REVENGE OF THE SITH Star Wars, Episode III by Matthew Stover This story happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is already over. Nothing can be done to change it. It is a story of love and loss, brotherhood and betrayal, courage and sacrifice and the death of dreams.
It is a story of the blurred line between our best and our worst. It is the story of the end of an age. A strange thing about stories-Though this all happened so long ago and so far away that words cannot describe the time or the distance, it is also happening right now. Right here. It is happening as you read these words.
This is how twenty-five millennia come to a close. Corruption and treachery have crushed a thousand years of peace. This is not just the end of a republic; night is falling on civilization itself. This is the twilight of the Jedi.
The end starts now. = Introduction = THE AGE OF HEROES The skies of Coruscant blaze with war. The artificial daylight spread by the capital’s orbital mirrors is sliced by intersecting flames of ion drives and punctuated by explosions; contrails of debris raining into the atmosphere become tangled ribbons of cloud. The night side sky is an infinite lattice of shining hairlines that interlock planetoids and track spirals of glowing gnats.
Beings watching from rooftops of Coruscant’s endless cityscape can find it beautiful. From the inside, it’s different. The gnats are drive-glows of star fighters. The shining are light-scatter from turbo laser bolts powerful enough to vaporize a small town. The planetoids are capital ships. The battle from the inside is a storm of confusion and panic, of particle beams flashing past your star fighter so close that your cockpit rings like a broken annunciator, of the boot-sole shock of concussion missiles that blast into your cruiser, killing beings you have trained with and eaten with and played and laughed and bickered with.
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From the inside, the battle is desperation and terror and the stomach-churning certainty that the whole galaxy is trying to kill you. Across the remnants of the Republic, stunned beings watch in horror as the battle unfolds live on the HoloNet. Everyone knows the war has been going badly. Everyone knows that more Jedi are killed or captured every day, that the Grand Army of the Republic has been pushed out of system after system, but this-A strike at the very heart of the Republic? An invasion of Coruscant itself? How can this happen? It’s a nightmare, and no one can wake up.
Live via HoloNet, beings watch the Separatist droid army flood the government district. The coverage is filled with images of over matched clone troopers cut down by remorselessly destroyer droids in the halls of the Galactic Senate itself. A gasp of relief: the troopers seem to beat back the attack. There are hugs and even some quiet cheers in living rooms across the galaxy as the Separatist forces retreat to their ladders and streak for orbit-We won! beings tell each other. We held them off! But then new reports trickle in-only rumors at first-that the attack wasn’t an invasion at all.
That the Separatists weren’t trying to take the planet. That this was a lightning raid on the Senate itself. The nightmare gets worse: the Supreme Chancellor is miss noting. Palpatine of Naboo, the most admired man in the galaxy, whose unmatched political skills have held the Republic. Whose personal integrity and courage prove that the Sepnotaratist propaganda of corruption in the Senate is nothing but lies.
Whose charismatic leadership gives the whole Republic the will to fight on. Palpatine is more than respected. He is loved. Even the rumor of his disappearance strikes a dagger to the heart of every friend of the Republic. Every one of them knows it in her heart, in his gut, in its very bones-Without Palpatine, the Republic will fall. And now confirmation comes through, and the news is worse than anyone could have imagined.
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Supreme Chancellor Palpatine has been captured by the Separatists-and not just the Separatists. He’s in the hands of General Grievous. Grievous is not like other leaders of the Separatists. Note Gun ray is treacherous and venal, but he’s Neimoidian: venality and treachery are expected, and in the Chancellor of the Trade Federation they ” re even virtues. Pogge the Lesser is Archduke of the weapon masters of Geonosis, where the war began: he is and pitiless, but also pragmatic. Reasonable.
The political heart of the Separatist Confederacy, Count Dooku, is known for his integrity, his principled stand against what he sees as in the Senate. Though they believe he’s wrong, many respect him for the courage of his mistaken convictions. These are hard beings. Dangerous beings. Ruthless and. General Grievous, though-Grievous is a monster.
The Separatist Supreme Commander is an abomination of nature, a fusion of flesh and droid-and his droid parts have more compassion than what remains of his alien flesh. This half-living creature is a slaughterer of billions. Whole planets have burned at his command. He is the evil genius of the Confederacy. The architect of their victories. The author of their atrocities.
And his dura steel grip has closed upon Palpatine. He the capture personally in a wide band transmission from his command cruiser in the midst of the orbital battle. Beings across the galaxy watch, and shudder, and pray that they might wake up from this awful dream. Because they know that what they ” re watching, live on the HoloNet, is the death of the Republic. Many among these beings break into tears; many more reach out to comfort their husbands or wives, their creche-mates or kin-triads, and their youngling’s of all descriptions, from children to cubs to spawn-fry. But here is a strange thing: few of the youngling’s need.
It is instead the youngling’s who offer comfort to their. Across the Republic-in words or pheromones, in magnetic pulses, tentacle-braids, or mental telepathy-the message from the youngling’s is the same: Don’t worry. It ” ll be all right. Anakin and Obi-Wan will be there any minute. They say this as though these names can conjure miracles. Anakin and Obi-Wan.
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Kenobi and Skywalker. From the of the Clone Wars, the phrase Kenobi and Skywalker has become a single word. They are everywhere. HoloNet features of their operations against the Separatist enemy have made them the most famous Jedi in the galaxy. Youngling across the galaxy know their names, know about them, follow their exploits as though they are sports heroes instead of warriors in a desperate battle to save.
Even grown-ups are not immune; it’s not uncommon for an exasperated parent to ask, when faced with offspring who have just tried to pull off one of the spectacularly dangerous bits of foolishness that are the stock-in-trade of high-spirited youngling’s everywhere, So which were you supposed to be, Kenobi or Skywalker? Kenobi would rather talk than fight, but when there is fight noting to be done, few can match him. Skywalker is the master of audacity; his intensity, boldness, and sheer jaw-dropping luck are the perfect complement to Kenobi’s deliberate, balanced. Together, they are a Jedi hammer that has crushed Sepanotratist infestations on scores of worlds. All the youngling’s watching the battle in Coruscant’s sky know it: when Anakin and Obi-Wan get there, those dirty Sepnotpers are going to wish they’d stayed in bed today. The adults know better, of course.
That’s part of what being a grown-up is: understanding that heroes are created by the HoloNet, and that the real-life Kenobi and Skywalker are only human beings, after all. Even if they really are everything the legends say they are, who’s to say they ” ll show up in time? Who knows where they are right now? They might be trapped on some Separatist backwater. They might be captured, or wounded. Even dead.
Some of the adults even whisper to themselves, They might have fallen. Because the stories are out there. Not on the HoloNet, of course-the HoloNet news is under the control of the Office of the Supreme Chancellor, and not even Palpatine’s renowned candor would allow tales like these to be told-but people hear whispers. Whispers of names that the Jedi would like to pretend never existed. Sora Bulk. Dep a Bill aba.
Jedi who have fallen to the dark. Who have joined the Separatists, or worse: who have massacred civilians, or even murdered their comrades. The adults have a sickening suspicion that Jedi cannot be trusted. Not anymore. That even the greatest of them can suddenly just… snap.
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The adults know that legendary heroes are merely legends, and not heroes at all. These adults can take no comfort from their youngling’s. Palnotpatine is captured. Grievous will escape. The Republic will fall.
No mere human beings can turn this tide. No mere human would even try. Not even Kenobi and Skywalker. And so it is that these adults across the galaxy watch the HoloNet with ashes where their hearts should be. Ashes because they can’t see two prismatic bursts of real space reversion, far out beyond the planet’s gravity well; because they can’t see a pair of star fighters crisply jettison hyper drive rings and streak into the storm of Separatist vulture fighters with all guns blazing. A pair of star fighters.
Jedi star fighters. Only two. Two is enough. Two is enough because the adults are wrong, and their youngling’s are right. Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last. Part OneVictoryThe dark is generous.
Its first gift is concealment: our true faces lie in the dark our skins, our true hearts remain shadowed deeper still. But the greatest concealment lies not in protecting our secret truths, but in hiding from us the truths of others. The dark protects us from what we dare not know. Its second gift is comforting illusion: the ease of gentle dreams in night’s embrace, the beauty that imagination brings to what would repel in day’s harsh light.
But the greatest of its comforts is the illusion that the dark is temporary: that every night brings a new day. Because it is day that is temporary. Day is the illusion. Its third gift is the light itself: as days are defined by the nights that divide them, as stars are defined by the infinite black through which they wheel, the dark embraces the light, and brings it forth from the center of its own self.
With each victory of the light, it is the dark that wins. = 1 = ANAKIN AND OBI-WANAntifighter flak flashed on all sides. Even louder than the clatter of shrapnel and the snarl of his sub light drives, his cockpit hummed and rang with near hits from the turbo laser fire of the capital ships crowding space around him. Sometimes his whirling spinning dive through the cloud of battle skimmed bursts so closely that the energy-scatter would slam his star fighter hard enough to bounce his head off the supports of his pilot’s chair.
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Right now Obi-Wan Kenobi envied the clones: at least they had helmets.’ Arfour,’ he said on internal comm, ‘can’t you do with the inertial’s?’ The droid ganged into the socket on his ‘s left wing whistled something that sounded suspiciously like a human apology. Obi-Wan’s frown deepened. R 4-P 17 had been spend noting too much time with Anakin’s eccentric; it was picking up R 2-D 2’s bad habits. New bursts of flak bracketed his path. He reached into the Force, feeling for a safe channel through the swarms of shrapnel and sizzling nets of particle beams. There wasn’t one.
He locked a snarl behind his teeth, twisting his star fighter around another explosion that could have peeled its armor like an overripe Ithorian starfruit. He hated this part. Hated it. Flying’s for droids.
His cockpit speakers crackled. ‘There isn’t a droid made that can outfly you, Master.’ He could still be surprised by the new depth of that voice. The calm confidence. The maturity. It seemed that only last week Anakin had been a ten-year-old who wouldn’t stop pestering him about Form I light saber combat.’s orry,’ he muttered, kicking into a dive that slipped a turbo-laser burst by no more than a meter. ‘Was that out loud?’ ‘Wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t.
I know what you ” re thinking.’ ‘Do you?’ He looked up through the cockpit canopy to find his onetime Padawan flying inverted, mirroring him so closely that but for the between them, they might have shaken hands. Obi-Wan smiled up at him. ‘Some new gift of the Force?’ ‘Not the Force, Master. Experience. That’s what you ” re always thinking.’ Obi-Wan kept hoping to hear some of Anakin’s old cocky grin in his tone, but he never did.
Not since Jabiim. Perhaps not since Geonosis. The war had burned it out of him. Obi-Wan still tried, now and again, to spark a real smile in his former Padawan.
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And Anakin still tried to answer. They both still tried to pretend the war hadn’t changed them.’ Ah.’ Obi-Wan took a hand from the star fighter’s control yoke to direct his upside-down friend’s attention forward. Dead ahead, a blue-white point of light splintered into four laser-straight trails of ion drives. ‘And what does experience tell you we should do about those incoming tri-fighters?’ ‘That we should break-right!’ Obi-Wan was already making that exact move as Anakin spoke. But they were inverted to each other: breaking right shot him one way while Anakin whipped the other.
The tri-fighters’ cannons ripped space between them, tracking faster than their star fighters could slip. His on board threat display chimed a warning: two of the droids had remote sensor locks on him. The others must have lit up his partner. ‘Anakin! Slip-jaws!’ ‘My thought exactly.’ They blew past the tri-fighters, looping in evasive spirals.
The droid ships wrenched themselves into pursuit maneuvers that would have killed any living pilot. The slip-jaws maneuver was named for the scissor like mandibles of the Kashyyyk slash-spider. Droids closing rapidly on their tails, cannon fire stitching space on all sides, the two Jedi pulled their ships through perfectly mirrored rolls that sent them streaking head-on for each other from opposite ends of a vast Renotpublic cruiser. For merely human pilots, this would be suicide. By the time you can see your partner’s star fighter streaking toward you at a respectable fraction of light speed, it’s already too late for your merely human reflexes to react. But these particular pilots were far from merely human.
The Force nudged hands on control yokes and the Jedi star fighters twisted and flashed past each other belly-to-belly, close enough to scorch each other’s paint. Tri-fighters were the Trade Federation’s latest space-superiority droid. But even the electronic reflexes of the tri-fighters’ droid brains were too slow for this: one of his pursuers met one of Anakin’s head-on. Both vanished in a blossom of flame.
The shock wave of debris and expanding gas rocked Obi-Wan; he fought the control yoke, barely keeping his of a tumble that would have smeared him across the cruiser’s ventral hull. Before he could straighten out, his threat display chimed again.’ Oh, marvelous,’ he muttered under his breath. Anakin’s surviving pursuer had switched targets. ‘Why is it always me?’ ‘Perfect.’ Through the cockpit speakers, Anakin’s voice grim satisfaction. ‘Both of them are on your tail.’ ‘Perfect is not the word I’d use.’ Obi-Wan twisted his yoke, ju king madly as space around him flared scarlet.
‘We have to split them up!’ ‘Break left.’ Anakin sounded calm as a stone. ‘The turbo laser tower off your port bow: thread its guns. I’ll take things from there.’ ‘Easy for you to say.’ Obi-Wan whipped sideways along the cruiser’s superstructure. Fire from the pursuing tri-fighters blasted burning chunks from the cruiser’s armor.
‘Why am I the bait?’ ‘I’m right behind you. Artoo, lock on.’ Obi-Wan spun his star fighter between the recoiling turbo-cannons close enough that energy-scatter made his cockpit clang like a gong, but still cannon fire flashed past him from the tri-fighters behind. ‘Anakin, they ” re all over me!’ ‘Dead ahead. Move right to clear my shot.
Now!’ Obi-Wan flared his port jets and the star fighter kicked to the right. One of the tri-fighters behind him decided it couldn’t and went for a ventral slip that took it directly into the blasts from Anakin’s cannons. It vanished in a boil of superheated gas.’ Good shooting, Artoo.’ Anakin’s dry chuckle in the cockpit’s speakers vanished behind the clang of lasers blasting ablative shielding off Obi-Wan’s left wing.’ I’m running out of tricks here-‘Clearing the vast Republic cruiser put him on course for the curving hull of one of the Trade Federation’s battleships; space between the two capital ships blazed with turbo laser exchanges. Some of those flashing energy blasts were as big around as his ship; the merest graze would blow him to atoms.
Obi-Wan dived right in. He had the Force to guide him through, and the tri-fighter had only its electronic reflexes-but those electronic reflexes operated at roughly the speed of light. It stayed on his tail as if he were dragging it by a tow cable. When Obi-Wan went left and Anakin right, the tri-fighter would swing halfway through the difference. The same with up and down. It was averaging his movements with Anakin’s; its droid brain had realized that as long as it stayed between the two Jedi, Anakin couldn’t fire on it without hitting his.
The tri-fighter was under no similar restraint: Obi-Wan flew through a storm of scarlet needles.’ No wonder we ” re losing the war,’ he muttered. ‘They ” re getting smarter.’ ‘What was that, Master? I didn’t copy.’ Obi-Wan kicked his star fighter into a tight spiral toward the Federation cruiser. ‘I’m taking the deck!’ ‘Good idea. I need some room to maneuver.’ Cannonfire tracked closer.
Obi-Wan’s cockpit speakers buzzed. ‘Cut right, Obi-Wan! Hard right! Don’t let him get a handle on you! Artoo, lock on!’ Obi-Wan’s star fighter streaked along the curve of the Sepanotratist cruiser’s dorsal hull. Anti fighter flak burst on all sides as the cruiser’s guns tried to pick him up. He rolled a right wingover into the service trench that stretched the length of the cruiser’s hull. This low and close to the deck, the cruiser’s anti fighter guns couldn’t depress their angle of fire enough to get a shot, but the tri-fighter stayed right on his tail. At the far end of the service trench, the massive support of the cruiser’s towering bridge left no room for even Obi-Wan’s small craft.
He kicked his star fighter into a half roll that whipped him out of the trench and shot him straight up the tower’s angled leading edge. One burst of his under jets jerked him past the forward view ports of the bridge with only meters to spare-and the tri-fighter followed his path exactly.’ Of course,’ he muttered. ‘That would have been too easy. Anakin, where are you?’ One of the control surfaces on his left wing shattered in a burst of plasma. It felt like being shot in the arm.
He toggled switches, fighting the yoke. R 4-P 17 shrilled at him. Obi-Wan keyed internal comm. ‘Don’t try to fix it, Arfour. I’ve shut it down.’ ‘I have the lock!’ Anakin said. ‘Go! Firing-now!’ Obi-Wan hit maximum drag on his intact wing, and his star fighter shot into a barely controlled arc high and right as Anakin’s cannons vaporized the last tri-fighter.
Obi-Wan fired retros to stall his star fighter in the blind spot behind the Separatist cruiser’s bridge. He hung there for a few seconds to get his breathing and heart under control. ‘Thanks, Anakin. That was-thanks. That’s all.’ ‘Don’t thank me. It was Artoo’s shooting.’ ‘Yes.
I suppose, if you like, you can thank your droid for me as well. And, Anakin-?’ ‘Yes, Master?’ ‘Next time, you ” re the bait.’ This is Obi-Wan Kenobi: A phenomenal pilot who doesn’t like to fly. A devastating warrior who’d rather not fight. A negotiator without peer who frankly prefers to sit alone in a quiet cave and meditate. Jedi Master. General in the Grand Army of the Republic.
Member of the Jedi Council. And yet, inside, he feels like he’s none of these things. Inside, he still feels like a Padawan. It is a truism of the Jedi Order that a Jedi Knight’s education truly begins only when he becomes a Master: that everything about being a Master is learned from one’s student. Obi-Wan feels the truth of this every day.
He sometimes dreams of when he was a Padawan in fact as well as feeling; he dreams that his own Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, did not die at the plasma-fueled generator core in Theed. He dreams that his Master’s wise guiding hand is still with him. But Qui-Gon’s death is an old pain, one with which he long ago came to terms. A Jedi does not cling to the past. And Obi-Wan Kenobi knows, too, that to have lived his life without being Master to Anakin Skywalker would have left him a different man. A lesser man.
Anakin has taught him so much. Obi-Wan sees so much of Qui-Gon in Anakin that it hurts his heart; at the very least, Anakin mirrors Qui-Gon’s flair for the dramatic, and his casual disregard for rules. Training Anakin-and fighting beside him, all these years-has unlocked something inside Obi-Wan. It’s as though Anakin has rubbed off on him a bit, and has loosened that clenched-jaw on absolute correctness that Qui-Gon always said was his greatest flaw. Obi-Wan Kenobi has learned to relax.
He smiles now, and sometimes even jokes, and has become known for the wisdom gentle humor can provide. Though he does not know it, his relationship with Anakin has molded him into the great Jedi Qui-Gon always said he might someday be. It is characteristic of Obi-Wan that he is entirely unaware of this. Being named to the Council came as a complete surprise; even now, he is sometimes astonished by the faith the Jedi Coun-ci l has in his abilities, and the credit they give to his wisdom. Greatness was never his ambition. He wants only to perform whatever task he is given to the best of his ability.
He is respected throughout the Jedi Order for his insight as well as his warrior skill. He has become the hero of the next of Padawan; he is the Jedi their Masters hold up as a model. He is the being that the Council assigns to their most missions. He is modest, centered, and always kind.
He is the ultimate Jedi. And he is proud to be Anakin Skywalker’s best friend.’ Artoo, where’s that signal?’ From its socket beside the cockpit, R 2-D 2 whistled and beeped. A translation spider ed across Anakin’s console readout: SCANNING. LOTS OF ECM SIGNAL JAMMING.’ Keep on it.’ He glanced at Obi-Wan’s star fighter limping through the battle, a hundred meters off his left wing. ‘I can feel his jitters from all the way over here.’ A tootle: A JEDI IS ALWAYS CALM.’ He won’t think it’s funny. Neither do I.
Less joking, more scanning.’ For Anakin Skywalker, star fighter battles were usually as close to fun as he ever came. This one wasn’t. Not because of the overwhelming odds, or the danger he was in; he didn’t care about odds, and he didn’t think of himself as being in any particular danger. A few wings of droid fighters didn’t much scare a man who’d been a Pod racer since he was six, and had won the Boon ta Cup at nine. Who was, in fact, the only human to ever finish a Pod race, let alone win one.
In those days he had used the Force without knowing it; he’d thought the Force was something inside him, just a feeling, an instinct, a string of lucky guesses that led him through other pilots wouldn’t dare attempt. Now, though… Now-Now he could reach into the Force and feel the engagement throughout Coruscant space as though the whole battle were happening inside his head. His vehicle became his body. The pulses of its engines were the beat of his own heart.
Flying, he could forget about his, about his mother, about Geonosis and Jabiim, Aargonar and Muunilinst and all the catastrophes of this brutal war. About everything that had been done to him. And everything he had done. He could even put aside, for as long as the battle roared around him, the star fire of his love for the woman who waited for him on the world below. The woman whose breath was his only air, whose heartbeat was his only music, whose face was the only beauty his eyes would ever see. He could put all this aside because he was a Jedi.
Because it was time to do a Jedi’s work. But today was different. Today wasn’t about dodging lasers and blasting droids. Today was about the life of the man who might as well have been his father: a man who could die if the Jedi didn’t reach him in time. Anakin had been late once before. Obi-Wan’s voice came over the cockpit speakers, flat and tight.
‘Does your droid have anything? Arfour’s hopeless. I think that last cannon hit cooked his motivator.’ Anakin could see exactly the look on his former Master’s face: a mask of calm belied by a jaw so tight that when he spoke his mouth barely moved. ‘Don’t worry, Master. If his beacon’s working, Artoo ” ll find it. Have you thought about how we ” ll find the Chancellor if-”No.’ Obi-Wan sounded absolutely certain.
‘There’s no need to consider it. Until the possible becomes actual, it is only a. Be mindful of what is, not what might be.’ Anakin had to stop himself from reminding Obi-Wan that he wasn’t a Padawan anymore. ‘I should have been here,’ he said through his teeth. ‘I told you. I should have been here.’ ‘Anakin, he was defended by Stass Allie and Shaak Ti.
If two Masters could not prevent this, do you think you could? Stass Allie is clever and valiant, and Shaak Ti is the most cunning Jedi I’ve ever met. She’s even taught me a few tricks.’ Anakin assumed he was supposed to be impressed. ‘But General Grievous-”Master Ti had faced him before, Anakin. After Muunilinst. She is not only subtle and experienced, but very capable indeed. Seats on the Jedi Council aren’t handed out as party favors.’ ‘I’ve noticed.’ He let it drop.
The middle of a space battle was no place to get into this particular sore subject. If only he’d been here, instead of Shaak Ti and Stass Allie, Council members or not. If he had been here, Chancellor Palpanottine would be home and safe already. Instead, Anakin had been stuck running around the Outer Rim for months like some Padawan, and all Palpatine had for protectors were Jedi who were clever and subtle. Clever and subtle. He could whip any ten clever and subtle Jedi with his light saber tied behind his back.
But he knew better than to say so.’ Put yourself in the moment, Anakin. Focus.’ ‘Copy that, Master,’ Anakin said dryly. ‘Focusing now.’ R 2-D 2 twittered, and Anakin checked his console readout. ‘We ” ve got him, Master. The cruiser dead ahead. That’s Grievnotous’s flagship-Invisible Hand.’ ”Anakin, there are dozens of cruisers dead ahead!’ ‘It’s the one crawling with vulture fighters.’ The vulture fighters clinging to the long curves of the Trade Federation cruiser indicated by Palpatine’s beacon gave it eerily life-like ripples, like some metallic marine predator bristling with Alderaanian walking barnacles.’ Oh.
That one.’ He could practically hear Obi-Wan’s dropping. ‘Oh, this should be easy… .’ Now some of them stripped themselves from the cruiser, their drives, and came looping toward the two Jedi.’ Easy? No. But it might be fun.’ Sometimes a little teasing was the only way to get Obi-Wan to loosen up.
‘Lunch at Dex’s says I’ll blast two for each of yours. Artoo can keep score.’ ‘Anakin-”All right, dinner. And I promise this time I won’t let Artoo cheat.’ ‘No games, Anakin. There’s too much at stake.’ There, that was the tone Anakin had been looking for: a slightly scolding, schoolmaster ish edge.
Obi-Wan was back on form. ‘Have your droid tight-beam a report to the Temple. And send out a call for any Jedi in star fighters. We ” ll come at it from all sides.’ ‘Way ahead of you.’ But when he checked his comm, he shook his head.
‘There’s still too much ECM. Artoo can’t raise the Temple. I think the only reason we can even talk to each other is that we ” re practically side by side.’ ‘And Jedi beacons?’ ‘No joy, Master.’ Anakin’s stomach clenched, but he fought the tension out of his voice. ‘We may be the only two Jedi out here.’ ‘Then we will have to be enough. Switching to clone fighter channel.’ Anakin spun his comm dial to the new frequency in time to hear Obi-Wan say, ‘Oddball, do you copy? We need help.’ The clone captain’s helmet speaker flattened the humanity out of his voice. ‘Copy, Red Leader.’ ‘Mark my position and form your squad behind me.
We ” re going in.’ On our way.’ The droid fighters had lost themselves against the of the battle, but R 2-D 2 was tracking them on scan. Anakin shifted his grip on his star fighter’s control yoke. ‘Ten vultures inbound, high and left to my orientation. More on the way.’ ‘I have them.
Anakin, wait-the cruiser’s bay shields have dropped! I’m reading four, no, six ships incoming.’ Obi-Wan’s voice rose. ‘Tri-fighters! Coming in fast!’ Anakin’s smile tightened. This was about to get interesting.’ Tri-fighters first, Master. The vultures can wait.’ ‘Agreed.
Slip back and right, swing behind me. We ” ll take them on the slant.’ Let Obi-Wan go first? With a blown left control surface and a half-crippled R-unit? With Palpatine’s life at stake? Not likely.’ Negative,’ Anakin said. ‘I’m going head-to-head. See you on the far side.’ ‘Take it easy.
Wait for Oddball and Squad Seven. Anakin-‘He could hear the frustration in Obi-Wan’s voice as he kicked his star fighter’s sub lights and surged past; his former Master still hadn’t gotten used to not being able to order Anakin around. Not that Anakin had ever been much for following orders. Obi-Wan’s, or anyone else’s.’s orry we ” re late.’ The digitized voice of the clone whose call sign was Oddball sounded as calm as if he were ordering dinner. ‘We ” re on your right, Red Leader. Where’s Red Five?’ ‘Anakin, form up!’ But Anakin was already streaking to meet the Trade Federanottion fighters.
‘Incoming!’ Obi-Wan’s familiar sigh came clearly over the comm; Anakin knew exactly what the Jedi Master was thinking. The same thing he was always thinking. He still has much to learn. Anakin’s smile thinned to a grim straight line as enemy star fighters swarmed around him.
And he thought the same thing he always thought. We ” ll see about that. He gave himself to the battle, and his star fighter whirled and his cannons hammered, and droids on all sides began to burst into clouds of debris and superheated gas. This was how he relaxed. This is Anakin Skywalker: The most powerful Jedi of his generation. Perhaps of any.
The fastest. The strongest. An unbeatable pilot. An warrior. On the ground, in the air or sea or space, there is no one even close. He has not just power, not just skill, but dash: that rare, invaluable combination of boldness and grace.
He is the best there is at what he does. The best there has ever been. And he knows it. HoloNet features call him the Hero With No Fear. And why not? What should he be afraid of? Except-Fear lives inside him anyway, chewing away the firewalls around his heart.
Anakin sometimes thinks of the dread that eats at his heart as a dragon. Children on Tatooine tell each other of the dragons that live inside the suns; smaller cousins of the sun-dragons are supposed to live inside the fusion furnaces that power everything from star ships to Pod racers. But Anakin’s fear is another kind of dragon. A cold kind. A dead kind. Not nearly dead enough.
Not long after he became Obi-Wan’s Padawan, all those years ago, a minor mission had brought them to a dead system: one so immeasurably old that its star had long ago turned to a frigid dwarf of hyper compacted trace metals, hovering a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. Anakin couldn’t even remember what the mission might have been, but he’d never forgotten that dead star. It had scared him.’s tars can die-?’ ‘It is the way of the universe, which is another manner of saying that it is the will of the Force,’ Obi-Wan had told him. ‘Everything dies. In time, even stars burn out.
This is why Jedi form no attachments: all things pass. To hold on to something- or someone-beyond its time is to set your selfish desires against the Force. That is a path of misery, Anakin; the Jedi do not walk it.’ That is the kind of fear that lives inside Anakin Skywalker: the dragon of that dead star. It is an ancient, cold dead voice within his heart that whispers all things die… In bright day he can’t hear it; battle, a mis sion, even a report before the Jedi Council, can make him forget it’s even there.
But at night-At night, the walls he has built sometimes start to frost over. Sometimes they start to crack. At night, the dead-star dragon sometimes sneaks through the cracks and crawls up into his brain and chews at the inside of his skull. The dragon whispers of what Anakin has lost.
And what he will lose. The dragon reminds him, every night, of how he held his dying mother in his arms, of how she had spent her last strength to say I knew you would come for me, Anakin… The dragon reminds him, every night, that someday he will lose Obi-Wan. He will lose Padme. Or they will lose him.
All things die, Anakin Skywalker. Even stars burn out… And the only answers he ever has for these dead cold are his memories of Obi-Wan’s voice, or Yoda’s. But sometimes he can’t quite remember them.
all things die… He can barely even think about it. But right now he doesn’t have a choice: the man he flies to rescue is a closer friend than he’d ever hoped to have. That’s what puts the edge in his voice when he tries to make a joke; that’s what flattens his mouth and tightens the burn-scar high on his right cheek.
The Supreme Chancellor has been family to Anakin: always there, always caring, always free with advice and unstinting aid. A sympathetic ear and a kindly, loving, unconditional acceptance of Anakin exactly as he is-the sort of acceptance Anakin could never get from another Jedi. Not even from Obi-Wan. He can tell Palpatine things he could never share with his Master. He can tell Palpatine things he can’t even tell Padme. Now the Supreme Chancellor is in the worst kind of danger.
And Anakin is on his way despite the dread boiling through his blood. That’s what makes him a real hero. Not the way the HoloNet labels him; not without fear, but stronger than fear. He looks the dragon in the eye and doesn’t even slow down.
If anyone can save Palpatine, Anakin will. Because he’s the best, and he’s still getting better. But locked away the walls of his heart, the dragon that is his fear coils and squirms and hisses. Because his real fear, in a universe where even stars can die, is that being the best will never be quite good enough.
Obi-Wan’s star fighter jolted sideways. Anakin whipped by him and used his forward attitude jets to kick himself into a skew-flip: facing backward to blast the last of the tri-fighters on his tail. Now there were only vulture droids left. A lot of vulture droids.’ Did you like that one, Master?’ ‘Very pretty.’ Obi-Wan’s cannons stitched plasma across the hull of a swooping vulture fighter until the droid exploded. ‘But we ” re not through yet.’ ‘Watch this.’ Anakin flipped his star fighter again and dived, spinning, directly through the flock of vulture droids. Their drives blazed as they came around.
He led them streaking for the upper deck of a laser-scarred Separatist cruiser. ‘I’m going to lead them through the needle.’ ‘Don’t lead them anywhere.’ Obi-Wan’s threat display the vultures on Anakin’s tail. Twelve of them. Twelve.
‘First Jedi principle of combat: survive.’ ‘No choice.’ Anakin slipped his star fighter through the storm of cannon fire. ‘Come down and thin them out a little.’ ‘Obi-Wan slammed his control yoke forward as though it against its impact-rest would push his battered fighter faster in pursuit. ‘Nothing fancy, Arfour.’ As though the droid were even capable of anything fancy. ‘Just hold me steady.’ He reached into the Force and felt for his shot. ‘On my mark, break left-now!’ The shutdown control surface of his left wing turned the left break into a tight overhead spiral that Obi-Wan’s guns across the paths of four vultures-flash flash flash flash-and all four were gone. He flew on through the clouds of glowing plasma.
He couldn’t waste time going around; Anakin still had eight of them on his tail. And what was this? Obi-Wan frowned. The cruiser looked familiar. The needle? he thought. Oh, please say you ” re kidding. Anakin’s star fighter skimmed only meters above the cruiser’s dorsal hull.
Cannon misses from the vulture fighters swooping toward him blasted chunks out of the cruiser’s armor.’ Okay, Artoo. Where’s that trench?’ His forward screen lit with a topography of the cruiser’s hull. Just ahead lay the trench that Obi-Wan had led the tri-fighter into. Anakin flipped his star fighter through a razor-sharp wingover ‘down past the rim. The walls of the service trench flashed past him as he streaked for the bridge tower at the far end. From here, he couldn’t even see the minuscule slit between its support struts.
With eight vulture droids in pursuit, he’d never pull off a slant up the tower’s leading edge as Obi-Wan had. But that was all right. He wasn’t planning to. His cockpit comm buzzed. ‘Don’t try it, Anakin. It’s too tight.’ Too tight for you, maybe.
‘I’ll get through.’ R 2-D 2 whistled nervous agreement with Obi-Wan.’ Easy, Artoo,’ Anakin said. ‘We ” ve done this before.’ Cannonfire blazed past him, impacting on the support struts ahead. Too late to change his mind now: he was committed. He would bring his ship through, or he would die. Right now, strangely, he didn’t actually care which.’ Use the Force.’ Obi-Wan sounded worried.
Think yourself through, and the ship will follow.’ ””What do you expect me to do? Close my eyes and whistle?’ Anakin muttered under his breath, then said aloud, ‘Copy that. Thinking now.’ R 2-D 2’s squeal was as close to terrified as a droid can sound. Glowing letters spider ed across Anakin’s readout: ABORT! ABORT ABORT! Anakin smiled. ‘Wrong thought.’ Obi-Wan could only stare open mouthed as Anakin’s snapped onto its side and scraped through the slit with centimeters to spare.
He fully expected one of the struts to knock R 2’s dome off. The vulture droids tried to follow… but they were just a hair too big. When the first two impacted, Obi-Wan triggered his cannons in a downward sweep. The evasion maneuvers p reprogrammed into the vulture fighters’ droid brains sent them diving away from Obi-Wan’s lasers-straight into the fireball expanding from the front of the struts. Obi-Wan looked up to find Anakin soaring straight out from the cruiser with a quick snap-roll of victory.
Obi-Wan matched his course-without the flourish.’ I’ll give you the first four,’ Anakin said over the comm, ‘but the other eight are mine.’ ‘Anakin-”All right, we ” ll split them.’ As they left the cruiser behind, their sensors showed Squad Seven dead ahead. The clone pilots were fully engaged, looping through a dogfight so tight that their ion trails looked like a glowing ball of string.’ Oddball’s in trouble. I’m going to help him out.’ ‘Don’t. He’s doing his job. We need to do ours.’ ‘Master, they ” re getting eaten alive over-”Every one of them would gladly trade his life for Palpanottine’s. Will you trade Palpatine’s life for theirs?’ ‘No-no, of course not, but-”Anakin, I understand: you want to save everyone.
You do. But you can’t.’ ”’Anakin’s voice went tight. ‘Don’t remind me.’ ‘Head for the command ship.’ Without waiting for a reply, Obi-Wan targeted the command cruiser and shot away at thrust. The cross of burn-scar beside Anakin’s eye went pale as he turned his star fighter in pursuit. Obi-Wan was right. He almost always was.
You can’t save everyone His mother’s body, broken and bloody in his arms-Her battered eyes struggling to open-The touch of her smashed lips-I knew you would come to me… I missed you so much… That’s what it was to be not quite good enough. It could happen anytime. Anyplace. If he was a few minutes late.
If he let his attention drift for a single second. If he was a whisker too weak. Anyplace. Anytime.
But not here, and not now. He forced his mother’s face back down below the surface of his consciousness. Time to get to work. They flashed through the battle, dodging flak and turbo laser bolts, slipping around cruisers to eclipse themselves from the sensors of droid fighters. They were only a few dozen kilometers from the command cruiser when a pair of tri-fighters whipped across their path, firing on the deflection. Anakin’s sensor board lit up and R 2-D 2 shrilled a warning.
‘Missiles!’ He wasn’t worried for himself: the two on his tail were com noting at him in perfect tandem. Missiles lack the sophisticated brains of droid fighters; to keep them from colliding on their vectors, one of them would lock onto his fighter’s left drive, the other onto his right. A quick snap-roll would make those vectors intersect. Which they did in a silent blossom of flame. Obi-Wan wasn’t so lucky.
The pair of missiles locked onto his sub lights weren’t precisely side by side; a snap-roll would be worse than useless. Instead he fired retros and kicked his jets to halve his velocity and knock him a few meters planet-ward. The lead missile overshot and spiraled off into the orbital battle. The trailing missile came close enough to trigger its sensors, and detonated in a spray of glowing shrapnel. Obi-Wan’s star fighter flew through the debris-and the shrapnel tracked him. Little silver spheres flipped themselves into his path and latched onto the star fighter’s skin, then split and sprouted arrays of jointed arms that pried up hull plates, exposing the star fighter’s internal works to multiple circular whirls of blade like ancient mechanical bone saws.
This was a problem.’ I’m hit.’ Obi-Wan sounded more irritated than concerned. ‘I’m hit.’ ‘I have visual.’ Anakin swung his star fighter into closer. ‘Buzz droids. I count five.’ ‘Get out of here, Anakin. There’s nothing you can do.’ ‘I’m not leaving you, Master.’ Cascades of sparks fountain ed into space from the buzz droids’s aws.
‘Anakin, the mission! Get to the command ship! Get the Chancellor! .’ ‘Not without you,’ Anakin said through his teeth. One of the buzz droids crouched beside the cockpit, silvery arms grappling with R 4; another worked on the star fighter’s nose, while a third skittered toward the ventral hydraulics. The last two of the aggressive little mech’s had spider ed to Obi-Wan’s left wing, working on that damaged control surface.’ You can’t help me.’ Obi-Wan still maintained his Jedi calm. ‘They ” re shutting down the controls.’ ‘I can fix that… .’ Anakin brought his star fighter into line only a couple of meters off Obi-Wan’s wing. ‘Steady…
,’ he muttered, ‘steady… ,’ and triggered a single burst of his right-side cannon that blasted the two buzz droids into guts of molten metal. Along with most of Obi-Wan’s left wing. Anakin said, ‘Whoops.’ The star fighter bucked hard enough to knock Obi-Wan’s skull against the canopy.
A gust of stinging smoke filled the cockpit. Obi-Wan fought the yoke to keep his star fighter out of an uncontrolled tumble. ‘Anakin, that’s not helping.’ ‘You ” re right, bad idea. Here, let’s try this-move left and swing under-easy… .’ ‘Anakin, you ” re too close! Wait-‘ Obi-Wan stared in as Anakin’s star fighter edged closer and with a dip of its wing physically slammed a buzz droid into a smear of metal. The jolted Obi-Wan again, pounded a deep streak of dent into his star fighter’s hull, and shattered the forward control surface of Anakin’s wing.
Anakin had forgotten the first principle of combat. Again. As usual.’ You ” re going to get us both killed!’ His atmospheric scrubbers drained smoke from the cockpit, but now the droid on the forward control surface of Obi-Wan’s star fighter’s right wing had peeled away enough of the hull plates that its jointed saw arms could get deep inside. Sparks flared into space, along with an expanding fountain of gas that instantly in the hard vacuum. Velocity identical to Obi-Wan’s, the shimmering gas hung on his star fighter’s nose like a cloud of fog.
‘Blast,’ Obi-Wan muttered. ‘I can’t see. My controls are going.’ ‘You ” re doing fine. Stay on my wing.’ Easier said than done. ‘I have to accelerate out of this.’ ‘I’m with you. Go.’ Obi-Wan eased power to his thrusters, and his star fighter parted the cloud, but new vapor boiled out to replace it as he went.
‘Is that last one still on my nose? Arfour, can you do?’ The only response he got came from Anakin. ‘That’s a on Arfour. Buzz droid got him.’ ‘It,’ Obi-Wan corrected automatically. ‘Wait-they attacked Arfour?’ ‘Not just Arfour. One of them jumped over when we hit.’ Blast, Obi-Wan thought. They are getting smarter.
Through a gap torn in the cloud by the curve of his cockpit, Obi-Wan could see R 2-D 2 grappling with a buzz droid hand-to-hand. Well: saw-arm-to-saw-arm. Even flying blind and nearly out of control through the middle of a space battle, Obi-Wan could not avoid a second of disbelief at the bewildering variety of auxiliary tools and aftermarket behaviors Anakin had tinkered onto his star fighter’s, even beyond the sophisticated upgrades performed by the Royal Engineers of Naboo. The little device was virtually a partner in its own right. R 2’s saw cut through one of the buzz droid’s grapplers, sending the jointed arm flipping lazily off into space. Then it did the same to another.
Then a panel opened in R 2-D 2’s side and its data jack arm stabbed out and smacked the crippled buzz droid right off Anakin’s hull. The buzz droid spun aft until it was caught in the blast wash of Anakin’s sub lights then blew away faster than even Obi-Wan’s eye could follow. Obi-Wan reflected that the Separatist droids weren’t the only ones that were getting smarter. The data jack retracted and a different panel opened, this time in R 2-D 2’s dome. A claw-cable shot from it into the cloud of gas that still billowed from Obi-Wan’s right forward wing, and pulled back out dragging a struggling buzz droid. The silver droid twisted and squirmed and its grapplers took hold of the cable, climbing back along it, saw arms waving, until Anakin popped the star fighter’s under jets and R 2 cut the cable and the buzz droid dropped away, tumbling helplessly through the battle.’ You know,’ Obi-Wan said, ‘I begin to understand why you speak of Artoo as though he’s a living creature.’ ‘Do you?’ He could hear Anakin’s smile.
‘Don’t you mean, it?’ ‘Ah, yes.’ He frowned. ‘Yes, of course. It. Erm, thank it forme, will you?’ ‘Thank him yourself.’ ‘Ah-yes. Thanks, Artoo.’ The whistle that came back over the comm had a clear flavor of you ” re welcome.
Then the last of the fog finally dispersed, and the sky ahead was full of ship. More than one kilometer from end to end, the vast cruiser filled his visual field. At this range, all he could see were savannas of sand-colored hull studded with turbo laser mountains that lit up space with thunderbolts of disintegrating energy. And that immense ship was getting bigger. Fast.’ Anakin! We ” re going to collide!’ ‘That’s the plan.
Head for the hangar.’ ‘That’s not-”I know: first Jedi principle of-”No. It’s not going to work. Not for me.’ ‘What?’ ‘My controls are gone. I can’t head for anything.’ ”Oh. Well. All right, no problem.’ ‘No problem?’ Then his star fighter clanged as if he’d crashed into a ship-sized gong.
Obi-Wan jerked and twisted his head around to find the other star fighter just above his tail. Literally just above: Anakin’s left lead control surface was barely a hand span from Obi-Wan’s sub light thrusters. Anakin had hit him. On purpose. Then he did it again. CLANG ” What are you doing?’ ‘Just giving you…
.’ Anakin’s voice came slow, tight with concentration. ‘… a little help with your steering… .’ Obi-Wan shook his head. This was completely impossible. No other pilot would even attempt it.
But for Anakin Skywalker the completely impossible had an eerie way of being merely. He reflected that he should be used to it by now. While these thoughts chased each other aimlessly through his mind, he had been staring bleakly at a blue shimmer of energy filling the yawning hangar bay ahead. Belatedly, he registered what he was looking at. He thought, Oh, this is bad.’ Anakin-‘ Obi-Wan began. He tried rerouting control paths through his yoke.
No luck. Anakin drew up and tipped his forward surfaces down the sparking scrap that used to be Arfour.’ Anakin-!’ ‘Give me… just a second, Master.’ Anakin’s voice had gone even tighter. A muffled thump, then another. Louder. And a scrape and a squeal of ripping metal.
‘This isn’t quite… as easy as it looks… .’ ‘Anakin!’ ‘What?’ ‘The hangar bay-”What about it?’ ‘Have you noticed that the shield’s still up?’ ‘Really?’ ‘Really.’ Not to mention so close that Obi-Wan could taste it-‘Oh. Sorry. I’ve been busy.’ Obi-Wan closed his eyes. Reaching into the Force, his mind followed the star fighter’s mangled circuitry to locate and activate the sub light engines ” manual test board.
With a slight push, he triggered a command normally used only in bench tests: full reverse. The cometary tail of glowing debris shed by his star fighter shot past him and evaporated in a cascade of miniature starbursts on contact with the hangar shield. Which was exactly what was about to happen to him. The only effect of full reverse from his failing engines was to give him more time to see it coming. Then Anakin’s star fighter swooped in front of him, crossing left to right at a steep deflection. Energy flared from his cannons, and the shield emitters at the right side of the hangar door into scrap.
The blue shimmer of the bay shield flickered, faded, and vanished just as Obi-Wan came spinning across the threshold and slammed along the deck, trailing sparks and a scream of tortured metal. His entire star fighter-what was left of it-vibrated with the roar of atmosphere howling out from the unshielded bay. Massive blast doors ground together like jaws. Another Force-touch on the manual test board cut power to his engines, but he couldn’t trigger the explosive bolts on his cockpit canopy, and he had a bad feeling that those canopy bolts were the only thing on his craft that weren’t about to explode.
His light saber found his hand and blue energy flared. One swipe and the canopy burst away, ripped into space by the of escaping air. Obi-Wan flipped himself up into the cold gale and let it blow him tumbling away as the remnants of his battered craft finally exploded. He rode the shock wave while he let the Force right him in the air. He landed cat footed on the blackened streak-still hot enough to scorch his boots-that his landing had gouged into the deck. The hangar was full of battle droids.
His shoulders dropped and his knees bent and his light saber came up to angle in front of his face. There were far too many for him to fight alone, but he didn’t mind. At least he was out of that blasted star fighter. Anakin slipped his craft toward the hangar through a of junk and flash-frozen gas. One last touch of the yoke twisted his star fighter through the closing teeth of the blast doors just as Obi-Wan’s canopy went the other way.
Obi-Wan’s ship was a hunk of glowing scrap punctuating a long smoking skid mark. Obi-Wan himself, beard rimed with frost, light saber out and flaming, stood in a tightening ring of battle droids. Anakin slewed his star fighter into a landing that scattered droids with the particle blast from his sub light thrusters and for one second he was nine years old again, behind the controls of a star fighter in the Theed royal hangar, his first touch of a real ship’s real cannons blasting battle droids-He’d have done the same right here, except that Palpatine was somewhere on this ship. They just might need one of the light shuttles in this hangar to get the Chancellor safely to the surface; a few dozen cannon blasts bouncing around in here could wreck them all.
This he’d have to do by hand. One touch blew his canopy and he sprang from the cockpit, flipping upward to stand on the wing. Battle droids opened fire instantly, and Anakin’s light saber flashed. ‘Artoo, locate a link.’ The little droid whistled at him, and Anakin allowed himself a tight smile. Sometimes he thought he could almost understand the droid’s electro sonic code. ‘Don’t worry about us.
Find Palnotpatine. Go on, I’ll cover you.’ R 2 popped out of its socket and bounced to the deck. Anakin jumped ahead of it into a cascade of blaster fire and let the Force direct his blade. Battle droids began to spark and collapse.’ Get to that link!’ Anakin had to shout above the whine of blasters and the roar of exploding droids.
‘I’m going for Obi-Wan!’ ‘No need.’ Anakin whirled to find Obi-Wan right behind him in the act of slicing neatly through the brain case of a battle droid.’ I appreciate the thought, Anakin,’ the Jedi Master said with a gentle smile. ‘But I’ve already come for you.’ This, then, is Obi-Wan and Anakin: They are closer than friends. Closer than brothers. Though Obi-Wan is sixteen standard years Anakin’s elder, they have men together.
Neither can imagine life without the other. The war has forged their two lives into one. The war that has done this is not the Clone Wars; Obi-Wan and Anakin’s war began on Naboo, when Qui-Gon Jinn died at the hand of a Sith Lord. Master and Padawan and Jedi Knights together, they have fought this war for thirteen years.
Their war is their life. And their life is a weapon. Say what you will about the wisdom of ancient Master Yoda, or the deadly skill of grim Mace Windu, the courage of Ki-Adi-Mundi, or the subtle wiles of Shaak Ti; the greatness of all these Jedi is unquestioned, but it pales next to the legend that has grown around Kenobi and Skywalker. They stand alone. Together, they are unstoppable.
Unbeatable. They are the ultimate go-to guys of the Jedi Order. When the Good Guys, positively have to win, the call goes out. Obi-Wan and Anakin always answer. Whether Obi-Wan’s legendary cleverness might beat Anakin’s raw power, straight up, no rules, is the subject of schoolyard fist-fights, creche-pool wriggle-matches, and pod-chamber stink wars across the Republic. These struggles always end, somehow, with the combatants on both sides admitting that it doesn’t matter.
Anakin and Obi-Wan would never fight each other. They couldn’t. They ” re a team. They ” re the team. And both of them are sure they always will be. = 2 = DOOKU The storm of blaster fire ricocheting through the hangar bay suddenly ceased.
Clusters of battle droids withdrew behind ships and slipped out hatchways. Obi-Wan’s familiar grimace showed past his blade as he let it shrink away. ‘I hate it when they do that.’ Anakin’s light saber was already back on his belt. ‘When they do what?’ ‘Disengage and fall back for no reason.’ ‘There’s always a reason, Master.’ Obi-Wan nodded. ‘That’s why I hate it.’ Anakin looked at the litter of smoking droid parts scattered throughout the hangar bay, shrugged, and snugged his black glove. ‘Artoo, where’s the Chancellor?’ The little droid’s data jack rotated in the wall socket.
Its eye swiveled and the blue scanning laser built a ghostly image near Anakin’s boot: Palpatine shackled into a large swivel chair. Even in the tiny translucent blur, he looked exhausted and in pain-but alive. Anakin’s heart thumped once, painfully, against his ribs. He wasn’t too late. Not this time. He dropped to one knee and squinted at the image.
Palpanottine looked as if he’d aged ten years since Anakin had last seen him. Muscle bulged along the young Jedi’s jaw. If Grievous had hurt the Chancellor-had so much as touched him-The hand of jointed dura steel inside his black glove clenched so hard that electronic feedback made his shoulder ache. Obi-Wan spoke from over that shoulder. ‘Do you have a?’ The image rippled and twisted into a schematic map of the cruiser. Far up at the top of the conning spire R 2 showed a of brighter blue.’ In the General’s Quarters.’ Obi-Wan scowled.
‘Any sign of Grievous himself?’ The pulsar shifted to the cruiser’s bridge.’ Hmm. And guards?’ The rippled again, and transformed into an image of the cruiser’s General’s Quarters once more. Palpatine to be alone: the chair sat in the center of an arc of empty floor, facing a huge curved viewing wall. Anakin muttered, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ ””Of course it does.
It’s a trap.’ Anakin barely heard him. He stared down at his black-gloved fist. He opened his fist, closed it, opened it again. The ache from his shoulder flowed down to the middle of his bicep-And didn’t stop. His elbow sizzled, and his forearm; his wrist had been packed with red-hot gravel, and his hand-His hand was on fire. But it wasn’t his hand.
Or his wrist, or his forearm, or his elbow. It was a creation of jointed dura steel and electro drivers. ‘Anakin?’ Anakin’s lips drew back from his teeth. ‘It hurts.’ ‘What, your replacement arm? When did you have it equipped with pain sensors?’ ‘I didn’t.
That’s the point.’ ‘The pain is in your mind, Anakin-”No.’ Anakin’s heart froze over. His voice went cold as space. ‘I can feel him.’ ‘Him?’ ‘Dooku. He’s here. Here on this ship.’ ‘Ah.’ Obi-Wan nodded. ‘I’m sure he is.’ ‘You knew?’ ‘I guessed.
Do you think Grievous couldn’t have found Palnotpatine’s beacon? It can hardly be accident that through all the ECM, the Chancellor’s homing signal was in the clear. This is a trap. A Jedi trap.’ Obi-Wan laid a warm hand upon Anakin’s shoulder, and his face was as grim as Anakin had ever seen it. ‘Possibly a trap set for us. Personally.’ Anakin’s jaw tightened. ‘You ” re thinking of how he tried to recruit you on Geonosis.
Before he sent you down for execution.’ ‘It’s not impossible that we will again face that choice.’ ‘It’s not a choice.’ Anakin rose. His dura steel hand clenched and stayed that way, a centimeter from his light saber. ‘Let him ask. My answer is right here on my belt.’ ‘Be mindful, Anakin. The Chancellor’s safety is our only.’ ‘Yes-yes, of course.’ The ice in Anakin’s chest thawed. ‘Allright, it’s a trap.
Next move?’ Obi-Wan allowed himself a bit of a smile of his own as he headed for the nearest exit from the hangar bay. ‘Same as always, my young friend: we spring it.’ ‘I can work with this plan.’ Anakin turned to his.’ You stay here, Artoo-‘The little droid interrupted him with a wheedling whirr.’ No arguments. Stay. I mean it.’ R 2-D 2’s whistling reply had a distinctly sulky tone.’ Listen, Artoo, someone has to maintain computer contact; do you see a data jack anywhere on me?’ The droid seemed to acquiesce, but not before weeping what sounded like it might have been a suggestion where to look. Waiting by the open hatchway, Obi-Wan shook his head. ‘Honestly, the way you talk to that thing.’ Anakin started toward him.
‘Careful, Master, you ” ll hurt his feelings-‘ He stopped in his tracks, a curious look on his face as if he was trying to frown and to smile at the same time.’ Anakin?’ He didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer. He was looking at an image inside his head. Not an image.
A reality. A memory of something that hadn’t happened yet. He saw Count Dooku on his knees. He saw light sabers crossed at the Count’s throat. Clouds lifted from his heart: clouds of Jabiim, of Aargonar, of Kami no, of even the Tusk en camp.
For the first time in too many years he felt young: as young as he really was. Young, and free, and full of light.’ Master… .’ His voice seemed to be coming from someone else. Someone who hadn’t seen what he’d seen. Hadn’t done what he’d done. ‘Master, right here-right now-you and I…
.’ ‘Yes?’ He blinked. ‘I think we ” re about to win the war.’ The vast semi sphere of the view wall bloomed with battle. Sophisticated sensor algorithms compressed the combat that sprawled throughout the galactic capital’s orbit to a view the naked eye could enjoy: cruisers hundreds of kilometers apart, fire at near light speed, appeared to be practically hull-to-hull, joined by pulsing cables of flame. Turbo laser blasts became swift shafts of light that shattered into prismatic splinters against shields, or bloomed into miniature supernovae that ships whole.
The invisible gnat-clouds of star fighter dogfights became a gleaming dance of shadow moths at the end of Coruscant’s brief spring. Within that immense curve of computer-filtered carnage, the only furnishing was one lone chair, centered in an expanse of empty floor. This was called the General’s Chair, just as this apartment atop the flagship’s conning spire was called the Gennoteral’s Quarters. With his back to that chair and to the man shackled within it, hands folded behind him beneath his cloak of silken armor-weave, stood Count Dooku. Stood Darth Tyranus, Lord of the Sith. He looked upon his Master’s handiwork, and it was good.
More than good. It was magnificent. Even the occasional tremor of the deck beneath his boots, as the entire ship shuddered under enemy torpedo and turbo laser blasts, felt to him like applause. Behind him sounded the initiating hum of the intra ship, which crackled into a voice both electronic and oddly expressive: as though a man spoke through a droid’s.
‘Lord Tyranus, Kenobi and Skywalker have arrived.’ ‘Yes.’ Dooku had felt them both in the Force. ‘Drive them toward me.’ ‘My lord, I must express once more my objections-‘Dooku turned. From his commanding height, he stared down at the blue-scanned of Invisible Hand’s. ‘Your objections have been noted already, General. Leave the Jedi to me.’ ‘But driving them to you also sends them directly toward the Chancellor himself. Why does he remain on this ship at all? He should be hidden.
He should be guarded. We should have had him out system hours ago!’ ‘Matters are so,’ Count Dooku said, ‘because Lord Sidiouswishes them so; should you desire to press your objections, please feel at liberty to take them up with him.’ ‘I, ah, don’t believe that will be necessary… .’ ‘Very well, then. Confine your efforts to preventing support troops from boarding. Without their pet clones to back them up, no Jedi is a danger to me.’ The deck shuddered again, more sharply, followed by a shift in the vector of the cruiser’s artificial gravity that would have sent a lesser man stumbling; with the Force to maintain the dignified solidity of his posture, the effect on Dooku was to the lift of one eyebrow. ‘And may I suggest that you some attention to protecting this ship? Having it destroyed with both you and me aboard might put something of a cramp in the war effort, don’t you think?’ ‘It is already being done, my lord.
Does my lord wish to observe the progress of the Jedi? I can feed the security monitors onto this channel.’ ‘Thank you, General. That will be welcome.’ ‘Gracious as ever, my lord. Grievous out.’ Count Dooku allowed himself a near-invisible smile. His courtesy-the hallmark of a true aristocrat-was, yet somehow it seemed always to impress the common rabble. As well as those with the intellect of common rabble, of accomplishment or station: like, for example, that cyborg Grievous.
He sighed. Grievous had his uses; not only was he an able field commander, but he would soon make a marvelous upon whom to hang every atrocity of this sadly necessary war. Someone had to take that particular fall, and Grievous was just the creature for the job. It certainly would not be Dooku. This was, in fact, one purpose of the cataclysmic battle.
But not the only one. The blue-scanned image before him now became miniatures of Kenobi and Skywalker as he had seen them so many times: shoulder-to-shoulder, light sabers whirling as they dismantled droid after droid after droid. Feeling as if they were winning, while in truth they were being chivvied where the Lords of the Sith wanted them to go. Such children they were.
Dooku shook his head. It was almost too easy. This is Dooku, Darth Tyranus, Count of Sereno: Once a great Jedi Master, now an even greater Lord of the Sith, Dooku is a dark colossus bestriding the galaxy. N.