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Baby don’t fight

We can talk this thing through

It’s not a big problem

It’s just me and you

You can call or I’ll phone

The TV is still on

But the sound is turned down

And the troops on the ground

Are about to dig in

-U2


(Xanatos)

 

In the three years since I was released from prison, Offworld has become a legitimate business enterprise. The company has slowly been growing, and we’ve expanded into much of the Prynnash system. Granta managed not to ruin the company while I was incarcerated, which I think can be attributed mainly to Siri’s influence. He admits that she’s been invaluable, so he didn’t protest too much when I made her Vice President alongside him two years ago.

 

Siri and I have been happy together- at least, we were. Everything changed when the Separatist Crisis began, followed by war. I’ve been sympathetic to Count Dooku and his cause from the beginning. Siri, of course, sides with the Republic. This is a constant source of tension between us, but as long as we don’t talk about the war we manage to keep from fighting about it.

 

Now, as I sit at my desk reviewing the latest reports from the mining operations on Prynnash IV, I realize we’re about to have an argument that cannot be avoided.

 

There’s a chime at my office door. Sensing Siri’s presence on the other side, I call out for her to enter.

 

“Have you seen the reports?” she asks.

 

I consider feigning ignorance, but that wouldn’t buy much time. “I’m reading them now.”

 

There’s no need to ask which reports she’s referring to. There’s only one thing that could have her barging in here like this.

 

A few weeks ago, the operation on Prynnash IV hit deposits of an unknown mineral. They took samples and sent them off for testing. Those results have just come back.

 

It’s baradium, a highly explosive substance used in everything from thermal detonators to bombs. Normally, discovering this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d sell it off to the highest bidder and make a tidy profit. But now there’s a war on; it won’t be that simple.

 

“What are we going to do with it?” Siri asks.

 

“I assume you have an opinion?”

 

She nods. “We should sell it to the Republic.”

 

“I disagree,” I say pleasantly.

 

“I know you do,” Siri sighs. “You want to sell it to the Separatists.”

 

“Count Dooku-“

 

“Don’t start,” she says. “I don’t want to argue again.”

 

“I could always make an executive decision,” I suggest. I am, after all, CEO of the company. The final decision rests with me.

 

She narrows her eyes at me. Yes, I could make an executive decision… if I want to risk alienating Siri, possibly for good.

 

“We have to do something with it,” I say.

 

“Do we?” she asks hopefully. “What if we just didn’t mine it?”

 

“That would be tantamount to throwing money away.”

 

“So? You have plenty of money.”

 

I shake my head. Sometimes, she still acts so much like a Jedi.

 

“I have an idea,” Siri suggests. “Let’s ask Granta what he thinks. He can be the tiebreaker.”

 

“I’m not keen on putting this decision into his hands,” I say.

 

“You’re just afraid he won’t take your side.”

 

I don’t care to admit it, but she’s right. Granta and Siri had become friends, somehow, while I was incarcerated. Over the years, they’ve used that friendship to ally themselves against me from time to time- an experience I never enjoy. I had come to rely on the fact that I could almost always convince Granta to do as I wanted. He always picks the most inconvenient times to stand up for himself.

 

“Fine,” I allow. “I suppose we can get his opinion.”

 

Siri comms Granta, and a few minutes later he arrives in my office. When questioned, he admits that he hasn’t read the latest reports from Prynnash IV, so Siri fills him in.

 

“So what’s the problem?” he asks.

 

“We’re having a difference of opinion on what we should do with the baradium,” I tell him.

 

He glances between Siri and I. “Oh, I see. You both want it to go to the war effort, is that it? Only you can’t agree on which side to sell it to.”

 

“What do you think we should do?” Siri asks.

 

Granta shrugs. “Sell it to the highest bidder,” he says. “That might not be either side. Maybe the Hutts would pay more, or Black Sun.”

 

“We can’t sell it to them!” Siri exclaims. “They’re criminals.”

 

“Start a bidding war, then, and sell it to whichever side offers more.”

 

I nod, appreciating Granta’s pragmatism. It seems I’ve managed to teach him a few things after all. “I suppose there are worse ideas than that.”

 

“We don’t have to make a decision right away, do we?” Siri asks. “Surely there’s time for us to think about it.”

 

Time for me to change my mind, is probably what she means. I nod. “There’s no rush. But I don’t want this information getting out. It’s strictly need-to-know.”

 

On that, at least, we can all agree.


 

A few days later, I’m working at my desk when my computer alerts me to a new message. It’s text only, but the source is intriguing.

 

Dear Xanatos, it reads.

 

I hope this message finds you well. I would like to extend an invitation for you to visit me on Serenno. I think you and I will find much to talk about. Feel free to bring Siri Tachi, if you wish.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Count Dooku

 

I’m not sure what to make of this. I can’t help but wonder what Dooku’s motivations are for sending this message. He and I had met only once when I was a Jedi- Dooku and Qui-Gon had not been close. He’d been polite to me, but I remember him striking me as aloof.

 

Still, he’s left the Order as well. He is, in fact, one of only twenty Jedi Masters ever to do so in recorded history- until the war started, that is. I remember hearing of his departure and respecting him for it. Since then, my esteem for him has only grown. Like myself, Count Dooku sees the corruption inherent in the Republic- only he’s actually doing something about it. The Confederacy of Independent Systems is a new form of government, made up of systems that have had enough of the Republic’s hypocrisy.

 

Later that evening, Siri and I are settling into bed when I broach the subject.

 

“I received a message from Count Dooku today.”

 

She frowns at me. “What did he want?”

 

“He invited us to visit him on Serenno.”

 

“He invited us both?” she asks, sounding surprised.

 

“That’s right.” I highly doubt that Siri will accept the invitation. She won’t even want me to go. But it was issued to both of us, so I’m obligated to inform her of it.

 

“I suppose you want to go.”

 

“I rather do,” I admit. “You know I admire him.”

 

She sighs. “I don’t see anything to admire. You know the war only began because he tried to have Obi-Wan and Anakin executed, along with a Republic senator.”

 

“There would have been war regardless,” I argue. “Just because that happened to be the catalyst doesn’t mean Count Dooku is a bad person. You’re only upset because he tried to kill Kenobi. Which is rather hypocritical of you, don’t you think?” After all, I’ve tried to kill Kenobi a number of times in the past.

 

Siri glares at me. “Do you know how many Jedi died on Geonosis?”

 

“Do you know, I don’t care?” Siri’s continued loyalty to the Jedi, despite having left the Order, is another point of contention between us.

 

“Fine!” she exclaims. “Go to Serenno if you want. But I don’t trust Dooku, and you shouldn’t either.”

 

With that, she rolls over in bed, turning her back on me. I sigh. Really, I should refuse Count Dooku’s invitation, if I want there to be peace between myself and Siri. But I can’t let her have her way all the time. It seems only fair that I should have something for myself.


 

Serenno is a stunning world. The topography consists of forests, mountains, and plains. My destination is Count Dooku’s palace, which is located in the mountains on the edge of a cliff. I receive

clearance to land and touch my ship down on the landing platform.

 

A protocol droid meets me when I disembark. “Good evening, sir,” it greets me. “I trust you had a pleasant journey?”

 

“Yes,” I say shortly. I never did see the point of wasting good manners on droids.

 

The droid doesn’t seem bothered. “If you’ll come with me, sir, I’ll show you to your room.”

 

It leads me up a lengthy walkway leading to the palace. Surrounding the path is a rose garden. The palace juts out of the cliff before us. It stretches up in a large oval shape, and is surrounded by spires almost as tall as the palace itself.

 

We enter the building and the droid takes me upstairs.

 

“This will be your room,” it tells me, gesturing to the door we’ve stopped in front of. “Please let me know if there is anything I can get for you. Dinner will be served in one hour’s time.”

 

I nod and dismiss the droid. Entering the bedroom, I find that it’s furnished and decorated in a modern style that had been popular on Coruscant when I’d been apprenticed to Qui-Gon. A large viewport on one wall gives a breathtaking view of the mountains.

 

An hour later the droid returns, leading me this time to a dining room. A long table stretches the length of the room, but only two places are set. Count Dooku is sitting at the head of the table.

 

“Xanatos!” he says, standing and offering me his hand, which I shake firmly. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you’ve come.”

 

“The pleasure is mine,” I reply.

 

We sit, and another droid brings wine. I sip at it, finding it delicious.

 

“A local vintage,” Dooku says, as if hearing my thoughts.

 

“It’s delicious,” I say, tightening my shields. I don’t like anyone in my head. I’ve never even let Siri in.

 

“A pity your partner couldn’t be here. I was looking forward to meeting her.”

 

“Well, I have to leave someone in charge while I’m away,” I tell him, not wanting to go into the reasons why Siri didn’t come.

 

“You have a son, do you not?”

 

“Someone trustworthy,” I clarify.

 

“I understand the boy is not Force-sensitive?”

 

“No,” I say shortly. “He isn’t.”

 

“A pity,” Dooku says. “A child of yours who was strong with the Force would be very powerful indeed.”

 

It’s nothing I haven’t thought about. I must have cursed the Force a thousand times for Granta’s low midichlorian count. But there’s no help for it.

 

“We all have our burdens to bear,” I say lightly.

 

“Indeed,” the count agrees. “At any rate, I’m pleased you’ve come. It seems a shame that we don’t know each other better. After all, we have so much in common.”

 

“Are you referring to Qui-Gon?”

 

“There’s more than that,” he replies. “We both come from noble families. Both of us have left the Order. And, of course, we both have an interest in the Dark Side of the Force.”

 

My ears perk up at this last. It’s true- I’ve often wondered about the Dark Side. But there was never anyone to teach me how to use it properly. The Jedi, of course, contest that I fell to the Dark Side the moment I left the Order. But I’m not so sure that qualifies.

 

“I had thought your interest in the Dark Side was purely academic,” I say carefully.

 

“That was true, once,” he replies. “But in recent years my interest has become more… hands-on. There are so many things I could teach you, if you were so inclined.”

 

I’m tempted. Sorely tempted, in fact. But the thought of Siri holds me back. “I’d have to think about it.”

 

“Of course,” the count says soothingly. “I understand perfectly.”

 

“I must admit,” I say, changing the subject. “I am fascinated with all you’re doing with the Confederacy. It’s long since time someone stood up to the Republic’s corruption.”

 

“I only hope it will be enough,” Dooku says. “I didn’t want war, truly. I wish the Republic had left us in peace. But of course, that was never going to happen.”

 

“Perhaps you’ll win the war. Then they’ll have to leave you be.”

 

“Perhaps,” he sighs, looking forlorn.

 

“Is something the matter?” I ask.

 

The count hesitates. “Can you keep a secret, my friend?”

 

“Of course,” I assure him.

 

“I have discovered something terrible,” Dooku tells me. “The Senate- and by extension, the entire Republic- is under the sway of a Sith Lord.”

 

My first instinct is to tell him this is impossible. But Kenobi had defeated a Sith on Naboo, I remember, cutting him down after he’d fatally wounded Qui-Gon. And according to Darth Bane’s Rule of Two, there should be another Sith out there somewhere.

 

“Are you certain?” I ask.

 

“Deathly certain,” he replies. “If I’m going to stop him, I’ll need all the help I can get. I’ve tried appealing to the Jedi, but of course they don’t trust me.”

 

“I don’t know how much help I can be,” I admit.

 

“I can teach you everything I know,” the count promises. “And together, with the power of the Dark Side, we can defeat the Sith.”

 

I can’t help but smile. Clearly, Siri had been wrong about Dooku. Yes, he had killed Jedi on Geonosis, but they’d given him no choice. The Jedi had gone to a Separatist facility and launched an attack. Dooku had had no alternative but to fight back.

 

I want to do this. I can’t keep ignoring the war forever. Sooner or later, I’ll have to take a side. But I can’t shake an uneasy feeling. If I learn to use the Dark Side, what will Siri’s reaction be? Siri, who is so firmly in the Light?

 

“I’ll still have to think about it,” I say reluctantly.

 

Dooku looks at me knowingly. “Because of Siri Tachi?”

 

I check my shields again, but they’re as strong as ever. Dooku can’t be in my head- he must simply be uncommonly good at reading people.

 

“She’s still very much a Jedi, for all that she’s left the Order,” I say. “If I do this, I don’t know how she’ll feel.”

 

“Sometimes the greater good must come first. Surely, she would understand that.”

 

“I hope so,” I tell him, but inside I’m not so sure.


 

When I return to Prynnash, I’m met at the landing platform only by my personal assistant, who immediately begins filling me in on everything I need to catch up on. I frown, barely listening to his chatter. Usually, Siri would be here to meet me. She must still be angry.

 

I don’t see Siri until that evening, which all but confirms my theory. She didn’t even show up in my office to brief me on what’s been happening while I was away. Instead, she’d left that task to Granta, who reported on both their business.

 

When I return to my apartment in the residential area of the base, it’s dinnertime, and Siri is there waiting for me.

 

“How was your trip?” she asks.

 

“Very interesting,” I say.

 

“Did Dooku ask you to join his cause?”

 

“Not exactly,” I hedge.

 

“I commed Obi-Wan while you were gone,” she says.

 

This is both unexpected and unwelcome news. “What did you do that for?” I demand.

 

“I wanted to ask him about Dooku.”

 

“Well obviously, Kenobi is a biased source-“

 

“He said that Dooku is a Sith Lord.”

 

I blink at her. “That’s absurd.”

 

“Is it?” she challenges. “Xan, he’s trying to destroy the Republic. That’s exactly what a Sith would want.”

 

“Count Dooku doesn’t want to destroy the Republic,” I argue. “He just wants them to leave the Confederacy alone. And he isn’t a Sith Lord.”

 

“How can you be so sure?”

 

“Because he told me he’s trying to destroy the Sith.”

 

“Well, he must have been lying.”

 

“You’re going to take Kenobi’s word over mine, then?” I challenge.

 

“Obi-Wan said that Dooku is going to try and recruit you,” Siri replies. “He already tried it on Obi-Wan, and apparently he has several Dark Side users working for him. A couple of them are even former Jedi.”

 

I shake my head at this. “You’re just falling for Republic propaganda.”

 

“And you’re falling for the lies Dooku is feeding you!”

 

“They aren’t lies!” I exclaim, frustrated. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that Dooku might actually care about me?”

 

“Xan, I know he’s your grandmaster,” Siri says gently. “But… he’s fallen to the Dark Side. You can’t trust anything he says.”

 

“Isn’t that what the Jedi Council told you about me?”

 

“That was different!” she protests.

 

“How so?” I challenge.

 

“Because… I knew there was good in you. But there’s no good in Dooku. Not anymore.”

 

“You can’t possibly know that,” I declare.

 

“He asked you to join him, didn’t he?”

 

“What of it?”

 

“Xan…” Siri looks heartbroken. “If you do this, I can’t support you. If you join Dooku… I’ll have no choice but to go back to the Republic.”

 

“You think the Jedi would have you back?” I sneer, ignoring the way my heart skips a beat at the thought of her leaving me.

 

“Probably not,” she admits. “But they’d let me aid the war effort somehow.”

 

“Did Kenobi tell you that?”

 

She nods. “Dooku doesn’t care about you, Xan. Don’t you think the timing of all this is a little suspicious?”

 

I frown. “What do you mean?”

 

“Well, he only contacted you after we struck baradium.”

 

“How could he possibly know about that?”

 

“There are enough people who know that the news could have gotten out somehow.”

 

I have to admit that she’s right. It’s not just Siri, Granta, and myself who know. Then a thought strikes me. “Did you tell Kenobi about the baradium?”

 

“No, I didn’t.”

 

Well, at least she has that much sense.

 

“Xan, please,” she pleads. “Please don’t fall for Dooku’s lies. I can’t lose you.”

 

“You’re the one who’s threatening to leave,” I point out.

 

“Because I can’t stay with you if you’re going to join him!”

 

“Why not?” I throw at her. “You already gave up being a Jedi for me.”

 

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Siri says, voice shaking. “I love you, Xan. But I can’t watch you turn to the Dark Side.”

 

“There are those black-and-white Jedi morals of yours again. I thought you had more sense than that.”

 

Siri closes her eyes, taking a breath. “I can’t do this, Xan. I can’t argue with you anymore.” With that, she leaves the room.

 

I sigh. That could have gone better.

 

A few minutes later, I’m sitting on the couch with a glass of whisky when Siri reappears. With a jolt of shock, I see that she’s carrying a small suitcase.

 

“What are you doing?” I blurt.

 

“I’m going to go stay with Granta for a few days,” she says.

 

Even after all the fights we’ve had over the years, she’s never done this before. I want to ask her to stay, but I’m still too upset.

 

“Maybe that would be best,” I tell her.


 

A few days go by, and Siri doesn’t come home. She also isn’t speaking to me unless it’s absolutely necessary for work, preferring to use Granta as an intermediary. I don’t find it odd that she’s gone to stay with my son after our fight. She and Granta have become closer than he and I ever were, and I don’t resent that. It’s good for him to have a friend.

 

After three days, I’ve had enough, and go to see Siri in her office.

 

“I’m surprised to see you,” she says.

 

“This has gone on long enough,” I declare. “Come home.”

 

“Only if you promise you’re not going to join Dooku.”

 

I narrow my eyes. “Why are you so determined to take this from me?”

 

“I’m trying to stop you from making a terrible mistake!” she exclaims.

 

“You only view it as a mistake because you’re still steeped in self-righteous Jedi dogma.”

 

“I’m not having this conversation,” she informs me. “If you won’t agree not to join Dooku, then I don’t have anything else to say to you.”

 

I shake my head. “You’re being stubborn and intractable. The galaxy isn’t black and white. There are shades of gray.”

 

“You think you can learn to use the Dark Side without falling? That’s not possible. ‘Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.’”

 

“Don’t quote Yoda at me,” I scoff. “The Jedi don’t believe it can be done. But they don’t know everything.”

 

She throws her hands up. “Fine! The Jedi have only been around for thousands of years, after all. But you think you know better. Well, good luck.”

 

“This conversation is going nowhere,” I declare. “I would like it if you came home, but of course it’s up to you. That’s all I have to say.”


 

The next day, I receive a message from Count Dooku, inviting me to spend a week at his palace on Serenno. He mentions that he wants to introduce me to some friends of his. Immediately, I send a message back accepting his invitation.

 

The only problem now will be telling Siri, something I’m loathe to do. So instead I mention it to Granta when he next comes into my office, trusting that he’ll tell her. It’s cowardly, perhaps, but I’ve no wish for Siri and I to argue again. To my surprise, Granta doesn’t respond well to my news.

 

“You’re going to see Dooku again?” he questions me.

 

“He’s invited me to stay. I see no reason not to accept.”

 

“Don’t you?” Granta challenges.

 

I sigh. “I should have known you would take her side.”

 

“Of course I took her side!” Granta exclaims. “Since she’s actually nice to me.”

 

“I suppose you mean that I’m not?”

 

Granta laughs bitterly. “All you do is demand things from me. When I do well, you don’t have a kind word to say, but when I mess up, boy do I hear about it. And-“ he breaks off.

 

“You might as well say it,” I tell him.

 

“I’m a disappointment to you,” he finishes. “I know I am.”

 

“Why does my approval mean so much to you?” I ask.

 

“You’re my father; of course I want your approval.”

 

“It shouldn’t matter so much to you,” I declare. “Your feeling of self-worth should come from inside you, not from me.”

 

“Right,” Granta says bitterly. “I’ll get right on that.”

 

I shake my head. “I’m not the one to blame if you’re not well-adjusted. These things come about in early childhood. Your mother-“

 

He cuts me off. “Don’t you dare blame this on her. It’s your fault, all of it!”

 

I sigh. “Do you have something useful to say, or are you just going to rail at me?"

 

Granta visibly calms himself. “You shouldn’t go to Serenno,” he says. “It will only cause problems between you and Siri. Didn’t she threaten to leave you?”

 

My throat goes tight at the thought. I will myself to relax. “She won’t leave,” I say, trying to convince myself.

 

“She told me that if you joined Dooku’s cause, she’d leave here and go back to the Republic. And we need her, Father. It’s not just you that needs her, the company needs her too.”

 

“The company got along fine before her,” I say. “And I haven’t decided to join his cause. Not yet.”

 

“Haven’t you?” Granta challenges. “You were always sympathetic to the Separatists.”

 

“This isn’t about politics,” I reply. “It’s about the Force.”

 

Granta’s lips thin. “Of course it is,” he says resentfully. “Well, it’s not my place to say anything then, is it?”

 

“Indeed not,” I say.

 

Granta nods, as if he was expecting this answer. “I’ll leave you to it,” he says shortly.

 

He leaves the office, and I sigh. Where the hell had that come from? Granta surely shouldn’t be blaming me for his maladjustment. I’ve done my best with him. I’d been twenty-seven years old when his mother had died, and all of my focus had been on building Offworld. Instead of coddling the boy, I’d been building up my legacy- which I’d always planned to leave to him. Now, however, I can’t decide if it’s Granta or Siri I’ll leave the company to. I suppose I could leave it to them jointly… But I have plenty of time to decide. I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.


 

I half-expect Siri to come and confront me before I leave for Serenno, but she doesn’t. To my surprise, I find myself somewhat disappointed. It’s not that I like it when we argue, but at least then I know she cares.

 

I fly to Serenno and land at Dooku’s palace. This time, I’m not met by a droid, but by a dreadlocked Kiffar man who looks to be in his mid-thirties. He has a facial tattoo typical of his species, and his black sleeveless shirt does nothing to hide his heavily muscled frame.

 

“You must be Xanatos,” he greets me. “I’m Quinlan Vos. My Master is expecting you.”

 

His name sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t think of where I’ve heard it before. “You work for Dooku, then?” I ask.

 

Vos gives me a feral grin. “In a manner of speaking,” he says. “Come with me.”

 

I follow him into the palace, where I’m taken to a room that appears to be a study or office of some kind. Count Dooku is sitting at a large desk in the center of the room.

 

“Ah, Xanatos!” he says warmly. “So good to see you again.”

 

“Likewise,” I answer politely.

 

“Leave us,” Dooku orders Vos, who bows and retreats from the room.

 

“Who was he?” I ask. Dooku waves at me to be seated, so I take one of the chairs in front of his desk.

 

“Oh, you’ll meet him properly this evening,” Dooku replies. “There are a few of my people here whom I think you’ll find most interesting.”

 

“I look forward to meeting them,” I say.

 

“I am pleased that you’ve returned. I feared your partner might have talked you out of it.”

 

“She tried,” I admit. “But I’m not beholden to her.”

 

“I should think not,” Dooku says.

 

The door opens and a protocol droid comes in.

 

“TC-23 here will show you to your room,” Dooku tells me. “Your things have already been brought from your ship. Dinner will be served in two hour’s time.”

 

I thank Dooku and follow the droid to the same room I’d stayed in last time. Once the droid is gone, I sit on the floor and open myself to the Force. I’ve sensed something strange ever since I arrived here, and I want to see if I can get to the bottom of it.

 

As I sink fully into the currents of the Force, I feel cold. But it’s not a change in air temperature- it’s as if the cold is coming from whatever I can sense. I open my perceptions wide, trying to sense all the life-forms in the vicinity. To my surprise, I find only four presences aside from my own. Dooku’s staff must consist mostly or entirely of droids.

 

I examine these presences more closely. One is totally closed off, and I can sense nothing from it. The next seems undeniably darkened, but I can’t sense much more than that. Another seems murky, unclear- darkened, yes, but not totally. The last presence radiates pain and anger, and I can tell that whoever this is has given themselves over completely to the Dark Side.

 

I guess that Dooku is the closed-off presence, but what of the others? These must be the friends Dooku wants me to meet. All of them seem darkened, but I suppose I would too, to an outside observer. The Jedi had certainly held the belief that I’d turned to the Dark Side.

 

Siri never thought that, my thoughts whisper. She always believed in you. But if you do this…

 

I shake my head. I haven’t decided whether or not to join Dooku’s cause. I’m hoping that this week will help me make up my mind. I have to do what’s best for me. As for Siri’s threats, I can only hope she’s been exaggerating.

 

When it’s time for dinner, the droid returns to escort me to the dining room. Dooku is sitting at the head of the table. On his right sits a young looking Zabrak woman with facial tattoos. Vos is next to her. On Dooku’s left is a white-skinned bald woman with a tattooed scalp whose species is unknown to me. They all look up as I enter the room. Dooku gives me a warm smile, while Vos merely nods at me. The Zabrak inclines her head, and the bald woman merely gives me a cool look. All of them are dressed in black.

 

“Please, be seated,” Dooku says, so I take a seat next to the bald woman, across from Vos. “Allow me to introduce Kadrian Sey-“ He gestures to the Zabrak. “And Asajj Ventress.” The bald woman gives me a throughly unimpressed look. Sey seems more welcoming, but I don’t let my guard down. Darkness is radiating off every one of them except Dooku.

 

“Sey and Vos were once Jedi, like yourself,” Dooku reveals. “And Ventress here has been of great help to the war effort.”

 

Sey shoots a glare at Ventress across the table, which Ventress returns. I can feel hostility from both of them. There seems to be no love lost between these two.

 

“You weren’t a Jedi, then?” I ask Ventress.

 

She glares at me. “Never,” she spits.

 

“I see.” I’m getting the distinct feeling that Ventress isn’t happy with my presence here.

 

“Now, Ventress, don’t forget that Xanatos is our guest,” Dooku chides her. Ventress makes a face, but seems to thaw out a little.

 

Over dinner, I ask Sey and Vos why they’d decided to leave the Order. Sey says that she’d disagreed with the Republic’s strategy for the war. She had refused to return to the Temple to take up her command after Geonosis. Then she’d met Dooku, and he’s shown her another way- “A better way,” she says.

 

Vos’ response is that the Jedi way hadn’t been enough for him. He’s always struggled against the limits of what was proper behavior for a Jedi. As the war continued, he’d questioned the Code more and more. He had sought out Dooku initially on the Council’s orders- Vos had been assigned to spy on him and report back. But the more he learned of Dooku and his cause, the more he turned from the Jedi, eventually leaving them altogether.

 

I turn to Ventress. “Why did you join the cause, then?”

 

She scowls. “I’ve always hated the Jedi. When my Master told me he was fighting against them, I joined him so that I could kill as many Jedi as possible.”

 

“I felt the same way about the Jedi, once,” I say.

 

“But no longer?” Vos asks.

 

I hesitate. “It’s not that I’ve forgiven them. I just don’t wish to see them wiped out. If they’re foolish enough to fight, however… well, then they deserve what they get.”

 

“You think it’s foolish for the Jedi to fight?” Vos inquires.

 

“It goes against all their beliefs,” I reply. “This war might well tear the Jedi Order apart.”

 

“I, too, have no especial ill will towards the Jedi,” Dooku says. “I wish we did not have to fight them, but as it is, I will not let the Confederacy down. I will kill Jedi if I must, but I take no joy from it.”

 

Once dinner concludes, Dooku dismisses the others. He leads me to a parlor where a droid serves us drinks.

 

“So, what do you think of them?” Dooku asks me.

 

“They’re interesting,” I say diplomatically. “I liked Vos and Sey. I’m not too sure about Ventress.”

 

“She can be prickly at times. Her life has not been an easy one. She was living on a primitive world when I found her.”

 

“She seems very angry.”

 

“Anger can be a useful tool for those who use the Dark Side,” Dooku tells me.

 

“So you are instructing her in the Dark Side. The others, as well?”

 

“The Jedi are so great in number,” Dooku responds. “I hardly think a small team of Dark Side users is too much to ask for on my part.”

 

I digest this. When Dooku had first offered to teach me the ways of the Dark Side, I had imagined  we would have something similar to a Master/Padawan relationship. But it seems that I would be one of a number.

 

“You have more than one student,” I remark.

 

“I know it isn’t how the Jedi do it,” Dooku says. “But in this war, every moment counts. I must train more than one student at a time, or I fear our cause will be defeated.”

 

I nod. This makes sense to me.

 

“Please don’t feel as if you aren’t exceptional to me, Xanatos. I very much want you to join me. I think it’s what Qui-Gon would have wanted.”

 

“How so?” I ask.

 

“Had Qui-Gon known the depth of the corruption in the Republic while he lived, he would have done something. If he were alive today, I firmly believe he would have joined my cause.”

 

For a moment I try to imagine my former Master, dressed all in black and learning about the Dark Side from Dooku. It seems implausible to me. Qui-Gon hadn’t been a model Jedi; in fact, some had called him Gray. But the sort of Gray Jedi he had been, if Gray he was, wasn’t the kind who walked the edge between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. He was considered Gray for his frequent disagreements with the Council, as well as his tendency to follow the Code only when it suited him. But then again, the Jedi teach that no one was immune to the temptation of the Dark Side. Maybe Dooku is right.

 

I decide it’s time to change the subject. “How is the war going? I assume there’s much more to it than what I’ve seen on the Holonet.”

 

Dooku waves a hand. “The Holonet is no more than Republic propaganda.” He then proceeds to tell me his side of the war’s recent events. It’s fascinating to hear, and I marvel at how much the Holonet leaves out.

 

“I’ve always suspected the Holonet was a biased source,” I remark. “Thank you for confirming it.”

 

Dooku smiles, offering me another drink. I feel a faint whisper from the Force, so I decline. It’s probably for the best; I need to keep my wits about me. I tell Dooku that my journey has tired me, and he understands. I bid him goodnight and head for my room.

 

The Force is still murmuring to me, but I’m not sure what it’s trying to say. I reach out and sense no life forms in my path, which means I’m taken off guard when Vos emerges from the shadows in the corridor ahead of me.

 

I do my best to hide my surprise. “What do you want?” I demand.

 

“To talk,” he says softly. “Siri was once my friend. I can’t imagine she’s happy you’re here.”

 

“My relationship with Siri is none of your concern,” I reply frostily.

 

“If you love her, you should leave this place. Once you turn to the Dark Side, you will no longer be capable of loving someone in the Light.”

 

“Speaking from personal experience?”

 

Vos’ face remains impassive. “You have a choice ahead of you, Xanatos. You must choose between Siri and the Dark Side. You won’t be able to have both.”

 

I narrow my eyes. Reaching out with the Force, I sense nothing, no hint that Vos is standing in front of me. “Why can’t I sense you?”

 

Vos smiles. “A trick of the Dark Side. Jedi may know how to hide themselves in the Force, but the Sith have perfected the art.”

 

“Did Dooku teach you this?” I ask.

 

Vos nods.

 

I remember what Siri had said. Kenobi had told her Dooku was a Sith Lord. I’d dismissed it at the time, but her information about Dooku’s followers had turned out to be correct. “Is he a Sith?”

 

“You should ask him that.”

 

I grow frustrated. “Will you tell me nothing?”

 

“I’ve already said too much,” Vos replies. He melts back into the shadows then, disappearing without a trace.


 

Dooku is often busy with the war effort, so I spend most of the remainder of my visit with Vos, Sey, and Ventress. Vos doesn’t speak of our encounter in the hallway, and I don’t remind him of it. Sey is friendlier than Ventress, who seems to merely be tolerating my presence.

 

On the third day, Ventress proposes a sparring match. I readily agree. Siri no longer carries a lightsaber, so I haven’t fought a real person in some time.

 

First I face off against Sey. She’s quick and agile, but some of her moves are sloppy, and I manage to defeat her. Vos comes next. He’s also quite good, but I manage fairly well against him until he shifts into a combat style I’ve never seen before. It’s fast and deadly, and in a short while the duel ends with his blade at my throat.

 

“What was that form you used last?” I ask him after I’ve yielded.

 

“That was Form VII. Vapaad.”

 

I frown. “There’s no such thing as Form VII.”

 

Vos smiles. “Not when you were a Jedi. It was created by Mace Windu with the help of Sora Bulq. Bulq is one of us now, incidentally. He has taught me much.”

 

I raise my eyebrows. So Mace has created a lightsaber form. That fact is less surprising than the fact that Sora Bulq has joined Dooku. I remember him from my youth; he’d been a respected Jedi Master and skilled lightsaber instructor. It was said that he had mastered all the forms of lightsaber combat; I supposed that extends to this new form as well.

 

Then it’s time for me to fight Ventress. We circle each other at first, Ventress baring her teeth at me. She makes the first move, throwing herself at me with surprising strength. She wields twin lightsabers skillfully, and I’m forced to defend myself without having a chance to strike a hit. This goes on for a few minutes, then Ventress attaches her lightsabers together at the hilt, forming a lightstaff. It’s all I can do to stave her off after that, and eventually she slips through my guard, one of her lightsabers inches away from stabbing me in the chest.

 

“Yield,” I say cautiously. I don’t deactivate my lightsaber yet; I have the disturbing feeling that Ventress might have forgotten this was a sparring match.

 

“Ventress!” It’s Sey’s voice. “Let him go.”

 

Ventress growls as she lowers her lightsabers and shuts them off before separating them, holding them loosely in her hands. I breathe a sigh of relief and deactivate my own ‘saber.

 

Ventress turns to Sey, pointing one of her deactivated lightsabers at her. “You want a turn?”

 

Sey grins ferally. “Still think you can beat me?”

 

“I know I can!” Ventress retorts.

 

I get the hell out of the dueling area. Sey, who was seated high up on the stands, leaps from her seat to land lightly in front of Ventress. I go and take a seat on the bottom row next to Vos.

 

“They don’t much like each other, do they?” I remark.

 

“They have a rivalry,” Vos replies. “Each of them is trying to prove that she’s worthy of being Dooku’s right hand.”

 

“What about you?”

 

“I’m waiting to see who comes out on top. I’m rooting for Ventress, personally.”

 

“Are the two of you friends, then?”

 

“Something like that,” he replies.

 

I think back to the Force presences I’d felt on my first day here. I’ve decided that Ventress is the one full of rage and pain. If Sey is the other darkened presence I’d felt, that would make Vos the murky one, caught between Light and Dark.

 

“Why did you join Dooku?” I ask him.

 

“I told you.”

 

“I’m asking what your real reason was.”

 

Vos looks at me inscrutably. “If I did have an ulterior motive, I’d hardly tell you, would I?”

 

Ruefully, I have to admit he’s correct. And Vos’ position between the Light and Dark Sides is hardly my concern. I’m more disturbed by the fact that I’ve been beaten by two out of three of Dooku’s students. I must be more out of practice than I’d thought. I train with dueling droids, but of course they can never be as fast and agile as a Force-user.

 

Siri doesn’t carry a lightsaber anymore- unlike me, she’d given hers up when she’d left the Order. Perhaps I can find another way to practice sparring with her. There is a war on, after all. We should both be keeping ourselves sharp.


 

The rest of my trip passes uneventfully, although whenever I see Dooku I’m aware that he’s trying hard to recruit me. Of his followers, only Sey seems to be following his lead. She keeps trying to convince me that Dooku’s way is right. Ventress ignores me when she can, and is uncivil otherwise.

 

Vos is different. He skulks around the place, giving me knowing looks. I find that I grow apprehensive when he’s near. His words about Siri haven’t left my mind. If you love her, you should leave this place. I do love Siri, but I’m also intensely curious about the Dark Side.

 

Since I came here, however, my curiosity has been tempered with a healthy dose of caution. I’m interested in the Dark Side, yes. But I don’t wish to end up like Sey or Ventress, a slave to my rage and pain. Vos doesn’t seem that far gone, but I have my doubts as to whether he has truly fallen to the Dark Side. As always, I sense nothing from Dooku.

 

When it’s time for me to leave, I find Dooku waiting for me in the rose garden. Vos is lurking not far away- out of earshot, but only just.

 

“Well, my friend,” he says genially. “Have you made your decision?”

 

“I have,” I reply, choosing my words carefully. “I am honored that you think so highly of me. And it truly is hard for me to refuse your offer. But refuse it I must.”

 

Dooku frowns. “May I ask why?”

 

“All I sense from your apprentices is pain and fury. I don’t wish to end up like them.”

 

“I see,” Dooku says. “You disappoint me, Xanatos. Unfortunately, you now know far too much. I cannot allow you to leave.” He turns to Vos, who has drawn closer. “Kill him,” he orders.

 

That’s all the warning I have before Vos hurls himself at me. I bring my lightsaber up just in time to stop him from taking my head off.

 

I couldn’t defeat him before; luckily, I don’t have to now. My ship is waiting on the landing platform on the opposite side of the garden. All I have to do is reach it.

 

I begin to retreat towards my ship, as Vos does his best to strike a blow. He’s yet to use Form VII, so I take advantage while I can. Shifting my lightsaber into a one-handed grip, I trigger the remote start for my ship using the device on my belt. I hear the engines start up behind me, as well as a hiss of hydraulics that signal the landing ramp lowering. Now I just have to get onto my ship, and I’ll be ready to take off.

 

Vos snarls at me, and steps into the Vapaad. He seems to be holding back a little, though. He’s not attacking me as fiercely as he did in our duel.

 

I don’t have time to wonder over this. I take my advantages where I can get them, meeting him blow for blow, all the while slowly retreating towards my ship. Once I’m only a few yards away, I get my chance to make a run for it. Vos leaves a spot open on his left flank, and I take the opportunity to rake my ‘saber against his side. He howls in pain, doubling over. Immediately, I turn tail and sprint towards my ship. I don’t stop until I’m onboard, using the Force to hit the mechanism to raise the landing ramp.

 

I race to the cockpit and dive into the pilot’s seat. Hitting the thrusters, I take off, heading out of the atmosphere as quickly as I can. After a moment, a dozen or so Vulture droid fighters appear on my scopes. I ignore their fire, pushing my ship as fast as it will go while I punch in coordinates on the navicomputer.

 

While the computer calculates, I set the weapons system to auto-target the droid fighters. It’s not as good as having someone man the guns, but it’s better than nothing, and at least the system manages to take out a few of the ships.

 

The moment the navicomp finishes its calculations, I engage the hyperdrive. Only then do I relax.

 

Absurdly, my first thought is that Siri is going to say I told you so. But she would be right to, I must admit. She’d told me Dooku couldn’t be trusted, and I hadn’t listened.

 

I truly hadn’t expected my grandmaster to try and have me killed. And what had that fight with Vos been about? He clearly hadn’t been using his full strength- he’d let me get away. This cements my belief that he hasn’t truly fallen to the Dark Side. For some reason, he’s still fighting, trying to hold on to the Light.

 

If you love her, you’ll leave this place. It had been that warning that had made up my mind. Yes, I’ve been curious about the Dark Side. I still am. But if pursuing that interest means losing Siri, I find that it’s no contest. I won’t give her up; not for anything.

 

I need to show her what she means to me. I need to prove that I’m committed to her. And I think know just how to do that.


 

When I arrive back to Prynnash, it’s late. I spend some time lurking in orbit, wondering if Dooku will send ships to attack the base, but there’s no sign of anything. I land and leave orders for the system to be scanned for approaching ships every two minutes, then I head to Granta’s apartment.

 

Granta doesn’t look surprised to see me when he answers the door. “Siri said you were back,” he says in greeting.

 

“I need to speak to her,” I say.

 

He stands aside, letting me enter. Siri is standing next to Granta’s couch, looking at me warily.

 

“Can we have some privacy?” I ask.

 

Granta has the nerve to look affronted. “This is my apartment.”

 

“Please, Granta,” Siri says softly.

 

Granta gives a sharp sigh, then nods, retreating down the hall.

 

“How was your trip?” Siri asks.

 

“Informative,” I reply. “I’ve made up my mind.”

 

“Have you now.” Siri looks at me warily. “Let’s have it, then.”

 

“You were right,” I tell her. It still burns me to admit this. I don’t like being wrong.

 

She blinks at me. “I was?”

 

“Dooku didn’t care about me. When I told him I’d decided not to join him, he tried to have one of his students kill me.”

 

“Are you alright?” Siri asks in alarm.

 

“I’m fine,” I assure her. “Only my ego is damaged.”

 

“How many students does he have?” Siri asks.

 

“At least three,” I say, describing them briefly.

 

Siri seems most dismayed to learn that Vos has turned to the Dark Side, but as I explain to her my theory, she brightens. “He really said that to you?” she questions. “That if you love me, you shouldn’t join Dooku?”

 

“He did,” I nod.

 

“And Dooku tried to have you killed,” she sighs. “Does that mean we’re about to be drawn into this war?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about that,” I say. “And I’ve come up with a solution. We’ll sell the baradium to the Republic- in exchange for their protection.”

 

“What if they won’t agree?”

 

“I think between the two of us, we can convince them,” I say.

 

Siri nods. “Alright.” She hesitates. “I’m proud of you, Xan.”

 

“I would have joined him if not for you,” I tell her.

 

“I know,” she says, simply.

 

I take a deep breath in an attempt to quell the nervousness that has suddenly come upon me. “I need to ask you something.”

 

Siri looks at me expectantly.

 

“I was wondering-“ Another breath. “I was wondering if you would marry me.”

 

She looks at me in surprise, and I wince.

 

“You don’t have to,” I say hurriedly. “I just thought that-“

 

“Yes,” she says.

 

I feel the breath go out of my lungs. “You mean it?”

 

“Of course I do,” she tells me, beaming.


 

Siri and I are married a few weeks later on the cliffs overlooking the sea here on Prynnash. It’s a small ceremony, just the two of us and the officiant, with Granta as witness. It had been Siri’s idea to invite him, but I’d agreed readily enough.

 

Once we’ve embarked on our honeymoon trip to Corellia aboard my ship, Siri and I waste no time in consummating our union.

 

“I want to try something,” I murmur as we lie together in bed afterwards. Using the Force, I reach out, projecting my thoughts towards Siri’s. She reaches back, and I force myself to relax my mental shields. Our thoughts overlap, and just like that we’re in each other’s heads.

 

I trust you, I think. I may not be able to let you in all the time, but I wanted you to know that.

 

Siri projects an overwhelming amount of love and happiness at me. I love you, she thinks back at me.

 

I don’t respond with words. I merely open my heart and allow her to see how I truly feel. I feel my own emotions echo back at me, as Siri sends me love and support.

 

I can’t remember ever feeling this happy in all my life.