Adriaan started to pace the floor of the medical center. The trip home had been absolutely eventless ––– except for when Aedan and his cohorts nearly succeeded in launching the escape pod. She had kept them from leaving only by announcing that escape pods were "good" Stars and planets, had they ever jumped at that!
Obi-Wan was being administered to; he had only a few deep cuts from where the Count had grazed him with his lightsaber. Anakin hadn't gotten off so easily ––– they were installing a droid arm into him now. Padmé was in the operation room ––– she had been too worried and nervous to wait with Adriaan.
She stopped pacing so suddenly that her arm swung out and knocked over a chair with a loud CRASH. She did not pick up the chair, however, but stood very still, looking at the fallen seat but not really seeing it.
Something was wrong here. This sudden attachment between the Senator and Anakin ––– something was not right about it. She knew that they had known each other since they had been kids, and Padmé was a little too old to be romantically interested in Skywalker anyway, but it didn't match up with the bad feeling she was getting about it. The way Amidala looked at him ––– it wasn't a regular friendship. When Anakin was within ten meters of Adriaan, he scowled. But when he was with Padmé ––– his gaze was completely different. And it wasn't just that he liked her…he seemed to adore her.
Adriaan's eye widened with sudden understanding. Anakin loved Padmé. It was all too clear. But if he loved her…
There it was. The catch. It was forbidden for a Jedi to love. There was no excuse for it. Anakin was breaking the code.
Here's your chance at it, Adriaan. Time to show him who you really are.
Now, finally, she had something to use against Anakin. Now, she could be avenged for all of the treatment she had received from him as a student. And she could avenge Darc Chun-be for the part Anakin had played in his leaving of the Order.
You aren't supposed to think about this.
But it was too late. The thought had escaped the dark recesses of her mind, and unless she thought hard about it, it would never be forgotten. She couldn't push it down anymore.
Okay, back in the "good old days" as an Apprentice, she and Darc Chun-be had been inseparable friends. In the sparring and dueling rings, she and Darc were almost always pitted against each other, so perhaps she'd be more accurate in saying that they were friendly rivals. They hadn't been intimate or anything. Darc wasn't the kind of person that she liked, generally, but she had felt sorry for him. Why? Simply because they were in similar positions. She was greatly disliked by mostly all the other students and Apprentices, but publicly he was admired, though many hated him because he lacked nothing besides humility, and he didn't hesitate to let everyone know who was at the top of the pack. That was how their conflicting chemistries had been slammed together. One common rival that they had shared was Anakin, the arrogant, boastful Padawan of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Adriaan had actually enjoyed their enmity; it had added spice to their missions together. Until the very last mission, of course, when their bickering had evolved into a mortal hatred of each other.
She hadn't been there to help Darc, in the end. She had been forced to go on a side trip with her Master, which turned out to be the last mission she went with him, but she was definitely NOT going to think about that. It was painful enough to think of Chun-be. Anyway, she had been in critical condition at the medical center ––– she had been so near death, she remembered, that the Jedi had placed her name in the records as one who had joined the Force ––– when Darc had been accused of killing his own Master and attempting to kill Adriaan. And it had all been Anakin's fault, because he had been malicious enough to give false testimony.
The mission had been to negotiate a peace treaty between two hostile nations; a total blue milk run. There was no way they could have boggled the mission. But who would have thought that a sith lord was behind the estrangement between the two races? Who would have known that a Jedi Master had betrayed the Jedi Order? Who could have foreseen that Darc would be subjected to torment at the hands of sith cultists?
When Adriaan had returned to her respective mission with Anakin and Darc, she realized that they had been captured, and had arrived just in time to watch the cultists activate a bomb that destroyed the entire facility…with Adriaan, Darc, and his Master trapped inside. Darc and an unconscious Adriaan were rescued…but Darc's Master had perished in the flames with the rest of the cultists.
Adriaan had missed the entire return to the Temple, as she was deathly ill at the time, but the Jedi Apprentice that had been sent to rescue them had told her all the details. Anakin's story was that Darc had moved off alone to search for his missing Master, deliberately excluding Anakin from his investigation. After forty-eight hours without hearing from Darc, Anakin had sent out a search party, only to discover that Darc had been seen traveling with a group of sith cultists. It was undeniable proof, Anakin insisted, that Darc was conspiring with the sith. After being told of Darc's malevolence to Anakin during the mission, the Council summoned Chun-be, who unsuccessfully tried to prove his innocence. After losing his temper, he had stormed out of the Council chambers and announced that he was leaving the Jedi Order.
He was so angry, he didn't stay, not even to say goodbye to her. And it was all on account of Anakin. Anakin was clever; he hadn't lied, but he conveniently forgot to mention that Darc was blindfolded and fettered with stun cuffs when he was seen with the cultists. The knowledge of this made Adriaan detest him even more. He was like a glob of slime on her boot, refusing to get off, no matter how hard she stamped on him. She would have killed him a long time ago, had not her Jedi discipline restrained her. Now was her chance to get back at him…the Jedi way.
Revenge comes from the Sith. Mercy from the Jedi.
Blazing conscience, Adriaan thought. Go fall down a black hole.
Yet she knew her conscience was right. No, she couldn't do this, it would be vengeful and wrong, expected from immature students and evil criminals, not from a Jedi Master like her, little upstart that she was. Anyway, Anakin was too wise to even to think of falling in love. No, she would remain silent about the whole thing.
She whirled around as the doors hissed open and Siri Tachi walked briskly through. As lean as ever, her eyes were gleaming with a purposeful glint. Looking over her shoulder, Adriaan could glimpse the straps of a survival pack peeking out from underneath her dark cloak.
"Mission already?" Adriaan said.
"I came to check on you," Siri said. "And to say good-bye. Master Windu has an important assignment that can't wait. Precious time has been lost already. I only have a few minutes."
"So hurry up with it." Adriaan felt there was more behind her words. And she felt it wasn't anything good. In fact, she had a pretty fair idea of what the mission was. She could often read another person's thoughts before they spoke of them to her. Something about the look in their eyes, the expression of the face. This sort of skill was one of the things a Jedi was taught, but Adriaan had always been especially good at it. It was in her nature. It was one of those things that made her feel set apart from the rest of the galaxy, as if she had come from somewhere far superior, so she felt as if she didn't belong. Very few Jedi achieved the power to read the minds and thoughts of others, especially of other Force adepts.
"Boba Fett," Adriaan said. "Windu wants Jango's son found."
Siri nodded intelligently, her gaze serious. "The boy knows things," she said. "He could help us. And it would be better for him to grow up in the Republic, not among the Separatists, criminals, and anti-Jedi groups that he will doubtless join."
"He's a clone," Adriaan said bitterly. "Who else would want him?"
Siri was silent.
"And why should he help us?" Adriaan continued. "We killed his father, the only family he knew. Do you think he would accept an alternative family if we offered it to him? I know that I would not accept the terms given from people who had killed my family. How could you even expect such a thing?"
"I do not expect it," Siri said. "But it is only fair that I give him his choice. If he doesn't agree, we can at least keep him from doing harm."
"Oh, yes, very safe, completely safe," Adriaan said bitingly. "Too safe. You mean chained up, in a cage, when he should be living a life of freedom. This isn't the Jedi way. We are supposed to grant liberty, not take it away. And he hasn't done anything to us."
"YET," Siri pointed out. "He will do something to us. You know that."
"And so what?" Adriaan asked. "Should a kid be locked up? This isn't like you, Siri. Would you lock up a child like him?"
"So you are saying that kids should get away with downright murder?" Siri asked incredulously. "I can't believe I'm hearing this from you, MASTER ell Talaan."
"No," Adriaan said. "I'm asking if it's right that you should lock up a kid that has done nothing wrong."
Siri sat down, her head between her hands. "I don't know!" she burst out suddenly. "I don't even know what's right and what's wrong these days! If your actions are for a good purpose, it gets twisted into something evil. If your intentions are evil, it turns out even more evil than before. What if we're not even on the right side?"
Adriaan was shocked. She'd always considered the former Master of Ferus Olin as a self-confident, independent, steady person. She had never seen this side of Siri before. And she'd known her since she'd been old enough to gallop through the Temple halls, wreaking havoc upon all passing Jedi.
"I know this is right," Adriaan said finally, her voice sounding more confident than she really was. "Promise me. Don't do this to him. Let him go. I'm begging you."
Siri's face was dark with grief and disappointment. "You know I can't promise you," she said softly. "Why are you asking this of me?"
Adriaan turned away from her, not wanting Siri to see her shaking hands. "I held a sort of respect for Jango. He was my enemy, yet I respected him. Perhaps he wasn't entirely bad. Perhaps he loved that boy. Yes, you may think I'm crazy," she said, her voice rising. "I don't care. I know that he loved Boba as a son. I am not ashamed of honoring the dead, even if he was an enemy. Something is not right here at the Temple. It is part of the Jedi code to respect the dead, but this practice seems to have fallen apart. Did you see the look on Windu's face as he bent over the body? Would you call that a look of sorrow? Something is terribly wrong here!" She was shouting by this time, and now she was forced to stop, out of breath and at a loss to say anymore. She felt her face grow hot. She had never spoken her thoughts aloud like this to anyone. She looked at her friend anxiously. Had she offended Siri with her outburst?
Her question was left unanswered, however, for at that moment Padmé entered the room, her face bright with happiness and relief. Behind her, Anakin and Obi-Wan followed, the Apprentice awkwardly flexing his new droid limb, testing its feel. The Senator smiled at Adriaan and ran forward to greet her.
Adriaan grinned back. She was still convinced Senator Amidala wasn't a bad sort, as far as senators went. She was rather amused at the energetic politician, who was so close in age to herself. If it hadn't been for Anakin, Adriaan wondered whether she and Padmé would strike a good friendship. "Good to see you in spirits again, my lady," she said, bowing slightly. "It has been a great pleasure working with you."
"And you, too," she answered warmly, her eyes twinkling. "But how are the Padawans doing?"
"They're recovering," Adriaan said. She couldn't resist adding with a wink, "Under a heavy guard."
"That Aedan," Obi-Wan said. "He needs a high-level security watch on him to just make sure he doesn't get away. What a scoundrel. I can't believe he actually thought that he could rescue me."
"I object to that, Obi," Adriaan said. "I'm pretty sure that if we left him to his own devices, he could have made a clean getaway with you right underneath the very nose of Count Dooku. That kid is a prodigy."
"An accursed prodigy," Obi-Wan said with a sigh.
"Apart from a few scrapes and bruises," Adriaan said, "and mental shock, they're all fine. They'll be seen by the Council this afternoon."
"I hope they won't be punished too severely," Padmé said. "Facing a violent battle was bad enough."
Adriaan's raised her eyebrows in mild surprise. In normal circumstances, she might have been offended at these baseless worries ––– when dealing with naughty students, the Council was firm yet kind. That girl had guts to speak her mind like that in the presence of the Jedi. But they all knew that Padmé meant well.
"Didn't one of them witness the death of his Master?" Amidala asked now.
"Yes," Siri said. "It is all very sad. He has no one to look to for guidance anymore."
"Many Apprentices are without a Master now," Obi-Wan murmured quietly.
Everyone stared at each other in silence, none of them willing to speak further.
Kan, I know how you feel. I know what it feels like to lose a Master. I know what it is like to lose a friend.
It was Padmé that broke the brooding, heavy silence which seemed to weigh on their hearts. "I have to go now," she said. "I must return to my homeworld, Naboo, and tell Queen Jamila the news."
Adriaan noticed Anakin perk up. "Let me come with you," he said eagerly. "After all this, I have no doubts now that the Separatists are going to come after you. You'll need an escort."
Anakin's gaze met Padmé's. Adriaan alone seemed to see the emotion hidden between them. She looked curiously at her fellow Jedi, who were obviously in the dark about the attachment between the Senator and Skywalker.
Are the Jedi totally blind to their surroundings? What will happen if we can't see the danger I know that we will face against the Sith?
The only answer can be death.
"I don't see why not," she heard Obi-Wan saying. "He's right, Padmé. The Separatists have a score to settle with you. You're still in danger. Anakin will be able to take care of you."
Adriaan saw her hesitate, but she knew that it was all a ruse to make her look reluctant to accept Anakin's help. She was going to give in. She even had a good excuse to keep Anakin with her for a few days longer.
She couldn't help feeling amused over Siri and Obi-Wan's ignorance of the situation. But perhaps they couldn't be blamed. They had fallen for Anakin's outward appearance of zeal and eagerness to learn the Jedi way long ago. Only Ferus and Adriaan had seen through his mask, because they alone were not too close to him to be too blinded to see what he really was.
"Sure," Padmé said. "I could use the company, anyway."
Yet Adriaan knew there was a deeper reason for Padmé's decision Her suspicions had cause to be even stronger than before. It seemed to her to become more and more evident as she saw how readily the Senator agreed to let Anakin "escort" her back to her homeworld, the way Skywalker's hand reached out for Padmé's…
"Well, I'm heading out," Siri said gruffly. "My mission cannot be delayed any longer. May the Force be with you all."
Siri met Adriaan's gaze as she turned to go. After a microsecond had passed she swerved her eyes straight ahead as she left the room, walking quickly in the direction of the hangar.
Adriaan smiled at the closed doors. In that one fleeting look, Siri had assured her that her outburst a few minutes ago had been forgiven. Adriaan could not help but feel relieved. She would have just died if she had lost Siri to the rest of the Jedi skeptics who were forever going over her, meditating over her, testing her. She could not face being alone again.
When she came to her senses, she found that Obi-Wan had also left, leaving Padmé and Anakin together. Amidala smiled at her, but Adriaan could tell that they did not want her here. Anakin's face clearly communicated that to her.
For a second, Padmé's gaze happened to glance into the medical room. In that small second, Adriaan acted. She stuck her tongue impudently out at Anakin, and before he could recover, or Padmé turn her head back around, Adriaan had already darted through the doors and was laughing as she flew through the halls.
I'm a kid again, she told herself, but in the next moment she remembered. I am a Jedi.
She slowed down to a leisurely walk, hearing only the sound of her labored breathing and tapping of her own feet upon the cool stone floor.
She closed her eyes, enjoying the peaceful silence. Back in that room, with so many people breathing in the warm stuffy air, she could hardly think. Here in the quiet, alone, but not lonely, she could allow her mind to go out of boundaries, for just a few minutes.
She knew that Anakin wanted to go with Amidala back to Naboo, but why? Naboo wasn't the sort of lowdown, exciting place that she knew Anakin was so fond of. Black marketing, gang fights, and speeder thefts were common on Coruscant and indeed on almost any world, except for Naboo. Something didn't agree with her about their story. Yes, the Seps were in league with the Trade Federation, which meant that they wanted Amidala's head to settle the score with Naboo. But the enemy was probably far too busy licking its own wounds and rebuilding their forces to bother hunting down a determined Senator. Everyone except for Adriaan was too occupied with their own troubles to think the matter through.
Obviously Anakin did not want to part with Padmé yet. If Adriaan knew a person that she liked, of course it would be natural for her to want to hang around him or her. Anakin and Padmé were most likely just old friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time. Yes, that must be why he was accompanying her on the trip back to Naboo. Unless…
Unless they were planning to get married.
NO. That was impossible, even for Anakin. A Jedi may be able to keep a secret about falling in love ––– for there were times when even the most steadfast Master could be tempted away from his goal ––– but could a Jedi hide that he was married? There lifestyles were far too focused on meditations, hard work, traveling to distant worlds, creating a calm center, and tiresome studies that they hardly had a spare moment in a day. The life of a Jedi was so much different from the gaudy speeches and fashions of the outside world that it was next to impossible for a Jedi to become intimate with a citizen. It was beyond imagination. How could she even think of such a thing?
She stopped walking, her gaze traveling up the ceiling as inwardly she struggled to wipe Anakin and Padmé from her mind. It was wrong of her to judge them. After all, her conclusions were most likely influenced by enmity. No. Think of something else.
She thought of other people she knew, to divert her mind from from its dark musings. Normally, she did not allow herself to think of other people she knew, because most of them were dead by now, but she was alone and she needed to give her mind free rein. If she didn't, she would explode.
The first person she thought of was Kan.
Why am I thinking of HIM? Kan had been taken care of, along with Master Yil's Apprentice and the Wicked Club. The Council had reached a decision before they were even halfway to the Core. None of them would be expelled. The would be reprimanded, which was a serious failing for a student, but nothing more. The shock of the battle had been punishment enough. And they were all too young and ignorant of the results of their actions to be punished too severely.
So why was she worried about Kan?
Because Kan was one of those who had lost his Master. Worse, he was the only one who had actually watched his Master fall. And even more terrible still, Adriaan had felt the inconsolable anguish and hatred of Jango Fett, the murderer of Master Xelan, pulsating through the boy's sturdy frame, threatening to break his spirit and twist his ways to that of the Sith. And she knew that Kan was blaming the death of his Master on himself.
Kan, I know how you feel. I was once tempted to turn away. I once knew what it was like to lose a Master. I once knew what it was like to watch my Master die, to waste away into nothingness…
Kan Enik was thirteen, beyond the age of being chosen again. Even the Council seemed at a loss with what to do with him. They should have taken the easy way out and expelled him while they had a chance. But in bestowing upon him an act of mercy, they had in reality inflicted upon the boy a worse torment than they could have devised. He had no one now to look up to, nowhere to go. No one to show him where to go…
Adriaan wondered for the millionth time why she wasn't still an Apprentice. She'd been knighted about two years ago, when she had been only sixteen, yet it seemed that though time seemed to fly past her, changing the world around her, she alone seemed to be untouched. It was an odd feeling, and it made her feel odder still around everyone else.
Perhaps she had endured the trials so early because she had been meant for something, somehow, though no one in the galaxy, including herself, knew what for. She'd been knighted around the time that the Chun-be kid had quit. She put two and two together. Could she be the one destined to bring Darc back to the Order?
Something pinged inside her head at the word. Darc. There was something she'd missed. Something that she had noticed but had never paid that much attention to. Something she should have noticed right away.
The answer made her head pop up. Of course!
Blue eyes, dark hair. Broad shoulders. That was what Darc Chun-be looked like.
And Kan looked exactly the same.
Coincidence, she said to herself. Nothing special about it. Darc was an ugly kid anyway. Don't attach anyone to his looks."No," Another voice inside told her, "you're missing the point. Think back. Think back. Why do you think you were knighted at such a particular time, two years before this. Two years ago when Kan hadn't been chosen. You weren't thinking about taking on an Apprentice then, so soon after the trials were over. But now?"
"But now," Adriaan repeated aloud. "What?"
Then she knew what she had to do. There was only one person who could possibly know.
Adriaan turned on her heel and began to run in the direction of Yoda's quarters.
Kan, hold on. I'm coming.