in light, arms braced on the balcony railing, his head bowed. A shadow-shape with an impartial glow. The very image sent a chill up her spine, though she couldn’t fathom why. Shaking it off, Padmé made her way over, the click of her heels the only sound able to penetrate the howling wind.

Anakin’s head turned toward her. Her identity must have registered because he shot upright, drawing himself to his full height. Then he bowed, as formal and poised as any Jedi Padawan. The blue of his eyes glittered like Turmnian sapphires. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe … but maybe that was the wind pushing too hard. She had been caught in a thunderstorm on Naboo once, the wind like a wall, suffocating her. His voice broke the lull:

“May I help you, my lady?”

Padmé rolled her eyes, a disappointed sigh trailing a long mist on the wind. “Anakin. Call me Padmé. We’re alone — and we’ve known each other long enough.”

She saw his cheeks bunch as he smiled. And then his shoulders slumped, and he returned to his place leaning against the balcony, the wind whipping his short Padawan braid out behind him. Padmé gripped her capelet in one hand and slipped the other out, grabbed his braid, tugged. He chuckled. She ran her thumb over the silken strands before dropping it to take a step nearer. But she chose to stand. They were closer in height this way.

“How’s your leg?” she asked.

She heard his tunic shift as his shoulder line drew tense. She knew she had stepped in it, though she didn’t know what it was. Something to do with the triage? Anakin’s hand waved downward, his response nonchalant. “A few tweaks here and there and it’s like having a mechanical leg.”

“But is it still bothering you?” Padmé remembered holding his hand as he stood up for the first time. The surgery had lasted fourteen hours; re-learning balance during recovery had them taking walks around the physical therapy room and chatting. He had argued that relearning how to operate a mechanical hand would have been less trying, but no less engrossing. Practicing fine motor control with this Republican line of prosthetics wasn’t impossible, but his knee constantly buckled. The government had become too complacent with innovation, this war catching them all unawares.

He flexed his leg, then shook his head, saying, “I tinker with here and there. Sometimes the cold makes it seize up.”

Anakin pushed back, drawing up to his full height again. Suddenly, his hands enveloped hers, hot despite the wind and cold, drawn from whatever heat the twin suns of Tatooine had imbued in him. Padmé felt her breath catch in her chest, this one not caused by the wind. Her capelet fell off her shoulders, but she let it. “Padmé,” he began, his swallow audible, and then his next words were so low she had to lean in to hear them, “don’t go to the planet.”

That was unexpected. Padmé shook her head, blinked, shocked, and intrigued. But mostly shocked. “Why … would you say that?”

“It’s just these feelings I get sometimes.”

Jedi stuff. Hmm. “It’s just a feeling.”

The pressure on her hands tightened, and if she hadn’t trusted him, she would have snatched them away. “No.” The edge to his voice shook her, unexpected and unkind. “I had this same feeling when my mother died. I didn’t know what it was then, but I know now. If I can stop you from putting yourself in harm’s way, I will.”

Padmé felt her patience deflate. No one told her what to do, or acted in her best interest. The last time that happened, she lost Naboo. Still, she was a diplomat, regardless of the emotions spinning within her, and she would never besmirch Shmi’s memory. Padmé inhaled, carefully choosing her words. “It’s sweet that you want to protect me, but this is war.” Something shifted in his gaze, the blue darkening in a way the light never should have allowed. Padmé eased one of her hands free and reached up, the palm of her hand cupping his chin, the weathered skin scratching her pampered palm. She felt his exhale like a blast of heat against her wrist. She shivered, certain his head made an aborted attempt to learn in. “If I’m not willing to risk everything for my people, then how can I ask them to do the same?”

“Without you, what happens to your people?”

His words were a whisper carried on the wind. Padmé dropped her hand, and then extracted herself from his grip. The heat emanating off his skin vanished, and Padmé shivered, cold. She gripped her capelet and pulled it back around her shoulders, desperate to get inside at once. “They are Naboo. One person is not her people.” Her mind made up, Padmé squared her shoulders. “Good night, Padawan Skywalker.”

 

* * *

 

Anakin watched Padmé sweep through the transparisteel doors, her skirts billowing out behind her. You’re wrong, he wanted to say. It’s all wrong. I can feel it. But when she touched him, his tongue was tied. She was a calm he hadn’t known he was missing. Peace, in so many words, something his lessons with Obi-Wan had somehow missed. No. That wasn’t right. He had never felt anything like this before, a twisting pain in his chest, somewhere near his heart that only came alive when he saw Padmé, thought of Padmé, caught a whiff of her perfume, or had her touch him however briefly. It was madness. Not because of how he felt, but because he felt it. He wanted to spend every moment with her, stare into her eyes and admire their depths, brush his thumb against the perfect, little mole on her cheek, kiss her and not have her slap him. Because that would happen. A stinging slap from someone so small. He was a commoner, and he already took too many liberties as it stood. Holding her hands — what was he thinking? Using each others’ given names didn’t mean that he could take it a step further. He was a commoner. She was royalty. That was the divide.

But if she were a commoner, too, it still wouldn’t give him free rein to treat Padmé however he pleased.

He couldn’t demand Padmé’s attention. Just because he thought of her constantly didn’t mean she was obligated in any way to think of him likewise. It would be … creepy. And wrong. What kind of signal did it send if he acted possessive, demanding, and thoughtless? How would they — So we’re a they now? — have a relationship based on lies and scheming? Padmé was worth more than that. More than anything he could give her. And if she looked at him with kind eyes again, it was merely a Queen giving a commoner a look of compassion and that was all. He was … a sand mouse … and he wasn’t ever not going to be. What would a Queen see in him?

Blinking hard, Anakin pressed the heels of his palm against his eyes until they stopped stinging. He needed to get inside, out of the cold.

Ever since he left Tatooine, it was hard staying warm.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Obi-Wan helped place plaster-splint on broken limbs; elevate the damaged tentacle-lungs of a Bruo, who gagged on her own blood until the med droid could aspirate the blockage; held together the split open sides of a leather-skinned Runta-KeeNar; and bandaged the eyes of an Aturian, the blue lines on the tips of its white ears signaling its young age.

“Master Kenobi,” a voice croaked.

Obi-Wan turned to see a tattered brown cloak amidst the Republic-issued white panel armor and gray officer uniforms. A Jedi — not a dirt farmer pulled into a war that wasn’t theirs. Obi-Wan wove his way over to the cot, seeing the tattered edge of the robe trailing to the floor, and then the missing legs of a human. Master Ly Homun. Blackened excoriation criss-crossed her torso, her labored wheezing making the marks bunch and flex. Her tanned skin was ashen, her heavy-lidded black eyes glazed.

Obi-Wan whirled, raising his arm and calling for a droid, but Ly’s hand grabbed his. When he turned back, the resignation in her bearing drew him closer. Obi-Wan knelt and Ly slipped two metal cylinders into his hands. Obi-Wan lifted them and saw scorch marks where the casing had been cleaved neatly in two. When he fitted them back together, his breath left in a rush. Only another lightsaber could have bisected this lightsaber.

Ly muttered, more an exhale than words. Obi-Wan leaned close, her breath hot on his cheek. “He was a Sith.”

The hairs on the back of Obi-Wan’s neck stood up. If he hadn’t been kneeling, he would have crashed in a heap. All these years … He had conquered his fear. He was not the brash, newly-invested Knight way in over his head. Obi-Wan was a Master; he had to set an example; he had to know.

He lowered his voice to a whisper, careful not to disturb Ly’s fleeting peace. “Where, Ly? Where was he?”

“Kyre III.”

And then Ly’s eyes lost focus and she slumped, going still.

Obi-Wan draped Master Homun’s cloak over her, and then found his apprentice just as Anakin re-entered from the balcony. Obi-Wan took Anakin aside, peered into four different conference rooms before he found an empty one, sealed the door, and placed Master Homun’s lightsaber halves on the tabletop.

Anakin’s brows jumped, then he scooped up the pieces with gentle hands. He ran a finger across the charred casing, his gaze transfixed as though he sensed something from it. And then he looked up, Anakin’s stare nailing Obi-Wan to the spot. “The Sith Lord. What did you say his name was again?”

“Darth Maul.” The name threatened to fill him with dread, but Obi-Wan released his emotions into the Force. He sat at the console and contacted the Old Folk’s Home. Master Mace Windu’s distinguished countenance appeared on screen.

Windu’s brow line remained impassive, but his dark eyes flashed with curiosity. “Obi-Wan. What of the Prince’s request?”

In answer, Obi-Wan slid the lightsaber halves into focus. “Master Ly Homun said it was a Sith.”

Windu’s jaw dropped, and then multiple beeps happened off screen. Blue holoprojector images appeared, flipping through five other lightsabers that were also cleaved in half. Obi-Wan felt Anakin move forward, a hulking presence lurking over his shoulder. Obi-Wan felt, needless to say, floored.

“Five other Jedi have died on the battlefield,” Master Windu said.

Anakin’s voice was low when he spoke: “Which battles?”

As Windu named them, “Onri and Dax Posaras”, Anakin moved to the screen against the wall and brought up Alderaan’s star charts. He pinpointed the named planets — “Chisal, Granturan, and Vartar” — and showed how they were, “in Separatist space.” Anakin tucked his thumbs into his utility belt, his brows drawn together in thought.

“Master Homun encountered the Sith at Kyre III.” Anakin tapped more keys and the eponymous moon of Kyre I joined the highlighted planets. Then the star charts zoomed out to show a line to the missing planet, the one Padmé and Bail had asked them to investigate.

Obi-Wan felt his chest tighten. It couldn’t be coincidence; there was no such thing as luck. “He’s calling me out.”

Master Windu muttered something the speakers didn’t pick up. No doubt a swear.

“That settles it.” Anakin tapped the keys, shut down the chart, and made for the door. “We’re not going.”

“I missed something?” Master Windu said.

Obi-Wan grabbed Anakin’s elbow, swinging him around, and feeling his own heart slam against his ribs. “He’s killing Jedi to send me a sign.”

Anakin’s brows drew low over his eyes. “You’re going to take that chance? Maul is a servant of the Dark Side.”

Obi-Wan unclenched his jaw with effort. “He won’t stop until I face him.”

“He wants to kill you.”

“If it means saving another Jedi.”

Windu’s voice cut in: “You will face him, Master Kenobi.”

Obi-Wan whirled, having forgotten the live feed. Master Windu looked stoic, but having had years of interpreting the various layers of calm-Jedi-Master-face, Obi-Wan could see that Master Windu was livid. An emotion soon released into the Force. Obi-Wan nodded, his mission clear.

“Unfortunately, there are no other Jedi we can pull from the battlefield. You and your Padawan will have to go it alone.”

Anakin squared his shoulders and the muscle in his jaw jumped. He nodded, then Master Windu signed off, the screen going dark. Free from scrutiny, Anakin turned away, rubbing a hand over his face.

Obi-Wan canted a brow. “Weren’t you all for running off?” Anakin turned back, a steely look in his eyes. Not censure, but … worry. Obi-Wan gripped Anakin’s arm, squeezing to impart reassurance. “Fear is of the Dark Side.”

Anakin nodded, though a niggling doubt in Obi-Wan questioned whether they were having the same conversation.

Obi-Wan forced a light tone he didn’t feel. “It’s like you want me to fail.”

Anakin huffed, then clapped Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “You won’t face him alone.”

Obi-Wan grinned, something like relief lifting his spirits. Anakin grinned in return — then it dropped.

“Oh, no.”

“What?”

Anakin’s blue eyes looked haunted. “Padmé.”

 

* * *

 

Anakin ran flat out, his boots pounding on the carpeted floors. The noise echoed as Obi-Wan kept pace, but Anakin’s longer legs ate up the distance, his worry propelling him forward. At last, they reached Padmé’s quarters. The doors parted and a handmaiden stood, startled, her embroidery clenched in her hands. Anakin staggered to a halt, gasping, and spoke around a throat tight with dread. “Where is Her Majesty, Queen Amidala?”

The handmaiden with Padmé’s face bit her lip, nothing like Padmé at all. Anakin sensed hesitancy and mild panic. He nearly raised his voice, demanding to know Padmé’s location at this very moment, but Obi-Wan swept forward, his voice mild, his manner gentle.

“You won’t be betraying your queen if you tell us. We’re her Jedi protectors — we have to know.”

“That’s just the thing, Obi-Wan — ” By the cadence of her voice, this was Dormé. “ — my lady told me not to tell you. Either of you.”

Anakin clenched his jaw, his suspicions confirmed. But Obi-Wan continued, undisturbed. “I understand, but if it means your lady’s safety, it would be worse if you didn’t tell us and, thereby, allowed Her Majesty to come to harm.”

“What kind of harm?”

“Please tell where she is.”

Dormé hesitated so long that Anakin called upon the Force and placed the suggestion in his voice: “Tell us now.”

Dormé’s brown eyes flew up to his. “Her Majesty and His Highness left on the Star of Alderaan with a security detail and my sister.”

Bail was apart of this? Anakin nearly threw up his hands in exasperation, but he had to keep his head. He had to … to …

Obi-Wan took Dormé’s hand and enveloped it between both of his. “Thank you. When we find your lady, we will let her know you didn’t betray her.”

Dormé nodded and Anakin swept out the door, Obi-Wan at his heels. They made it five steps, the chamber doors closed, and Anakin said, “I knew this would happen. I knew it. If Padmé had waited … ”

“We will get nowhere thinking about what could have been. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs.” Obi-Wan’s teacher’s voice had the necessary effect: Anakin relaxed his shoulders and felt the tension drain away. They rounded a corner, passing sleek lines, then took the corridor back to the landing platform, their intention tacit uniformity. “Alderaan isn’t know for its warships,” Obi-Wan continued, seemingly feeling out the words, piecing together the clues. “More than likely, the Star of Alderaan is a consular ship, outfitted with minor weapons, known for diplomatic missions. Smart, if they are to be ambassadors of peace. Not very smart if they are heading straight into Separatist space.”

Anakin nodded. “Worse case scenario, they’re captured and tried for espionage.” And sentenced to death, he couldn’t bring himself to utter. Such thoughts made his heart ache.

The blast doors parted and the nighttime wind howled, bitter cold. Anakin mirrored Obi-Wan in drawing up the hood and pulling his cloak tight around himself, the hem whipping around his legs. The iciness numbed his lips, but they made it to the landing platform and spotted an empty docking pad. Obi-Wan accessed its terminal. The screen glowed blue, flickering through the maintenance logs, until:

“We just missed them.”

Anakin clenched his jaw around his irritation. “If they’re headed for the mystery planet, we haven’t much time.”

They faced the wind, heading to their docking pad, entered their T-6 shuttle, and Anakin warmed it up. He had to battle down his anxiety, his impatience. Padmé could be injured, captured, dead, dying. Without warning, a hand landed on Anakin’s shoulder. He turned his head, met the steadiness in Obi-Wan’s blue-green eyes, and felt himself calm.

Anakin negotiated their departure procedures, then pushed their T-6 shuttle through the atmosphere, into the black where they entered hyperspace. The mystery planet, unfortunately, was too deep into Separatist space reach in one jump. Perhaps Padmé and Bail had discovered this, too? Perhaps they had been wise enough to turn away? He allowed himself to hope. So, when a hyperspace communiqué broadcasting from the edge of Separatist space reached their shuttle, Anakin engaged the sublight engines.

This region had no major battles that Anakin knew of, nor any planets to fight over. The distant stars flashed, an untrammeled firmament reaching to infinity. Suddenly, an Alderaanian blockade runner fell out of hyperspace. The sublight engines flickered. Blast marks excoriated the outer hull, a layer of plating blown clear away. As they watched, the Star of Alderaan went dark and began listing in space. Obi-Wan hailed them.

A familiar voice came over the comm: “Obi-Wan?”

She sounded harried, dismayed, but intact. Anakin released a sigh of relief.

Obi-Wan said, “Your Majesty, let us dock.”

“No, it’s me. Sabé.”

Anakin gasped, his thoughts rushing to terrible conclusions. But the conversation continued, bringing him out of his wild musings into something much worse.

“Her Majesty and the Prince were taken.”

Anakin crowded closer to the comm, uncaring if he showed his attachment or what Obi-Wan would say about it. “Where?”

“A Techno Union transport came upon us. Bail and Padmé piloted a shuttle, drawing our pursuers away, and we made the jump to hyperspace.”

Anakin refrained from running his hands through his hair. His anger made his next words harsh. “Why didn’t you take her place?”

“She told me not to.” Sniffles, then a broken voice filled the cabin. “I’m sorry.”

Obi-Wan voiced assurances, ordered Sabé to contact Republic Rescue, and then signed off. Anakin had stopped listening. His mind ran through all the possibilities.

“Taken.” It took a moment before he realized he had uttered his thoughts aloud. It gained Obi-Wan’s attention. Anakin would have spared him a glance, but he was too focused to split his concentration. “Arrested, more like; therefore, POWs. But where?”

Obi-Wan said, “There’re thousands of POW camps in Separatist space.”

Anakin shook his head, not to negate ObiWan’s claim, but to clear his head. “But not just any POWs. Nobility. So, to be used as leverage in bargaining terms.”

“That only leaves tens of thousands of worlds where they could be.” Obi-Wan reached over to activate the holonet, the red glow highlighting the premature gray in his hair.

Anakin leaned forward, trying to see over his shoulder, but the screen was meant for only one person at a time. “What?”

“Nothing on the Emergency Broadcasts.”

Anakin refrained from punching the console in frustration. Then he patched through into the Republic Network.

A face crackled onto the screen, surprised. Senator Palpatine seemed delighted to see him. “Padawan Skywalker, this is an honor.”

Obi-Wan spun his chair around, brows flying into his hairline. Palptine’s blue eyes flickered over to Obi-Wan, then back.

Anakin took a deep breath. “Forgive me, Senator, but Padmé and Bail have been captured by the Separatists.” Palpatine’s brows creased, alarmed. “Obi-Wan and I are chasing them down now.”

“Say no more. I have contacts in the Senate who can parley for us,” the Senator said. “I will do everything I can. I promise.”

Anakin sighed in relief. Mild relief. “Thank you, Senator.” He waited for Palpatine to sign off, and then caught Obi-Wan’s eye. They would have to be patient, but Anakin began plotting four different contingency plans in his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the Senator — any friend of Padmé’s was a friend of his — but it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared.

 

* * *

 

On Coruscant, Senator Palpatine sat back in his chair, the conversation with Padawan Skywalker making the anger in his core simmer. If he allowed it, that anger would consume him, envelope him in its flame, and burn him from within. The Dark Side beckoned, but he, not his anger, was the master, and knowing how to harness it, control it, and manipulate it were the lessons his own master had instilled in him. Lessons he, as Darth Sidious, Dark Lord of the Sith, tried to impart to his own apprentice.

Palpatine swiveled his chair around to place Darth Maul in his sights. His apprentice wisely kept his gaze to the floor. When he had ordered Maul to delete the planet in the Republic Archives, he hadn’t expected such a sloppy job. The Alderaani backup files were unanticipated, but such a blip should have been seen as an oversight. “What do you have to say for yourself, Lord Maul?” Palpatine didn’t bother to alter his voice. He had nothing to hide here, nor any assets to terrorize. “Your carelessness may have cost us everything.”

Darth Maul dropped to one knee, his head bowed. The crown of horns formed an oblong shape, stark golden streaks against the black ink of his tattoos. “Master, I will fix this. I will make sure that anyone who knows about Kamino will be killed.”

“See to it.” As Maul stood, pulled up his hood, and made his way to the door, Palpatine raised a hand. “Lord Maul.” His apprentice turned back, the red of his skin the only contrast seen in the light. “I will deal with the Queen and the Prince myself.”

Maul bowed, swept through the door. Palpatine pulled up his hood and contacted his allies on Geonosis.

 

* * *

 

The holoprojector activated, silencing the conversation at the table.

Count Dooku sat straighter in his seat and Poggle the Lesser of Geonosis turned towards the spot where the hologram materialized. Dooku and the Geonosian leader had been discussing the delivery of a new design of tanks to the Separatist’s frontlines. In the distance, the methodical screech-clang-keTHUNK of the factory shook the conference room. The Geonosian mounds were solid construction, providing coolness away from the surface heat, but even the eaves shook off their sediment. When Lord Sidious’s hooded visage appeared, the blue hologram seated at the head of the table, Dooku stood and bowed.

“Lord Sidious.”

“Count Dooku,” the voice hissed, like a sand fly snapping at a meal. “The First Prince of Alderaan and the Queen of Naboo are now our prisoners.”

Dooku allowed a smile to show, pleased beyond all measure. “I see.” Naboo had been a miscalculation. With more time, he could have had the Queen bend to his will, but these new developments could give him the opportunity to try again. He never wanted much out of this war, only the chance to claim the Naboo throne for himself.

Lord Sidious’s next words, however, put an end to that fantasy:

“They are a spot that need to be rubbed out. Kill them immediately.”

Dooku drew his shoulders back, the smile evaporating along with his good mood. He couldn’t disobey orders. He couldn’t. The empty place in his mind made it so he couldn’t. Dooku bowed and heard himself speak. “Yes, my lord.”

The hologram dissolved and Count Dooku made the necessary arrangements.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The alert flashed, accompanied a shrill beeping. Anakin rushed to check the console, but Obi-Wan was closer.

“A sentry droid picked up activity at the No Man’s Land between Separatist and Republic space. A Techno Union transport made a stop at Geonosis. Ever hear of it?” Anakin muttered how he had not; Obi-Wan’s fingers tapped the keys. “It arrived from the same region where Padmé and Bail were arrested.”

“That’s it.” Anakin brought up the star charts and plotted a quick hyperspace jump to the planet Geonosis. Young, volcanic, and surrounded by a ring visible from space. His plan was to come in under Geonosis’s moon, dock, and recon before plotting their approach. If the planet were a Separatist prison, it would be heavily guarded to ensure that no POWs escaped. Meaning no one would expect a single Jedi to break in.

Anakin laned their T-6 shuttle on the moon’s surface. By the info on the Network, they would have three hours until sunset.

Anakin hurried to the docking bay, Obi-Wan’s footsteps close behind.

“This is mad,” Obi-Wan said. Regardless, Anakin shrugged out of his robe, unbuckled his belt, and chucked them at Obi-Wan, who caught them both out of midair with Jedi aplomb. He lifted the lightsaber. “No. This is mad. You don’t know what you’ll encounter down there.”

They had room for only one Actis-class interceptor and Anakin hopped inside. The black and silver R2 unit activated and beeping as Anakin warmed the systems. “I’d rather not give the Separatists any incentive to take on a Jedi. In, out, that’s my plan.”

Obi-Wan folded the robe over the belt. “It’s not the Separatists I’m worried about.”

Anakin flashed a grin, feeling giddy before the battle. “I won’t say ‘I told you so’ when I get back.”

Obi-Wan didn’t smile, his blue eyes hooded. “Be safe.”

Anakin nodded, then waited for Obi-Wan to retreat and close the blast doors behind him. Anakin sealed the cockpit, punched in the code to release the hatch, and he piloted his starfighter into space.

He came around the moon, the crater marked surface rippling by in a flash. When he cleared the moon’s horizon, the orange globe of Geonosis hung like a glowing orb against the black. The rings weren’t stable asteroids, he soon discovered, diving and twisting through the rocks. Easy, when compared to Beggars Canyon. Anakin dipped his starfighter into a shallow angle and broke atmo.

Whatever he had been expected, this wasn’t it.

Volcanoes spewed steam high into the atmosphere. Narrow mountains dotted the landscape. Far below, Lucrehulk-class Core Ships were docked into recesses in the earth, additional steam rising up around them. Orange clouds obscured the sun, and at a certain angle, the ring surrounding Geonosis flared a dark red, like a band across the sky.

Vulture ships should be zeroing in on his position by now or he should be dodging turbolasers trying to blast him out of the sky. Anakin frowned, his senses on alert.

He landed the starfighter on the outskirts of a tall spire, the shape of it something not found in nature. As Anakin unsealed the canopy and climbed out, he noticed the smell. Acrid heat that scorched the inside of his nostrils, like the noon Tatooine suns baking the open desert. He caught a metallic whiff, there and gone.

Anakin sealed the cockpit, ordered his astromech to shut down, and then picked his way across the rocky terrain. As he approached, Anakin corrected his original assessment. The narrow mountains were actually spires, identical to this one, the curious indentations and carved accents made by tools.

It made him wonder about the native species of the planet.

A repetitive screech-clang-keTHUNK reached his ears. If there was sound, it meant life, and it probably meant civilization. Again, he caught whiff of the metallic scent, stronger, the scorch of heated metal, familiar and un-welcomed all at once.

What he thought were smooth indentations in the spire were actually opened archways, dozens of them, though there were none at the base of the spire. Anakin thanked his forethought to leave his robe behind and made a run toward the spire. His long legs propelled him up and his long arms reached. He caught the lip of the archway, then pulled himself up to peer inside.

A murky dimness blotted out the light, but there was no movement nor guards that he could see, so Anakin pulled himself up, swungs his legs in, and landed on feathered feet. Nothing in the Force alerted him to danger, so he picked a direction and started walking.

Creeping was more like it. His tunic rustled, his boots squeaked, but he set each foot in front of the other with the intention to be as silent as possible. Several steps in, an opened archway gave way to a torrent of sound, the screech-clang-keTHUNK. Anakin poked his head through the archway, inhaled the stench of superheated metal, and gasped.

Below, tiers of activity seemed to go on without end. Molten metal spilled into a large crucible. The crucible was then carried on an automated rail and poured onto a conveyor belt where the red hot liquid was carried away. On another conveyor belt, robotic arms sliced the cooled metal with a crushing-screech noise. Next followed the clang when the metal pieces were hammered into a shape. Last was the keTHUNK where the shaped pieces were bolted together. The process Anakin witnessed ended with dome-shaped barrels piled into a cart. The cart was, then, carried by robotic arms onto another belt, and were sent to a place too far away for him to see. What a time not to have his utility belt. A pair a macrobinoculars would be great right now.

Anakin ducked back out, and then rubbed the feeling back into his face. A factory — for the war effort — for the Separatists. The Republic needed to know about this. But he would relay that intelligence at a later time. Right now, he needed to find Padmé and Bail.

POWs would be treated according to the Writ of War and the Rules of Engagement. So, they would be imprisoned until the end of the war when both sides would agree to a prisoner exchange. He just had to find the prison camp.

It reasoned to assume that the entire spire was one large factory. Automated, sure, but even automated factories need workers. So where were the workers? If he found the workers, he might find civilization.

A horn sounded in the distance. Anakin whirled towards it, then took off at a jog.

The spire wrapped around itself with no stairs leading down; however, he caught movement out one of the windows. Against the dark red band of the planet’s ring and the orange haze to the sky, bug-like creatures swarmed, their gossamer wings flapping in cadence, the resulting hum at once unnerving and loud enough to block out the sounds of the factory. It now made sense that the spire would have open archways and no stairs. For Geonosians only.

As he watched, the swarm turned as one and headed toward the sun. Anakin breathed a sigh of relief, then he heard a hum coming from his left down the hallway. He swore under his breath and looked for a place to hide. Smooth walls and shallow archways would never hide an outsider like him. The hum of their wings came closer. Anakin threw caution to the sun and climbed through the archway, back into the factory proper. He gripped the ledge and braced his feet on the wall, hanging on with all of his strength.

Except, now, the hum of Geonosian wings sounded directly below him. In a flash, three Geonosians fluttered to his side. Bug-like creatures with glittering eyes and crackling carapaces. Anakin waited, a part of him thinking that if he held still, no one would notice him.

A click-pop-scree! rent the standoff, followed by others. One of the Geonosians hovered over and slammed a bony hand into Anakin’s shoulder. The pain flared briefly, and he bit his lip around it. Another Geonosian flew over, smashed a rusted pipe onto Anakin’s hand. He cried out, dropped his hand, but that threw off his balance. Anakin felt his feet slip, his one hand straining to hold his weight. Just as he swung his weight forward, the same Geonosian hit his other hand, and Anakin slipped. He tumbled backwards into a free-fall, vertigo lurching through him in a mixture of adrenaline and fear. He would die if he didn’t catch himself, twist his body and land in a way that wouldn’t break too many bones.

But as those thoughts raced through his head, bony arms reached under his back and stopped his descent. Multiple arms gripped his torso, his legs, his arms, and the hum of their wings carried him elsewhere. The bug-like exoskeletons crowded his vision, but he could feel the change in temperature. Gone was the scorching heat from the factory to be replaced by the acrid heat of the desert land. Then Anakin found himself dropped to land flat on his back. Sand erupted up into a dust cloud under him. He coughed, winded, and unable to catch his breath. Sand got everywhere. A clang overhead silenced made him look up. Metal bars crossed the sky. Surrounded by metal bars, in fact.

He congratulated himself on finding the POW camp.

“Anakin?”

His head whipped around. Padmé had her hands wrapped around the bars, her ivory face flushed scarlet. Anakin climbed to his feet and reached his arms through the bars to hold her. She, too, had the same idea, her small hands gripping his tunic, but it was awkward and his shoulder threatened to pop if he kept this up, so they parted, hands gripping each other.

“Are you hurt?” He wanted to wipe the grime off her cheek, but that would mean letting her go.

Padmé shook her head, opened her mouth to answer, but another voice on beyond Padmé’s cell cut her off: “Please tell me you brought your lightsaber.”

Anakin refrained from rolling his eyes. “That would have been the first thing they would have taken, Your Highness.” He returned his attention back to Padmé. “How long have you been here?”

“About a day?” she said. “The language barrier is … impressive.” Her lips twisted as though she had swallowed a more apolitical word. “I can only guess what they plan to do with us.”

Bail’s voice carried over. “We’ll be POWs until the end of the war.”

Not unless we escape. Anakin, though tempted to hold her forever, forced himself to release her, step away, and assess their situation. All prisons had a weak spot. He just had to find it.

 

* * *

 

The proximity alarm roused Obi-Wan out of his meditation. He opened his eyes, shook off the euphoria of utter stillness, and flipped the switch to shut off the alarm. He, then, checked the sensors. And his brows shot upward into his hairline. Five Republic Destroyers had just dropped out of hyperspace near Obi-Wan’s hiding spot. His comm crackled; a deep voice with a Coruscanti accent crackled into the cabin:

“T-6 shuttle. This is the Republic Destroyer Ruinous Edge. Please identify yourself.”

Obi-Wan cleared his throat, pressed the button to respond. “This is Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi. I had not received word of any Republic activity in this area.”

A high, feminine voice came over the comm: “General, this is Commodore Cayhern, requesting you to dock with my ship so that we may commence with Operation Meltdown.”

Obi-Wan blinked, alarmed by such a codename. “Where would this Operation be taking place, Commodore?”

“Not over an open channel, General,” the Commodore said. “Dock. Please.”

With such a command … Obi-Wan maneuvered his shuttle to the red and silver wedge-shaped Destroyer, entered the docking bay, and set down between a fleet of V-wings and a row of ARC-170 starfighters. Pilots in black-striped panel armor milled about, their helmets in hand. Technicians in gray overalls handled the system checks, fuel hoses snaking to the vats.

Obi-Wan descended the gangplank, the noise and scents too familiar to be welcomed. An orange-skinned TaHern approached, her short-cropped violet hair matching her violet eyes. The red bars on her gray uniform marked her as a Commodore. Obi-Wan smothered his surprise. Planet TaHern was a staunch Separatist ally. To see a TaHern so high in the Republic ranks must have meant that Cayhern was a military genius. Not to mention surviving the species-ist attitudes so prevalent before this war began. And since. Obi-Wan gathered his thoughts, bowed, and followed Commodore Cayhern to her conference room.

There, he learned what the squadron had planned.

“No,” Obi-Wan said, rising to his feet. “I have people down there.”

Cayhern lifted a brow, composed, and leaning back into her chair. “People?”

“A rescue mission. Two very important dignitaries were captured and sentenced to death. My Padawan is down there, trying to set them free.”

“I’m sorry, General — ” Then Cayhern leaned forward in her chair, orange fingertips striking the surface in punctuation. “ — but Republic Intelligence tells us that Geonosis is the number one weapons manufacturer for the Separatist cause. If we take them out, we can cripple the traitors and bring a speedy end to this war.”

Tempting, but: “At least give me the time to get my people out.” Obi-Wan refrained from running a hand through his hair, a nervous gesture he had developed ever since the war started. “I can fly in low under the radar.”

Commodore Cayhern shook her head. “No. You’re presence would risk detection. We go in with the element of surprise.” Now she snorted. “Your student being down there might give something away … ” She stood, rounded her desk. Her violet eyes sharpened and narrowed to razor fine points. “Your shuttle is grounded until further notice, General.”

Cayhern swept out of the room. The blast doors had barely begun to close again when Obi-Wan gave in to his frustration and kicked a chair into the bulkhead. It landed with a thud on its side, the sound not comforting at all. Obi-Wan gripped the edge of the desk and bowed his head, trying to think of an alternative plan. Some way where he didn’t let his Padawan down.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Geonosian bugs shackled their wrists together and marched them out one-by-one, cheers from the crowd rising to a booming roar. When the bugs took Padmé, Anakin balled his hands into fists. He had to remain calm; he would destroy them later.

The bars on his cell rattled open and Anakin crouched, ready to launch himself at his captors. He charged forward, but one of the bugs poked him in the abdomen with a static pike. Anakin fell to his knees, gasping. He felt his wrists being shackled together, and then the bugs dragged him forward. When the sun cut like a knife across his eyes, when the roar of the crowd swelled, Anakin looked up,

And wished he hadn’t.

They were in an arena, the Geonosian swarm filling the seats. The focus point of the arena were four posts where Padmé and Bail were bound, their bound wrists chained above their heads. Padmé looked worried, Bail looked scared, and Anakin didn’t have the time to reassure either of them. Two Geonosians manhandled Anakin to a post, and then chained his hands above his head, a Geonosian flying up to secure the chain at the top of the post.

His artificial leg twitched — and he had a really bad feeling about this. “An execution?”

“As far as I can tell,” Padmé said, wetting her lips.

The loss at his hip, the missing tap against his leg, set Anakin’s teeth on edge. He should seen this coming.

On his left, Bail looked glassy-eyed calm, as though a charge of execution was the norm. Or that their Jedi protector would get them out of this. But when their gazes crossed, Anakin dismissed both. It was pure fear.

Anakin figured his chances. Even if he managed to get free and use the Force to rip the bugs to shreds, a well-aimed sonic blaster would take him down, thus leaving Padmé and Bail to fend for themselves. No. … The other option would be to called upon his patience, wait for Obi-Wan, and hope they were rescued in time. Maybe. … Face the crisis head on and improvise as he went. Yes.

A movement in the Force, of three hungry and beastly presences, made Anakin’s throat close up. As one, the three gates on the far side of the arena rose, the audience cheered, and then cheered louder as the three beasts were tased and prodded out of their holding cells. He felt a frisson of terror from Padmé and a blast of barely suppressed panic from Bail. The feline-like creature, a nexu he would learn, had enough of the shock treatment and attacked its handler. The audience roared.

“I have a really bad feeling about this,” Bail said.

Anakin nodded, then called upon his Jedi training to focus, think, the instructions sounding like Obi-Wan’s voice.

A clink of chains drew his attention to his right. Padmé had a hairpin stuck in the lock and was wresting with the chains around her wrist. One cuff came free, and then Padmé stuck the hairpin between her teeth and climbed the pillar, scaling it with the dexterity he hadn’t anticipated.

With her on top of things, he needed Bail to focus, think. So Anakin said, “Focus. Think. We can get out of this.”

“What do you think I’m doing?”

The big, bull-like reek with the single horn was tasered into charging. Anakin took a deep breath and timed it just right. He rushed forward, hooking the toes of his boots into the animal’s thick hide, up over its horn and wrapping the chair around it. The reek bucked and that snapped the chain. Anakin tucked his shoulder and rolled, the sand shifting under his tunic. He bounced back onto his feet, feeling the sand slither down, and thought with utter revulsion, I hate sand.

Meanwhile, Bail had to deal with the acklay. The heaxpedal crustacean with all the teeth released a high-pitched screech, then aimed a spear-shaped leg at him and Bail dodged, more rolling with the pillar than moving around it. That seemed to be enough because the acklay’s leg sliced into the pillar where Bail had been, also slicing into the chain. Bail stumbled free, but quickly righted himself and took off at a dead run.

Padmé had her hands full. On top of the pillar, she had the tactical advantage, but she struggled with the hairpin stuck in her cuff. What’s more, the nexu prowled below, fangs bared in a nightmarish smile. The creature suddenly launched itself up the pillar, clawing at it, then swiping at the air. Padmé gathered the chain and slammed it on the nexu’s head. Once, twice, it seemed to stun the creature, but she missed her timing. A claw came up from behind and raked across her midsection. Pain lanced up her back, her blue jumpsuit tearing with a noise too loud to her ears. Over it all, she heard a roar from the crowd and a scream from herself. An off noise, to be sure. Such pain should have left her catatonic.

Anakin gathered the chain in his hands, wrapping it around his knuckles. With his wrists cuffed, he didn’t have the freedom of movement he needed to get a handle on the situation. But the reek was rearing up for a second charge. Anakin balled his hands into fists, squeezed the chains into the flesh of his palms, planted his feet and stood his ground. With thunderous hoof beats, the reek charged, horn tossing this way and that. Anakin called upon the Force, feeling it flow through him like fuel through an ion engine. He was at one with the Force and it was at one with him. With a shout, Anakin thrust his fists forward, the chain providing the necessary protection, and the blast of the Force launched itself like a tidal wave at the reek. The chain connected, the creature’s horn shattered, and the razor-sharp shards flew backwards into the creature’s eyes. Flesh burst into orange blood, the reek roared, and then skidded to a halt, spraying sand at Anakin’s feet. It didn’t make another sound.

Bail made it to one of the picadors. The Geonosian aimed a static pike at him, but Bail grabbed it and wrestled with the creature until he managed to knock the bug off its mount. The Geonosians were lightweights compared to the meat of the human body. Bail heard the acklay’s high-pitched howl. Then he heard a crunch followed by the roar of the audience, but Bail was already climbing on the back of the orray, grabbing the reins, and spurring it into a trot. As he wheeled the animal around, he spotted the acklay pulling its leg-spear out of the Geonosian picador. It caught sight of him, changed direction, and charged.

The nexu wouldn’t quit. Padmé regained her feet, the more to keep herself out of the claw-length of the creature, but it continued to clamor up the pillar and take swipes at her. What would happen if it gathered enough momentum to make it to the top of the pillar, then where would she be? She would have to flatten it and soon. Figuring the angle, and factoring in her own upper body strength, Padmé seized the chain, timed her next move, and jumped off the pillar. The freefall ended in a full-body shudder as the chain jerked taut and she swung through the air. The nexu jumped. Legs outstretched, Padmé’s feet slammed into the nexu, and the creature gave a pitiful mewl, falling to the ground in a lump of fur. Padmé swung to a stop, the pillar at her back. She managed to grab the pillar and climb up to the top again, and knelt, gasping for breath. Her shoulders were beginning to burn. She glanced down at her wrist where the hairpin had somehow gotten free of the lock. Padmé felt in her hair for another. Her hair slumped onto one shoulder, but she attacked the lock, and the mechanism finally snapped open. Free, she stood, and looked around for the others.

Anakin spotted Bail coming around, the acklay keeping pace, then he looked up to see Padmé safe, though blood trailed from the gashes in her back. Bail pulled the orray to a halt.

“Hurry!”

Anakin mounted the orray, then waved for Padmé to jump. When she hesitated, he shouted, “I’ll catch you!” and she jumped. Anakin wrapped the Force around her like a blanket, slowing her descent so she wouldn’t land at full velocity. Anakin lifted his hands and caught her hands as they reached for him. Padmé landed behind him, and then threw her arms around Anakin, her hair spilling over his shoulder. He cursed the chains on his wrists that kept him from holding her.

With a crack of the reins, Bail had the orray peel out and away from the pursuing acklay. Padmé wrapped her arms around Anakin’s waist and Anakin leaned forward to shout over the roar of the audience and the thudding of the orray’s hooves: “What’s your plan?”

Bail remained silent, his lips pulled into a thin line, the muscles in his jaw tight.

Anakin felt the Force shout a warning. “Halt!” He gripped Padmé’s wrists. At that moment, an explosion ripped into the orray and it collapsed. Everything went wrong side up. Anakin rolled through the sand, sky and arena twisting into a mesh of confusion. He lost track of Padmé. Bail cried out. The dead orray pinned pinned Bail at the leg. He shoved and pushed and worked his leg free, then stopped, bound hands raised.

Anakin muttered a swear. The Geonosian picadors armed with shock sticks and warriors armed with sonic blasters had them surrounded. Padmé picked herself up and also raised her hands. Again, Anakin wished for his lightsaber …

A contingent of Geonosian warriors stepped forward, sonic blasters raised. Anakin heard Padmé’s gasp, Bail’s sharp inhale, and then a low, thumming sound. Like several ion engines approaching at attack speed. Padmé must have heard it, too, because she pointed to a spot over his head and whispered, “Look.”

Anakin looked, and instead of a grin splitting his face from ear to ear, his heart thudded hard against his ribs. Republic Nu-class attack shuttles swept over the lip of the arena, the shadows falling one right after the other. The Geonosians spread their wings and took flight, but laser cannon blasts exploded in the stands. Carapaces shot high into the sky, then fell like rain on the stands, the entrails vaporized into brown-green mist. More lasers erupted next. Similar in design to the Orbital Defense, the spheres concentrated the green laser blasts into the cluster of flying bugs, slicing through the exoskeletons with sniper precision. Their howls faded into a ghostly echo as the pieces of their bodies tumbled through the air.

Anakin turned to their bug captors, but they had taken flight long ago. He figured the odds of escaping with their lives, if he first picked up a blaster, and then —

To his left, the upper stands of the arena shook, then tumbled inward with a roar that reverberated off the rotunda space, intensifying the noise. Bail clapped his hands over his ear; Padmé cried out; and Anakin winced, a faint ringing starting in his ears. Rockets whistled through the newly formed opening and exploded in the catacomb interior, erupting in a wall of heat and light.

They would get killed if they stayed here a moment longer.

Anakin grabbed Padmé’s hand, shoulder checked Bail to gain his attention, and then gestured to the gate where the reek had been caged. With the ringing in his ears and the noise all around them, hand gestures would do a better job at conveying a simple message than screaming. The three of them hurried to the edge of the arena.

As they ran, the distance seemed to stretch to double its length. Bug carcasses littered the ground. The wave of Republic attack shuttles were thinning, but they continued to drop scatter bombs on the surface of the arena to knock out the walls, and then fire rockets into the exposed catacombs. The entire structure shook with dust, the arena sand dancing in response. A rocket explosion blew the gate off its hinges. One of the spikes flew through the air to impale a one of the pillars. Anakin, Padmé, and Bail staggered to a halt, caught between shock and uncertainty.

Anakin recovered first and pointed to the gate where the nexu had been. He ran, Padmé keeping pace, and Bail brought up the rear.

The top layer of the arena now littered the pit, boulder-sized pieces scattered across the sand and blocking their way. That’s when a familiar high-pitched screech reached his ears. The acklay stepped over the uneven terrain, at home in such an environment, and heading straight for them. It’s fangs parted in another screech, but the back wall of the arena collapsed into a pile of rocks and dust, the noise drowning out the creature. But it kept moving, determined to eat what it was promised.

Anakin caught Bail looking around, possibly for a weapon, and Anakin kept Padmé behind him. Then he had an idea. It would be tricky because he had never done anything like this before and the level of concentration required … and his hands were still bound. He was just a Padawan, after all, but doing it meant protecting Padmé, so …

Anakin dropped stepped forward. The heat of an explosion erupted behind him, but he had to focus. He drew in a deep breath, exhaled, and then stretched out his hands towards the acklay, and concentrated on what he imagined was the creature’s anatomy. All beings has to breathe, so if he concentrated, he could choke the acklay until it fell down dead. It would be easier to do this if the target of his power was a human, but he discarded that thought. He wasn’t a monster. This was for survival.

Anakin clenched his fingers, curled them into each other, imagined that he was constricting airways. But nothing seemed to be working. The acklay continued to approach. Padmé and Bail shuffled backwards, ready to run. It would all be so much easier if he could just rip its head off. With a cry, Anakin twisted his hands, imagining himself doing just that.

And there before him, the acklay’s head flew clean off its neck.

The head bounced, landing someplace, forgotten, then creature collapsed, claws sprawled every which way, undignified and outright comical. Green blood gushed from the stump, the chunky edges glistening in the waning light. Anakin dropped his hands, sick to his stomach, and vowed not to vomit here.

A small hand touched his arm. Anakin started, then whirled to see Padmé, her brown eyes wide and … worried. Only now did he realized that he was gasping for air, winded in a way he had never encountered in his Jedi training. Still, he covered Padmé’s hand with his own, squeezing it in reassurance.

He had done the right thing, he had done it for her, to protect her.

A new sound interrupted the peace. The first wave of the bombing run had ceased, but that opened up the potential for the second phase. The attack shuttles circled around, but with the terrain so unstable, the shuttles hovered over the arena, cords dropped to the sand, and troopers with black Raiders’ stripes rappelled down the lines, smooth as a symphony, their practiced discipline on display. The squads fanned out, through the bombed out arena, then into the catacombs. The echo of blaster fire and sonic blasters erupted. Next came the woosh and red-orange sparks of a flame thrower.

A Vulture-class shuttle hovered low enough to open the hatch. Obi-Wan appeared, his cloak billowing in the updraft. Anakin felt his heart squeeze tight in his chest. He ushered Padmé and Bail to the shuttle, Force-pushed a boulder into place so they could climb onto the gangplank, and then he slapped the emergency override for the gangplank to close behind them. Obi-Wan hurried to the cockpit and the shuttle hummed and rattled as they climbed through the atmosphere.

He had to go to the cockpit, debrief, confer with Obi-Wan to plan their next move. But right now, he needed to sit, and did right there, the closed gangplank supporting his back. Cold. Space was always cold.

Anakin didn’t notice the change in pressure when they finally entered space. Or the change in the engines when they went into hyperspace. Padmé has collapsed next to him, her shoulder pressed against his, the shock slowly, but surely leaving them numb.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Don’t give me that,” Padmé said, resisting the temptation to roll her eyes. The recently healed skin on her back pulled tight as she shrugged into a flight jacket Anakin had found in the med-bay’s storage locker. She fastened up the front, and then stepped out from behind the partition. Bail was smearing salve on his bruised wrists and Obi-Wan hovered over Anakin, a worried friend. “We were brought before the Geonosian magistrate, but we—” She gestured between Bail and herself. “—could not invoke diplomatic immunity. They had it out for us.”

“That’s impossible,” Anakin said, looking more focused and less adrift. She, too, felt whole again, not as numb as before. The light in Anakin’s eyes blazed, and Padmé waited for him to make his point. “I contacted Senator Palpatine to intervene on your behalf.”

That surprised her, but Bail was the one who spoke: “That’s …” He never finished; instead, swiped a hand through his hair and sighed. “This is war.”

Padmé shook her head, unwilling to be so dismissive. “Regardless, we had no weapons, no intention for violence. They had no right to detain us.”

Obi-Wan’s gaze hardened. “We ran into Sabé. Why?”

Padmé’s heart fluttered with relief. “She made it. Good. Um, I knew we would be taken alive. Sabé should be heading back to Alderaan.”

“So now what?” Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan sighed. “We keep going.”

Padmé blinked. That was unexpected. “Go where?”

A haunted expression wearing down Obi-Wan’s features and Padmé suppressed a shiver. “To the lost planet. We were invited.” With that, he headed to the cockpit. Anakin, Padmé, and Bail followed, taking seats as the co-pilot and passengers, respectively.

Bail secured his harness. “So how do we approach?”

“In plain sight.” Anakin placed his hands on his knees, his shoulders square, a meditative pose intimidating on his wide frame. Obi-Wan turned his seat, the deck purring underfoot as they moved at sublight speeds. Anakin continued, “On Tatooine, banthas hide from krayt dragons by traveling in a herd — the harder to pluck one out and devour it. A lone shuttle will draw suspicion, but an armada striking with a tactical advantage will disguise the very shuttle they’re not looking for.”

“That’s a gamble,” Obi-Wan said, and Padmé nodded in agreement.

Bail sat forward in his seat. “Maybe not.” He gestured between himself and Padmé. “Our efforts were discovered. Padawan Skywalker is right: moving with the fleet will offer us the necessary protection.” He turned to Obi-Wan. “Do you know the location of the next engagement?”

Obi-Wan scratched his beard. “The attack on Geonosis was handled without Jedi supervision, so I can’t account for that. … The next engagement will be at Utapau.”

Anakin sat up straight. “That’s close to Kyre III — ”

“ — where Master Homun encounter the Sith,” Obi-Wan finished.

Padmé reeled. “Sith? The … one with the tattoos?” The one who had battled them on Tatooine, nearly killed Obi-Wan, and manhandled her like a common shaak. Padmé suppressed a shudder. Anakin must have sensed her distress because his blue eyes met hers square on.

“The same,” Anakin said, voice pitched low for comfort. “He’s calling out Master Obi-Wan and we’ve decided to face him head on.”

Padmé inhaled, stamping down on her fear. Jedi risked their lives in dedication to the galaxy, this war being no different, so her fear would be an unnecessary distraction. If Anakin and Obi-Wan were courageous in this fight, then she would be, too. For Naboo.

“Let’s go.”

 

* * *

 

Darth Maul swept onto the bridge of the Invisible Hand. Clone soldiers manned the consoles, identical heads, identical uniforms, a wall of sameness that if he ran them through with his lightsaber, more would take their place. Out the viewport, Utapau shone as a pale green orb with white cloud swirling across the hemisphere. Four other Providence -class dreadnoughts hovered in planetary orbit, joined by a Subjugator -class heavy cruiser, the Malevolence, the only one of its kind.

At the center of the bridge was the ship’s commander, a clone with rank tabs on his shoulder. He cast a quick glance at Maul, then returned his attention to his duties.

Maul reveled in the thought of slaughtering a few hundred clones just to work out his aggression. Beginning with this one. “Where is General Grievous?”

The clone commander gave him another look. “The General is on the surface with the Separatist Council.” The tone implied Maul should know that. The slaughter would be glorious.

Maul swept back his hood, revealing his horns. The clone commander blinked in mild surprise, but didn’t appear overly affected. “Contact him. Lord Maul has a message. The Council are to go to the Mustafar System in the Outer Rim. It is a volcanic planet which generates a great deal of scanning interference. It will be the new base of operations.”

Now he had the commander’s attention, the clone’s brown eyes fixed. “You suspect an attack?”

Maul pulled back his lips to bare his teeth. The commander cringed. A satisfying sight. “I suspect everything.”

With that, he left the bridge, his lips settling in a flat line. Losing Utapau was negligible — losing the Council would jeopardize everything. Lord Sidious had planned for every possibility, every misstep, and Maul was impressed by the patience his master had displayed. The coming Battle of Utapau was a necessary sacrifice in pursuit of the larger gain. Maul, too, had his own gains, and the machinations and manipulations to force the Republic into this war was merely the fulcrum of a larger plan to exact vengeance upon the Jedi.

One thousand generations ago, the Sith had ruled the galaxy. Then the Jedi toppled their empire and the the glory of the Sith were reduced to the “rule of two”, a Master and an apprentice. Lord Sidious had encouraged the darkness in Maul, twisted his body to bend to the hatred, opened his mind to the anger at the core of his being. Harnessing the Dark Side of the Force had been a lesson in seduction, a wrath embracing his heart with the torture of fire. Maul had never felt more alive.

The destruction of the Jedi would be drawn out with glorious agony, but that didn’t mean that Maul couldn’t have his fun, too. Which was why he made his way down to the brig.

Prisoners of war were usually shipped off to one of the many prison camps scattered through Separatist space or, if they were especially troublesome, Geonosis for execution. Special guests, however, were kept secured where they would never be found. The petty officer in charge of the brig snapped to attention and allowed Maul to breeze by without words.

A specialist on patrol, too, snapped to attention, and Maul ignored him. The cell at the end of the block was his target. The door melded into the bulkhead, no security panel to allow access. Anyone who didn’t know that it was here would ignore it outright. Maul paused to take in the presence swirling through the Force. At peace … passive … Meditation. He snarled, then input the security code on his wrist gauntlet. The door slid open with a hiss and Maul entered, programming it to lock again. Dim lighting kept the corners in shadow and cast light the person kneeling in repose.

Jedi Master Shaak Ti kept her composure, face impassive, eyes closed. Striking gray and white stripes on her montrals and head tails framed a face of red and white. The Togruta had not put up much of a fight once she had been taken at the Battle of Neik Maa, but that worked to Maul’s advantage. He didn’t bother rousing her; she knew he was there.

He had to leave another clue for Obi-Wan to follow. Sadly, it would mean an end to Maul’s game, but all Jedi had to die. He allowed himself a slow smile, the violence stirring within him. “It’s time.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The Jedi General, Master Eeth Koth, escorted Obi-Wan, Anakin, Bail, and Padmé into the briefing room where Master Depa Billaba waited. Both Masters expressed their befuddlement; neither had requested reinforcement, but welcomed them all the same. When Obi-Wan explained their reason for joining the fleet, the Masters were startled, but understanding. The death of their brethren, especially at the hands of a Sith Lord, had to be stopped. Obi-Wan swallowed a retort about stopping the war itself in order to save the Jedi.

Obi-Wan leaned against the bulkhead, arms wrapped around his torso. He wasn’t contemplative or even cold, but the horns on Master Koth’s head, his status as an Iridonian Zabrak, were too familiar to be comfortable.

Master Depa Billaba keyed the console and the table top lit up with satellite images of Utapau, a pale green atmosphere ringed by swirls of white clouds. She toggled through other images, broke atmo, and penetrated down to the surface of the planet. Holes pockmarked Utapau’s barren wastes, but as the images zoomed in, the holes stretched deep into the earth, populated by platforms where tall spires were built into the rock.

Master Billiba waved a hand at the table top display. “We have confirmed reports that the Separatist Council are harbored here. Count Dooku. Viceroy Gunray. General Grievous. We take Utapau, we can end this war.”

Padmé gasped. Bail gave a pleased huff. Anakin held his silence, but Obi-Wan spoke the obvious: “Assuming the intel is accurate.”

Master Koth looked over his shoulder, the thick tail of his hair tucked tucked close to his jaw line. “The Republic’s best analysts confirmed it. This is real.”

Obi-Wan settled back, his shoulder blades flush against the unforgiving bulkhead. “What’s your plan?”

Master Billaba toggled through another set of images, these showing a space-eye view of the planet. Five Providence -class dreadnoughts and a Subjugator -class heavy cruiser were in orbit. “I will lead the attack on the Separatist capital ships. Master Koth will head down to the surface of the planet and arrest the Council.”

Obi-Wan eyed her, waiting for the rest. Impatient, but fighting it, he spread his hand, unable to curb the edge in his voice. “And?”

Anakin started, twisting in his seat to give Obi-Wan a look, blue eyes searching. Master Billiba’s brow furrowed, the jewel there unmoved. A frown on Master Koth’s face pulled his tattoos into elongated designs. Even Padmé and Bail sensed something was off, glancing at the Jedi, then at Obi-Wan.

This time Master Koth toggled the table top display. Thermal images appeared, white and gray showing the hollows and solids. “Thermalized topography have shown an extensive tunnel network. We need you and your Padawan to lead teams clearing them out.”

Obi-Wan stepped closer to the table, arms loose at his side. He studied the thermal images, noting the bisections and dead ends. The rules of engagement wouldn’t allow for survivors, not anymore. Not since the Jedi Council made the tough choice. Obi-Wan nodded, unable to voice his agreement, but drawn to his duties nevertheless.

He handed his robe to Bail, Anakin handing his to Padmé. Master Billiba said, “May the Force be with you,” before Master Koth led Obi-Wan and Anakin to the hangar bay. The clank of panels announced the battalion of Republic troopers waiting there. The white armor gleamed under the bright lights, the only similarity among them. With their helmets in hand, Obi-Wan spotted humans from Coruscant and Corellia, species from Oopl, Farush, Runta-KeeNar, and those he could not name. Commanders wearing yellow on their arms divided the troopers into squads. The squads loaded into Republic Nu-class attack shuttles, a fleet of them. Master Koth directed Anakin to one shuttle, Obi-Wan to another. Obi-Wan traded a nod with his Padawan, then ducked inside.

The shuttle’s interior had been built for economy and practicality. Two rows of benches faced each other across an aisle, holding four squads of troopers along with their sergeants in pesto colored arms, forty troops total. The platoon lieutenant with blue arms and scuffed armor introduced herself as “Belvian”. Sky blue skin, white hair, solid black eyes. No explanation whether Belvian was a family name or what. She sat next to him, the panels rubbing against Obi-Wan’s side. He watched her secure a rappelling harness found under the seat and did the same.

The attack shuttle lurched, then pressed eased him back against the bulkhead. In the dim light of the fuselage, the squad of Republic troopers kept their helmets on their knees, the easier to see the alarm on their faces. A lot of “shinies”, Obi-Wan realized, the slang seasoned soldiers gave to the ones who had yet to lose the shine of their armor. The attack shuttle lurched again, the pressure of atmosphere pressing on his skin, and the whistle of rockets sounded. The Belvian shouted the command, “Platoon, ready!”

The Republic troopers slipped the helmets on, the uniform designed to fit any head shape, within reason. Obi-Wan dropped a hand to his lightsaber.

More rockets whistled around them, the explosions distant echoes. Belvian’s next order crackled through the helmet’s speaker: “Platoon, up!”

The troops rose to their feet, indistinguishable from the other, and shuffled forward to the hatch. Obi-Wan assumed the lead. Belvian took the space right behind him.

At last, their altitude stabilized and the attack shuttle glided to a hover. More rockets whistled out of their bays, more explosions thundered close by. Obi-Wan gave a nod and Belvian punched the release. The hatch lowered. The screech of ripping metal, the roar of explosions, the whistle of rockets swelled into a horror cacophony. Dry wind whipped into the fuselage, slapping Obi-Wan’s hair into his eyes. He squinted against the grit and secured his harness on the rappel line as it unraveled down, down, down. Then he took a deep breath and jumped.

Obi-Wan plummeted like a rock. Overhead, Republic troopers leapt out of the attack shuttle one after the other in an endless stream. Two other attack shuttles hovered over the cavernous hole in the ground, the line of troops identical. V-wing starfighters howled on their rounds, laser blasts igniting anti-aircraft turrets. A missile arced past their attack shuttle to slam into the shuttle on the right. A red-orange fireball consumed the vehicle and white plate armor spiraled into the air. The rappel lines snapped and the Republic troopers crashed together into twisted limbs before plummeting to the chasm below. Obi-Wan shut his eyes and waited for his turn.

His feet slammed into rock, his knees buckled, and he fell back on his training. Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan tucked into a roll, sprang to his feet, and took cover behind a boulder. He finally had a look at his surroundings.

Striations marred the chasm walls, the telltale sign that the formation had been a natural sinkhole, not at all hand carved. The angle of the sun cast a heavy shadow this deep into the chasm, the light touching only the lip of the rim.

Thirty Republic troopers, two sergeants, and Lieutenant Belvian ducked down behind Obi-Wan’s hiding place, their rifles out. They had lost eight. Obi-Wan eyed the tunnel to their left, and then palmed his lightsaber and gestured for the platoon to follow.

Keeping low, Obi-Wan crept into cavern, the duskiness forcing him to blink until his eyes adjusted. The noise of battle dimmed to a distant echo. Obi-Wan gestured and the team broke into two groups, fifteen led by Belvian and a sergeant and fifteen following a sergeant and Obi-Wan.

The interior of the chasm was extensive. An explosion hurled dust into the air. From a place to his right, blasters erupted. Belvian, then.

The scent of smoke lured him onwards. The rocky corridor ended at an jagged outcrop. A ledge plunged down to a oval room carved out of solid rock. Here, a dozen Separatist commandos in their red armor were scrambling to toss data tapes onto a pyre. Obi-Wan bit back a swear.

With a sharp wave, Obi-Wan instructed half the squad to break off and head around. A sergeant with a pesto arm nodded, then led a squad down a corridor and around a corner. Obi-Wan flattened his hand to indicate that the remaining troops should stay put and provide cover. Obi-Wan grabbed the cable off his utility belt, anchored it into place, and then secured his harness. He jumped off the ledge, free-falling for the second time in so many minutes.

He landed in a roll, the impact of his boots to stone echoing in the chamber. As he rolled to his feet, he heard shouts, blaster fire, and then he was up, lightsaber lit and humming with the movement as he deflected blaster bolts from clone commandos. The Republic troopers overhead picked off commandos as they poured into the room and Obi-Wan maintained his ground, but the flood of commandos wouldn’t stop. At last, the tables turned when Anakin and his platoon made a surprise arrival, the blue lightsaber slicing through commandos, the Republic troopers taking cover.

The squad Obi-Wan had sent around arrived in time to finish off the last of the clone commandos and when it was over, he counted fourteen lost troopers. Obi-Wan rifled through a drawer of data tapes, leaving Anakin to extinguish the fire. The drawers were half-empty. Obi-Wan grabbed a tape at random, slipped it into the console, and watched the screen light up with black and white illustrations. It looked like a hyperspace path, the Aurebesh on the side confirming that it was the trade route to Coruscant. The tape ended.

Anakin hovered closer. “Disguise their capital ships as trade vessels and the payload would be Coruscant’s destruction.”

Obi-Wan ripped the tape out and placed it with the others. He waved Belvian over. She popped off her helmet. “Gather these data tapes and get them to Admiral Zertes, Forward Command. Let her know it’s priority one.” Belvian nodded, then she ordered six Republic troopers to complete the task. Obi-Wan headed for the exit, Anakin’s footfalls right behind him.

As they entered the corridor to head back to the surface, Anakin said, “We’re leaving?”

Obi-Wan spared him a glance, feeling his own lips curl in distaste. “We didn’t come here for this.” As an afterthought, he snatched off the harness and threw it to the ground.

“But it’s a boon. We’ve just discovered battle plans for the next military engagement. Think of all the lives we could save.”

Obi-Wan frowned. It would still mean lives in the crossfire.

Anakin grabbed his arm, swinging him around. His apprentice’s face was pulled taut, annoyance outweighing incredulity. “You want to end this war, but on your terms?”

“No!” Obi-Wan backed off, inhaled, and found his center. “We were lead here under false intelligence. The Separatist Council aren’t here. They knew we were coming.”

Anakin’s lips pressed into a thin line, worry creasing his brow. “Starting to believe there’s a mole?”

Obi-Wan sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “The Jedi have to take the lead by default and we can’t …” He ran out of steam, the argument too complex to summarize. “We need to go.”

A muted explosion shook the cavern, pebbles falling on their heads. Obi-Wan and Anakin swiped the debris from their hair, but another explosion rocked the tunnel, closer than the first. Dust rose around them. Obi-Wan caught Anakin’s eye, then they broke into a run when the next three explosions thundered in rapid succession.

They reached the tunnel’s entrance. The wreck of a Republic attack shuttle was engulfed in flames, black smoke billowing to the sky. Republic troops were scattered, their white armor pieces visible through violet and red and green blood chunks. Overhead, Providence -class dreadnoughts were low in orbit and their red turbolasers ploughed into the caverns of Utapau. One such turbolaser slammed into the rock overhead, the upper terraces splintering on impact. Shards tumbled down in a thundering wave. In seconds, a rock slide hurled down the cliff side. Obi-Wan shoved Anakin out of the way. Pain flared briefly before Obi-Wan surrendered to unconsciousness.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The shove sent Anakin stumbling backwards. He tripped, landed hard on his back and the air left his lungs in a woosh! He winced, gasped, then heard the crash of rocks where he once stood. Dust billowed and Anakin hacked to clear his lungs. When the dust cleared, he saw that the rock slide had blocked the way between himself and the cave — cutting him off from Obi-Wan.

Another turbolaser blast slammed into an attack shuttle. The explosion thundered. Metal crunched and spat outward in a concussive wave. The shrapnel sailed through the air like jagged death. Anakin scrambled to his feet and took cover under an outcropping. A large shard pierced the rock where Anakin’s head had been. That was two.

On the chasm to his left, white panel armor huddled together, pinned as Separatist MagnaGuard fighters howled past and unleashed a wave of red lasers blasts. The multiple impacts spewed pebbles into the air, but the angle of the caverns saved the Republic troops. A few of the Republic troops took pot shots at the enemy fighters, but all around was chaos. The troops caught out screamed as the laser blasts hit them hard enough to slam them into the ground where they stayed. One trooper dodged laser fire, but crossed the into the path of a rocket. The impact ended in red mist and white splinters.

This wasn’t a battle — it was a massacre.

To Anakin’s left, a cavern housed three Republic troops. Taking a deep breath, Anakin palmed his lightsaber and darted out of hiding. He felt the Force flow through him, an active presence that alerted him to danger. Step here, that way, wait, go! A siren blast of a warning had him ignite his lightsaber and twirl. The blue blade hummed in a wide arc. At that moment, two MagnaGuard fighters howled by overhead, unleashing a barrage of red laser blasts. Anakin allowed the Force to guide him. He planted his feet and deflected two laser blasts at once, the impact ringing up his arms and driving him backwards in a skid. The deflected lasers missed the first fighter and arced away toward the second. One deflected laser blast struck a wing. Smoke billowed as the starfighter tipped. The second deflected laser blast struck the starfighter’s engine port. Flames erupted. That killed the starfighter’s momentum and it stopped dead in midair. As though suspended in time, the starfighter hovered for a second that seemed to go on forever. And then the starfighter plummeted through the air, down into the chasm, trailing smoke and flames. At last, it slammed into a ledge and exploded in a thunderous echo.

It couldn’t have been more than a handful of moments, but to Anakin it lasted a star’s age. He deactivated his lightsaber, turned, and joined the Republic troops hiding at the cavern entrance. One lieutenant with blue pain on the panel armor lifted her helmet to reveal the blue-skinned Odaimio, Belvian. This war must have far reaches for an Unknown Regions Odaimio to join the war. “Sir.”

Anakin leaned close and raised his voice to speak over the noise. “We need to call in reinforcements.”

“I tried.” She lifted the communicator off her belt. “We’re being jammed.”

If he could find a console, he could break through the jamming signal. Anakin swept his arm out in an all-encompassing gesture. “Inside.” He led the three Republic troops into the cavern. The dimness from earlier gave way to absolute darkness. A power generator must have been ruptured sometime during the battle. Anakin ignited his lightsaber; the blue glow cast jagged shadows in the rock. He traced his previous steps back to the console.

The console looked just as they left it, surrounded by smoldering data tapes, except when Anakin waved his lightsaber to illuminate the screen, it showed dark. Of course, the power generator had died. He paced the room, searching and found a solar cell in a corner. Anakin used his lightsaber to slice off the side panel, and then called on the Force to hold his lightsaber aloft while he worked. Anakin ran the wires from the console to the solar cell, turned it on, and then accessed the mainframe.

The fingers of his free hand flew over the keys. He could send a transmission directly to the Star Destroyer Justice , but the difficulty was in getting past any security defenses. No one on board would believe the message, not from a Separatist signature, so he would have to encode it.

 

* * *

 

General.”

Padmé turned as Master Billaba did, the male human communications officer watching his console in confusion. “Yes, Private, what is it?” the Jedi Master said.

I’m getting a distress signal from the surface of the planet.”

Master Koth?”

I don’t think so.”

Master Billaba closed the distance, her cloak billowing out behind her. “You don’t think so? How hard is it to know the origin?”

It’s from a Separatist code,” the communications officer said. “And it mentions Her Majesty.”

The officer turned, Master Billaba, too, and Padmé caught Bail’s eye, curiosity firing in near visible sparks between them. “What does it say?” Padmé gripped Anakin’s robe in her arms, hoping against the worst.

The communications officer read the transmission: “Code red. Reinforcements needed. Find Separatist warships. Ask the Queen where she was injured on Geonosis.”

My back!” Padmé heard the words spill from her lips without a censure. The noise made her blink — finishing school mistresses would have a word about that — but it didn’t matter. “It’s Anakin. Master, it’s Anakin.”

Master Billaba nodded, then turned to the communications officer. “Send a reply.”

Sorry, General, Republic channels on the surface are being jammed.”

“Find Separatist warships.” Master Billaba muttered the words as though tasting them. When the Jedi Master escorted Padmé and Bail to the bridge, they had witnessed the attack shuttles enter Utapau’s atmosphere, and nothing since. The Separatists’ fiv e Providence -class dreadnoughts and Subjugator -class heavy cruiser hadn’t shown up on any scans — previous intelligence proving itself out of date. Master Billaba stalked over to the female human navigation officer. “Scan the surrounding system for any ion activity.”

The navigation officer’s fingers flashed over the console. “There’s a storm on the far side of the planet. Are those the readings you’re looking for, General?”

Padmé watched Master Billaba step back, face the viewport and grow still. The very atmosphere on the bridge seemed to become fluid. Padmé had no other way to describe it. She had been around Anakin when he used the Force, calling objects to his hand or the time when he caught her on Geonosis, but it never felt like this. This was warmth wrapped in comfort, a presence that permeated her perceptions and unmade what she had once considered profound. She wasn’t Force-sensitive — didn’t even know if she wanted to be — but if Anakin were right and every living thing was the Force, then she felt whole for the first time in her life. Then, just like that, Master Billaba spoke and the trance broke. “They’re hiding in the storm. All ships orbit the planet. Prepare the batteries.”

“Yes, General.”

The deck under Padmé’s feet ceased shuddering as the engines were killed. Suddenly, pressure pushed her sideways into Bail. He caught her and they leaned against the bulkhead as the Star Destroyer Valiant entered a drift. Grabbed by the planet’s gravity, and paired with the curvature, the forward velocity dragged them along. Padmé watched, amazed, as the sickly green surface of the planet swept by below with only swirling clouds breaking up the monotony. In mere minutes, five Separatist dreadnoughts came into view, hovering near the eye of a storm. Before their turbolasers could unleash upon the Valiant, Master Billaba ordered, “Break orbit. Shields up. All batteries fire at will.”

The deck rumbled to life with the return of the engines. They ceased the drift and blue turbolasers exploded out of their bays and slammed into the Separatist dreadnoughts. Red turbolasers responded, bright bursts that splashed across the viewscreen. The spark of electric blue flared across the shield and Padmé blinked the spots out of her vision.

Master Billaba watched the viewport, unmoved. “All ships deploy the fighters.”

V-wings sailed past. They unleashed green lasers on the Separatists dreadnoughts. In response, Separatist MagnaGuard starfighters sailed out of the docking bays. Red lasers faced off against green lasers, the flames of explosions dotting the blackness of space.

Suddenly, the deck lurched — a direct hit.

“General, we were hit with a mine.”

“Brace yourselves!”

Padmé threw herself into an empty chair and held her breath, Anakin’s robe a comforting presence. Bail just made it to his own chair when the mine detonated. The explosion rippled. Low rumblings felt through the deck plates slowly bloomed into an outright rattle as the deck buckled. Through the warped plates, repeated explosions thundered in electric blue and red, and smoke billowed into the bridge. People coughed. Lights flickered. The Star Destroyer began to list, straighten, then list again, a struggle to stay afloat.

“Damage report,” Master Billaba said.

“Multiple decks are reporting damage. The lateral controls are damaged. Life support systems are still functional.”

Padmé, at last, drew a breath and gagged. The metallic stench burned deep in her lungs. Gray haze obscured the bridge and Padmé squinted to see Master Billaba manage her way to grab a console, leaning hard to compensate for the sloping deck.

Out the viewport, a MagnaGuard slammed directly into the shield and exploded in a ball of flames. Padmé cried out, burying her face in Anakin’s robe. For a second, she swore she saw the eyes of the pilot, a familiar cloned brown. “Shields down!” an officer cried. When Padmé looked again, a squad of MagnaGuards sailed toward the Valiant and unleashed a hail of red lasers. The viewport sparked with ricochets, and one of the transparisteel panels cracked down the middle. “General, we can’t survive another hit.”

Padmé shared a look with Bail. He looked stiff, as though trying to put on a brave face. After all, what did they think was going to happen once they entered a war zone?

And then, like a blessing from the Force, a flotilla dropped of hyperspace and opened fire. MagnaGuard starfighters disappeared in a shower of explosions. The flotilla was comprised of four different ships, all of them in various states of patchwork repair. The largest ship aimed a forward cannon at a Providence -class dreadnought and unleashed a cannon blast so large it made spots dance in Padmé’s vision. The green heavy turbolaser slammed into the Separatist dreadnought and the ship erupted into flames. Once the fire dissipated in the vacuum of space, the Separatist dreadnought floated in a two halves, debris and bodies floating around it.

Padmé swallowed her sick. Those clones deserved better.

The flotilla had advanced armament, heavy turbolasers that blasted holes into Separatist dreadnoughts and guidance missiles that never missed their mark. One missile pierced the atmosphere and Padmé didn’t see where it went after that. The battle ended with the Separatist ships in pockmarked disarray.

“The Separatists are signaling a surrender,” the communications officer said.

Master Billaba pushed herself upright against the console and turned to the ordnance officer. “All ships fire everything. No quarter.”

Padmé gasped. “What? No!”

But it was too late. The bays rumbled underfoot, the deck plates rattling, as blue turbolasers and the yellow streaks of rockets pounded what remained of the Separatist ships. Padmé’s eyes burned. Her vision blurred and warm tears rolls down her cheeks as she watched the Separatist dreadnoughts get obliterated into smithereens. She turned away, burying her face in Anakin’s cloak. It smelled like him, like earth and sun and musk. Her heart hurt; she wanted him here.

A hand landed on her arm. Padmé turned to see Bail, his face crumpled in pain. He may not understand fully what she felt for the clones, but his compassion spoke volumes.

Once the deck fell silence, Padmé dried her eyes on Anakin’s robe, but refused to turn to see the devastation. She had enough war for a lifetime. The comm unit crackled to life.

This is the Pierced Haul contacting Republic Destroyer. Any survivors?”

Now Padmé turned. She knew that voice. Though they had only crossed paths the one time, the lilting nature and commanding resonance could not be mistaken. Master Billaba, too, recognized the voice because she reached over the console and flipped a switch. “Master Qui-Gon Jinn, you were just in time.”

 

* * *

 

Obi-Wan came around, choking on dust. He coughed and the pain in his head spasmed like knives through his skull, knocking the cobwebs clear from his mind. He opened his eyes, face smashed into the dirt, and took stock of his body. The back of his head throbbed. He touched the area and his fingers came away bloody. Obi-Wan winced, pushed himself up, and took in his surroundings.

The rock slide had blocked the cavern’s entrance. Yellow-white shafts of light pierced through holes where the jagged shards didn’t quite connect. Obi-Wan staggered over to the debris and grabbed a rock shard. The entire wall shuddered, pebbles tumbling to his feet, a groan and thud shifting the pile until it collapsed on itself, shutting out the light entirely. Obi-Wan backed away.

The silence coming from beyond the rock wall meant that he must have been unconscious for a while. The Separatists had been expecting them, drawing them in and then launching a surprise attack, catching them penned in and defenseless. He only hoped enough troops had escaped and that the battle in orbit had not been as defeating.

He had pushed Anakin clear — he remembered that much. Thus, his Padawan would be searching for him. Hopefully, they would meet on the way and not miss one another. That would be embarrassing.

According to the thermal images, the tunnels connected to a main outlet somewhere deep in the cliffs, and from there he could find a way to the surface. Obi-Wan spun, waited for the world to stop spinning, and squinted past the dimness. A power generator must have been destroyed during the battle. Ambient light cast from some unknown source broke through the dimness, dust swirling in the rays like pollen in the breeze. He retraced his steps, ready to find another way out.

He reached a junction and stopped. A shivered worked its way down his spine. Obi-Wan felt cold steal over him, the presence of death clawing at his insides. Within the darkness, however, lurked a calming balm … at ease … at peace … Obi-Wan gasped, his suspicions running ahead of him. The crunch of his boots carried him forward.

He came to a section of bifurcated rock and paused to run his hand over the smooth slashes in the stone. From the excoriations, only a lightsaber could have done that. Obi-Wan swallowed and continued on. When he happened upon another bifurcation, realization struck him mute because the stone only could have been cut and Force-pushed to create a pathway.

Obi-Wan entered a chamber. Light spilled in from the upper corner. It cut at an angle, washing half the chamber in harsh brilliance while the other half remained in shadow. Obi-Wan caught his breath because, here, the Dark Side of the Force pulsed like a living, breathing thing. A dark form moved against the darkness.

“Are you ready, Obi-Wan?”

The voice growled, familiar, terrifying. Obi-Wan’s hand flew to his lightsaber without his permission and it ignited with a snap-hiss before he could think. He released his fear into the Force. Anakin had vowed to be here for this, but Obi-Wan couldn’t fault him. The Force was his guide. With a steady crunch of booted feet, two forms stepped out of the darkness.

Obi-Wan’s heart sank, his lightsaber blade pointing to the ground. “Shaak Ti.”

The Togruta Jedi had been MIA since the Battle of Neik Maa. She looked unharmed, her eyes were closed, her head tails lax, but that didn’t mean anything. Not one for complaining, Master Shaak Ti maintained a serenity unmatched even by Master Yoda.

The one standing behind her, his gloved hand squeezing her shoulder, had his hood pulled up, his face cast in darkness, but the yellow eyes glowed, ringed in red and violence.

Their standoff ended in a rush of action. Maul shoved Master Ti to her knees, ignited his crimson lightsaber, and ran her through. Now her eyes flew open, her jaw dropped, her hands spasming at her sides. Obi-Wan heard his scream echoing off the chamber walls, shock and despair wrapped around one word, “NO!”

The red blade withdrew and Shaak Ti fell, landing in an undignified lump of limbs and robes. Obi-Wan froze, caught between reaching for her and holding his ground. The red lightsaber remained aloft, ready for the first blow. Why Maul didn’t attack, Obi-Wan could guess. It was the same as killing the Jedi to get to Obi-Wan, leaving the trail of clues as well as a message: I told you we would meet again. If he attacked now, he would be no better than the Sith. And revenge was not the Jedi way.

Obi-Wan straightened out of his stance, deactivated his lightsaber, and dropped it. It landed with a muffled thud. Then Obi-Wan dropped to his knees, the grit digging into his flesh. He hung his head and shut his eyes to block out Shaak Ti’s body.

“Do it.” He heard the words through a filter, more breath than sound. “If it means no more dead Jedi, then do it.”

Maul’s presence flared with uncertainty. The hum of his lightsaber grew closer, the buzz loud in Obi-Wan’s ears. Lightsabers generated heat because of their constant contact with the air and Obi-Wan felt the lightning spark sizzling the hairs on his chin. When he inhaled, his lungs burned with ozone.

He wasn’t afraid to die.

“No,” Maul growled. The lightsaber was deactivated all at once and Obi-Wan opened his eyes to see Maul secure the handle in the folds of his robe. Darth Maul dropped onto his haunches, eye level, yellow irises ringed in red and malice. “You’re not broken, yet. I still have work to do.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Revised Prequels are Obi-Wan’s story. He begins as a newly invested Jedi Knight who’s getting the hang of having these responsibilities, then completes his arc by maturing as a teacher to a potential Padawan. Now, at Episode II: The Phantom Menace , Obi-Wan will face his greatest challenge: How to be a Jedi. Don’t get me wrong, Obi-Wan deserves to be a Jedi, works hard at it, and sacrifices a lot for it, but the war, the hard choices, and the ramifications of his actions will challenge Obi-Wan and make him question whether it’s all worth it.

For example: “I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your father.” What’s the subtext of this line? Does Obi-Wan still consider himself a Jedi in Episode IV? Is the destruction of the Jedi Order in Episode III the end of the Jedi? Does Yoda still consider himself a Jedi? Actually, yes. Yoda still trains Luke, gives a great speech about the Force, “and a powerful ally it is.” And Luke is on the path to becoming a Jedi and makes that pronouncement in Episode VI (“I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”) But the question remains: Did Obi-Wan lay down his Jedi title? One answer is no, of course not, once a Jedi always a Jedi. Another answer is there was a time when Obi-Wan didn’t want to be a Jedi any longer because the Jedi Order lost its way, became something he no longer recognized and because of the unforgiving nature of war, Obi-Wan became disillusioned. How can he call himself a Jedi when he can’t even remember what that means anymore? Which is why he spent 19 years in the desert sorting himself out.

“Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.” Is Obi-Wan speaking from experience? Let’s look at Lucas’s Episode I: The Phantom Menace , Obi-Wan versus Darth Maul once Qui-Gon is out. Trapped behind the force fields, Obi-Wan psyches himself up, and when the fields power down, Obi-Wan attacks. He’s giving as good as he gets, if not better. Obi-Wan’s lightsaber even strikes the ground where Maul’s head was, and then Obi-Wan has a snarl on his face when he strikes the half of Maul’s lightsaber, just before Maul Force-pushes Obi-Wan into the pit. There is a lot of anger in Obi-Wan at this moment; however, Obi-Wan calms himself, calls upon the Force, and manages to slice Darth Maul in half. But what if he couldn’t? What if Obi-Wan gave in to his anger? What if the toil of war has left him weary, disillusioned, defensive, and vulnerable? He’s been watching Jedi die left and right, an interminable war where ground gained is lost again, so the battle must be fought for a second, third, fourth time. Qui-Gon’s death would be the final straw. Obi-Wan, in many words, would snap. If violence begets more violence, then revenge for Qui-Gon would be seen as justifiable; however, Obi-Wan would then be ripe for a confrontation with the Dark Side. (“This is a dangerous time for you, when you will be tempted by the Dark Side of the Force,” says the Obi-Wan who speaks from experience?) And dealing with the Dark Side and unable to complete Anakin’s training will be the character beats for Episode III.

So let’s discuss Obi-Wan the Liar. In A New Hope , Obi-Wan tells Luke a few lies in order to protect an impressionable young man who idolizes his father. Since Obi-Wan was relying on Luke to redeem Anakin and redress the wrongs of the previous generation, Obi-Wan can’t stumble. So many people are upset by this and I don't understand why. Luke is 19-years-old, impressionable, naive, reckless, compassionate, loyal, and brave. If he learned the truth that his father, whom he idealizes (“He knew my father?” / “My father didn’t fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.” / “I wish I’d known him.” / “I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.” / “I am a Jedi, like father before me.”) is the second most evil person in the galaxy, then the truth would have SHATTERED Luke to the point of catatonia, similar to Luke’s reaction in Episode V. If not worse.

So Obi-Wan had to lie, to protect Luke, to make sure Luke became a Jedi and “... face Darth Vader again.” Obi-Wan and Yoda have plans for Luke, and it wouldn’t do for Obi-Wan to begin with a stumble. Which is why I want and believe that Obi-Wan should have some measure of experience when it comes to the advice he gives Luke. (“Don't give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.”)

Of course, “from a certain point of view” opens up the argument that Obi-Wan was already outed as a liar, but not the thorough, indiscriminate, unapologetic liar the way Lucas’s Prequels make him out to be. “I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi.” No, Qui-Gon made you do it. “I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him.” No, you shook his hand and called him dangerous. “I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda.” Where did this come from? To have such ambition to be as good as Yoda implies arrogance, but the Obi-Wan we saw in Lucas’s Prequel Trilogy ragged on Anakin’s arrogance while displaying no arrogance of his own. Where was Obi-Wan’s ambition? Where was his character arc? Where did “I was wrong” come from? What did he learn?

What did he learn? A teacher passes on wisdom to the student, and the best wisdom comes from experience, so there needs to be quality in the advice Obi-Wan gives Luke. But what if that advice is of a different era? (“You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.” / “I can’t kill my own father.” / “Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.”) This exchange implies that Obi-Wan believes that violence is the answer. As a Jedi, killing sometimes happens whenever they must defend themselves. But what happens when the Jedi weaponize themselves as generals in a war? Are they now just as violent as the Sith? Is that weaponization leading to their corruption, their “ability to use the Force [being] diminished”, according to Mace Windu in Lucas’s Attack of the Clones ? If this is so, then was Obi-Wan, one the last of the Jedi, able to stop being a weapon? I believe so because Obi-Wan returned as a Force-ghost, which we see is not a common ability. To become one with the Force, truly one with the Force, is a rarity (or a screenwriting trick), and Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin figured it out upon their deaths. (Yes, Yoda mentioned Qui-Gon has figured out the Force-ghost technique in Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith , and from my research, I understand that The Clone Wars TV show has episodes where ghost-Qui shows up, but for the purposes of The Revised Prequels, these elements do not exist.) The Force-ghost ability doesn’t need to be explained, but can be a story thread that implicitly hints at a reason for Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin becoming Force-ghosts when so many other Jedi didn’t.

All of this makes me think Obi-Wan is not a good teacher. “Obi-Wan has taught you well,” Darth Vader says in Episodes V and VI. This could be jealousy, that Luke received the training Anakin did not. In TRP: Episode I, Obi-Wan is rushed into becoming a Master and he rushes into training Anakin. Obi-Wan was not ready and is so distracted by the war and is too close in age to Anakin and crosses the line from teacher to friend, so Anakin will be poorly trained.

The one thing I never quite understood after watching George Lucas’s The Phantom Menace was why Darth Maul fought Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in the Duel of the Fates. Yes, Maul was a Sith Lord and attacked Qui-Gon on Tatooine, and wanted revenge against the Jedi, as he said on Coruscant, but why did he want revenge? It wasn’t until Episode III that we learn the Sith had oppressed the galaxy in the past, the Jedi were the ones to stop the Sith (presumably), but now that Palpatine has cemented his status as Emperor, he can set up a Sith empire to once more “rule the galaxy”. Since this was Palpatine’s plan all along, the disconnect comes when Darth Maul acts without substantial motivation. He wants revenge, but shouldn’t we know his motivation first, therefore giving his actions much more weight?

So what about Palpatine? “Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design,” the Emperor says in Episode VI. Wouldn’t it have been great to see him in action? To see him take advantage of his enemies’ mistakes and show that he is the master manipulator? And in seeing that, Palpatine is characterized as someone never to cross, and frames Luke’s encounter with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi in even more diabolical terms. How can Luke go up against this strategist? Will he survive? We’re going to be (even more) on the edge of our seats.

But you’re saying, “We already saw Palpatine be a master manipulator.” I say, Did we? Did we know that it was Palpatine manipulating everyone? Did we know before the Episode III reveal that Darth Sidious and Palpatine were the same person? Of course we knew this because we saw the Original Trilogy. Since we know Palpatine is evil, him being Darth Sidious isn’t much of a surprise because Lucas’s Prequels were written backwards. The movies assume that the audience knows what’s coming and so ticks the boxes, instead of circumventing our expectations and introducing something unexpected.

In 2016, I wrote the following post on the Facebook fanpage Star Wars: Everything & Anything in regards to Rogue One :

 

The trick to a prequel of any kind is to focus on the characters. The complaint that we already know what's going to happen is valid, but when the storytellers focus on ticking the plot boxes (protagonist must go here, do this, next scene), then the audience are never invested in the narrative. The story becomes rote and a waste of time; however, if the characters resonate, have dimension, are embodied by good actors, then the audience will ask, “What’s going to happen next?” and they become invested. It’s not what happens, but how it happens. As such, let’s hope this movie gets it.”

 

And Rogue One got it.

So how to get the audience invested in Episode II: The Phantom Menace ? For example, Palpatine’s Sidious reveal isn’t the emotional crux of the story or even the emotional crux of Episode III. The emotional crux, which comes from strong characterizations, is Palpatine using and manipulating the situations to his benefit. I hear you: Palpatine manipulated Anakin in Lucas’s prequels. To which I say: Yes; however, in The Revised Prequels, a way to see Palpatine as the master manipulator would be to have him put on the hood to become Darth Sidious and command the Separatists, and then remove the hood and lie to all his Republic allies while he is Palpatine. The dramatic irony (when the audience knows what the characters do not) would add emotional weight and make us fear for our characters. For a solid example of this, please watch the BBC series Endeavour , which is a prequel to the Inspector Morse series.

Random musings:

“Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars.” We never saw that. Did it happen off screen? Conversations can happen off screen, but not entire plot points. If this was so important, why didn’t we ever see it? Were we meant to watch The Clone Wars TV show? To quote Sursum Ursa on Stuff You Like: “You can’t assume people are going to watch your show.” (Stuff You Like episode 115 “Attack of the Groans”)

How to have Bail Organa matter to the story? The idea is that Bail learns everything during the war that he applies to the Rebellion later.

The goal of the Revised Prequels is to take the dialogue of Episodes IV, V, and VI, find the subtext, and create prequels that can match the Original Trilogy and sustain the Star Wars legacy.

I hope I’m living up to that goal.