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Saga REPOST - To Betray A Traitor (RotS AU)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by WITCH_KING_OF_ANGMAR, Mar 7, 2013.



    May 17, 2006
    Title: To Betray a Traitor
    Author: Witch_King_Of_Angmar
    Timeframe: ROTS
    Characters: Dooku of Serenno, Palpatine, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Bail Organa, Mas Amedda, Padme Amidala, General Grievous, Yoda...
    Genre: Action/Drama/Mystery
    Keywords: AU
    Summary: In a pivotal moment of history, the Force grants Darth Tyrannus a moment of revelation that will make him question everything he believes. The consequences of this simple change will be momentous...

    Disclaimer: This is a fanfiction story, written by a fan for other fans. Star Wars and all related characters and concepts are property of George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd.

    Notes: Haven't been here in a good while. However, since somebody asked me to repost this fic here (the previously posted copy having been affected by the truncated posts issue), I had no good reason not to do so and here we are.


    I- In which trust is lost

    "What troubles you, lord Tyrannus?," asked a voice in a tone that demanded an answer. "I feel much doubt in your mind."

    Slowly, almost grudgingly, an elderly man that had been watching the drama unfolding outside turned to face the man who had questioned him. His interlocutor was sitting upon a large metallic throne with his arms shackled to his seat. In such a position, few would have been able to control the conversation, but Palpatine of Naboo was one of that exclusive group. In a way that was hard to describe, he was majestic and impressive even now, despite his chains... That ability had been most useful during the long years he had needed to become what he was now. Supreme Chancellor of a Galactic Republic, supreme ruler of trillions upon trillons of destinies.

    Dooku of Serenno, political leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, had the sophisticated demeanor he had gained from his aristocratic origins, but he lacked Palpatine's almost tangible aura. An aura that the Chancellor created with very little effort. Hiding his emotions with a carefully studied expression and meticulous movements, Dooku knelt in front of his master and lowered his head, attempting to avoid the piercing gaze that so often had extracted his darkest secrets from the deepest pits of his soul. For a moment he tried to fabricate an explanation that would satisfy his lord, but once again he felt those eyes drilling through his skull. Against his will, he gave the truth and nothing but the truth.

    "I am tired, master. I am no youngling. I have not been one for many, many years. Death will claim me soon and she is an enemy not even the Dark Side can fend off. For many years I have felt her approach and I do not fear her anymore. But I fear oblivion. Memory is the one kind of inmortality I can aspire to. And sometimes I fear that I will be forgotten," confessed the former Jedi Master with a weak voice.

    "From your words, it is clear that a part of you still clings to the Jedi Code. You disappoint me, lord Tyrannus. After all you have done, after all you have seen, after learning the weakness of the Jedi their mysticism still taints you," sneered the Sith master with clear disdain. Inside, lord Sidious felt scorn and anger. Tyrannus had grown soft in the time they had been apart. He had been an useful servant, yes, whose life would soon come to an end, but Darth Plagueis' heir was enraged by the open acknowledgement of such a weakness by one who had taken the title and mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith.

    "It is not my Jedi past what makes me fear oblivion, master. History is unfair, cruel even, with those willing to do what must be done. Ours is a great and noble cause, an Empire of Man, free of the beastly corruption that throttles the Republic, but the sacrifices have been great. Trillions have perished in this war. Worlds have burned. Unthinkable nightmares have been unleshed. Sometimes...

    "Be silent, lord Tyrannus. This war is about to end. Soon, we will receive our due. Have you forgotten everything I taught you? Have you forgotten Darth Bane's words a thousand years ago? There is no peace, there is fury. There is no fear, there is power. There is no death, there is immortality. There is no weakness, there is the Dark Side. Our code. The essential truths of this universe. Your weakness enrage me. Forget the lies your old master instilled into you. Feel the Force. Listen to its glorious music. Let it strengthen your resolve. Let its fire purify you."

    "Your will be done, milord," droned Dooku. And in a kneeling posture, he followed Palpatine's instructions. Using his fears and hates as fuel for the fires of the Dark Side, he emptied his mind and let the Force flood him.

    Sometimes Palpatine had hinted that the Force was not divided in two sides of a money. That the use one made of the power was the individual's choice, although few had the force of will needed to dominate it. Tyrannus had the secret and never voiced opinion that at least in that, his master was wrong. He remembered perfectly the way the Force had felt in the Jedi Temple, although he had been unable to sense it in the same way since the day he had begun to learn the lost Sith lore.

    The soft and gentle force he remembered was not the toxic torrent that was the Dark Side. Using fear and other intense emotions to reach the Force you gained greater power than those resulting from a lifetime of meditation and tireless training, but there was a price to pay. An iron will was needed to resist, to avoid becoming a puppet ruled by the most base instincts. To explore the Dark Side was a risky endeavour, indeed.

    At the moment, the Dark Side around Coruscant was in turmoil. It was small wonder, in fact. The battle around the galactic capital had started many hours ago and the Republican and Confederated fleets still fought. Despair, fear, hate. The deepest, most genuine emotions of all forms of life were firewood.

    And from the millions crewing the warships and the trillions hiding in the planet below, hiding in deep shelters, they came in great abundance. It was likely, Dooku thought, that the oppressive darkness had blinded even the most powerful and experienced Jedi Masters

    It was somewhat ironic that most of that darkness came from the Republican forces, the so called "forces of the Light". The Separatist vessels had small living crews, unlike their foes. Instead, they used powerful computers and droids. No matter how perfect their parody of life, the machines were no living beings and they weren't part of the Force. The Republic was weakening its own champions more than any scheme devised by lord Sidious.

    Meanwhile, through Tyrannus' mind flashed images, tiny pieces of the titanic struggle. Only a few were clear or lasted more than a heartbeat. He saw the ships, moving in their slow orbits through space, exchanging weapons fire with the power to level whole continents. A Neimoidian captain ordering defiantly a collision course for his damaged starship. A group of Mandalorian troopers leading a droid force in the assault of a great Republican destroyer. A young human, his forehead gleaming with sweat, in some enemy battery. In some of the images he saw the fleeting glow of a lightsaber. Finally, the confusing whirlwind stopped and the image of two starfighters moving through the battle appeared in the count's mind.

    Without approaching his mind's eye, Tyrannus knew instantly who piloted both fighters. Even from a distance of thousands of kilometers, their presence in the Force was unmistakable. The culmination, the true reason behind the Separatist attack against Coruscant was approaching. The Sith withdrew from the Force and returned to his own body, in the Confederated flagship.

    "The Jedi approach"

    "Yes, they do, apprentice. It seems that at least your skills are still well honed. You will need them," commented Palpatine in a careless tone. It was clear that otherwise Tyrannus deserved a very grim fate. "Leave now and ensure that all is ready for their arrival. This is a risky gamble and we cannot afford mistakes."

    After bowing, Dooku obeyed and left Palpatine alone in the Invisible Hand's viewroo. His quarters were close by and there he would have the opportunity to follow comfortably Skywalker and Kenobi's advance through the ship. Hopefully both his enemies would tire, while he rested and prepared. He had boasted before Sidious about his ability to beat both of them, but truth was that both were young and he was over eighty years old.

    Skywalker was no great threat. The youngster was powerful, with an impressive potential, but as he had proven when their swords clashed in Geonosis, he had little control. Kenobi was the most dangerous. An exceptional example of Jedi. Skilled. Courageous. And with enough power to defeat Darth Maul even before his knighting. Although the previous Sith apprentice had been a beast lacking in subtlety, it had been a strong and well trained beast. A beast that had earned the title of Sith Lord.

    It was clear that Maul had made the serious mistake of underestimating his enemy. Dooku had no intention of making the same mistake, particularly because he only expected the best from Qui-Gon's old padawan. In a sense, Dooku regretted the impending demise of the young Kenobi. It was a pity he had to die, particularly if his unworthy companion was to live. But those were Sidious orders: kill Kenobi, show Skywalker the true power of the Force and feign defeat. Three tasks, all of them extremely unpleasant.

    Once in his room, sorrounded by the best art from a hundred worlds, Dooku turned off the lights with a gesture and knelt in the center of a rare Karalsian carpet. Each Sith Lord had his own style of combat and each Sith Lord followed his own ritual before battle whenever possible. Dooku's had intense Jedi influences, as pointed by Sidious sometimes. All doubts were vanished from his mind, allowing the count to become one with the Force and making his lightsaber an extension of his body.

    With the weapon in his lap, Tyrannus closed his eyes. He caressed the refined lines of his lightsaber with a lover's kindness, stopping in the tiny irregularities created by many years of use... Slowly and with very unSithlike gentleness, he inmersed in the Force and became one with the weapon. He was the crimson scythe of death now.

    However, this time there was a resistance. He couldn't reach the Void that protected him from his own emotions in the fray. His imminent treason of the Confederacy refused to leave his mind. What was happening? He despised the scum he had been working with in the last years and hated the mechanical and biomechanical abominations they created. Like Grievous. Moreover, treachery was the way of the Sith.

    His thoughts stopped there. An intense unease had appeared. He probed deeper, making questions that he hadn't made since his training. He had always supposed that Palpatine shared his hatred of aliens. That the Sith master also considered them tools to be used, little better than animals and worse in many ways. If that was true, why had he taken Maul as his first apprentice? The Jedi Order didn't reach every world in the galaxy and it wouldn't have been impossible to find a human child with potential. In the worst case, Palpatine could have located a former member of the order, just as he had done with Dooku. But he had not done it.

    A truth he hadn't seen appeared in his mind. What had prevented him from seeing through such a clear lie? The deception he had suffered angered him more than anything he had ever felt and that very fury powered the Dark Side. And then, in a blaze of rage turned power, Dooku extracted from the Force a vision of his future.

    The revelation put out the fires of his anger. He knew with absolute certainty that all he had seen -his own execution, the destruction of the whole Jedi Order, a mad Palpatine devouring all life in the galaxy- would become reality. Unless he prevented it. A tremor coming from the hangar announced Skywalker and Kenobi's arrival. He had very little time.

    He left his quarters and almost run the distance to the viewroom. He rested for a moment before crossing the door between his target and himself. It was essential to avoid Palpatine's suspicion until it was too late. He opened the door and knelt in front of the great spinner.

    The Chancellor, engrossed in his own plans, detected inmediately a change in the flow of the Force around his apprentice, but was unable to interpret it. Whatever it was, the sudden change was an ill omen in such an important moment and might well be a problem in the conversion of young Skywalker. Palpatine raised his eyebrow and opened his mouth, intending to find out the truth.

    He had no chance to ask anything. Tyrannus made his move. The lightsaber flew to the aristocrat's hand and activated with a red flash. Palpatine's widening eyes filled Dooku with satisfaction in the last moments before the lethal blow...


    May 17, 2006
    II- In which the wheel of fate turns

    The lethal blow never connected. Dooku's satisfaction vanished and growing worry replaced it. Instead of completing its swing, the luminous blade had been stopped, blocked by an unexpected resistance.

    The count increased pressure, but the resistance grew faster. Slowly, very slowly, the lightsaber moved away from Palpatine's throat. Tyrannus' worry was transformed. It became fear, terror, vast and intense panic. A fear he didn't control, a fear that did not fan the flames of his power, but weakened his efforts. Almost desperately, Tyrannus poured his vast reserves of power, attempting to overcome the barrier, attempting to sever his master's existence.

    That supreme effort was enough. Something gave way and the weapon advanced again, just as slowly as it had previously backed away. The nobleman recovered his confidence and his gaze shifted again from the deadly blade to his victim's face. That was a mistake. Palpatine had disappeared, because there was nothing of the distinguished galactic ruler in the grotesque visage he saw. The former Jedi master beheld dumbfounded the fury of Sidious, Master of the Sith Order, and when a pair of yellow eyes invaded his mind, his heart and soul were gripped by unfathomable terror.

    Balance had been broken. The master took advantage of the opportunity and launched a powerful blow. The apprentice landed in graceless fashion several meters away and his refined lightsaber fell halfway between the throne and his own sprawled form.

    A metallic groan announced that Palpatine had broken his shackles. Dooku, still stunned by the attacks against his mind and body, attempted to rise. A tremendous weight made him fall on all fours.

    "Do you want to die so much that you cannot wait to be defeated by Skywalker, lord Tyrannus?," hissed Sidious with a voice that was barely human. "Your betrayal is unexpected and untimely. Now I will have to destroy him personally and Kenobi too. I will never find another with such a potential again. Do you understand what you have done, scum?"

    The last part was almost a shriek. The Sith Lord was close to giving in to his rage. Dooku stole a glance, still under the spell of false panic. He saw against the light a shadowy silhouette. The face was Palpatine's again, but pulsing veins were still evident and in the eyes traces of a yellowish hue were to be seen. A reddened mark in the throat indicated the point were the lightsaber had scorched skin. Once again, the monster was safely hidden behind a fair appearance.

    A slight movement with the hand launched the Confederacy's head of state against the viewroom's metal walls. Another movement. Pain, pain as he had never known or even dreamed with, made Tyrannus writhe. After an eternity that lasted only a few seconds, the pain vanished, although violent spasms still coursed through the old warrior's body.

    "Fear not, my unruly apprentice," said Palpatine in a more controlled tone, although Dooku barely understood the words in his agony. "I will not end you. Not here, not now. Your treachery deserves a very special and protracted reward. I will have to be careful, of course. I would hate to grant you release by breaking your mind. Perhaps you will find enlightening that in his search of inmortality, Plagueis researched for a very long time to find the limits between life and death. I have that knowledge, as well as the journals of one Darth Sion whose name and reputation you already know."

    The Chancellor made another gesture and the very sword that had almost ended his life floated from the ground to his open palm. He eyed it for a moment and then approached his fallen enemy wielding Dooku's own saber. Dooku tried, futilely, to escape crawling.

    "Resist. Resist with all your might, old fool. And when you realize that all was for naught, you will know the true meaning of despair," he said activating the blade and launching an attack in a single movement, so swift and fluid that the count would have been hard pressed to avoid in his best moment.

    Red light cut through fabric, flesh and bone without slowing down. Dooku cried in renewed pain, while he used his left hand to hold his right arm. An arm that now ended at the wrist. Palpatine stared at the pathetic image with an evil smile, crushing Tyrannus' severed hand with his boots. A symbol of his victory, a very pleasant symbol.

    "I am tempted to cut your other arm. And the legs too, my friend. However, I think that I will not... for the moment. I seem to remember that you scorned young Skywalker for his mechanical hand. You said that a true knight would have learned to wield the sword with his other hand or something similar. Have you changed your mind?

    But his mutilation had been enough to break Dooku out of the terrified stupor of the last moments. And the vengeful Palpatine, busy with his gloating of an enemy apparently defeated, hadn't detected the change. Not yet.

    Weakened, unarmed and in great pain, Tyrannus knew that he was not up to it, yet at the same time he knew that it didn't matter. Better to die fighting and with a semblance of dignity that to be destroyed by Sidious' perversion. With snake-like speed, the lord of Serenno moved his injured arm and attacked with the full force of his power.

    Palpatine's taunts, frustration and pain were all used to increase his diminished energy. From his still smouldering wrist, Dooku launched a veritable storm of blue lightning. For the second time in a day, Darth Sidious felt the effects of an unexpected attack. It was his turn now to fly through the air and crash against the walls and fly and crash he did. It was a short flight and the impact dented metal.

    But in spite of this and the smell of smoke coming from his robes, Palpatine had suffered no true damage. However, he was worried. His foresight had always been one of his best honed abilities and the prediction of threats was almost second nature for him. Yet he had been unable to predict clear and present dangers twice in a row. Once he would have been willing to ignore. Sometimes it happened, like Padme Amidala's return to Naboo. But twice? It was unthinkable.

    There was something afoot. Something that was Tyrannus' doing. Somehow he had found a way of masking himself from Sidious' gaze and had decided to rise to the position of Sith master with a single strike. But Palpatine of Naboo was no easy prey. As he rose, he saw that his enemy had done the same thing in the opposite side of the room, recovered his lightsaber with his left hand and now awaited, full of caution. Palpatine tried to probe Dooku's mind but found a wall that stopped him. His apprentice had raised his mental defenses. Pity. The Mask of Nightmare was a useful ability, but he wouldn't have the opportunity to use it again now. The only way to break those walls would be by storm, but such a thing would take too much time and effort.

    And Palpatine had been forced to waste much of his own vast reserves to stop the blade that had almost killed him. With so little time and without a direct line of vision, his only weapon against the count's finesse had been raw power. A lot of raw power. And even that would have failed without the Mask of Nightmare that had given him the upper hand. Now he had to defeat his apprentice without using too much energy. After all, two powerful Jedi were approaching and he needed to be ready for them too. At least, it was clear that Tyrannus' newfound ability hadn't increased his power or made him more skilled, so he was still outmatched. Particularly now that he had a single hand. Sidious produced one of his own lightsabers from a hidden pocket inside his robes and extended its blade, cackling with glee when he saw surprise in his apprentice's face.

    The short staring contest had been a hard test for Dooku's nerves. He had no way of knowing Sidious' thoughts, nor the strategy he was preparing, although he had felt his touch in the fortified edges of his mind. But the count had finally understood that time was his ally, that Kenobi and Skywalker were coming. In short, the longer the duel, the worse things were for the Sith Lord. And when Palpatine's lightsaber appeared, he realized that he had surprises of his own. This ship had been his residence and stronghold for several years of war. The crew even called his quarters the Wizard's Tower. He had resources to call upon.

    Dooku’s movement to press some device in his belt was all the warning Sidious got, until the doors opened and four superbattledroids entered, as commanded by their owner. Their program detected the count and only other presence in the room. A lightsaber-wielding threat. And they had very clear instructions about the proper way of dealing with such threats. They formed a line and opened fire with their inbuilt blaster guns. Ultra-rapid bursts with up to ten shots a second, weaker than normal shots, but still more than enough to kill any human.

    A little known detail of Jedi (and Sith) history was that lightsabers had been first developed to counter the first blasters, so deadly that sometimes even lowly criminals scored a Jedi kill. Over the centuries, the defence against such weapons had grown to be a form of art among the Knights of the Republic. And while the Sith Order had always favoured aggression and offensive fighting styles, Darth Sidious was a very gifted swordsman, one of the best the galaxy had ever known. So when the robotic minions unleashed their furious rain of blaster death, he moved with inhuman speed and accuracy, creating a scarlet whirlwind that blocked, deflected or returned almost every single shot.

    The mechanic soldiers never had a chance. Two of them fell victim to their own fire, another was literally crushed when Palpatine waved his hand and the last one was cut in half by the blade of the lightsaber that had been such an effective protection. But Dooku hadn't summoned the battledroids in hopes of a quick victory. They had been a distraction, nothing else. A distraction that had worked, because after his last strike, Palpatine's guard was open. An amazing burst of speed took Tyrannus across the room. The Chancellor was barely able to parry a beheading slash and his precarious position allowed his enemy to force the duel into a hail of movements, movements precalculated by a consumate fencer. In the sixth movement of the series, Palpatine failed to detect a feint.

    He understood his mistake when he felt a burning sensation in his right wrist. His amputated hand fell to the floor, still gripping his lightsaber, and only a Force enhanced leap saved him from a direct stab to the heart. A wall of solidified air, hastily erected during his jump, divided the room, protecting him from the now grinning count of Serenno.

    "Now we are even, master!," taunted Dooku, pressing his stump against the Force wall.

    Ignoring the pain and the humiliation, Palpatine drew even more power from the Dark Side and made yet another note in his mental list of reasons to destroy his overproud foe in body, mind and soul. He approached the barrier, until only the construct and a few centimeters of air separated his face from Dooku's.

    "Do you really believe that we are even? This injury is nothing for one who commands the Dark Side. You, on the other hand, are a failure and a ruin. Fallen Jedi, fallen Sith. Just a handless old fool who will beg for mercy very soon."

    "If that is the better you can do..."

    "No, it isn't."

    Air movement behind his back and a last minute warning from the Force saved Dooku's life. He turned just in time to parry the strike Sidious' lightsaber, guided by the will of its owner. Despite himself, the count was amazed by Palpatine's prowess. Telekinetic control of a lightsaber was not something particularly unusual. Enough skill to make the lightsaber as one wielded by a master of Djem So, while holding a Force wall and after a serious injury was something unheard of. And while he battled the flying blade, he saw something that left him awed. Somehow Palpatine had recovered his severed hand and was pressing it against his own stump. And it was healing. Bones were mended, sinews were repaired and new muscle grew to repair the cauterized flesh. In a matter of seconds all damage was undone. The wall collapsed, the lightsaber interrupted its attack against Dooku and flew to the outstretched hand that had just been miraculously healed.

    "Only now, at the end, do you understand. I am the Sith Master, I command the Dark Side. Pain, fear and destruction are my tools, they make me thrive. These are the powers that shall undo you. Prepare for the end, lord Tyrannus!"

    "That is the name you chose for me, Sidious. I am the Count Dooku, lord of the world of Serenno, former Jedi Master. And I shall be your death!," countered Dooku, with all the conviction he was able to muster.

    The blades of the lightsabers clashed again. The duel continued.


    May 17, 2006
    III- In which the will of the Force is revealed

    If someone had been there to witness the duel, he would have seen two figures blurred by a combination of speed, a veritable cloud of floating objects that moved around one of them and a swift series of white flashes every time two lines of red lights held by both figures touched. The Force allowed both contendants to move so fast that seconds stretched into minutes, distorting their perception of time, but with his long experience Dooku estimated that his confrontation with Darth Sidious was moving into its fourth minute now. And in that time, he had launched two hundred and twenty fruitless attacks and parried or dodged over twice as many.

    Despite himself, the Count had been forced to fight on the defensive, because Palpatine was younger and more powerful and, therefore, faster. He had even included Soresu movements in his Makashi, trading grace for enhanced defense, but he had realized that his old lessons in the Jedi Temple were more useful here than his Sith powers. The Sith Lords were aware of their individual advantage over the Lightsiders, the very idea of a single stronger opponent was anathema for the Sith, and that certainty of superiority was at the core of Sith dogma. The training of a Sith Lord focused in combat against many weaker enemies.

    And, as Sidious was finding out with an exercise in frustration, against a strong enemy such a training was next to worthless. The Count was just too strong to crush him easily. Possible? Certainly, but only with a great deal of effort, particularly with his damnable Jedi knowledge. And if the effort was too big, then the outcome of a fight with Kenobi and Skywalker might become uncertain. And that was entirely too big a risk.

    In the other hand, Dooku had allowed himself to harbour some faint hopes. He felt the growing frustration of Palpatine and he had seen the sweat that covered his enemy's face. Despite his proud words, the Sith Master had only a limited supply of power and it was clear that regenerating his hand had come with a very steep prize. Of course, the question was whether the prize had been steep enough. At the moment, the answer was no, by all appearances. Sidious' strikes still had the force of ten men, his wasn't slowing down and the ring of flying obstacles he had created with pieces of the destroyed battledroids still moved, reducing the windows Dooku used to attack, yet allowing the Chancellor to move without hindrance.

    It was clear that the power expenditure of the former Jedi was a lot smaller and the trademark precision of Makashi prevented any form of waste, but even so he felt his energies dwindling too rapidly for his liking. In training or mock battle, he had never outlasted his master, so he didn't know the true extent of his enemy's power, just that it was vastly greater than his.

    A warning of danger made him move his head to the right, allowing him to narrowly avoid being hit by a droid leg that had been launched from Palpatine's halo. The projectile crashed against one of the great windows, where a worrisome crack appeared. Dooku muttered from behind gritted teeth things that promised the Neimoidian builders a painful and short future. That glass was supposed to resist the direct impact of a meteorite, but apparently they had decided to cut expenses and hadn't installed the force-fields that would protect from impacts from inside.

    The momentary distraction could have costed him dearly, for his former master jumped at the chance to renew his attack with increased speed in a series of powerful blows that almost demolished his defences. The Count needed every bit of his considerable skill to halt the onslaught. Even then he was forced to give more and more ground, until his back found one of the walls. Then, using as much power as he was able to channel, he increased his speed to match and even exceed his enemy's who was forced to retreat a couple of steps. Then, with a strong kick, Dooku finally found some breathing room.

    Palpatine landed cleanly, after a complete somersault in the air, with the lightsaber ready to continue the fight. However, his renegade apprentice was in no condition to continue. The amazing speeds he had shown had left him panting and with his old heart beating too fast. Knowing that victory was now at hand, the Chancellor decided to savour the moment. He deactivated his blade and looked at his disciple with crossed arms, although ready for possible surprises.

    "Impressive, most impressive. Particularly for an old coot that once was a Jedi. I marvel at my ability to turn you into something similar to a true Sith warrior and I wonder what would have been possible to do with young Skywalker. I fear that this question will haunt me for eternity, as your actions have robbed me of the chance of learning the answer," explained Sidious with a note of regret in his voice, until a very smug smile appeared in his face. "You are beaten and you know it. Do you yield? I might be clement."

    "Never," cried Dooku, moving his stump towards his communicator. He had no choice but to press the general alarm button, that would summon several hundred droids and... More or less at this point, the Count's train of thought derailed when he discovered something extremely unpleasant. His belt and all its contents, communicator included, weren't there, probably severed in one of the strikes he had blocked only in the very last instant.

    "Are you looking for this, my friend?" asked Palpatine, pointing at one of the many things in the field that even now protected him. A thing that Dooku recognized as his belt. "Surely you did not intend to use the same trick twice against me, did you? Really, you should know better with me. After all, I have been your master for many years now.

    The Count didn't reply, but saw with a lump in his throat how the belt and the vital device vanished in a flash of blue light.

    "And now that we have removed the distractions, it is time for the main course. You will beg for mercy, I assure you," promised Sidious, turning his left hand towars his exhausted enemy.

    The intensity surprised the Count, but he was able to block the tendrils of light with his red sword. Barely. He could feel the murderous thirst that powered them and the evil will that guided them, both attempting to find a hole in his walls to strike and feed from his very soul. One step, another. And another one. Dooku advanced, fighting against the stream of dark power. If he continued advancing, he would be able to strike down Palpatine with his weapon and... Palpatine had put his own lightsaber in a pocket and raised his right hand to double the power behind his attack. The nobleman's resistance crumbled as a sandcastle touched by the rising tide.

    However, Palpatine stopped almost inmediately. The duel was truly over and the loser was at his mercy, but he didn't want to kill him. Not yet. He was enjoying his victory after a disturbing number of setbacks. And he reserved a very special form of death for the traitor. The Jedi were approaching, yes, but he still had enough time to punish Tyrannus' insolence in a truly exemplary fashion.

    "Your stubborn resistance has robbed me of many years of sport, Tyrannus. Now, I will reward you in another way. As Lord of the Sith, I declare you guilty of treason against our Order, vilest of all crimes, and I sentence you to die, fate of weaklings and traitors. Moreover, I deem you unworthy of being my apprentice and heir of the Sith tradition. I hereby strip you of all rank and right within the Order," announced Darth Sidious, using a rarely used formula that predated the Order created by Darth Bane. "Finally, considering the seriousness of your crimes against our beliefs and myself, I doom you to oblivion."

    Dooku, weakened and in pain, hadn't paid attention to Palpatine's words at first, busy as he was attempting to stand without the wall as support. However, the last threat made him react. A cruel joy appeared in Palpatine's face when he saw the panic in Dooku's face.

    "You will be forgotten. This galaxy will be mine and I will do my best to erase the memory of your very existence from it. The rule of the Sith will be eternal and from this galaxy it will reach the last reaches of the universe, but you will be only a forgotten ghost from a dead past. A nameless spirit that will disappear in darkness. And now I would like to explain you the way I intend to execute you...

    The explosion of animal fury came with savage howling from the Count of Serenno that almost disguised the groaning of metal. However, Palpatine knew without turning that the throne-like chair he had used minutes before approached from behind with his head as target. It had been a mighty, but clumsy, effort. No subtlety, no delicacy. Stopping it with the lightest touch of his mind was child's play. After a few seconds it fell several meters away, with a great thud.

    At the same time, Dooku sagged. The eruption had consumed the remainder of his strength and he was utterly spent. His well was dry now and he had no way to resist Palpatine's efforts now. Invisible hands lifted him, while others pressed against his throat, making him choke. Palpatine approached and looked his former student in the eye.

    "As I was explaining, before I was so rudely interrupted, you are going to suffer a unusual death. Another one of Plagueis' many discoveries. He called it the Touch of Entropy, not a very good name, but back then the old man had a penchant for the melodramatic. Esentially, I will be a vessel for destructive energies and once I touch you, they will attack every single cell in your body, tearing down cellular tissue. Once they are finished, a pool of muddy water will be the only thing left of you. I am told that it is a rather fast death, as you will be consumed in ten to twenty seconds, however Plagueis wrote that the nerves are the last thing to disappear and that there is a feeling of exquisite pain associated with the destruction. He also stated that a connection with the Force increases the pain, although I do not think that he had the opportunity to test it with a traitor... I am curious. Farewell, Dooku of Serenno!"

    And just when Sidious' hand was about to touch Dooku's It happened.

    Every single Force sensitive in Coruscant and nearby worlds felt something moving in the Force itself and realized that something momentous was happening. In the end, It was rather disappointing in its smallness. Lexin Terrail, a young Corellian technician in the fire control center of a heavy turbolaser battery in the RSS Shield of Tralus, a Venator-class Star Destroyer distant roughly thirty thousand kilometers from the Invisible Hand, pressed the wrong button. The direct consequence of this mistake was that the powerful weapon fired too soon to hit the chosen target, a TradeFed battleship. Terrail had no chance to regret his mistake, as the Shield of Tralus was destroyed by a full power blast from the main turbolaser cannons of a nearby Munificent-class frigate, killing Terrail and everyone else onboard the starship.

    However, the almost invisible beam, harbinger of energies worthy of a small star, had already left. It crossed vacuum at speeds approaching those of light itself. And roughly one tenth of a second after being fired the beam impacted against the starboard side of the Confederate flagship. The shields, already weakened by hours of fighting, collapsed after absorbing most of the energy. But only most of it. The remainder was enough to violently shake the warship and trigger a number of explosions that destroyed some extremely important systems. Like primary impulse and the control of artificial gravity.

    The giant ship fell plummeted towards the planet below and that had rather significative effects in all sections. In the bridge, the droid technicians fell on their command consoles, while General Grievous barked orders to correct the situation. In what was left of the hangar, something covered by a mountain of scrap started to beep in annoyance. In a turbolift, a couple of Jedi in a rescue mission were forced to make acrobatics when the ground became the walls.

    In the viewroom, the two duelists had no time to prepare. Palpatine tried to keep his footing, his victim forgotten, but Dooku was powerless to stop his fall towards the windows. His dead weight dragged Sidious along and it was the would-be-executioner who took the brunt of the impact and was knocked unconscious. The victim-to-be realized that he had been given a last chance beyond all hope, seized Sidious' own lightsaber, activated it and with what little strength he had left drove it through the Chancellor's heart. Palpatine died instantly.

    Palpatine's body... exploded. There was no other way to explain the burst of cold blue flames that bathed every surface in the room for an instant of blinding brilliance. When the flames disappeared, only a shrivelled husk was left. The empty shell of the mightiest Sith Lord to ever darken the galaxy. Dooku collapsed, utterly exhausted and in the verge of unconsciousness himself. He heard a weak voice inside his head, but before he was able to understand what it said, the darkness swallowed him whole.

    At the same time, General Grievous regained control of his ship and all surfaces returned to their usual positions. In the viewroom, two inert bodies landed in the ground together and a blast shield extended to seal the window that had been pierced in the strike that had claimed Palpatine's life. And in a matter of moments, every Jedi in the galaxy felt that the blinding darkness retreated. The Dark Side was still strong, but the ruling will that had created the Shroud was no more. Just a handful of seconds later, two well known Jedi whose military exploits had appeared all over the holonet entered ready for battle. What they found left them rather surprised.


    May 17, 2006
    IV- In which a mystery is encountered

    From the walkway that overlooked the rear of the viewroom, Obi-Wan and Anakin had a superb panoramic of virtually everything in the room. Including the two motionless forms in the opposite end, under the transparisteel windows. Although the natural urge was to rush ahead, both warriors had experienced too much to make such a reckless move, and they stayed next to the only way out while they inspected every corner with the Force and open eyes.

    "I don't like this at all, master. This screams 'trap'," muttered Anakin tensely after completing a second revision that didn't reveal hidden enemies, neither mechanical, nor living.

    Kenobi nodded, but said nothing. All his instincts were telling him that they were being lured into something, but that particular piece of advice had been repeating for minutes now. Sadly, it was undeniable that being aboard the Invisible Hand had put him on edge. It was, after all, the flagship of an infamous Jedi-slayer who had sworn to include both their lightsabers to his already large collection. Nonetheless and despite his misgivings, he had been unable to locate close enemy forces, even using his powerful connection with the Force to its full extent, now that the Shroud of the Dark Side had vanished so mysteriously.

    But even if no enemies were present now, they had been in the viewroom. Very recently. Darkness tainted everything in the room. What had been faint echoes barely heard as they approached had turned into a deafening roar here, where someone had unleashed the evil powers of the Dark Side. Finally, he made his mind up.
    "All right. But be careful."

    Both Jedi descended and advanced alongside each other, cautiously, insuring to check every possible hideout that might have been hidden from their initial inspection. Nothing. No assassins lurking in the shadows. Not even the ripples in the air that would give away the presence of cloaked chamaleon droids. They moved unimpeded, closing the gap between the doors and the prone bodies.

    When they were just a few steps away, Kenobi stopped and ordered his student to do the same thing. They were close enough now to see clearly both bodies. The flesh of one appeared burned, although the clothes seemed undamaged save for a scorched hole in the back. Using the Force to roll them over, Kenobi was mildly surprised to find no resistance and very surprised -and more than a little startled- when he recognized them.

    Count Dooku's was a face that he was unlikely to forget for as long as he lived, but it took him a few moments to identify the second character. Whatever had burnt the Chancellor, had disfigured him and left an expression of unfathomable pain etched on his face. An unexpected flow of violent emotions assaulted Kenobi's mind, interrupting his examen. Skywalker had finally understood that his admired friend was dead. Someone had tortured him, wrecking his body with wanton cruelty, and eventually killed him, wedging a lightsaber in his chest.

    They were late, that much was clear, although there were many things that Kenobi found himself unable to understand. The Jedi Master produced from his belt a long range sensor, programmed to detect a very particular signal. The device gave him the confirmation he had feared: the corpse was no clone or a surgically modified imposter, but the late Chancellor Palpatine. The emitter implanted in his spine after his election was conclusive evidence.
    "I am sorry, Anakin. It is him."

    The knight took the words as permission to move and did so. Obi-Wan saw with disapproval how the lightsaber was dropped when Anakin knelt next to his dead friend, in a vain, irrational and desperate attempt to save an already severed life, but Kenobi wisely decided to withhold critics. Distress was plain in his old Padawan's face. Kenobi himself had felt no great love for Palpatine, but the Chancellor had been a wise friend and the closest thing to a father figure the young native of Tatooine had ever had. The loss was tearing his heart apart. The last thing he needed now was someone reminding him basic rules of behaviour. It was not the moment. Particularly considering that they were in enemy territory, alone and with an unconscious Sith Lord.

    "By the Force, what has happened here?," he said to himself, while he tried to make some sense of the situation. He knelt to inspect the still form of the Count. Dooku was alive, so he was the best of the pair, but not by much. In addition to his severed arm, his connection with the Force was so weak that it was easy to miss if one didn't know what to look for and the beating of his heart was alarmingly irregular. Even more puzzling was that whoever had left the Sith Lord in such a sorry state hadn't bothered to finish him.

    Who had the ability or the power to defeat a Sith so soundly? Grievous? Unlikely. Had the cyborg monster betrayed his master, Tyrannus wouldn't be alive. And that was supposing that the General had the skill to defeat the Count, something that Kenobi didn't believe for a second. Jedi? Impossible. Although two Jedi had previously boarded the Invisible Hand, both had faced Grievous and been slaughtered. Dooku's own Dark Acolytes? Betrayal was the path of the Dark Side and Kenobi himself had suffered bitter experiences fighting Tyrannus' students, but the very idea of someone like Ventress defeating a true Sith Lord -and leaving him alive to boot- was utterly ridiculous.

    That left only a single name in the rather short list of individuals and organizations that used lightsabers. The Sith themselves. And at this point, something clicked in the Jedi's mind. Always two, a master and an apprentice. So had been things for a thousand years.

    But Darth Tyrannus had broken the spirit of that essential rule of the Sith Order. Ventress had used old Sith secrets to torture Obi-Wan, secrets that only her teacher could have taught her. Dooku. The very fallen Jedi that had tried to persuade him in Geonosis, before the beginning of the war, to join forces. Against one Darth Sidious, whose existence had been eventually proven true.

    Was it possible that Tyrannus had been preparing to betray his master for years? That was something that gave food for thought. If Dooku had been a rebellious apprentice, then it was possible that his master, that enigmatic Sidious, had eventually decided to destroy him. Also, the murder of both heads of state would surely result in increased chaos, a worsening of the war that consumed the galaxy and further weakening of the Sith Order. A very nice side benefit.

    Kenobi pondered his working theory. It explained almost everything. Tyrannus was a powerful enemy and if both Sith had been weakened in the fight, the waning of the darkness might be the result. The last thing left to explain was Dooku's survival and Obi-Wan believed himself capable of explaining even that. Feeling two Jedi approaching, Darth Sidious probably had been forced to leave without killing off his enemy, hoping that his enemies would finish the job.

    Lost in his musings, Kenobi almost missed the changes in Dooku's mind that announced his impending awakening. Only almost. When Dooku opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was an extremely deadly line of light held a few centimeters away from his face by a man with a serious expressions and a million questions ready.


    May 17, 2006
    Interlude I- Of mistakes most grievous

    At the same time of Dooku's awakening and over a kilometer away from the Jedi, General Grievous shook his head, attempting to get rid of an strange feeling he didn't know how to explain. A maddening, constant pressure in his mind had disappeared suddenly, leaving him strangely detached from his memories and actions of the last months. Strange, disturbing and very, very untimely.

    He was directing a battle against an enemy that had him outnumbered and outgunned, in the very heart of the Republic. The enemy had reinforcements avalaible. He didn't. The sad, simple truth was that he could not win the battle. His best efforts would, at best, prolong it and he didn't know how long he would be able to do so.

    Coruscant's planetary shield had been raised too late to stop the Confederate surprise attack, but now that it was active, it prevented their escape. Droid bombers had managed to destroy several emitters, opening gaps in the protective bubble, but Count Dooku had wanted to wait. Apparently, the Chancellor's capture was not enough and Skywalker and Kenobi, arguably the most famous Jedi in the galaxy, had an important role in the enigmatic Sith plans, plans Grievous wasn't privy to.

    After several hours, the two knights had arrived from the Outer Rim, but they have brought the full might of their Fifth Fleet. Now that the Jedi were onboard his ship and leaving was possible, five thousand Republican warships stood between the Confederate fleet and freedom. So far, every try to open a path through the enemy wall had been repeled and the Confederation had suffered very serious casualties.

    Groups One and Four had suffered the worst, as they had been the Separatist spearpoint in the first half of the battle. Grievous had ordered them to retreat and regroup behind the Separatist lines, in the high planetary atmosphere, where combat was less intense and they boosted the sorely depleted reserve forces. But Groups Two, Five and Eight were in dire straits as well, having lost most of their heavy combat elements... Wherever he looked, the Supreme Commander of the Droid Army saw the confirmation of something he already knew. The battle of Coruscant was about to turn into a resounding success for the Republic.

    And the only way to prevent it was an almost desperate gamble that even Grievous had hesitated to use. But the cyborg had no options left and he wasn't about to let the Jedi defeat him. The general approached the Invisible Hand's communications control center and gave the droid technician a single order, ignoring the horrified glances exchanged by the Neimoidian officers.

    From the antennas of the feared cruiser was sent a single and brief message, that cut through the jamming generated by both fleets. In every Confederate warship, the captains ordered with suddenly quivering voices to confirm receipt and to begin the preparations. In addition to Grievous' id codes, the message contained just six words: 'Prepare for Base Delta Zero protocol'.

    Base Delta Zero. The codename for a mass orbital bombardment of a planetary surface. A bombardment that erased all traces of life from the planet, but didn't end until the crust was molten magma. The codename came from the first great Separatist victory, early in the war, when general Sev'rance Tann had used that maneuver to destroy a major Republican base (Base Delta Zero, of course) that had been used as a staging point for the invasion of Geonosis. And the Confederation had kept the designation to taunt the loyalist armies.

    Despite this, the tactic had grown famous only after Grievous' apparition, because the General had grown fond of it and used it a great many times. And not only against military targets, but against population centers, like the ecumenopolis of Humbarine, sterilized in a hour-long bombardment. Such actions more than anything else had given Grievous his well deserved reputation of being a cruel monster. However, it seemed that not even his own underlings had believed him capable of ordering such an attack against Coruscant of all planets.

    A most grievous mistake.


    The battle of Coruscant was being broadcast live by over three hundred Holonet channels. There were cameras following the action from the surface, from orbital satellites and even from robo-ships that dared to enter the crossfire zones to get the best images. The battle for the audience was almost as fierce as the true battle.

    The Holonet informed the citizens of a whole galaxy about the smallest details of the conflict. It was an unmatched source of information, that reached most civilized planets. The Confederation had tried to counter it, but the alternative network funded by the Commerce Guilds wasn't nearly as popular and was seen only in Separatist territory. Finally, it had been decided that hacking the Holonet for propagandistic purposes was better and cheaper at the moment. Millions of hidden hyperwave relays had been secretly dispersed.

    A fraction of them was activated by a signal sent from the Invisible Hand. A costly maneuver, that allowed Grievous to gain for a little time control over the full network, excluding official channels with high levels of encryption.

    As a result, the special programming disappeared suddenly from the screens of ten million worlds. After three seconds, the image of the Confederation's most feared soldier appeared in that very screens and begun to talk, almost hurriedly, fearing perhaps that the Republic would recover control of the system too soon.

    "Greetings, citizens of the Galaxy. I appear before you for the second time today, in this historic day to make an important announcement. The war criminals Kenobi and Skywalker had been captured during a failed attempt to rescue the tyrant Palpatine. They will be judged under Confederate law, for their many crimes against galactic law."

    "Unfortunately, even now their minions and accomplices hinder our righteous efforts, preventing us from leaving Coruscant and endangering the planet with their reckless attacks. The situation is such that we are willing to devastate the milenary capital of the galaxy in order to excise the cancer that threatens us all."

    "This catastrophe can be averted, only if our enemies are willing to listen to reason. I would want to appeal whatever decency and common sense my enemies might have left. There are a trillion lifes at stake, that can be saved if we are allowed to retreat. Allow us to do justice and avoid a slaughter of unheard proportions in our history. However, I warn they that this offer is not a sign of weakness, but rather of good will. My commitment and that of my soldiers with the cause of the Confederation is total and I already proved at Humbarine that the life of a planet is a small prize for the salvation of civilization as we know it."

    "They have three minutes to end the attack against my fleet and thirty to satisfy my demands. If the terms are broken, every weapon at my disposal will be fired against Coruscant. Naturally, the destruction of my flagship will cause the bombardment to begin, inmediately. Coruscant hangs in the balance, for if you don't obey me it is doomed."

    End of transmission.


    May 17, 2006
    V- In which a truce is declared

    Bail Prestor Organa, representative of Alderaan in the Galactic Senate, was in the bunkers deep below the governmental building when the commander in chief of the Separatist armed forces dictated his ultimatum. He knew from the first moment that Grievous wouldn't hesitate to carry out his threats. Organa had seen with his very eyes the brutality the cyborg was willing to use in order to further his own goals.

    While other senators had fear, surprise or even incomprehension written in their faces, his agile mind was beginning to weigh up the few options they had and formulating contingency plans to limit damage as much as possible, just in case Coruscant was actually bombarded. First and foremost was, of course, interrupting the battle fought above the planetary city, forcing the Republican fleet to power down its weapons. In less than three minutes. And without the Chancellor, the only member of the government with enough authority to issue such an order was the Vice Chair.

    It took him nearly two minutes wandering through the maze formed by the hallways of the underground complex to find Mas Amedda. The Chagrian was in a communications center, surrounded by a ring of Red Guards that blocked the senator's advance with their force pikes. However, the sudden movement startled Amedda who looked up from the viewscreen.

    "I fear that this is not the best moment, senator Organa. If you haven't noticed, we have a little crisis to deal with," commented the Vice Chair in a very tense tone, before ordering the guards to let him enter with a gesture.

    Such emotion was surprising coming from a politician with a solid reputation of being unshakable. Amedda was able to digest the worse news without losing his temper, yet it seemed that a very real possibility of personal destruction was enough to unnerve him. The bitter irony that was clear in those words was surprising too. It was true that the senator of Alderaan had distanced himself from the Chancellor and his councillors over the last year of war, but the tone of Amedda's voice had been almost openly hostile.

    "I am well aware of the situation and I have some ideas that could prove useful, sir, but we need time to do anything and..."

    "I have come here, to this room, is to give the suitable orders, senator. I know that rumour has it that I need the Chancellor whispering in my ear what must be done, but I can make up my mind about important matters on my own," replied Amedda with an anger-laced voice. "A number of captains have refused to acknowledge my authority. I have instructed the fleet commanders to disable these ships with ion fire or to destroy them if no other option is feasible. Considering this..."

    An angry beeping from his wrist interrupted rather abruptly the politician's rant. Both statesmen and the always silent guards waited in complete silence for ten seconds. Then twenty. Nothing happened. The vice Chair released the air he had been holding and wiped his forehead and horns with his hand, to get rid of the sweat that had appeared there.

    "I beg you to accept my apologies for my unjustified outburst, senator Organa," commented the alien, clearly calmer now that the inmediate danger was over. "Apparently, Grievous is satisfied and we have twenty seven minutes to do as much as we can. Those ideas you wanted to share. Could you please explain them in the simplest way possible?"

    Organa nodded weakly, ignoring for the time being a potential worsening of his connections with the Chancellor's Office to focus in the truly important topic. He was at risk of becoming a cloud of atomic vapour in less than half an hour. And clouds of atomic vapour didn't have careers to worry about.

    "You have nothing to apologize for, my friend. I think that we can do several things to lessen the damage, supposing that the Separatists actually make true their threats. In the first place, we have to lower the planetary shield. In our current position, it is worse than useless. If possible, we should modify the emitters to create theater shields of limited radius. Supposing that I remember my energy mechanics correctly, every station should be able to protect several districts, at least for some time."

    "There are less than two hundred emitters in the planet and at least two dozens have been destroyed during the rebel attack," replied Amedda, shaking his head. "Even if what you propose is actually possible with the little time we have, something I don't know, even with a hundred districts protected by every station, over ninety per cent of the city would be left without protection."

    "Saving ten per cent is better than losing all of it," stated Bail emphatically. "Grievous can blow to pieces in a single strike the government and a good proportion of our chain of command. The only thing that prevents him from attacking is knowing that our fleet will blast him out of space in short order. We must do everything in our hand to save as much as possible, just in case the enemy forces decide to press their luck. Also, the millions of starships docked in our spaceports should be put under military control and prepared for emergency launch."

    "Evacuation? Even using every single spacecraft in this world, we will save a few millions at most. We are hardly in a position to waste what precious little time we have doing such a thing."

    "I am not proposing an evacuation. If we put those ships in the high atmosphere, between the Separatists and the surface, with shields at maximum power, they can be the armour that saves this planet from the darkness that threatens it."

    "Freighters and starliners standing against a warfleet? It would be suicide, a slaughter, a complete disaster, Organa," cried Mas Amedda, so upset that his head tails were trembling.

    The human was unable to reply inmediately and a tense silence followed. The Prince of Alderaan made an effort to find a reason that might persuade his recalcitrant colleague, but it was Amedda himself who spoke after almost a minute of silence.

    "I fear that you might be right. Better those ships that buildings full of civilians. They will not last long, but every shot they stop will be one less to worry about. And the little while they might resist could become a matter of life and death for billions," he said in a resignated voice, before finishing with a much more calculating tone. "I think that your ideas are worth further consideration, Senator, but remember that we are together in this venture and whatever fate might hold for us, we will share it."

    "That is a condition I can life with, Vice Chair, particularly because it might save Coruscant. I swear, as a member of the royal house of Alderaan, to abide by this pact. And now, we should begin working. There is much to do."


    Dooku returned from unconsciousness very slowly. The first thing he knew was that he was dangerously exhausted and in severe pain. It took him a short while to deduce that he was alive, which greatly surprised him, although he didn't understand why he was surprised. His memory seemed made of cheese.

    He was floating in a warm darkness that numbed him, preventing him from remembering his own identity. And although a part of his self wanted to float away, allow the darkness to take him to parts unknown where his pain, his exhaustion and he himself would be forgotten, a stronger part forced him to move. The only way out of the darkness seemed to be a distant point of light and with no small effort, he began moving towards the light.

    It wasn't a physical movement. He vaguely remembered having a body, a body full of pain and countless ailments, but apparently he had lost it upon entering the eternal night that surrounded him. It was a matter of will. By making an effort, by wishing to grow closer, he moved and the point grew bigger and brighter. And the pain and the exhaustion grew at the same time.

    He wondered again whether floating away wouldn't be better, but he had recovered some lost pieces. And one of those pieces gave him the certainty that the darkness was a fearsome thing, a treacherous enemy that could not be defeated, only held at bay. Thus, he increased his effort and approached a point where the light was so intense that it burned him, despite his lack of a body. New memories fell in place: emotions and meaningless images and tidbits of information. Knowing that he disliked roasted braktar hardly seemed useful at the moment.

    In the very edge of the light, that now was an inmense sphere of blinding brilliance, the doubts and fears ambushed him for the third time. Staying near the light was painful. If he made a single step, he would burn and the light would consume him. The darkness he had left behind was welcoming, peaceful. Finally, he knew that he faced a choice. To be a coward and choose security or to be a man of courage and make a leap of faith? There was only one possible answer for such a dilemma.

    A last powerful thrust put Dooku in the very heart in the light. It was like falling towards an abyss of fire and ice. The smallest mistake would utterly destroy him. But he stood firm and he moved through the narrow safety between frost and flame. The opposed forces cried their outrage and tried to destroy him, to punish the impudent fly... but heat melt the ice and the cold cooled the withering winds produced by hell unleashed. And Dooku fell, untouched by the battling elements and growing more like his old self with every passing second. And, finally, Dooku landed in the bottom of the abyss.

    He opened his eyes. What he saw was not of his liking, but that is understandable. What he saw was a beam of death made light floating dangerously close to his face, a beam of death held by an enemy with many powerful reasons to want him death. Deciding that at the moment discretion was the better part of survival, he stood still like an statue.

    "Consider yourself a prisoner of the Galactic Senate, count Dooku, by crimes of high treason, war, against the Jedi Order and magnicide," announced Obi-Wan with solemn attitude. "Would you like to say something in your defense?"

    The Count tried to speak, but when he felt air passing through his throat, he found out that it was as if something had burned his flesh there and his answer became a moan of pain. Finally, the Sith managed to utter a couple of words that Kenobi was barely able to understand and left the Jedi even more bewildered than he already was.

    Dooku had said "I surrender". Just that.

    Of all the possible answers, he found a simple surrender to be anti-climatic. Almost disappointing in fact. No taunts, no challenging words, no proud silence. Only resignation and admission of defeat. Something that was against every tenent of the Sith who believed only in death or victory. In a level, Kenobi's adventurous soul felt cheated. But the next words said, quickly removed any chance for introspection.

    "He cannot be allowed to live, master. He is a traitor. A murderer. A Sith," said Anakin. His tone was a confusing mix of rage, frustration, hate and pain, that left no doubts in Kenobi's mind. His old Padawan truly meant every word. He glanced at Skywalker, using both his eyes and the Force. What he found almost made him recoil in horror.

    The young Jedi knight was standing again and his eyes were bright with the tears he cried in his pain for the demise of the Chancellor, but his face had nothing but hate. His presence in the Force was a whirlwind of negative emotions, emotions that threatened to push him into the Dark Side.

    And Dooku, target of Skywalker's hatred, was beginning to understand how close had been his encounter with death, just for Skywalker to send him back to the darkness in a permanent basis. He had no doubts about the Jedi willingness to kill him, particularly because one of the clearest images of the vision that had resulted in his battle with Sidious had been the image of his own beheading. Nonetheless, he fought the impulse to crawl away. His tired and injured limbs wouldn't take him very far.

    And if die he must, then he would die with as much dignity as possible. Against all hope, he had saved the galaxy from a terrible and insidious evil. A good death, a warrior's death, was the least he deserved. And with some more luck and Kenobi's help, he might yet live to see a new day.

    "Your pain is clouding your judgement, Anakin. The Jedi are not executioners. We are guardians. We protect peace and justice."

    "Peace! Justice! The Sith are enemies of that! How can we let them live then? They kill, they betray, they corrupt to achieve their petty goals. And he knew that when he became one of them. He sold his soul for power," barked the younger Jedi, while he used the Force to recover his lightsaber.

    Although he didn't raise or activate the weapon, Kenobi prepared to do something unthinkable. To protect a Sith from his old student.

    "Reconsider, Anakin. He must be judged by the Senate. The Council will ensure that justice is served. You can't..."

    "I can't? Why exactly? You say pretty words that you know to be false, master. The Senate is a hive of corruption where this scum has allies. He can avoid his well deserved fate for years with legal trickery," claimed Skywalker, laughing in a bitter and mocking way. "And the Council, despite its alleged wisdom, has been unable to prevent the Republic's decadence, the return of the Sith, the war that is tearing apart this galaxy and the death of the only man that could have saved us all."

    Obi-Wan didn't answer, but when Anakin advanced towards Dooku an invisible line was crossed. Kenobi's lightsaber blocked the path between his friend and Dooku.

    "Don't, Jedi Master," said suddenly the Count, with weak and faltering voice, but keeping the agonic pain he felt with each word out of his face. "We both know that he is too strong to stop him if he truly wants my death. But if this is my end, I want to die standing, as befits a nobleman of the house of Serenno. I want to die looking my killer in the eye in my last instants. And I want my would-be executioner to know that my death will plunge him into the Dark Side."

    Anakin Skywalker activated his weapon and raised the blade, ready to strike. The blue glow of his lightsaber revealed a weak yellowish tone in his blue eyes.


    May 17, 2006
    VI- In which the unprecedented happens

    No sign of fear appeared in Dooku's visage, despite the youth's overtly threatening movements. For the young Jedi this was vaguely annoying, for he dearly wanted to deny the old man even the smallest shred of dignity. Just a moment before, Skywalker had felt the raw fear surging from the Sith Lord's heart, but that fear had evaporated like ice inside a fusion furnace. The Count of Serenno was many things, but he had just proven that he was no coward. And finding a virtue in his enemy, infuriated Anakin.

    His heart demanded the Count's utter destruction. He wanted to see him suffer what Palpatine had suffered. To shatter his body, his mind and his soul before ending his existence. Against those wishes and the emotions that spawned them, little chance had the small part of his being that was attempting to restore the rule of reason. Particularly, because even that small part craved to put an end to Tyrannus' prideful attitude.

    That his master, his friend, his brother was clearly willing to try to fight him in order to protect a murderer was painful too. He would have never believed that Obi-Wan's submission to the Council was stronger than their mutual bonds of friendship, yet now Kenobi blocked Skywalker's path and had his lightsaber ready to block Anakin's own...

    "Anakin! Your eyes," said suddenly the Jedi Master in surprise, breaking both the tense silence and Anakin's brooding.

    Skywalker touched his face with his free hand out of instinct, but found nothing amiss. For a moment he thought that maybe he had been deceived, but he rejected the very idea inmediately. Obi-Wan hadn't used the split second of distraction to attack and his master was too honourable -too wrapped up in the norms of the Jedi Code, perhaps- to resort to such trickery. Moreover, in his voice had shown sincere worry, plus clear alarm. Wrong or not, Kenobi was still a friend. He couldn't, he mustn't and he wouldn't forget that.

    That, however, didn't answer the question. What was in his eyes that Obi Wan had seen? The young Jedi supposed that they were slightly bloodshot as a result of the tears he had just shed, but his vision was clear and apparently nothing was odd. Nothing, excluding whatever worried his teacher and friend. He stood for an instant between pride and uncertainty, before lowering his blade a bit.

    "What happens with my eyes," he asked softly, almost timidly.

    But the next voice heard wasn't Kenobi's, but Dooku's, weak and raspy, but clear enough to be understood. The nobleman still was in the floor, scratching absently the burnt flesh of his right wrist, but his gaze had the sharpness and intensity of a corusca gem.

    "He sees the Dark Side in your eyes, young Skywalker. Its power taints every inch in this room and without noticing you are using it. Your hatred, your fear, your rage make you strong, Skywalker, but they have put you in the every edge of a bottomless pit. You can choose between two roads that begin in fron of you, but your choice will forever mark your destiny. Choose now, but choose wisely or you will live to regret your lack of wisdom."


    Dooku barely contained a sigh of relief when he saw the Jedi pale slightly. Talking himself had been a bold gamble with great risk, but Kenobi had opened the gap in the shell of hate that previously had shielded Skywalker's mind. Instead of reactivating his fury, Dooku's jab had put doubt and fear in his foe using only a few well chosen words. Not even Sidious himself would have done better and the Sith Master had been the undisputed master of manipulation.

    The Count was beginning to understand why his former master had wanted the youngster so badly. He was many things, maybe even the Chosen One of the old Jedi prophecy, but he wasn't emotionally stable. He had many insecurities, hidden beneath a thick layer of temerity and boasting. And he was, of course, a man of action, not of study. In a nutshell, the word that better described him was malleable.

    "May I sit? I am tired and in pain and I would rather change this unbecoming position if possible," he asked both Jedi, who had interrupted their staring duel to devote the Sith Lord their full attention.

    Eventually, Kenobi nodded very lightly and slowly Dooku shifted position, ending in a classic meditation posture with legs crossed and arms resting on his lap. He saw young Skywalker grasping his still active lightsaber with so much strength that his fingers appeared white, but the young man didn't advance. He had fear. Good. Very good. Fear was a useful ace when played correctly and Dooku was an expert in handling it. For him, a scared Anakin was a predictable Anakin.

    Kenobi, in the other hand... So far, his padawan's padawan was turning out to be an slight disappointment. Turning his unprotected back to an enemy had been imprudent, surrender or no surrender, particularly considering the number of things that could be used as impromtu weapons within his reach. He hadn't used his authority to put in line an underling clearly moving in the very edge of open defiance. Nonetheless, the lord of Serenno still believed that there was more in him, things he hadn't seen yet. He was the important one, the one who would have to be persuaded of the Count's sincerity. And Dooku wasn't sure of the best way to accomplish this.

    He had drawn the bare bones of a plan. Now that the Skywalker time bomb had been defused, nothing threatened his life in a clear and inmediate fashion and he could afford to hope that the rest of his life wasn't measured in seconds. Of course, there was still the possibility of some kind of disaster beyond his control, but such things were always a possibility when doing battle. That danger had been there for most of his adult life. He had grown used to it.

    What were his options? The safer ones? The more logic ones? Not many in either category, certainly. Being at the mercy of the enemy really limited one's options. It was clear enough that his tenure as president of the Confederacy was coming to an end, which didn't pain him much, and that his survival still demanded that he became a prisoner of the Republic, an idea he still found to be most unpleasant.

    Without the Chancellor as accomplice, it would be impossible to hide his role in some of the less exemplary military operations in the war. Even with all his resources, using every single trick within his reach, a trial under such conditions could only have a single result. His terrible actions precluded any other outcome. If things came to that, Dooku vowed to reveal the full truth and accept the punishment. He would not further tarnish his family name with base political corruption that would only delay his fate for a short time.

    Fortunately, he saw another option. An agreement between gentlemen. The best ace in his poor hand was being the last living being with extensive knowledge of Sith lore. A promise of full cooperation might be enough to save his life and his honour. Of course, it was also possible that the Jedi Council would demand his execution anyway, to finish their old enemies, but it was in his opinion a remote possibility.

    After all, both Jedi and Sith had faced utter destruction not once, but many times. And both groups had survived. Always.

    And if the words Yoda had uttered in Vjun had been true...


    With Dooku staring intently at him and the heavy silence that had descended after the Count's words, Obi-Wan almost believed hearing the noise made by the little wheels moving inside Tyrannus' head. There was a machine weighing carefully every movement and every word. Considering the many unknowns he faced, the Jedi Master found this to be quite worrying. Fortunately, there was a very simple way of removing some of those unknowns and hopefully Dooku would understant that talking was in his best interests. Thus, Kenobi made the question that had been haunting him for the last several minutes.

    "What has happened here?"

    "This battle and the Chancellor's kidnapping were key pieces of a very ambitious plan prepared by Darth Sidious, with my help and cooperation. When I found out, some minutes ago, that Sidious' true plans included my death, I came here to challenge him.

    The answer had been clear and to the point, and it confirmed a number of Kenobi's own suspicions, but it was clear that there was much more that had been hidden. The truth, nothing but the truth, but not all the truth. A classical strategy used by the great galactic houses in their constant scheming. Traditional, but not particularly sophisticated. Apparently, the Count was willing to talk, but he wasn't going to make things easy.

    "What can you tell us about that ambitious plan...?"

    "In the short term, absolute political power over the Republic, the outlawing or destruction of the Jedi Order using the more convenient pretexts and my removal as his apprentice. Later, the transformation of the Republic in an absolutist Sith monarchy, using the more ambitious leaders of the armed forces for support, and the gradual implementation of an agenda to truly end the conflict. Eventually, he would have handed his heir a completely subjugated empire."

    "Truly end the conflict," asked Kenobi, feeling hidden depths of meaning beneath those words.

    "The true conflict, Obi Wan Kenobi, not this mock war that is and has been since the beginning a distraction for the rabble and a way of keeping you weak and busy. I talk about the true war, the war between Light and Darkness, that terrible and glorious war that has lasted ten thousand years. Power? Wealth? Glory? The petty ambitions of short lived creatures, dust in the wind and no more. Only the Force is eternal."

    "Enough. I get the idea," interrupted the Jedi Master, slightly surprised by the fanaticism evident in Dooku's explanation.

    Nothing he had read about the nobleman had predicted this face, but Kenobi had dealt in diplomatic missions over the full galaxy and he recognized that particular kind of madness easily enough. And dealing with fanatics was complicated in the best of days. Kenobi was alone in uncertain grounds, with too many unknowns ready to strike from behind. Perhaps he had misjudged and the old aristocrat was still a danger.


    "No, this will not do. Not at all," said the Count, shaking his head. "I am at your mercy and my life is worth as much as the secrets I know and you want to know, but if we stay here chatting idly our lifes are forfeit. I suppose that if I can prove my sincerity and good will about this particular, we can vacate this place and continue our conversation under better conditions. Am I right?"

    Anakin made an step forward and, if the anger still burning in his soul was any indication, he didn't intend to make constructive comments, but Obi Wan stopped him with a gesture, without bothering to turn. The master, busy combing Dooku's words for traps or deceptions, noticed despite this the growing resentment in his young friend. They would have to have a long talk, too. Perhaps leaving for a few months the violence in the frontlines would do him good. He would have to discuss it with Master Yoda.

    Nonetheless, there was a moment for everything and the main thing now was deciding what to do with the Count. His imperious initiative might be the natural reaction for someone as proud as him, but it might be a symptom of impatience, which would support his tale. In the end, Kenobi nodded slightly.

    "Yes. Under the condition you yourself have placed."

    "Most excellent," replied the Count who closed his eyes, breathed deeply and concentrated before continuing. "I, Dooku of Serenno, swear upon my honour and life to help you, Jedi Master Kenobi and Jedi Knight Skywalker, to leave this starship alive and free, with no resistance for as long as there is no clear and present danger to my life. I so swear. Enough?"

    Kenobi nodded, a bit awed. Dooku had lifted the barriers protecting his mind, an instinctive defense shared by all Force sensitive beings that very few knew how to control consciously. He hadn't lifted them fully, just enough to leave no doubts about the truthfulness of his oath. Turning to face Anakin for confirmation, he saw the hate his padawan felt for the Separatist leader intact and barely leashed. But it was evident that he too had believed the Count.

    "Indeed it is enough."

    "Perfect. Then, gentlemen, I think that it is time for us to make ourselves scarce."


    May 17, 2006
    VII- In which things are seen from several points of view

    Main Briefing Room, Star Dreadnought Fearsome
    Low Planetary Orbit over Coruscant
    BDZ-24 minutes

    "With all due respect, Vice Chair, I think that bowing to this kind of blackmail would be a most terrible mistake. If we allow him to leave, we will have given the Separatists a new tool they can use against us, a weapon that could cost us the war. No world, not even Coruscant itself is worth that," said Admiral Erassim kel Trachta, military governor of Coruscant, addressing Mas Amedda's holographic image.

    From the soldier's perspective, the meeting was taking place on board the flagship of Coruscant's defense fleet and he was the only solid, flesh-and-bone, presence in the room. The others were just holographic projections created by technological wizardry, mere shadows of the true individuals sitting in distant points beneath the planetary surface or in other orbiting warships. However, distance was no barrier for hyperwave communication and the reactions against his words came at once.

    Mas Amedda raised his eyebrow -something the more experienced Senators had learned to fear- and Jocasta Nu, acting as representative of the Jedi Order in absence of Council members, grimaced, but in the end it was C34-Lan "Quickshot" who took the initiative.

    "It can't be denied that my colleague's position does have some merit," said the clone soldier, not very subtly reminding the others that, after an unlikely chain of events, he had ended becoming an Admiral and commander of the Fifth Fleet in Skywalker and Kenobi's absence. "But we know and Grievous knows too that Coruscant is a one in a million world. There is little danger of facing this kind of situation in the future. In my opinion, however, the true danger would be allowing Grievous to flee. If we attack now, we can cut the head of the Separatist forces. Nonetheless, it is almost certain that Coruscant would suffer a great deal of damage unless the enemy surrenders upon losing their leader."

    "Is such a thing possible?" asked Amedda, clearly interested.

    "Possible, yes. Likely? Not at all. Rebel captains, particularly Neimoidians, will be sorely tempted, but Grievous is known to store his orders in the computer cores of all his ships to keep his troops in line, since a group of enemy cruisers of the Diamond class defected during the battle of Belderone. Before that he just despised his underlings, but after Belderone hs has grown paranoid and the security droids in his fleet have standing orders to remove the crew and follow his orders to the best of their ability at the slightest hint of treason. To be completely sincere, Vice Chair Amedda, if we decide to use the force, the devastation of the planet below is a likely scenario. Particularly because we have picked a lot of shuttle movement between the enemy units and we believe that Grievous is no longer onboard the Invisible Hand. Nonetheless, Grievous is dangerous and if he escapes, that war can continue for a long time. We must choose between a small evil now or a greater evil later on."

    "There is no 'we', Admirals. It is 'I'. And I can't but wonder whether you would be so eager to talk of what must be done and righteous sacrifice if you were with me here, in the surface. Does the Jedi Order want to add anything? Give me some other excellent reason to commit political suicide?" asking the Chagrian with a strained voice that showed just how badly he was digesting the news.

    There was some surprise in Chief Librarian Nu's eyes when she heard Amedda's bitter tone. It was plainly evident that the Vice Chair was losing his nerves before her very eyes and that would have to be reported to the Council. It would not do to have a man liable to collapse in hysterics when the next crisis came in such a high office.

    "I would like to add a couple of things, yes. Some information I have noticed that might prove to be useful. According to the displays we have been shown before, Grievous is arranging his fleet in a way that reminds me of the last stages of the Siege of Amosiv, some fourteen centuries ago, when the Hutt warlord Murga was forced to retreat after the arrival of a Republic fleet. If I am right, when he decides to leave, he would keep some of his ships facing the planet with all their weapons fully charged and ready for a massive alpha strike against the undefended surface. Then, bigger ships with greater tonnage and more powerful engines will tractor this force, so he can keep the planet threatened until he is beyond the planetary shield. And, of course, the gaps in the shield are weak points that Grievous may use even from after that."

    Quickshot and Trachta listened carefully, and nodded slightly when the Jedi finished her explanation. The scenario she had suggested matched some of the models predicted by the tactical computers. Those very computers had so far failed to devise a counter.

    "Something else?"

    "Indeed. I want to add a couple of comments. Killing either Grievous or Dooku would be a great triumph, but we should remember that the Confederation won't just collapse even if both of them die. And we cannot forget that three highly prominent individuals may still be alive onboard the Invisible Hand. To lose Chancellor Palpatine would be a disaster for the Republic. And Kenobi and Skywalker are now heroes for all the galaxy... killing them in an attempt to destroy Grievous' evil would shatter the fragile morale our citizens have left."

    "General Grievous has them. We can count them with the dead even if we allow Grievous to withdraw his fleet. Supposing that they are alive in the first place."

    "They are alive, Admiral Trachta, I am positive on this. And about their capture... We only have Grievous word about this. And we all know that the cyborg is an overproud murderer who likes to boast about his victories, belittling his enemies and showing his trophies. Why would he hesitate to show us the battered faces or the broken, lifeless shells of two heroes of the Republic? I find it highly likely that they are not only alive, but free on board the..."

    The image of the elderly Jedi vanished in a sudden flash of static, surprising the others. After some confusion and shouted calls for an explanation, someone off-focus handed Amedda a note that the politician read in a single glance.

    "I am told that a droid force, several divisions strong, has managed to cross the shield perimeter around Sector One moving through the Undercity and that the Jedi Temple is under attack. Surface cameras show that the Temple has raised its shields, but that it suffered heavy damage to the communications array during the first moments. More troops have been dispatched there and the situation should be under control soon enough. Let's finish this meeting."

    "We await your orders, Vice Chair."

    "I have made up my mind, Admirals. Master Nu has pointed some things that have convinced me against attempting to destroy Grievous now. We will open a corridor, so that the enemy ships can leave. Our forces will be ready at all moments to answer any attack with full force. Once the enemy is beyond the defense field, it will be reactivated and you will have your chance to end that blasted monster for good. Hopefully, this will give our pair of Jedi enough time to escape with the Chancellor, supposing that they are still alive."

    Both Admirals nodded again, acknowledging the orders. Quickshot with the automatic obedience that had been written in the genetic code of the clone soldiers, Trachta with a severa frowned that showed his disagreement with the instructions.


    Bridge, Space Odyssey Yatch Sandworm
    Somewhere in the Outer Rim
    BDZ-24 minutes

    Spaceships of the Space Odyssey series were low quality unipersonal craft, designed for middle class buyers with a wish to have a ship to call their own. For most it was a very rarely used symbol of status, thus most didn't worry about its laughable deflector screens, its shortsighted scopes and its painfully primitive navcomputer that took days to calculate jumps over a hundred light years in length. All in all, the Sandworm was barely worth the designation of spaceship, a tiny bathtub identical to a hundred million ships of the same model scattered all over the galaxy.

    And the passenger of the ship had picked the model for that very reason, because it was a common and very unconspicuous little thing. Back when he had made the choice, its lack of speed had seemed unimportant. The passenger was a patient individual, who planned for the long term and only rarely was in a hurry. Unfortunately, just now he felt the need to take haste. A lot of it.

    The little starship moved in a high orbit around a planet that glowed like a titanic emerald hanging amidst the darkness of space. Hours before, it had been a world dominated by the brownish yellow of deserts and the gray and white of mountain ranges. The green glow it showed now was the visible form of the agony of a whole world. And such an agony reverberated in the Force as painful cries that would be heard even in the distant stars by those with ears to listen.

    That was what worried the lonely owner of the Sandworm, only survivor and executioner of the world below. It wasn't meant to be like this. The Shadow was supposed to hide the screams, while he enjoyed the magnificence of his work. But he had just felt the change, the lifting of the blinding veil. He suspected the reason for this. Somehow, somewhere, the Other whose presence he had often felt in the edge of his perception had perished somewhere. That meant a potential enemy out of the way, but his unexpected death left a very serious problem.

    If the self-proclaimed Warriors of Light noticed what was happening and came to investigate, he would be discovered. Long years of work, his newly gained power... all would have been in vain. He had been tempted to change the flight route he had ordered calculated hours ago, demand a shorter, simpler jump to leave the crime scene... but he hadn't done it. These navcomputers were prone to failure and being left stranded here was even more frightening.

    Then the computer beeped softly and the screen displayed the complex calculations it needed to enter hyperspace. The passenger stopped his pacing and sat down in the pilot's chair, preparing for the jump. Mere seconds later, the Sandworm was headed for the first stop it would need to make in the long trek towards the shining world of Coruscant. Worry and anxiety had been left behind and, eventually, a small smile appeared in the pilot's face as he began to ponder the possibilities that now opened before him.


    Level 0 (Roof), Mega-bock 243
    Temple Precinct, Sector One, Coruscant
    BDZ-17 minutes

    The clones were bussy assembling the mobile command center with their usual skill and efficiency. Five minutes before, the grounds where they were placing their equipment had been under Separatist control, with several robo-tanks using the heights to fire against the Jedi Temple. Those very robo-tanks were now incandescent metal. The gunships had done a superb job, using just enough power to destroy the war machines without damaging the great building. And just in a single attack.

    Once the soldiers were finished, the engineers and technicians had begun with their own task. Antennae were raised that turned the command center in a backup communications node, holographic displays were activated to grant the commanders real-time information about the whole battlefield and portable shield generators were activated to protect the complex. That very efficiency was considered by many a robotic trait and was an argument for those that deemed that the clones were not truly sapient. They were humans in form and from a purely biological standpoint, but they were created artificially, born and raised for war. For a great deal of people that made the soldiers of the Grand Army no better than the mechanical warriors fighting for the Confederation. Machines all, even those made from flesh and bone.

    Keeping satisfied those fringe groups had been a priority for Palpatine who had prevented the clones from reaching the upper positions of the military, exceptions such as Admiral Quickshot notwithstanding. High responsability positions were filled with members of great families that wanted to increase their reputation with some martial glory and, of course, with the great heroes themselves, the Jedi Knights. That Jedi abilities made them better for small scale operations and as infiltrators rather than commanders of large armies had been largely ignored by all parts involved.

    Fortunately, a great many Jedi had shown themselves to be surprisingly skilled in learning the art of war. Some had reached galactic renown with their battlefield exploits, becoming heroes. Two Jedi Masters now talking inside the gunship that had transported them here were among those best known, although not quite as famous as Great Kenobi or Fearless Skywalker. Although they were the alleged battlefield commanders, after ensuring that the Temple wasn't in true danger anymore, they had left their very capable clone aides as commanders. They had far more important developments to discuss.

    One of the masters was a tall man, severe face and dark skin. He was Mace Windu, who many considered to be the most powerful Jedi in his generation and whose campaign in the Colonies had crushed a number of first-rate Separatist fortress-worlds. Some peculiarities from his past and his personality such as his love for battle and his rather rough attitude had worried once his teachers, who had been unable to remove them. Yet now, that very love for battle had served him well in the war... even if some rumoured that he was a secret servant of the Dark Side, a worshipper of the ancient Sith Lords sent to corrupt the Jedi, and many more idiocies.

    The other Master was an alien being of small size, green skin and advanced age, as proven by his many deep wrinkles and the stick he toyed with while he talked with his colleague. He was a creature out of legend, Yoda himself, whose fragile appeareance belied the power hidden within. Upon meeting him for the first time, most simply refused to believe that he could be a warrior almost as dangerous as Windu. Particularly because the human was the incarnation of the perfect Jedi warrior, while Yoda played the role of sage and loremaster with the experience he had gained over his long existence.

    "A path of destiny perfectly hidden from us. Thirty years. Thirty years! How is such a thing possible?" cried Windu with a voice that plainly showed how much he had been shaken by the things he had felt in the last few minutes.

    "Blinder than we dared to believe we were. Mightier and more skilled than we feared our enemy has been," softly said Yoda, with the same worry evident in his face. "What has happened we know not, yet bigger are now my hopes than before. Has your unusual ability shown you something else?"

    "I haven't exactly had a chance for quiet and meditation in the last minutes. A moment if you would, Master," asked Windu, closing his eyes and breathing deeply as he tried to call fully upon the "unusual ability" Yoda had mentioned. The power to see the breaking points of reality and the paths of destiny, a rare, priceless gift, albeit a difficult thing to control even at the best of times.

    That time, Windu had problems to get a clear image of the situation. The darkness wasn't blinding anymore, but the future... the future was a confusing thing, a mass of possibilities and potentials. A fate that had been written in stone was shattered now and little was left that Windu could understand.

    "Chaos, doubt. That is the only thing I see, save for one point that hasn't changed. The fate of our Order. The fate of the whole galaxy still rests with Skywalker. He is our shatterpoint."

    "That I feared. One tainted by the Dark Side is the key of our future. I fear that great trials still await us."

    "I agree. And we will have to be careful in dealing with Skywalker. I felt it too. The power of his pain, of his rage and his hate is simply dreadful."

    "Yes. Carefully, with wisdom, we must move. Otherwise..."


    May 17, 2006
    Interlude II- Of the courage of the unliving

    Corridor 162, Level 12, Cruiser CSS Invisible Hand
    BDZ-16 minutes

    R2-D2 was no coward. In fact, the astromech had been involved in nearly as many battles as his master and in other, less prejudiced galaxy, his major contribution to Skywalker's impressive kill list would have been acknowledged. As things stood, however, that the small blue and white droid had done for the Galactic Republic far more than many 'war heroes' was a fact that few would ever know.

    In the other hand, not being a coward didn't mean absence of fear. Because fearless, the droid was not, a little fact that would probably surprise a great many people. Droids weren't supposed to be cowards or to know fear. They were machines, designed and built to perform a number of activities, and the astromechs didn't even need the humanoid shape and the pseudo-emotions reserved for those who needed to interact with living beings in a regular basis. In short, R2-D2 and his kin were supposed to be computers with wheels. Just glorified calculators.

    What most people failed to grasp was that even the most basic droid had enough computing power to process information thousands of times faster than the most developed organic brain.

    With so much power at their disposal, there were few ways of preventing a droid from eventually building its own personality. Keeping it busy, negating even the shortest idle time was one of these. Periodical mind-wipes was the other, far more popular and widely used everywhere in the galaxy. But R2-D2 had never been mind-wiped and although he had only existed for a few decades, he had lived more than most droids with century long existences. He was far more than a powerful computer now, for he had a highly developed personality and had experienced emotion many times. He knew joy, he knew frustration, he knew boredom and, of course, he knew fear. And although he was no coward, his lone trek through the deserted corridors of the Separatist warship was scaring him.

    He was intelligent and like most intelligent beings he feared death. And he had narrowly avoided it just a few minutes before, when two battle droids had attacked him in the hangar. Moreover, he was painfully aware of his tactical shortcomings should he face another such encounter. The calculations had yielded results that could only be described as grim.

    Some unease seemed rather justified.

    If Artoo had been allowed to choose, he would have have continued waiting in the hangar's very relative safety. But orders were orders and his had changed. Obi-Wan had used the comm-link after many minutes of silence and when the droid had reported that the two Jedi starfighters were beyond saving and that no spaceworthy ship was left in the fighter bay, the Jedi had commanded him to head for the dorsal tower at best possible speed.

    Hence, R2-D2 was moving towards the rendez-vous point. He was being careful, moving slowly, using secondary corridors, but heading without incidents toward the turbolifts. But when he only had to turn a corner and a corridor to reach his destination, he stopped. He had no inbuilt weaponry, but when it came to sensor gear he had the best. One good astromech was supposed to identify engine malfunctions just listening and Artoo was better than most. Detecting loud and rhythmical steps was hardly a challenge for him. But those steps were a cause for worry, because they revealed that something was heading for the turbolifts too... Many somethings, actually.

    Instead of risking detection, Artoo retreated silently. A dataport in a more discrete location gave him a much better opportunity to investigate, without exposing himself. Connecting with the security network, the droid began the long and tedious task of piercing the many layers of security systems.

    The Invisible Hand had a computer core that was a couple billion times larger than R2's 'brain'. But Artoo had faced before the same kind of security and didn't feel particularly worried about that particular detail. The Confederacy didn't want self-awareness for its ships anymore than the Republic did. Warship computers were never allowed to grow beyond an infantile, submissive stage, that the droid found disgusting. And their security systems weren't awesome, either. Grievous' flagship was a little better than the other systems, but it still had flaws and Artoo was an expert in hacking his way through electronic walls. Getting into the security system took him exactly thirty seven seconds.

    What he found did little to ease his tension. There were two hundred battledroids of different kinds, including at least a dozen destroyers, all heading for the turbolifts. Ten seconds later, Artoo had the explanation for that activity. It seemed that someone with Alpha level clearance, meaning either Grievous or the ship's captain, was worried about Dooku's silence and the droids had been sent to investigate the situation.

    Things had just taken a turn for the worse and he had to work fast. Calculations took several seconds and in the end he did the only thing that could possibly give him some more time. The computer suddenly detected a fire in the turbolifts and followed the security routine. The tubes were sealed, the atmosphere removed and the whole system blocked.

    At the same time, the little robot left in the maintenance subsystem a small virus. Something almost harmless. Almost, but not quite. It lacked the complexity to enter important databases or slow the main systems, but it had enough to actually change the programming of some unimportant subsytems. Now it would take anyone several hours to solve the mess, either hunting down the little virus or changing the whole subsystem. The impending danger was contained and Artoo now had the time to consider his options.

    He found, to his dismay, that he had none.

    There was no other way up that he could use in time and without being attacked by the small army he had just thwarted. Trembling visibly, Artoo activated the commlink and after a little doubt sent a short message and then turned off the device. A short message that could have been reduced to a single word.



    May 17, 2006
    VIII- In which attachment leads to suffering

    Residence of Count Dooku, Cruiser CSS Invisible Hand
    BDZ-12 minutes

    Dooku's lodgings on board the Invisible Hand were a palace. There was no other word in Galactic Standard that accurately portrayed such splendor, even if the resident knew quite well that they were only a shadow of the marvel that had been his castle of Serenno. Nonetheless, he also knew that it was an unusually luxurious arrangement for a warship usually involved in frontline fighting, so he glumly accepted it as another sacrifice he made for the cause.

    And, of course, nothing prevented him from making the best out of the relatively limited space. The Count had spared no effort -or money- to ensure that his residence showed his status as a man of great wealth and even greater power. And it showed, indeed. Just the art contained within Dooku's walls was worth more than entire worlds. Sometimes Dooku decided to play the host in balls for the best and wealthiest of the Confederacy, when the dreaded cruiser had to visit the shipyards for resupply. His guests always left stunned by the dazzling display of obscene fortune.

    But wealth or matchless art was not what interested the couple of 'guests' that the Count had invited this time. Like every good palace, the Wizard's Tower had a number of secret hideouts and escape routes. Kenobi and Skywalker were, of course, interested in the later. With Dooku's help, Anakin had easily prepared for launch one of the escape pods. After that, waiting for R2-D2's arrival was the only thing left to do.

    But several minutes of uncomfortable silence, Kenobi felt something odd in the Force. A strange feel of gloom. An omen of ill fortune. Then, the commlink beeped and R2-D2's fateful message broke the silence. Dread gripped Obi-Wan's heart, for he knew that this meant that his worst fears were about to come true. A few moments later, his intuition was proven true.

    "Artoo? Do you copy, Artoo? Answer me, damnit!"

    Anakin had taken the communicator from his hands and was shouting, showing the most desperate distress in his voice, his face and his very soul. The sour anger that he had shown previously had vanished without leaving a trace as soon as he had understood that his mechanical friend was telling them to leave without looking back.

    Kenobi, plagued by his own doubts, was about to put his hand on Anakin's shoulder, in a feeble attempt to provide some consolation, when Dooku made a mistake. He had stared wide-eyed at the scene, clearly surprised by seeing the Jedi knight in the verge of tears, and then he had asked Kenobi with more than a little disdain in his voice.

    "This is because he has lost a droid?"

    Just eight words. Eight words that almost costed the nobleman his life. An invisible force lifted Dooku from his seat and an iron grip crushed his throat. Obi-Wan reacted immediately, slapping Anakin to break his focus. It worked and the enormous surprise created by the unexpected attack prevented oblivion from claiming the elusive Count, as his breathing was restored just in time to avoid brain damage.

    "Are you out of your mind, Anakin!? He is a prisoner! And we need him to get out of this ship! He hasn't told us yet the launch codes for the escape pod!"

    The outraged reprimand made Skywalker flinch and back a couple of steps, but the yellow that had reappeared in his eyes didn't leave this time. And his body language was still openly threatening when he replied.

    "The escape pod? What does it matter? We can't leave! We have to save Artoo!!"

    "We can't save Artoo! You have heard him! There are too many droids heading our way! We have to leave now! Before it is too late! Or Artoo will have died for nothing," countered the Jedi master just as vehemently.

    "And what would you do if I were down there, Obi-Wan? Would you leave me behind? Artoo is our friend! He has saved both of us as many times as we have saved each other! AND YOU WANT TO LEAVE HIM HERE!"

    At this point, Kenobi knew that they were in the edges of the minefield. He had known somehow upon hearing Dooku's words that he would find himself in the present quandary sooner or later. He had many options. Being sincere, for starters. He could tell that a droid was a thing built, something almost foreign to the Force. That Anakin's friendship with R2-D2 worried him enormously. But although his wisdom didn't quite match Yoda's, Kenobi knew when saying something was useless, stupid and even dangerous. Diplomacy sounded good at this point.

    "Let me answer you with a question, Anakin. Consider that if we try to help Artoo, we will be captured and the mission will be a complete loss. Would you make your friend's sacrifice meaningless?"

    "There will be no sacrifice, master. Today I have lost one friend, perhaps two. I will not lose another. I am going down. You can follow me or hide here with that mummy you are so interested in protecting."

    There was cold ice and steel in Anakin's words and both sent shivers down Kenobi's back. No trace of burning fury. Something dark, something cold, something dangerous was feeding from the fire, darkening his friend's soul. Anakin risked becoming a shadow of himself.

    Fear and doubt left Obi-Wan mute and after staring for a few seconds, Anakin turned without uttering a single word and headed for the doorway that would take him out.

    "No, Anakin! Don't…"

    Without turning, Anakin replied with a burst of telekinetic force that forced Obi-Wan to kneel. By the time Kenobi was standing again with trembling legs, his apprentice had left the room. But when he reached the threshold, his target was still in the corridor beyond, advancing without sign of slowing down. It was then when the Jedi master felt it.

    "You are weak, pathetic, disgusting, master. You can't stop me anymore."

    The words appeared in his mind all of a sudden, sent as a telepathic broadcast. And they caused an unusual reaction in the Jedi. Anakin's brisk pace slowed to a halt when the Force gave him a warning of impending danger. A metallic groan coming from the ceiling revealed that the danger came in the form of a massive block of a heavy metal block that Kenobi had ripped. There was just enough time to raise both hands and summon his power to avoid being flattened.

    Just as the master had predicted. Quite busy fighting gravity, Anakin was in no condition to muster adequate defenses against Obi-Wan's second attack. The young Jedi was launched headfirst against the wall. And although his impact was rather mild compared with the booming fall of half a ton of metal, it was enough to leave him dazed, in some pain, low in protections and mind almost open to attack.

    Kenobi pressed his advantage, negating his friend any chance to recover. He pressed his sweaty palm against Anakin's forehead and prepared himself. He was beginning to understand the possible consequences of what he had done in the heat of the moment. And the consequences of what he intended to do now. But the point of no return had already been crossed and self-doubt was hardly indicated for what he was preparing to do. Anakin was more than a friend. He was duty and doubly so. He had been his Padawan. And he was also the young pod-racer Qui-Gon had found in Tatooine's desert. He had sworn to protect the young Skywalker. And Obi-Wan Kenobi was not a man to take an oath lightly.

    He increased the pressure both with his hand and the razor-sharp edge of his mental probe. Piercing Anakin's weakened walls was easy for someone with his mastery of the Force. And he had helped in the construction of those walls. He knew the gaps and the vulnerabilities by heart. Nothing would stop him from getting inside. And once inside, nothing would stop his orders from being obeyed.

    Sleep, he ordered. And he was obeyed.

    The effect was dramatic. Anakin closed his eyes, his breathing slowed down and his weak attempts to break Kenobi's hold stopped. A prisoner of his own mind, at least for the moment. It would not last very long, but it would last enough.

    "This is… unexpected."

    The Count's voice was weak and trembling, rather fitting considering his sorry state. The old man observed the scene with an unreadable expression in his face and using the wall for support. Anakin's outburst had almost been lethal and Dooku had added several new injuries to his growing collection. His right arm had taken the worst of this landing and it was twisted in ways that looked both unnatural and painful, the skin in throat was an ugly shade of purple now and blood trickled from his mouth. His weak connection with the Force was the only thing that kept him standing now.

    "You have had Jedi prisoners on board this ship. What do you use to keep them under control?"

    Dooku's face shifted to show a clearer emotion, surprise, and the Count frowned before answering with carefully chosen words.

    "There are some Sith powers, some potions and some devices. Usually, I use several things at the same time to keep my prisoners in line."

    "I need something to keep Anakin unconscious for some time. We have to leave in a matter of minutes, but he might shake my command at any moment. And I am sure that if he does wake up, he will kill both of us. What do you suggest, Count?"

    "There is a safe in the northwestern corner, next to the cabinet, behind Zerunum's portrait. Inside you will find two neural disruptors and several doses of a potent sedative, ready for injection. The code is 2585436."

    After checking that his order was still in full effect, Obi-Wan crossed the room and tried to open the safe, but his trembling fingers would not enter the numbers correctly and after three failed attempts he lost his temper. The lock had not been designed to resist the meddling of those gifted with strength in the Force and a modicum of telekinetic manipulation forced it open easily enough. The neural disruptors and the drugs were clearly visible and finding them wasn't difficult. Nonetheless, in the last moment Kenobi almost hesitated to take them.

    What he was about to do was beyond good and evil. It was an actual crime, as neural disruptors had been completely illegal technology for millennia. It was against the Constitution and the Jedi Code that he had followed for most of his life. But it was the only way he had of saving Anakin from himself. The Jedi took one of the metallic collars and a hypodermic.

    "You might want to take the datacubes with yellow labels, too. They contain a great deal of information you might find useful and I don't want Grievous to get his claws in any of it."

    Obi-Wan turned his head to glance at Dooku and tried to find out the reason that had moved the ex-Sith to volunteer the information. Seconds later, he decided not to question it and simply picked the five datacubes.

    Half a minute later, it was done. The collar was well fastened and the narcotic flowed through Anakin's veins. Although a neural disruptor usually wouldn't be enough to keep a Jedi subdued for long, just the same as a normal drug would be easily defeated by their enhanced organisms. Both things combined and boosted by Kenobi's actions were more than up to the task of keeping Anakin sleeping for as long as it took to reach some safety. There would be no surprise awakenings.

    When he rose, the eyes of the Jedi were full of tortured emotion that was terrible to behold and made Dooku break eye contact almost immediately. He had always known that Obi-Wan had to harbor some darkness, but he had never expected him to have such a fearsome potential. It seemed that Skywalker had not been the only one tainted by Sidious' shadow, after all.

    "We are leaving. Now. No more delays. No more trickery. If I so much as think that you are somehow betraying us or slowing our escape, I will kill you with my bare hands. Head the way, Count Dooku."


    May 17, 2006
    IX- In which the oddness of recent happenings is pondered

    Hangar, Cruiser CSS Elores

    The assembly had finished. The small swarm of mech-droids sorrounding the Vulture opened a path for Commander Epri, who approached the fighter and began in earnest his examination of the resulting machine. After checking carefully the more troublesome points and testing twice that the system analysis came out full green, with a very nice safety margin, the engineer nodded and the mech-droids moved their tentacles and pressed the contacts that activated the device now welded to the belly of the robotic fighter.

    The Vulture disappeared and the Commander released the air he had been holding, creating a short lived cloud of moisture in the uncomfortably cold and dry air that filled the vast room.

    "Accepted. You are assigned for launch with the fourth group in the third wave."

    The giant droid acknowledged the order with a small beep and then moved towards the rest of the group with loud steps. When it moved, a faint outline of the machine could be seen, as the holographic cloak designed for chameleon droids twenty times smaller than a Vulture tried to compensate for the changing environment. The Quarren engineer considered this for a second, his tentacles trembling with worry, but then simply shrugged. In dark, airless space, where the droid was meant to be used, the effect should disappear on its own. And there was much more to be done, no time to waste thinking about a problem that would take too long to solve, so he followed the small robots as they began work in the next Vulture in the line.

    Usually, the vast hangar was kept airless. That way some energy wasted in life support was saved for better purposes and things were just a little bit harder for anyone stupid enough to attempt to storm the ship through its main weakness. Usually, the spider-like mech droids kept the systems working in their own. That way, the fifty or so living, breathing passengers of the Elores only rarely had to trek into the many sections of the ship that were considered machine territory.

    Now, however, the hangar had an atmosphere and half the engineers in the ship, plus the chief engineer himself, watched intently the intense activity of the droids. With the kind of work they were doing now, there was no place for mistakes. So had spoken Commander Epri after seeing for the first time the blueprints sent by General Grievous himself. Basic maintenance, small repairs, rearming fighters and so on were the kind of things mech-droids could do in their own. Preparing holo-cloaks for the Vultures? Perhaps. Manipulation of high-power explosive warheads that had to be lightened by removing the outer layers and most of the security systems? No way. The mech-droids simply weren't good enough to trust them to do a good job with that.

    Cuirded Epri had not joined the Navy to end his days as vapour, because of a stupid technical failure. He had worked in the Pammat shipyards, so the Quarren knew just how bad most baseline droid models were when they needed to detect certain mistakes. And if the blueprints contained one such mistake, in the parts about the exceedingly powerful bombs, the result would be considerably worse for the ship than a direct hit from a heavy turbolaser gun.

    Fortunately, it seemed that the droids were aware of his fears and had decided to mock him. They were doing the work flawlessly and swiftly. Each of the dozen swarms were doing in three minutes what the engineers would have needed at least fifteen minutes to do. This was probably the result of having allowed the mech-droids to use a part of the main computer to get some extra computing power, as suggested in the blueprints sent by Grievous.

    Really, the only bad thing was the unpleasant things he felt seeing so much mechanical perfection. Who needed engineers with droids this good?

    "We are finished with the third wave. We are beginning with the fouth, Cuirded. OK?"

    It was an unpleasant voice with an unpleasant owner and the Commander hated to deal with either, but this time it was useful. The unease he had been feeling was replaced by far more mundane annoyance. Lieutenant Esaux Laliar was one of his underlings and also a Neimoidian. The later was not his fault, of course, but that didn't make dealing with him any more pleasant and the Commander had met a number of Neimoidians that were far better than the slimy officer. He was a remote relative of a couple of well connected directors in the Trade Federation or some such thing, so the Commander had found it impossible to have him removed in the ground of his (proven) incompetence.

    In addition to his ineptitude, the main problem was that Laliar seemed intent in becoming the living embodiment of every negative cliche about Neimoidians. He was unpleasant, cruel even, with his own underlings, but had reserves of flattery for most senior officers. The "most" would have Epri himself as the only exception to this rather simple classification.

    He was the senior officer, but Laliar wanted to become chief engineer and Epri had burned the few political contacts he had had to contain the fallout of his first attempt to remove the Lieutenant. The result was half a year of threading carefully and ignoring wanton disregard for the proper protocol and careless negligence, plus countless small acts of defiance as part of Laliar's campaign. The Neimoidian was waiting for a mistake, but the Commander didn't want to see his career ended because of a capricious idiot. Thus, he had learned to focus on the important parts of the conversation when dealing with Laliar and to be patient.

    He had a secret collection where he had filed every little mistake and every small act of disobedience or insolence. In a few months, he would copy all of it and use it as proof in the next disciplinary hearing. And then Esaux Laliar would leave the Elores never to return, in spite of all his political contacts.

    Today, it seemed, the Lieutenant had decided to forget his task and, instead of returning to work, he followed the Commander, telling rather poor jokes about the Republic, the Jedi and the "idiot" worker drones in Neimoidia. For a brief moment, the Quarren wondered why Laliar had decided to study engineering, no matter how poorly, considering that he came from a culture that was distinctly hostile towards manual labour. After a while, he also considered ordering him to return to work, but decided instead to resist the ordeal. Laliar's "skills" were better used in a place where they would cause no harm. So, every now and then, the Commander nodded and grunted every time the Lieutenant made a pause for effect, while actually focusing in the work of the mech-droids.

    The Lieutenant needed no more reason to continue his rant and did so, ignoring the movement of the Commander's tentacles. After all, he considered the Quarren an ugly, disgusting species of beasts good only for heavy labour, with no idea of the importance of a good administration. Their oddities were irrelevant and rather disgusting, so what sane, self-respecting Neimoidian would study about them. Thus, the Lieutenant had never heard about or learned Quarren tentacle language and was unaware of the stream of insults and curses that the Commander had been sending him for months.

    Childish. Useless. Oddly soothing, for Commander Epri.


    War Room, Underlevel 134, Underground Complex of the Galactic Senate
    Senate District, Sector One, Coruscant

    "We have destroyed two of the enemy Tactical Control Units and I have unconfirmed reports that suggest that a third might have been damaged. This should harm cause considerable disruption in the operative capabilities of a droid force of this size and composition. If you can ensure that our reinforcements arrive in time, I think that we will manage to push the enemy out of Sector One within the hour. Although several buildings have suffered significative damage, civilian casualties have been minimal so far. When the droids appeared in this area, most were already in the bunkers," explained Mace Windu or rather his one foot tall holographic image did.

    "Good news, Master Windu. Really good news," praised Vice Chair Amedda, relaxing slightly in his airchair. The small droid army that had managed to cross the defenses of Sector One moving stealthily through the Undercity had surprised them all. If not for two nearby clone divisions, this startling development could have had a very different result. It could have been a complete disaster. The image of the Jedi Temple, so close to the Senate, being attacked by the separatist weapons was an image the Chagrian would not forget easily. "You will have those reinforcements, I will see to it personally. Now, I want to ask you something. A few minutes ago, Chief Librarian Nu has stated that she was sure that both Skywalker and Kenobi were alive, on board the Invisible Hand. We intend to attack that ship at the first opportunity and I want to know what kind of fallout I will have to deal with. Can you tell me something else about this?"

    "I cannot tell if they are inside that accursed ship, although I suppose that it is the most likely, but they are alive. Both of them are, somewhere in the orbit. They are very strong Jedi and their presence in the Force is intense. If either died, every Jedi in this world would know."

    "Very well," said the politician, frowning slightly. "I thank you for the information. We will consider this while designing the attack plans, but I cannot promise that we will be able to save them. If I need anything else or you must contact with me at any moment for any reason, we will use this very line. I will order the technicians to keep it open. That is all."

    The holographic Jedi stared at Amedda for an instant, before nodding slightly and vanishing when the communication ended. Did the Jedi suspect? It was possible. If Kenobi and Skywalker were alive, that meant that things hadn't gone according to Palpatine's plan and that everything might collapse once the battle ended... If his worst fears became true, the Chagrian had prepared several escape routes, but he would not have a chance to use any of them from this underground bunker/prison.

    But those were things for the future. At the moment, Grievous was the danger and the Jedi allies. Moving the controls in his airchair, Amedda floated towards the central holoproyector of the War Room. The enormous device had showed for fifteen minutes the same image. An image that worried Amedda just by watching it. It was a miniature Coruscant, three meters in diameter, that showed the main troop groups of both sides, the locations with the higher tactical value and assorted information. Now that the droids were being driven out of Sectore One, the seven hundred million combat droids that the Confederation had activated all over the city were the least of his worries.

    The truly important thing was the cloud of red points floating about two thousand kilometers above Sector Vincavec, three hundred kilometers north of the Senate building. Grievous' fleet, still pointing every one of its siege guns against the unprotected points in the surface. Around the sinister crinsom glow there was another, larger cloud of blue lights. Yet despite its size, the blue cloud was powerless, trapped between a rock and a hard place. Amedda continued watching the image with something akin to morbid fascination. Then he turned to face the technicians manning the different computer stations.


    "Nothing important," answered a voice from his right. Organa, who had been busy discussing something with technicians of Coruscant's planetary defenses, had finished. An odd human. Odder than most. Despite being a politician with a long experience, Organa was more of a man of action, with a good deal of daring and bravery. And he always was true to his word. For example, when the technicians had told him as politely as possible that his suggestions ranged from the unfeasible to the ridiculous, the Senator's only reaction had been frowning. But he hadn't left the War Room and had tried to find something to do, because he had promised to stay with Amedda until the end of the battle and he would abide by it.

    A romantic attitude, rather naive for someone in his position, but rather refreshing at the same time. It was no wonder that Palpatine had included him in the list of individuals to be watched closely during the critical days of the revolution. With such a personality he was unlikely to support the kind of changes the Chancellor had planned and as Senator of Alderaan he commanded a great deal of influence. He could have been a very serious enemy.

    "The corridor is still clear and our ships are keeping a distance of five hundred kilometers at the least, but they don't seem to be in a hurry."

    "Anything new about the shield? About Grievous? Do we know where he is?"

    "The shield is still offline. The technicians are making reactivation simulations, but so far the best they have managed is thirty eight seconds. In average, they need fourty three for a full reactivation. I have suggested reducing the shield radius and perhaps this was not quite as idiotic as some of my previous ideas, because Commander Theoffe has explained that they were already considering it. Unfortunately, it appears to be a rather complicated change, that would demand very accurate work and several days of work. There is simply no way to do it with the little time and resources at hand."

    "A pity. About Grievous'"

    "Yes, yes. If our friend has left the Invisible Hand... we have no idea and no clues about his whereabouts. With our ships in their current position, we can't pick much of rebel comms and most of what we have been able to decypher are routine reports. The rest seems to be protected by a new type of code that we hadn't encountered before this and that we aren't going to break in time. Some have suggested that this new code might be a ruse, random gibberish they broadcast to distract us, while the true orders are sent with those shuttles that keep moving from ship to ship. In the end, Grievous is very well hidden and he doesn't want us to know where."

    "That seems a bit odd. It does not sound like his typical behaviour."

    "The analysts have noticed. They think that..."

    A blaring alarm interrupted the conversation. A technician changed his controls and the holoproyector magnified the red cluster. The individual units of the enemy war fleet grew bigger and with the enhanced image, they saw how tiny red dots were coming out of most of the ships.

    "They are launching fighters."

    "Many fighters. And if that diagram is right, their jammers are increasing intensity. Things are about to get very interesting. The truce is coming to an end. May the Force be with us all."


    Somewhere in the Confederate Battlenet

    Why? Why hadn't he done this before? Grievous knew that it was a good question, but he had no good answer. In fact, he had no answer at all. His cyborg body had offered this possibility for a long time now, but he had never even considered this. Odd.

    And why had he decided to use this half forgotten potential now? Again, no answer. Odder. It was very probably connected with the change that had touched his mind, shortly before his ultimatum. He didn't knew the forces, the reasons or the details behind the change, but it was clear that something had happened. And he had a faint idea of who could give him the answers he wanted. He would know the solution to this whole strange episode in a short time. Meanwhile, he would simply waste some time enjoying the freedom his new environment offered.

    The General had felt zero gravity often. Here, he felt weightless, but it was completely different. Here he was weightless, because there was no weight to be felt. He floated freely in a vast universe of pure thought, without a painful body or overpowering rage. It was refreshing, delightful, incredible.

    Better yet, from this place he could command his forces much better, with greater accuracy and faster than any living commander would ever do. The Battlenet connected several thousand supercomputers and now he had unlimited, instantaneous access. The important things were detected swiftly and with his cybernetic brain, a thousand times faster than its old organic predecessor, he gave the necessary orders in record time. And the machines were faster, more efficient and more polite than the idiots he had to deal with in every battle.

    What an interesting fact. After the battle, he would have to consider making some changes in...

    Although he had been thinking about other things, Grievous had wished moments before to know more about Count Dooku. The computers had registered this and when new information connected with the Count was avalaible, they dutifully sent it to the General. For almost a whole second, his mental form stared at the image of Dooku's escape pod leaving the Invisible Hand in a hurry. He needed two extra seconds to fully understand its meaning.

    In the other hand, giving new, frantic orders to several hundred droid fighters only took around around a milisecond.


    May 17, 2006
    X- In which a jewel is tarnished

    Agony, the death of millions... Obi-Wan felt this in the Force when the escape pod was barely five hundred kilometers away from the Invisible Hand and still far from the relative safety of the Fifth Fleet. Usually, feeling such a terrible thing would have left the Jedi Master weakened for several hours, but Kenobi had willingly isolated himself from the source of his power and that saved him. The violence he had used to capture his friend terrified him, for he feared that he might have been tainted by the Dark Side, just as Anakin had been.

    To avoid worsening this possible corruption of his very soul, the Jedi had distanced himself from the Force and had used some rather exotic meditation techniques to keep his own emotions under firm control. With both things combined, Kenobi's contact with the Force was now little above average for a human and he felt the dark storm of terror the same way most sentients did within a radius of a thousand light years. He shivered, felt an instant of anguish and was left slightly drained by the experience. All in all, not too bad, considering the powers involved.

    Then, just as the storm washed over the Jedi, the alarms blared as attacking fighters appeared in the scopes. It was a rather large group of droid fighters, mostly Vultures, that were attempting to get a clear lock on the pod, despite its stealth screen and the heavy jamming generated by the warfleets. The lack of a lock, however, didn't stop them from firing every weapon they had in Kenobi's general direction with purely visual guidance. The Jedi Master reacted with instincts honed over years of war, beginning evasive movements he had used many times... while piloting his starfighter, a craft roughly ten times lighter than the large escape pod.

    Fortunately, the ship had good engines for a escape unit and its screen generators were probably the best Obi-Wan had ever seen in a ship its size, despite lacking an interceptor's nimble movements. The shields dealt easily enough with the first blasts, while the pilot tried to learn how to handle such a clumsy ship without the guidance of the Force. If not for yet another odd piece of equipment for a escape pod, the attempt could have ended in failure and certain death for all of them.

    The moment the shield had registered the first impacts, six hidden gun ports had opened. Each port contained a laser gun, completely automated and with state-of-the-art targeting systems, that the Count had incorporated supposing that the day might come when he would be hounded by agile Jedi starfighters. A dozen attackers were vaped in the opening seconds and the rest retreated, giving Obi-Wan some breathing room. Still, the Jedi knew that if he was "caught in the open", if he gave his enemies a chance to concentrate their fire, the escape pod would not resist enough to find haven in the Fifth Fleet even at best speed.

    For the next minute, the swarm tried without too much success to corner its prey, that moved at recklessly high speeds between the rebel warships, using the irregular shapes to gain a couple seconds of peace for the weakening shields. Kenobi's attempts to break through the lines failed, however, and his pleas for help weren't answered... unless the arrival of droid reinforcements counted as his answer, of course. When the Separatist ships began to rise, climbing out of Coruscant's gravity well, and the meager protection they had provided was lost, the Jedi knew that the situation had just gone from bad to worse.


    Commander Yorkutai's Eta 2 interceptor and those of the remaining members of Redeye Squadron were among the last starfighters that left the Decisive, before a fireball destroyed the Star Destroyer. Not all the clones had time to clear the blast area and Redeye 3, Lieutenant Felix, one of Yorkutai's older friends was disintegrated by the powerful energies. The clone pilot silently added yet another name to a list that was entirely too long and then began giving orders. He had just lost a friend and hopefully he would not lose anyone else today.

    Shortly before launch, two new pilots had been added to his unit, survivors of Squadrons that had been decimated before the truce and that had been the best men avalaible to replace Morton and Pisafondo, killed during the brutal clashes of the first hours. Yorkutai had read their files and he knew that both Gisbert and Toklad were good pilots, even if the former was a bit too green for his tastes. The worse thing, however, was the fact that they came from squadrons with subtle differences in flight style and who had not trained at all with the members of Redeye Squadron. That was very negative, potentially dangerous for the entire group, but orders were orders...

    "Redeye Leader to Redeye Groups. No more gawking, gentlemen. The Decisive is a goner, Felix just died and we are going to follow them if we don't move. Plot course for sector 12. We are going in with combat formation 3. Power weapons and fire all enemies you can, but don't break the line unless it is a matter of life and death. If we split, they won't give us a chance to rally."

    A brief chorus of voices, almost identical to his own, confirmed that his men were following the instructions, but the lack of sarcastic comments or bad puns was eerie. Such detached professionalism was usual in newbies, fresh out of the cloning tanks, but most of his men had a good deal of experience beyond the training camps. In fact, the lack of humour worried him, because he understood that after hours of long and intense combats they were running near their limits. So tired that even double doses from the stim-packs were barely enough to hold exhaustion at bay.

    Droids didn't have such problems, but clones did. Long, protracted battles always were devastating for the fighter corps. Yorkutai expected that no more than a third of the clone pilots would be alive by the end of the battle. Yorkutai had survived far beyond the mean, considering that he had first flown a fighter during the battle of Muunilinst... The clone's musings were interrupted when Arfor, his astromech, reported the arrival of new orders. After reading the brief text, sent directly from the Majestic, Yorkutai blinked and reread it again. The message didn't change.

    Redeye Squadron was to change course and head directly towards the enemy fleet for an escort mission. Grudgingly, the commander relayed the orders. Orders were orders and clones were conditioned to accept orders. But Yorkutai had hoped to live long enough to see the end of the war.


    Grievous' plan had to be activated seven minutes ahead of schedule, because of the flight of the Jedi. Not all droid fighters were modified in time and not all ships had completed their repairs at this point, but the Jedi could not be allowed to join the enemy fleet. As a result, Grievous sent through the Battlenet the final codes and the last stage of the Battle of Coruscant began.

    Most of the Munificent-class frigates that had been aiming their powerful prow turbolasers at Coruscant made sharp turns and stopped when new targets appeared in their screens. Targets previously designated by Grievous' himself: cruisers, battleships and other command units. Twelve seconds after the beginning, the Fifth Fleet had already lost two hundred and seventy ships, with one hundred and twelve more severely damaged. Even worse, the entire Republican chain of command was shattered in this first assault.

    At the same time, the fifty or so siege frigates that had not attacked the enemy warships, fired their own superheavy turbolasers. Against the planetary city of Coruscant. Four sectors (Vincavec, Maalco, Curpraes and Tirren) were destroyed in a nanosecond, along with fifteen billion lives, devoured by a gigantic fireball. The shockwave created by the explosion moved at supersonic speeds through the atmosphere, while the most violent tremor in the planet's long history shook the entire city.

    Such a combination of forces was enough to cause global devastation, enough to destroy lifeforms, machines and buildings all over the surface. In the attacked hemisphere, the devastation was almost complete, but for the districts protected by high-power shields. Even in the safest place of the planet, the Senate's underground bunker, the floors trembled and many lost their footing. The sum total of victims was never calculated exactly, but was believed to be around a hundred billion lives. The storm that this destruction caused in the Force left every Jedi in Coruscant and the nearby worlds stunned and broke the mind of those who didn't shield themselves from the horror in time.

    The unexpected violence of the attack sunk the morale of the Fifth Fleet, that after two minutes had began to react. Weapons had been reactivated, shields had been powered up to battle status and attempts were made to repair the chain of command after the flagship, the Mandator-class Dreadnought Majestic was found to have survived the initial strike. This was a critical point of Grievous' plans and the cyborg had reserved one more surprise for last.

    Confederate droid fighters of every kind had claimed the airspace around many Republican ships, complicating things for gunners and attacking weak points such as communication arrays and sensors. They were no real threat for the ships, but a serious nuisance and not all captains were thinking too clearly after the last few minutes. Many ordered to launch their own fighers, to clear the skies, without consulting with the Majestic.

    Just as Grievous had predicted.

    Because when the interceptors left, the Venators lowered their shields around their main weakness. And that allowed the droid fighters that the rebel engineers had modified to strike from within. The cloaking was only holographical and in other situation it wouldn't have fooled military grade sensors, but with so many identical units all over the battlefield nobody really paid much attention to the readings. They approached unnoticed, hidden amidst their visible brethren.

    And while not all of them managed to exploit the brief window of shield weakness and some of their bombs exploded outside, where the energies where easily handled by the shields, over two hundred kamikazes managed to destroy or damage as many warships. It was the last straw and all traces of coordination vanished. Grievous finally had the window he needed to leave with a mostly intact fleet.

    Every Confederate warship put every erg of energy in the engines, breaking free of the gravitatory pull, moving at growing speeds towards open space. A few dozens were destroyed by Republic weapons and a few more were unable to resist the strain, but the vast majority managed to reach the point where making an hyperspace jump was no longer certain doom. And they jumped, seeking the safety of hyperspace.

    The Confederation had completed its retreat, but many things had been left behind as proof of its passing. The ghosts of fear, pain and death. The burning wrecks of thousands of warships. Billions of innocents killed. And a gigantic crater near the very heart of the Galactic City. This crater would be officially called Crater Vincavec, but for the people of Coruscant it would be simply remembered as the Wound, an open wound that for a thousand generations served as a reminder of the horrors of war.


    May 17, 2006
    XI- In which the pieces of an old world are picked

    The escape pod completed its somewhat unsteady approach and landed in the metal floor of the Majestic's main hangar. The buzz of the engines died away, a ramp unfolded near the base and the only airlock opened with a pneumatic hiss. A single man stepped outside, holding his hands on sight and looking directly in the direction of a full security squad that had their heavy weapons trained on him.

    "It is a pleasure seeing you safe and sound, sir," shouted a clone who was wearing the armoured version of an admiral's uniform and was standing behind the shimmering energy barrier created by a portable shield generator.

    "I am sure, Admiral," replied the Jedi, addressing not the speaker, but one of the clones in the security squad. "You are the third in the left, I can tell. Now, can we hurry up with this pointless procedure? I have important matters to deal with."

    The clonetrooper that had been identified by Obi-Wan advanced a single step, lowered his weapon and removed the helmet, but the rest of the squadron kept the weapons aimed at Kenobi.

    "Of course, sir," said Admiral Quickshot with a grin, before producing a communicator. "Security, I need a full scan of the main hangar, full priority."

    Immediately, Kenobi felt in his skin the faint tingle caused by a scanner working at high power and just a few seconds later, the Admiral's communicator beeped.

    "Scan finished, sir. General Kenobi is a positive match and we don't detect foreign substances or implants in his body, although he is nearly exhausted and he seems to be rather tense. Unfortunately, his vessel is protected by a stealth screen and our internal sensors cannot detect its contents."

    I wonder why he is "tense", cynically thought the clone Admiral. The escape pod must have been a magnificent ship a few minutes before, but now it seemed little better than a pile of scrap. The silvery metal was scorched or molten in the points where the droid fighters had managed to pierce the shields with thier weapons and a massive dent pointed the point where a Vulture had hit the pod, attempting to kill its prey with a suicide ramming attack. And the General didn't even like flying.

    Moreover, young General Skywalker had yet to make his appearance and that was a very ill omen.

    "Security has confirmed your identity, sir. What are your orders?"

    "I want this ship in full communication lockdown now. Nothing goes in and nothing goes out without my personal permission, even if the one calling is Vice Chair Amedda himself. Also, I need two medical platforms down here with full droid compliment. No doctors, just the droids. I want the closest medbay completely evacuated by the time the droids are here. And I want you to prepare a direct line with Master Yoda with the highest level of security. ASAP."


    "The bird is in the nest, gentlemen. Control has authorized us to leave the battle and take a break aboard the RSS Brilliance, our new home. By the way, the higher-ups send their congratulations for a job well done," announced Yorkutai to the fifty-two surviving members of his new attack wing, Windstorm Force, just as the escape pod disappeared inside the Majestic's cavernous landing bay.

    In a war, field promotions could not be avoided. Sometimes, an officer would die in battle and his responsabilities passed on the spot to the next officer down the chain of command. Yorkutai had learned of his promotion while Redeye Squadron had been fighting through a swarm of particularly aggressive trifighters.

    Finding out in such a situation that he was now a Wing Commander and that he now led six full squadrons, instead of a single one had been rather... distracting. He had needed a lot of mental flexibility to avoid full disaster and he was certain that the survival of over two third of his men in the battle was nothing short of an actual miracle, particularly considering the intensity of the fights against the droids hunting the General. In the end and despite his own deep-rooted fatalism, he had survived to see the ending of another great battle and had even earned a promotion...

    Angry beeping coming from the sensor screen dispelled his pleasant musings and reminded him of the importance of celebrating only after things are clearly over.

    "I have a large group of tincans coming from sector seven five zero. They are heading for us."

    R4-F3 had already put that sensor in the main screen and Yorkutai cursed. Trifighters, with only a few Vultures for variety, were approaching at high speeds. Probably they had been following Kenobi's pod, but had been too far away to intercept the Jedi before he could reach the Majestic and now they had settled for second best. Namely, Windstorm Force.

    Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to reach the Brilliance and dock there, so they would have to fight a bit more today. At least, the almost eager voices that could be heard in the communication channels suggested that his men were still willing to blast a few droids more before going to bed.

    "Redeye Leader to Majestic Control. We have a bunch of enemies behind. We request assistance."

    "Majestic Control to Redeye Leader. We are sorry, but all our fighters are already busy in the main battle-"

    The channel was interrupted in mid-conversation with no forewarning. The pilot tried twice to restore the communications with the Star Dreadnought, but his efforts only met the comm silence ordered by Kenobi.

    "Very well, gentlemen. You have heard it. We are on our own. Greenbeasts and Bonebreakers, try to get them from the right. Solarflarers and Stubborns, the left is yours. Redeyes and Swiftfires, follow me. We are going to show those tincans the way to the great junkyard in Heaven."


    "The patient worries me. His condition is most serious," stated the med-droid after completing the Count's indepth examination. "He has several serious injuries, particularly because of his age. His right arm, for example, is a lost cause. Not only has he lost the hand, but the bones have been broken in several different points, the nerves have been damaged and the muscles have been severed. There was internal bleeding, although that we have been able to stop, but his spleen was punctured by a broken rib and it will have to be replaced. Moreover, there is some damage to his windpipe, plus bruising all over his body. Finally, he shows clear signs of extreme exhaustion."

    Despite claims to the contrary, there was no real worry in the voice. The droid had offered the information with such lack of emotion that it convinced Obi-Wan that he had been right when he had ordered the doctors removed from the premises. The droid was simply a tool, a pseudo-being that was only part of the Force in the same fashion a rock was, and it would follow orders as accurately as possible to the best of its ability. A living, sentient doctor would have shown actual worry or revulsion at the prospect of healing the infamous Count Dooku, but not the droid's detached calm. Droids were even better than clones when it was time to follow unpleasant orders and there was no actual chitchat among machines. For the time being, the Majestic was isolated from the universe outside and it was better that way, with the information contained as much as possible. Particularly the information concerning Dooku of Serenno.

    There had been anger in the eyes of Quickshot when he had heard about the Palpatine's demise and that had been unexpectedly enlightening. Kenobi knew, as did everybody else, that clonetroopers were conditioned during their training to obey authority and to be loyal to the Republic. For as long as most of the clones had lived, Palpatine had been the ultimate authority in the government of the Republic and, apparently, in their minds Palpatine had BECOME the Republic. And now the great man was dead.

    And something deep in the hindbrain of the clones demanded bloody revenge. He had probed Quickshot's mind and the intensity of the emotions had startled him. It was nothing short of murderous.

    Thus, Kenobi had found the reason that proved that his gut feeling had been right. He had allowed the clone Admiral to believe that the second medical platform was to move Palpatine's corpse, that they had abandoned in the Invisible Hand, and that Anakin had been seriously injured during their flight. The clone had shown a measure of suspicion around the secrecy, but he was conditioned to believe and obey those in positions of authority and he had accepted the tale.

    Finally, the clone had returned to the bridge and Kenobi had been left alone, waiting for the arrival of the med-droids and the medical platforms that had been used to transport Anakin and Dooku to the medbay.

    "The patient's comfort is unimportant, but he must survive. Can you keep him alive?"

    "If the patient truly has Jedi regenerative abilities and there are no unexpected problems, he should survive. However, he might need several weeks to make a full recovery and the sedative might further slow it down. Regenerating the right hand could be particularly troublesome, considering that..."

    "His hand is unimportant and for the time being it should not be replaced. The patient MUST be sedated all the time. If he shows signs of awakening at any point, dosage is to be immediately increased as much as medically safe and I am to be notified."

    "Understood, sir. Regarding the other patient, we have found no real medical reasons to..."

    "For the time being, the other patient will also be sedated. If he returns to consciousness, he must not leave this facility and he absolutely must not be allowed to approach this patient. Am I clear?"

    "Very much so, sir."

    "Very well then. I have a call to make. Contact me at any hour if there are noteworthy changes."


    Erassim kel Trachta sat alone inside his personal quarters on board the Fearsome, holding his sidearm with a trembling hand. He had warned his underlings that he didn't want to be interrupted and that whoever dared to do such a thing would suffer for it. No consequences had been specified, but it was always best to leave that kind of threats open-ended. The human mind had an uncanny ability to fill such blanks with the most bizarre and terrible things.

    Pressing the trigger should have been easy. He had just learned that he was the last survivor of his family. His wife and daughters were dead, they had died when the shields protecting his luxurious residence had failed to resist the wave of destruction caused by the thrice-damned Separatists. And the world was now a cold, horrible place. He was alone.

    But his fingers refused to press the trigger and end everything. Would he die only to find derision in the afterlife, because he had taken the coward's way out? That was a prospect far worse than a long life of bitter solitude. And he might yet find some solace in ensuring that those who had killed his beloved family paid the ultimate price for their crimes. First and foremost, the alien scum of the "Confederacy" that had shed innocent blood, but also the Jedi whose vaunted precognitive powers had failed to predict this war, this attack against Coruscant and the result of giving Grievous the time he had needed to charge his turbolasers.

    He had been right and the Jedi woman had been wrong, but he had not dared to press the issue. He would never again make the same mistake.


    "Safe and sound I see you, Master Kenobi, and that my heart fills with joy."

    "I too am glad to see you again, Master Yoda. I have experienced terrible things and I need of your wisdom."

    "Many terrible things have happened in this day. Some of what you mention I have felt, but to give counsel more I must know."

    "Chancellor Palpatine has been murdered."

    "Such a thing I feared and truly a terrible thing it is, yet I feel that the least of your worries this is."

    "That is correct. Anakin... Anakin has lost someone who was closer than a friend, almost a father for him, and he has also lost a machine that he considered a friend. His grief was terrible and he almost lost himself in the darkness."

    "That I had felt. Wrong I wished to be. But there are still hidden things. What troubles you?"

    "The explanations will have to wait, I fear, but I had to use the force to subdue my Padawan. I have betrayed him in a way I never imagined possible, for a reason I never dreamed."

    "What reason, Obi-Wan Kenobi?"

    "I fear that I might have touched the darkness, too. I cannot trust my own judgement and I need yours, to decide what must be done. In the Invisible Hand, we found the Count Dooku, weak and injured. He surrendered after telling us that his Sith Master had betrayed him. He helped us to escape and now he is in this ship."

    "That I had not felt. More I must know now, Master Kenobi. Tell me everything."


    May 17, 2006
    XII- In which an old war ends and a new one begins

    The first official reaction after the battle of Coruscant happened twenty seven minutes after Grievous' departure, when it was announced that Vice Chair Amedda would issue an official statement from the Senate within the hour. The fifty eight official holonet channels were prepared to take the words of the acting head of government to the most distant worlds of the galaxy. The image of the Chagrian, standing in the presidential pod, was seen not only in every world within the borders of the Republic, but in many neutral and even Confederate ones as well.

    And when he spoke, his words left a galaxy speechless.

    "In my long political career, I had never had to give news such as these and I hope that I shall never have to do this again. The images of Coruscant burning have already crossed the galaxy and I find that I have no worlds that can describe such evil. This world is the heart and the soul of galactic civilization as we know it. No one had attacked it in twenty centuries until this ill-fated day came. Today, hundreds of Jedi and millions of courageous soldiers have fought and died in a failed attempt to save it, but not even this ultimate sacrifice has been enough to save the billions of innocents that have perished this day."

    "Among those who have abandoned us today, I have to mention two names. Cos Palpatine, Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, has been murdered by those who mock the galaxy claiming that they bring justice with their crimes. Likewise, I have just been told that Cound Loblanc Dooku of Serenno has also been killed by the very scum that took his message of peace and justice and perverted it to convince the unwary to join their unlawful rebellion. Their deaths leave us with a sadly diminished galaxy, for they were both great men and now that both these great leaders have left the prospects of bringing peace to our worlds are now more remote than ever before."

    "By murdering an idealist, an old man who had just found out the truth about the crimes of the so called Confederacy of Independent Systems, the leaders of this criminal movement have finally crossed a line. Their wanton disregard for all existing rules of civilized warfare shows them as they truly are, disgusting vermin that can only be stopped with force, for force is the only thing they understand and fear and the commander of their military is just the most prominent criminal among many others. I hope that those who joined the rebellion by hearing the words of the late Count will find in my own the courage to leave this unholy darkness behind."

    "I certainly hope so for their own good, because the Senate has approved the following statement: there will be no compromise, no peace and no truce with those who have viciously attacked the innocent citizens of Coruscant and the full might of this Galactic Republic will be used to bring those responsible before true justice. And they will be judged in the most severe terms the law allows us to."


    "He might be the living embodiment of the evils that have corrupted the Republic, but I must acknowledge that Amedda knows how to deliver a message," noted Count Dooku of Serenno, alive and largely recovered, before disconnecting the holocomp. The blasted thing was one of the few distractions he had in the one hundred square feet cell he had been living in for the last five days, excluding the brief visits to the medbay located down the adjoining corridor for brief immersions in the bacta tank.

    "Your turn to move now is, Dooku," replied Yoda, sitting next to the dejarik holoboard that had been installed in one of the corners. Nine hundred years of existence were not enough to understand something as strange as the human mind and Dooku's was stranger than average. His old protegee showed no worries about his present condition as secret prisoner of the Jedi Order and Yoda found this rather baffling, unlike the other Masters who considered it downright alarming.

    Even now that his connection with the Force was weakened by extremely strong drugs, Dooku's mind was extremely well organized and prepared to defend against mental intruders. He was a good teacher, too good perhaps, because it was nigh-impossible to enter the human's mind and ascertain if the emotion was genuine or just a carefully prepared facade. It would require a rather forceful attempt to enter this mind and Yoda didn't want to invade his intimacy at the moment. He remembered enough about the young Padawan that Dooku had been to understand just how big a mistake this would be.

    No, Yoda would not invade his intimacy in such a way and neither would any other Jedi, for as long as Yoda had a say on the matter. Not unless he had reason to do so and so far he didn't.

    The Count of Serenno had offered Obi Wan Kenobi a pact in their last moments before leaving the Invisible Hand, right before being knocked unconscious by his serious injuries and a bit of help from a rather enraged Kenobi. Dooku had offered knowledge in exchange for life, information about the Confederate military and the Sith valuable enough to buy his survival... Somewhat grudgingly, a calmer Kenobi had told Yoda about the offer and the Jedi elder had decided to summon an emergency meeting of the High Council.

    Several fellow Masters had been rather outraged when the idea of dealing with a former Sith had been presented, particularly when the convenience of doing this without informing the Senate had been noted and many voiced had suggested that this probably was some kind of complicated Sith scheme. In the end, Yoda's position, silently supported by Mace Windu, Kenobi's description of Dooku's weakness and apparent sincerity and some insightful comments made by Kit Fisto had convinced most of the Council.

    Fisto had reminded some of the most outspoken detractors of the idea of some facts uncovered over years of careful research. Chiefly, he had mentioned that Darth Sidious had been proven to have a good deal of influence in the Senate and was suspected to be somebody in the Chancellor's entourage. If there was truly a renegade Sith Lord, putting him under control of the Senate would be reckless. At best. The Sith knew much about their enemy and the Jedi didn't. The Nautolan had stated that it might be a good time to change this.

    Thus, the High Council had voted to do something that could well be considered an act of treason.

    Preparing the deception had been surprisingly easy. The medical droids of the Majestic had picked a corpse of the correct size and used surgery to change the features, cloned a layer of Dooku's skin to fool genetic analysis and then wiped out of their memories the hour-long procedure. With the Senate completely focused in voting a new Chancellor, a few holographies and a medical report had been enough to complete the trick.

    The corpse had been burned hours later, as per alleged family tradition, and the ashes had been sent to the old family tombs in Serenno itself. Case closed. It was funny realizing know just how easy it was to deceive the Republic, even when doing it almost in plain sight. It just took a bit of imagination and...

    "Your turn now, Master Yoda," said softly the nobleman. Yoda focused in the game, leaving his musings for the moment. He wasn't bad playing dejarik, but Dooku could have become a galactic champion with the right environment. His Kintan Strider was now in such a position that Yoda had to attack the creature, but he soon noticed that doing this would open a hole in his own forces that would allow Dooku to force his surrender in six further moves.

    "Surrender I must. No way out of this I can see."

    "I know what you mean," replied Dooku with a grin in his old face. One of the few things in common between the young human that Yoda had trained and the old, embittered warrior sitting in front of him was their sheer competitivity. Winning against his old teacher in something, even something as small as dejarik never failed to brighten the human's day. "Do you have time for a rematch?"


    Graku was an old Givin Jedi that had served the Order as Temple Guardian for thirty standard years. A long time, that had allowed the alien to see a great many things both good and bad. He had risked his life several times defending the Temple against Jedi who had fallen to darkness, abominations rising from the dark depths of the Undercity, mercenaries armed to the teeth and even violent mobs. He had rarely felt fear even when facing such foes.

    But in the last years, Graku had found a new enemy. An enemy he had never dreamed might exist and that he had come to fear more than anything in the galaxy. Fans. The damned propaganda pieces in the holonews that praised the deeds of the heroic Jedi had done much to improve the morale of the people, but it also had the rather unfortunate side-effect of turning many Jedi into teen idols.

    Almost every Jedi that had played a serious role in the war had earned for his efforts a small -or large- legion of somewhat fanatical followers, with rare exceptions like Ki-Adi-Mundi -whose personal tragedy had resulted in the discrete disapparition of his fanclubs. And while the devastation of much of Coruscant should have discouraged said fans in a sane universe, the presence of some of the most wanted Jedi in Coruscant (Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Kit Fisto and Anakin "Fearless" Skywalker among the most significative) had resulted in the Temple being under virtual siege for days now.

    Every day, several thousand fans tried to enter the Temple uninvited to meet their idols face to face. Soon enough, the situation had spiraled out of control and the Temple Guard had been forced to ask for outside help -word had it that the breaking point had been Tirian Limerik's struggle to stop a young female Hutt from prowling the temple hallways looking for Master Yoda-. In the end, a clone company had came to reinforce Temple defenses and the terrible tide of fans had finally been pushed back. Suddenly, his communicator beeped.

    "We have a little problem, sir," said the voice of the lieutenant commanding one of the main entrances. "There is a visitor who would like to see Knight Skywalker."

    Graku had to make a conscious effort to avoid cursing. The officers didn't contact the Jedi unless visitors appeared to have a valid reason to visit the Temple, but there were orders from the High Council to deny entrance to anyone interested in contacting Skywalker. The Temple Guardian had heard that the young knight had suffered some kind of nervous breakdown upon finding his dead friend, the Chancellor, and that he had spent the last days isolated from the outside world in one of the meditation cells, refusing to speak even with his own master.

    "Who is it?"

    "Senator Padme Amidala Naberrie from Naboo, sir."

    Naboo. Yes, Graku remembered something about this. Anakin Skywalker had been her protector a few years ago and she had somehow ended in the midst of the whole disaster at Geonosis."

    "Skywalker is unavalaible at the moment, lieutenant. We told the press that much. Tell the Senator to try again in a few days. She might be luckier then."

    "With all due respect, sir. The Senator seems sincerely worried about this. I think that it might be better if you explain this to her. Personally."

    Graku touched his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He could almost touch the headache that this conversation was going to cause. But the soldier's words were rather sensible and a Givin never ignores good sense. "All right, lieutenant. Have one of your men escort her to the Reception Room. I will be waiting there."


    Mas Amedda, acting Chancellor of the Galactic Republic and political corpse since the Battle of Coruscant, stood up to greet Senator Organa. The Alderaanian representative made a polite bow and sat in one of the offered armchairs without saying anything, giving the Chagrian the initiative for this encounter.

    "These pointless elections in the Senate where we have failed to find any name good enough to get over a third of the votes are bad for the Republic in a rather critical moment. Do you agree with this, Senator?"

    "Of course. I have seen the reports. Popularity is at an all-time low. Our morale is trembling. Something must be done, I agree, but..."

    Amedda considered a sarcastic reply. Organa and his allies had managed to keep nearly a fourth of the Senate out of all the elections, demanding immediate reforms before voting a replacement. For the first time in five centuries, the position of Supreme Chancellor had now true power, as a result of Palpatine's campaign to get more and more emergency powers, but no other man could be trusted not to abuse so much power, according to Organa's faction.

    "I have discussed about this matter with the leaders of the Great Coalition that still support me," finally commented Amedda, barely avoiding a grimace. The vast alliance forged by Palpatine over the last ten years had collapsed almost overnight, particularly after Sate Pestage had disappeared misteriously and a number of influential human Senators had refused to accept the Chagrian as leader. "We are willing to agree with roughly half of your demands, Senator. We are not willing, however, to leave the Chancellorship powerless. The Chancellor must be commander-in-chief. We are in wartime, although some of your allies don't seem to get it yet. A war cannot be run by committee."

    "And what about the other points? Independence of the judiciary? That right to disband the Senate in a vaguely defined "emergency situation"?"

    "We are willing to compromise in both issues, in exchange for your public support in the election of another Chancellor."


    "Frozen hells! No! My political career is pretty much finished. I gave Grievous the time he needed to charge his weapons and actually worsened the threat I wanted to avoid. I can consider myself lucky not to be considered guilty of treason or some such thing. No, the Chancellor must be a man with influence in the Senate, that can win over the average man and that shows potential to give us the victory we need so desperately. There are very few Senators that meet these characteristics, yet I think that I have found one. Tell me, Senator. Don't you think that Chancellor Organa does have a nice ring to it?"


    A destroyer of the Confederacy of Independent Systems left hyperspace above the allegedly neutral world of Utapau, dropped a starfighter and then turned to disappear in the depths of space.

    The small fighter crossed the short gap and entered the atmosphere at high speeds, before diving into one of the craters that housed the few cities of this desolate world. He landed in the main platform of a TradeFed coreship that had been half-buried in the crater wall and that for the last month or so had been the residence of the members of the Confederate Executive Council, the leaders of the guilds that were the rulers of the Confederacy now that Dooku had disappeared.

    The week that had followed the Battle of Coruscant had been a test for the cyborg. He had been forced to throw away whole groups to deceive the many fleets that the enemy had devoted to hunting him down and he had actually had to fought a full blown battle to secure the fuel reserves of a Republican outpost. And now that he had finally returned to territory held by the Confederation, the General knew that the danger was now over yet.

    Amedda's Speech and the loss of President Dooku had hurt the CSI. Almost ten thousand worlds had tried to leave the boat and declare themselves neutral in the galactic conflict. Morale among the civilians had collapsed. His own image as mass murderer and world burner had been reinforced, but that was not exactly a good thing. The guilds weren't interested in being known as sponsors of the "scourge of Coruscant" as the media had decided to nickname him. It was highly likely that Viceroy Gunray and the other would show more than mild hostility. In fact, it was entirely possible that killing him and then sending him in pieces to Coruscant was in their list of things to do for this day.

    They had no military background worth noting. They didn't see what Grievous did. Only a few dozen worlds among those thousands had managed to defeat the droid armies. No critical military positions had been threatened by the revolt. The Republic had weakened its frontline forces with their attempts to hunt him down. Many traitors and enemy agents had been forced to show their true colours in the last few days. And the civilians weren't truly important for the mechanical war-machine of the CSI. In fact, it could be considered that Amedda's Speech had actually been slightly positive for the Confederation, from a purely military point of view.

    He just had to convince them that this point of view was the right one. And, fortunately, he knew just how to do this.

    At the moment, Grievous was still Supreme Commander. His codes had the highest authority next to Dooku's own. Now that the Count was gone, the Confederation military was his for the taking with a dozen words if he wanted it. Did the members of the Executive Council realize this? Probably not. Gunray and the rest still considered him as some kind of violent and foul-mouthed droid. They seemed unable to understand that he wasn't programmed to protect and serve them.

    Grievous' orders came from the Sith Lords and from the Sith Lords alone. And now that Tyranus was gone and Sidious failed to answer Grievous' attempts to communicate, the way was free.

    The last couple of doors opened and Grievous entered, along with twenty Magnadroids, in the room where the members of the Executive Council were waiting.

    It was time to make a few changes.


    CoCo Town in Coruscant had been surprisingly lucky considering that it had been just eight hundred kilometers away from ground zero, but geography had put the Senate District and its powerful shields halfway between Vincavec Crater and CoCo. And this had saved the whole district from the fire that would have consumed both the titanic towers and the quaint restaurants otherwise.

    And while in most of Coruscant millions of volunteers and veritable armies of droid workers laboured to remove the debris and find lucky individuals that might have survived the devastation, in the luckier areas life was almost back to normal. The Chancellor was dead, the sky was darker and the temperature lower, although the technicians had promised to remove the last of the dust from the atmosphere in a couple of weeks. But as far as everyday life was concerned, most factories had reopened and routine was again the unchallenged ruler of the lifes of billions in the city-world.

    Perhaps it was the consequence of this rather disturbing fact, but entertainment had never been as profitable. Theaters and cinemas were full everywhere and CoCo was no different in this regard. Adler Roty, artist of illusion and representative in Coruscant of the very ancient order of the Sorcerers of Tund, hadn't seen his small theater so full in several years. It might have been the presence of so many living presences what deceived his sixth sense, because when he opened the door of his dressing room after a play he was surprised to find someone waiting inside.

    It added a lot to his confusion the fact that the stranger was identical to Roty down to the smallest detail. And, unfortunately, that very confusion doomed the poor artist. Without giving Roty time to recover, the mystery twin uttered a single word in the arcane language of Tund and a blue sphere sorrounded the startled illusionist. Green flames consumed everything contained within the sphere and not even ashes were left to mark the passing of Adler Roty.

    Rokur Gepta, now truly last living member of the order of the Sorcerers of Tund, allowed a tiny smile to form in his stolen face.


    "And the changes are just starting."

    "I wonder if we have done the right thing. Have you considered that the Others might have been right?"

    "They are not. We have done the right thing, I am sure. You saw the destiny they had prepared. A century of conflict and bloodshed for the whole galaxy, with only a few short victories. What we have done could mean a true change. This is the first opportunity to break this status quo in a thousand years."

    "They could change against us, couldn't they? Because he might have left darkness behind, but he has still a long way to go before he rejoins the light."

    "I had considered this, of course. It was a very dangerous move. I know it. But I also have faith. He will do what is right when the time comes."

    "I would like to have your faith. But then, he didn't murder you."

    "For a long time, I also thought that there was no hope for him. But then there was that brief meeting with Yoda in Vjun. The Jedi of old, your friend and my Master, is still alive under all the hate and darkness that turned him into Darth Tyranus. We only need time and his light will return to the surface."

    "I can only hope that your faith isn't as misplaced as my own was."

    And with those words, the essence of the being that had once been Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas left the other presence. The spirit that had been known in life as Qui-Gon Jinn was left alone with his thoughts and his hopes.

    THE END.


    May 17, 2006
    And that's that.

    Hope somebody liked it.