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Complete Detachment (Star Wars Prequel SI)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by 9adam4, Feb 1, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Ch. 1 - Gunray vs Raygun
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    It had been seven years, and I still couldn’t process the scale of it.

    With the planet Naboo already covering nearly a quarter of the sky, the Federation ship could be seen first as little more than a glimmer. But it grew quickly, very quickly. In a manner of seconds it was already a looming behemoth above us… and kept growing. The scale of these freighters - hastily converted into battleships - was staggering, each a carrier for tons of firepower and thousands of deployable droids, along with the relatively sparse living crews. The blockade included hundreds of them, and yet this was only a minor show of the Federation’s strength.

    While none of the other battleships were visible from my vantage, I could feel each of them. The steel and munitions barely registered relative to the proximity of the ship we were approaching and the overwhelming mass of the planet we were orbiting, but their souls sang loudly in the void, impossible to miss. I could understand why so many with my abilities prefered to stay planet-bound. Being surrounded by the energy of a world and its people was like a sort of warm bath, and leaving it was being plunged into the cold absence of space. Each life in orbit was its own dot of searing heat, taking in and expelling the Force in the rhythm of a giant’s heart.

    My Master activated the coms, his eyes not leaving mine. It was disturbing, how he always seemed to be looking within me rather than at me - and moreso because he genuinely was. “Captain,” Qui-Gon began.

    “Yes sir?” The words came with a spark of feeling from the ship’s cockpit, separated from the cruiser’s passenger compartment by sealed doors.

    “Tell them we wish to board at once,” he said, and removed his hand from the com button without waiting for a response. He turned back to me, “Where were you just now, young one?” he asked. It was a question I had heard from him many times.

    “I was sensing those around us, Master,” I replied simply. “I do not understand why the few… thousand… Federation lives aboard these ships are so much easier to sense than the half billion planetside.” I returned his gaze coolly. “You have told me many times that for the Force, distance is an illusion.”

    “Yes, but it is a very persistent one.” He gave me his trademark smile, that wry look with just a hint of upturned lips. “The arrival of our cruiser is surely the focus of the fleet right now, and so the distance between us and them is small, by the living Force.” He tilted his head downward to emphasize his change in tone. “But that, my Padawan, is a lesson for another time. Be mindful of the present. Focus your energy on the negotiations to come.”

    I shook my head. “There will be no negotiations, Master. Only an attack. The Sith Lord will make sure of it.”

    “So you have said. But the future is not so clear as that, even for the greatest of seers. Keep your control, Obi-Wan.” Qui-Gon extended a hand to my shoulder. “As I have counseled you, the danger of prophecy is that it becomes self-fulfilling. Don’t provoke an attack by expecting one. That way lies the Dark Side. Do you understand?”

    “Yes, Master.” The cruiser had docked, and I stared at the descending door into the massive docking bay. I still couldn’t get used to the size of even something so basic as a cargo area... a room as large as a full industrial warehouse.

    I followed the tall, rangy form of my Master as he stepped down into the bay. I was not in the least surprised to find a protocol droid waiting for us. So far, things were happening as I remembered.

    But hopefully, not for much longer. At my insistence - and after quite a bit of pleading, so much so that I think my Master mainly relented to get me to stop - we were dressed appropriately for senior bureaucrats from Coruscant, our braids and weapons both hidden, nothing visible identifying us with the Jedi Order. We were even able to get our ambassadorial credentials under assumed names, which I found out was surprisingly common among Republic dignitaries.

    Without recalling the exact details, I had a feeling we would be recognized and attacked anyway. But it was important that I try. I remembered that the Nemoidians seeing the ambassadors were Jedi triggered the initial attack in canon. I wanted to see if a more nuanced approach was possible.

    “I'm TC-14 at your service. This way, please.” The droid was a shiney protocol model of the type that was frighteningly expensive to produce, relative to its value. She was as much a status symbol as any of the signs of wealth made visible by the plush conference room we were led to.

    “We are greatly honored by your visit, Ambassadors,” the droid began, standing near the entrance to the room after we entered.

    “Thank you for your hospitality,” I replied immediately. I noticed her head jerk upwards a bit in response. “You’re a TC unit, you said? A Cybot droid?” If I could help it, I wasn’t planning on letting her leave the room.

    “Yes, Ambassador Labeth. Can I get you anything?”

    “I’m okay. Master Rillian?” I asked, and Qui-Gon dismissed the question with a vague hand movement. His presence was expanding into the room a bit, as it often did in preparation for a confrontation or challenge. I returned my attention to the droid. “I was just curious. Do you have the advanced translation module?”

    “Certainly. The TranLang III is what differentiates the TC series from our 3PO series predecessors.”

    “Oh? I thought the main difference was personality?” I asked the question with genuine curiosity. Qui-Gon glanced at me with barely restrained irritation, but didn’t intervene.

    “That is a common understanding, sir, but in fact our personality matrices are exactly the same as the 3PO models.”

    “Oh? How is it you’ve avoided the same reputation, then?”

    “I don’t know, sir. We certainly work hard to please.” She paused for a second before turning back towards the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I will bring my masters here to meet with you…”

    But before the silver droid could leave the room, the doors opened to show the amphibian face and oversized hat of a Nemoidian. Two more Nemoidians stood just behind the first.

    The garb of the first Nemoidian made his identity clear, even before the TC droid spoke. “His excellency, Viceroy Nute Gunray.”

    Fortunately this part, at least, we had been properly prepped for. I stepped back behind Qui-Gon, facing the three. Qui-Gon and I each spread our hands outward, palms up, then closed them into our chests and gave slight inclinations of our heads.

    “Your excellency, may I present Special Ambassador Silmar Rillion, and under-Ambassador Aka Labeth.” (Yes, indulged myself with a reference no one else would get.)

    Gunray nodded. “Welcome to the Federation Trade Fleet. I hope your journey here was pleasant.”

    He took a seat, and as the Nemoidians to either side of him (whose names had not been offered us) also sat, we did the same. I noticed that my Master sat in a posture that would allow him to draw his lightsaber without any interference from the table or chair, and gave him full view of the only door.

    “The journey was uneventful, thankfully,” Qui-Gon said. His tone was smooth, even, as it usually was. I don’t believe I’d ever heard him actually raise his voice, in what I’m sure was a deliberate display of constant control. “We are here on Chancellor Valorum's behalf, and through him on behalf of the Senate. Our question for you, and your Federation, is this…”

    Qui-Gon leaned forward, and I felt his concentration focusing on the mind in front of him. I could feel the push as he said, “What will it take, to End This Blockade.”

    I looked on in anticipation as my Master’s will pushed up against the Viceroy’s… and my eagerness soured as it violently rebounded back on him. The only outward sign that the older Jedi gave to the effect was a slight slumping of his posture, but I could feel a roiling hatred, a burning searing pain enter his mind as his questing will was thrown back in his face. I had only ever seen the like in mental training between experienced knights.

    And now that I had, however indirectly, felt the deep hatred strike out from the Nemoidian, I sensed it in him. Not on the surface, where fear and stress mixed seamlessly with the greed for power. But under it, nestled into a tight clump, somehow pushing outwards on everything else the viceroy did.

    Was this the piece I couldn’t remember? Was it the Nemoidian who was the Sith Lord, the source of the coming galactic war and the deaths of billions? No, it didn’t fit. I remembered Gunray as a patsy, a poorly regarded distraction manipulated by the powers-that-be. A member of the Separatists later, yes, but never a part of the greater plan.

    As Qui-Gon silently reeled from the backlash, Nute Gunray was responding to his question, seemingly oblivious to the psychic altercation he’d just had. No, the viceroy wasn’t a Sith.

    But he was being controlled by one. And that was a enough for me.

    As Qui-Gon composed himself enough to respond at the end of the Viceroy’s speech, I slid the blast pistol from under my tunic. The fourth shot was already echoing by the time my Master turned, surprise on his face.

    We sat at a table, across from three corpses and a smoldering droid chassis.

    “Ben, what -” he asked as I checked the charge on my weapon before replacing it. I met his gaze, completely calm.

    “Master, you felt it more clearly than I did, I’m sure.” I brought out a handheld device as I talked, thumbing my way to a map that would get us to an airlock. “It was as a told you… the Sith are responsible for all of this. The Viceroy was in their thrall. As long as he was in control, there was no possibility whatsoever of preventing an attack on the planet.”

    “Do you genuinely think that justified killing three -”

    Four, Master.”

    Three lives, Ben. This is no time for your ridiculous ‘droid rights’ arguments.” He shook his head. I could imagine how in shock he would be were he… well… almost any normal person. But, of course, he was a Jedi Master. There was no room for anger or distress in his mind. I could see him continuing to calm himself as we spoke.

    “If we’re going to salvage this, there can’t be witnesses.” I put a hand under TC-14 and tugged. “Too heavy for me. I can manage two of the Nemoidians if you can get the other and the droid.” My Master’s expression became even more strained; he made no move towards the bodies.

    Just then, I heard the sound I had been waiting some minutes for, but hoping I had managed to avoid. A shrill hiss. Shaking my head sadly, I pulled my filtration mask out and put it in place, gesturing for Qui-Gon to do the same. No reason not to plan for something I remembered happening, even if the plan was to change it.

    “The hard way it is, then,” I muttered, as I drew my saber and hacked into the locked door.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
  2. Threadmarks: Ch. 2 - Redirection
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    It was somewhat unclear to what extent I was Obi-Wan, and to what extent I was me.

    I can remember Kenobi having at least some athleticism in the prequel films - jumps and backflips - and despite having his raw strength and physique, I was no closer to pulling off such feats than I had been back on Earth. On the other hand, I had naturally found myself performing certain difficult Force techniques, many of them relating to sense perception, that were unusual for a Padawan of Ben's level. It made me wonder to what extent the direction of one's Force abilities were based on one's intention and training, rather than some function of one's genetics.

    The long and short of it was that while I had a lightsaber, I certainly wasn't aerial summersulting down the corridor with it. Instead, I held a blaster in my other hand, and alternated between bouncing our assailants' shots back at them and adding to the crossfire with my own unerring projectiles. Constantly seeing moments into the future made it very hard to miss.

    When a lull in the fighting happened, I did take a moment to wonder if my change in priorities might prove a liability later, when Master Jinn and I faced off... against... whomever. Against...

    I barely suppressed snarling out loud. No matter how many times I tried to bring up any details of the movies related to the Sith, I could never solidify them in my head. If anything, each attempt seemed to make things worse.

    It wasn't a mystery to me as to what was happening; we were all taught that the Sith conceal themselves by clouding the minds of others. The effect was stronger on Force-sensitives than regular people, because our enhanced perception was based on being open to guidance by the Force, and it was that same guidance that the Sith twisted into a push, drawing us away from seeing their true nature.

    When I had first awoken at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, I had remembered all of it. My early planning involved finding the simplest and easiest ways to fully unmask the Sith Lord plotting to take over the galaxy, or just destroy him. But as time went on, and my Force training progressed, those details became less and less easy to recall. Before I realized what was happening, it was too late to even try to write anything down - a mistake I have not repeated, making both written and holorecord copies of every major clue I have come across since then, and reviewing them frequently looking for gaps in my knowledge.

    But while things touching directly on the Sith have faded from my recollection, the rest of my Star Wars knowledge has not. In fact, Jedi meditation and mindfulness techniques have greatly enhanced my recall; I have often been able to recall factoids that I'm certain I had only read in passing in my previous life. While it made my preparations for this time no less daunting, it certainly facilitated my accuracy in carrying them out.

    I pressed the button on my transponder as we arrived safely at the airlock (yes, the same one I had previously planned to eject Nute Gunray and the other bodies from). The captain had certainly thought my extra precautions were paranoid, but he'd agreed to go along with them, leaving the cargo bay as soon as Qui-Gon and I were clear, and floating unobtrusively nearby until he got the signal to pick us up. He would have returned to the same bay had I contacted him via the ships com system, but he knew the transponder meant "track us to any ship exit point."

    The tip of the transponder turned green just as two droidekas rolled around the corner at the other end of the ship's hallway. I wasted no time in blowing the emergency release on the airlock's inner and outer doors as my Master and I each aimed ourselves at the receiving maw of the cruiser's open landing hatch. Zero-G self-propulsion was quite easy for a Jedi with any training, essentially just requiring a Force pull without the usual automatic counterbalancing.

    Once we were safely inside, the passenger cabin quickly repressurizing, the coms came on. "Ambassador, the Sa'kaak is demanding we stand down and prepare to be boarded, or else they'll open fire."

    Qui-Gon quipped, "Ask them how long the Trade Federation will keep their license if they are known to have attacked a Diplomatic Vessel."

    We had our answer shortly, as the cruiser banked sharply to avoid incoming anti-ship blaster fire.

    "Sir," the captain said over the coms as the ship continued to loop and turn, "the ships have positioned themselves to block us from leaving. Our only option appears to be landing on the planet."

    I leaned over to speak into the com. "Captain, Naboo's Palace should be in your navigational systems. Land there if you can."

    "Roger. Out."

    From the displays available to us in the passenger compartment, I could see we were already exiting the swamp side of the planet and rapidly approaching the palace.

    I briefly reviewed my overall plan and preparations, and checked off my first successful change - no swamp-side landing means no Jar Jar Binks. There were about five ways that not having him along could be a disaster in the future, but I also remembered plenty of times that he was the source of a problem rather than its solution. I had no requirement for merchandising or comic relief, and so no reason to bring him along.

    But to be honest, the main reason I was happy to exclude Jar Jar was that it provided an answer to a larger important question: was I able to change things? I killed Nute Gunray, sure, but then the droid and gas attack happened the same way. If we arrived at the Palace in advance of the droid army rather than behind them, bypassing the Gungans and improbable planetary physics entirely, I would know that an important story element wasn't written in stone. That even though the Force was pushing us to take certain paths (and I was certain it was), we had flexibility as to the shape and results of those paths. I needed that assurance.

    When we safely sat down in the courtyard of the Naboo Palace, I allowed myself a very small smile.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2019
  3. Threadmarks: Ch. 3 - The Shadow of Invasion
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    For my purposes, Qui-Gon Jinn was an ideal Master. He saw no need to be tied to Jedi Council policies… or any sort of basic ethics, for that matter. As long as I was following the “will of the Living Force,” he essentially made no attempt to control my behavior. And he was an excellent instructor in Force powers and swordsmanship.

    But as an ambassador? I couldn't imagine why you'd sent Qui-Gon into any situation you didn't expect would eventually involve cutting your way out of. I was starting to understand this wasn't unusual among Jedi, either. They really were very much like Earth’s medieval knights, in that the main skill they brought to the table was the implicit threat of force. That could occasionally also use mind control.

    With the Republic having been sending out the Jedi as psychic thugs for centuries, I was starting to understand how the galaxy had ended up with Darth Vader. The eventual use of Anakin Skywalker (by whom? I couldn’t remember) as a galactic bully was really just an extension of the existing process.

    Okay, so obviously Vader was willing to carry out atrocities that no Jedi Knight or Master would consider. But the systems of control were set up well in advance of him, even if he was the first to so egregiously abuse them.

    These thoughts passed through my head in great rapidity as Qui-Gon addressed a holo of Chancellor Valorum in the audience room of the Queen of Naboo. The queen herself (ruler of the human colonists, not the far more numerous and native Gungans) attended to the call, as did numerous handmaidens (decoys, I knew) and an older advisor.

    “You're certain an invasion is imminent?” the Chancellor pressed.

    “Our most recent message from the fleet in orbit promised exactly that, should we not voluntarily submit,” the Queen said, her elaborate outfit ensuring that barely any visible expression accompanied the strong emotional outpourings I felt from her.

    “We saw more than enough evidence of troop deployment ships in orbit,” my Master agreed. “They have a droid army here. There is no question what they intend.”

    “Ah, I see.” I could sense no emotion from the holo, although I knew powerful Masters like Yoda or Windu could do so. “This must be taken to the Senate at once. Queen Amidala, would you -”

    “Excuse me, Chancellor. Your majesty.” I could feel my Master’s irritation as I stepped between the holo and the throne. I waited just a moment to see if anyone would voice their objection.

    “Chancellor, do you remember my request when we met to carry out this mission?”

    “Of course, mister Kenobi.”

    “And would you not agree that the conditions I specified have been met?”

    I felt grudging agreement from Qui-Gon even as the holo responded. “... yes. They have, in fact.”

    “Then, Chancellor, are you willing to appoint the committee and send them immediately?”

    He looked flustered. “I would, of course, but finding agreeable personnel - “

    “That has been seen to. Please contact Master Adi Gallia. She has agreed to accompany the committee. Eight qualified judicial observers from differing planets, including Bool Durd of Nemoidia. They have all been briefed and are standing by for your authorization. Will they have it, sir?”

    “Of… of course.” The Chancellor looked at something nearby that we couldn't see. “But again, Queen Amidala, I must ask you to make haste in personally presenting your plight to the Senate. It can be very difficult to get a consensus on any issue, and someone speaking with the full authority of Naboo might make the difference.”

    “Chancellor, you have my thanks for your help, but it may not be possible for me to leave my people if they will soon face direct attack. We are peaceful; we are not equipped to combat such a massive force as we see mounted before us.” Despite the stiffness in her tone, Amidala’s pronouncement was undeniably regal.

    “Which is why you need the Republic to intervene. My apologies, but I am needed elsewhere. My wishes for your safety.” The image collapsed on itself and was gone.

    “Is this why you have been neglecting your training, young Padawan?” my Master murmured. “Playing at galactic politics?”

    “Not entirely master. The peggats took a lot more time, in fact.”

    “The what?”

    “You'll see,” I whispered.

    “... going into hiding elsewhere while my people are in danger!” the Queen finished responding to her adviser.

    The holo flickered on, showing the upper body of a Nabooan secretary. “Your majesty, Captain Dofine of the Federation Trade Fleet demands to speak with you directly.”

    “A calculated insult,” the adviser replied. “We know Viceroy Gunray himself is with the fleet. You should agree to speak only with him.”

    “That is no longer the case, I’m afraid,” Qui-Gon added, gaining the attention of the court. He managed not to look toward me, for which I was grateful. “The Viceroy and his lieutenant were killed, in the same incident that prompted us to escape to the surface.” He nodded toward the secretary’s image. “Captain Dofine may very well be the ranking man in orbit.”

    “I will certainly wish to hear more of these… negotiations… very soon,” the Queen replied. “Put him through.”

    The image of a Nemoidian, younger and smaller than those we encountered in the meeting room and with a far less impressive hat, appeared in place of the secretary.

    “Captain Dofine, this is Queen Amidala of Naboo,” she began without hesitation. “We protest your unlawful blockade in the strongest terms, and demand you leave our sovereign space immediately.”

    “You are in no position to be making demands, your majesty,” the captain replied, his voice gurgling deeply. “But I will now make one of my own. You have a pair of human assassins in your midst, masquerading as ambassadors. You will turn Silmar Rillion and Aka Labeth over to us at once. Failure to do so will be seen as your tacit acceptance of their heinous crimes - and will be seen as an act of war against the Trade Federation.”

    The holo collapsed as quickly as it started, and all Nabooan eyes in the room turned to my Master, who turned to me.

    Representatives of the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic had, without apparent provocation, killed the Viceroy of the Trade Federation under flag of truce.

    I had given the droid army a legitimate reason to invade.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  4. Threadmarks: Ch. 4 - Binary Logic
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    **Data lacking: human, navigation, logistics. Probability low. You are ignorant, conclusions faulty.** The astromech’s response was understandably skeptical. Probably not as harsh as it sounded to my human ears; Binary was a practical language without a lot of room for tact.

    Regardless, I was finding my time talking with him to be extremely enjoyable. Hovering above us was my 3D holoprojection of the major events in the coming timeline, now coming out of the little droid’s projector rather than the small portable one I had already tucked back away with my things.

    “Your reaction makes sense, Artoo, if I was pulling all this out of my… rear data port.” He gave a wordless spray of exclamatory beeps at my phrasing. “Everything here is reconstructed from memories of the future. These are events I have seen happen. Unless I intervene, their probability is one.”

    **Negation. Provisional acceptance of provenance. Hypothetical: one gate change cascades to high magnitude alteration of circuit. You are one gate.**

    This one took me a while to decypher. “You're saying that just knowing, I've already altered the future? So unlikely events are unlikely again?”

    **Agreement.**

    “That makes sense, but I already have a lot of contrary evidence. The Viceroy is dead. Qui-Gon and I didn't meet the leader of the Gungans, and we managed to get Amidala out before Theed was overrun rather than after.”

    **Data is consistent with my statement. High magnitude changes.**

    “And yet, here we are. We left on exactly the same ship, we were attacked in exactly the same way, and exactly the same droid,” I gestured to him and got a happy, preening wail, “saved us. And so now we're going to the same backwater planet to repair the same hyperdrive as before. ”

    **Negation. Initial navigation identical. Attack vectors low variance. Astromech behavior low variance. Outcome consistent across probability space.**

    “Battle involves more chance elements than that.”

    **Negation. Modern space combat is highly automated.**

    “The pilots are still biologicals.”

    **Modern control systems compensate for sources of error.**

    I chuckled at that. “A pilot is just a source of error, huh?”

    **Affirmative. Amusement.**

    The hiss of the door to the hallway opened. Artoo winked out the holo as we both turned to see the handmaiden enter… and immediately hesitate. “My apologies, I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be in here.” She held a small caddy in her hands, with bottles of cleaning solution, brushes, and soft cloths.

    “No, please, come in. Artoo and I were just chatting. Padme, was it?” I stood and moved back, away from both the droid and the door, giving her plenty of room to join us.

    **Greetings.**

    She gave us both a small bow before kneeling in front of the charred astromech. Care radiated from her like a healing balm. “My royal mistress bid me tend to you, brave little droid,” she said, taking a bottle and a cloth, and working from the edge of the char.

    **Unnecessary. No pain receptors on my chassis. I am not in distress.**

    “I think this is more about honor than healing,” I told him.

    “You understand droidspeak?” Padme beamed. “What did it say?”

    “He said that he isn't hurt. But… well…” I turned an amused eye to the droid, who was making contented sounds as Padme continued to work. “Could I join you?”

    When she nodded, I knelt next to her and took a brush and a surface wax. We worked in silence for a few minutes; I was reminded of the work detail given young would-be Jedi at the Temple. Constructive, mindless work helped me learn mental stillness better even than meditation, in my opinion.

    “What’s it like, being a Jedi?” she finally asked me.

    I gave myself a moment to think about how to respond. In the end, I decided the unvarnished truth was best.

    “It’s a constant burden.” I saw her glance up at me when I said that, her hands never resting. “Most people, they deal with the little stuff. Their own lives, maybe a family or a small unit. Me, the Jedi? We’re supposed to deal with conflicts affecting the whole Galaxy. Keep the Republic running, stop planets from annihilating other planets.”

    I sighed, and kept on. “And it’s worse for those few of us who already know that the Sith are back. We don’t even have the luxury of saying that we can just continue on as we have for centuries. We know things are coming to a head, soon.”

    Padme had returned her gaze to the chassis, but her mental attention was still entirely on me. She was starting to wear down one particular spot. “The Sith, the Dark Jedi? You said they’re back?”

    “They’re behind the attack on Naboo. I just wish I knew why.”

    **She is now in distress. You are the cause. Fix it.** Artoo’s tone was somehow accusatory, almost angry.

    “He’s right, I shouldn’t have put this all on you. Forgive me, majesty. You have your own worries.” I replaced the brush and stood to go.

    “No, I… I’m just Padme. Queen Amidala -”

    “It’s okay. I get the need for decoys. But in case it becomes useful for you to know that I know…” I shrug. “Don’t rely on makeup to fool Force sensitives. We can tell the difference between people without looking.”

    “I’ll… keep that in mind. Mister… Kenobi?”

    “Yes?”

    “What were you and Artoo talking about?”

    “The future. How to change it.”

    **Query: share data?** I was honestly surprised that he bothered to ask, but it was nice to know he respected me at least that much.

    “Go for it.” I made it to the door just as Padme started gesturing to zoom in on different parts of the timeline. “Let me know later if you have any questions.”

    I left an intrigued monarch and a skeptical droid both happily chattering away, and made my way back up to the cockpit.

    “I still think this is much too dangerous,” Captain Panaka said again as the holo of the desert planet Tatooine floated above the navigational console. My Master nodded at my entrance.

    “We’re close enough now, good,” I approved. I pulled a data stick out of my supplies and plugged it into the nav station. Blue-green longitude and latitude lines enveloped the globe, and several tooltips in different colors popped up. “We have two places to get to, which are about six hundred kilometers apart. The first one is out in the desert; the second is this settlement here. Technically a spaceport.”

    The captain turned his incredulous eyes on Qui-Gon, who gave a half-shrug combined with a go ahead gesture.

    The pilot chimed in, “Fuel and sand shouldn’t be a problem for a dirt-side hop. Probably best to just land directly in both places.”

    I nodded. “I was hoping you’d say that. I wasn’t looking forward to trying to get hold of a landrunner, or dodging attention of we decided we had to visit Mos Eisley.” I pointed to the dot on the map representing the largest settlement.

    I confirmed for the pilot what would be a reasonable location to land near the desert site. Qui-Gon pulled me aside into the hallway.

    “So, young Padawan,” he began, “how long, exactly, have you known that we would be visiting Tatooine?”

    I tried to look apologetic. “Seven years, Master,” I admitted.

    “And you apparently prepared for this visit, did you not?” Qui-Gon continued.

    “Extensively, yes, Master.” I couldn’t keep my tone entirely self-effacing for that.

    “Then why not just make sure we had the spare parts we need to repair the ship, and not have to make the stop at all?”

    I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have worked, Master.”

    Qui-Gon’s posture was closed at this point, one foot forward, piercing me with that powerful gaze. He said nothing, but I felt him willing me to continue.

    “No matter what I did, we would not have been able to escape meeting Anakin Skywalker.”

    “The boy you’ve told me about? The one that will become a powerful Sith Lord?” His presence intensified; he pushed at me even harder.

    “Darth Vader, yes Master.” Even now I disliked saying the name out loud. I knew the Sith could redirect and influence thoughts from light years away; why not across time? But I was unwilling to cower before a mere name.

    “And so, while the fate of a world hangs in the balance, and its queen is under our protection, we take a detour to a remote planet to confront and kill a young boy?” If I didn’t know him to be incapable of it, I would think he was angry; but no, his expression seemed more like amused frustration. As though he was coming near the end of his patience, humoring his delusional pupil.

    “Kill? No, of course not.” I said, allowing myself a confident smile that I did not feel. “I am not so arrogant as to believe I could kill an entity of prophecy and of the Force, even at the dawn of his life.”

    This at least earned me an approving nod.

    “No, Master,” I pressed. “I’m not going to kill Anakin Skywalker. I’m going to save him.”
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  5. Threadmarks: Ch. 5 - Rural Investment
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    I can only imagine what Lef and Gedda Lars thought when they saw the dust cloud kicked up by the limping, half-scrap Naboo starship barely a klick from their homestead. Whatever they thought, by the time the ground team (myself, Qui-Gon, Commander Olie the pilot, and Padme at “the queen’s” insistence) had equipped ourselves and exited the ship, a large land craft floated toward us less than a meter above the sand.

    Lars was a broad weather-worn human with greying hair and bushy beard; his wife was similarly sturdy if a head taller and about twenty years younger. Our features weren’t easily visible in our dust cloaks, and the moisture farmer spoke as soon as we were within earshot.

    “Anyone injured!” the bellow was deep but scratchy, like the desert itself had made its way into him.

    “No!” my Master called in a shout that nonetheless sounded calm. “No injuries! Ship is damaged though!”

    The ground crawler decelerated rapidly as it approached, setting down a few yards away. Qui-Gon raised a hand in greeting, and stepped toward the older couple. They seemed content to exchange waves and beckon us toward their craft.

    “Our home is over the dunes thataway,” Gedda said through a scarf covering most of her face. “Come join us out of the sand and we’ll talk.”

    It was clear they hadn’t recognized me through my travel cloak, but they were willing to show us hospitality anyway. It was a rare enough attitude in the dangerous galaxy that it warmed my heart… even if it also made me a bit homesick.

    We exchanged no more words on the quick trip back. The crawler was designed to transport industrial droids and large equipment; six people didn’t weigh it down.

    When we arrived at the homestead, a younger man (obviously Lef’s son) waited by the door, and a young boy waited just inside it. I hadn’t understood the timeline well enough to know that Cliegg and Owen Lars had already returned from the Core Worlds after the loss of Owen’s mother. Two years ago, that event had not yet happened. I let myself dwell just briefly on whether I might have made some effort to stop her death.

    Then again, hundreds of millions died daily throughout the galaxy. Why care more about Cliegg's’ wife; because her husband was named in the movies?

    Seeing us coming, Cliegg had gone inside to place additional chairs around the dining table. As soon as we were out of the wind, I uncovered my face and greeted our hosts.

    “Hello there!” I held my arms out, and was gratified when Lef took my invitation immediately.

    “Ben!” the old man said, enveloping me in a back-slapping embrace. “Has it really been two years already?”

    “I'm afraid so, sir. How is the family? I see your son is visiting.”

    This sobered Lef up. With a nod, he headed back into the house, calling “Boy, with me!” as he went. I expected young Owen to respond, but it was Cliegg that went.

    The sturdy Gedda wrapped me in a hug next, tighter than her husband’s. I stifled a gasp. She said, low but loud enough that the four of us could hear, “Cliegg's not visiting, he's moved home. Lost Aika last year to xenophage.”

    “I'm so sorry,” Padme said as Gedda moved back, and this spurred the older woman into action.

    “Where is my head today! Gedda Lars,” she held her hand out to Padme, who took it warmly.

    “Gedda, let me introduce my Jedi teacher, Qui-Gon Jinn. And these are Padme and Ric from Naboo.”

    Two Jedi in the house,” the woman teased. "Should I go put on a dress?”

    “Thank you for your hospitality,” my Master said as he took the woman’s proffered hand.

    “Hardly that, but we make do,” she said. “Let me fix y’all a drink. Padme, want to join me?”

    The women drifted toward the kitchen while the two men returned carrying a small chest between them. It was no wider than their shoulders, but weighed too much to be easily carried by one human. The chest also had a number of nasty surprises for anyone trying to open or move it without the electronic key, including a field dampener that disrupted antigravity. Decent security on a planet where the banks were under the whims of a crime lord. My Master raised his eyebrows at me, and Olie openly gawked.

    “Did you open the chest while I was gone?” I asked. Lef had the second key, an encrypted circuit, and I had shown him the numerical code to the chest before I left. I made it clear that he should take from the chest if he needed to, although he assured me he would not.

    “Twice,” he admitted. “Gedda asked to see what was in it, and insisted we bring two coins into town and confirm they were genuine.” His eyes shifted away from me at the embarrassing account.

    “I did at that.” Gedda came out carrying a tray with tumblers of a blue liquid and a plate of shortbread cookies and put them on the table. “Counterfeit peggats will get you fed to the Sarlacc in these parts. Needed to know what we were holding.” The young lady and undercover queen following her set down a second tray with the rest of the glasses.

    I nodded. “So, just taking the coins out, and putting them back?” Producing my own key, I placed it in the slot and quickly typed across the holoprojected buttons that appeared on the chest lid. It came open with a click, revealing row after row of gold coins, each the size of an egg.

    “No, ah, three times, then,” he corrected, looking toward his son. “When Cliegg came back, I showed him how to open it, just in case.”

    I nodded and took out my portable holo unit, quickly linking to the internal transmitter. Yes, three openings. And a running tally: 1207 coins, 1205, 1207, 1207. “No problems, then. Ric?” The pilot unslung an empty pack from over his shoulder and opened it. I started moving shrink-wrapped sleeves of fifty coins each from the internal shelves of the chest into the pack.

    “I… don't entirely understand,” I heard Padme ask Gedda, who had stayed well back from the chest after delivering the (untouched) refreshments. “Are those coins worth a lot?”

    Gedda nodded. “Gold peggats, each worth sixty-four of the local currency, or about fifty Republic credits,” she explained.

    “Forty,” Cliegg corrected. “As of last week, anyway.”

    Gedda continued, “Your friend Ben’s got enough there to buy you a whole new ship. Maybe two.”

    Twenty sleeves of peggats went in the bag: 1000 altogether. I pulled the odd 7 out and stacked them on the table, then closed the chest after verifying the even 200 left inside.

    I asked the elder Lars, “Can you change me one?” He clomped out of the room, and was back a minute later with a small box that reminded me of a cigarrette case. He traded me three truguts and sixteen wapiupi, smaller lumpy coins that nonetheless had real weight. I put them in a small purse, along with one more peggat.

    Five peggats and a chest of 200 laid on the table. I looked at Lef, and pushed the five to him.

    The old man shook his head. “Too much,” he insisted.

    Qui-Gon, who had looked impassively on this whole spectacle, chimed in. “Trust is rare in this part of the galaxy. Your integrity should be rewarded.”

    He exchanged a look with his wife, before shrugging and adding the five coins to his case.

    “So here’s the deal,” I announced. “I'll pay you five a year out of the chest to keep the rest here, until I need it again or… well, it runs out. I don't have any particular plan to return.” That got a thoughtful look from Lef.

    “As for my investment,” I continued, and Qui-Gon showed his surprise again, “you have my permission to increase it as much as you like with what's in the chest, at the same terms as before. Buy what you need; keep the condensers running at capacity. Send me an update every year or so.” Nods all around.

    “Now,” I gestured my friends to seats and took one myself, sampling the blue beverage. It reminded me of eggnog. “That's business out of the way. So tell me really - how have you two been?”
     
  6. Threadmarks: Ch. 6 - The Easy Way
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    Moving through the streets of Mos Espa, secure pack on my back, I was strongly reminded that 600 ounces of gold… was still just 600 ounces. It felt like it should be more.

    Partially due to CGI and partially just due to the escapist nature of the cinema, I was unprepared for just how dingy everything looked. The inescapable truth (bad dialog aside) is that, on a desert planet, sand really is going to get everywhere. Every building and every surface was scoured of color and character, every possession and landmark worn down. It wasn’t hard to be reserved and wary in Mos Espa; you wanted to be.

    Of our traveling group of five, it was the fifth member whose indomitable spirit and bold colors pushed against the settlement’s immersive drabness. The droid rolled along cheerily, his sensory suite pivoting every which way as he chirped exclamations, most of them just naming people, beasts, and vehicles as we passed them.

    **Past navigation limited: ships, shipyards, hangars,** he said to me at one point. **Preference for variable input. Query: R2D2 accompanies OB1 planetary navigations?**

    “The wheels are could be a problem,” I replied, “but I’d love to have you along as often as possible.”

    “Don’t make promises to the droid, young Kenobi,” my Master admonished, but I caught a flash of amusement more than irritation from him.

    I hadn’t looked up the precise location of Watto’s business, and I made a point not to lead… but Qui-Gon showed no hesitation at all in zeroing in on a particular junkshop. Following him in, my gaze immediately found the scowling Toydarian behind the counter.

    ~Good day to you,~ Watto greeted in Huttese, his bulk lifting up above the counter as he buzzed over to us and hovered on impossibly rapid wings. ~What is it you want?~ His snout protruded out towards us just slightly as he talked… and then his attention centered on me. Or, rather, on my pack.

    “I need parts for a J-type 327 Nubian,” Qui-Gon replied, forcing the man to focus on him rather than me.

    “Ah, yes! Nubian. We have lots of that,” he replied. His accent was thick when speaking Standard. ~Larva, come here now!~

    I couldn’t take my eyes from the boy when he appeared. To my senses, he seemed like a new center of gravity. As though instead of “up” and “down,” there was just turning towards him or turning away. He was dressed like a slave, and grubby in the way of someone who worked on machines for days without cleaning.

    He spared me only a single glance; his eyes were for the queen.

    I left them to their banter and caught up to my Master.

    “... to pay for all this, eh?” I heard the Toydarian say as I rounded the corner in the yard.

    Qui-Gon nodded at me. “My associate will deal with the money situation. We have more than enough for our purchases.”

    “Republic credits are no good here,” Watto began, but his eyes were on my pack again.

    I pulled out my single loose peggat and threw it underhand; Watto caught it deftly and ran his snout over it. He made an approving grunt. “You'll need a lot more of those,” he offered. “The parts you want… a hundred would cover it.”

    “I saw something else in your shop that I want,” I said. “Let’s not waste time haggling more than once.”

    He brightened at that. “You know good work when you see it! Was it the Cayton brushless motor? It’s fully restored, I could let-”

    The boy,” I said, not even realizing the will behind my words until I spoke them. “And his mother. How much?”

    Watto scratched below his tusk, looking away. “My slaves? I doubt you can afford… two Class 1 slaves…”

    “They're Class 3 and you know it,” I replied.

    “Maybe to you, but uh, they're like family to-”

    “You beat them. Enough dissembling. The parts, a woman slave, and her son. How much?”

    “Four hundred gold peggats.” He was fully engaged now.

    “Two hundred,” I countered. I kept the relief off my face.

    “Three hundred and twenty-five. Or you can keep your gold, and I will keep my slaves.”

    “Deal.” We shook, and he flitted off to the yard to gather parts. Qui-Gon and Artoo followed him to make sure he got them all.

    I felt a triumphant thrill as I returned to the shop, where Anakin was enraptured by commander Olie telling one of his inexhaustible piloting tales. Padme's gaze mostly lingered on the boy; he had clearly intrigued her.

    “Anakin? Could you help me count out my money, please?”

    He turned to me as I opened my pack out on the counter. “Oh, no, sir. I'm not allowed to touch the money. But don't worry, Watto will be here soon to count it, I'm sure!”

    “What does…” I swallowed, calmed myself. “What would Watto do, if you…?”

    I didn't have to finish my question. I felt the pain as sharply as though Anakin was freshly experiencing it, his fear at being so much smaller than the Toydarian, having no way to stop the beating. It didn't linger as pain usually did, though, but cut off abruptly as Anakin's attention turned away from his memory and onto something else. It seemed that for Anakin, remembering an experience was as vivid as reliving it.

    I directed my attention to the gold coins, placing six unopened sleeves on the counter and opening the seventh. Those coins I stacked neatly into four piles of five and a fifth pile of four. (Yes, I had noticed that the coin Watto had examined never made it back to me.)

    Anakin was called away during my counting and returned hauling a small pallet of surprisingly serviceable parts. Olie immediately jumped up to assist him, and they were soon joined by Qui-Gon and Artoo taking inventory.

    That left Padme and I looking over the sizeable supply of gold when Watto flew over to us holding two small metal boxes.

    “This is the mother’s, and this is the boy’s. Keep them well hidden so they don't find them and run off,” he advised. The moment the boxes were on the counter, he was swiping at the gold coins, happy to examine each one with equal interest.

    “What are those?” Padme asked, picking up one of the boxes, examining a switch on one side and a latch on the other.

    “Slave transponder units,” I explained. “Each slave is implanted with a transponder chip in an unknown location, shielded from detection. If you leave the range of your transponder unit, the chip detonates.”

    Watto didn't look up to see Padme shudder. He added, “Those are good units, too. Very reliable. Hardly ever go off by mistake. And they offer a very good warrantee, almost cover the cost of a new slave if it malfunctions.”

    “Why would anyone do that to another person?” Padme whispered, but it was more to herself than anyone else.

    “What are you doing with those?” the boy peeked up over the lip of the counter. I couldn't read or sense his expression, other than genuine curiosity.

    I smiled at him. “We bought you, young man. You and your mother.”

    “Really? Does that mean I get to fly on your spaceship? With Ric? And Padme?”

    “It’s the queen’s spaceship. But, yes - you’ll be coming with us once the repairs are made.” I picked up both the transponders and headed for the shop door. “Why don’t you tell us where your mother is?”

    The boy was full of energy, quickly running ahead of us in his excitement. “We live just over here. Oh, wait till Mom hears! We get to explore the stars! YIPPEE!”

    I hoped Shmi was half as enthusiastic as her son.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Ch. 7 - The Hard Way
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    Shmi and I looked out from the ground crawler at the spectacle of two children and a flustered man trying to cart an inert pod racer into the royal craft's cargo hold. I had the much easier task of transporting the meager Skywalker household goods, and pleasant company in doing it.

    Shmi Skywalker was something of a surprise. She wasn't featured much in movies or the fiction I had read; my impression of her had been as a passive figure for Anakin to imprint on and then outgrow. But I should have known that anyone who could survive and protect her son through decades of servitude on a savage world would be made of sterner stuff.

    Rather than celebration, she had responded to the news of her purchase with a calm acceptance, and under the surface, more than a little wariness toward me. It was clear she gave no weight to my words about being “free” and saw this as just another transfer of ownership; I wasn't the first to speak this way to her.

    But one of the few things the real Ben and I had in common, was the ability to make friends. Once Qui-Gon had joined us that their home and took the boy off to see his racer, Shmi, Padme, and I, had worked together to package up their lives into something that could fit in the cruiser.

    “How much will I be allowed to see him,” Shmi asked me as we moved her last container into the hold, “once he begins his training? Families are discouraged from visiting the Temples, I am told.”

    “Who told you that?” I hadn't mentioned anything about Anakin becoming a Jedi, not to either if them.

    “It’s why you bought him, isn't it?” The steel in her voice was harsh to my ears. “Don't mistake my meaning: I am happy for it. A better life than I could give him. I am surprised you bought me, too, though.” Closing the hatch, we stepped back on the crawler and began the trip back into town. “A foolish expense, if you mean to take me from him anyway.”

    “You don't think you're worth anything on your own?” I quipped. She shrunk back at that; and I tried to figure out why. Her thoughts had turned to… oh.

    “I am happy for it, I said,” she looked at the distant desert, not at me. “I would… rather… with you, if that's what is needed…”

    “I didn’t buy you because I intend to use you, Shmi,” the words came out quick, maybe a bit harsher than I intended.

    She looked at me then, eyes hurting. “Why not?” There was more ego in it than I expected from her.

    “Because I don't own you, for one thing. The transponder chip is coming out as soon as we get to Coruscant, and then we will be getting you Republic citizenship papers for whatever planet you decide to move to.”

    She shook her head, and sighed, but said nothing.

    “As for your earlier question, Anakin isn’t going to be trained at the Temple. The Council won't allow it.” I banked the crawler around a sand dune.

    “Your Master said that Anakin would be trained as a Jedi. That he would be a powerful Knight one day.”

    I nodded. “Both true. But not at the Temple.” I looked sharply at her. “And certainly not away from his mother. More pain and loss is not what this boy needs in his life.”

    A few minutes passed while we parked the crawler in its place and I retrieved the truguts I had put down for a deposit. That done, we headed in the direction of the Skywalkers’ hovel. It was one last chance to check for anything she might have missed. Once we left Tatooine, I doubted she would ever return.

    Moving between two squat buildings, huddled together against the wind, I felt it. A predatory presence in the shadows up ahead. “Shmi, hide in that building there. We have company.” She looked sideways at me as I pulled my saber and blaster, but did as I asked.

    My blaster was primed and my sword on as I broke into a run, bounding around the corner at full speed. The five large creatures were each of a different nonhuman species, but only two bothered to carry weapons. Those took blaster bolts to the chest.

    The largest of the five, a reptilian with sharp claws, lost one arm to my sword as I spun around to force them to keep their distance. I followed up with a headshot to a different thug before stabbing the one-armed reptilian center-body, then slicing upwards to free my blade.

    The fifth alien, a squat creature with quills, had his back to me in full retreat. I started to change my blaster over to stun when I sensed a malevolent presence hiding in a nook nearby. No need to spare the runner, then. A lethal shot caught it in the back, and I rounded on their small companion.

    The Rodian was less than half my size. Dropping my blaster, I lifted him with relative ease. ~I won't tell you anything!~ he squeaked as I held him by his tunic at arm’s length.

    “Did Watto hire you?” was all I asked. I didn’t wait for a verbal answer, as his mind immediately confirmed it. That was all I needed from him. Two halves of Rodian hit the ground as I thumbed my saber off, then bent to pick up my gun.

    I remembered reading about some supplemental story where Watto had hired thugs to get Qui-Gon to return Anakin, but only after he won the pod race (which wasn't until tomorrow). My plan to avoid any of that mess by leaving today.

    Shmi met me at the mouth of the alley, looking over my shoulder at the carnage behind me. “Watto?” she asked.

    I nodded. “Do you mind making your final house-check alone? I suddenly have one more piece of business to attend to.”

    She gave her own nod and moved away quickly. Trekking by myself to Watto’s, I took a moment to radio my Master.

    “Yes? Is everything all right?”

    “Shmi and I were attacked. It looks like our Toydarian friend has seller's remorse.”

    “I see. Do we need to pay him a visit?”

    “I believe I can handle this, Master. Is everyone else ready to go?”

    “Captain Panaka says we can launch as soon as everyone is on board. Obiwan?”

    “Yes, Master?”

    “Don't let anger cloud your judgment.”

    “Never, Master. We will be back shortly.” I ended the call. There was no wind to speak of, but I wrapped my sand guard around my lower face. Better not to be clearly seen.

    The shop wasn’t empty; a Pa’lowick bent over the counter across from Watto, who was micro-welding some outdated part. I placed one hand on the bulbous shoulder of the frog-man. When he turned to face me, my other hand opened to reveal a half dozen small coins.

    “You weren't here,” I said simply. The man took the coins with one pass of his long webbed hand, and waddled toward the door.

    Still hovering jerkily, Watto backed almost to the wall as he addressed me. “Hello again. Everything is good? With, eh, the drive?”

    I nodded.

    “Good!” He tried a smile but it faltered. “What, ah, can I-”

    “Why did you send them after us?” I was still on the opposite side of the counter. I slowly drew my blaster, making sure it stayed below his line of sight.

    “What? S-send who?” he lied.

    “Why, Watto?” I asked again. “Why didn't you leave our deal alone?”

    He flew forward enough to examine the part on the counter again, looked at it from different angles. “You knew something about the boy that I didn't. Once I found out what it was….” He glanced at me. “I fed and housed them for six years! I didn't deserve to get cheated, you understand.” He shook his head. “But you got me, I know when I'm beat. I won't bother you again.”

    “No, you won't,” I agreed.

    The first two blaster bolts to the chest knocked him back against his wall shelves, but Toydarians are tough. He peeled himself off the wall and prepared to plead. I put the next three shots squarely into his head; they charred enough flesh and bone away to make him unrecognizable. I left his body there and started my search of his shop.

    Watto’s nest, tucked away in the corner of the yard, was a pungent mass of soiled linens and dried mucus. The large metal container was solidly anchored to the ground and fully covered by the stuff; the smell was the worst part.

    Fortunately his strongbox was nowhere near as sophisticated as mine. His own microwelder cut the lock with ease, and I examined a much larger collection of valuables than I had originally brought to Tatooine. I had some more packing to do, after all.

    An hour later, when I guided Shmi to Watto's landspeeder outside the slave quarters, she gave me an approving look. “You must have really frightened him, to get Watto to loan you this,” she said, climbing in. I didn’t respond.

    Later, when she helped me unload the containers of valuables into the ship's hold, she didn't repeat her comments. She must have figured out what had happened. Her glances at me were laced with fear again.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
  8. Threadmarks: Ch. 8 - Upbraided
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    I was speaking with Shmi, talking about how to make her and Anakin comfortable in the several hours before we landed at the Galactic Capitol, when Qui-Gon appeared. His shoulders were squared, as I often saw him before or during a battle.

    "Obi-wan? A word please." He used his 'teacher' voice--perhaps a shade or two deeper than his usual candor, and several degrees more formal. He led me to the ship's small diagnostic chamber and gestured to sit: me on the patients' bed, and him in the only chair.

    "Give me a full accounting of your actions on Tatooine." He began, careful to keep his edges soft, "I want to hear what happened from your point of view."

    I centered myself and reflected on the past two days. “I re-established my personal and business relationship with the Lars family, collecting the money needed for my plan to rescue the Skywalkers.”

    Qui-Gon kept his voice neutral, “What is that relationship?”

    I responded in kind. “I sought Lef Lars out two years ago. I gave him the capital to upgrade his equipment and get the most out of his land. I expect to see a fifty percent return in three years.”

    “And what led you to invest in a moisture farm?” On this point, at least, he seemed more curious than concerned.

    “He was the only person I knew of on Tatooine that would be trustworthy enough to leave the money with.”

    I could see the confusion on his face--I hadn't exactly told him about that trip. “How did you come to know of him in the first place?” he said in that same even tone.

    I considered evading the question, but the matter was past now. “If I had not intervened, Cliegg - Lef’s son, the widower - would have eventually bought Shmi and married her.”

    Qui-Gon frowned, "Those visions of yours are that precise?"

    I nodded, my mind moving through different scenes, and finally deciding to describe two. "Yes, Master. As clear and precise as though I am standing there, seeing and hearing the events unfold. I watched Shmi Skywalker take her dying breath in her son's arms. And I saw Anakin weep as, later, he confessed to the vengeful slaughter of the Tusken raiders that had killed her."

    Qui-Gon's frown started taking over his face. I had seen him so concerned before, on occasion... but hardly ever regarding me. "How far in the future is this event? This slaughter that you've described?"

    My mind retreated further, dates and scenes moving through it. "Ten years. Shortly before his secret marriage to Padme Amidala." I mused, almost to myself, "Both events handled entirely wrong by the Jedi, and both entirely correctable."

    "Padme Amidala..." Qui-Gon repeated, "the same Padme Amidala we are currently guarding? The Padme Amidala he would never have spoken with more than once had you not purchased him?"

    My attention returned to the present as I heard the implied accusation in my Master's voice. "When I first saw these events seven years ago, you won him in a bet, so you could take him to the Jedi Council. All I did was bring Shmi along as well."

    Qui-Gon's frown softened, "Did I?" he asked quietly. "All I see is a boy strong in the Force, and my padawan insisting - with cases full of money I didn't know he had and blaster bolts that killed seven living beings - that said boy is the most important person in the galaxy. Whatever I saw in the boy in your visions, I haven't be given the chance to see now."

    "Is that all you see, Master? All you sense?" I replied with some eagerness. "You don't feel his pull? Nor have taken his count, for that matter? I do not exaggerate when I call him unique."

    "No, you don't exaggerate." Qui-Gon conceded. "The flow of the Force around him is like nothing I've ever seen. He has the potential to be a truly great Jedi." He sighed, "But the price of obtaining him... You said I won him in a game of chance, yes? Did anyone lose their life because of me?"

    I shook my head, "No, Master, at least not directly." I looked at him sharply. "Is that what this is really about? If I had let Watto and the rest of those criminal killers live, and taken Anakin bloodlessly as I originally intended, you would not have faulted me?"

    Qui-Gon looked stricken a moment. "I do not fault you for defending yourself, Obi." his voice took on a tender note, "Those men tried to kill you, that was their choice. Watto hired those men wishing you dead, that was his choice as well." Another breath.

    "What I fault you for is taking choice," he stated plainly. "From Watto, from me...and especially from Anakin."

    "Taking..." my stomach churned, a sensation I had seldom felt since coming to master this new body. "Taking choice? I do not understand."

    Qui-Gon looked tired all of a sudden, "Obi-wan...I am not a perfect man. Force knows I have made mistakes in my day...many mistakes. People have died because of me: people who depended on me, people who opposed me, and even people who were just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time."

    His eyes took on a certain intensity. "But those choices were mine. I made them with all the knowledge I possessed at the time, I suffered their consequences, and I learned many hard and painful lessons in the process. I am who I am today because of those choices. And changing or removing even a single one of them would alter me completely."

    He breathed carefully, forcing himself to keep centered. "And if your visions are true, you have robbed me of one of those choices. I may have made the choices you have seen, I may have not. But we'll never know, will we? You decided what would be best for Anakin - best for me - years before I could even wrap my head around the choices I could make."

    I shook my head. This was a trying conversation - I felt every bit as exerted by it as my Master looked. "I do not think that is a fair assessment. In the future I saw, you made decisions based on what you knew, and that altered the actions of others. It changed the course of the Skywalkers' lives, and Watto's, and mine. But it didn't stop us from being able to make our own choices alongside yours.
    "The only difference in what I did here is having far more information about what might happen, and therefore a far greater responsibility to make my own choices. I no more decided for you in choosing to act, Master, than I would have been deciding for you had I known what I knew and done nothing. Your choices were and are still yours. Except now we are in a better position to make good ones, because we have Anakin without taking him from his mother. And the boy can make his own choices without that fear controlling him."

    "But do you even intend to allow that to happen?" Qui-Gon probed, and my guts churned further. "You've planned all of our lives out years ahead. Did you leave any room for our own choices in it? Any place for the flow of the Force between us, life playing out in our interactions and assertions of will? Or is the dance laid out, with you as the only choreographer?"

    I shook my head. "There is so much... so many things I know, that I cannot and should not share with you. The consequences -"

    At this my Master stood up. With his usually relaxed posture and unassuming presence, it was easy to forget how tall and imposing a man he really was. "The consequences are for us all to bear, my Padawan. And so the choices need to be as well. You need to tell us." I stood to join him as he continued. "Me, Padme, Shmi... and especially Anakin. Today."

    "Now, Master?"

    He nodded. I could see the apprehension in his gaze, but his will was also strong. "And tomorrow, you will tell it all again to the Council." He put his arm on mine. "You do not know better than the rest of the Galaxy, my young friend. Let us help you."

    Just outside the diagnostic chamber, Padme and Artoo waited for us. With a nod from my Master, I went to invite the Skywalkers to join us as well.

    All I could think as I collected them, is how thankful I was to have Qui-Gon on my side in the trials to come.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Ch. 9 - Lessons of the Future
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    The same chamber housing the droids, where Padme, Artoo, and I had talked before, ended up being the meeting place for Qui-Gon’s ordered debriefing. Anakin had fallen asleep in his launch seat, and after a hurried conference about childhood and parental responsibilities, Qui-Gon had agreed to let us exclude him for now. It was therefore a group of five - me, Qui-Gon, Shmi, Padme, and R2D2 - that met in the closed room to discuss the future.

    “Let’s start at the beginning,” the disguised queen said as she poked at holoprojection that the droid deployed into the air. “You’ve sorted things into three major lines. Vader, the Clone Army, and the Empire.” She waited for my assent. “Vader is Anakin. And… Senator Amidala is who, exactly?”

    “You,” I said simply.

    “Marriage?” she objected.

    “In ten years,” I pointed out.

    “To Anakin,” she clarified, looking to Shmi for her reaction. She blinked, not quite keeping up with the subject yet.

    **High reproductive compatibility at projected ages,** Artoo offered.

    The other humans looked to the droid, and then to me to translate.

    “He said that when you're twenty-four and he’s nineteen, you'd probably be able to have children.”

    “Twins, if I’m reading this right,” she observed. That was three years later (the length of time between Episodes Two and Three), but I didn't point that out. “And that’s the end of it. They die too?”

    I shook my head. “No. But the point of this record is the lead up to the creation of Vader. I’m outlining the events that push and cement his fall. Your children grow up to do great things in my future visions, but they are fighting their father every step of the way.”

    “Now, wait,” Shmi finally spoke up. “This is about what happens to my Annie? On whose say?”

    “These are Obi-wan’s visions,” Qui-Gon explained. “Nobody is saying that they want these things to happen, or even that they should happen. The Force has shown these things to him, for whatever purpose.” He looked around the room, seeing that he had captured each of our attention. “We are not bound to the visions, nor do they control us. But we should at least understand them as a cautionary tale, if nothing else.”

    “Okay, but…” Shmi continued to have difficulty articulating her concerns, “... in these dreams, Anakin dies? In ten years?”

    “No, you die in ten years,” I corrected. My Master shot a scolding glance at me, but I pressed on. “Padme dies in childbirth thirteen years from now, which is also when Anakin becomes a Sith Lord.”

    “Darth Vader.” Padme shuddered as she pronounced the name. It had its own power.

    “H-how… do I die?” Shmi’s voice was faint.

    “I’m… not sure that’s important anymore,” I began, looking to Qui-Gon. “In the visions, we weren’t able to bring you with us when we left Tatooine, and you died there. So we’ve already changed -”

    “Tusken raiders; that makes sense.” Shmi wasn’t interested in my skirting around the issue; she was now up with Padme, scrutinizing my visual representation of the text.

    “So, next question,” Padme inhaled deeply, as Shmi continued to read. “What happens if I just… don't? What if I choose not to marry the man who kills me and becomes the galaxy’s biggest monster?”

    I exchanged a glance with Qui-Gon, then shook my head. “I really don’t know. My visions don't update based on the changes we make; I know the one possible future and that's it.”

    “You're not going to tell me that I must love him? The Republic is at stake? Or that it's inevitable?” She was genuinely surprised.

    “I don’t have any reason to believe that is the case. In fact, for all I know, rebuffing his advances might be the best way to sidestep this whole mess.” I caught her eyes. “But I do need you to understand something important.

    “What is it?”

    “In this future, you did love him. He cherished you. And if he hadn't been driven to the Dark Side, I don't see any reason to doubt that you would have been happy.”

    She blushed. It was an overwhelming thing to tell a fourteen-year-old girl; to claim foreknowledge of a romance of just the sort they dream about. But this was not a flailing teenager; this was an elected representative of a planetary culture. She deserved to know.

    “All these threads between Annie and the Clone Army,” Shmi said. “A Republic military group?”

    “Yes, and then an Imperial one. Artoo, move to the Kamino line, please.” I gestured as the projection shifted. “Master Sifo-Diyas was ejected from the Jedi Council for insisting, based on his own future visions, that the Republic needs to build an army to handle what is coming. Sometime soon, he’s going to commission millions of clones from the Kaminoans.”

    “The Council would not stand for that,” Qui-Gon insisted.

    “They aren't told,” I explained. “Sifo-Diyas vanishes, and I discover the full-grown army just in time for the Republic to use them in the war.”

    “So,” Shmi asked, “what were you planning to do? Stop the clones from being grown?”

    I looked to Qui-Gon as I answered. “My plan was, believe it or not, to bring the Jedi Masters I trust to Kamino to decide what to do.”

    “Who, exactly?” my Master asked wryly.

    “Yoda, Windu, Dooku, Fisto. And you, of course.”

    Qui-Gon nodded and didn't offer any comment; I inferred that he agreed with my list. This seemed as good a time as any to bring up my counterpoint to his other order.

    “There's a reason I wanted to deal with these issues using a small group of trusted Masters and Knights, and not the full Council,” I began. “The Sith are among us, and well hidden.”

    “The Dark Jedi?” from Shmi again.

    “You believe they may be on the Council,” Qui-Gon asked, but it wasn’t a question. “Your visions didn’t include them? Their identities?”

    “No, they did,” I insisted. “But I can’t remember those events. My mind draws a blank when I try to access them, which is why I strongly believe the Sith are already active.”

    “This is another reason to go to the Council,” Qui-Gon pointed out. “If it’s true that you have this knowledge but it has been blocked, there are experts in matters of the mind that may be able to help you.”

    “If you are being blocked from matters having to do with the Sith, how is it that you remember Darth Vader?” Padme asked.

    I sighed, frustrated at how many of my answers were just guesses. “I don’t think Anakin is currently part of their plan. His rise and eventual fall was unplanned - except maybe by the Force itself.” I stroked at my beard again. “Or maybe he is so much a part of the Force that he can’t effectively be hidden.” I gestured to the holo. “Concern that I might lose more of what I have learned, is the main reason I created an external record of it. If I ever review this, and find pieces I don’t remember putting in, there’s a good chance that the mind clouding influence has expanded to cover them.”

    Shmi continued to shift through different parts of the projection. “The gaps in your memory seem to be particularly bad over here in this section on the Galactic Empire. What are these three structures here?”

    “My best ideas for how the Republic could transition into an Empire.” I took control of the holo and displayed each of the three in sequence. “These are based on historical precedent as much as anything else: how individual planetary republics have fallen in the past. The first is that Chancellor Valorum or his successor is voted emergency powers and keeps them. The second is a coup by the Jedi Council, abolishing the Senate and ruling either directly or through a figurehead. The third is a military coup, if the military ends up under the control of someone other than the Jedi or the Chancellor.”

    “None of these are feasible,” Padme pointed out. “Most Republic worlds, including Naboo, don’t want to see a strong centralized government. Any posturing in that direction would be political suicide.”

    Qui-Gon disagreed. “That may be true today, but when planets are embroiled in war, many forego freedom for security.” His gaze turned to me, thoughtful. “The Sith always thrived in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, we are taught.”

    “If it’s all guesswork,” Padme pressed, “what's your plan?”

    “Oppose anything that looks like a power grab, and investigate anyone who pushes for one.” I faced Padme more directly. “Your own Senator, Sheev Palpatine, has been extremely helpful in this. Also Senator Organa from Alderaan, who became the adoptive father to your daughter in my visions. He helped me put together the committee sent to inspect the blockade.”

    “Focusing on the immediate future,” Qui-Gon said, “what happens to us next, as you remember it?”

    “Amidala pleads her case in the Senate, while you introduce Anakin to the Council. They refuse him training -”

    “Wait,” Shmi interrupted. “The Jedi Council wouldn't train Anakin?”

    “He was overwhelmed by fear for you, left on Tatooine.”

    “A nine-year-old newly separated from his mother… that disqualified him?” She was indignant on behalf of her boy.

    Qui-Gon admitted, “Their approval was always a long-shot. The Council is, by definition, the most long-standing and orthodox of the Order, and Anakin is older than is usually permitted.” His eyes were on the projection, but his sight was elsewhere. “Still, I was confident they would see what I see, until Obi-wan explained otherwise.”

    Shmi pushed, “What is it that you see?”

    “A legend,” there was an undercurrent of pride and wonder in his voice. “The fulfillment of a prophecy. The restoration of balance.” He glanced sideways at me. “I am less certain, now.”

    “He is all those things,” I assured my Master. “But first and foremost? He is a boy. In need of love, guidance, protection, support.” I nodded to Shmi. “And of opportunities to grow and learn.” I nodded to Qui-Gon.

    “After that, Anakin and I return to Naboo and defeat the droid army, freeing the planet.” Padme announced. “Without you two?” The question was skeptical.

    “Unclear. I think we accompany you, but our role in the battle…” My mind strained, and I could see scenes before and after that included us, but nothing during the altercation itself. “We may have been doing something else. Uncovering some part of the plots hidden to me, perhaps.”

    Shmi squinted at the holo. “Anakin… and R2D2…” an acknowledging chirp from the droid “... steal a fighter and destroy the droid control ship.” She glared at me. “He’s nine.

    I shrugged. “He has superhuman reflexes, and more time in a cockpit than many fighter pilots.”

    **R2D2 qualifications exceed requirements for combat operation of skirmish vehicle. Sufficient compensation: low-skill, not mature biological component.**

    I translated, “Artoo says he can keep Anakin safe.”

    **Negation. Poor translation.**

    “If you want to tell them yourself, we’ll get you a voice module.”

    **Negation. Biological-type speech adaptation modifies logical processing. Efficiency reduction. Do not want.**

    I nodded.

    “So what happens,” Shmi asked, “if Anakin doesn’t go to Naboo? Things have already changed, yes? There’s no guarantee he’d survive taking part in a space battle again.”

    They looked to me for the answer, and yet again, all I could do is shrug. “As long as Padme manages to recruit the Gungans, I think the outcome will be the same.”

    “That reminds me. Who is Jar Jar Binks?” Padme inquired.

    “A Gungan. In my vision, he accompanied us on this trip, and then showed you the location of the hiding Gungan population when you returned to Naboo.” At her concerned gaze, I added, “The coordinates of the Gungan sacred swamp site, and a written description of exactly what you said and did in the vision to earn the Gungans’ cooperation, are both recorded in the data.”

    “Is this another example,” Qui-Gon asked, “of an entity whose choices you have taken, Obi-wan? A living being from whom we have no chance to learn, and to whom we cannot extend our own presence or experiences?”

    “I… yes, Master.” It felt like a good time to just admit what I had done, rather than try to justify it.

    Qui-Gon stood. “That was… even more than I had anticipated, and I recognize there is much more. But perhaps we should take some time to contemplate what has been said so far.” He placed a hand fondly on the top of Artoo’s chassis. “You will supply us each with a copy of this recording?” When I nodded, he responded with a nod of his own, to the whole room, and unsealed the door. He turned and headed for the pilot’s cabin.

    Shmi and Padme were still looking over the timelines, discussing details of upcoming events, when I left the room for the passenger’s cabin.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2019
  10. Threadmarks: Ch. 10 - Annie and Me
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “You're not a Jedi yet.” The boy's voice was steady, but I could feel the roiling energy underneath it. I had felt him wake up almost ten minutes ago, shivering despite the blanket he had been tucked in with, and work up the courage to address me.

    In my launch seat, I turned away from the streaking iridescence of hyperspace and smiled at him. “Not a Knight, yet, but already a Jedi. Padawan learners are considered Jedi, although we don't yet have the full authority of the Order.”

    “But you're already so old. Does it have to take that long to be a Jedi Knight?” His eager, positive energy was infectious; just being near him made it difficult to stay still.

    “Not at all. You are a learner as long as you need to be, to gain the wisdom and skill needed to be a Knight. A month or a hundred years, whatever it takes.”

    “Why is it taking you so long?”

    I couldn’t stifle my broad grin. “Because when I take the Trials, I will no longer be entitled to travel with Qui-Gon. And he is the man I have needed to learn from.”

    Anakin’s face was a caricature of seriousness. “Are the Trials hard?”

    “For some,” I leaned in conspiratorially, “but not for us.”

    “How d'you know? About me, I mean.” Not only did Anakin make no move to back off, but I could tell he was resisting the urge to get closer, to lay a hand on me - a natural act for a boy his age, and one I suspected had been beaten out of him. I could sense that underlying wariness in the back of his mind, that concern that a fist or foot (or webbed claw) might head his direction at any time. But his Force senses were already well-honed, if instinctual, and he felt no threat from me.

    “C'mere, buddy,” I said, laying back in the seat and opening my arms. He didn't hesitate; he climbed up onto my left leg and wrapped an arm behind my shoulder. I gave him a quick hug and left one arm wrapped around him. I could feel his heart thrill at the positive, comforting human touch - something that he usually would have felt from his mother only.

    I knew that this little tableau was all Adam, rather than Ben. Seven years wasn't long enough to forget the unique joys of being a father, and it was still a difficult loss, knowing that I would never see my boys grow up. My youngest - the one who always wanted Daddy, day or night, joy or pain - would be the same age that Anakin is now.

    But a moment was all I could spend on that, because the boy in front of me was not him, and what he needed from me was different.

    “I'm what the Jedi call a seer,” I spoke kindly, my eyes mere inches from his. “I see visions of a possible future.”

    “I'm in them?” He wiggled a bit, getting comfortable; I had a lot less padding to offer him than I used to.

    “Yes. You become a powerful Jedi knight in my visions. I’m sure Qui-Gon has already told you how strong you are with the Force.”

    “He says I will be a great Jedi! The best!” He squeaked in his excitement.

    “Yes, if that's what you choose to do.” I pulled him back a bit with my arm to make sure he could see my face. “You will not have to train hard to be powerful, but you will have to train hard to use your power wisely.”

    Anakin nodded, and then cocked his head to the side. “You freed me and Momma. Why didn't you free the other slaves?” The question came with a wave of anger and frustration, directed not at me, but at things in his memory.

    “I’m not powerful enough to do that,” I explained simply.

    “Sure you are!” He slid down off my leg and stepped back, bouncing and swinging his arms. “You killed Watto. You could have gone and killed the Hutts, too, and then their slaves would have been freed! Jedi can do anything!”

    I kept the welcoming smile on my face but recentered my emotions to clear and neutral as I answered. “I could have killed Jabba and the local members of the Desilijic clan, yes. Probably even freed many of the current slaves,” the boy nodded enthusiastically at this, “but the Hutts have vast resources, and would have quickly arrived in force to retaliate. If they bothered to leave Tatooine habitable, it would only be to take a hundred times as many slaves.” I felt Anakin's confusion and anger at this.

    “No, if you want to free the slaves on Tatooine, you need to either put the planet under control of a syndicate that prohibits it, or restore Republic influence to the Outer Rim.” I looked at him. “Or maybe you'll come up with a third solution.”

    “Jedi fight for the Republic, right? So that’s a good solution. Restore Republic influence,” he offered.

    I shook my head. “Jedi fight for what is right. Not for any name or group. Not even for ‘the law,’ or ‘the people.’”

    Anakin frowned. “No, Jedi fight for the Republic. Everybody says so. That’s why the Republic always wins.”

    “The Order serves the Republic because they believe it to be right, but their highest loyalty is to the Force and the good of the Galaxy,” I countered.

    “How do you know what that is? If it's not the law, then what is it?”

    I nodded. “That’s one of the hard questions. Often, what is good is the law. But not always. And knowing what that is… that’s what wisdom is for.”

    Anakin looked sombre. He eyed my knee. I slapped it and spread my arms again.

    This time, when he climbed up on me, I scooped his legs up so he fell across me, and hugged his head to my shoulder. He squirmed for a minute, then sighed as he settled in.

    “Let me tell you a story,” I began, “about a man named Vader.”
     
  11. Threadmarks: Ch. 11 - Remembrance
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Your Highness, I must assure you that these actions were not sanctioned by the Trade Monarch or the Inner Circle in any way. The invasion is unambiguously illegal, and the Trade Federation must answer for it.” The holo showed the head and shoulders of Bool Durd, a prominent Nemoidian trade delegate with enough pull (read: wealth) to back up his promise.

    “I thank you, Chairman, on behalf of my people. I am certain the actions of the Trade Federation can be seen as separate from that of the Nemoidian Worlds, for all our sakes,” Queen Amidala replied. She sat at one end of the conference table with her Senator, Palpatine, seated to her right, and me directly to her left. Sabe and Ertai stood just behind her. At the other end of the table, Chancellor Valorum sat, his face a fierce mask of concern. Seated next to the chancellor was one of his aides, manipulating the holo for all of our benefit, and Senator Bail Organa from Alderaan.

    “Yes, thank you very much, Esteemed Chairman,” Valorum echoed. “Do you have an estimate as to when the delegation will arrive back here on Coruscant?”

    The holo shifted to display a striking female face wreathed in Tholothian tentacles. “The retrofit and refueling will be complete within the hour, Your Excellency. Unless we encounter further delays, our ship should arrive in just under thirty-one hours.”

    As she spoke, I felt a sudden uneasiness, a lengthening in the shading of the hologram. The unexpected refuel, while useful for our planning, seemed too convenient of an opportunity to be mere chance.

    “Master Gallia, this is Obi-wan Kenobi,” I spoke up. Padme looked in my direction with slight frustration, but made no attempt to stop me.

    “Obi-wan, how are things on Coruscant?” she asked lightly.

    “Complicated, Master. I am sure they will appreciate your return.” That got a quick nod from her as I continued. “As you know when I requested your help, I am concerned for the safety of the delegates. Have you sensed anything?”

    “I have, yes,” she nodded warily. “A strong disturbance in the Force, and with no immediately discernible cause. All three of us are on alert, here.” She turned and, by some trick of the holo, seemed to be looking right into my eyes. “Whatever it is, our own lives will be forfeit before the delegates come to any harm.”

    “I would expect no less,” I agreed, “but I hope for your safe return. May the Force guide you, Master.”

    “And you, Padawan. Chancellor, is there anything else?” There was a slight strain in her voice that only now became audible to me.

    “Thank you, Master Adi. We all await your arrival.”

    Valorum addressed the room as the holo clicked off. “I understand there is some further coordination regarding how to take this matter before the Senate?”

    “Indeed,” Palpatine spoke, clearly but not loudly. “The young Jedi here has brought forward a fascinating idea for political theater, and I am pleased to take the lead in it.”

    I smiled. The soft-spoken Nabooan man was easily one of the kindest and most genuine politicians I had ever met. He was also a natural strategist, immediately catching onto and improving each idea I brought to him on managing the Senate bureaucracy. I wondered what became of him in the original timeline after he vanished from the movie scripts like so many secondary characters, his job given to Padme herself.

    Once we confirmed the specifics, Valorum was as intrigued by the ploy as Palpatine, and agreed to do his part. The meeting ended with a little over two hours left until the Senate would reconvene.

    I intercepted Padme on the way out the door. “Practice?” I asked.

    She nodded. “Set us up. I’ll change and grab Ric.”

    “No need,” I pointed toward the range. “He’s already there.”

    By the time commoner-clad Padme joined us, I was on my belly next to the Nabooan pilot. Each of us looked down the scope of a DC-15x sniper blaster at erratically moving targets over a hundred meters away: a chaotic mix of blue devices and red, with only the red ones counting as a hit. She tapped my shoulder and replaced me at the second rifle’s site, and I moved over to the sword training area.

    Training with my new equipment was an uphill battle. Without Qui-Gon or another proficient sparring partner, the best I could do was work on the basic forms and how to balance my one-handed bladework with the heavy weight on my opposite arm. Form 3 had been the easiest to adapt with its conservation of motion and emphasis on responsive defense. On the other hand, none of my Form 2 beats were hitting right, and my momentum for Form 4 bound and rebound was entirely overbalanced.

    Even in traditional lightsaber combat, I had already fallen well behind the original Obi-wan: one of the most resilient and skillful swords in the whole of the Republic. Many hours he had invested in perfected technique and retrod footwork, I had repurposed for mental exercises or practical research. A more optimal use of our talents, I felt, but not without risks. I couldn't help anyone if I died.

    At least, not yet.

    I checked the training targets’ records before Padme and I left for the Senate session. Padme was improving rapidly, but Ric’s accuracy had passed 96%. The pilot promised to lock everything up when he was done. These training spaces were rented on a weekly basis to security forces and other groups visiting the planet; renting one was my best real option for training with those not permitted in the Temple.

    The overwhelming size of the Grand Convocation Chamber was bad enough, but what really made it difficult for me was the press of minds. In this space, delegates from thousands of worlds focused their wills on bending the most powerful body in the Galaxy. Decisions made in this chamber would affect hundreds of billions of people, and so some of the most driven and strong-willed leaders from a hundred different species found their way here. It tested my control to stay centered on myself, standing behind Amidala in Naboo’s repulsorpod.

    On the podium in the center of the chamber, Chancellor Valorum made his address. “Honored delegates, this session is opened to discuss the issue of the ongoing blockade of Naboo by the Trade Federation. Representatives from Naboo and neighboring worlds have expressed concern that the blockade was a pretext for an unlawful invasion of the planet. The matter has now come to a head.”

    “This is outrageous!” the Nemoidian voice sounded over the transmission system as the Trade Federation pod floated out into the center of the Chamber. “We object to the Chancellor’s characterization of this matter.”

    “The Chair does not recognize the Senator from the Trade Federation at this time. Please return to your station,” Volorum admonished. “The Trade Federation will be given the floor to dispute the allegations, after they are made.” There was an increase in volume in the chamber as a variety of delegates reacted to the outburst. “The Chair first recognizes the Senator from Naboo.”

    “To state our allegations...” Palpatine began, introducing the queen. As our pod floated up, I cast my senses out into the room. The collective emotions threatened to overwhelm me, but I managed to stay above them, focusing just on the awareness of the other delegates. It took very little time to find a delegate who wasn’t really paying attention - one who simply had no interest in the Naboo matter. I pushed him - very gently - in the direction of sympathy, and felt a flash of emotion as he ever so briefly connected Queen Amidala with a young girl he knew - maybe his daughter? His emotions tied into the matter, the words of the queen held his attention.

    “...As we sit here, discussing this matter, the capital city of Theed is already overrun with battle droids…” As Padme spoke, I repeated my actions, again and again, each discovered delegate taking a handful of seconds to subtly draw into the narrative. In a chamber of over a thousand, I reached barely thirty in a short minutes I had, but those at least would give Naboo a fair hearing.

    “I strongly object to these accusations! They are unfounded, completely without proof!” The Trade Federation pod had joined us in the center of the chamber, again, and male Nemoidian Lott Dod made his outrage clear. “A commission must be sent to Naboo to ascertain the truth of the matter.”

    The murmurs in several corners of the room increased at this, and I sensed anger and frustration from many. Senators recognized this as a delaying tactic. Which was why I and my allies had anticipated the tactic in advance.

    “The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate. A commission must be appointed.” A three-eyed Gran looked defiantly out into the chamber as he spoke, staying near to the Federation pod in symbolic support.
    Chancellor Valorum nodded. “Queen Amidala, will you defer your motion to allow a commission to explore the validity of your accusations?”

    The queen spoke forcefully, “Chancellor, I speak these accusations with personal knowledge, and stand on my own testimony. A commission is not necessary.”

    “Your personal testimony,” Dod bellowed, “is rejected by the Federation! We have committed no illegal act, and this will be demonstrated by the commission.”

    Primed for this, the Chancellor replied, “Does the delegation from Naboo offer surety to the Federation delegation?”

    “What is this?” Lott Dod asked, confused.

    Senator Palpatine spoke up, hitting a button on his pod as he did. “We do, your excellency.” An enlarged number, with accompanying formal language, floated in front of the podium, visible to the whole room. “Seven hundred fifty million credits. This exceeds the Trade Federation’s revenue in the Naboo sector over the last decade.”

    Chancellor Valorum turned to Dod. “Is the Trade Federation willing to accept this testimony under surety? Or does it offer its own surety that the allegations are unfounded?”

    Dod was in frantic conference with the two others on his pod. After a minute, he answered. “What nonsense is this? Matters of the Republic are not decided by offers of payment.”

    Valorum explained, “Surety has been permitted in the Senate for millennia.” (And fell out of favor 300 years ago, he didn’t mention.) “In situations of factual dispute to the personal knowledge of one or both parties, a delegation can offer surety, to be forfeit to the other party if the testimony proves false. We can then proceed to vote on the original motion.”

    The noise level in the chamber raised again;

    “No! This is unjust, we do not accept surety!” The Nemoidian insisted.

    “The Chair will allow the Trade Federation to offer its own surety. Seven hundred fifty million credits, held in escrow until a determination as to whether an army under the control of the Federation has attacked Naboo.” An aide had been working on the console at the podium. With a nod from Valorum, a second holo display appeared beside the first, the same large number and similar accompanying text, but with the Federation and Dod’s information filled in.

    “This is an outrage! The Trade Federation will not concede to this extortion!”

    “It’s hardly extortion.” Queen Amidala’s voice rang regally within the chamber. “If Senator Dod knows the Trade Federation has not invaded, there would be no risk. If he does not know, he can merely accept my testimony, and will be generously compensated if we are wrong.” Her glare seemed to bore into the Federation delegates. “Senator Dod objects because he knows that I speak the truth.” Her claim resounded, stirring up the delegates further.

    “I have a question,” The high-pitched nasal voice came from the elongated mouth of a blue-skinned Rodian, whose pod slowly advanced toward the podium.

    “The Chair recognizes the delegation from the Free World of Rodia,” Valorum nodded.

    “This… surety thing. That covers the Federation if things go sideways. But what about the rest of us?” He looked around, the suction cups on his blue fingers visible as he motioned with his hands. “If we vote for the Republic to intervene at Naboo, we’re all committing resources to this. And, no offense to the queen - she reminds me of my sister - but if she’s mistaken, who eats the bill?”

    “Naboo is under attack!” The queen insisted, the fear clear in her voice. “That is why it is critical that the Republic intervene.”

    “The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate from Rodia,” Grad added, oddly echoing his earlier announcement. “The motion should be revised, making Naboo liable for the costs of intervention.”

    “Seconded!” “Yes!” “Exactly right!” Loud exclamations of agreement were made throughout the room.

    Palpatine turned away from the pick-ups to speak just to me and Padme. “That would be disastrous. The Republic’s accounting practices are legendary; if they charge us for the intervention, the debt will destroy the economy.”

    “These are matters in need of serious consideration,” Valorum finally said as the ambient noise level returned to its normal dull roar. “The Chair calls a recess of one hour, during which the delegation from Naboo will revise its motion to reflect its position on bearing the costs of a Republic Intervention, and delegation from the Trade Federation will determine whether it will match surety or accede to Queen Amidala’s personal testimony. This Chamber is in recess.”


    Two aides joined us in Palpatine's working office as we considered how to respond. Amidala exuded tension, while her Senator held frustration with the proceedings under a surface layer of diplomatic composure.

    “People are dying,” the queen spat, “and their concern is payment.”

    I cleared my throat. “If it makes it more morally palatable to you, we can contextualize the monetary question in terms of deaths, too. A million credits spent on an unnecessary military expedition weren’t spent on humanitarian aid, or food relief, or medical research. We can put a number of lives on that.”

    Padme shook her head. “No, I realize that the money matters. Senator, I am gratified you were able to pledge such a large sum on short notice.

    Palpatine shook his head. “Not that short, highness. Mister Kenobi came to me with this plan some months ago.” He stroked his chin in thought. “Obviously, I leveraged everything I could; we won't have ready access to resources until this is resolved.”

    The aides had already put together some sample wordings for the motion, and we quickly agreed on the substantive compromise: Naboo would be fully liable for costs incurred by military intervention, only if the allegations were shown to be spurious. Otherwise, the Republic and any parties required to assist would recover from the Trade Federation.

    The recess was half-over when I felt the pull. It was weak, a sudden tugging ache, fear and loss more imagined than real. But I recognized the source.

    Should I have anticipated this? Buul Durd and the other delegates were obvious targets. Although there had been no committee sent to investigate in the movie, just Amidala and our entourage coming to Coruscant, that was enough of a draw for Darth Maul to try to…

    … oh no. “Something’s happened; I have to go,” I announced. Padme shot me a worried look, but I nodded reassurance, and she returned to the task at hand.

    The Jedi Council chambers weren’t far from where the Senate met. I moved with deliberate speed, and met my Master moving in the same direction while still two halls and a flight of stairs away.

    “The Council called you as well?” Qui-Gon asked as we moved towards the chamber.

    “No, Master. But I felt it.” It was easier to focus, now, with my Master close beside me. He was small, still island within the calamitous sea.

    “As did I.”

    We reached the chamber and were immediately admitted by its Guards. Within, a holo of a human female in Jedi robes addressed the Council, her face a mask of grief.

    “... a replacement crew. We will leave immediately,” she said.

    “Meditate during the journey,” Mace Windu ordered. “I know it’s hard, but we will need you to recount every detail of the fight, everything you saw and heard… and felt.” He looked around at rest of the Council. “We need to know what we’re up against.”

    “His name is Darth Maul,” I said, loud enough to be heard throughout the chamber.

    The holographic figure perked up at the sound of my voice, although she couldn’t see me. “Obi? Are you there?”

    “Yes, Siri.” I moved closer, until the holo pickup could switch to my image. She looked back at me, her clear eyes straining to hold back unshed tears. “I’m here.”

    She swallowed, getting herself under enough control to speak. “Adi’s dead. I don’t know if you heard that part.”

    “I’m sorry,” I offered, but she shook her head.

    “Let Qui-Gon know. I should do it, but it’s too much.”

    I turned and met my Master’s eyes. “He’s here; he knows.” Qui-Gon’s grief harmonized with that from other Masters in the room, and made it hard to separate out my own.

    Siri turned to look at something near her, and I stepped back. “Masters, I am sorry that we failed our mission. I will return at once.” She gave a forceful nod, and the holo shut off.

    With that, all the eyes in the Council chamber turned to me.

    “Young Kenobi, remembered something, have you?” Grandmaster Yoda asked.

    I did my best to keep my center as I responded. “Yes, I have remembered quite a bit.” I took another step back and angled myself so as to include Qui-Gon in my delivery. “Darth Maul is a Sith assassin. He’s an expert wielder of the double lightsaber, using Form VII dark techniques. He’s Dathomiri, a hybrid human-Zabrak bred for Force sensitivity.”

    “Are your visions that specific?” asked Ki-Adi-Mundi. “And if so, can you tell us what this assassin is planning?”

    I hesitated. “I don’t know what he is planning, because I don’t… think he is. He takes orders from the Sith… I think. I still can’t see…” I closed my eyes briefly, but to no avail. “In my visions, Master Qui-Gon and I fight and kill Darth Maul on Naboo, during the battle with the Federation’s droid army.” Swallowing, I added, “Qui-Gon dies in that battle, as well.”

    This earned me surprised looks from several Council members, and chagrin from my Master. But after a moment’s pause, Qui-Gon stepped forward. “Perhaps, considering what has just occurred, we should ask Obi-Wan to recount his visions from the beginning.”

    The only response was nods from the Council members, and even more of the room’s attention focused solely on me.

    “This… is going to take a while.”
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  12. Threadmarks: Ch. 12 - Fear and Guilt
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “You wanted to see me, Senator?” I strode into Palpatine’s office, working hard to keep my mind in the present when it had a dozen places it would rather be.

    “Yes, mister Kenobi. Thank you for joining me; please have a seat.”

    I eased lightly onto the edge of one of the chairs facing Palpatine's small desk, ornately angular in the Nabooan style. I was emotionally exhausted from my interrogation by the Jedi Council, and it was difficult for me to open myself up enough to feel his calm concern.

    “I was informed that the committee was attacked by an unknown assailant on Malastare, and one Jedi guard was the only survivor. Is that true?” He wrung his hands together as he looked to me, silently hoping I would contradict his account.

    “That is true,” I related gravely. “A Padawan learner was deliberately left alive to inform the Jedi of what had happened. It was a Sith assassin.”

    “Are you certain?” I could feel the fear and confusion from him strongly. “The last Sith was defeated a thousand years ago, were they not?”

    “It would appear they were not.” I thought about Siri, alone on the Republic diplomatic transport with a hired crew and her nightmares. If I opened myself fully, I knew that I would still sense her grief: a hot brand too far away to sear, but close and bright enough to leave an afterimage. “Was that what you needed, Senator? I’m sorry, but I can confirm your reports are accurate.” I made to stand.

    Palpatine frowned, and I could feel the compassion coming out from him toward me. He raised a hand and gestured for me to keep my seat. “I wanted to privately discuss with you the outcome of the day’s deliberation in the Senate. This is most unfortunate.” His eyes lowered to his desk, checking over notes on a console. “We managed to get the Trade Federation to commit that staggering surety, and to tie liability for the intervention to the source of the incident. But we agreed to defer the intervention vote until after the commission report.” He looked up at me defensively as I frowned. “We thought it was a coup for us; the Trade Federation was expecting that forming and sending the commission would take weeks, while we knew that the delegates would be back with their report by this time tomorrow.”

    “Only now,” I restated the obvious, “the report isn’t coming. At all.”

    “... and so I fear that the Queen will be returning to Naboo, intending to take matters into her own hands.”

    I nodded; this was a scenario I was already quite familiar with. “Thank you for informing me, sir.”

    “Obi-wan,” he leaned forward, earnest. “I beg you, if Padme returns to Naboo, don’t let her return alone. She is in grave danger.” The fear that I sensed from him had Padme firmly in the center. He had concern for his people, surely, but moreso for the newly-elected queen that I could tell he already considered a friend. I did, too, for that matter.

    I stood. “Senator, you can be assured that Padme Amidala’s safety is a priority.”

    The old man stood, too, and came around his desk to shake my hand. He placed his left hand on my shoulder at the same time, suggesting if not quite completing a hug. “Thank you, my young friend. And thank you for lending your talents to matters of state as well. So many young Jedi consider it beneath them.”

    I nodded. “How goes preparations for the ‘house cleaning’?” Another matter I had brought to Sheev for help, and one he had taken to just as enthusiastically.

    “Nearly there. It may be done by the time you return from Naboo.” There was an unsaid “if” in there, and I appreciated that he didn’t say it.

    I thanked him, and left to make other preparations.

    The tangle of shadowy contacts and seedy bars that made up the next three hours of my life did nothing to help my mounting mental exhaustion. By the time I returned to my chambers in the temple, I hardly managed ten minutes of meditation before I was sound asleep.

    “Your slovenly habits reflect poorly on me, Padawan.” I opened an eye to the morning and my Jedi Master, who leaned against the doorway to my chambers wearing his enigmatic half-smile.

    I looked down at my pallet, realizing I hadn’t removed my boots before collapsing from meditation into bed the night before. “Sorry, Master. Yesterday was a long day.”

    “Hungover?” he asked, only half-serious, and accepted my confused denial. “You spent yesterday evening moving around the… less savory.... sectors of Coruscant. I will admit, I had thought if you wanted to go carousing you’d choose an evening in with Miss Skywalker.”

    My Master followed me as I stripped and headed down the hall to get a shower. “Making preparations, Master. Now that we know who our enemy is -”

    “We know what our enemy’s weapon looks like. We still have no idea who our enemy is.” From the echoing sound of his voice, he at least was doing me the courtesy of staying around the corner from the shower chamber itself.

    “That is an interesting perspective.” I raised my voice to make sure I would be heard over the water. “If my Master were here, though, I’m sure he’d point out that no life is a means to an end; each must be regarded as an end in itself.”

    “And if my student were here, he would point out the difference between our own beliefs, and understanding the beliefs of our adversaries,” he replied softly. How could I always hear him, even over other sounds, and he never seemed to be yelling or even speaking louder? A useful Force trick, if that’s what it was.

    I wrung the water out of my braid as I moved back to my room. “A wise student,” I shot. “But, yes, I was making plans and spending money with morally questionable and socially undesirable individuals. After my grilling at the hands of the Council, it was a far less dangerous use of my time.”

    “You're not going to share the details?”

    As I fastened some of my supplies in extra pockets and pouches in my clean robes, I looked up to see the dour expression on his face. I sat down and focused on him. “Master, in this case, I am trying to forget the details. Or at least keep them out of the forefront of my mind.” I waited for his response, but he gave me a look at invited me to explain. “Very few individuals knew about the Naboo investigation committee, and yet, Darth Maul found them on Malastare during the one window they were most vulnerable to attack.”

    “You have been saying for some time that the Sith must have information sources in the Senate,” Qui-Gon pointed out. Any number of Valorum’s aides knew, and those of the other Senators you brought in to help. Not to mention Jedi functionaries arranging details with Adi -”

    Qui-Gon cut himself off as he sensed my pain and guilt at the name. Compassion poured out toward me in a flood; I closed myself to it.

    “Any number of those sources are possible, yes. But with my visions of Darth Maul accessible again, I am struck by how many successes we are shown having by improvisation and luck, and how many failures when things play out according to plans. Come with me, please?”

    He stayed apace with me easily despite my rapid stride. Well, he was taller. “I question your wisdom, Padawan,” he said. “You determine that plans are failing, and yet we succeed by the Force alone.” Qui-Gon’s tone with those words was happy, satisfied. “And you respond by making even more plans? Why not accept the Will of the Living Force?”

    We exited the temple, moving to a nearby platform. I tapped my wrist com and we waited. “I conclude that the Sith are looking farther ahead, or otherwise able to see the shape of coming events. So, instead of a big plan, I'm setting different pieces in motion.”

    Qui-Gon squared himself to me as we stepped on an approaching platform. “Answer my question, Obi-wan. The Living Force guides us to defeat Darth Maul, to save Naboo. Why will you not give over to it?”

    I looked up at him, but I couldn't see him in front of me. All I could see was the look of loss, of weary defeat, as a red blade penetrate his torso. The sharp-toothed grin of a red-faced lunatic. I turned away from him, centering my focus on a distant building, willing the scene banished.

    “You blame yourself for Adi Gallia's death,” Qui-Gon breathed as he stood over me on the rapidly sinking float transport. “You think of her, and your heart turns Dark. You are in danger, Obi-wan.”

    “No, Qui-Gon. You are in danger,” I spat.

    We exited the pallet, and I palmed the scan-lock on the front entrance to the range complex. We walked in silence down stairs to the correct floor, where I inserted my coded key and entered the number sequence.

    “That's where you're wrong,” Qui-Gon said softly as the door unsealed. “I am a part of the Force, and all you have seen is that I rejoin it fully. That future holds no terror for me.”

    “You can stop dwelling on that future, because it isn't happening,” I muttered, barreling my way to my ‘war chest.’

    “What are those?” Qui-Gon pointed.

    “Customized sniper blasters,” I answered while reaching below one of my special armaments and carefully placing a case of microexplosives off to one side. “I own a minority interest in BlasTech; consulting with them is where most of my operating funds come from. Amazing how useful you can be to a weapons company when you've seen what models everyone uses in which conflicts, decades in advance.”

    I pulled out the thick, almost rubberized material and shook it into its shape - a sleeved shirt. “Put this on, please.”

    Qui-Gon took the shirt at arm's length, regarding it like I had handed him a dead animal. “What is it?”

    “Armor. Please put it on, right next to your skin.” I briefly checked the second shirt, which was sized to my smaller frame, and replaced it with the other contents of the chest. Getting a third of those for Anakin in a few years would be just as hard as acquiring the first two, but it would mean that I had kept Qui-Gon alive. Worth it.

    The look my Master gave me told me that his patience was nearly gone. He quickly unfastened his robe and doffed his tunic, flashing a chest with a prominent burn mark and a fading scar along his right side. The armor clung oddly as he inched it down his torso, requiring numerous tugs to get into place, and I could sense his discomfort with the sleeves as they clung to his shoulders and elbows when he tried bending them.

    I had no intent to harm my Master, which is why he had no precognitive warning as I plunged my activated lightsaber directly through the center of his chest. He looked on in surprise as the blue plasma bunched against the armor, spreading out and vanishing with a loud clap as the blade shorted out.

    “Cortosis weave,” I said, opening up my saber’s hilt to make sure the crystal hadn't been damaged by my demonstration. “Made from a very rare metal. It disperses the containment energy of a blaster bolt, and shorts out a lightsaber.” I activated my weapon, letting it flicker and sputter for a couple of seconds before re-initializing.

    “Very impressive,” Qui-Gon opined. “Thank you, Obi-wan. It is a unique gift, and it expresses your concern for me in a tangible way.”

    I nodded, pleased. “You're welcome, Master.”

    “I'm afraid I can't wear it.” He pulled it off with both hands, shaking it out and extending it to me.

    “You certainly can. I will be,” I pointed out. I didn't reach to take back the shirt.

    “That is your choice. Mine is to trust in the Force to protect me. Wearing that,” he nodded to it as though it were already a mile away from him, “would undermine what I believe, and what I have been trying to teach you.”

    “I see it in my head, you being run through,” I mused, eerily calm. “Now that I remember, it keeps coming up. I see it again and again.”

    “Saving me doesn't save Adi,” Qui-Gon said softly.

    I snatched the shirt and folded it. “No, but it might save Anakin.”

    As I replaced my devices and locked the box, my Master replied, “Only Anakin can save Anakin.” He caught my eyes and I shook my head. “No, truly. Listen, I am not intending to die. And if I survive Naboo, then you and I will work together in Anakin's instruction. But in the end, whatever changes you make to his life and whatever differing ideas you teach him, he will confront the Dark Side, and he will make a choice. His choice.”

    I sighed, moving toward the door of the range. Qui-Gon stopped me and said, “Adi also made a choice, taking on a mission she believed in and knew was dangerous. And I have made my own choice about defending Naboo and confronting the Sith. Don't burden yourself with the choices of others, Obi-wan. Focus on making your own.”

    “Yes, Master,” was all I could think to reply.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  13. Threadmarks: Ch. 13 - Master Windu, Part I
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    Centered, with my emotions their most distant and the Force most present, I was touched by the beauty of the violet blade.

    Nineteen standard battle droids, five mobile Scorpion units, and a Titan armored anti-vehicle unit were deployed about the “field” - a cavernous chamber far enough under Coruscant's surface levels it had to be sealed against the pressure gradient. There had been a noticeable build-up to the flurry of activity that showed eight of the droids sliced through simultaneously - or so it appeared - by violet blurs in all directions. And while the Scorpions each managed to weather a handful of blows with electrified arms prepared to deflect a laser sword, they lacked the reaction time to counter Mace Windu’s ferocious, unpredictable assault.

    As pieces of the colossal Titan droid fell to the ground, Qui-Gon softly asked me, “Wasn't this prohibitively expensive, even for you?”

    I nodded towards the team of eight engineers frantically manipulating switches and keying commands at the x-wing-sized control center. “It was free for me. Those battle droids cost BCA a fortune, but you should have seen how they jumped at the chance. Master Jedi seldom attack under conditions where they can record data on it.”

    In fact, none of the Baktoid Combat Automata personnel showed the least consternation, despite the stern red lights now covering every status screen. Awe was the most common reaction, followed closely by energetic interest.

    The side conversation almost made me miss it: the moment when Master Windu's channel of passionate aggression dissipated. I had been expecting to sense it radiate outward as he raised his mental defenses: a shield against the Darkness. That didn't happen. Instead, those last flows of negative emotion were taken in by the mind of the warrior, and in moments were made an undetectable part of his larger psyche. It was as though he had some way of neutralizing their virulence, like a man digesting a meal of poison for nourishment.

    It made me briefly consider if Mace wouldn't be a better trainer for Anakin. I had known the boy for four days, and I could already tell that his talents and weaknesses were the opposite of my own. Whereas I sometimes dissociated from my surroundings so much as to lose the context of the moment, Anakin always felt everything around him. His connection to the Force was so strong that, while the world bent to his presence, he was also swept up in the world. And with this nature of almost “hyper-attachment,” I could entirely understand the Council’s concerns: how do you train such a person, with such thick and resilient spiritual connections, to entangle from them?

    But a quick mental survey of the practitioners of Windu's style, Vapaad, disabused me of the notion. Other than the Master himself, every other user of the technique that I could remember, past or future, was eventually corrupted by it. And the details of Windu's own eventual fate were shrouded from my memory like so many others, so it was possible even he eventually succumbed.

    I redirected my attention to the present as Master Windu approached our position, his saber blade already retracted. “As enjoyable as that was, young Kenobi, can I ask the point?” Even at his most composed, there was always something singularly forward about him; ferocity was latent in even his social and intellectual exchanges.

    “You have warned us, Master Windu, that there is no way to genuinely train with or against Vapaad. I wanted to observe a genuine use of the technique, so I could better understand what was missing when we spar.”

    “And this will help you against the Sith assassin, somehow?”

    I nodded. “You're the closest thing we have to a Juyo master; someone using the full strength and energy of the emotive Force in your technique.” I carefully avoided using the words ‘Dark Side,’ although that's what it really was. “I know it’s not the same as facing a Sith, but it might provide some insight. Might make a difference in the coming battle.”

    Windu grimaced. “I’m still not certain of the wisdom of sending you two into that battle. We have forewarning of Darth Maul; why not meet him with the full force of the order? A dozen of our best weapons masters.”

    Qui-Gon replied, “I am forced to agree with Obi-wan on this. Maul is more likely to flee than to engage if he senses a concerted group - more Jedi than he is certain he could handle. And that would leave him an unpredictable weapon pointed straight at our backs.”

    I bent to the case I had brought along with me and handed a training saber to Windu, whose special blade did not have a variable containment setting like many lightsabers. “Be assured, Master, that we are taking steps to prepare, but hopefully ones that Darth Maul will remain unaware of until he is committed to the fight.”

    We three positioned ourselves in a triangle two dozen meters to a side. The field was still littered with droid debris, and the BCA engineers stopped what they were doing to watch us.

    The hissing sounds of the lightsabers overlapped each other as three blades burned almost-white. I took an open tail guard, Qui-Gon a two-handed chest guard, and Mace a modified head guard in his off-hand.

    We inhaled as one, and we all moved together. Qui-Gon took to the air with a sweeping slash as Mace ran directly toward me, making a low attack that I only barely deflected into the ground. Sparks flew as Mace’s blade spun around to deflect my master’s downstroke while the Vapaad master struck out at my head with a fist. I was forced to jump back to dodge it, which allowed Mace a rapid set of overhand and side slashes at Qui-Gon before I was in reach to thread an opening.

    My instincts expected a moment’s recovery at the end of this exchange, but Mace followed up immediately, alternating between blade strikes and kicks in an oddly symmetric set of exchanges that kept Qui-Gon and me both off-balance. My Master took two steps back to prepare for another leaping charge as I put all my focus into a classic Form III routine of complicated blocks and guards. The hot, visceral emotions coming from my opponent were intoxicating, and it required a strong focus to not be drawn into them as I pressed forward with my rejoinders after each jarring deflection.

    For a moment it seemed as though my pressure was forcing Mace back, but I quickly realized he was dictating our movement in order to crowd Qui-Gon. I opened my guard into Form V to reposition… and Mace immediately punished me with a leg sweep that sent me sprawling.

    In the moments it took me to recover, Mace was already focusing his attacks on Qui-Gon, an unpredictable litany of blows that my Master dodged and blocked with difficulty. Mace’s one handed swings were a strength match for Qui-Gon’s two-handed blocks, driving my Master back and forcing him to pick his footing over the parts-strewn cavern.

    I covered a lateral arc of a quarter circle before diving forward with a graceful Form IV spinning attack. It was a ‘fatal’ mistake; I felt the sting on my right arm at the same time that my saber clattered to the ground. I stayed on the ground for the four additional seconds it took before Mace’s blade stopped at Qui-Gon's throat and my Master accepted his defeat.

    Master Windu helped me off the ground before handing me the practice blade. “Excellent composure, bladework, and footwork,” he said approvingly. “But your cleverness is your undoing.” He took a step back to include Qui-Gon in the discussion, but it was clear my own mentor agreed with him. “You analyze the circumstances of the fight, deliberating on your next move. A fight at this level must be reflexive; there is no time to think, no room to hesitate.”

    I nodded; it was a message my own Master had been telling me for years. The truth was that most of the time my opponents weren't fast enough to take advantage of my slight hesitation - probably no more than half a second - as I decided to change up my technique. But Maul certainly was. I needed to choose and train my strategies before our meeting, and not expect I could adjust them on the fly.

    “Thank you for your help,” I responded sincerely.

    Qui-Gon added, “This was a useful exercise, but we need to make sure that Anakin is prepared for his test this afternoon.”

    “The boy is too old,” Mace Windu insisted as we made our way to the pressurized lift.

    “Even so, you will save your judgment until you have tested him,” Qui-Gon responded, and it wasn't really a question.

    “Of course.”
     
  14. Threadmarks: Ch. 14 - Preparing Anakin
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “One last session won’t hurt,” I insisted as we nodded to the guards flanking the massive front gates of the Jedi Temple. The complex as a whole sprawled across dozens of buildings, as massive vertically as horizontally, and made use of far more open space between buildings than much of Coruscant. There were several other entrances and exits, but coming in the main way was often most efficient, especially for accessing the higher-level spaces used for group training. “And I’m sure he’ll want to speak with me before he goes in.”

    “Very well,” Qui-Gon agreed. “I have been asked to join a discussion regarding yesterday’s attack on Malastare. Young Skywalker is expected in the Council chambers in just over an hour.” We exchanged nods as he headed off to meeting spaces on a lower level.

    I didn’t have to ask after Anakin, as his presence called out clearly to me from the library of all places. He was deep in discussion with a junior librarian, a small holo map of Mid and Outer Rim worlds floating in front of them.

    “... significant expansion of resources, just because of the time factors involved in traversing the hyperspace lanes.” The librarian, a human female no older than me, was clearly absorbed in the topic and her young questioner.

    “But the Republic has the resources, right? They can call on members to provide extra ships if needed.” Anakin stared intently at the holo, which marked out in colors what I took to be the spheres of influence of the Republic and other regional powers (notably the Pyke Syndicate and the Hutt).

    “That is their leverage, yes. But in practice, it takes a massive provocation for the Republic as a whole to mount a response,” the librarian explained. “The official Republic policy is for local conflicts to be handled locally, provided everyone follows certain rules. So rather than expecting the intervention of the Republic, planets seek protection among their trade allies and neighbors.”

    “And over time, the willingness of the Senate to overlook blatant violations of their own rules has increased,” I interjected. The librarian started, having not noticed my arrival, but the boy met me with a welcoming smile.

    The librarian nodded, shaking off her surprise. “That’s what some people have been saying, yes: that powers like the Trade Federation and the Syndicates have been emboldened by the Republic’s lack of decisive action. Some say this is natural, and reflects a shift in the balance of power toward trade interests and away from planetary governments. Others see it as a dangerous weakening of the Republic.”

    “If the Republic can’t protect the people of the galaxy the way they should,” Anakin spoke up, “then it is too weak. It’s not doing its job.”

    “Some say that the job of the Republic is just to protect planets from each other, not to interfere in how a planetary government treats its people,” the librarian pointed out.

    Anakin scowled. “That’s dumb,” he said after a moment’s thought. “Jedi Knights have gotta protect people from bad guys. If the Jedis work for the Republic, then it must be the Republic’s job.”

    The librarian didn’t have an immediate response to that, so she shrugged, gesturing in my direction. I took her hint. “We’re nearing the time for your examination, Anakin. Let’s find a place to prepare.”

    “Okay. Thanks, Trella,” the boy called happily as he climbed down off the too-high library chair.

    “Good luck, young man. I’ll record these queries under your library account. Anakin Skywalker, right?” She waved cheerily. “Come back soon and we’ll talk some more.”

    The Temple included many small chambers with a variety of cushions, mats, and chairs; it was easy for us to find a space to be alone. I saw Anakin's face wrinkle in distaste as I sat cross-legged on the ground, inviting him to do the same. His restless energy bounced around like a caged beast as he slowed his breathing, his eyes closed and palms open on his knees as I had taught him.

    “Center yourself,” I instructed, “and let the awareness of your body dim and fade, so that your pure mind can emerge. Picture you and me, our positions in this room. Let the room fade to nothing; let our bodies fade to nothing. Our luminous selves remain.”

    I followed my own instructions, the room disappearing under my closed eyes until the white-hot glow of Anakin’s mind dominated my senses. Behind, under, and through it flowed the Force of the planet, the lives and minds of billions of beings pulsing, swirling just at the edge even as Anakin - and a few other nearby powerful Jedi - stood out brightly and distinctly.

    “Reach your mind out, gently, and touch mine,” I instructed. I opened my mind up, pouring all of my discipline and training into diffusing and softening myself to allow for a connection.

    Anakin had made progress. The first time we tried this, I had brushed against his mind and he flinched inward, a ball of suspicion and remembered pain. Now I felt the ambient energy shift in a gradient between him and me as the ball of his senses distended, stretching, reaching toward me. I received it with the lightest possible touch, and felt his happiness at success. His mind pulsed it, waves of emotion rippling through his mind, pushing him forward.

    As natural as it would have been to do so, I did not respond to his emotions with my own. My awareness stayed in contact with his, but both the mental and physical components of my own feelings were fully smoothed out, damped down, and his ripples of joy passed through me as though I were void, interacting with nothing.

    “Very good, Annie,” I praised, feeling a surge of confidence from him in response. “Tell me what you feel from me, from our connection.”

    “You’re empty,” he murmured, a single spark of curiosity spitting from him and bouncing back unhindered. “You are thinking, but not feeling. How do you do that?”

    The aggressive hunger in his question caused his presence to grow, not only wider but more solid. It also shook both of our minds, jarring and loosening the connection. I thinned myself more, exerting a small gravity to keep him with me. “I am not empty,” I contradicted, “but my emotions are contained. Experienced, but not embodied. Something I do, not who I am.”

    How?” He asked again, and the accompanying desire was enough to yank us completely apart.

    We opened our eyes at the same time, and he spoke first. “How?” the boy implored again. “How d’you lock your heart up so tight?”

    “Discipline,” I answered with a small smile. “Close your eyes again.”

    For our second and third attempts, we focused on Anakin’s fear. It was not, as I had first expected, a single solid mass, like one deep affection or trauma. Instead, it was diffused among a hundred memories and embedded in many other parts of him. Anakin had lived with abuse, in an environment where both physical and emotional injury were very real. He had grown up in a crime-ridden area where there were no strong guarantees of his safety, or that of his mother. His fears were not fanciful delusions; they made sense. He worried about things that could realistically have happened to him and her.

    And in reality, his fears for his safety or Shmi’s were not baseless even today. Although Coruscant was a safer area of the galaxy with far more legal rights for its citizens, the Skywalkers were tangled up however indirectly in a high-stakes conflict involving powers who had already shown a willingness to harm civilians. And even barring that, crime in the corridors and skies of Coruscant was not nonexistent.

    But all of this was a tangent I wholeheartedly kept to myself. My work with Anakin wasn’t an attempt to reason him out of his fears, but simply a set of techniques to understand and tame them. It was a process that would certainly take years, but in even just a handful of days, he had already started to understand the rudiments of mental control.

    I expressed my satisfaction with his progress as we made our way to his examination. “You’re on your way already. A true Jedi sees all of the world from a vantage of complete detachment, involving himself where and how he chooses, experiencing only those connections that strengthen and nourish him.”

    Anakin nodded, taking my hand and squeezing it tightly. “What are they testing me for?”

    “To see if you will still take to training like a younger boy would. The Order usually removes children from their parents early enough that they can cut off their emotional attachments.”

    “Oh.” I sensed his nervousness increase. “So to pass, I have to show I can cut off Momma? And Padme? And you?” He squeezed my hand tighter.

    I nodded. “They will ask you questions and show you images of danger and violence. They will look for fear, more generally, but especially fear based on personal attachments.”

    “I… don’t wanna cut my attachments. I love Momma,” he said fiercely, anger and slight fear underlying his thoughts.

    “Yes, I know,” I agreed. “And that’s part of why I expect them to reject you today.”

    He stopped walking forward as I felt panic join his other emotions; he didn’t like the idea of failure or rejection. “They’ll fail me because of love? That’s not fair!” Standing still, his hand still tightly gripping mine, he looked up at me frowning. “Why am I taking the test if I’m gonna fail it anyway?”

    “These Jedi are very wise. The greatest masters alive today.” I gestured with my free hand down the end of the hallway; we had almost reached the chamber when he stopped.

    “Greater than Qui-Gon?” Anakin looked more excited than nervous again.

    “Some of them, yes. It is good for them to see you, to learn more about who you are and how you feel. And they have earned the right to make this judgment for themselves.”

    “Is Yoda in there?” Anakin pulled against my arm to lean forward, trying to look through the corridor wall to see who was on the other side. “He’s nice. People say he’s a great warrior, but when he came and talked to me he was really old.”

    “Yoda is the Grandmaster Jedi, the leader of the Council,” I said.

    “Oh! That’s okay then. Are we late?”

    As we approached the entrance, I spun Anakin around and picked him up in a big hug. “It’s just you going in, buddy. I’ll wait here for you. Be polite, okay?”

    “Okay. Thanks, Obi,” he said, and walked through the doors to his fate.
     
  15. Threadmarks: Ch. 15 - It's a Trap!
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Is this even possible?” Qui-Gon asked, still clearly uncomfortable with the ramifications. He blinked at Anakin, who had crawled up onto my lap the moment I sat down.

    I nodded. “Yes. The nature of it is surprisingly self-sustaining, at least as long as we can maintain the focus on it.”

    “Through hyperspace?”

    “Possibly not, but that’s why I’ll be meditating the whole time. The voyage can’t be full of conversations and planning sessions like it was on the way here.”

    “I’m just… genuinely surprised he’s willing to go along with it, is all,” Qui-Gon supplied.

    I shrugged. “He understands what’s at stake, and I think he was also fascinated by the technique itself. It may have strategic implications, if it works,” I supplied.

    “No hugs until we get back?” Anakin asked. He didn’t seem upset by the prospect; just curious.

    “I’m afraid so, buddy,” I agreed. “Gotta keep your distance, leave me to myself. That’s the only reason I’m telling you - I didn’t want you to think anything was wrong.”

    Qui-Gon nodded. “All right. Padme wants to disembark in three hours; I will inform her, the crew, and R2 about your unusual requirements for the trip.”

    “Let’s get you home, Annie,” I said. “We’d never hear the end of it if we didn’t see your mom before we headed out.”

    Three hours later, watching scenes of Jedi history pass me as I rode down to depart the Tranquility Spire, I marveled at the shimmering, multi-hued air around me. It seemed as though gravity itself was pulsing insolently, as though my own weight was more a variable than a constant. A momentary reflection in the lift glass showed my Padawan braid and travel robes, the short-trimmed beard placing some age on my otherwise deceptively young face. It was a decision that the original Obi-wan had not made until a later film, but I had started growing it almost immediately.

    I had trouble getting used to my gait, somehow both too direct and too circular to be truly comfortable. But it had become just another part of the journey by the time I stepped into the hangar where the Naboo Royal Cruiser sat, ready to fly.

    Qui-Gon was just now briefing the Nabooans on my need for solitude during the trip, and I felt the waves of uneasiness from Padme and Ric as I approached. I gave a nod and a small wave, which Padme returned awkwardly as I climbed into the vessel. I strapped myself into a launch seat and immediately closed my eyes, happy to be off my feet after even such a short time.

    Our journey to Naboo was wholly uneventful. We weren’t ambushed, intercepted, or followed as far as we knew. Once we were past the initial launch and solidly into hyperspace, I sealed myself in the utility closet with R2 and the other droids and meditated. He respected my wishes and left me alone, apparently finding nothing unusual about being in close quarters with someone else and not talking to them. I supposed that droids were used to it.

    We landed in a region of Naboo’s swamp that I had determined years ago contained their most sacred historical sites, but none of our scanners detected any appropriately-sized life forms. The captain and I stayed aboard the cruiser while Padme, Qui-Gon, and Ric looked for the hiding Gungans. They returned some hours later, seemingly no worse for wear other than some muddy clothes, and confirmed their success. We would be making base camp with the Gungans while collecting intelligence on the situation in Theed and trying to get in contact with the human resistance elements.

    My conversations with the Gungans were stilted and awkward as we waited for the right opportunity to draw the droid army out of the city and launch the remaining Naboo attack craft. Many of them clearly wanted to be friendly, but were used to dealing with humans that were concerned about proper protocol and easily offended. This put a damper in their willingness to either pick a topic or provide input on one unless asked directly. I suspected that in a more open situation and absent my special circumstances, I would have gotten along with many of them famously.

    By the time we approached the Naboo palace, I had already slogged through the most difficult two days of my life. I felt satisfaction when Anakin and R2 found their way into the cockpit of the Nabooan fighter, and the exhilaration of pitched battle as Nabooans faced off against the Federation troops guarding the palace, but mostly I just felt weary.

    It was for that reason that relief, rather than dread, was my main emotion when Darth Maul finally appeared, his crimson face pulled into a bestial grin, and I felt my own saber hilt drawn in response. And while I certainly would have liked to witness the outcome, the very best thing I could do would be to leave the battle to the Masters where it belonged.

    I opened my eyes in the meditation chamber of the Tranquility Spire, from which I had not moved in the forty-four hours since I had first created my link to Master Kit Fisto as the latter donned my holographic disguise. I disliked a ploy that put myself out of harm’s way, and another Jedi’s life at risk. Still, it would have been hypocritical of me not to do everything in my power to see the story changed, and balance Adi Gallia’s death with the survival of my Master.

    Exhausted, I went to find some water, and a place to wait for news.
     
  16. Threadmarks: Ch. 16 - The Death of Maul
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Momma!” the high-pitched squeal was music to my ears. I knew, from Qui-Gon’s message shortly after the conclusion of the Battle, that Anakin had done his part and was okay, but something in me stayed a little on edge until I saw the boy dive into his mother’s arms.

    Or maybe I was reflecting Shmi’s emotions more than I realized. In either event, I had some weeks of meditation ahead to excise these feelings.

    I was not prepared for the next squeal, “Obi!” that was an exact match in tone and energy to the first and was accompanied by an equally vigorous pouncing hug. The boy buried his head in my chest like it was radiation shielding next to a neutron star.

    Okay, months of meditation to deal with these feelings. Because right then, I realized that if someone had touched Anakin, I would have been the one looking at a camp full of corpses. It wouldn’t do for me to have come as far as I had, and then lose my center.

    “Hey Obi, you were wrong about holding off,” Anakin piped up happily.

    “What do you mean?” I went ahead and wrapped an arm around the boy, lifting him up against one shoulder where he could hang off of me.

    “Kit gave me a hug, on the way back from Coruscant,” he beamed.

    I looked up in surprise at the Nautolan Jedi, who sent me a quick burst of affirmation and acceptance. “Well, Master Fisto was filling in for me, after all.” Aquatic species don't tend to show physical affection as much as terrestrials and especially warm-blooded creatures do, but for all I knew, Nautolans could hug as much as humans. I made a mental note to look it up later.

    “He certainly did his part. Although as a Padawan he lacks a certain deference,” came the smooth voice of my Master as he appeared at the hatch of the ship. Qui-Gon denied any offer of help as he carefully maneuvered down the ramp, leaning heavily on the ornate staff in order to supplement his damaged left leg. The hood of his cloak was up, but it couldn't fully mask the bandages criss-crossing the right side of his face.

    “I could only take the pretense so far,” Fisto quipped, “Deference to you, Master Jinn, would have exceeded my acting ability.”

    Shmi took Anakin home as I escorted the Masters, and R2, to the Council. There was to be no delay on the detailed debriefing.

    Qui-Gon set the pace for our trip to the chamber, and it was clear he was in no small amount of pain by the time we walked through its doors. As usual, my Master and I moved into a central position facing the arc of 12 council seats.

    But Master Fisto did not approach his seat in order to take it. Instead, he stood behind it and pushed it across the floor, turning it halfway around as he did, until Fisto’s seat was positioned directly in front of Qui-Gon. Without saying a word, the Council member then returned to his spot and stood patiently.

    With a nod of appreciation, my Master pulled back his hood and carefully sat in the provided seat. I could feel his mental strain as he worked hard to maintain his composure in the face of great physical pain. I hoped that Jedi healers could do more for his injuries than the shipboard medical bay.

    “Certain, are you,” Yoda began, “that Darth Maul is dead?” It was an indelicate question, but nonetheless an important one.

    “After Obi-wan's account of his eventual return,” Kit Fisto answered, “I made sure of that. His entire body was disintegrated, including his brain. He is assuredly returned to the Force.”

    "It is possible, then, that he will be present as a Spirit, or in a Holocron,” I pointed out, wanting to make sure to be complete. My comment resulted in great surprise from the Council; these details had not been included in my earlier account to them. “In my visions, Qui-Gon is the first to regain the lost Force Spirit technique, although Master Yoda and I also both learn it. It is possible that the Sith know if it as well. Their partial survival in imbued objects is well-known.”

    “In fact it is not,” said Master Dooku. As I turned to the older human, I received a confusing knot of strong emotions: frustration and anger, but also relief and satisfaction. “Sith Holocrons are a restricted subject, Padawan, although one that a few of us have studied with some care. They appeared in your visions?”

    “Yes, but mainly in the context of much older events,” I explained. “Happenings from millennia before.”

    “Saved for another time, this discussion should be,” Yoda proclaimed. “Hear Master Jinn’s account we should.”

    Qui-Gon leaned forward on his staff for a moment; I felt him collect himself and his thoughts. A quick stab of anger hit me, stronger than I expected. It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t from me; I was still sensing Master Dooku’s tempestuous mind. Qui-Gon began, “We departed from Coruscant aboard the Queen’s cruise ship. Master Fisto wore a holographic disguise as Obi-wan; only Anakin and I were informed of his true identity.”

    “What was the purpose of this deception?” asked the small Lannik, Even Piell. “You have confided in the Queen regarding your visions, have you not? And this astromech droid?” He gestured to R2, who responded with a friendly greeting. “Why not include them in your plans?”

    “It was thought,” Master Fisto answered, “that as few as possible should know, so that the Sith would have no reason to alter their approach.”

    Qui-Gon added, “Our shipmates were just told that Obi-wan needed solitude to meditate on the coming conflict.”

    “Yet, told young Skywalker, you did, hmmm?” Yoda mused.

    “That was my decision,” I admitted. “Anakin was likely to see through the disguise, or to become distressed by my unusual behavior. It was better for him to know.”

    “What unusual behavior?” Master Windu asked. “Is it so unusual for you to take time alone to meditate?”

    “It’s unusual for me not to spend time with the boy,” I said, forcing any upwelling of defensiveness down and away from my center.

    “Fond of him, you are,” Yoda’s look at me with placid, but deep. “A dangerous path, you are treading.”

    “I wasn’t aware that my relationship with Anakin was under discussion,” I snarled.

    “You should be,” Mace replied. “The role of Anakin not only in events on Naboo, but with the Order in the foreseeable future, is of great concern to this Council. The relationships among him, you, Master Jinn, Shmi Skywalker, and Padme Amidala are all under discussion here.”

    “I do not see why.” Dooku rose from his council seat and strode to stand on the side of Qui-Gon’s chair opposite me, facing the council. “Their actions, with the help of Master Fisto, resolved a political crisis that the Council was unwilling to address, and defeated a Sith Lord in the process. There is no grounds for further scrutiny.”

    “Concern for the future, we must have,” Yoda shook his head. “Victory in war? Destruction of one’s enemies? Prove righteousness, these things do not. Many battles the Dark Side has won; yet hollow they were in the end.”

    Dooku looked sideways at me, deciding how much to say. “The Council has spent the lives of many Jedi for the dubious goal of political stability, or the appearance of neutrality. Here, a foretold death was averted and the Republic safeguarded, and it is treated with suspicion.”

    “Now is not the time to argue such things,” Ki-Adi-Mundi chided. “Let us return to the events on Naboo.”

    “We evaded the few Federation forces still in orbit, and sought out the Gungans.” Qui-Gon obliged, although Dooku made no move to return to his own seat. I felt a comradeship with the Jedi diplomat as he placed a steadying hand on my Master’s shoulder.

    “Was Obi-wan's prediction as to their location correct?” asked Windu.

    “Yes, and his vision was prophetic in a surprising aspect,” he answered. “The Gungans were hidden from our scans by their shields, and we couldn't pinpoint where among the swamp area to find them. But as we searched, we came upon a lone Gungan dangling by one leg from a tree. He had triggered an animal trap and been stuck there for some time.”

    “Jar Jar Binks?” I asked incredulously.

    “The same.” My Master’s expression was forbearing but sardonic. “Me cutting him free from the trap was enough to create a ‘life debt,’ according to him. And he happily led us to the Gungan sanctuary when we asked.”

    “Many different turns a river may take,” Yoda added, “but to the ocean it will always return. For you the Force provided, yes.”

    “Following Obi-wan's directions, Queen Amidala bowed before the Gungan leadership immediately, and made it clear her belief in their equality and desire to be friends,” Qui-Gon said. “The Gungans accepted immediately, and agreed to the Nabooans’ battle plan with no hesitation.”

    “How many casualties?” Master Mundi asked.

    “The Gungans suffered few losses, considering the size of the battle,” Master Fisto supplied. “Five hundred soldiers dead and twice that many wounded. The casualty rate was worse in the space battle, with seven of the eighteen fighters lost. No human losses on the ground.”

    “The control vessel, Young Skywalker destroyed, yes? As predicted?” Yoda asked.

    “Artoo?” Qui-Gon prompted.

    **Compliance. Projecting.** The holo showed a recording of Anakin's maneuvers in the dogfight, with audio. The whole encounter was an exact match of the movie scenes. The only difference was an exclamation near the end, when Anakin was cheering: “Wait'll we tell Momma!”

    “Anakin’s performance,” Qui-Gon supplied as soon as the holo switched off, “was superlative. Better than any other pilot, biological or mechanical, in that battle. Nearly the equal of our Aces.” The room was silent as all considered these claims. He went on, “The boy has experience operating land vehicles, including racing pods; but other than about two minutes of instruction with our cruiser pilot, he had never handled a spacecraft before.”

    “He has intuitive grasp of three-dimensional positioning,” the slightly muffled speech of Plo Kun sounded behind his mask. “I second Master Jinn’s assessment; the boy's talent is exceptional.” Master Kun was almost as quiet as Master Tiin during Council meetings, and nearly as good of a pilot. His input was a good sign.

    “Confirmed, Young Kenobi’s visions are,” Yoda said. “A dark future they describe. Abide by them, we must not.”

    “Which is why we seek the knowledge to forge a better future,” Master Piell said. “Please, Master Jinn, tell us of the battle with the Sith assassin.”

    “Maul confronted us just as Obi-wan had described, in the hangar bay of the Palace, near the generator room. He engaged aggressively, channeling his anger.”

    Master Fisto interjected, “I immediately severed the link with Obi-wan and dropped the disguise. This threw him off. I sensed an element of fear that accompanied his rage.”

    “Even so, he drew heavily on the Dark Side,” Qui-Gon continued, “and evenly matched us. Kit and I were each struck down on two occasions, and the other took an injury.”

    When he said this, the Nautolan reflexively reached up to touch his tentacles, and I noticed for the first time that two of them on the same side were significantly shorter than the others.

    My Master continued, “When fighting one of us, I could detect no pattern. But there were some predictable beats when he fought both of us. He would use the deflection of one swing as part of his positioning motion for the next. So when Master Fisto made his next offensive, I intentionally missed a low parry, allowing his attack to connect. It severed my leg but allowed Kit a fatal strike.”

    Kit added, “His final words were, ‘My Master will avenge me. Every Jedi will fall.’”

    “By the time we had reconnected with the Nabooans,” Qui-Gon recounted, “the battle droids were shutting down. It was a total victory for the defenders. The Federation personnel remaining on the planet were ransomed for a sizable sum.”

    “With the surety bonds forfeited and Viceroy Nute Gunray already dead,” I announced, “the Trade Federation is ended. In my visions, they were key allies of the Separatist Union in the coming war. This is an improvement for the Republic.”

    “A genuine change, is it?” Yoda asked warily.

    “I am not certain of that,” Dooku answered. “Yes, the elimination of the Federation will scatter supporters, but it will do nothing to deter them. Smaller, diverse elements of resentment will still find ways to band together.” His voice rose as he addressed his fellow Council members. “It is not enough to treat the symptoms. The Jedi Order needs to take a role in addressing the root problems of the Republic, not allowing these attitudes to lead to open rebellion as Young Kenobi describes.”

    “Any more to add, have you, Master Jinn?” Yoda asked, sliding past Dooku’s speech.”

    “Just a repeat of my earlier decisions, Masters. Obi-Wan should take the trials, and I should take Anakin on as my Padawan.”

    Yoda inclined in a shallow bow. “Leave us to deliberate, you must. But stay nearby, both of you should. Need you again shortly we may.”

    “I will attend Master Qui-Gon,” Dooku said, “my opinion on these matters is already well-known.”

    I touched minds briefly with Master Fisto as the four of us (counting Artoo) left the chamber. He felt excited, which made me optimistic as to what might come next.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2019
  17. Threadmarks: Ch. 17 - Master Dooku, Part I
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Obi-wan, I apologize that my time away from Coruscant has meant we have not gotten to know each other better,” Dooku began. The four of us sat in a small chamber just down the hall from the Council. “I have taken great interest in your training recently, and especially your political and economic actions. Senator Palpatine speaks highly of you.”

    “You know the Senator?” I asked, surprised. Naboo was a minor world, and until recently, Palpatine’s main political pull had been through some alliances with banking interests that I didn't quite understand.

    “The Senator - and I share this with you because I know that, like Qui-Gon, you can be trusted - is an enthusiast of Jedi lore. He has helped me research some topics not permitted within the Archives.”

    “Including the Sith objects Obi-wan mentioned earlier?” my Master asked.

    “Sith Holocrons, yes. None are known to still exist, as Jedi destroy them when they are found. But sources describing them, and their creators, are available in certain private libraries.”

    I nodded. “Very interesting. Through my visions I may be able to share with you other locations of interest for such items, although I will remind you that my memories tend to be woefully incomplete where the Sith are concerned.”

    The Count nodded. “That is why I wished to speak with you, in fact. I have been considering, for some time, leaving the Jedi Order.”

    The spike of panic that I felt from Qui-Gon came at the same time as his audible gasp. “Leave the Order, Master? Why?”

    Dooku sighed. “You know how often we have discussed my frustration with the Jedi Council. They act as more of an adjunct to the Senate than emissaries of the Force.” I felt his hot anger roar again. “How many lives of our brothers and sisters have they thrown away for political advantage? They care more for the government than for Jedi.”

    “I cannot believe that to be so,” Qui-Gon pushed back. “Surely you cannot fault their compassion. They are Masters; teachers; they have always safeguarded our growth and training.”

    “On an individual level, yes,” Dooku said. “And then a matter needs a forceful response, and they send in a minimal number of Jedi to carry out the minimal amount of action. Both of which assure a Jedi’s demise at the smallest misstep."

    Qui-Gon began to respond, but Dooku held up a hand. He rose and paced a bit. My Master and I exchanged a worried look, but waited until the senior Master spoke again. “When Obi-wan described your death,” the knot of anger and grief almost overwhelmed me, “I realized that it would have been the end of the Order for me. Proof that the Council could not be trusted to protect what is precious in this Galaxy.”

    Dooku turned and looked straight into Qui-Gon's eyes, and… I felt it. Just for a moment, before it was swallowed whole and disappeared under a veil of concentration and discipline. It was strong, an upwelling of delight, a yearning of deliciousness and pain.

    Master Dooku was in love with Qui-Gon Jinn.

    What I felt next were stabs of fear, as both Masters turned to look at me. I couldn't keep the surprise off of my face or out of my mind. They instantly knew that I knew.

    It seemed better to clear the air than to maintain the stand-off. “Are you two…?” I began.

    “Many years ago,” Qui-Gon admitted. From the fondness he radiated, I realized the feelings were reciprocated, on some level. “But Jedi are not permitted such attachments. We agreed to… stop.”

    Dooku's eyes were still on me, waiting for my condemnation. I replied, “I think that losing someone dear to you is often a reason Jedi fall. And Master Qui-Gon knows how I feel about personal relationships.”

    “Yes?” Dooku encouraged.

    “Obi-wan believes they are necessary and healthy,” Qui-Gon supplied. “He claims that attempting to suppress our attachments is more of a danger than our attachments themselves.”

    “I claim that the only reason they become attachments of the kind that compromise your use of the Force, is because they are suppressed rather than satisfied naturally.”

    Dooku raised an eyebrow in skepticism. “You would get along well with the Corellians, I think. They have similar attitudes about family.” He pivoted. “But, I would like to know: in your Visions, did I leave the Order? When Qui-Gon was killed on Naboo?”

    I thought for a moment, diving as deep as I could into my memories. “Yes. Count Dooku of Serenno. You became the last of ‘The Twenty,’ a group of ex-Jedi commemorated in the Library.”

    “I was successful, then, in reclaiming my title.” He was pleased. “And afterwards?”

    “You backed the Separatists, I think. Although in what precise way, I'm not sure.”

    “That's all you know?” Dooku didn't keep the disappointment from his voice.

    “If I remember more, I will certainly share it,” I offered.

    Dooku continued to pace. “I received word that my brother has died. If I wish to reclaim my seat, now would be the time.”

    I spread my hands. “So, reclaim your seat as a Jedi Master. You do not have to forsake the order to do that.”

    Dooku shook his head. “The Council would never accept that. A Jedi Master, taking on the oaths and wealth of a hereditary title? They would consider it a violation of the Code.”

    “I don’t see it as a violation of the Code,” I countered. “Do you?”

    He thought for a moment. “No. Political pull and property are both things the Jedi have and use for the good of the Republic. This is no different.”

    I turned to Qui-Gon. “What do you think, Master?”

    Qui-Gon shrugged, and I felt him wince at the ongoing pain. “I only concern myself with the Code as it constrains an individual to act with wisdom and compassion. Wealth and power can corrupt, but they are not corrupting by themselves.” He looked to Dooku. “If you want to become Count Dooku, without giving up your place within the Order, you have whatever support I can give.”

    “That…” the Jedi diplomat looked over us again, then headed toward the door. “That is what I needed to know. Thank you.”

    He left, and we waited.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Ch. 18 - My Oath
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    It was another hour before the Council summoned us to return. The first thing I noticed upon entering was that Master Fisto's chair was still out of place; Qui-Gon gratefully eased back into it.

    The second thing I noticed was the mood in the room, which was deliberately restrained. The Masters were intentionally sublimating their emotions, blanking their minds. I might have been able to cut through some of their barriers with a focused act of will, but that would have been seen as quite intrusive.

    “Come to a decision the Council has,” Yoda began. The oldest living Jedi slowly climbed down from his seat, claws clutching his cane has he approached my Master… no, as he approached me.

    “Young Obi-wan,” he said as he stood in front of me. I took a knee so that I could see him face to face. “A coward, are you?”

    I mulled the question over in my head. “I don't think so,” I finally said. “I’m entirely willing to risk my life, or to lose it, in pursuit of something I hold to be of greater value.”

    Yoda's eyes narrowed. “A specific example, give me.”

    After another pause, I said, “I would have faced Darth Maul in Master Galia’s place, to save the lives of the committee.”

    “And yet, when an opportunity for you to face Maul actually arose, stay on Coruscant you did. Another you sent in your place.” He inclined his head in Kit's direction, but his wrinkly green face stayed focused on me.

    I shook my head. “I didn’t stay here out of fear. I stayed here to make sure Maul showed up to the battle.” I sighed, suppressing my growing frustration. “I know that knights are expected to charge forward regardless of the situation or the odds, but I prefer to do what I think will help the most. Whether or not I'm in harm’s way. I… genuinely thought you would understand that.” I looked around at the other Council members, somewhat pleadingly.

    “Understand it, we do, yes,” Yoda nodded. He pulled himself to his full height. “Confirm that you understood it, we did.” He pulled out his lightsaber, and ignited it. “Your oath to the Order, recite.”

    I heard the emphasis on my oath, and took it him at his word:

    “I am a Jedi. The Force guides me.
    I shall act for the maximal good of all sentient beings in the Galaxy.
    I shall use violence only against those who endeavor to harm others; them I shall end utterly.
    I shall respect the freedom of conscious creatures, and strive to increase it.
    I shall give my aid and allegiance to those people and causes committed to the good of the Galaxy. Today, that includes the Jedi Order and the Republic.
    The Dark Side is my enemy. I shall never use the Force in any way when motivated by anger, hatred, or fear.
    Forsaking all else, neither the Galactic Empire nor Darth Vader shall come into existence, no matter the cost.
    Even my death does not release me from my Oath, as long as my Spirit remains to serve.”

    I could feel confusion and concern from some of those present, but Yoda had heard my modified oath before. He reached out to take my braid in his free hand, and severed it in one simple move of his blade.

    “Rise, Jedi Knight,” he said. “Prove your skill and wisdom you did, in the Spire of Tranquility. Your Trials, you have overcome.”

    As I stood, much of the restraint left the minds in the room; it appeared that they had mainly been trying to keep the surprise. Since I didn't know what to say, I bowed my thanks and took my braid from the Grandmaster's hand. It was done.

    “One matter to consider,” Ki-adi-mundi addressed me as Yoda returned to his seat. “Anakin will be Qui-Gon's Padawan. And while the Council has approved your continued involvement with them, you could also take on a learner of your own. We have many aspiring younglings who deserve the attention of a knight.”

    “I already have somebody in mind,” I smiled.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2020
  19. Threadmarks: Ch. 19 - Invited to Learn
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    Olana Chion was becoming quite pretty.

    It was something that was hard not to notice, particularly as someone who had known her since she was much younger. In just the past two years, she had gained nearly a foot in height, already foretelling the tall woman of regal bearing that she would become.

    As usual, I found her surrounded by much younger students. They were deep in meditation, and I was happy to see that in addition to Olana floating a foot above the ground, four of the six younglings were as well. Her empathy, and her patience, were both as strong as her healing.

    I had done what I could for Olana, but unfortunately, I had given her little hope for the future. Had Anakin been my Padawan, there seemed little chance that she would be chosen by another Knight. And with the uncertainty of the future, I had not been willing to include her in my plans.

    All of that could change, now.

    I sat down and joined the session, opening my mind to theirs. Olana sensed me immediately, and I was proud that she did not lose her focus despite the mixture of hope and fear that surged through her at my presence. I enveloped the seven minds around me - an easy measure for children this young, plus Olana as receptive as she was, and began sending out strong waves of calm, clear mental strength.

    The younglings’ minds spread out gradually under my influence, and I felt the other two rise a few inches from the ground joining their peers… although one of them was so surprised by it that he broke his concentration and fell back to the ground with a squeak. He sat and watched the rest of us patiently, and after a few more minutes, their teacher guided the end of the session.

    “Good, now, as you sense your friends and your surroundings, turn your mind inward and regard yourself. Draw your senses in toward yourself, recapturing your mind, collecting your will, cementing your own personal presence.” We each sank to the ground as we followed her instructions. “When you are entirely yourself again, you may open your eyes.”

    Olana patiently waited until each of the children's eyes opened, making contact with each of them and giving an encouraging smile. “You all did wonderfully! Poh’la, don't get discouraged! You levitated for a minute there, didn't you?” The boy who had dropped in surprise nodded excitedly. “Remember, this is an exercise you can do on your own, whenever you have time. Don't wait for one of us seniors to lead you in it - be your own teacher!”

    The younglings gave various words of thanks as they dispersed, eventually leaving just the two of us in the teaching chamber.

    “To what do I owe the honor?” Olana asked with a sardonic smile. Her fear and hope were warring, and… oh, she was shielding part of her mind from me! I was impressed and proud; I hadn't thought she’d advanced that far in her mind skills.

    “I'd be surprised if you hadn't already heard.” I returned my own smile, pointing at my own sloppy haircut.

    Olana nodded, and I felt her fear increase again before it… vanished. I pushed slightly against her, but sensed nothing. An effective shield indeed. “The rumors say you brought back the Chosen One on your last mission,” she pointed out. “You became a Knight so he can be your Padawan.” Despite her mental shield, I could see the concern on her face.

    “As usual, the rumors are just wrong enough to cause harm. In fact, I was made a Knight so that Anakin could become Qui-Gon's Padawan. Which still leaves open the question,” I let my smile broaden into a grin, “of who my Padawan would be.”

    I rose from the ground and she did likewise. I continued, “I have quite a few plans in place for the coming years, and I will most certainly still be involved in Anakin's education. Ideally my student should compliment him. Less focus on physical skills and prowess; more on mental. A skilled healer, empath, and linguist. Someone who’s studied diplomacy and pedagogy. A learner who has shown flexibility in her training, the ability to adapt to unorthodox techniques.” I turned to her fully. “I believe that narrows it down to just one candidate. So how abou -- oof!”

    The girl had jumped on me for a tight hug, and dropped her shield enough that I could sense her deep relief, the satisfaction of fufilled hope. “I've wanted this since I was six years old,” she murmured, as much to herself as to me, I thought.

    “You've worked very hard, Olana. And your reward… is the chance to work even harder.” I put her down carefully, mirroring her excited smile with my own. “Have you passed the Initiate Trials?”

    She nodded… then shook her head. “All but one. Building my own sword. I’m no good with circuitry.” She looked enviously at my own blade; although I kept it concealed along with my blaster and other specialized equipment when in the field, I wore it visibly when on Coruscant as was expected of a Jedi.

    I nodded. “Yes, but you have other exceptional talents. We'll tackle that test in a bit.” I led her out of the meditation room and towards my own quarters. “First, we have a much more pressing matter to go over. How’s your Binary?”

    I heard her take a deep breath, and felt her center herself. Then I heard: **Complete fluency acquired.** The squealing, clicking noises were coming from Olana! And they were, in fact, perfect Binary.

    “How did you do that?” Droid Binary uses a speed and variety of sounds not available to the human vocal cords. There was a human version, but it was extremely slow since it expanded the sounds into longer sequences.

    I felt her focus her will strongly again. **Sonic emissions amenable to Force manipulation.** Another deep breath. **0LNA acquired sufficient data/programming….**

    “That’s impressive,” I cut her off as she took another breath. “You learned how to channel your voice, not only to amplify the sound but to wholly alter it. How did you even go about developing the technique?”

    “I didn't have to; it was in the Archives,” Olana admitted as we resumed walking. “Not for learning Droidspeak - it was originally developed for musical performance. Force Harmony, a way for a single singer or flutist to perform multiple notes. But it adapted readily to this.”

    “I will admit, Olana, that my suggestion was just that you learn to understand Binary. I wasn't more specific, because I didn't believe the other was possible.”

    She allowed herself a momentary smirk. “In the future, Master, you should be more careful with your orders. If you ask for the impossible, I make no guarantees that you won't get it.”

    “I'll keep that in mind.”

    R2 was waiting patiently in my quarters. I had asked him more than once if he needed anything or wanted to explore on his own, but he insisted he was happy to bide until he was needed. This patience no doubt served astromechs well during long periods of inactivity.

    “Artoo, this is Olana, my student,” I began. I crossed my legs on the floor in front of him, and she did the same.

    The droid beeped a greeting, followed by **R2D2 astronavigation and repair unit.**

    The girl inhaled, and quickly beeped the counter greeting, with **0LNA biological Jedi initiate.**

    **Identity stored. Projecting data.** Leave it to R2 to take this entirely in stride.

    As the timeline graphics floated above us, I addressed my Padawan-to-be. “Seven years ago, I had a vision. It showed me details of the future, branching out decades. It showed me the fall of the Republic, and the rise of a Sith-run Galactic Empire, twenty years from that day.” My hand moved over the graphics, showing her dates and events; I noticed the detailed annotations and cross-references added by Padme and R2.

    Olana’s brow furrowed as she tried to take in what I was telling her. “This is what you have been working on all these years? Planning for the coming conflicts?”

    I nodded. “Right here and now, Artoo and I will introduce you to the future shown in my visions, and the ways that the actual future has already diverged from it. And then,” I caught and held her eyes, “you can choose with your eyes open. This path will be demanding, and we will likely be on it for most of our lives. But I do believe we can save the Republic, or at least thwart the will of the Sith.

    “Or,” I shrugged, “you can decline my offer and walk another path. I do not claim to speak for the Force; I do not know your destiny. And I will do everything I can to support you, either way - including finding you another Master.”

    Olana was not Anakin or Qui-Gon. She was prudent, willing to fully consider all options before committing. I valued that about her, greatly.

    With a simple nod, she turned her attention fully to the holo. “In that case, Master Kenobi, let us begin.”
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2019
  20. Threadmarks: Ch. 20 - Dark Crystals
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    The Jedi Temple had many training areas; it wasn't hard to find a private corner when you wanted one. But training and teaching activities tended to occur in central, common spaces. Younglings and initiates were encouraged to observe even those exercises they were not suited or ready for.

    The four kyber crystals that had made up Darth Maul’s blade were arguably Master Fisto's by right, but he had no qualms with me taking them. And because I saw no need to conceal what I was doing, I chose a bench in one of the workshops where Jedi, both learners and more experienced knights, built and repaired their weapons. Today was my fourth session with the crystal in front of me, and Anakin's and Olana's second with their own assigned crystals. The fourth sat off to the side, it’s deep blood crimson hue a standard against which we could measure our progress.

    I allowed the crystal in front of me to swallow my attention, its resonant frequencies ringing my deeper senses. A dedicated act of will on my part resulted in the smallest, weakest possible trickle of energy through the gem. Almost immediately, the hunger began, as my power was corrupted, made Dark, and then the Darkness called more of my power into itself. I easily resisted the weak feelings, absorbing them into my own much stronger psyche, and continued the restrained flow of positive energy.

    This cycle continued. My own connection to the Force was becoming the basis for the crystal’s new pattern, even as I took in and flushed the Dark Side energy emerging from it. This was, in some ways, a much slower and safer version of what Master Windu did when practicing Vapaad. I was completing a circuit of Force flow that included a taint of the Dark, but the weak and inert Dark energy, absent a living source to reinforce it, was easy to subsume.

    “Nothing's happening.” Anakin's resentful whine showed a distinct impatience for the process that he hadn't shown the day before; it seemed the novelty of the exercise had worn off. His crystal was pulsing, and its ruddiness was noticeably fainter than before, but Anakin's frustration was also mounting.

    “Something is, in fact, happening,” I corrected. “It just takes time.” I was pleased to see that Olana's own cleansing process was proceeding just as well.

    “I can do it faster. Here, watch.”

    “No, Annie. The crystal’s only receptive to a small amount of Force energy at a time. You can't just-”

    Then it was too late; Anakin had already increased his focus on the crystal and poured his full measure of energy into it. The gem’s hum moved from barely sensed to plainly audible, the color from a dim pulse to a bright red. I barely had time to Force push both children backwards and slam my hand down on the work table's safety trigger when the crystal burst, red shards flying in all directions and bouncing violently off of the protective shield suddenly surrounding the bench.

    A group of younglings were working under the instruction of a Knight and a Corpsman nearby. They all turned in surprise at the shattering noises as well as the loud alarm that went off when I hit the safety key.

    “Oops. Sorry,” Anakin shrugged as he became the unwelcome center of attention. But Olana immediately put a warm hand around the boy's shoulders.

    “Are you hurt, Annie? No? Then everything's alright,” my apprentice insisted, looking with interest at the now inert fragments. I deactivated the forcefield and quickly collected them by levitation to float in my hand.

    “I'm sorry I broke it, Obie. I didn't know it would do that,” the nine-year-old insisted. I felt the fear in the back of his mind, although he tried his best to show no visible sign of it. Breaking something meant someone would be angry, and then he would be beaten. That was the way of things.

    “Calm down, Anakin,” I ordered. “The consequence of this mistake is that you have to try to learn from it, not some sort of punishment.”

    I spread the fragments out into a line; fifteen pieces altogether, most no wider than a finger. Each piece was the same dull red color as the kyber crystal had been.

    “Now, before you tried increasing the Force flow,” I asked as I studied the new fragments, “was there a good reason for you to think that it wouldn’t work?”

    Of the fifteen fragments, eight were large enough and had enough symmetry for what I intended. Sorting those from the other seven, I saw Olana and Anakin exchanging looks.

    Finally, Anakin answered. “No. I don’t know anything about the crystals, really, or how they take energy. I’ve never seen one before, and there was no way for me to know how fragile it is.”

    I nodded at his honest answer. “If you don’t know anything about the crystals, then how did you know what you did about how to cleanse them in the first place?”

    “You told me, and then you showed me how to do it.” The boy’s tone had a note of complaint now, implying that I should have warned him this could happen.

    I sighed quietly. “So you watched me do it. Am I capable of channeling more Force energy into the crystal than I did?”

    Anakin nodded, but it was Olana who spoke. “You’re saying that we should have assumed it wouldn’t work, or else you would have already been doing it that way?” She gave me her half-frown that she used whenever I said something unreasonable.

    I gave her my customary half-grin in response. “You dislike that answer?”

    “It assumes we can’t ever think of something you didn’t. That we should always assume whatever method people are already using is the best. I don’t think that’s true.” She met my eyes with a confidence reflected in the small part of her I could sense through her shields.

    “Yeah! People do dumb things all the time,” Anakin added. “You’re not dumb, but that doesn’t mean we oughta just do things your way.”

    “A fair point. So, where does that leave you?” I set the sorted crystals aside to focus fully on the discussion. “Ignore the customary ways of doing things, for the sake of innovation?”

    “Yeah,” Anakin said. “Sure, it’ll hurt sometimes, but it’s the best way to get better.”

    I nodded to him. “Okay. And you, Olana?”

    “What about... “ she bit her lip for a moment, and I silently encouraged her to continue. “What if we… learn the customary ways, and why people do them that way? The reason for the limitations? Then we can look for flaws or further solutions.”

    “That seems like a better process,” I nodded. “Anakin, what do you think?”

    “Yeah, that makes sense. Figure out why the rules are there, so you can judge if they’re good rules or not.” He looked at Olana in a simple show of admiration for her wisdom.

    "Very good," I praised. “This is an ancient principle, known as Cala Brin’s Wire. When you are working on a device, and come upon a wire that seems to have no function, you need to understand why it is there before you consider removing it. Maybe it was previously needed for a subcomponent that is no longer included in the device; maybe it’s been made redundant by an improved template. Or maybe it’s crucial to address a problem you didn’t consider.”

    I handed each of them one of the more irregular fragments, from the pile I couldn’t use. “Those pieces won’t explode any further; the worse they’ll do is shatter and crumble. So you can carry them around with you and practice on them.” They pocketed their homework. I continued, “I was intending break apart one of the crystals, anyway. I need several smaller crystals for one of my projects. No real harm done.”

    I felt the relief from Anakin… and some from Olana, as well. I was gratified by how quickly my student had taken to the younger boy. I shouldn’t have been surprised; she was excellent with her younger “siblings” at the Temple, and already had a reputation as a good teacher. I had been concerned that the training time I devoted to Anakin would make her feel cheated (my own guilt in this regard sometimes motivated me to spend more time on training than on my other projects).

    “Obi-wan?” the voice came from the nearby bench where several students, all younger than Anakin, had been taking apart practice sabers.

    “Yes, Sinnot?” I responded. The corpsman was a heavy-set man in his fifties, wearing the robes and insignia of the Jedi Educational Corps. An experienced teacher.

    “The students were wondering why those kyber crystals are red,” he gestured. “If you have time?”

    I looked to my own pupils, and they gave no objection. My beckoning wave brought a dozen smaller children in Jedi robes to surround our bench, looking in fascination at the red gems. I also gestured to one of the practice sabers, brought it to my hand, and quickly opened the casing to reveal the blue crystal inside, laying it along with the others for contrast.

    “You’ve all been taught about how living creatures react differently to the Force than inanimate objects, right?” Nods all around. “That’s because living creatures both send out Force energy and take it in, like insulators do for heat. You can lift a large boulder more easily than you can a human that weighs nowhere near as much, because the boulder doesn’t push back against your action the way living creatures reflexively do.”

    This got another set of nods; lifting large rocks was a common early training technique, as well as being used by teachers as a demonstration of the power of the Force.

    “Kyber crystals absorb and channel Force energy, similar to living things, but they don’t have a unique Force pattern of their own the way living things do. Because of this, an attuned crystal will resonate with the Force pattern of its wielder. From the point of view of the Force, the kyber crystal becomes an extension of the Jedi, rather than an object separate from the Jedi. And so does the energy the crystal focuses into a blade.”

    “But why the different colors?” a young girl asked, anxious for the punchline.

    “Because different people commune with the Force differently. Most Jedi see their lightsabers as weapons for protecting others or as symbols of their commitment to peace. When they attune their crystals with these attitudes, the result is green or blue. A pure commitment to duty - to following the rule of law, regardless of personal belief - creates a yellow blade, like those you see the Temple Guards use. And rarely, a Force user can get a white or silver crystal by attuning it to the ideal of the Force, with no emotion or goal at all.”

    “What’s red, then?” another youngling asked, and several echoed similar questions.

    “Hatred,” I said simply, and felt the cold aches of fear in the minds around me. “Red kyber crystals are attuned to the Dark Side of the Force, channeled by a user that is tapping into their rage and hatred to embed and focus these emotions. Like other Dark abilities, red crystals are more powerful than others, yielding a stronger and hotter blade. But they are also more volatile, and their exceptional strength requires an ongoing connection to the Dark Side.”

    “Who made these crystals, then?” came the next question.

    “A Sith lord,” I answered, and heard the murmurs from the surprised students.

    “I believe… that will be enough for today. Thank you, Obi-wan,” Sinnot said suddenly. I looked at him, surprised at the abrupt adjournment, and saw surprise and fear in his own face. Surely the news would have travelled to the rest of the Order by now?

    I made a note to seek out Sinnot, alone, in the near future and get a sense of what the lower ranks of the Order and the Corps were being told. If the answer was, not very much, then I needed to figure out why. After all, the Sith had returned, and the fate of the galaxy would be decided in just a few years. Now was not the time to leave people in the dark.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2019
  21. Threadmarks: Ch. 21 - I was a Teenage Jedi
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    It was unsurprising that the Jedi Temple concerned itself with atmosphere and aesthetic, considering that it was host to a community whose abilities were largely driven by their state of mind. The older stonework, as well as the steel and crystal of the newer buildings, each brought to mind different attitudes. Calm, wonder, fascination, focus.

    For ‘oppressive,’ though, you couldn’t beat some of the maintenance areas lower down. There were private spaces down here - both offices and workshops. Among the windowless rooms many of which were poorly lit by flickering sources, it wasn’t hard to find an unused room with a lock for work you didn’t want others to know about.

    Olana followed me in with trepidation, moreso when she saw a cluttered workbench with its array of small electronic parts. The green kyber crystal in the middle confirmed her concern (likely fear, but it was shielded from me if so).

    “I’m still working on attuning the red crystal,” she pointed out in confusion. “This one isn’t mine.”

    “Today is a lesson, Olana. The other training we have been working on will allow you to pass your test. This is to teach you something else entirely.”

    I made sure that my student had met my eyes before continuing. “This will be terribly unpleasant, and I’m not going to explain what is happening until the end. Please know that I believe your experience here will be worth the ordeal. Do you trust me?”

    “Yes, Master,” Olana said with zero reserve or hesitation. I found it to be extremely disconcerting, this absolute faith she had in me. Breaking it without hurting her would be its own very difficult project.

    “Hold still while I put the device on.” It was a thick metal cylinder three finger-widths in diameter. I placed it against her neck just below the ear, and heard her sharp intake of breath as a small needle punctured the skin there. The device, I knew, would find her carotid artery. “Now, let’s work.”

    We discussed the pile of parts before agreeing to sort out components of the different systems. I kept my senses open to hers, noting when she seemed to be experiencing larger spikes of different emotion - enough to get past her shields.

    “Hand me the, um, the switch,” Olana said at one point. Her frustration with the project had been building as we made little real progress.

    “Which switch? This one?”

    “No! That switch! Never mind!” she snarled, grabbing for it.

    “Okay, fine,” I muttered, and watched as she glared at me, then return to her work.

    It was only a few minutes later she snapped at me as I was following her instructions on adding a relay to a splitter. “No, not like that. I said the other end,” she corrected.

    “That is the other end,” I insisted.

    “The other other end!” She took the components I was working on and tried to put the piece on herself, but it wouldn’t fit. She dropped them on the table in disgust, letting them clatter against other pieces she had already sorted. “How much longer do I have to do this?”

    “How do you feel?” I asked. Her shield had weakened and weakened as time went on, and her mounting frustration and anger were clear.

    She looked up at me suddenly in response to that, her eyes narrowing. “Oh, so that’s what this is about. Your device makes me angry, to teach me some sort of lesson, I suppose.” She crossed her arms across her chest. “It’s clearly working. Can I be done?”

    Looking her over, I nodded. A single button press on the device retracted the needle and sprayed a tiny amount of adhesive to cover the small hole. I placed the cylinder on the table, continuing to watch my learner-to-be.

    Her glare weakened as her mood changed, and a flush crept up her body even as she began to restore her mental defenses. There must have been a psychosomatic component, because even though some of the chemicals’ effects should have persisted for considerably longer, she felt as though she was back to her own self after just a few minutes.

    “I… I don’t know… I’m sorry, Master,” said Olana. She seemed close to tears. “I was so disrespectful. Was that… was that what the Dark Side is like?”

    “Worse,” I quipped. “That’s what puberty is like.”

    She looked at me in horror as I explained. “You’re a teenager, and I know you’ve received a full education in the biological implications of that. What is often not discussed, as much as it should be particularly for Jedi, is the strongly linked emotional implications.”

    “What did that device do, then, exactly?” she asked.

    “It randomly injected neurotransmitters themselves, and their inhibitors, into the artery travelling to your brain. The same ones that fluctuate wildly when your brain starts producing hormones to send to other parts of your body to stimulate growth. Serotonin and norepinephrine being two big ones for emotional stability. “

    I pulled out a small case and started packing up the electrical components; Olana quickly joined in to help me.

    The inner-turned thoughts were clear on Olana’s face as we worked. Finally she asked, “So, the purpose of today was to forewarn me, so that I can control my emotions when the time comes.”

    “I don’t expect you’ll be able to control your emotions when the time comes,” I replied. “You’re essentially under the influence of extremely potent mind-altering substances. Rather than presume you can overcome them, you should just work not to do any permanent damage.” I looked over the green crystal before adding it to the case. “I’ve looked at the records, and apparently we lose a significant fraction of Padawans to disagreements with their Masters in the first five years, which for most will be between ages thirteen and eighteen. And in very few of those cases are the reasons for the breaks actually recorded.”

    “You think it’s just teenagers arguing with adults?” She pressed the release on the door as we left the room.

    “I do. I think that, among humans and other races that mature similarly, it’s entirely normal to have quite dramatic and completely irrational disagreements between teenagers and authority figures.” The relay at the end of the hall called the lift to take us back to the upper levels.

    “What was the point, then?” she asked, and I noticed a slight note of irritation creep into her voice.

    “Just for you to know that this issue exists,” I met her eyes again. “And when we have a ridiculous argument, and you decide a day or a week or a month later that it was ridiculous and you wish it had never happened…. Remember we had this conversation. Come talk to me about it, and we’ll work it out.”

    Her look was thoughtful as we exited the lift. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard her say to herself, under her breath, “I can’t wait to hear what happens when he does this with Anakin.”
     
  22. Threadmarks: Ch. 22 - Partha Nellis, Part I
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    While I was holding off resumption of some of my Coruscant activities until after the Kamino visit - most notably my work as a bouncer at an under-level tavern - some important business matters had to be dealt with beforehand. The most important of these were my ongoing work with BlasTech R&D (laying the groundwork for the E11 design that would eventually become a staple of the Clone Army), and my acquisition of a significant interest in Kamino Armorsmiths Ltd. I might be the only person in the Galaxy who knew how successful they would be over the next 25 years as their infantry armor, manufactured to exacting specifications and built from a uniquely efficient Mandalorian template, became the iconic ‘face’ of the Galactic Republic (and, unless something changed, the Empire).

    I had agreed to the Kaminoan armor-makers’ most recent set of changes to the contract, and was just beginning on a response to a BlasTech accountant justifying the size of testing facilities, when my door hissed open. This was not unusual in itself. The small Temple quarters had locked but no chimes, and the custom was touch the door relay: if it was locked, you went away and tried later; if it opened, the person was available.

    “Master Kenobi,” the girl bowed. She looked to be in her early teens, dressed as a youngling initiate not yet a Padawan. Her light violet skin and bluish hair marked her as a Zeltron. The mode of address was technically proper from a Padawan to a Knight, if a bit overwrought.

    As I turned my attention to her, the girl entered the room with easy grace, a smile on her face. At the same time, I felt a pressure on my mind as her will pushed against me. I received it, and felt waves of feelings wash over me… trust, acceptance, contentment. Zeltrons were known to weakly influence the emotions of those around them with their own, but this was considerably stronger than that. I was a genuine telepathic push.

    “Hello there,” I smiled as I pulled myself away from my emotions. I left my feelings present in my mind, affected by her push and sending her the echoes she expected, but I made sure my will was entirely separated from them. “You have me at a disadvantage, I’m afraid.”

    “Partha Nellis,” she announced, bowing again. “You haven't followed the tournaments? I placed the last two years.” Another push, this time for me to be impressed and interested. Admittedly it was impressive, since winning over multiple years meant she had won lightsaber duels against children a year or more older than her.

    “Really? I’m afraid I’ve not kept track of the initiate contests and trials, sorry.” I kept my smile wide. “Is there something I can help you with?”

    “Master Kenobi, I think there’s something I can help you with.” Curiosity, importance. She held out a data stick, which I took and inserted in my console. “Olana Chion says you’re considering her as your Padawan learner. I… didn’t want you to make a hasty decision.” Caution, fear, regret.

    The data presented by the sticks were rankings and scores going back three years. I recognized only about a third of the names. “You wanted to make sure I was aware of her mediocre test scores.”

    “Yes, as well as what I believe to be the reason for them.” Partha looked genuinely concerned and conflicted, like she only reluctantly decided to share this, even while pushing pity and disappointment toward Olana. “She is very bright when she has time to work in her own pace, but she has no confidence under pressure. That’s why these evaluations come out so poorly for her. She’s been trying for years, and we keep rooting for her,” pity for Olana, admiration for Partha, “but she falls to pieces every time.”

    “You don’t think I should take her as my Padawan?” I asked simply.

    Partha feigned greater concern. “You know as well as I do, Master,” admiration for Partha, pride in Partha, “that Jedi are assigned dangerous missions with no room for hesitation.” Fear, panic. “You need an apprentice you can rely on.”

    “One like you?” I filled in, and she pushed rectitude, satisfaction in response.

    “I'm just becoming eligible, yes.” Pleasure, admiration. “Or any one of several initiates that show quickness on their feet.” Disinterest.

    I nodded, my face displaying serious concern, and copied the files to my console before handing back the data stick. ”You have given me much to consider. If you… are interested in being my Padawan?”

    Partha pushed satisfaction and admiration as she smiled brightly. “Yes, Master Kenobi, certainly!”

    I gestured a dismissal. “Then I'll look into this, and we will speak again.”

    “Thank you, Master.” One last burst of emotional warmth between us, and she left.

    This was interesting information, but not in the way that Partha intended. Olana and I had discussed her test scores already. She had initially claimed the same shortcoming that I had just heard from Partha: choking under stress, essentially. But after helping her with some emotional control exercises, I had given her similar tests and found her scores greatly improved.

    At the time, I had believed that Olana had shown remarkable progress… but in light of Partha’s quite adroit use of offensive telepathy, I suddenly found myself with a different hypothesis. I wanted another perspective.

    Anakin, as it happened, was in the dining hall, finishing up a late lunch with three other children his age. I stayed back and observed, delighted to see how well he fit in, conversing pleasantly on some topic or another, laughing and joking along with the rest. I only flagged the boy down as they rose from the table to return their plates to the adjoining kitchen.

    “Hi Obi!” He said, and waved enthusiastically as his friends headed off to wherever they were expected next. I know Anakin disliked being in limbo, not having grown up training in the Temple with the others, but not yet a Padawan and able to attach himself fully to Qui-Gon and me. My instinct was the same as his, to get him through the initiate trials as quickly as possible, but my former Master disagreed. Qui-Gon believed that one of the main skills Anakin needed to learn was patience, and so insisted he become involved in certain training exercises.

    “Hi, Anakin. I ran into a youngling today named Partha.” The boy responded by screwing up his face and sending a spike of annoyance. “I take it you know her?”

    The boy shrugged. “I’ve seen her around Olana. Partha seems nice enough at all, but she’s really dumb.”

    That was certainly not the impression I had gotten. “In what way?”

    “Well, she’s always saying things to Olana about her training and skills, to, like, cheer her up, I guess. Only they don’t.” His feelings of frustration grew, tinged with a small amount of anger. “Instead they remind Olana of something she’s not good at, and they make things worse. And then, whatever it is they’re training, Olana can’t do it right.”

    “This is only when Partha is present?” I asked to confirm my suspicions.

    Anakin nodded. “That’s why I say Partha is dumb, because when she’s not even around, Olana does fine. It’s almost like it’s more Partha’s problem than Olana’s.”

    That was enough for me to discuss it with my learner-to-be. And when I returned to my room, a coded message was awaiting me that provided an excuse for us to spend the time together.

    I could sense Olana’s hesitation as she boarded the converted space tug. The craft was Corellian make: small, squat and metallic, almost a cube if not for manifolds protruding at right angles from the surface. Converting it for hyperspace had cost more than the ship itself, and it was still cheaper than any used transport of similar size.

    In contrast to Olana, Anakin was thrilled to board the Somebody Else's Problem. He no doubt empathized with the junkyard origin of it, and in any event was always happy to have a chance to fly.

    Olana and I sat back and watched as the nine-year-old maneuvered the ship out of the hangar with occasional assistance from R2. The Astromech had accompanied me on these trips before and could have piloted to the station on his own, but I was happy to give Annie the flight time.

    “We'll be in hyperspace about two hours,” I commented to Olana as Anakin made another hyperspace sensor sweep to confirm that hyper-lane was clear. “Let’s get a session in. Anakin, join us in a half hour.”

    “Yessir,” was the boy’s acknowledgement as Olana and I left the cockpit for the small supercargo chamber.

    “I know we talked about your test scores,” I began, and was happy that her face didn’t indicate any discomfort. “How you’d panic during real evaluations and do worse than you would otherwise.”

    “Our lessons have helped quite a bit, I think,” Olana offered with optimism.

    “You've made real improvement,” I agreed, and enjoyed sensing a trickle of elation from her at the statement. “But other factors have come to my attention. Tell me, what do you think of Partha Nillis?”

    Olana’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. “She’s a year younger. A Zeltron. Everybody likes her.”

    “Do you like her?” I kept my tone flat.

    “Of course. She’s one of my Jedi sisters, I love them all.” The words were sincere, and yet, if I could look deeper into her mind, I was certain the emotions behind them were hollow.

    “I didn’t ask if you loved her, Olana,” I chided. “I asked if you liked her. There were Jedi from my own time as a youngling that I didn’t get along with. It’s a mistake to believe that everyone is a friend just because you are both training together, or both within the Order.”

    She nodded, and I heard a whispered sigh escape her lips slowly. “It’s… hard. She’s so nice to me, always so worried about my performance, and yet…” Olana shook her head. “When she brings it up, it seems to make it worse. Everything she says just reminds me of my anxieties, my near-failures. So I… wouldn’t go out of my way to talk to her.” She looked up at me, her expression cold. “Which doesn’t mean I hate her or anything. She tries her best with everyone; it’s not her fault.”

    “How do you know?”

    “Huh?” The girl’s confusion deepened; I started to sense more of her distress leaking through her shield. “How do I know… what?”

    “How do you know that it’s unintentional? The way she makes you feel?”

    Olana blinked, looking away from me as she thought. “I guess, I… always… assumed? She’s a youngling, like me. We train together. We’ve taken all of our tests together; why would she want me to feel bad about myself?” She shook her head, but I could tell the idea was still with her.

    “Consider this further, please,” I instructed in the slightly more forceful voice I reserved when acting as an instructor. “I’m not trying to force you to come to any conclusion, Olana. Just think about it.”

    This got me a small nod. “Yes, Master,” she said, but her voice was far away as though coming from a distance.

    “I’ve decided to go to Kamino without you,” I announced. “I expect you to have finished purifying and attuning the kyber crystal by the time I return, so that I can watch you build it into a blade.”

    That got me a nod, but no verbal response. I could tell that Olana was unhappy about this turn of events, but she kept her attitude to herself.

    “Now,” I sat up, adopting a lotus pose on the floor. “Let’s work on our mental defenses. I’ll push at your mind, and you endeavor to maintain your emotional center. Ready?”

    We worked for ninety minutes, the last seventy of which included Anakin, too. Their techniques were each improving, but neither of them were yet particularly resistant to the effects of an emotional compulsion or push.

    I wasn’t too concerned. We had many years of training ahead of us.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2019
  23. Threadmarks: Ch. 23 - The Yam'rii Contract
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Nicely done. Very smooth,” I praised Anakin as he eased the ship along one of the long, spindly surfaces that made up the station’s docking ring.

    These small, nameless outposts were still common in unclaimed Core systems, although increasingly absent from the Rim where the threat of piracy loomed larger than profit. Orbiting a gas giant from which it could draw for its modest power needs, the station sported a permanent population of under 400 biologicals and over 1,000 droids to see to the needs of itinerant traders and travelers along the hyper-lane.

    Since Jedi robes were about the only clothing choice that would attract notice in a place like this, Olana, Anakin, and I wore nondescript spacer clothing, blasters holstered under black leather jackets. I had packed light - no special weapons other than my lightsaber and a couple of stun grenades. This visit shouldn’t escalate to violence, just as past visits had not.

    We encountered only maintenance droids on our way from the docking ring to the central station, but once there we sidestepped a group of five quite drunk-looking men and entered the compartment they had just left. The tavern was well-attended, but I didn’t receive any attention following a first appraising look, even with the two children following me. The bartender raised a dirty rag and greeting and nodded to one of the smaller private rooms in the back.

    Jango Fett always came in civilian clothing and never armor when we met here, which I understood to be a sign of respect from the Mandalorian. He sat patiently, nursing a noxious-colored drink, and scrolled down a large wrist-mounted screen strapped to one arm. He didn’t look up immediately when I entered but just nodded to the seat opposite him at the table. I took it; Anakin and Olana stood behind me at either shoulder.

    “Jango, these are Olana and Anakin, Jedi apprentices,” I started, although this was not technically correct. They were still initiates until they passed all the Trials and were formally accepted as Padawans.

    That got Jango to turn off his screen. “You’ve never brought anyone with you before. Secrecy was part of the arrangement.” His speech was calm and precise, and is eyes wary. This was a man who wouldn’t underestimate anyone, even a pair of children.

    “I meant no disrespect,” I said, a nod suggestive of a bow. “They are to learn from me, and I consider my business arrangements an important part of that. Shall I send them back to my ship?”

    He gave a small smile, and his arms relaxed a bit as he seemed to loosen his carriage. “No, that won’t be necessary. Hello, you two. Are you enjoying learning from Kenobi, here? He’s a most… unusual Jedi.”

    “It’s all right,” Anakin answered with no hesitation. “He let me fly us here.”

    That got a wider smile from the bounty hunter. “I bet that was fun!” He turned back to me, the grin still present. “Speaking of fun, another target was dispatched this week. I don’t understand why they wait so long between sending them, but they are getting harder to kill. More security.”

    “Are you increasing your price, then?”

    Jango shook his head. “No, the negotiated price is fine. But that’s thirty-four targets altogether, and your retainer is used up. I need another.”

    I nodded, reaching into my jacket to pull out a chit that disappeared into the other man’s clothing just as quickly. “I am continually impressed by your work,” I shared. “Incidentally, you can consider that other matter closed.”

    “Yes, I heard you managed to kill the Zabrak yourself. Very impressive.” His voice was smooth and genuine, not even a hint of distress or mockery.

    “It wasn’t me, actually. Two Jedi Masters took out Darth Maul. Any part of that retainer you haven’t already put towards expenses, add to the Yam’rii project.”

    “Will do. One more matter.” He leaned back, taking a long pull from his tankard. “I’ve been hired for another long-term project. I don’t believe it will stop me from continuing our arrangement, but if that changes, I may need to terminate on short notice.”

    “The Kaminoans got hold of you, good.”

    His eyes widened at this, and then narrowed in suspicion. “How did you know about that?”

    “The project is being coordinated by the Jedi.”

    “I hadn't been made aware of that,” he rubbed his chin in thought. After looking me over for a minute, he shrugged. “Eh, the money’s good enough to even put up with the Order.”

    “I’m also buying a stake in the armor company that you’ll be working with. So, I will most likely see you there.”

    Jango nodded. “Looking forward to it. You, at least, are easy to work for.” He rose with us and shook my hand. After a moment’s hesitation, he shook Olana’s and Anakin’s as well. The two had been thankfully quiet throughout the brief interaction, but I think this was more due to surprise and bewilderment than discipline.

    This quiet lasted only until our departure from the station. By the time Anakin had engaged the hyperdrive, both of my students were hungry for answers.

    “Was that a Mandalorian?” Anakin blurted excitedly. “I thought they were all killed in the war.”

    “How did you know that?” I asked. I hadn't thought his appearance was distinctive without his armor.

    “He had the symbol on his wristband,” the boy observed. “So they didn’t all die?”

    “Jango is the only one left, at least for now,” I said. “I suspect Mandalore will produce more like him, given time.”

    “So, what was that about targets?” Olana wondered. “Thirty-four so far, he said.”

    “The Yam’rii send a delegation to Coruscant every few months to plead with the Republic to defend them against the aggressions of the Kaleesh. They also occasionally send delegations to other worlds in the area.” Meeting Olana’s eyes, I added, “Jango kills the delegates before they can be heard. Depending on how good his intelligence is, sometimes the ship doesn’t even make it out of their home system.”

    Olana’s distress was evident on her face. “Why?”

    “Because the Yam'rii spent two hundred years conquering every nearby world, enslaving over a hundred million members of other species. The Kaleesh were one of their victims.”

    “So the Kaleesh are the good guys,” Anakin nodded.

    “I… doubt it’s that simple,” Olana expressed. She was clearly unhappy with this. “Just because the Kaleesh were wronged, doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want in retaliation. Don't the Yam’rii deserve a chance to be heard?”

    I shook my head. “In my visions, the Yam'rii used their wealth and influence - which, remember, they gained through the violent conquest of whole other civilizations - to paint the Kaleesh as the aggressors. The Republic sent Jedi to beat them back to Kalee, and then imposed economic sanctions that saw most of them starve. At the same time, the Yam’rii expanded their trading network, specializing in selective breeding of their slave species. And,” I scowled, “guess what the Kaleesh and the Torvaldians were bred for.”

    “Obedience,” Olana guessed.

    “Endurance,” Anakin tried.

    I paused a moment to make sure the story was sinking in. “Flavor.”

    Olana got it first, and let out a small squeak as she covered her mouth.

    “Yam'rii are carnivores, and they particularly love consuming the eggs and young of other intelligent species.” My voice was cold now, as I could tell my audience was properly cowed. “They have little trouble expanding their population quickly to displace another species on an invaded world, since the existing population is a ready food source.”

    “Please tell me this is just a story,” I heard Olana mutter.

    “For us, living in the Core, yes. These are just stories.” I opened my arms as I saw Annie approach my seat, and let him climb up. “For planets in Wild Space and beyond, this is reality.”

    “Are we gonna get to fight the Yam'rii, Obi?” Anakin asked, his forehead burrowing into my chest.

    “We shouldn't have to,” I explained. “As long as we don't interfere, or let the Republic intervene, the Kaleesh’s greatest warlord will keep them at bay. He has already freed their hold on the region, destroyed their empire, and driven them back to their homeworld.”

    “A hero?” Anakin perked up.

    “Yes, indeed. A hero.” I looked at Olana, who listened intently, although her gaze was out the starship window. “Let's rest on the way home, and I'll tell you the story of the man known as Grievous.”
     
  24. Threadmarks: Ch. 24 - Compassion
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Room for one more, do you have?”

    Qui-Gon, Dooku, and I each stopped at the hatch of the diplomatic transport and turned to see the ancient Grinzellian Grandmaster slowly move toward us.

    “My apologies, Master Yoda.” I stepped down to offer him a hand onto the ramp. “I had understood you had declined to accompany us.” As usual, I felt nothing but a warm, diffuse mind as he got closer - a smooth and placid will, marred by no strong emotion.

    “Changed, my mind can still sometimes be,” he mused, glancing at Dooku as he climbed the ramp with my assistance. “Very persuasive our new Count of Serenno is.”

    This earned surprised looks from me and my Master… former Master. “Has your title been restored so soon?” Qui-Gon inquired of Dooku as we took our seats. I lit gingerly at the pilot controls; since it appeared I had retained both the original Kenobi’s dislike of flying and his talent for it, I found myself at the helm any time I couldn’t pawn it off on Anakin or someone else.

    “Not formally, no,” Dooku explained. “I believe Master Yoda is referring to the recent Council decision. I will be allowed to vie for my title without having to give up my position on the Jedi Council.”

    I nodded thanks to R2 as he laid in a carefully plotted course to Kamino. It included three hyper-jumps to intervening systems, only one of which was included in the flight plan filed on Coruscant. Apparently the Clone Army was going to stay a secret of the Jedi Council for the time being.

    “Provided,” Yoda added, “that perform his duties to the Order, Dooku can, without interference from his role as Count.”

    I tuned out the Masters’ conversation as I eased us out of the Temple hangar, moving us smoothly through the upper atmosphere and past the orbit of the planet’s four moons, until I was cleared to enter hyperspace. R2 double-checked the calculations and nav sensors, and engaged the drive.

    “... exploits of our newest young Knight and his apparent learner-to-be,” Qui-Gon was saying as I swiveled my chair around to face him. “You wanted to discuss your handling of an issue that arose this past week, yes?”

    “Mmmm,” I agreed, although I was less enthusiastic about having the conversation with Yoda present. Still, he took a personal role in the training of every Padawan, and he certainly had the right to know, as did the prospective Count. “Partha Nellis came to me to, ah, ‘warn’ me about Olana’s issues in making decisions under pressure. She suggested I make a better choice for Padawan.”

    “Like her?” Qui-Gon asked.

    I nodded. “But it wasn’t just a suggestion… it was a suggestion. Strong telepathic pushes the entire time.”

    I felt concern from Dooku as well, but it was a surprised Qui-Gon who asked, “Actual mental compulsion, or just emotion?”

    “Emotion,” I clarified, “but strong, and clearly designed to push me towards agreement with her. I’m surprised she wasn’t more cautious considering the amount of mental training that a Jedi Knight is expected to have.”

    Qui-Gon shook his head. “Most Jedi, particularly Guardians as opposed to Consulars, don’t gain the sort of awareness you’ve trained yourself in, Obi-wan. Yes, they learn mental defenses, but it’s much more like putting up a forcefield than learning to identify and respond to specific threats.” He glanced at Dooku and Yoda. “She’s a telepathic species?”

    “Zeltron,” I confirmed. “Emotionally empathic, and natural broadcasters.”

    “Than any push felt by her teachers, the ones strong enough not to be affected, would likely be dismissed as her automatic abilities. We had an Iktotchi sister when I was a youngling, and it was the same with her.” Qui-Gon met Dooku’s gaze and got an acknowledging nod.

    “I have been working on Olana’s skill and confidence, so she can pass her final initiate Trial,” I continued, “but I now believe that Partha has targeted her.”

    This received a stronger spark from Dooku, but it was Qui-Gon who again spoke. “Targeted her to disrupt her concentration during tests?”

    I nodded. “Over the last three years, Olana has received top marks only twice. Both those were times I was able to verify that Partha was elsewhere.”

    “Did you confront the girl about her actions directly,” Dooku asked, “or did you bring it to her instructors? Telepathic intrusion over many years may have effects they should be aware of.”

    “Neither,” I said, and received another spark of surprise from both men. “I spoke with Olana about her relationship with Partha, and urged her to consider the situation and resolve it by the time we return.”

    Qui-Gon nodded. “A Trial of a different kind. I can understand that. But it only addresses the problem with respect to Olana. It doesn’t deal with Partha herself.”

    “Once Olana has overcome the obstacle,” I agreed, “Partha herself can be dealt with easily.”

    That got a narrowing look from Qui-Gon. “Dealt with, how, Obi-wan?”

    “Discreetly and permanently,” I replied, my gaze matching his.

    A small, amphibious throat cleared, and I started as I was reminded of the other Master in the room. “Fortunate, we are, my brothers,” Master Yoda announced, “that such a brave Jedi Knight we have as our savior.” I noticed his ears were lowered, almost flat, and the eyes in his wrinkled face were large and bright as he stared into me. “More wise than any of us, he is, the role of judge and executioner to play.” As he continued to speak, I felt his mind expand toward mine, a constant soft pressure like an unrelenting breeze. “Safe we can feel, knowing that even a ten-year-old girl, beyond the reach of his deadly blade is not.”

    The Grandmaster’s mockery had its desired effect, and I forced myself to rise above the shame I felt from his chiding words as I answered him. “Partha has been doing this to Olana for three years, and to who knows how many others? I would not kill her out of malice, Master; simply from a knowledge of the path she has chosen, and the harm it brings.”

    “Sense no malice in you, can I. True this much is,” Yoda conceded. “Yet, a subtler flaw I see. A flaw that to the Dark Side can also lead.”

    The ancient Grinzellian climbed down from his seat and limped slowly over to me. I bent down in my own chair until our noses nearly touched. Finally he said, in almost a whisper, “Compassion you lack. Through all living things, the Force flows. Great evil one can carry out, in the name of a greater good, when justice one pursues without compassion.

    He held my gaze for a minute longer, and I received his mind as it reached into mine. He made no attempt to push anywhere or move anything; he was simply looking. After a minute, he gave a nod and a small grunt of assent, and turned to return to his seat. “Under our watch for some time, Partha Nellis has been. Much to learn she still has, but committed to a Dark path she is not.”

    I felt my own surprise at this claim by the Grandmaster. “What Partha has been doing… the Order is already aware of it? The Temple trainers?”

    Yoda barely nodded, while Qui-Gon spoke up with an exasperated sigh. “We have dealt with this so many times, Obi-wan. Your unique knowledge doesn’t mean you are the only one who sees or does anything in the Order.”

    “If you knew, why hasn’t anything been done?” I tried hard to stifle the rising anger and defensiveness I felt on my student’s behalf. “Why permit Olana to be attacked in this way?”

    “If talk to their teachers you had, as was your responsibility,” Yoda said with some satisfaction, “then know their reasoning you would.” He turned to face me again as he made it up into his too-tall chair. “For now, contemplate the matter you can.

    “But, this much I say to you, my young savior.” Yoda’s mind pushed at me, and I realized I didn’t have the strength to resist him even if I had wanted to try. For the first time in a decade I heard him speak with genuine, incontrovertible force. “Harm Partha Nellis you will not. Your student, Olana is, and your Padawan she will be. How you have taught her so far, I greatly approve. But to judge over others of the Order, your role is not, Obi-wan.”

    “Yes, Master,” was all I said, and turned my chair back to the helm.

    For much of the rest of the journey to Kamino, I thought about what Master Yoda had said, and about my own role and my relationship with the Order. The most intriguing element for me, though, was that I felt no resentment towards the Grandmaster. Even when his mind met mine as he was scolding me, I sensed no contempt for me, no disgust at what I had planned. He cared, genuinely, that I learn a better way and make better decisions. He had compassion in abundance, even for me.

    Qui-Gon had shown and taught me the same ideas for years, on a smaller and subtler scale, and I had rejected the lessons as unnecessary attachment. Perhaps my calculations were overly cold, and that could lead me to destroy what might otherwise be redeemed.

    One thing was certain: I would watch the training of Partha Nellis with great interest.
     
  25. Threadmarks: Ch. 25 - Dooku vs Fett
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    I braced inwardly as the emptiness of space gave way to the fullness of the planetary Force surrounding the planet Kamino. It was my first time here; each world’s flow of Force energy was subtly different, making it impossible that I could ever confuse one planet for another as long as my senses remained intact.

    Kamino felt… cold. The yearning for connection that was the birthright of all life was muted here, as though the world were sufficient in itself. As I steered our ship around severe weather systems to our landing point, it made me anxious. It was uncomfortable to be on a planet that, in contrast to most, seemed entirely neutral as to whether I came or went. It was somehow more uncanny than either the hot hunger of some worlds or the bristling hostility of others. This planet was just… alien, and content to remain so.

    I maneuvered around a large electrical storm to arrive at the marked landing pad. The small metallic island stood above the constant motion of the planetary waves. Without any land to provide a reference, the roiling waters gave the illusion that the artificial structure was moving, adrift.

    As I helped my passengers disembark, I nodded to Master Plo Koon as he closed up and secured that hatch on his craft. They had already landed with the other half of the delegation, apparently within minutes of our own arrival despite having taken vastly different jumps into the dwarf galaxy.

    The functionary who greeted us in the salt spray of the surface spoke no words, merely gesturing toward a lift to descend into the complex. Her mind was a tight, dense ball of the sort I associated with reserved professionals of marked self-control. But as we passed other Kaminoans in the hallways of the oddly lit complex, the same mental structure was repeated; I came to the provisional conclusion that this was a common mental state for this race (or at least the ones hired to work on cloning projects).

    It wasn't until we passed through our third identical unmarked doorway that I remembered to take out my eyewear. The electronics automatically activated as I slipped the wide glasses over my eyes, overlaying a range of colors and symbols on different surfaces that had appeared blank before.

    “Why the goggles?” It was Koon who sped up to walk next to me with the question.

    “Kaminoan visual frequencies are higher than humans,” I explained. “The walls and panels look blank to us.”

    The Master tapped his own eyewear. “Yes, these provide a similar purpose by filtering out some of the blue-green light when on nitrogen-oxygen worlds. Otherwise the visual environment becomes quite painful after a little while.” He looked around. “My spectrum must be broader than yours; I see the colors and markings without difficulty.”

    I was pleased to see that everything was labeled in Galactic Standard, and so I could tell when we moved past “Adjunct Hallway F” and into “Meeting Room 3.”

    The room was quite large, an oval with fifty seats deployed in an arc reminiscent of the Council Chamber. One Kaminoan was seated, speaking with Masters Windu, Fisto, and Sifu-Diyas. Other Kaminoans, their tall graceful bearings the very picture of quiet deference, stood nearby.

    The last figure in the room stood off by himself, casually facing the door. Waiting for us… or, more specifically, for my Master’s Master. I had not forgotten that Dooku had personally fought and killed several of Jango Fett’s people in an ill-fated Republic intervention more than a decade ago. Fett had not forgotten, either. The seated Kaminoan rose toward us in greeting, but the Mandalorian was faster and stepped in front of us.

    “Jedi Master Dooku,” he began, “do you know who I am?” There was pain and anger under the surface of his mind, but it was held in tight control. This was not a man given to unplanned outburst.

    “Jango Fett,” came Dooku's reply. “A survivor of the Mandalorian Civil War.”

    “Yes.” The fire burned hot but stayed tightly controlled. “You killed my men at Galidraan, and saw me sold as a slave.”

    “And you killed eleven Jedi that day,” Dooku noted. I felt a sudden surge of anger there, but it was tinged with… not aggression, but guilt. “We both did what our duties required of us.”

    “Your duties were supposed to be the preservation of peace,” Jango spat. “Not as the blade of revenge in the hand of the Death Watch. Those were good men you slaughtered for false accusations.” He was wearing a flight suit rather than his armor, but his hand jerked as though moving to a holstered weapon.

    Dooku neither cowed nor blustered, but kept his composure, clamping down on his own anger. “Which you would have had a chance to prove, had you submitted to arrest.”

    The mercenary shook his head. “No, there was no chance for a fair trial with the governor in Tor Vizsla's pocket. It was a set up, from start to finish.” He sneered, “And now you tell me you would do it again.”

    No.” The word boomed from Dooku, and I felt the sincere truth behind it. Frustration, and regret. “I would not see innocent men killed as a ploy of vengeance. Nor justify it later with political evaluations and tricks.”

    The Master glanced just briefly at Yoda, and his flash of anger had a much clearer target than before - the Jedi Council. But even this did not spur any other individual in the room to talk or act; all were frozen save Fett and Dooku.

    Jango bared his teeth, then, and I felt a rush of savage anger stoke him further, almost compromising his control. “You yield your cause, then, Jedi Master Dooku? You were in the wrong?”

    Dooku’s own mind took on an anguished despair then, but before he could respond, a smaller presence inserted itself between them. “At peace, should you be, young Fett,” came Yoda’s soothing reply. “The Jedi Council’s the decision was, not Dooku’s. A Knight he was when on Galidraan you fought; our orders did he carry out.”

    “You’re Yoda?” Jango asked. His anger had simmered back to a more manageable level. “Head of the Council?”

    “Misinformed, we were,” the small Master said, his face upturned to meet Jango’s. “A tragic day it was, yes. Many destroyed by deception have been.”

    Jango blinked, but then turned back to Dooku. The human Master’s features were the same, but there was a growing relief in his mind, and something resembling surprise. He was not expecting Yoda to speak in such terms about the Jedi, that was clear. Jango asked, “Do you yield your cause, Dooku?” He stepped up close enough to the other human that their height disparity was clear, with the Jedi behind a whole head taller. “Do you yield?

    What followed was the stiffest, most formal bow I have ever seen. Dooku’s eyes never left Jango’s as the Master pushed his Jedi cloak from his shoulders, spread his arms out with palms up, and inclined from the waist. “I yield.”

    Jango nodded without another word, turned his back on the man, and left the room through a different door.

    Silence reigned for several moments as the Count-to-be collected his robe from the floor and everyone looked at each other in consternation.

    FInally, it was the Kaminoan who broke the silence. “I apologize for that. And for this improper welcome. I’m afraid we had not been expecting you… not for some years, in fact. Master Diyas,” he inclined his head to the still-seated human, “had led us to believe we should operate autonomously during the early stages of development.”

    “Think nothing of it,” Mace Windu replied, “as long as you can accommodate our visit and input.”

    “Of course,” the Kaminoan nodded. “I am Prime Minister Lama Su, and am personally in charge of managing the overall clone program. We are still templating and correcting Mister Fett’s genome, at which point the first batches will begin growing. But since the development cycle is only accelerated to double human norms, we still have several months before the early stage educational programming will begin.”

    “And each batch will receive the same programming?” I confirmed.

    “At Stages 2 and 3, certainly. Mister Fett is working with our experts to craft an advanced combat curriculum which may include different specializations at the later stages.” He gestured towards the back door that Fett had exited, and we all began moving in that direction. “Let me show you around the facility, and then we will give an overview of the entire growth process. I'm sure you'll have many questions by then.”

    Of that I had little doubt.
     
  26. Threadmarks: Ch. 26 - Following Orders
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Retirement? Doesn't that just increase the overall cost?” As usual, Mace Windu's demeanor towards my suggestions was skeptical at best. I had brought him and Dooku, along with a Kaminoan doctor named Pell, to speak with me and R2 on some of the programming and logistical changes the two of us had worked out over the last few hours.

    “it certainly is a cost increase, yes,” I acknowledged, “but not just that. It provides these men with the foothold to start lives for themselves outside of the Grand Army, when they're ready to do so.”

    “Along with the salaries during service, and the occupational training programs you're proposing,” Windu mused, “it certainly would have that effect.”

    “Where,” Dooku began, “are you expecting these men to settle to have their civilian lives?”

    I smiled. “Serenno, for one.” I hurried on at his alarmed expression. “Your planet is one of many with a population replacement problem. More people, especially young men, are leaving for other worlds than are arriving. The result is that Serenno already pays exorbitantly for off-world security forces.”

    “And your solution,” Dooku followed, “is to allow these soldiers to retire to Serenno and other worlds.”

    “Yes, on whatever basis each world wants to allow them.” I selected another panel readout for visual display. “To really cement the difference between the Separatist Droid Army and the Republic Clone Army, ours needs to be made up of citizens with full rights.”

    “Sorry, the what?” Doctor Pell's graceful grey features were agog. “Who are the Separatists?”

    “The other side of the war these soldiers will be fighting,” I answered, but moved on. “By having the Galactic Republic paying the soldiers’ salaries, we can have payroll taxes going to whichever planets they claim citizenship on. And it’s up to those planets under what conditions to offer citizenship.”

    Dooku caught on immediately. “So different worlds are in competition for the present revenue, and future labor, of these men.”

    I nodded. “Some states like Serenno might provide good benefits but require a period of local military service. Others, like Corellia, might have no conditions for citizenship other than the soldier's income being deposited and taxed locally. Clones can choose a planet of citizenship before they leave Kamino.”

    Dooku nodded thoughtfully. “This will require careful handling in the Senate,” he pointed out. “But you’ve provided exactly the sort of incentives that bait them into action.”

    “I can count on your support, then?”

    “I'll need to consult with the other Counts on the details, but I have little doubt they will jump at this,” he assented.

    I later found Sifo-Dyas in discussion with Yoda and Qui-Gon over some of the mid-stage educational programming.

    “Masters,” I addressed, “could I ask for your thoughts on a different matter?” They turned their placid gazes on me. “Follow me, please.”

    I led them to a console in a chamber removed from the main work areas. The work consoles faced a large clear barrier that led into a smaller chamber, a clean room, in which could be seen micro-etching equipment and a small electro-impulse conveyor.

    I had specifically chosen a time after hours; no Kaminoan shared the chamber with us as I accessed the schematics in the work console. A holo-diagram of a printed circuit appeared, rotating slowly.

    “Master Dyas,” I asked, “you authorized the inclusion of a bio-mimetic inhibitor chip in each of the clones, yes?”

    The seer nodded. “As a safeguard against units being corrupted by Dark Jedi or bribed to turn against the Republic. Jedi commanders could trigger one of several hardwired orders programmed into the chip, and a clone would have no choice but to obey.”

    “I see.” I turned to Qui-Gon. “Your thoughts, Master?”

    “I know you won’t like my phrasing, Obi-wan… but, these are supposed to be human beings, not droids,” my Master explained, looking at Sifo-Dyas critically. “We should allow them their own choices, even if some of them may turn their back on the Republic.”

    “Young Kenobi, see these chips in your visions, did you?” Yoda asked.

    “No, Master Yoda. I don't recall any such thing being a part of the Clone Army. Which, in my mind, suggests two possibilities.” I ticked them off my fingers. “One, the Sith arranged to have the chip implantation cancelled, so they could corrupt the Army exactly as Master Dyas fears. Or, two, the chips are themselves part of a Sith plot already underway.”

    “A third option,” Sifo-Dyas added, “is that the chips simply didn't appear in what you saw. I don't mean to be critical, Obi-wan, but Force Visions aren’t like watching a holo-drama. They aren't complete; they don't show every detail.”

    I nodded grudgingly. “I will keep that in mind, Master.” Mine were very much like a holo-drama, but I was not in any position to contest the point. “Regardless, I recommend we cancel this element of the cloning process altogether. I agree with Qui-Gon: the soldiers should not be treated as automata. Not even in a seeming emergency.”

    “Keep in mind, we should,” Yoda agreed, “the visions of a coming Galactic Empire. If tyranny we confront, this tool of great aid to them would be.”

    “I… yes. I concur.” Master Dyas’ agreement was hesitant, but I sensed his sincerity.

    I nodded, and quickly touched a series of relays on the console. The machinery inside came to life. A small metal disk was floated down to under the etching equipment, and after a small flash, it continued onto an open compartment and the next identical disk followed.

    “What did you do?” Qui-Gon asked.

    “I had already programmed the laser etching equipment to slice the chips into useless pieces,” I explained. “I just didn't want to carry out the process without some consensus.”

    That earned me some scolding looks, but nobody made any move to stop the machinery.

    By the time the next regular shift started, there wasn't a single inhibitor chip left intact.
     
  27. Threadmarks: Ch. 27 - Thirteen Years Later
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “Cannon ahead,” I announced, and the tall woman turned even as the first bolt hit her in the chest, dissipating harmlessly across her cortosis armor. She raised her hand, and the plasma cannon’s second bolt froze in mid-air. She flicked her fingers and the air around the bolt warped until, with a second flick, the coherent plasma flew back at its source, melting the gun that birthed it.

    I would have praised the elegance of my former Padawan’s moves had there been time, but Olana was already turning her attention to the rest of the clone squadron as Anakin closed to engage them in melee. It was odd, to fight against men wearing the same uniform that had always meant support and rescue over the years of the Clone Wars. But there was no question where their loyalty was, now.

    The two Jedi Knights, my former students, the Guardian and the Consular, fought bravely as we cleared the corridor. As we advanced, I kept my defensive sword stance, subtly drawing their fire with mental suggestions and then returning each bolt swiftly to its source. Any one of us was the match for the forces we had faced, let alone all three together. Obi-wan, Anakin, and Olana: the three heroes of the Republic.

    And now... the three enemies of the Empire.

    “That’s the third squadron,” Anakin pointed out as we dispatched the last soldier. I could swear he looked no different than Hayden Christensen, although I had two decades clouding those old memories. “The Emperor must be here.”

    “I don’t sense him; do you?” Olana asked. We both shook our heads no.

    “I don’t even sense a conspicuous absence, like we did on Rethicus,” I admitted. “Still, a fully staffed modern outpost built over the ruins of a Jedi Temple? I think our intel is good. I think he’s here.”

    “Let’s hope so,” Anakin added, thumbing his saber off as he moved down the hallway. “Vrogas Vas is our very last lead. If he’s not here, we’ve lost him.” Nobody needed to say how unacceptable that would be.

    In the next hallways, the four masked men who stood guard at the door drew weapons that we knew well: the yellow-bladed saber spears of Temple Guards. I holstered my sword and drew my own unusual weapon. Activated, the chrome hilt projected the serpentine blade of a light whip, almost ten feet long and glowing a menacing orange.

    Olana and Anakin took one each, and I engaged the other pair. My battle was short - since I had mastered the art of creating false ripples in the Force to fool precognition, any battle with an unprepared Force-user was an easy slaughter. My whip shorted their blades quickly, and left them unconscious with cauterized and survivable injuries.

    The massive chamber that we entered was distinctly Imperial. Its vaulted ceilings were a ridiculous waste of space; the dim lighting leading up to the dais was similarly impractical. The Emperor sat on his oversized throne behind his concealing hood, the very image of devoted malice. There was no one else in the room, and the cloaked figure stood at our approach.

    “This ends here!” Anakin announced, his blade unsheathed as we came within ten feet of the imperial throne.

    Our foe threw his hood back, revealing the sneer of the man we had once known as Mace Windu. “Thank you so much for coming,” the Sith Lord spat. “It will save me the trouble of tracking you down.”

    Anakin raised his weapon, preparing a charge, but Olana’s raised hand stilled him. “Why, Master Windu?” She asked, pleading. “What led you to do such monstrous things, to betray the Republic so?”

    “The Republic,” Windu rejoined. “Was corrupt. Rotten to the core. Something stronger was needed, and if the Order would not provide it…”

    Enough!” Anakin shouted. “So much destruction, so much misery! You will answer for your crimes.”

    “No,” Windu said, his violet blade emerging from its hilt. “I don’t believe I will.”

    Anakin and Windu each struck the other at the same moment, impossibly swift, their blades bouncing off with the full force of their blows. A second exchange followed, and a third, each with more slices, more rapid. Olana was looking for an opening, a way to provide Anakin support against the former Council member and greatest living swordsman.

    My blue blade pierced through Anakin’s throat just as he backed away from their third exchange. I sliced to the side to free the blade, and a second swift stroke saw his head removed entirely from his body.

    Emperor Windu nodded in satisfaction, sheathing his own blade, even, as Olana turned to me in horror. “Master, no! What… why…?”

    I allowed my cold gaze to regard the Knight. Her eyes were wide, refusing to accept what she saw. My own blade - its blue color still pure, not a hint of red - continued to burn bright as I spoke. “Darth Malleus is right, Olana. The Republic and the Order did more harm than good. We can build a better galaxy, now.”

    Tears filled her eyes as she sobbed, sinking to the body of her fallen companion. “No, Master.” She kept her head down in sadness and shock. “No! Not you, Obi-wan. Anyone but you. Please, no! Obi-wan! Obi-wan.”

    “Obi-wan,” Qui-gon’s voice replaced Olana’s as I opened my eyes. “Obi-wan, wake up, please. Wake up!”

    “Sorry, Master,” I apologized, rising as quickly as I could. “I had the same dream again.”

    “Yes, the Force Vision with Master Windu as the Sith Lord. That was rather obvious from your state of mind.” My former Master sat on the edge of my bed, looking at me with his customary concern. The rooms in Kamino were larger than Jedi Temple quarters but just as sparsely furnished.

    This had been my second night sleeping on Kamino, and my second time having this same dream. I didn't want to call it a Vision, although that is definitely what it was: the previous night it had been Sifo-Dyas who had sensed my distress and entered my room, and he had assured me that all the signs were there.

    What Sifo-Dyas had no knowledge of, but I was pretty sure was possible, is that the source of the Vision could be the Sith rather than the movement of the Force. And that possibility made me want nothing more than to discard the whole thing as a ruse.

    “Thank you for waking me,” I offered. “I'm glad we are returning to Coruscant today. My sleep is seldom troubled there.”

    “There is another matter that I wished to discuss with you,” Qui-Gon admitted. “It concerns Olana.”

    “You don’t believe I handled the matter with Partha correctly?” I guessed.

    Qui-Gon shook his head. “No, my concern has to do with her feelings for you.”

    I nodded. “Yes, I’m aware she’s been shielding her mind from me so that I wouldn’t notice her romantic aspirations. I had planned to address it once I had helped her complete her final Initiate Trial, and before she gives me her Oath as a Padawan.”

    “Have you heard her Oath?” Qui-Gon asked.

    “No,” I admitted warily. “Why is there…?” I shook my head. “No matter. I’ll address the issue head-on, and soon.”

    As Qui-Gon looked at me, I sensed his concern growing further. “I don’t believe you should,” he opined softly.

    “You… don’t believe I should talk to her?” I was perplexed; Olana’s ‘crush’ was exactly the sort of thing we were taught to avoid.

    My Master shook his head. “I have some experience with this, Obi-wan. I would strongly suggest that you let it be.”

    “Lead her on? That’s would be quite destructive.”

    “Not as destructive as extinguishing what she is feeling.” He cleared his throat, and I could sense his discomfort. “I’m not saying you should do anything to encourage her feelings, and certainly not that you should reciprocate them. But as long as she keeps them from you - I would let her have her personal fantasies, her private illusions. They harm no one else, and I believe quashing them would hurt her bond to you.”

    I wondered how personally Qui-Gon’s own experiences with this went. Did Dooku crush his own heart, years ago? Or did he have to crush some other initiate’s?

    “Thank you,” I finally concluded. “I’ll… think about it.”

    “Good,” my Master nodded. “Oh, but do have her share with you her Oath. See if maybe she’ll modify it to something less… obsessive. At least in front of others?”

    I agreed. As we made our way to Meeting Room C in order to give parting words to the Kaminoans, I again found myself intensely appreciative of Qui-Gon’s support and guidance.
     
  28. Threadmarks: Ch. 28 - Youthful Zeal
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    “I am a Jedi. The Force and my Master guide me.
    I shall transcend my emotions to achieve inner peace.
    I shall combat ignorance with enlightened knowledge.
    I shall quell passion with genuine serenity.
    I shall overcome death by the light of the Force.
    Neither personal power nor wealth shall be my goal, but I shall strive for greatness so that I can benefit the Galaxy.
    Forsaking all else, I shall protect and serve my Master, even as he serves the will of the Force.
    Neither sentient nor beast nor principalities nor powers nor fear nor Darkness nor death nor life, nor anything within this Galaxy or outside it, shall stand against the will of my Master while I draw breath.
    These promises I make, of my own free will, in witness of the living Force.”

    The two of us sat alone in the secure training area where I kept my less public projects. The words echoed strangely in the space, where the ceiling always seemed to loom despite it being well out of reach above us on the sparring mat.

    I had started by nodding along with Olana as she recited ‘her’ Oath, but by the end, I was stock still. She looked me with such hopefulness, such conviction…

    “You haven't… shared those last lines with others, have you?” I deliberately kept my tone even and soft.

    “I have. You inspired me with your own personal Oath, Obi-wan. I knew mine needed to reflect me the same way.”

    “And what did people say?”

    “They loved it! The other initiates are working on their own versions; everyone agrees this is so much better than the old standard one.”

    I swallowed, remembering what the remedy in Ancient Athens was for an annoying upstart who ‘corrupted the youth.’ Did hemlock grow on any Core Worlds, I wondered?

    “And what did your teachers say?”

    Olana jerked her chin up in that defiant look unique to teenagers. “They admitted that I had the right to adjust my Oath however I wanted.”

    “I see.” This had escalated from a choice to a matter of principle, which would make it far more difficult for her to back down. “They advised you against these lines, did they?”

    She breathed sharply, nodding. “I shouldn’t have anything in my Oath, they said, that referenced specific people or events. But… you do, Obi-wan. You swore to prevent the Galactic Empire and Darth Vader.”

    “And whatever happens, I will be working against those for the rest of my life. They’re not ephemeral goals; they’re permanent.”

    “So are mine,” she insisted. Her eyes were piercing; were it not for her strong mental barriers, I suspected I would find her will to be overwhelming. “The Force has bestowed upon you, and you alone, a map of the future. Not just one Vision, but decade after decade of events. You are clearly the Force’s greatest servant. And what greater goal could I have than to serve you, in turn?”

    I gave a great sigh, and stood from the sparring mat. Olana followed me over to the workbench upon which my most recent personal project laid open. As my student looked at the unfamiliar arrangement of circuits and back at me, I gave her a nod to encourage her questions.

    “Those clear fragments are from the kyber crystal that Annie shattered?” she began, and at my further nod, “Did you find a way to use them together by interlinking them?”

    “Yes, but not in a laser sword.” I passed a grounder over the device, then snapped each of the components into the casing before closing it up. “I've not tried this before, but” - a small feed of energy into one crystal, bouncing around among the matrix before dissipating - “I think it's ready.”

    She stood well back as I took the bronze-plated hilt in my hands, pointed it toward the firing range, and activated it. White plasma emerged from the blade, curving almost immediately, gradually banking a meter before abruptly slithering sideways, then upward, and back around. Even as the snaking plasma reached its full three-meter length, I extended myself into it, my mind reaching through the hilt and winding along with the still shifting, writhing energy.

    It felt just as intimate as holding my blade, but somehow more visceral. I flexed my will and the plasma shifted in response. With Olana looking on, the lightwhip moved, rotated, and suddenly extended itself to its full length with an audible snap.

    I tilted the hilt upward to still the weapon as it recoiled, and heard a gasp from Olana - combined with the mental spike of surprise - that almost disrupted my concentration. She noticed before I did that the blade had darkened, and was now a baleful orange color. That took me aback for just a second - matching as it did, my recent dreams - but I allowed the uncertainties to pass over me as I asserted myself more forcefully over the new weapon. Just a few minutes of basic drills quickly brought home the flexibility of the lightwhip, but after just a short time, I thumbed it off and replaced it in my chest.

    “Why do you think,” I began abruptly as Olana and I returned to sit in the sparring area, “that obeying and protecting me is how best you can serve?”

    Olana’s gaze had been inwardly directed as she watched my experiments with the new weapon; it had unbalanced her. Now she forced herself to return to the present, and I saw her jaw set in full commitment to her ideals. “As I said, Obi-wan. You are unique. If you succeed, the Force is vindicated.”

    I vigorously shook my head at this. “I am not asking, ‘why me.’ I am asking, ‘why obey and protect.’” I watched her eyes as they shifted, trying to shift her mental framework to accommodate the question. “Why do you believe that a servant and protector is what I need?”

    After some internal wrangling - and, I sensed, some suppressed excitement - she looked to me with curiosity. “Are there other options?”

    “There are. But first, tell me how you feel about the lightwhip.”

    Olana clamped down on her worry and irritation, and so quickly that had I not been specifically looking for it, it’s unlikely I would have sensed it. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Where did you learn how to make it?”

    I smiled knowingly. “First, please answer my question. How do you feel about it?”

    “It took me entirely by surprise,” she admitted. “It looks like it will require an unorthodox fighting style, if you-”

    “Tell me,” I interrupted, “how you feel about it.”

    The girl inhaled and swallowed, giving me a look as though I had hurt her. “I… don’t like it,” she admitted, dropping her eyes. Her mind was closed down more tightly than usual as well, and her voice so faint as to make it hard to hear. “Orange is… I don’t know what it really means, but the rumors are that the orange color is like red. Something Dark, or at least grey. Not good.”

    I kept my gaze on hers, solemn, no smile now. “Anything else?”

    She only made eye contact in an occasional glance, but she answered. “I… don’t think you should be dividing your weapons training up so much. Soresu, then Jar’Kai, your cortosis shield, the blasters… now this? They say you’re the next Dooku, a natural, but… Master Dooku just uses the one dueling blade, right? Wouldn’t that be a better use of your time than all of these… tricks?”

    After her last question, she finally met my eyes again… and brightened when she saw my broad smile. “There it is,” I gestured at her proudly. “That is what I need more than anything else.”

    “Doubt?” Olana asked.

    “No, I have plenty of that,” I assured her. “I need another perspective. An intelligent, prudent person that I really trust to give me an honest look at what I’m doing.” I widened my arms where we were sitting to encompass all of my projects. “There is far too much going on, and I am trying to tackle a hundred different things, living up to the commitments of my past as well as preparing for the dangers of the future.” I stood again, and gave her my hand this time. “Nobody else knows everything I’m working on, everything I do - not even Qui-Gon. But if I have you with me, Olana, then I can also trust you to tell me when you understand things differently than I do.”

    I checked over all the equipment as we locked up the space. “So with that in mind,” I asked, “can we just get rid of that second-to-last line in your Oath? The one about nothing standing in my way?”

    “Because you want me to have my own ideas and beliefs, and not just be your servant,” Olana echoed.

    “Exactly,” I agreed.

    “In that case - no,” she answered, a mischievous smile on her own face.

    “Sorry, what?”

    “I said no, Master.” She stood with her arms to her sides, exuding confidence. “You want me to think for myself, and express it when we differ? Here, we differ. And, respectfully, you can deal with it.”

    So, in some sense, I lost the argument… but I could, in fact, deal with that.
     
  29. Threadmarks: Ch. 29 - Dirty Work, part 1
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    "Simon!" the woman behind the bar bellowed a greeting as I entered.

    "Tesh," I nodded back, not making the mistake of returning her smile. I looked around the dingy room, a popular dive for menial laborers and petty criminals here on the lower levels of Coruscant. The poorly lit area was more than half-full, a roil of repressed desires and hostilities that could move to violence at any time.

    Tesh set a local brew on the bar as I sat down, eyeing my appearance curiously. "The beard looks shite on you," she quipped, "but it's still good to see you. Looking to earn?"

    I shook my head as I raised the beer to my lips. I was wearing metal-laced leather with a heavy jacket able to conceal weapons - an outfit appropriate to 'Simon,' a young tough that took jobs as a bouncer between mercenary hires off-planet. "Not just yet, although maybe soon. You hiring?"

    Fear and excitement pulsed from the woman as she leaned in closer and lowered her voice. "Not here, but we need a bruiser for some of the back room stuff. You were always good for it," she added a wink that was meant to be flirty, but her mind held no hint of romantic interest.

    "I could be persuaded," I assented, and she nodded as she went to attend other customers. Tesh was one of the good ones, and in my past dealings with her, I'd had more than one occasion to talk down (or take down) an irate or amorous customer.

    Qui-Gon had asked me more than once where my time went as a Padawan that I wasn't able to keep up with my standard training. He knew half of it - my involvement in political and financial matters dealing with the future of the Republic. But while he had some inkling that I spent time down here (and lots of it), I'd never shared with him what it was I worked on. That would have largely defeated the purpose.

    As I nursed my drink (I was effectively immune to alcohol at this point, although early on I had taken a pill to denature the alcohol before it could affect me), I immersed myself in the chaos of the large room. The flashpoint was immediately clear - aggressive hostility between two groups sitting at adjacent tables near the back of the area. The groups were mainly human, but each notably contained a single Aqualish companion that other members of the group were focusing their attentions on.

    Aqualish are not universally churlish, as diplomats of the species have assured me, but the ones that choose to leave the homeworld tend to be aggressive and antisocial. They were each broadcasting their animosity toward the other quite loudly, and so I took a few moments to listen.

    The issue was a mate. The same Aqualish female appeared prominently in both of their minds, and I could feel both the lust and aggression quite clearly. One of the two men, an Aquala named Dusnat, had a history with the woman, who from their mental images was clearly an attractive member of their species.

    I went to work on the Aquala first. While much of his surface attention was on commiserating with his friends and complaining about the other guy (a Quara named Borni), the back of Dusnat's mind kept returning to the female and their shared history. A very small push from me led his mind to wander into thoughts of his homeworld, and memories of his turbulent departure, tinged in loss. Drawing out his grief and self-loathing led Dusnat to ignore the glares from his rival and mull over his own failures, pushing his whole drinking contingent into a similarly dark mood.

    Borni was at first emboldened as he and his friends saw the tone of the other table change, but I stabbed out at him strong enough that he physically winced, as did the men immediately around him. I quickly enveloped his mind, pulling forward memories of him losing fights, being yelled at and having to back down. I fostered fear in him, a lack of confidence intense enough that it would be hours before he could make any sort of aggressive move.

    The flashpoint was diffused, but now it was time to pay for it. My eyes never left my drink, and I retreated firmly into the recesses of my own mind as the backlash hit. Having fostered both sadness and fear in others, it was inevitable that I would contact both myself… a reason why such gross manipulations were not taught at the Temple. I detached myself from my emotions and experienced them from a distance.

    Grief, particularly nostalgia-laced, usually brought me back to scenes from my old life. But today, I instead found myself thinking about Siri. Our missions together - particularly the one where we rescued Olanna - had raised the specter of romance between us. Although the original Obi-Wan had pursued the matter, I had not, my memories still too fresh and my connection to my previous life too strong. I occasionally wondered if my more… relaxed views on relationships and duty might have provoked a happier ending had I allowed it. A foolish fantasy to dwell on, particularly in light of my deepening relationship to Shmi - but a reminder that I needed to see how Siri was dealing with the untimely loss of her own master.

    Fear, well - the fear was the same as it always was. High-definition images of an angry Anikan hurting and killing innocents, of Vader terrorizing the Galaxy. Flashes of Qui-Gon’s injuries… of Maul’s unambiguous demise… of the unknown, now that the timeline had been changed so much from what I knew. It chilled my core, and I sank deeper into myself, making certain not to reach out to the Force in this dark moment, even as it called to me.

    You are not a Master, I told myself, and it was both a plea for control and a manifestation of my fears. You are barely a Knight. Your powers amount nothing if you cannot wield them with precision. Your plans mean nothing if you fail in your detachment. Your actions accomplish nothing if the Empire still rises.

    The wave of emotion passed. Only two had noticed whatever expression had betrayed my face during the backlash: Tesh the bartender, and a young man sitting at the opposite end of the bar. They exchanged a glance. Tesh swapped my nearly-empty glass for a fresh beer.

    “Somethin’ eatin’ at ya?” the other man tossed at me. He had the stained overalls and tool belt of a day laborer, and his tone was soft, friendly, concerned. I reached out to him emotionally - and only barely steeled my recoil as I felt his cold, predatory response. This was not a good man, as he initially appeared even in his surface thoughts. The clothes and demeanor were both part of a ruse to… I dug deeper… single out men with cash, mug or murder them, and strip them of their valuables. He was an opportunist; he didn’t go after well-connected locals or larger groups. He had thug accomplices nearby to affect an ambush once he had identified a likely target.

    To women, they did worse.

    “Nothing a couple of beers can’t fix.” I gave the man - Rondil - a respectful nod, and moved down when he pointed to the stool next to his. Chatting him up was easy; he made it so. I made sure not to give any answers to his carefully probing questions that might reject me as a potential mark.

    Inside, I worked hard to quell my excitement and stay properly collected, even as I thrilled at resuming the ‘field training’ that I had neglected for some time. Killing Rondil and his friends would be satisfying, but it was important that I not make the mistake of enjoying it.
     
  30. Threadmarks: Ch. 30 - Dirty Work, part 2
    9adam4

    9adam4 No emotion, only "peace"

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    I feigned a stagger as Rondil led me down the alleyway toward a lift that - to give the man credit - would have led to my apartment if I actually lived where I had said. It was unclear just exactly how his bigger, less congenial companions found us, as it was unlikely they would be waiting down one of the dozens of shifty corridors in the lower levels. But find us they did. Two more humans, like Rondil, and a Gamorrean male.

    They hunched together in a recess at the side of the alley, seemingly lost in their own conversation as they waited for us to pass. In fact, their attention was wholly on us, apparently waiting for a signal from Rondil to make a move.

    As I sized up the group, I realized that the Gamorrean threw a wrench into matters. He wasn’t wearing the leather armor of a clansman, but rather the colorful synthetic clothing of Coruscant… and they fit poorly. But more importantly, unlike Rondil and his two human friends, Stubby (as he thought of himself) exuded not malice or anticipation but simple confused fear. He… didn’t know what his companions were planning to do to me. They’d brought him along as muscle, but hadn’t even explained to him the nature of the job. It wasn’t unusual for the low-intelligence Gamorreans to be treated as little more than beasts, and Stubby’s ‘friends’ had taken that approach with him.

    I met his deep-set dull eyes above his pig-like snout, and felt his spark of pity and disgust. He’d go along with hurting me, I realized, not because he wanted to, but because he always went along with what his group did. He found the idea distasteful, but standing up to his companions never even occurred to him. He widened his mouth in a grimace, and only then did I see four points sticking up from his lower jaw. This boy was only starting to grow out his tusks, and his horns were similarly small nubs (likely the source of his nickname).

    So now the matter was complicated. I wasn’t going to kill this kid; but that left me in a situation where killing the other three was no longer a clean, zero-witness affair. I’d have to subdue him non-fatally, then hopefully get him to understand the situation he was in. Rehabilitating a rogue Gamorrean was hardly -

    My thoughts were interrupted when Rondil gave the signal, bodily throwing me towards his companions. I began to reach out a hand to steady myself with the Force, but I pulled back, realizing that I could probably win this battle without breaking cover. None of these thugs were sensitives, and knowing where to move to avoid their Force-telegraphed blows made the battle easy. They weren’t drawing blasters, having expected to carve me up with knives (not even vibra-knives, just the regular kind), and the humans yelped in surprise as I put one, two, and three of them on the ground with wrist grabs and disarming flips.

    I cheated a bit with Stubby, putting enough Force behind my leather-clad punches to penetrate his thick hide and knock him down. The fear wafting off of him now mirrored that of his friends perfectly, but the outcome would be very different.

    The experienced thugs made no attempt to rise, and I could sense them lining up their placating entreaties as they caught their breath. They never had the chance to say them; my hand blaster spoke six times in rapid succession and three human corpses returned to the alley floor.
    My attention turned to the Gamorrean bull, who was grunting something that I sensed to be the equivalent of a plea for mercy. I knew nothing of his language, and couldn’t have physically spoken it even if I did. I tried a reply in Galactic Standard. “Where is your matron?”

    He snorted a response, and I caught whiffs of loneliness. Images of an armed conflict, Gamorrean against Gammorean, and the clear impression that he and his clan had lost.

    “So there’s no one that you really answer to, then,” I said, as much to myself as to Stubby. “If I tell you to run off, where will you go?”

    No verbal response this time, but he recalled his recent past. Sleeping in unlit passages farther underground, scrounging for food. He had nowhere to go.

    “The Gamorrean Consulate Office,” said a voice behind me, “encourages the return of what they call ‘maverick males.’ I believe he’d qualify for their assistance program.”

    I rounded on my apprentice-to-be, not bothering to hide my deep surprise. “Your shielding is really quite good, Olanna. How long have you been following me?”

    “Long enough.” She frowned darkly at the bodies surrounding us, clearly having many questions but wanting to focus on the issue at hand. “Do we need to cuff him?”

    “I don’t carry handcuffs. That’s… not what I do down here.” She made as though to press the point, but I quickly changed the subject. “Stubby,” I ignored Olanna’s eyebrow raise at the name, “if we hire you a cab, will you go where we ask and talk to the people there?”

    He was clearly confused, but he breathed out assent, and I sensed no intent to deceive us. He didn’t know what a consulate was. I hoped he’d be happy back in the care of those who knew what he needed.

    It was a very long lift ride up to where I could hire Stubby transport, and while I couldn’t sense her mind telepathically, the hostile tension in the elevator was palpable.. Olanna waited until the Gamorrean was safely in the automated flyer before she turned on me.

    “Obi, what is going on?” She asked as we walked along another corridor with bad lighting.

    “I was getting ready to ask you the same thing,” I shot back. “How did you follow me? Qui-Gon never managed it.”

    “I suspect that Qui-Gon just never got caught,” Olanna pointed out. “You’re easy to sense, even from a great distance, when you open your mind up to others. Particularly non-Jedi.”

    I nodded. “Perhaps that’s something we can work on together? I’d rather be able to investigate others without broadcasting my own activities in return.”

    “Please don’t change the subject,” my student frowned. “You come down here to, what, slake bloodlust? Experiment on the helpless? Give me a foothold here.”

    “It’s training,” I shrugged, making an abrupt turn into a cross-corridor. “Listening, reading, and guiding the thoughts of others in an environment where my influence won’t be noticed. Hand-to-hand and blaster combat, to lethal ends, against multiple enemies that don’t have Force training.”

    “That wasn’t combat,” Olanna replied. “It was carnage. You disabled those humans with ease, and then executed them coldly.”

    “You’re… right,” I begrudgingly admitted. “I was expecting them to put up a lot more of a fight. Detaching myself from the act of killing is still useful practice, but I certainly didn’t learn anything new from the violent exchange itself.”

    Olanna muttered something under her breath that I didn’t catch. “How long have you been doing this?”

    “Four years.”

    I felt more than saw her jaw drop at that. “Why?”

    “That’s… a complicated question.” I finally arrived at one of the numerous low-cost, low-security storage walls that dotted the lower levels, and popped open my locker with a quick code sequence. Shucking my leathers, I saw Olanna turn away blushing as I donned my Jedi garb. “I’m hungry. Let’s grab a bite, and I’ll explain.”
     
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