Title: "Black Orchid"
Written by: Shawn
Summary: Anakin's plot for vengeance takes him to Arkanain Micro-technologies and the origin of Order 66. Obi-Wan joins Ahsoka on Coruscant to find her former master. Palpatine intensifies his search for Assaj Ventress. The Skywalker's are reunited at last.
Warnings: Graphic violence and in later chapters graphic sexual situations.
Timeline/Spoilers: AU. Everything through Revenge of the Sith up until the moment Anakin arrives to save Palpatine's life before Mace Windu kills him. Everything after that is my AU. All else is explained within the story.
Ship: Anakin and Padme Skywalker, Padme /OC - more as the story continues
Disclaimer: George owns everything. We're just playing in his backyard.
Authors Notes 1: The world of Mygetto that this story begins on is the planet Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi was killed on during Revenge of the Sith when Order 66 was declared. It is a wintry, frozen world bearing the harshest of conditions.
Authors Notes 2: Expect cameos from many familiar faces not only from the Prequel world, but the Clone Wars animated series as well.
Authors Notes 3: Things will turn darker before the dawn.
Authors Notes 4: Please visit my FF authors page
for a link to
You are the embodiment of the information you choose to accept and act upon. To change your circumstances you need to change your thinking and subsequent actions. ~ Adlin Sinclair
"Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue
is doing it." ~ David Star
Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival. ~ Winston Churchill
A luxurious penthouse owned by Arkanian Micro-technologies C.E.O Belfar Vos'El
Located on the 200th floor of
(Formerly Galactic City)
The scent of death hung so thick in the air you could choke on it.
As dark blood drenched the front of his expensive Palsposo-Silk vest, Belfar Vos'El found it undignified to die on the floor, much less over the emblem of his vast intergalactic company. "As you well know, to truly age and fully train a clone to peak efficiency, ten years is required," he began while panting heavily, using the sectional Sliver-skinned couch as a crutch of sorts to rise to his full height, diminutive as it was. Ever the aristocrat, he wove thin fingers through even thinner salt and pepper hair as he sought to compose himself. Of course he had to step over the dead bodies. "At... at the outset of the Clone Wars the Kaminos had seven million fully trained clones ready for war. But by the end of it their numbers had dwindled down to barely over two million. Of course the Supreme Chancellor wanted those numbers replenished quickly, with or without the former Senate's approval"
Consumed by shadows and the vengeance that beat within his chest like a primal war drum, Anakin listened intently.
The dreadful visage of his brother, or to be more factual, his brother's head lying against the center-room bar caused Belfar a note of sadness. But no more than a note for this day was inevitable. There was simply far, far to much blood on his withering, old hands. Nonetheless, Belfar adjusted the priceless Grissom watch on his wrist, now crusted in his own blood. "The Kaminos could not deliver clones faster, so the Emperor put out word of what he was looking for. I saw the opportunity to become a major player in the new structure of the galaxy under Imperial rule. We offered a one-year maturation model, fully grown and combat trained, albeit less formidable than the former clone soldiers. But what ours lacked in certain attributes, we more than made up for in sheer numbers. By the third year of the Empire's rule we had delivered twelve million clones to the Emperor. They are now called Storm Troopers. Individually, they were perhaps one-third as combat capable as the originals. But collectively, they are most massive army ever created. And that was all the Emperor wanted."
Wiping his rapidly swelling lip with the back of his hand, Belfar limped across the sprawling luxury office he ruled his own private empire from. Around him were the dead bodies of twenty elite bodyguards. Some dismembered. Some beheaded. All deceased. Only three even got a shot off. Against the far wall were the still bodies of his four female whore-clones. Designed specifically according to his sexual wants and desires, they died trying to protect him. But when the broad wall of transparisteel-glass, once thought to be one of the finest views of Imperial Center shattered when Anakin arrived, their bodies were riddled with razor sharp shards. Torn and broken as all that he touched. "So to answer your original question, yes. My company was provided with the original genetic, physically, and cryo-hypnosis training for the clones. That included the implant of Order 66."
Fully cloaked in black, Anakin emerged from the shadows as if he were one with them. The man before him was responsible for countless atrocities across the breadth of the galaxy, all for the sake of wealth and power. He aided the one that murdered his beloved Angel and their child. There was no hope for this man. None at all. "Is there a fail-safe or kill switch for Order 66? Any way at all to reverse it?"
Having reached his lavish yellow and gold desk, Belfar saw in an open drawer a blaster pistol and a bottle of Correlian wine. He reached for the bottle, knowing against this one that blaster would only hasten the inevitable. This was the end and he intended to face it as he faced all things. With his head held high. "No. The clones are raised from birth to be completely loyal to the Republic and its leader. Specifically, Palpatine himself. They will not ever turn against him and will die to that end."
Anakin crossed the wide expanse of the luxurious office, his cloak billowing in the chilling winds that blew about. "So Order 66 will not retain power to simply the leader of the Republic or Empire? It must be Palpatine?"
Wincing as he sat in his high-back chair, feeling every bit his sixty years, Belfar nodded. "Palpatine saw to it that no one could ever command the grand army save himself, and that Order 66 stands for all time."
"... unless Palpatine himself rescinded it?"
Belfar laughed so hard his drink spilled a bit. "Not a chance, Skywalker. Either he'll kill you or you'll kill him, but that Order will stand. The Emperor has covered all his bases. Don't you think those of us with influence and ambition have considered ways of doing away with the old man?" Laughing once more as his life drew close to the end, Belfar downed the rest of the bottle, and then tossed it out the shattered window. "It is his intention to rule forever. The Emperor's power is without end."
"The only thing that will end is his miserable life."
Belfar fixed him with the age-old expression of wisdom and humor, such as it was. "I've seen what you've done," he began. "Humiliating the old man left and right. Challenging him publicly. You want to ruin the Emperor instead of confronting him head on now and slaying him." He gave a shake of his head, wishing he had a Viler cigar to enjoy one last time. "Its not enough that he dies, but you want him to know fear and panic and to be publicly disgraced. But you're playing right into his hands."
"No, he's playing into mine."
"Really?" Belfar challenged. "If you are so powerful that you can slay him, then do it. Do it now!"
"It wouldn't accomplish my ultimate goal."
As Anakin approached his desk, Belfar took one of the last deep breaths he knew he would ever take. "And that is?"
"... for him to lose everything, and to be alive to see it." Lifting his cloaked arm, Anakin noted finally, "This meeting, like your life, is over."
Wearing a stiff upper lip, the brash C.E.O. fearlessly replied, "So be it."
The immense Force blast was so intense, so incredibly deadly it pulverized Belfar's huge desk, exploding it into him, and then crushing through what was left of the glass-wall behind him. The powerful blast detonated loudly as nothing save howling winds blew through the office.
Anakin reached inside his cloak, feeling for three three disks he came for. All the information on the cloning techniques the Kaminos created, perfected, and Arkanian Micro-technologies later augmented.
Standing at the huge opening with only darkness below, Anakin soared out the window into the nothingness of the night.
Five minutes later a cargo-shuttle carrying several mercenaries hired to kill Belfar Vos'El by a unknown, but very rich individual arrived. They were shocked to see such destruction, but wasted no time in entering the building to clean it out of whatever they could find of value. Thus unknowingly leaving evidence of their presence everywhere.
Two standard days later
The Lower Levels
The stench of despair and hopelessness greeted Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as soon as he exited the crowded Nexus air-shuttle. The Lower Levels... he peered around, reaching out with the Force to gauge any possible hint of danger or suspicion. Alas, no one paid attention to the bearded man with the ratty old beige cloak and a withered gaze. He blended in as yet another being in the night, seeking that elusive dream of being so much more than what this place told you that you were.
Clutching his cloak tighter to ward off the night-chill as he side-stepped a tri-legged street droid, Obi-Wan maneuvered through the thick crowds of people lining the dimly-lit streets as he sought the rendezvous point with Ahoska only few blocks down. Though he'd hadn't been back on Coruscant for over two years, the Lower Levels hadn't changed at all. Death Stick dealers, street gamesmen, thugs, pirates, whores, and all brands of poverty and criminal activities lined the streets having touched every species that lived here.
Some things never changed. Nonetheless, Obi-Wan had other things to worry about.
All day long, from the moment he brokered a unregistered flight to Coruscant, and then long air-shuttle ride down here he tried to wrap his mind around all the possibilities surrounding Anakin's supposed return.
The detective within had the physical evidence, Anakin's blood revealed exactly who he was through DNA analysis and his extraordinary Midi-Chloran count. Ahoska herself performed the tests, and she was vested enough to make certain beyond a shadow of a doubt the devices weren t compromised. She was vastly thorough, a trait she thankfully picked up from him over the years.
All physical evidence pointed to this man in fact being Anakin Skywalker, no matter how insane that fact was. But it also begged the query, why would Palpatine keep his body off-world instead of on Coruscant where his gigantic ego could revel in his ultimate victory? And what happened to destroy the starship that held his body? Was this truly the will of the Force? Master Yoda said Qui-Gonn had come to him in spirit form to reveal as much, but why had his former Master not sought him out as well?
So many questions remained unanswered.
Next was the possibility of this all being an elaborate trap instigated by Palpatine himself. But the problem with that was that the Emperor didn't want Master Yoda or him dead anymore. He wanted them to watch helplessly as he ruled the entire galaxy with a iron fist. He wanted them to know how truly hopeless their cause was no matter that they survived Order 66. He wanted their failure to live with them every waking moment of their life as a living nightmare.
He beat them... butchered the Jedi Oder... slaughtered the Younglings... and took over the entire galaxy right under their very noses.
For years Obi-Wan tried not to hate, yet he knew hate led down a Dark Path each year removed from the Great Purge he came ever closer to traveling. Anakin's horrific betrayal, the death of so many friends and the genocide of whole worlds to sate the Emperor's rage made him lust for vengeance. He wanted to eviscerate the Dark Lord.
But on another darker level, he wanted to die for having failed so completely where Anakin was concerned. Every HoloNet broadcast of Anakin shadowing the Emperor tore at him like a wound that would never heal.
That was why the hope of this was so troublesome. Could he grab and hold onto it, or would it be revealed a hoax and him a fool all over again?
In the past five and a half years the Empire has murdered millions across the galaxy. Any world daring to refuse Imperial law were crippled until they complied or were wiped out entirely.
And then there was Padme. True, he had witnessed suffering and pain before. Had privately drowned in it many a night. But none compared to her depth of misery and despair. She was broken, ravaged by Anakin's betrayal, and forced to fake her own death and go into hiding with her infant children all while Anakin paraded his power and whores on the HoloNet for all to see.
It made little sense to Obi-Wan, but confronting Anakin was a near impossible task when he was surrounded by hundreds of Storm Troopers and so powerful in his own right. True, deep down Obi-Wan believed he could best Anakin in a duel... but this man... his brother was once his apprentice, raised by him.
Obi-Wan shook his head, eyes scanning the area for trouble as he neared his destination. Back to the situation at hand, if Anakin were who he said he was and this wasn't a trap, the tide may have finally turned in the war. But the man Ahsoka described had changed, no doubt due to all that he had endured. Apparently he had no clue Padme or his children were alive. And for all the misery and pain Obi-Wan had experienced, the joy that would come from Anakin learning his Beloved was alive, and so were his children would be blinding in rapture.
First things first, he had to face Anakin himself. Forget everything, all tests, and anything else. Obi-Wan would know if this man were Anakin Skywalker or not. He'd know it through the Force and from the look in his eyes.
Dare he dream?
Pushing that aside, Obi-Wan entered the back-alley dwelling Vrackens Tavern. Owned and operated by the twin Vracker Brothers. Former Correlian bounty hunters who smuggled just about anything, anywhere and had no love for the Empire. They were criminals, but operated with a code of conduct that Obi-Wan at least respected.
And the drinks here were good too.
Sensing for her, Obi-Wan quickly found Ahoska in a dark corner towards the back of the tavern. He approached her while projecting a sense of nothingness where they stood, so as to not draw any attention at all. "You're a sight for sore eyes."
Ahsoka would have hugged him, but kept her cool. She was literally bouncing with energy. "So are you, Master." He winced slightly as she recalled how he hated being called that ever since Anakin betrayed them all. She hoped that would one day change. "I have some ideas on where we can begin searching for Anakin. I was thinking we'd start at..."
"No what?" Ahsoka blinked as Obi-Wan calmly walked away, procured a drink from a floating waitress droid, and then returned to her with a glass of violet liquid. He took a taste.
"This is quite good. Must be new. Has a hint of Algawn in it. Refreshing."
Ben was a interesting man, Ahoska thought whimsically. Always had been. "Master?"
"Ahsoka, we will not find Anakin no matter what we do. He knows all our tricks, and how best to avoid them. After making contact with you he knows we'll search for him. His guard is up. Our efforts are better spent determining probable targets he'll hit and then being in the right place at the right time."
"But wont the Emperor be arranging fake targets to try and lure him out of hiding?"
"Absolutely. Anakin is counting on that." Ben finished his drink, and then Force-lifted the small glass back over to the bar counter. "If this is Anakin and he is telling the truth, then what he wants people to believe is that he wants a spectacle. That he wants a major event to humiliate the Empire and Palpatine in particular. But if I know him, and I do, he has a real plan he's working on that has nothing to do with that. One that wont just drum up support for the Rebellion. He is playing a dangerous game where he is the only one writing the rules."
Ahsoka agreed, ever impressed by Obi-One's keen mind. "Did you hear about the robbery and murder of Arkanian Micro-technologies C.E.O Belfar Vos'El? That seemed suspicious to me. Especially with that companies former ties to Kamino."
"Yes, I believe Anakin was involved. Not just any one person or team could infiltrate that technologically advanced office, disarm or disregard its security parameters, and then defeat his elite guard. The murders were extremely violent, just the sort of message Anakin wants to send to anyone loyal to the Empire. No matter how rich, powerful, or well affiliated with the Empire you are, you can be hunted and killed."
Ahsoka nodded, exhaling a deep breath. "So what must we do?"
"We stay here, in the lower levels. We keep our eyes and ears to the ground and we catch wind of who the current movers and shakers are. The Black Sun criminal organization has its claws in almost everything, so we should work on gaining a contact within. We need to find the information brokers and start to gather intell. We need to learn of who the Empire employs quietly to handle certain sensitive situations. Rest assured Anakin is doing the same. He'll pick and choose his targets carefully, and then we will find him. Never forget, I taught him everything he knows. And sometimes he even listened."
Ahsoka wondered if that was the first quip Obi-Wan made in years. That old, daring grin was back. A spark of hope she felt in her gut as well. And then her private data-pad sounded. Suddenly, fearfully, her eyes widened. "This is a encrypted message from Padme."
Obi-Wan leaned in closer, instantly engaged. "What does it say?"
"Its... its a request. For Anakin."
Secret base of operations for the Black Sun crime syndicate
"The tower's security system and anti-attack protocols have been completely compromised." Brandishing twin Vibranium laser pistols, Guri stood guard before the massive sliding doors inside of Prince Xizor's magnificently grand office. The female human-replica droid monitored the life signs of the organic bodyguards and mercenaries battling Anakin Skywalker outside.
They were dying in a alarmingly frantic pace.
From the other side of the door her augmented hearing picked up the sounds of devastating violence. "All encrypted computer systems have been hacked and are out of our control. All exits are locked down, and all communications have been disabled for the past four minutes and twenty-four seconds," she explained. "The exterior of the facility remains intact. All lighting sources are operational, and there are no losses of power evident from the outside of the tower. This attack appears to not even be taking place from outside the tower."
"What of the secret escape routes?"
"The structural schematics of this tower have to be in Skywalker's possession. All escape routes are motion-detection wired with Zordium explosive charges."
"All of them?"
"All of them," Guri repeated as she braced herself for a battle she knew that she couldn't win. "Sir, although I know this goes against your principles, I would suggest that you give Mr. Skywalker anything that he asks for."
The suggestion alone was insulting. "I won't bow to him."
"If you don't you may not have a head to bend."
Curling the end of his long, dark ponytail was a sure sign that the leader
of the vastly powerful Black Sun syndicate was very concerned that his return
to Coruscant during these troublesome times might not
have been a wise decision. He sat behind a glossy cobalt black desk with a awe-inspiring view of night-time
"The first battalion arrived moments ago," Guri detailed. "Mr. Skywalker has been slaughtering them ever since."
"Where's the video feed?"
"He disabled it, but not the audio," Guri said. "He wants you to hear them scream."
"He's attempting to create worry and dread in me," Prince Xizor nodded, his long, well-manicured finger nails tapping at the desk. "What is the E.T.A for more reinforcements?"
"Not soon enough. He is here."
Adjusting his priceless, tailor made dark attire, Prince Xizor rose slowly from his throne-like chair. He stood proudly, considering which weapon to grasp or if he should at all, which would undoubtedly tell his enemy he was afraid for his life. The green reptilian skinned leader finally sank back into his chair, even as twin blue and red light-saber blades burst through the door and began burning a full opening. "Are there any guards left?"
Guri lifted her blasters high, at the ready. "No. And all communications are down. We are on our own. We are all that remain alive in this facility. "
"He's murdered them all," Prince Xizor's half-whispered with equal parts respect and awe. What sort of monster had the Emperor created? When the light-saber blades met at the apex of the door the huge chunk of metal burned fell forward with a resounding thud that vibrated throughout the sprawling office. In its place stood the dark outline of a cloaked man who stood taller than this very tower. One who had just killed over one hundred and thirty-six Black Sun operatives. He was, simply put, death on two legs. "Welcome, Master Skywalker."
Anakin marched in with purpose, toward Guri, and with a wave of his hand her entire body roared off the floor, wickedly slamming into the ceiling with such blunt force plaster cracked and fell to the floor. Her body dropped like a sack of rocks, her groans of pain all that could be heard as she writhed on the ground. "Prince Xizor, leader of the Black Sun Syndicate, correct?"
Calm, collected, and ever cold, he responded, "That is correct."
"You possess something that I need. You will give it to me now or I will kill you and every single successor your organization chooses until someone complies."
"And what if I detonate this entire tower with you in it?"
"You're under the impression that you can move any part of your body other than your mouth."
Struggling mightily, the Prince could not move any part of his body save to speak. The sense of helplessness was powerful, but he still knew his greatest weapon was his mind. And if Anakin needed something from him, his life was all that he could bargain for. It would have to be enough. "Aiding you is a criminal act. It's treason against the Empire."
"You talk as if you have a choice," Anakin warned him as he approached. "Do not waste my time. Concede and I shall leave you to your life. Defy me and prepare to face oblivion."
Prince Xizor smiled, "Are you always so dramatic?"
Shutting down his light-sabers, Anakin attached them to either hip. His voice turned direct and forceful, brooking no challenge against him. "Costner Scientific. I want access to all of its plants and facilities. In addition, I want a scientific personal ID and full credentials I can use to safety walk in and out of them. I want their entire catalog of planetary locations and research facilities."
The Prince blinked, having control of such a vast array of galactic resources, he tried to place exactly what Costner Scientific produced, but for the life of him he couldn t focus on it. "If I assist you the Emperor will murder me."
"If you don't then you can die right here. At least with my way, you stand a fighting chance."
"I AM THE LEADER OF THE BLACK SUN!" Prince Xizor shouted, straining against the phantom bonds that held his body in stasis. "I don't negotiate or bargain. I am... uhhhahhh!"
"Choking for air," Anakin declared. "If you die here and now, know that I will find someone in your organization willing to do what I ask to save his or her own life." He slowly walked around the Prince's desk as he fought for every single breath he took. "You are not my enemy, but if you stand in my way I will remove you. So again, how long will it take you to give me what I want?"
With Guri unconscious, all his soldiers dead, and his own body unable to move Prince Xizor found himself in no position to barter for a better deal. "A day... and then you can have what you want," his voice crackled until finally blessed air returned to his lungs as the Force-grip disappeared. He felt light-headed and enraged, but with no hope of winning the day. "What do you want with that company? It is as basic and small a operation as is in my organization."
"That is for me to know. Now make it happen. I will return here in twenty-four hours. If a trap, or the Empire awaits me know this... you won't live to see another day. I won't stop. I won't be denied. And I won't give you a second chance."
As if a blinding head-ache swept through his mind, Prince Xizor blinked hard, wincing as he gazed around the absolute wreckage of his office. Anakin was gone. And he had the choice of running and hiding, going to the Emperor with this new development, or giving Anakin what he wanted.
He sank back into his chair, his chest heaving. "Palpatine, you fool. You've created a monster."
And then he poured himself a drink, albeit with a slightly shaky hand. "In the end one of them will destroy the other, but realistically neither living affords me an advantage."
"Sir," Guri limped towards him as her body began its auto-repair sequences. "What are your orders?"
"The company he wants, Costner Scientific. What is it that they produce?"
"They work closely with the cloners of Kamino and Arkanian Micro-Technologies. They are tasked to produce the clone soldiers and Storm Troopers specially-designed rations and medical supplies."
Prince Xizor had to admit Anakin was insanely brilliant. Insane that whatever he was planning might work, but brilliant that he wasn't going to fight a army with a knife. "Prepare everything Skywalker wants exactly as he wants it. Have everything waiting for him with a disposable protocol droid within twenty-four hours. And then secure our facilities in the Outer Rim. I feel until this situation is resolved, Coruscant isn't a viable business location for our operations. For now, let them battle it out. Someday we'll deal with the winner. But for now Skywalker gets what he wants."
Eight Standard Days Later
Immaculately dressed as always, Caid's long fingers nervously tapped over the carved stone banister from the third floor of his magnificent mountain estate. Skyward bound, his steely gaze focused on the modest single-seated gray and white starship descending to the grand courtyard below, its landing gear engaged. Incredibly detailed marble statues of Guardian Angels parted as a well-lit secret landing pad emerged from the ground. The starship landed softly, and then its wings and underbelly shifted from a old refugee craft to reveal its modern Jedi decor.
Padme's personal starship was a gift from him nearly a year ago. And as she emerged from the cockpit, her brown eyes lifted to find him waiting for her. Normally the mere sight of her ship arriving made his heart flutter with anticipation and passionate hunger.
But not today, and maybe never again.
He watched her tell R2 something, and then she leapt in one great jump up onto the balcony. Her amazing Jedi abilities never ceased to impress him as he greeted her with a gentlemanly bow, and then teased. "You're two days late."
"I've been busy." He waited for her to walk into his arms, and when she didn't the hurt was hard to miss. Peering out over the lush, green courtyard simply to marvel at the view, Padme returned her focus to the sad task at hand. It hurt her to look at him, knowing what was to come. Pleasantries had no place here. "I've placed what remains of my family in hiding. They are no longer safe, considering recent events."
Trailing a finger over the elaborately carved banister, Caid could only imagine how hard the last couple of weeks have been and what must be going on in her mind. Though he longed to draw her in his embrace and never let go, he knew she needed room to breathe. But he would not hold his tongue either. "I think its a trap."
"So did I, at first." She could tell that was the last thing he wanted to hear by the sour expression he wore. She rested her back against the banister, her wistful tone continued, "As shocking and unexpected as Anakin's return is, I now believe it is genuine."
Gritting his teeth, Caid cursed under his breath as his pretense of calm control faltered. He could not believe she was falling for this. "Padme, you know how devious the Emperor is. This is likely a grand scheme to root out the Rebellion once and for all before it gains any real footing. Surely you see that?"
Distress lived between them as Padme sought to explain the unexplainable. "Caid, there are things in this universe that the Force allows us to simply know beyond a shadow of a doubt. And recent events have led me to the conclusion, however astounding, that Anakin Skywalker was never Darth Vader."
Arms crossed his broad chest, Caid challenged, "That monster publicly butchered and whored his way across the galaxy for the last five years, all the while causing you more grief than I have ever seen anyone endure," his voice cracked. "I remember the terrible nightmares that woke you up screaming, and the horrible fear you live with each and every day should the Emperor learn of Luke and Leia's existence. That man destroyed your life, betrayed your marriage, and broke your heart!"
"Rest assured no one needs to remind me of the history that is my life for I continue to live it." Her intense expression softened when she felt his genuine concern, and love, for her. His intentions were good, as was his heart. "Caid, the Force grants those sensitive to it with abilities so foreign to the average person that its hard to explain."
"So us average people can't comprehend common sense?" Caid exhaled.
"That's not what I meant," she explained, approaching him to gently grasp his forearm as flocks of Garshi birds flew overhead. "Nothing matters to me more than my children, and I would never, ever, under any circumstance place them in danger. But you have to trust me on this, I have conferred with Master Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka Tano. We have genetic evidence backed up by a Midi-Chlorin count test that cannot be denied. Also, my mother had an unexpected encounter with Anakin that revealed to me the truth of this." She paused, and then continued, "No, I don't have all the answers. No, the danger is not gone. But no matter how unbelievable it is, the truth remains that Anakin Skywalker has returned and Darth Vader was a clone."
Turning away from her, Caid needed a moment to compose himself. This was all happening so fast and none of it was in his control. He was losing her... His voice strained, "Look, you never needed to spell it out for me, alright. I know Anakin was the absolute love of your life." Turning to face her, he found unshed tears in her eyes and his own. "I have loved you to the best of my ability, and have tried to be patient as I know how to be."
She felt the depth of his heartache, and it was staggering. "You have been wonderful to me, Caid."
"I love your children," he confessed with renewed commitment. "I have not pushed for more than you can give, but I feel as though your mind is made up and I have no choice in the matter at all."
Padme shook her head, and then sighed. She hated this as he deserved better. "This is unfair, I know that. But Caid, I loved you as much as I was capable of, and I needed you and you never let me down. But I never truly fell in love with you, nor did I hide that fact, and I just can't lead you on when I know the day will never come that I feel different."
Her honesty crushed him. He visibly trembled. "Because you will never love anyone as much as your precious Ani?"
"He and I... we were meant to be, and I am so sorry," Padme expressed with genuine sincerity. "You are very special to me, Caid. I know you don't think that s true right now, but I recall every single night you held me when I couldn't sleep. I have shared so much with you, and I trust you. That alone means the world to me. I love how you believed in me and risked your life helping the Rebellion." She continued, "I have seen you with my children and know that you have left a positive influence on them. You have been my best friend for a long time. But you don't deserve half a woman, and that is all that I could offer you."
"I would take it," he quietly pleaded, all pride lost as his gaze begged for a second chance.
"You deserve better," she sought for him to understand. "And I need to be whole again."
His head bowed. "And only Anakin..."
"Yes," she sadly replied. "He is my Beloved. And our family has been decimated by the Emperor. We have lost half a decade of our life together and so much more than that."
Caid warned, "He may not be who you want him to be anymore, Padme."
"I am not the woman he married anymore either," she said. "We are forever changed, Caid. Nothing can alter that after five long, hard years of misery. But for the sake of my children... for Anakin's very soul... and for my heart I have to try and make this right."
The sheer conviction, minus any room for argument, laced her voice as he could only nod. He understood the need to fight for your hearts desire. Had he not he wouldn t be here at all. "Is there nothing I can say to change your mind?"
"No," she answered, wishing there was some way to spare him this pain, but knowing there wasn't. "I am so sorry for hurting you this way, but I would only hurt you more in the long run if we continued our relationship. My heart belongs to my husband, and though nothing is promised to me, if we don't try to find our way back to each other I know I will always regret it. And so will my children."
He had lost her, that was for certain. Completely. Utterly. And there was nothing he could do about it. No fight to be won or argument made. He mustered a last brave moment. "I wish you well."
She had broken a good man's heart, and for that another emotional scar formed. "Thank you, Caid. I wish the same for you."
They talked a bit longer, discussing how she would explain to the children his absence and how she would send his things from her home. They hugged dearly, both wanting something the other didn't, and both hoping the days ahead would be far better than the present. And then Padme whispered goodbye and that she needed to depart.
As her Jedi starship lifted off, Padme waved to a very good man she sincerely hoped someday would forgive her and find his true love. He promised his commitment to the Rebellion would continue, and she believed him. There was a war going on bigger than the both of them. And though she knew he was grieving the loss of her, she never doubted his resolve to help end the Empire.
Alas, her heart and soul belonged to the man she loved, and he was out there. Lost and broken and unbelieving that there wasn't a single good thing left for him in all the galaxy. What would he say when he saw her for the first time in five years? Her short, straight hair was a stark difference from the bushy curls he so loved. Would he still find her beautiful?
Would he kiss her the same way she so loved?
Would he kill her, revealing this was a trap all along?
Would they find their sunrise at the end of the darkest days either had ever lived?
Padme trusted Obi-Wan would find Anakin eventually. And when he did the beacon would be given to him along with a message.
'COME ALONE TO THE RUINS OF
Cryptic for certain, but she knew it would be effective. It would lead him to her, and as her starfighter lifted off into Naboo's gorgeous night sky she silently swore once the Skywalker's were reunited they would never be separated again...
... and then Empire would burn until it was nothing but ashes!
Jabba the Hutt's Palace
The Throne Room
Jabba the Hutt never truly embraced the title "Gangster," as he felt it greatly diminished a being of his personal stature. Nonetheless, he enjoyed the fear that came with it in the criminal underworld. But the pale-blue holographic vision before him ruled everything outside of it.
To be perfectly honest, he now ruled everything, period.
"I am in need of your vast network of expert bounty hunters, smugglers, and information brokers who operate in the Outer Rim," the Emperor spoke grimly, his dark hood shadowing the withered, decrepit features of his face. "A one-time associate of mine, Assaj Ventress, is rumored to be hiding in your territory. I want her found, captured alive, and delivered to me."
In all the galaxy only this one being could summon him in the middle of the night, and then deliver a direct order to Jabba Desilijic Tiure, leader of the Clan of Desirabilia. The most powerful underworld Hutt clan in the galaxy.
Jabba grumbled, reaching for a bortha-slug to eat as he considered his options, however few. A nearby device translated his Huttise. "She is a Force-adept, correct? Dangerous, unstable, and loyal to no one save herself."
The Emperor was a man of few words, and even less patience. One didn't argue with a Sith Lord commanding well over nine million Clone soldiers. Jabba played no games, his words measured and conscious. "Why should I risk my operatives when you have the entire Imperial fleet at your disposal?"
Cloaked in darkness that seemed without end, the Emperor calmly, simply, answered the question. "Because I said so."
Flanked on Jabba's left was his Twi'Lek chief-aid Bib Fortuna and bounty hunter Aurra Sing. On his right stood his most lethal assassin Dennik Jerrike and another bounty hunter that showed tremendous promise, young Boba Fett. "Might I ask why you want Assaj Ventress so badly?"
Dark, cold, and final. Jabba understood how to play angles, read people, and achieve success no matter the odds. Hutts operated during every single Sith and Jedi war since they emerged from their home world centuries ago. And he was sure they'd survive this one. But only if he didn't become a enemy of the Empire. At least not until it was profitable and victory was assured. "I will place a name-your-price bounty upon her head at once."
"Good... good." The Emperor continued. "Make this your top priority, Jabba. It would be a shame if dozens of Imperial Star Destroyers blasted the Hutt home world of Nal Hutta from orbit until the surface was like glass."
The holographic communication abruptly ended. As always, the Emperor loved to remind you of his immense power. But Jabba, ever patient, wasn't buying it. He laughed full body, his tail wagging at the end. "Skywalker has him worried," he nodded as much as his gargantuan body would allow. "All Sith seek apprentices, and Palpatine is without one. He feels vulnerable. Despite the entire Imperial Fleet, he fears one man."
Dennik snorted, knocking back a shot glass of Glorian wine. "Why not ask us to hunt and kill Skywalker?"
Jabba snarled at him. "Fool. Skywalker is a monster!" he pointed out. "Rest assured Palpatine has inquired already. I know for a fact Cad Bane refused. No, he wants a Sith to face his enemy. He trusts no one else. And though I loath both Force-wielding factions, I am in agreement."
Bib Fortuna maneuvered near his master's ear. "Mighty Jabba, will we truly search for Assaj Ventress?"
Jabba grunted, and then chuckled. "We will search for her presence, and then sell the information to Imperials looking to gain Palpatine's favor. I wont risk my forces because he fears Skywalker's reckless vengeance. I am over six hundred years old, and have seen the Sith come and go. Perhaps none as cunning as Palpatine, but still, in the end they bring about their own ruin."
Dannik Jerrike took a seat on the stone bar near his master. "What shall we do?"
"Look at this situation closely," Jabba declared. "Anakin Skywalker is a angry beast that cannot be bargained with, blackmailed, or bullied. He is slaughtering the Empire on Coruscant no less. His Jedi abilities... in all my years I have witnessed no equal. I do not fear the Jedi nor the Sith. But I am no fool. Skywalker is out for blood. He won't stop until he dies, and he fears nothing. Men like that are to be avoided." He turned to Aurra Sing. "Take Boba and hunt for Assaj Ventress on the moons of Jaspera."
Aurra smiled. "So you do know where she is?"
"I have eyes and ears everywhere," Jabba replied. "Find her, relay the information, and watch what happens."
"As you wish, master." Aurra bowed. "And my usual fee?"
"Done. Double it if you get anything of interest from Assaj against Palpatine." Jabba looked to Bib Fortuna next. "Find a way to send three million credits to the leaders of the Rebellion."
"Mighty Jabba, their numbers are minimal, and they are more a nuisance than a threat."
"Obey me or I'll feed you to the Rancore."
"Skywalker has ties to the Rebels. Helping them aids his cause. In this current galactic climate I prefer the Republic to the Empire for if all the Hutt clans united as one we could still not defeat the Galactic Empire. But if Skywalker and this Rebellion can strike at the heart of the Empire, Palpatine himself, then it will crumble. He is the head of the snake. Cut it off and the rats will fight over the crumbs."
"I hate Jedi, and I would never trust them," Boba Fett spoke for the very first time tonight. "Rest assured, they can be killed."
Jabba laughed heartily. "A Jedi killed your father, and so you would wish death upon them all. Youth and its vengeful ways," he noted of the amazingly deadly young bounty hunter. "In the six centuries of my life I've learned to remove rage, pride, and ego out of the way of profits. Boba, remember this always... Business is never personal. Dismissed."
One standard day later
The Emperor's War Chambers
Galactic City, Coruscant
The broad high-definition viewing screen that made up the entire back wall showed no less than seventy Imperial workers on their knees, all begging for their lives as Storm Troopers stood over them with their weapons drawn.
The Emperor heard their desperate cries and blood-curdling pledges of loyalty. Nonetheless, they had all failed. "Execute them immediately." The sounds of laser fire and screams echoed throughout the elaborate War Chamber as Palpatine's throne swiveled to face the two kneeling before it. "Those were the survivors of the space station Alchemy. I trust your investigation into Anakin Skywalker's return is finished?"
Swallowing hard, Imperial Navy Admiral Terrinald gave a cautious nod. "We have just returned from the Outer Rim, Master. We thought you may have wanted to personally interrogate some of the surviving crew before we gave our final report."
"You thought wrong," the Emperor replied coldly. "Begin."
Admiral Terrinald continued, "Our investigation began with the detailed account of every single surviving crew member about the deadly meteor shower that struck the Alchemy space station above the planet Mygetto. Apparently that caused part of the space station to break off and crash into the world below. That section, floors seventeen through twenty-four, included the scientific research ward that housed Anakin Skywalker."
"Were there any signs of sabotage?"
"No, my Lord," Imperial Adviser Ars Dangor entered the conversation, "With over one thousand Imperial troops and expert personnel we scoured the frozen northern mountains of the planet for the wreckage of the space station. As you know, the terrain is perilous at best. A wasteland of ice. Nonetheless we excavated what we could find and found no evidence of an unnatural explosion or technical malfunction. We have video log footage of the meteor shower striking the station, as well as the Black Box and its added intell."
Considering all that he had heard, the Emperor scowled. "How could the damaged portion of that space station survive the free-fall into Mygetto's atmosphere with Anakin's carbon freezing chamber intact?"
"Master," Admiral Terrinald said. "The Alchemy was heavily shielded with independent emergency ray-shielding on each deck. It is possible that one of those independent shields initiated when it reached the planet's atmosphere and protected that section until impact. That may have preserved the freezing chamber, but we cannot be certain."
"There's more," the Emperor noted darkly, a withered hand brushing at his chin. "Even if that were the case, even if his carbon freezing chamber began the unfreezing process upon impact, he would have been extremely weak, disoriented, and prone to die in the frigid elements." The ruler of galaxy shook his head. "Turn your investigation into each and every company operating near the mountains. Were any research teams working in the area? What about scout droids? Did anyone track the space station on satellite arrays? Is anyone suddenly missing from those companies? Anakin had to have had help, and if he is a phantom in the night, whoever assisted him may not be."
"Yes, my Lord," both acknowledged at the same time.
"Squeeze the Intergalactic Banking Clan until they bleed, but find me the answers I seek," he ordered. "In the mean time I have set in place a target for Anakin. One I doubt he will be able to resist," he smiled evilly.
Three standard days later
Seven Heavens Luxury Hotel 99th floor The Entertainment District Galactic City, Coruscant
The clearly terrified, portly Correlian currently wire-tied to a chair surrounded by Vorta bombs was the renowned celebrity author Bins Blackwell.
The HoloNet coined the infamous writer the 'Sultan of Celebrity Filth,' as he was known to pen the most tabloid'esq autobiographies, often times fabricating small truths into sensational lies that drew mountains of controversy. Just a few short days ago it was announced his most ambitious, most heavily researched, most blockbuster subject of all time was near completion. The one that they swore the entire galaxy would be gasping about and wouldn t be able to put down.
The title was revealed as 'Whore: The Life, Lust, and Lies of Padme Amidala Naberrie.'
Born with one of the most unexplainable birth defects, his twin hearts pounded like a tribal drum inside his broad chest. Shaking nervously, the black-haired Bins Blackwell sat strapped into the oversized interview chair as he was surrounded by a droid staff of HoloNet reporters and hovering droid cams who were about to break the world exclusive interview with him. Or at least that was what the HoloNet was instructed to report. In reality, Bins had never begun writing anything about the former Senator from Naboo. He was captured in the middle of the night by Imperial secret police, drugged, and brought here. He'd read the other so called autobiographical books on Padme's life, but never wrote one himself for the topic of her was far to saturated already. And he certainly hadn't spent a fortune as was reported recently to learn new, appalling details about her private life.
And certainly not now when her powerful, vengeful husband had apparently returned from the grave to slaughter anyone associated with her demise.
Alas, he was but a pawn in a elaborate scheme to draw out the enemy of the Empire. He knew he was going to die shortly. All his great wealth, political influence, and secret connections couldn t get him out of this. His eyes frantically scanned the luxurious room where the galaxy was supposed hear new, shocking revelations they'd never heard before concerning the former Senator from Naboo.
The spacious hotel suite was set-up to appear as though the interview of the century was about to take place. Bins dark eyes searched all around, hating that he was trapped and about to die for something he wasn t even a part of. Sure, he'd committed a lifetime of sins, but not this one.
How poignant it was, in retrospect.
With all the girth of his burly size, he attempted rocking the chair back and forth, but it was securely bolted the to floor. He felt helpless, his fate sealed. Sweat beaded down from his temple, begging from behind the white cloth tied over his mouth.
And then the holo-disc lamps and ceiling lights began flickering before before all light gently faded into darkness... that was when a blinding blue blade ignited near a corner window, and then every single droid in the room was cut down with swift, brutal efficiency. All that Bins could hear were the whirling sounds of a light saber and the droids falling to pieces upon the floor. All that he could see was the shadow of a phantom moving as if it were not born of this world, seemingly everywhere at once. A harbinger of death made flesh. His bladder released, such fear ate him alive as he shrieked and shook the chair, wanting to plead for his life... to offer anything... everything he had to live another day.
"You've made a fortune off the misery of others," the shrouded being declared coldly as it approached. "You live off of lies and deceit, uncaring who it hurts or if it was the truth at all. But rest assured, I know you are not writing this book they claim you are. You're a pawn being used to wrest a emotional response from me... the old man seems almost desperate."
Bins shouted when the clothed tied over his mouth was torn away via the Force. "Please! I'll give you anything you want! I don't want any of this! Please save m..."
When the nearby residents of this affluent district in Imperial City talk amongst themselves tomorrow morning, they'll all describe the deafening blast that rattled the very ground for nearly half a mile in all directions. They'll detail the gigantic burst of light as several whole floors of the Seventh Heaven Hotel were destroyed in a massive fiery explosion that lit the night sky like a second sun.
Moving in from their hidden locations the area, twenty-five mid-sized Imperial shuttles quickly surrounded the structure that was now engulfed in blustering flames. Each craft carried five heavily-armed first generation Clone soldiers. Broad, bright beams of life burst from their underbellies, illuminating wide sections of hotel that had just been destroyed as thick billows of black smoke lifted skyward. On the ground below guests and staff were being evacuated as fire began consuming the rest of the towering hotel.
With none of the Imperial shuttles individual motion detectors showing any signs of movement within the burning building, a Clone soldier spoke into his comm-link, "Sir, we have found no signs of Skywalker as of yet. Shall we land and begin searching through the debris?"
"Yes. Proceed with caution. The Emperor wants evidence of Skywalker's demise. Even a blood smear will will do."
A Clone commander sifting through the smoking rubble with his team checked in, "Sir, so far we've only found the blood markers for Bins Blackwell. Nothing of Skywalker as of yet. we've discovered scraps of black fabric that are seared into some form of robotics, but no blood stains. There are droid remains of a unknown design here, including a cybernetic hand burned around a light-saber. My conclusion is that I don't think Anakin Skywalker was ever here."
"He is now."
Their communications hacked, the Imperial shuttles began frantically scanning the skies and rooftops of all the structures surrounding the burning hotel. As the ships began trying to create a perimeter, the first Imperial shuttle banked hard and to the left, swiveling sideways, its soldiers onboard leaping for their lives as it slammed into the side of a fiery gambling tower.
"TALK TO ME! CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING?" a clone Arc-commander shouted into his comm-link, finding only static as a reply. His eyes widened in shock as suddenly a second shuttle veered backward, crashing into another as they exploded in a fiery ball, descending rapidly towards the ground as people scattered in all directions. The resulting explosion caused mayhem! "SKYWALKER IS HERE! KILL HIM FOR OUR EMPORER!"
Alas, they had no chance.
Anakin masterfully wielded the Force, his destructive attacks so fast and unexpected that by the time the ninth ship crashed the rest were in retreat. He leapt through the air from shuttle to shuttle, slashing fuel cells and pilots into nothing, before moving on to kill again. Blades of light illuminated the night skies, yet none could fix his position as he slaughtered them all brutal efficiency.
And yet, although the bomb and subsequent attack were met with blinding violence, Anakin knew he should not have responded at all.
This ruse was no more than a test to see if a emotional response was still a part of him. His feelings were still in play, no matter how much he tried to silence them forever. Now Palpatine would use that against him. He would have to be on guard even more than usual.
Standing atop of the gambling tower as fire-ships began moving in the area to deal with the blazes, Anakin felt eyes upon him. No, more than eyes. The Force... a powerfully familiar signature from what felt like a lifetime ago.
His former Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And his former Padawan, Ahsoka Tano.
Glancing to the far right, a cloaked Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano patiently waited for him on a darkened rooftop. It seemed they knew he would respond tonight as well. Knew it as surely as Palpatine did. But what none of them knew was that in five standard weeks time this war would be turned upside down, twisted in a way none of them could possibly imagine. So whatever ground he lost tonight in his war against the Empire, he'd repay it a thousand-fold when his plan reached fruition.
For now though, the last thing he wanted to do was face his former Master ever again. To be reminded of his utter failure as a Jedi. Of how little he listened and had learned from someone so wise. Still, Anakin knew he'd avoided this confrontation for so long already that this reunion felt inevitable.
Not since he last was with Padme's mother did he feel... truly feel something other than blinding rage. Obi-Wan was once like a father to him, and had he heeded his Master's warning about Palpatine today he might have been a father himself. Instead of this dead machine of death seeking vengeance and nothing more.
Taking a running start, he leapt into the air, clearing one building entirely before landing on top of the roof where the duo waited for him in the shadows. "Impressive." For all the years he wanted to slay Darth Vader for countless atrocities, Obi-Wan took in the visage of his former Padawan standing before him. Taller it seemed, broad with lean muscle, and angry beyond words. He was a mountain not to be moved, and had no Force signature at all. Odd and intriguing... Being this close to him again, when all he'd wanted to do was kill him for nearly half a decade was as strange as he expected it to be. The flood of emotion he felt wasn't easy to hold in check. "Welcome back."
Simple and to the point as ever. Anakin's former Master appeared older to him, as if misery had visited and left an enduring impression. When once they were brothers now they favored each other as strangers who'd vaguely crossed paths once upon a time. And yet that trademark hint of mischief still danced behind his former Master's eyes. Anakin swallowed hard. "I'm not here to work with the Rebellion or the Jedi Order, Obi-Wan. I will continue to pretend I do to assist you in drawing support, but I have my own plan for the Empire. And it doesn't include any of you."
"So no hug, Sky Guy?" Ahsoka attempted to joke, hoping for even a hint of his old daring smile. If it were there he turned away before she could see it. This was still so much to take in, and the very real fear this might be a elaborate trap weighed heavily upon her. But deep down in her gut, she felt she knew the truth. She wanted hope to be alive after five years of horror. Her voice trembled when she spoke, "I miss you... we all miss you. We just didn't know... Darth Vader was convincing and we all..."
"Darth Vader wasn't me."
"We know that now," Obi-Wan calmly replied, hands folded inside the sleeves of his cloak. "We have processed the evidence you provided and confirmed it with Master Yoda himself. Yes, we still have some questions as I'm sure you do. But we feel certain you are who you say you are."
He shouldn't be here. Not with them. How could they even stand to look at him? He failed them all. Anakin sighed. "Go back to whatever plans you are making. They do not concern, nor will they include me."
Obi-Wan tried to reason with him. "Anakin, please listen to me. There is far more that we can accomplish together than apart. Your one-man crusade against the Empire..."
"Is doomed to fail like everything else I tried to prevent thus far, right?" Anakin's bitter words rushed out like poison to finish the statement, his chest tight with deep seeded regret.
"No," the Jedi Master replied. His tone turned fatherly, seeking to find the lost man in the storm of immense pain that surrounded him. "I was going to say its simply not a wise course of action. No one man, not you, myself, nor Master Yoda or anyone else can defeat the entire Empire. It is simply not possible. And even if you kill Palpatine, he has a council of evil men and women who would gladly take over his throne and continue the cruelty that now governs the galaxy. And they too would command the entire Imperial Fleet and well over twelve million Storm Troopers. This is why a long-term plan of action, with a fully realized coalition of planets gives us the best chance to someday win this war."
Obi-Wan took a careful step forward, his gaze humble and understanding. "I would not pretend to know what's happened to you in the last five years, or how you feel today. I cannot imagine how terribly you miss Padme." He watched Anakin's throat constrict painfully, and in that moment, felt his utter sorrow. It nearly overwhelmed the Jedi Master. But just as fast, blinding, deadly rage returned. "I know you have suffered greatly, but we have all suffered at the hands of the Empire. We have all bled and lost loved ones and lived on the run for years since the Empire came to power. And that suffering, even if Palpatine dies, will continue until we find a way to rally the galaxy behind a re-united Republic."
Anakin shook his head, still unable to face his former Master in the eyes. "I am on my own path now, Obi-Wan. Save your speeches for the new recruits."
"We were brothers once, you and I."
Once, Anakin thought to himself. "That was before I failed you."
Silence reigned as they all stood there, ghosts of the past and present. Obi-Wan finally realized how unfairly Anakin carried the weight of the whole galaxy on his shoulders, and felt as though he let everyone down that had ever believed in him. Every death stained his hands with blood he could never wash away. That he just wasn't good enough, and his soul-wrenching guilt was eating him alive. Obi-Wan knew that sentiment all to well as his head bowed. He loved and missed his brother more than words could ever say. His voice faltered, "All of us have blame to accept responsibility for here."
Anakin quickly seized his gaze! "Excuse me, but did your wife and child die?"
Obi-Wan met him head on. "No, but countless lives have been lost because of our inability as Jedi to see what was directly right in front of us, and our own arrogance and ego. We were our own worse enemy, and we know that now. All that we can do is move forward and learn from our mistakes. We were all manipulated and used by Palpatine. But your return is a sign of renewed hope, the likes of which we have not had since before the Republic ended. The living Force forgives and renews. All things are not lost so long as we believe. This is our time to make it right."
"Master," Ahsoka called out to Anakin, slowly walking toward him. Her eyes misted over as she spoke. "I'm so happy you're alive, and that Darth Vader was never the real you. He was a cruel, evil, hateful monster. The Anakin I looked up too and loved was a good man. A great and powerful Jedi who I learned so much from. I miss you so much all the time, and there are others who... You don't have a clue the joy your return will bring someday. We just want to help you, and we need your help."
"This... this isn't my way anymore, Snips." When she smiled at the mention of that old nickname, he craved hugging her. But his heart was still far to broken to submit to the emotion. Alas, she was beautiful, strong, and proud. So strong with the Force now. He had no doubt she made a great Jedi. "I'm going to make things right. I'm going to crush the Empire. I'm going to avenge Padme and my child. And when Palpatine has been publicly shamed and shown to be nothing but a weak old man, I shall take his life."
Ahoska solemnly asked, "But why alone?"
"Because I can't take the deaths of any more people I love on my hands," Anakin raged loudly.
"Then maybe you need your hope renewed, my friend." Reaching inside his cloak, Obi-Wan retrieved a circular beacon disk and handed it to Anakin. "If there is anything at all left of the brotherhood we once shared, then please do as this message asks. I swear to you, it will be worth it."
"What is this?" Anakin took the beacon, and then looked skyward as a small shuttle craft descended toward him. When the cockpit opened, Catana-Si gave a nod. "I must depart. Do not look for me."
Before Obi-Wan could reply, his gaze settled upon the mysterious dark-haired woman flying the shuttle. She was, in a word, absolutely stunning. And possessed a powerful Force presence that was unrefined, but staggering. Apparently she was Anakin's partner, of sorts. Alas, another piece of this ever growing mysterious puzzle. Something about her was utterly fascinating. "Follow the beacon, Anakin. All that you need awaits you."
With that, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka departed towards nearby speeders and took off.
Choked with emotion, Anakin climbed into the passenger seat as Catana-Si sped off into the night sky.
While merging into the repulse traffic lanes, Catana Si commented, "So that was the legendary 'Negotiator'? Wow... I like his beard," she appreciated fondly.
Anakin almost smiled. Almost. And then he played the message embedded in the beacon...
One Standard Day Later
A rusted black Zulcan Star-Fighter
Breaking the upper atmosphere en-route to
Rain made it perfect.
Foreboding dark clouds roared a treacherous thunder-storm over the capital
His chest tightened as he approached what was left of the once impeccable
Anakin agreed with her that nothing about the beacon's mysterious message nor Obi-Wan giving it to him made sense. Nonetheless, the moment he read it his throat constricted as something... something elusive and yet incredibly powerful beckoned him to return here.
No matter the immense pain it undoubtedly cause him.
This once beloved world reminded him of his most grievous personal wound. One that he was certain would never heal. His greatest scar among so many.
Embedded on the broad side of a rocky cliff with a magnificent multi-tiered
The price paid was Naboo's freedom, now a slave world to the Empire with no king or queen. Only a ruthless Emperor who did not care if every single person on the planet died so long as they knew he was all powerful.
Nearly half the great palace was in ruined decay, with its crumbled turrets and decimated towers now buried in rubble. The other half of the palace somehow remained intact, but the hollow vision it now made, devoid of light and life tormented Anakin's heart. This was where he first kissed his Angel. Where she was so beloved by her people. This was her home world. The one they both loved dearly. This was to be their home after the war ended and their baby was born.
Naboo was supposed to be his grand reward for surviving the war and fulfilling his destiny. The Skywalkers retiring from public life, damn anyone s opinion or the consequences. They would finally pursue their life together.
Now Naboo was just another of his countless lost dreams, buried alongside his wife and child. Shmi... The Younglings. Everyone who had ever foolishly believed in him. His failure was so absolute there were days he would welcome death and whatever came next if only to silence his inner misery.
He privately swore Palpatine would know such unending anguish and humiliation before he took his last breath.
But as the heavens thundered so loudly his starship shook violently, he
approached the empty grand
The beacon lying in his lap began beeping louder as he maneuvered near a wide, hollow crater that was once the magnificent Palace library. The rains came down so hard he could barely see, but through a massive hole in the domed roof his eyes caught sight of a slender cloaked figure standing alone atop a staircase in the downpour.
A figure that gave off no Force signature at all. Not even what he would feel in the presence of a regular person. It was as if this being lived outside the Force entirely. Anakin found himself most curious and on edge.
Lightening streaks criss-crossed the dark skies as the fighter's landing gear extended. Anakin brought the ship down through the roof's gale hole amidst a thick gust of damp dust as he landed softly. The figure, standing atop a spiral staircase, did not move a muscle, watching him.
The starfighter's canopy lifted as Anakin rose to his feet, and then leapt to the ground. The once lavish Royal Library was now a burned out husk minus after the Imperial Fleet decimated half the palace. Fire burned through here, torching nearly everything. Rain-soaked rows of ten-foot tall golden book shelves were charred all around him, while scorched pages of thousands of books covered the once flawless marble floor. His heavy black cloak absorbed the storms showers as rain drops cascaded down his face. Lifting his gaze, he openly stared at the person who summoned him here. Lifting the beacon in his right hand, he dropped it to the ground. "I'm here. Now tell me who you are?"
The figure seemed to bow its head, as if so stricken by emotion the moment was overwhelming. And then finally, it spoke.
"Its me, Anakin," her eerily familiar voice lifted barely above the howling winds. "Padme."
When she pulled back her hood, revealing herself in the rain, Anakin inhaled sharply as pure horror ripped through him to the very core of his being. All air fled his lungs in a desperate rush as he stumbled a step backward, his entire body shaken with pure shock. Her gorgeous brown hair was far shorter, straighter, and now black. But her lovely face, glistening wetly, was as lovely as he dreamed every night. Her cherished gaze as as tender as it was indomitable.
"No!" rumbled powerfully from the very pit of soul as his stare narrowed hatefully. "Whatever kind of game this is, someone must want to die if they are willing to play it with me!"
Shivering in the rains chill, Padme could not
sense his presence in the Force, same as it was at her mother's home. And
though she did not understand this as they had always shared a
incredibly powerful Force bond, she knew this man was her husband. Her heart
knew. And for that precious miracle she wept openly, as did the heavens down
upon them. Leading him here was her plan. But how to get
through to him... "This is not game, Anakin," she replied, her
unbreakable will set upon bringing him home and reuniting their family. "I
know this must seem impossible to believe, but please allow me to
"Save your lies!" slithered through gritted teeth as he couldn't, wouldn't, refused for a even Sith second to believe this atrocity. Yes, she looked exactly like his Angel. But Padme was dead. This wasn't real! Why would Obi-Wan do this to him? Reaching out with the Force, he felt no others nearby. No danger at all. But this had to be a trap. "Are you a clone? A shape-shifter? ANSWER ME!"
"I am none of those, I assure you. My name is Padme Amidala Naberrie Skywalker, and I am your wife," she declared proudly, eyes drinking in the sight of the man she loved with all that she was as hot rain drops fell upon her face. "Five and a half years ago when I was faced with your apparent turn to the Dark Side, my heart and soul shattered. I had no time to process anything other than to think of my pregnancy and how best to continue the fight against the new Empire," she explained as he stood perfectly stoic, his entire focus set upon her. "I, along with a small number of brave Senators, and with Obi-Wan's assistance faked a accident so that Palpatine wouldn't come after us. We needed time to prepare and I needed safety for our..."
"Palpatine murdered my wife!" Anakin loudly raged! "I personally researched the explosion that destroyed her ship and the subsequent investigation. Imperial officials had a body and they buried her publicly. That had genetic evidence!"
Peering at her lost love through wet lashes, Padme couldn't fathom how the tragic events of their lives had played out this way. So she wasn't at all surprised he wouldn't be able to believe at first. She was still coming to grips with his return as well. Five long years of misery, and now this. "I had plenty of enemies, Anakin. We wanted Palpatine to believe one of them went after a group of us at one time in a effort to gain his favor. Obi-Wan designed the explosion himself, so it looked incredibly authentic. He made sure all evidence pointed to numerous Anti-Republic or Separatist factions. Bale Organa's great wealth bought us a number of people's help to create the fiction of our deaths. And yes, the body was a clone. I provided enough of my own blood to prove I was dead. And with you gone and no knowledge of my pregnancy, Palpatine just let my death go." Raw anger swelled in her chest as she declared, "I wasn't important enough anymore to be concerned with. I was less than nothing to him," she spat out hatefully. "I changed my appearance and took on the identity of Pilar Fallen. I've been part of the leadership overseeing the formation of the Rebellion ever since... and preparing to face Darth Vader one day and kill him."
Even if for a split second he allowed his heart to dare hope, he knew this woman was not Padme Skywalker. Gusting winds swept his cloak about him as he spoke. "You're either a very creative liar, or part of a greater plot against me."
"You are as unwilling to accept this now as I was days ago when you visited my mother at her home," her voice trembled. She recognized his surprise at her mention of his visit to Jobal. "I... I know how unbelievable all of this sounds, Ani."
"DON'T CALL ME THAT!" he shouted angrily, pointing at her as thunder boomed overhead. "YOU ARE NOT PADME!"
"I am, beloved," she assured him with a soft voice. "We have lost so much, and we are both so broken... We have suffered and grieved beyond words, and I am still undone by the miracle of your return and the reality of what that means. I have longed for nothing more this last half a decade save slitting your throat ear to ear before destroying your Master. But you are not Darth Vader. I accept that now, hard as it is. Coming to grips with that has been extremely difficult."
"I can't feel you," Anakin battled the heart-wrenching emptiness of a life without her. He trembled in the rain, nearly unable to face this lie. To see her again, even as a clone he was sure she was, felt like being stabbed in the gut, the knife twisted about to rend his flesh asunder. He was naive to have believed he had suffered enough already. "I could sometimes sense my wife from across the stars, but as I stand before you now its like you're not even there."
"I can't sense you either," Padme replied as they faced off in the pouring rain. "I don't have all the answers to the countless number of questions we both have. But I know this," she regarded him without any doubts in her voice. "You are my husband and I am your wife. The living Force has reunited us against all odds. This is our miracle, Ani." Her thoughts quickly filled with Luke and Leia. "Even more than you know."
She had no Force signature. No signature at all. Nothing. Hasn't seen Obi-Wan in years. Would he set him up? Would Ahsoka? And for what purpose? How did this clone know about his visit to Jobal's home? Was Obi-Wan turned to the Dark Side? He hadn t sensed that at all. The initial message talked about destiny, but it made so little sense. Why must his enemies strike at his heart so viciously? Didn't they know he would strike back ten times as hard!
Facing his silent defiance, Padme swallowed deep in the back of her throat. "We have so much to talk about. We have..."
This was too much! "My wife was murdered in retaliation against me and this lie will cost you your own!" Sorrow and grief breathed fire into the dragon that lived within his heart. This was a abomination! "I see through your lies, but this time I won't fall victim!"
"Come to me then, and find out." She quickly back-peddled when he leapt onto the balcony, twin green and blue lightsabers drawn, sizzling steam from the rain droplets pelting the blades. Her senses were on high alert, ready and focused as Yoda trained her to be.
Anakin stalked toward her. "I see through your deception!"
"There is no deception, Ani. I am your wife. I'm Padme."
"NO!" Anakin attacked violently, suddenly, and was shocked by the swift block of his attack by her blue lightsaber. His eyes widened at her skill. "My wife didn't know how to use a lightsaber!"
"I am a Jedi now. Like my husband before me."
"... since you claim to be a Jedi... then die like one!"
Suddenly he was a blaze of lightening quick aggressive strikes that she parried while frantically back-stepping, leading him further inside the palace down a long, dark corridor that led to a shadowy dining hall. His greater height and longer length were met by her superior speed, but she knew she wasn't nearly as skilled as he was.
Good thing thinking on her feet was a Padme trademark.
Ducking one fierce slash, she blocked another before back-flipping several times in a row until she landed atop a broad dining room table. His dark scowl did not move her. "Ask me something only Padme would know, and I will answer because I am her."
Shrugging off his soaked cloak, Anakin glared at her with a inner darkness he didn't even try to fight tonight. "Who is behind this plot? Tell me... tell me now!"
Racing toward her, when Anakin somersaulted through the air she lifted her hand at the ceiling. Five huge glass chandeliers ripped off their chains, slamming into him in mid-air. Glass shards and his body crashed to the floor. "This is no plot. I am your wife! You must listen to me!"
"Liar!" Anakin's open palm aimed to the dining room table. It splintered, and then exploded from beneath her, sending Padme falling backward to the floor as Anakin rose back to his feet.
Thinking quickly, Padme caught sight of a stone pillar. Using the Force, she lifted, and then flung it at Anakin, who deftly sliced it in half. She sent another, and then another, as each were cut down before reaching their target."The night we were married, when I walked out of the refresher and you saw what I was wearing, you called me your everything and your light. Ask yourself, who else but the real Padme would know that detail?"
Standing perfectly still, Anakin refused to listen... refused to believe... "Palpatine could have found a way to access my memories while I was held in captivity."
"Why would he care about such a personal, private moment, Ani? It doesn't make sense. He wasn't planning on you ever escaping!"
"You allowed yourself to be submitted to genetic tests. I'll do the same and then you'll have proof."
"SILENCE!" Attacking wildly, he found her fighting style fluid, if a bit calculated. Still, she made a formidable opponent as they clashed lightsabers all around the dining hall, battling viciously.
Anakin held his sabers ahead of him, moving in for the kill. "Someone has taught you well."
"I do not want to fight you, husband."
"You are unwise to lower your defenses," the whir of their lightsabers echoed around them in a desperate, relentless chorus.
Swiping aside one of his overhead strikes, Padme leg swept at his feet. Anakin countered by forward-flipping over her head, and found his attack parried from behind when he landed. He recoiled slightly, and then pressed his assault, slashing both blades in a barrage that knocked her off her feet. "Stay down!"
"Never!" He didn't know he was standing on a long royal rug. Using the Force, she tore it from under his feet, sending him crashing to the floor. Turning over, Padme rose and raced towards the exit. The open double-doors suddenly slammed shut, and then she somersaulted backwards over a flying chunk of ragged chunk of concrete wall plaster Anakin flung after her. Though tired and breathing heavily, Padme knew this was the fight of her life. One she could not ever afford to lose. "Talk to me, Ani! I can prove what I say is true."
Padme ran into one of the main branching hallways with Anakin right on her heels.
As he stalked after her, Padme braced herself, lightsaber held at the ready. "You know I would have done anything to protect our child! You know this! I don't sit back and let things happen, I make them happen. I helped fake my death to protect what mattered most to both of us."
With his chest heaving, though not nearly as heavy as his heart, Anakin gazed skyward. "Just die!"
Knowing he was the Chosen One was one thing. Seeing his full power unleashed was quite another as the gigantic curved ceiling buckled with twisting lines of deep cracks that soon began falling in massive chunks of plaster and debris all around them. Her Force reflexes saw her diving and quickly maneuvering around falling debris as it felt like the entire palace quaked. She barely had time to escape death, using everything Master Yoda taught her to face Anakin's onslaught as waves of dust, glass, and concrete splintered all around her.
And in that incredible moment as she witnessed his great power, Padme felt a ripple through the Force as she watched him... and then the purest sense of his presence came over her like a tidal wave as she felt his immense fear, deep seeded sense of failure, and the colossal loss of all that he loved... she truly felt him again. Her eyes and heart widened as it all came back to her in a flood of unimaginable emotion. The harder he fought against her, the harder she would fight for him. "I sense the good in you, Anakin. The conflict."
"There is no conflict!" Blue eyes tracking her, he watched her leap up through one of the large cracks in the ceiling into the throne room upstairs. He chased after her, leaping through it as well, and was met with a awesome array of lightsaber attacks as she went at him hard! Slashing and cutting, taking the fight to him as he was caught off guard at first. His thoughts were a riot of emotion as he battled her.
They fought around the throne itself, at one point slicing it half. It dawned on him yet again how perfect the clone mimicked her voice and expressions, but this couldn't be real. This person was nearly at a Master's level of lightsaber skills. "TELL ME WHO YOU REALLY ARE!"
The Force, at that very moment, began erupting in powerful, unpredictable waves all around them as Padme faced her husband, lightsaber drawn before her. The titan-steel walls buckled with deep fissures crisscrossing all around them, as did the floor as it rumbled powerfully beneath their feet. Paintings cracked, statues burst, large paned windows shattered, chairs imploded, and the ceiling began falling once more. "I am your wife, Ani. And this," she extended her arms, "Is us. This is our bond. We died to each other, and that's why I think we lost it. But neither of us are dead, and it has returned to us. Look inward, my love. Feel us," she implored him.
He shook his head angrily, unable to trust, wet hair plastered to his face as he wept with rage. "Stop... just stop... no, better yet, die!"
His attacks were lethal, pushing and shoving her backwards until she back-flipped up onto a scaffold, and then leapt once more to an upstairs floor. "I won't ever give up on you," she swore before racing down a long burned out hallway, past toppled over scorched furniture that led toward the Royal living quarters. He tracked her, relentlessly pursuing his prey.
Running out of strength and options, Padme watched Anakin slowly approach from the other end of the hall as thunder crackled loudly in the skies.
With her back to the door of the Queen's chambers, Padme killed her lightsaber, allowing the weapon to drop from her fingertips. "I will not fight you. And you'll be forced to kill me."
Unleashed tension lived in his dark gaze. "If that is your destiny."
She watched him draw ever closer, but with every step he took his expression grew more frustrated, agitated, and then finally conflicted as she knew he sensed it... them, once more. "It feels like a miracle because it is, Anakin. We are alive and we are together once more," she told him. "Beloved, search your feelings. I am Padme Skywalker. I swear it."
His heart choked on the sheer depth of what he felt in her presence, his tall frame visibly trembling as he grimaced painfully. It was as if he were dying, and to allow this hope... this unbelievable hope... the certainty that she was telling the truth into his dead, dark world meant more than he could handle.
But when he gazed at her beautiful face all that he could do was release his lightsabers. To see her again, different and yet the same. Strong, vital and alive. Powerful. Fearless. How could he believe? What if it was all taken away from him again. "I... I can't trust this."
"Then trust me," she spoke softly as tears trickled down her face. "I am terrified and broken and unsure of where all of this will lead. But I know that I love you. And I know that there is good in you still. And I will fight for my family until my dying breath. Even if I have to fight you."
He could Force choke her to death before she could stop him. Perhaps shatter her ribs and chest plate with a Force push between one blink and the next. He considered doing all those things, but when faced with truly feeling their intense bond again, he was lost beyond words. The wall he'd built up around his heart crumbled at her feet. He felt so unworthy of any good thing... His voice trembled mightily, "How can this be?"
"I don't know," she conceded as they now stood face-to-face, his invasion of her personal space complete. He towered over her as she gazed into his eyes. Her hands lifted, palms pressed to his chest as she wept, his heartbeat beneath her fingertips. "I have desired nothing more than to kill you for half a decade."
His head bowed as countless frozen nights in Mygetto's mountainous caverns came rushing back to him. The words choked out, "I grieved you and our child alone."
"And I watched you with all those women... I hated you," she winced painfully as she faced him. "I felt so stupid and humiliated and so far less a woman... I wanted you dead."
At last his hand lifted to softly caress her lovely face, the pad of his thumb brushing aside a lone tear. "I failed you and our child."
"Never, beloved. Never."
Unable to resist a second more, Anakin drew Padme firmly to his chest, gasping before capturing her in a fierce, devouring kiss that swallowed her very breath. His fingers tangled in her wet hair as he cupped the back of her head, savagely plundering her soft mouth. She arched into him, craving the feel of his strong body, closing her arms tightly around his neck, possessively holding onto him.
Instinctively, Padme back-kicked the bedroom door open to the former Queen's personal bed chambers as they hungrily kissed inside. Wind whistled through two broken windows in the far right corner, while fat rain droplets pelted the marble floor from multiple cracks in the ceiling. The Skywalker's couldn't have cared less, seeking only that particular piece of furniture in the center of the huge royal bedroom.
"Is this real?" Anakin questioned while dragging her cloak off her shoulders, tossing the soaked garment aside. His chest heaved as he gazed at Padme with raw passion, and then claimed her mouth with such hunger. Hoisting her up high against his chest, her feet off the floor, he roared toward the magnificently huge bed.
"Yes, love... Gods, yes," she panted as they clawed and ripped at each others clothes, shivering as cool air met damp skin, as thunder rattled windows and lightening skittered across the room. The insistent pulsing between her thighs left her pulse racing as her body language shifted into lust. She wanted, needed, demanded this man and no other, ever! When he thrust his tongue inside her mouth, she sucked hungrily on the tip as they fell onto the bed over the thick covers.
Bared naked beneath him, a seconds note of her insecurity was crushed by the sheer emotion of his voice.
"I've missed you, Padme... I love you so much... more than anything in my life... I need you... By the Force, I need you more than my next breath."
She drew him onto of her, fingers delving in his rain-slicked hair as she kissed him until his moan vibrated down her throat. He was all hard muscle, dangerously sexy as they ravished each others mouths. His cock was so hard against her mound, her clit pulsing as he sawed over it, grinding into her. "This is forever," she declared with a husky moan. "We've found our way back to each other." She sensed his thoughts were a riot of emotion, and that he had so loathed that he lived when he thought she did not. "We are alive, Ani. Together. Strong. And nothing can stand against us. I love you... I need you...Now!"
Her delicious little shiver left him breathless with longing. Though her inner darkness alarmed him, he found it wickedly irresistible as his aching cock stirred for her. He bent down, capturing the tip of her nipple in his warm mouth, loving the way it puckered over his tongue.
"Ani," she groaned loudly as the windows rattled once more from loud thundering outside. His tongue swirled around the breast before inhaling once more, sucking on her until her hips began arching against him. He kissed over the valley between her breast, paying sensual homage to the other, his teeth nipping the tip until she cried out, "Please... now."
Her body bucked beneath him when he nudged the head of his cock at her slick opening, and then sank inside her as their heated gazes locked the whole time. Her eyes fluttered shut, head dipped back with a desperate groan that crippled his senses as she felt so damn tight around him he swore this must be the afterlife. He slowly withdrew, the pleasure written on her face so acute he committed it to memory for all time. And then he drove back deeply inside her, forcing her to take all of him. The sweet sound of his name escaping her lips created a wild, fiery thirst for her he knew could never be quenched.
Nuzzling kisses along the column of her throat made her blood boil as her husband fucked her with long, powerful strokes that saw her nails dragging at the damp skin over his back. With her toned legs locked tightly around his waist, he withdrew almost fully, and then thrusted forward as her nails bit into his shoulder blades. Soon her hands filled with the toned muscle of his backside, the cheeks flexing and releasing as he took her harder. She felt so complete, so full of him, so feminine and deeply loved her body melted around his. Hips arched and rolled, meeting every invasion, urging him to take what he wanted. This was pleasure cascading the borderline of pain, her surrender and victory as they frantically made love to drown out the pain of the past five years. "I'm yours, Ani... always... love you, always!"
Her inner muscles quivered, opening and closing so tightly around him as his heart pounded faster. Spreading her with open with every deep thrust as his mind tried to keep up with the intense pleasure he was experiencing. When she tore his mouth from her neck back to her lips, his animalistic reaction to her kiss saw the bed screeching over the floor, the bed springs squeaking loudly as they fucked insatiably. Fucked through the haze of exhaustion, violently, aggressively, passionately erasing five long ugly years of misery until at last she jerked hard beneath him, coming with him buried so deeply inside her. The inner torment of pleasure written all over her face removed his sanity as all hope of control was utterly lost within her.
Anakin followed her over the edge a moment later, bursting wetly in the most satisfying climax of is entire life, clutching onto her as he bathed her womb with his essence until she had taken all of him and he had no more left to give.
With the nights thunder storm still raging outside, their clothes strew everywhere around the bed, and the sheer magnitude of being together again was beyond anything they could have imagined.
Gasping softly, Padme held onto Anakin for dear life, swearing her love as he slumped boneless over her. All that could be heard was the pouring rain and their heavy breathing. This was a miracle neither ever dared hope for. One that was impossible beyond words, and yet hope remained eternal.
Lifting up enough so as to make sure she was comfortable, Anakin could only stare at her beauty, so overcome by emotion. "Am I dreaming?"
Happily, she shook her head. "No, my love. We are most definitely awake," she smiled brightly. "Palpatine tried to destroy us, but he failed." She watched such darkness fall upon his face, and then his head bowed to her chest.
"I... I am so sorry about... the baby."
Her right hand smoothed over his face, gently caressing his cheek with the back of her hand as a smile dawned on her that could have lit up the entire galaxy. "Ani... our children are alive. Both of them."
The End of Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Assaj Ventress is rescued by a Jedi Master. Catana-Si and Obi-Wan conspire together. Palpatine's aides grow restless as dire reports begin surfacing about the Clone Army. Padme takes Anakin to Luke and Leia. The Emperor feels a shift in the Force... one he feels he can use to his advantage.