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Better to Beg Forgiveness

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"Sister, you need to watch this."

Jocasta looks up sharply at Oppo's words. Her brother Padawan was not prone to anxiety, yet there was a distinctive note of worry in his hoarse voice. That was most unusual.

"Alert me if anything changes," she ordered the Kushiban slicer initiating the Archive audit. "I want to know everything the honored Master Dooku got his oh-so-elegant hands on as soon as possible."

"Doesn't really work that way, but sure," the slicer replied, furry ears held in a neutral position. "I'll keep you updated on progress."

Jocasta pursed her lips before turning back to Oppo. "What's gone wrong now?"

"It's easier if you see if for yourself," he replied, and turned back the way he came.

Jocasta sighed internally, but followed him nonetheless. Oppo was the oldest of her sibling Padawans, and also the most uncompromising of their lineage, at least now that Master Yaddle had become one with the Force. People rarely believed it of the soft-spoken Thisspiasian, but a man did not earn a lifetime appointment to the Jedi High Council without an unrelenting will and the drive to see it through. She'd get no further information from him until she saw whatever it is he wanted her to see. If he wanted her to "see something for herself", it meant that he wanted independent corroboration.

Soon enough, they came to the Rotunda. Someone had accessed the holoprojector and set it to one of the news channels; Jocasta noticed the cameras were focused on the Chancellor. Palpatine, that odious little man, was holding court for the reporters once again. He was one of many politicians she'd be grateful to see the back of when their term expired. That was probably wishful thinking, however - former Chancellors often seem to linger on Coruscant for a time, trading favors and making alliances. Palpatine was probably not going to gracefully retire to his estate on Naboo. Still, why was his news conference playing at all? And why was everyone watching it in a state of fascinated horror?

For Jocasta could see the Rotunda was absolutely packed. Generally the room only held a few Jedi at any one time, mostly Padawans using the records station to look up works in the Stacks, or Knights doing supplementary research prior to a mission. Sometimes one of the Archivists would hold a tour for the general public here, or bring in a group of researchers from sister institutions for a conference. But right now, every single Archivist on duty was here, and what seemed like a good half of the Order currently in the Temple was crammed in along with them. The mass of Jedi made way for Oppo as he passed - he had the effect on people - and Jocasta simply followed in his wake, until they made their way to the holoprojector controls. Ameesa Darys, Jocasta's first and only grandpadawan, was already waiting there, hands tucked into her robes.

"Master Rancisis, Master Nu," she greeted him with a nod. "Have you already heard the news?"

"I have, but Jocasta hasn't," Oppo said. "I wanted her to hear the news first-hand."

"Well, the Force is with you, because it looks as though the anchor of XTFD-District 7 is going to replay right now," Ameesa said, eyes focusing on the holo cast against the northern wall.

And sure enough, when Jocasta turned her attention to the holo, a cheerful Devaronian woman was holding forth on one of the news shows. "For our viewers just joining us, momentous news from the Senate. For the first time since the Ruusan Reform Act of 6955, the term limits on the office of the Supreme Chancellor have been overturned by a senate rollcall vote. Here's the video!"

The screen cut back to Palpatine, apparently earlier in the day.

“It is with great reluctance that I have agreed to this calling,” Palpatine said, a carefully composed look of sorrow settling across his face. “I love democracy. I love the Republic. The power you give me, I will lay down when this crisis has abated. And as my first act with this new authority, I will create a grand army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the separatists. I call upon the Jedi to lead this new army they have made for us, and bring peace to the Galaxy!”

The video cut off, and returned to the news anchor. "Well, there you have it, folks! This Emergency Powers Act was introduced at the last minute by the Junior Representative from Naboo, Jar Jar Binks. We're still reading through the act's 1,300 standard flimsi pages, but we'll have a complete analysis of the major clauses and how they impact the Republic's relationship with the Confederation of Inde-"

The holoscreen blinked out. Jocasta let her hand fall back down to her side. The room was quieter than the deep Stacks, where the dangerous holocrons were kept in stasis. Only the breath of the crowd around her disturbed Jocasta's thoughts. There was an instant where a thousand-thousand possibilities lingered in the Force, and Jocasta wondered if this was what Mace Windu would call a shatterpoint-

"Ameesa, be a dear and ask Master Clee Rhara to meet in my office - actually, call Garen Muln as well, tell him to prep all available craft for departure. Olee-"

Her current Padawan pushed forward through the crowd. Around them, the silence was broken by the rising buzz of voices, all of them chattering about Palpatine's fatal error - not that the man knew it, of course.

"Olee, go to the comm system in my office and call a gathering for all Knights and Masters in the Temple to meet in the Hall of One Voice at, hmmm...1400," Jocasta said, and turned her attention back to the crowd once Olee darted off. "For the rest of you - finish up whatever business you have outstanding. I or Master Rancisis will be sending out individual assignments as needed over the next few hours. If you don't receive one, I still expect you to be present with the rest of the Order at the Hall of One Voice."

The buzz turned into a roar at that, but Jocasta had already turned her attention - and her body - to the problem of requisitions.

"So Chancellor Palpatine did misstep," Oppo said, following alongside Jocasta as she stalked towards the lift that would take them to the lower vaults, the ones dating back to the time of the Army of Light. "I wondered."

"He did," Jocasta confirmed. "I don't know the details of Sheev Palpatine's education in the basics of the galactic senate, but it's clear he either didn't read or doesn't understand the basis of the Ruusan Reformation and the current partnership between the Jedi Order and the Republic. Drafting the Jedi into an army, of all the foolish notions-!"

"Yoda won't be happy that you're taking matters into your own hands," Oppo warned.

Jocasta didn't bother to shrug. "Well, Yoda can take it up with Chancellor Palpatine, if he has a problem with it. The Ruusan Reformation is null and void - and frankly, we have an army to collect, don't we?"

The alarm woke CC-1004 up, but not at the usual time. It was far too early, and for all that the trainers had done drills like this from the fourth cadet cycle onward, '04 still suffered from a moment of disorientation before getting out of his bunk.

"Hey, get dressed," Cody said as he passed. His brother was already completely armoured, and not for the first time '04 wondered what the hell the longnecks had done when seeding his batch of clone-commanders. That much energy was unnatural.

"I'm up, I'm up," '04 grumbled as he pulled on his greaves. "What's all the hurry? It's just going to be Alpha-17 screwing with us as usual."

"It's not Alpha-17," Cody replied. "He sent a ping to my bucket - it's the real deal."

"Banthashit," Wolffe snorted from down the narrow aisle between their rows of bunks. "I don't believe it."

"Believe it or not, just finish getting dressed," Cody snapped in reply, already scowling. "We have to report to the briefing room in five minutes, and that's gonna take some time even if we double-time it."

'04 sighed and jammed his bucket on while Wolffe kept niggling at Cody - only to see the ping Cody had discussed, directly from Alpha-17 and ordering their class of clone commanders to the briefing room in less than five minutes.

"Guess it's go-time," Fox said sotto-voce over the private batch line he'd rigged up when they'd first got their permanent gear. "We better form up, little Kot'ika is going to blow a gasket."

'04 barely managed to suppress a chuckle at that, falling into formation with the rest of his brothers and marching to the briefing room. Alpha-17 was waiting for them there - along with an alien. '04 almost halted when he saw the stranger: he was familiar with almost every outside trainer the longnecks had brought in, and this person wasn't one of them. '04 observed quickly, just as his trainers had taught to do when facing an unknown: Reptilian species, with a serpentine lower half and an upper half that was vaguely humanoid, at least from what was visible behind the very impressive bushy beard. The flash-learning finally kicked in; the stranger was a Thisspiasian, a reptilian species from the Expansion Region. They - for '04 had no idea what pronouns would be correct to use in a species with no external sex differences - wore brown robes and golden armor, and one of their four arms was holding a metal cylinder.

'04 knew what a lightsaber looked like. They were a Jedi.

"Hurry up and get to your seats," Alpha-17 said, acerbic as always. "We're on a time crunch, and you lot are going to have to transmit our orders to the rank-and-file as soon as I’m done here."

That sentence from Alpha-17, in conjunction with the Jedi standing next to him, was enough to get everyone into their assigned seating with a minimum of fuss. In the meantime, Alpha had turned on the holo-proj on the presentation dais and projected a foreign planetary system. '04's HUD started streaming information as it synced with the projection: the system was Geonosis, and apparently at least 5 battalions would be traveling there for their first real mission as an army.

"That's close by," Fox murmured. "At least it won't be a long trip. Say, how long do you think it took that Jedi to grow out his beard?"

"I don't know," '04 subvocalized. "But I'm gonna ask if I get the chance."

Fox scoffed at that, before abruptly muting the line. Alpha-17 was stepping forward to speak.

"All right boys, this is Jedi General Oppo Rancisis, " Alpha-17 said brusquely, emphasizing the word Jedi. "He's leading a Jedi strike force to Geonosis, where CIS leadership is gathering. A Jedi infiltrator was able to send confirmation and proof that the CIS has been manufacturing a droid army, in direct contravention of last year's Automated Arms Non-Proliferation Treaty. Our primary goal is to cripple the droid foundries, and if possible destroy the already extant droid army. To that end, the Jedi have elected go with a sub-orbital bombardment strategy."

On the holo, targets of interest sprang up, marking various targets of interest on the planet's surface. Whoever the infiltrator was, he'd gotten quite a lot of information out regarding possible targets.

"CC-1004 and CC-1010, you'll be reporting directly to General Rancisis and aiding him on that part of the campaign," Alpha continued, and '04 felt his eyebrows raise despite himself. That was a vote of confidence from Alpha-17 if there ever was one. The holo changed from a view of Geonosis to a line-up of various aliens. '04's HUD started streaming the information for each of the people listed. "The second objective is to prevent CIS leadersip from fleeing the planet. Capture would be ideal, although if they can't be captured, death is a valid option. CC-3636, you're assigned to that task under General Clee Rhara."

The Holoproj briefly showed a human or near-human woman in a fighter-jockey's flightsuit. Well, no surprises there - Wolffe had consistently scored best on the fighter simulations. The projector changed to a different pair of Jedi, one of them a human male with a beard and hair almost to his shoulders, and the other a Mirialan woman with a traditional headdress and facial tattoos . '04's HUD stated their names were Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luminara Unduli, Jedi Knights.

"Our final objective is to retrieve the Jedi operative, if he's still alive. CC-2224, you'll be working with General Unduli to plan the exfiltration. If he's dead, the mission objective will default to the secondary of completing his mission and obtaining as much intelligence as possible before the CIS destroys their databanks. The rest of you are assigned directly to General Jocasta Nu - she'll be integrating us into Jedi Forces as we continue."

The holoprojector displayed a elderly human woman in richly-patterned robes. '04 had actually never seen a human that old, and it was quite novel.

"One last thing," Alpha-17 said gruffly. "If you're disappointed that you haven't been assigned to this initial sortie - don't be. This is the first battle in what promises to be a long and difficult campaign, and there will be plenty to do in the days and weeks ahead. General Rancisis, any final words?"

"No, I think you've said everything necessary, Commander," the Jedi said, voice deeper and hoarser than '04 had expected. The flash learning hadn't included an audio file of every species covered in training.

"Yessir," Alpha-17 replied, and he saluted the Jedi quickly before turning back to the clone commanders. "You're all dismissed! Report to your Jedi CO immediately - the information should have been transmitted to your HUD. CC-2224, walk with me, I have some ideas to discuss regarding your mission..."

And with that, the briefing was over. '04 rose with the rest of the command class, but waited for the others to file out before moving. Fox came over to wait with him, shaking his head a little.

"Oh stars, Kot'ika's gonna be insufferable," he moaned over the private line.

'04 snorted. "Do you seriously want to switch with him? C'mon, the Jedi might already be dead, and then the mission is just a smash-and-grab-"

"Doesn't matter, Kot'ika always manages to get into the most dramatic trouble when he's out of out sight," Fox replied darkly. "It's like he's a magnet for disaster."

'04 didn't bother to dispute that. It was a little amazing how much trouble Cody got into - and out of - on a regular basis. "Well, everyone's gone. Let's report to our new commanding officer."

"Yeah, yeah...."

General Rancisis was watching them closely as they approached, and returned their salutes with a respectful bow. Up close, '04 could see that the General's secondary arms were significantly more atrophied than his first. If he remembered the supplementary reading correctly, that was some kind of class-signifier in his species.

"You are CC-1004 and CC-1010, correct?" the Jedi said, nodding to each of them in turn. '04 nodded, all the while wondering how he'd done that. Alpha hadn't pointed at this during his briefing, and the Jedi wasn't wearing any kind of HUD that he could see. "Wonderful. As your training officer said, I am Jedi Master Oppo Rancisis, and I look forward to working with you. I have led or participated in almost every large-scale military action the Order has initiated over the past century, but I confess that a planetary system interdiction is a step above what I've previously attempted, so I'm afraid I'm going to be relying on you quite heavily. Before we continue, however... do you have names for public use, or do you prefer to go by your serial numbers?"

'04 blinked, and was glad his bucket was hiding his no-doubt gob-smacked face. In all the lessons they'd taken on the Jedi, not a single one of them had ever mentioned they were kind.

"It's not a secret or anything like that. My name is Fox," and his brother jabbed an armored elbow into his ribs. "And this one hasn't chosen a name yet, so you can just call him '04 until he does."

"I keep telling you nothing feels right, yet," '04 grunted. "But Fox is right. I'll answer to '04 or ten-oh-four."

"I see," General Rancisis said seriously. "Please tell me when that changes, and we'll update your file accordingly."

"Our file, sir?" '04 asked warily..

"Ah, my colleague Jocasta is integrating your personnel files with our own. That will include information such as a public name and training specialties, etc," the Jedi said. '04 thought they might have been trying to reassure him. "Now, do you have any other questions before we discuss potential approaches to Geonosis?"

'04 intended to keep his mouth shut, but - "Is sir an appropriate form of address? Or would you prefer ma'am or another type of designation?"

Fox inhaled sharply, but '04 didn't have time to even think about being embarrassed - General Rancisis just answered him as though it was a normal question.

"Ah, thank you for asking - I appreciate the courtesy! I am male, so sir is fine. I always forgot how hard it is for humans to tell. Any other questions?"

Fox shook his head mutely, and '04 followed his lead. Questions about the General's amazing beard would have to wait for another day, no doubt.

"Very well. I understand that you were all trained on the Venator- and Acclamator-class ships, but the Jedi fleet is predominantly older Freedom-class vessels dating back to the War of Light and Darkness. I'll send their specs to your HUD in a moment. Thankfully, the bridge controls are mostly unchanged, but..."

Dooku woke up shackled and Force-blind. Not unexpected, given how events on Geonosis had gone careening out of his control. He had expected the Jedi to leave Kenobi to his fate. On the off-chance they decided that blind, foolish man was worth retrieving, they would most likely send a strike-force, so he had a droid battalion stashed in the wings of the stadium as a precaution, ready to be deployed upon command. And at first, the execution had all gone according to plan. It had been amusing to watch Kenobi and his inane apprentice and that irritating Senator attempt to survive the coliseum beasts, knowing that there was only so long they could avoid their doom.

And then the Jedi had come, in such a force that had not been seen in centuries. He hadn't expected the Jedi to bombard the planet from orbit. He hadn't expected the wings of starfighters patrolling the sky, preventing escape. He certainly hadn't expected the clone commander teams to focus only on him.

He had expected Yoda. He got someone entirely different.

"You might as well open your eyes and sit up."

Dooku felt the ghost of a smile twitch at the corners of his lips. A familiar voice, in very unfamiliar settings. "Ah, but what if I don't wish to?"

"Your desires have very little bearing on what happens next, old friend."

Thus informed, Dooku did indeed open his eyes and sit up. Across from him, forcefield tinting his vision blue, was Jocasta Nu, but Jocasta Nu as he'd never seen her before. She was wearing the armor of the Army of Light, and the hilt of a double-sided blade hung from her belt. It was a new blade, but he could see the echoes of her original hilt in the lines of the new one. No doubt her original crystal had found a worthy partner.

"My goodness, such a fierce demeanor," he drawled. "I'm surprised Yoda allowed it."

"Yoda has no say in what any of us do now," Jocasta said dismissively. "But we'll get to that later. For now-"

"What do you mean, Yoda has no say?" Dooku snapped. That...that didn't make any sense. The old troll was as big a busybody as anyone Dooku had ever met, and would never willingly give up his grasp on the reins of power., surely not. Dooku would have felt it, even now, if Yoda had passed into the Force.

Or would he? an ugly voice asked in his mind. There were so many things he'd given up over the years, so many people he’d left behind-

No, no. It was only the Force suppressors. Dooku knew Yoda had been alive last he felt for him, just as he knew Rael still lived, and Qui-Gon was dead.

Jocasta peered at him closely through the force field, before nodding and deactivating it. "Ah. You needn't worry for your old master; he's alive and well, and very irritated with me right now. I only meant that with the dissolution of the Ruusan Acts, the High Council has been dissolved pending new leadership in these trying times."

"I beg your pardon," Dooku said, flabbergasted. Jocasta stepped into his cell and the force-field re-activated. For the first time, Dooku realized she was not alone, as at least one clone trooper was handling the cell controls.

"You heard me," Jocasta sniffed, and she folded her legs into the lotus position and sat on thin air. "I'm not going to repeat myself. I would rather discuss what you have been doing since you left the Order - or perhaps even right before your departure. I'm still auditing the edits you made to our system, and I assure you, you will tell me everything I wish to know about that subject before we are through."

Dooku snorted. Jocasta had always been overly-focused on her precious archives, if that was the worst of it he should have no-

"But first, I would like you to elaborate on your statement to Knight Kenobi during his captivity. You know what I speak of - the Sith Lord in the Senate, with hundreds of Senators under his control?"