The Impending Conflict
The massive battlecruiser rose slowly into the atmosphere of Korriban. Qui-Gon was still recuperating from his use of the Force, but he felt much better. They stared at the scene outside the large windows on board the bridge. Korriban moved further and further away till they could no longer see the darkened skies and towering hunks of metal and ruined ships that dotted the landscape. Padmé sat down in a large chair at the center of the bridge. It was gnarled and cut of one black piece of metallic stone with runes and engraving dotting it. Most likely it had been meant for the ancient Dark Lords who commanded the armies of the long dead Sith Empire. It was comfortable, but sitting in the chair only served to remind her of the mass of trouble that awaited them upon their arrival at Alderaan.
"Master?" Qui-Gon stopped meditating and turned to his apprentice. "This might even the odds in our favor when confronting the Federation…but you know as well as I do that one ship cannot break their hold over the system. They almost certain have more ships there now than we made our escape." Qui-Gon Jinn closed his eyes briefly.
"At best our presence there can serve to divert their attention away from our landing on the planet and confronting them on the ground."
"But we still need to let the Republic know of our plight…" Qui-Gon shook his head disapprovingly at Kenobi.
"No. If this Darth Sidious is as connected to the Republic as we seem to think he is, it will do us no good to tell the Republic or the Defense Council." He paused for a moment bits of an idea entering his mind. "But the Jedi Council must be alerted. We'll have to send them an encypted…" Before he could finish, they heard screams from the main deck. They ran up and found Padmé lying on the floor writhing in pain. Obi-Wan knelt by her cradling her in his arms.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"Bail! Bail! NO!" She paused struggling to catch her breath "My borther…Bail! Something's wrong…" Qui-Gon exchanged a worried glance with Kenobi.
"How can you tell? What do you see?" She shouted out.
"I sensed him…I see him…I see a man with horns and fire in his eyes…We have to go there now!" Obi-Wan held her close sending calming impulses from the Force through her till her breathing eased up and she was able to stand. Qui-Gon looked squarely at the pilot standing nearby.
"Prepare the jump into light speed immediately!"
"Yes sir!" The crew began setting their course for Alderaan.
"Obi-Wan make sure the Queen is all right and send an encrypted message with our coordinates to the Council…tell them that we need a fleet and all the Jedi they can spare."
"I am on it master." He escorted Padmé off the bridge as Qui-Gon moved to the main chair. He sat down briefly and tried to mediate. Too much had happened in the last few weeks. First they had stumbled upon an invasion which led to a resurgent Sith Order and a boy who was conceived by the Force. Now the Queen was able to sense things that were occurring lightyears away from them. It didn't seem possible. There was no doubt that deliberately placed cloud of confusion and deceit was obscuring the reality that was staring them in the face. He leaned back against the chair. What could Sidious be after that requires all this planning? Qui-Gon Jinn's eyes opened as a realization dawned on him. He pressed a button on the side of the chair and began drafting his own message to the Jedi Council. Hopefully they would get the message in time before disaster descended upon them all. The venerable master finished sending the message as the entire ship plunged into hyperspace leaving the dead world of Korriban behind them in their wake.
Master Dooku watched as Anakin Skywalker began to reach out with the Force.
"That's it boy…feel the Force flowing through you." A small case began to stirred. Gently at first, the case began to levitate off the floor spinning around in the air.
"You have remarkable control for one who has never been formally trained. Now try two cases at a time." Anakin squinted and reached out with his hands. Now he was balancing two cases off of the floor. They spun around gently in the air as Anakin concentrated with all his might. Dooku let out a small smile. The boy was working at it with all his strength. He did not want to disappoint the Council. That was precisely the problem. The boy was working too hard to impress. He really was a quick study in many respects. Anakin was one of the most honest and humble Force-sensitive individuals they had ever encountered. But there was a flipside to his being born into slavery—there was an overwhelming desire for him to please those around him…and to avoid punishment. That concerned Dooku and the Council—it could be an opening to fear, anger, and the Dark Side of the Force. The older Jedi rubbed the back of his head as he observed Anakin continue to concentrate. The tensions inherent in the boy's makeup would have to be dealt with sooner or later. Otherwise, they could risk taking him down a path than no one wanted to ponder.
Nevertheless, Dooku agreed with his former student. With adequate training, Anakin Skywalker could overcome the instilled behaviors of a slave and conquer his fears and self-doubts. Over time, the boy would learn to control his feelings to draw upon his natural honesty and desire to give to others in order to channel the Force as a gift and not as a way to please those who might not have had the boy's best interests at heart. They would have to tread carefully. With the return of the Sith Lords to the galaxy, Dooku was worried about the boy's future. For all of his natural gifts, and innate willingness to serve others, Anakin was quite impressionable.
"That is enough for today Anakin." The boy gently lowered the cases to the ground, took in a deep breath, exhaled, and then opened his eyes. He smiled gingerly, quite pleased with his efforts. Dooku heard a beep on his comm link wrapped around his wrist. "Dooku reporting, what is it?" Mace Windu's voice came over the speaker.
"We've received a priority message from Qui-Gon Jinn. Come up to the war room immediately."
"Will do." He pressed the button terminating the communication and looked squarely at Anakin's face. He was clearly worried for the fate of Qui-Gon. A clear connection had developed between the two already. Dooku was certain that they would make an excellent pair when the time was right. "I am sure Master Qui-Gon is fine." He paused. "Go find Master Billaba. She should be with her apprentice...Caleb. They should be studying in the Jedi Archives." Anakin said nothing to Dooku and bowed as he stepped out. Dooku quickly made his way to the war room where he found Windu along with Ki-Adi-Mundi and Plo-Kun gazing at a hologram of Yoda. The diminutive green Grand Master of the Order warmly greeted his former apprentice.
"Dooku, too long has it been since seen each other we have." The bearded Jedi smiled as he bowed to Yoda's image.
"How goes the delegation to Kashyyyk?"
"My work here finished it is. Soon home will I be. Disturbing news from Master Jinn have I heard."
"What of this encrypted message we received?" Mace Windu turned to him and pressed a few buttons on the hololink.
"We actually received two messages. One from Obi-Wan Kenobi giving us the coordinates of their vessel and apprising us of their travels to Korriban. They request that we send a fleet and as many Jedi as we can spare."
"What was the other message? Who sent it?" Yoda interrupted Windu to answer.
"From Master Qui-Gon that one was…if true then the Jedi swiftly must move to engage the Dark Lords." Dooku saw the message in front of him. His eyes opened wide as the news sunk in.
"The Queen had a Force-vision…Senator Organa may be in danger…" Then he paused barely mouthing the last line. "Darth Sidious is on Alderaan…" Without saying another word, Dooku put his hood over his head and ran out of the room.
"Dooku you must not go. Patience…"
"Master Yoda…I volunteer to lead the fleet to Alderaan. Do not detain me. My former apprentice's life hangs in the balance."
"Stubborn you were and stubborn you remain my old padawan. Go then." Dooku ran out and started barking out orders to fleet squadrons and command groups as he ran down the stairs. Mace Windu waited for a few moments before Yoda's image turned and faced him. "Master Windu…"
"Accompany Dooku you must…" Mace nodded his head as he ran out following the older master.
"Ah, Senator Organa we meet at last." The voice of Darth Sidious echoed through the Alderaani throne room that was the central point of Theed Palace. Sidious' face was hooded and he wore a thin purple breathing mask complete with a blue-toned visor to cover his face from any prying eyes. The mask was not only meant to conceal his true identity. It was also Sidious's desire to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. The Dark Lord smiled beneath the mask. He had modeled it on Darth Malgus' breathing mask and it had a terrifying effect on most people who saw it. Maul accompanied Bail Organa up the stairs towards his father's throne which was now occupied by the Dark Lord. Maul threw him down on the ground hard.
"The Republic and the Jedi Council will not sit still for this. They are coming here with a massive fleet and when they do you are going to wish you had never been born." Sidious' voice sounded labored through the breathing mask and much more menacing than it actually was. He let out a hideous cackle. He sounded raspy and harsh as he spoke to Organa.
"Bail, do you take me for a fool? Your sister pled her case before the Senate but I used my bargaining skills to greater effect. That fleet won't be here for another two weeks. Your sister and her Jedi Protectors are walking into a trap." The realization of why they hadn't killed him came over Organa as he struggled to stand up.
"You're using me as bait."
"So the mighty House of Organa does have some intelligence behind it? Did you really think I would trust the Viceroy of the Trade Federation with so delicate a task as this without having something planned in reserve?" Bail looked away.
"My sister will die before she gives into any of your demands Sidious."
"That's exactly what I want her do Senator…I want you both dead. Your blood will water the seeds of the new Sith Empire. I will use Alderaan as a stepping point to wage war against your pathetic Republic. By the time the Jedi realize what is going on, I will have an army far greater than yours at the entrance of the Senate and Jedi Temple."
"That will never happen. The Federation doesn't have enough firepower to do that. Their droid armies aren't enough to fight the Republic…"
"Who said anything about using droids Bail? The science of genetic manipulation can permit for so many more superior forms of combat than simply metal and brute force…" Organa shuddered in disgust. "As much as I have enjoyed speaking with you, I have other business to attend to before your friends arrive." He looked at Darth Maul and nodded his head. "Take him away and prepare yourself my young apprentice. I sense they will be arriving sooner than we think." Maul smiled with great satisfaction in his voice.
"At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge."
"What's the plan Master Jedi?" Qui-Gon turned around facing Obi-Wan, Padmé, and the rest of her guards and the Republican troops they had brought with them.
"Half of us will stay up here and fight the Federation. This is a powerful vessel, but we are only one ship. That's not enough to break the Federation's hold over your planet. We must create a convincing diversion. But I can make no guarantees for your safety once we are down on Alderaan." One of the men shouted.
"We'll be sure to take a few them down with us, we can promise you that." Some of the troopers laughed with bravura and hearty agreement. It made Qui-Gon smile.
"The rest of us will go down with the Queen in the main ship with a strike team to take back Theed Palace and confront Darth Maul." Everyone dispersed shortly after Qui-Gon finished speaking. Padmé went to speak with some of her own guards. Obi-Wan Kenobi remained behind.
"You sensed something on the bridge a few hours ago. What's wrong?"
"I believe that Darth Sidious is also in Theed Palace. They are waiting for us.""If the Queen's vision was correct…"
"…They will use her brother against her. Of that I am certain." The two Jedi said nothing to each other. They contemplated their fates and the seemingly innocuous events that had put them in the current situation.
"Why would Sidious risk exposing his identity? It doesn't make sense." Qui-Gon Jinn stroked his beard gently almost as if he hadn't heard the question.
"He wants vengeance. This has become personal for him. Enough to make him throw all his pretenses and carefully laid plans to the wind."
"I don't like it. I have a bad feeling about this master."
"You aren't the only one Obi-Wan. I fear that many lives will be lost in the next few hours." He paused.
"Don't talk like that."
"You know it is true my young padawan." Kenobi looked away trying to drive the thought from his head. Qui-Gon grabbed the younger man by his arm forcefully. His apprentice turned around facing him. "Whatever happens down on Alderaan you must protect the Queen at all costs."
"I see how the two of you look at each other. But you must clear your mind of all distractions…love is not meant to coexist with war Obi-Wan. Never forget that." Obi-Wan didn't know what to say as his master continued. "Protect the Queen…that is your goal. If I can sense your feelings about Padmé, the Sith Lords will sense it too…they will use any sign of weakness to their advantage. Don't underestimate their powers..." There was a gnawing almost anxious pleading on the part of his master. He had never seen him act this way before. It unnerved the younger Jedi, but his discomfort only made him listen to his master all the more. "We will need all of our strength and prowess to face these two warriors. There is something else at work here which we don't fully comprehend yet…but it will be clear soon enough my friend…soon all will be out in the open…" He had called him a friend. Not a padawan, not an apprentice. Kenobi was a friend. He had known that was true all along. But hearing it at this desperate time was just the reassurance the young Jedi needed before plunging into a battle that was almost certainly going to be a suicide mission.
Padmé Amidala finished talking and approached the two Jedi. Qui-Gon Jinn bowed and excused himself leaving the two alone with each other.
"The plan's not going to work is it?"
"We'll need a miracle of the Force to pull it off that's for sure." They both stared out into empty space as the ship slowly began to pull out of hyperspace. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the outlines of Alderaan in the distance of space.
Nute Gunray stood on the bridge of the main Trade Federation ship and was shocked by what his scanners were picking up.
"What is that?"
"Sir, we don't know. Whatever it is, it's massive."
"Lord Sidious promised me that the Republic wouldn't arrive until it was too late. It appears he was mistaken." He slammed his fist down hard and barked at his men. "Patch me into Sidious immediately."
"What is it Viceroy?"
"How is it that the Republic sent a warship here? You said you would delay them!"
"A warship…that's not right." Gunray pushed down a small button on the console in front of him transmitting the data down to Theed Palace. "By the Force, that looks like a Centurion-class battlecruiser. That's impossible the only place where those exist are…" The transmission appeared to cut-off as Darth Sidious realized where the vessel had to have come from. The Jedi are smarter than I thought. "Wipe them out, all of them. It's only one ship. The Jedi are trying to fool you Gunray. Do not fail me!" The transmission cut off leaving Gunray concerned.
"You heard what he said. Attack them with everything we've got!"
"They are beginning to fire on us Master Jinn, what are you orders?" Qui-Gon stared from the bridge at the incoming fire.
"Accelerate to attack speed and engage them at point-blank range. Ram their hulls with ours if you have to.""Sir?" The pilot asked him in disbelief.
"Do it now captain!" No more words passed as the ship's speed increased. The turrets on the vessel began to fire repeatedly as they moved closer to the flagship. Qui-Gon Jinn turned to face the Queen and Obi-Wan. "Hang on tight! This is going to be a bumpy ride."
Gunray's nerves felt frayed. He saw the large battlecruiser moving closer and closer to the perimeter of the Federation's blockade. "Fire! What are you waiting for! Fire!" The spherical Federation ships began to pummel the incoming cruiser with fire but to no avail. It was moving faster than the ships could attack.
Suddenly missiles rocked Gunray's ship. In his view screen he saw one of his main frigates burst into flames with another one severely damaged.
"Sir we are taking heavy fire. That ship is too strong!"
"It's working Qui-Gon!" Padmé exclaimed as she saw the damaged being sustained by the Federation fleet.
"Don't celebrate just yet." He turned to face a group of heavily armed Republican soldiers. "Gold squadron you are coming with the Queen, we're heading down now!" The assembled troops ran down to the docking bay. "Time for us to go your majesty…"
Gunray caught a glimpse of a smaller frigate leave the larger cruiser and speedily head down to the planet's surface. He cursed his luck. No sooner had he seen that that another more ominous sight entered the view screen as several hundred heavily armed Republican battlecruisers entered the fray.
"We have enemy ships in sectors 5 and 7." He desperately ran to the console and pressed the button down hard. Whatever Sidious's carefully laid plans had been they were clearly in shambles and Nute Gunray needed to save some shred of his dignity from the jaws of defeat.
"Order a retreat!"
"Order a retreat now! We cannot face the full-brunt of the Republican forces. Order a retreat now before they destroy the rest of our vessels." Suddenly, the Neimoidian felt a familiar presence standing behind him.
"You will do no such thing Viceroy…"
"Lord Sidious, how did you get on board?"
"You will fulfill your end of the bargain regardless of your losses. Are we clear on this Gunray?" The Neimodian backed away.
"A transport landed near Theed?"
"You must ensure that no more transports arrive on the surface."
"My Lord my fleet cannot sustain this engagement with those ships…"
"Then I guess you are going to have to hold out for as long as possible. Be creative Gunray, I only need time to finish what I've started nothing more nothing less…" Sidious moved off of the bridge as Gunray paced around nervously. He shrugged his shoulders. Gunray knew that he faced impossible odds. But a new sense of commitment emerged in him.
"Ignore the previous order. Engage the Republican fleet!"
The main Republican flagship, aptly named the Liberator, directed the initial firefight between both forces. Dooku stood at the bridge watching the fight progress. Windu came up to him.
"They made it down on the planet's surface."
"We need to join them quickly Mace. That strike team cannot deal with two Sith Lords and a droid army on its own."
"Are you sure that's wise Dooku?"
"Not really, but there isn't much good we can do here. The Federation knows it's outgunned. They are stalling…" Dooku looked out at the planet of Alderaan. He attempted to reach out with the Force, his eyes slightly closed. "Sidious was aboard that ship a few minutes ago."
"Is he still there?"
"No…he's heading back to Alderaan."
"I'll prep the ship for takeoff." Dooku nodded his head as Windu ran off. What game are you playing Sidious…The realization hit him swiftly like a Huttese dagger aimed for his chest. You want vengeance on my apprentice… Dooku opened his eyes and moved to the lower decks. Regardless of how reckless his actions would seem, Dooku had to go and try his best to help Qui-Gon in the brutal fight that was to come.