This Party's Over
Adriaan pressed herself against the hard contours of the wall, watching the entryway of the Geonosian building. The sentry guard, a spindly, evil-looking creature, was facing the opposite side of the gate, watching something going on inside. Obviously, the Jedi weren't expected. Why should they be expected? The Separatists didn't know about the signal Obi-Wan sent to the Senate.
Adriaan rolled her eyes at a young Jedi crouching next to her. Whatever was happening inside was certainly interesting to the Geonosians. The planet seemed absolutely abandoned; by the noise coming from inside the building, it sounded as if the entire planet had congregated under its roof. No one had taken any pains to post a proper sentry. Then again, they didn't know that an army of Jedi was lurking right outside their door.
She slipped through the gate easily. As she looked back at the guard, she saw that his eyes were half-closed and staring right over her shoulder. It was as if she were nothing more than a shadow.
She felt Siri Tachi beside her. "I heard they've all gathered here to witness an execution," Siri whispered. "The place is crowded. I can't believe so many have gathered just to watch an execution." She spat out the words. "Obi-Wan is one of the sentenced," she added in an undertone.
Adriaan nodded. "Cool."
Siri grinned. "Take your position. May the Force be with you."
She melted back into the shadows.
Adriaan stood underneath a small arched doorway, gazing into the interior of the building.
Soon she realized that it wasn't exactly a building ––– it was circular, and open to the sky, like an arena. It was an arena; tiered seats to hold the spectators, and in the center, at ground level, was a large flat space designed for entertainment. The seats were filled to bursting with Geonosians, all jostling each other to get a view of…what?
In the center of the arena there were three pillars. Looking closer, Adriaan could distinguish tiny, helpless figures outlined against each post. The one on the right, she decided, must be Obi-Wan. She recognized his stiff, calm posture even from a distance. The other two she couldn't place. Except…that one in the middle ––– she'd seen him before. The arrogant way he stood, that graceful stance. Who was it?
Then she remembered. It was Obi-Wan's Apprentice, Anakin Skywalker. That would mean that the small white figure on the left was the senator Anakin had been assigned to protect, the one who was being targeted by the Separatists. Senator Padmé Amidala of Naboo. What were they doing here?
The young Jedi Knight frowned. She and Anakin were around the same age; they were trained as Apprentices at the same time. Even though he was older and definitely more talented, Adriaan had completed her training first. They had never been on good terms ––– he was always putting on airs as the high-and-mighty Chosen One. Adriaan had never been impressed with him, which made him dislike her from the very beginning. But there was a deeper reason for their rivalry. Anakin had always been at odds with her former friend, Darc Chun-be. Anakin had hated him because Darc had displayed talent and skill nearly equal to the Chosen One's. In fact, before Anakin had been found, the Council had wondered whether the Chosen One was Darc. Anakin had been jealous, so Adriaan hadn't been surprised to find out that Anakin had been responsible for making Darc quit…
Don't think of that now.
She had made it a rule never to think of Darc Chun-be or anything associated with him in her past. It only made her angry. Anger made her lose her focus. And losing her focus meant…
She wrenched herself from her thoughts to turn her attention to the official's block, a reserved seat high above the roiling crowd. Several figures had appeared and were assembling in the block. She immediately recognized the wrinkled, crested brown head of the Archduke of Geonosis. Peeking over his shoulder, and wringing his hands anxiously was a red-eyed Neimodian, the Viceroy of the Trade Federation. Beside the Archduke stood a pale figure with small, cold eyes and silvery-gray hair. Though he was far off, Adriaan still felt the heavy weight of the dark side of the Force emanating from him.
She drew a sharp intake of breath. It was the leader of the Separatist formation –––Count Dooku!
But if that is Count Dooku…Where was the connection to the Force coming from? Dooku was just a belittled politician that was struggling for power ––– or was he? Adriaan had heard that he had once been an achieved Jedi Master at the Temple. For some unknown reason, he suddenly left and disappeared, only to reappear a few years later as a leading member of the pro-separatist faction. His Jedi training explained the Force connection. Or did it?
The warning I'm getting is too powerful to be just that. Only a Sith can have that big of a connection to the dark side. Was Dooku a Sith Lord?
Just then two more figures appeared at Dooku's side. Adriaan raised an eyebrow at them. One was very tall, and carried a Mandalorian battle helmet, suggesting that he was a mercenary or a bounty hunter of some sort. The other was just a small boy, whose flat dark eyes and Mandalorian military suit bore a similar likeness to the bounty hunter. Perhaps the boy was an Apprentice to the Mandalorian, or maybe he was his son. But that still didn't explain why they were here.
Adriaan squinted. It was hard to tell from where she was standing, but she could have sworn that she recognized that mercenary. Perhaps it was the armor ––– after all, she had clashed with Mandalorian warriors in the past ––– but it wasn't just the trademark Mando T-masked helmet that made her feel as if she'd seen this man before. She knew his face, she had known him a few years ago, she knew it.
Then she remembered. Jango Fett. The Mandalorian bounty hunter that had worked with her on Goba Shag, back when she had been a Padawan. They had made a formidable team, but their differing moral views had made it impossible to develop a lasting friendship. Still, Adriaan had genuinely liked and respected her temporary partner, and still thought well of him, even though it was quite obvious he was now working for the opposing side.
Adriaan saw that the boy was leaning forward eagerly on the balcony, trying to see what was going on below. She frowned. Children didn't belong in execution arenas, even if they were mercenaries, like this one. It wasn't right to expose them to such things. In her opinion, executions should be conducted in private, and not used as a public entertainment for the crowd. Jango knew better than to expose this boy to such base violence. Her brow furrowed in disapproval, but then she had forgotten that Fett had a much different opinion about the proper education of children.
The Archduke spoke a few words in the buzzing, clacking tongue of the Geonosians. A wild cheer rose from the crowd as three barred gates began to open in the arena. Adriaan guessed that the execution had begun.
At that moment, three huge beasts were admitted into the arena. Adriaan whistled under her breath. The animals were all carnivorous, obviously, and they looked hungry. And they were especially grotesque and terrifying. A quadruped with a tri-horned head was directed toward the post that Anakin was chained to. It was a Reek, a wild animal that liked to gore its prey with its lethal head.
A catlike creature headed for Senator Amidala. Adriaan recognized the Nexu, a savage beast with razor-sharp teeth and claws, that hailed from the jungles of Cholgana. But even the Reek and the Nexu seemed harmless compared to the last creature; a native of the planet of Vendaxa, the Acklay. Complete with nasty teeth, claws, and pincers on each of its six legs.
Needless to say, Adriaan was very glad that she wasn't down there.
Senator Amidala had somehow managed to shimmy up her post. Now she perched cautiously at the top, frantically trying to pick the lock on her handcuffs with what looked like a hairpin. The Nexu sprang for the pillar, its powerful leap taking it halfway up to the top. It dug its claws into the stone, trying to clamber up the last few meters. Amidala suddenly lifted her chain with her free hand and lashed it mercilessly like a whip across its face, which was just an alarming couple of inches from her. The beast snarled and angrily raked its claws across her back, ripping her white uni-suit and exposing her skin. Blood trickled down her back as the Nexu leaped safely down to the ground before she could return a hit. The crowd went wild at the sight of blood.
Meanwhile, a Geonosian guard astride an orray had prodded the Reek into a running gallop, fueled with rage, heading straight for Anakin. When the maddened beast was just meters away from him, the Padawan moved. Flipping upward, he easily cleared the deadly horns and landed neatly on its back, just as it crashed into the pillar, ripping Anakin's chain from the post. Adriaan watched with approval as he used the chain as reins to guide the creature around the arena, effectively mastering his predator.
Good job, Anakin.
The Acklay had knocked over Obi-Wan's pillar and had shattered the chain into pieces, leaving Obi-Wan fettered with just the stun-cuffs. A Geonosian guard, pike lowered, urged his steed into a lumbering gallop, charging straight for the Jedi. Obi-Wan quickly plucked the weapon from the Geonosian's grasp, sending the guard flying head over heels and landing underneath the feet of the Acklay. The Acklay's pincers contacted with the unfortunate Geo with a resounding crunch. The spectators cheered again; obviously they didn't care what kind of blood was shed, they just cared for the entertainment.
Obi-Wan grabbed the electro-pike from the dead guard and used it as a spear to throw at his attacker. Adriaan watched with dismay as the Acklay calmly plucked the shaft from its side and snapped it in half with one blow from its mighty jaws.
Obi-Wan got the message. He turned and ran.
By now, Anakin had gained complete control over his would-be executioner. The Reek pranced around the ring, gathering up speed. Suddenly Anakin swerved his charge and headed for the Nexu. Horns lowered, and running at full speed, it took only one hit from the Reek to kill the astonished Nexu. Amidala leaped down from her perch and landed on the Reek, behind Anakin. Obi-Wan clambered on with them, glad to get away from the Acklay temporarily, at least.
Suddenly several droidekas wheeled out and surrounded the prisoners. Apparently, Count Dooku wasn't enjoying the execution as much as Adriaan was. Perhaps the Trade Federation's Viceroy was getting impatient; he had an old grudge against Padmé, the Senator, for foiling his plot to take over her planet about ten years ago. No doubt Dooku had bribed the Viceroy with Amidala's assassination to gain the greedy Neimodian's loyalty.
The droidekas activated their dual laser cannons and pointed them at the captives. Adriaan held her breath. Which signal would come first––– Windu's or the Count's?
Then she saw Mace Windu up on the balcony with the Separatists. His lightsaber was activated. And it was being held across the bounty hunter's neck.
"This party's over," Mace said.
Adriaan grinned and withdrew her lightsaber. An icy-blue shaft of light buzzed to life in her hand, humming and vibrating as if it had a life of its own. She twirled on her heel, holding her weapon in an offensive pose. As she did, she watched as hundreds of blue, green and purple lights flashed all over the arena as the two hundred Jedi responded to the signal.
But then her grin disappeared when she heard a sound much-dreaded to her ear.