It had been a mere few hours later that everyone had come back to the landing pad. Obi-Wan and Vader by the edge, watching Anakin and Padme slowly bring their things aboard the shuttle that Luminara and Barriss had arrived in. As Anakin came back out, Obi-Wan approached him, with Vader in tow.
“Take care of yourself, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said holding out his hand.
“You too.” Anakin shook Obi-Wan’s hand, then glanced momentarily at Vader. “Try to keep on an eye on him, Obi-Wan. He might get you into trouble.”
“Funny,” Vader shot back at Anakin’s joking remark, “I was going to tell Master Luminara the same thing about you.”
The smile across Anakin’s face slightly irked Vader, as it always would. The interplay between the two came to an end when the two Mirialans returned to the landing pad. “The shuttle is ready,” Luminara began, “we will have everything ready for when you come back.”
“Of course,” Obi-Wan nodded to Luminara. “If there’s anything, call me on the comm.”
Off to the side, Kenobi and Luminara’s young pupils merely stared at each other. “Be careful,” Vader whispered to Barriss.
“You as well,” she returned warmly. “Anakin told me where you’re going might put you in ‘a bit of a snag,’ as he says.”
“He did, did he?” Vader shot a glare at Anakin, who was grinning at the two apprentices. He did not need the Force to know what Anakin was trying to pull on him.
“Barriss, it’s time to go,” Luminara’s voice cut in.
One by one, Luminara, Anakin, and finally Barriss boarded the shuttle’s ramp. The vessel, already piloted by one of the soldiers, let out steam as it began to ascend.
“Oh yeah!” Anakin called to Vader over the roaring engines. “Tell Kharys I’m sorry I couldn’t say goodbye!”
Vader nodded, but his eyes were more focused on the sad look Barriss, whose face was hidden by the shadow of the shuttle’s hull. Kenobi, meanwhile, kept his eyes on Luminara, who shouted to him, “Kenobi! May the Force be with you, Kenobi!”
“Take care, everyone! We will see you within a week’s time!” Obi-Wan waved back.
By then, the ramp closed shut, and the shuttle flew off, leaving the world of Skye for what was beyond it.
“It feels like forever, since I was in space!” Anakin stretched his arm before he took his seat.
Sitting beside Anakin, his fiance chided him. “We were on Skye for only a couple weeks, Anakin,” said Padme.
“And it felt like forever!”
Padme shook her head and smiled at her soon-to-be-husband. For all the love and care he gave her, which she gladly returned, there were times Anakin’s sense of adventure was too much. He was always moving, never wanting to stay in one place for a long time.
“Hopefully, you won’t be as restless when we get to Coruscant,” Luminara said, drawing the couple’s attention to her seat across from them. “We are going to need you again soon.”
“Yeah, I know,” Anakin nodded, which caught Padme’s interest.
“Is there something I should know?” the only non-Jedi said.
“I’m going to be talking with the council about something.”
The council? The head of the Jedi Order? “And that is?” Padme could only inquire.
“Sorry, can’t say,” he responded, which made Padme even more curious, and turned to Luminara. “Hope the council won’t mind if I’m with my fiance for a while, first.”
Padme glanced across the shuttle again, to where Luminara and Barriss sat. Luminara’s expression remained stoic as ever upon addressing Anakin. “I believe that shouldn’t be a problem.”
Confused, Padme looked to Barriss for an answer. Barriss could only shrug when she met Padme’s gaze, leaving the senator to guess at Anakin’s hidden meaning. “Are you going to be asking the council’s blessing for our engagement?” she threw into the air.
Anakin snorted. “I did that once, and that was more than enough.”
“My father wasn’t that bad, Anakin. I thought he took it quite well.”
“I seem to recall differently…”
Padme rolled her eyes, catching the slightly bemused looked on Luminara and the confusion on Barriss. “Well,” Padme sighed in mock defeat, “I suppose you can keep your secrets.”
“Thank you, dear,” Anakin grinned at her.
“Is this how you usually… flirt?” Barriss asked after watching the display of ‘affectionate talking.’
“Well, some days it’s quite ro-”
“Not to the young one, Anakin!” Padme admonished him. “You have to keep her mind clean.”
“If you’re done flirting,” Luminara interrupted the two humans again, “maybe we can enjoy our flight with other talk. It won’t be long before we get to Coruscant, and hopefully, Kenobi if he’s on schedule.”
“Don’t worry. He will be,” Anakin told her.
“Entering hyperspace. Please remain strapped in,” called the pilot.
As the shuttle entered hyperspace, Padme could only wonder about the strange looks Anakin and Luminara had on their faces.
Sitting at the head of the table, Count Dooku kept his stoic expression as he listened in to the raised voices of alien representatives. The count of Serenno and a former Jedi Master, he had the patience for long, pointless conversations and debates that would bore another to death. He often dealt with them daily, so he knew when to speak and when not to.
The arguments today were the same as yesterday and the days before. They were losing the war against the Republic. Badly, in fact. World after world that once left the Republic were forcibly taken back. Dooku’s circle of allies were scared of what to do next, so they gathered on Serenno, the count’s planet, to form some counterattack. The result, sadly, ended in pointless bickering as to who would get more forces, who would command them, and such. Hands, tentacles, and other appendages slammed on the long, wooden table, a rare commodity for most, but no one cared and foolishly pounded it.
“Fool” was a good word to describe the rest. They were all fools. They acted like fools, they talked like fools, and they thought like fools. And these fools were part of the Separatists.
“But who is more foolish? The fool or the one who leads him?” asked a distant whisper, only heard by Dooku.
After some time, he stood from seat. “Gentlemen, ladies, please!” he called out to the others at his table.
The representatives of the Separatists allowance-humans, Twi’leks, Duros, Mom Calamari, and others-slowly stopped arguing and listened to the deep voice of their leader. Dooku stood tall, like a statue on Coruscant, and diplomatically addressed them all.
“I see this meeting hasn’t delved anything useful,” Dooku said, with all the posh and finesse of a rapier. “We shall reconvene within an hour. By them, I hope you all shall be more… understanding of one another’s viewpoints.”
Hesitantly, the Separatist representatives left, not wishing to question their leader, or be put under his piercing glare. They trailing on the pristine floor and exited the room, until there was no one left. By then, Dooku felt a familiar dark presence in the room, hidden from the weak-minded.
“They’re gone now,” Dooku called out to the darkness of the conference room.
As he emerged from the shadows, Darth Maul lowered his hood to reveal the set of horns adorning his bald head. “Their prattling never ceases to amaze me,” the Zabrak said, his red and black face snarling.
“A necessary evil,” the count remarked nonchalantly as he went over to the window and pulled opened the curtains. “Does your master have any new information for me?”
Maul’s hellish eyes squinted against the incoming light. “The Jedi will be ready to attack soon. With a standard week.”
“There’s more,” continued Maul, who moved out of the light, “My master has made an agreement with the regional governors. They’ll be given completely control of the recaptured territories. The Senate believes it will be a temporary measure.”
“Of course, they do,” Dooku said, as if talking to a child.
Maul stood, impatiently glaring at the count. “What else do you want? I have given you information, as you requested, and-”
“You have given me the basics. What I need are details,” Dooku interrupted as he twirled to face Maul. “Our agreement is as such; you provide me with information and I give you the means of destroying our enemies, piece by piece. This arrangement cannot work if you’re unwilling to divulge the information I need to wage this war. And I doubt your master would be pleased, if you returned empty-handed.”
Left with little choice in the matter, Maul admitted, “The Jedi will be launching their invasion fleet from Rishi. They’ll be using the Nexus Route to pass through the Separatists ships undetected.”
Dooku smiled. “You see. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
Dooku sensed Maul’s killer intent grow, but he remained calm and fished out a small data disc from his tunic. “This,” he held it out, “should hold up my end. It is only a small list, but should give your master what he wants.”
The killer intent was still there, but Maul slowly and reluctantly accepted the count’s “gift.” As Maul closely examined the disc in his gloved hand, Dooku spoke up, “Now, I believe that concludes our business.”
“Dooku,” he heard and stopped to look at Maul’s grim expression. “You may be cooperating with me, but rest assured, if you plan to betray my master, then know he will already see you betrayal coming. He may not be as forthcoming as I have been, and he certainly won’t be as merciful.
“I understand that quite clearly,” Dooku frowned while throwing on his cape. “If you’ll excuse me, I must attend to my speech.”
Stepping out of the dark chamber and onto the balcony, Dooku immediately heard the cries of the thousands from down below. They all gathered in the plaza outside his estate and cried his name over and over again, “DOOKU! DOOKU! DOOKU! DOOKU! DOOKU!”
The center of the people’s galaxy stood tall and firm, donning the black uniform and long cape. Back straight, Dooku raised his hand, and all the shouting faded away. Then, he began.
“Friends, citizens, hear me!” he cried, his voice amplified by the microphones in his cape. “For centuries, you have lived in nothing but poverty and destruction! As the Core and Mid Worlds flourished, you have suffered under the tyranny of pirates and outlaws! You were ignored, left to rot like a corpse!”
The valley of bodies remained quiet. Dooku felt their fear. Fear of the power in his voice, fear of the Republic, and fear of loss raked against their minds. Only just the start of what he had planned.
“Even on Coruscant, the people make themselves believe they are better than you! They lie to their own people and to each other! They claim that the Outer Rim cannot be fixed! They say that nothing can be done!”
Roars of anger waved off the crowd, and Dooku enjoyed the feeling as he continued. “The deception at Galidraan revealed to me the truth of the Republic! They are too complacent! They only care about themselves and their power! They want to keep it to the few! They believe you all to be nothing! Are you nothings?! Are you worthless?!”
A loud, hate-filled “NO!” answered Dooku. Good. Very good.
“No! Yet, they don’t see it! As of now, more worlds have been recaptured by the Republic! Thousands of peoples are forced to work in their factories and mines!” A few boo’s came from the crowd, adding to the affect. “Yes, this is the truth! You remember the worlds when the Republic first invaded with their fleet! Geonosis! Ryloth! Cato Neimoidia! Mandalore! All of them were crushed in the name of ‘peace!’ Their homes were destroyed in the name of ‘justice!’”
Memories of suffering flashed through Dooku’s mind. They were not his own, but the memories of the people down below. The very people who were criminals, smugglers, and murderers as much as they were mere workers and farmers, felt the brutally of the Republic in some form or another. Loved ones losts. Homes torn down. Worlds destroyed.
“This hypocrisy will no longer last!” Dooku proclaimed. “Together, we will show the Republic the truth! We will show the galaxy what it means to be free!”
The crowd roared once more, and Dooku did not quiet them, this time. He raised his hands, waving at the “generous citizens” under his Confederation. Win or lose, this would be a war the galaxy would not forget. The victor would leave this galaxy in flames. Nothing would get in the way. No bureaucracy. No republic. And certainly no Jedi. All of them will be destroyed in the great fire that was to come.
Then, the galaxy will truly be free.