Romulus finally arrived at the galaxy’s bustling capital. Thanks to the ARC-170 that he flew, the planet’s security controller did not demand any identification. In fact, the young Jedi Knight managed to guide the starfighter toward the Jedi Temple with no problems. Only . . . the temple that he had remembered no longer existed.
Heavy rainfall nearly shielded the smoke that billowed from the temple’s center tower. A closer look revealed that three of the Temple’s surrounding towers no longer stood. His heart filled with anxiety, Romulus disregarded any thoughts of caution and landed the fighter on the nearest landing pad.
The Jedi Knight climbed out of the vehicle and immediately raced inside the temple’s hangar. When he finally reached the main building, he found three bodies clad in the uniform of a clone trooper. He raced along the main corridor and did not find a soul, let alone a body around. Although there seemed to be no signs of corpses, Romulus could detect the odor of dead flesh in the air. Whatever bodies there had been, someone had them removed. For which Romulus felt eternally grateful. Facing the ruined temple had been bad enough. His mind reeled at the idea of being confronted with bodies of his fellow Jedi.
Romulus continued to march along the temple’s desolate corridor. He meant to reach a room where he could learn the whereabouts of all the knights. Perhaps he could rendezvous with one or more of them. Find a way to fight back and finally oust Palpatine from office.
“Hold it right there!” a voice barked. Romulus whirled around and saw a squad of clone troopers aiming blasters at him. The squad’s leader cried out, “He’s Jedi! Fire!” And the troopers attacked.
Fortunately for Romulus, his Jedi reflexes allowed him to fight off the attack with his lightsaber. Despite the troopers’ continuing fire, Romulus managed to deflect their blasts and kill them in the end. After the last clone trooper fell dead, Romulus continued along the corridor. He had reached the temple’s records room when two more clone squads appeared.
Once again, the Jedi found himself deflecting blaster fire. He had the oddest feeling that someone had been expecting him. The Jedi Knight tried to fight off the troopers as best as he could. Deflecting their shots, he managed to kill a good number of them. But despite his Jedi reflexes, he found himself growing increasingly exhausted. He deflected one last shot before a sharp pain struck his left shoulder. This is it, he told himself, before he finally slipped into oblivion.
Inside the Tantive IV’s conference room, Bail met with his two Jedi guests to discuss an important issue – namely what to do with Padme Amidala and her newborn twins.
“Arrange her death we must,” Master Yoda pronounced. “To make sure the Sith does not find her. Or the children.”
Bail felt slightly uneasy that the Jedi Master would make such a decision without considering Padme’s consent. Before he could protest, Master Kenobi asked, “Arrange her death? Do you mean . . .?”
Master Yoda nodded. “Yes. Fake her death. Pregnant, she must still appear. Hidden, safe, the children must be kept.”
“We must take them somewhere the Sith will not sense their presence,” Obi-Wan added.
The older Jedi Knight countered, “Split up, they should be.”
Finally, Bail decided to speak up. “Surely, you plan to discuss this matter with Senator Amidala before you set all of this in motion?”
“I believe that would be an excellent idea,” a light, female’s voice added. The three males glanced at the figure standing in the doorway. A very pale Padme, supported by her protocol droid, slowly made her way into the conference room. All three men stood up, while Bail helped the droid escort her to an empty seat. “Gentlemen.”
Both Masters Yoda and Kenobi bowed at the senator. “Milady,” they murmured simultaneously.
Slowly, Padme sat down in an empty seat and regarded the two Jedi Knights with chilly eyes. “Exactly when were you planning to inform me of your plans regarding my children, Master Yoda?”
The diminutive Jedi Master bowed again. “Senator Amidala, feel how do you?”
“I am well as I can be, Master Yoda.” Padme inhaled sharply. “Considering I have recently given birth to twins. Speaking of my children, what were you planning to do with them?”
An uncomfortable silence filled the starcruiser’s conference room. As much as Bail felt sorry for Masters Yoda and Kenobi, he could not help but feel a small twinge of satisfaction at their discomfort. They had brought it upon themselves by assuming authority over his colleague’s children.
Kenobi said, “Please Padme, you must understand. We are only thinking of your safety. And the children’s safety. One day, they might be able to defeat the Emperor.”
“Strong the Force runs in the Skywalker line,” Master Yoda added. “Until the time is right, disappear they must.”
Padme’s eyes hardened. “Is that all my children mean to you? A tool to defeat Palpatine? What makes you think I will allow them to become Jedi?”
Kenobi sighed. “Padme . . .”
“Allow me to make something clear,” Padme said, interrupting the Jedi Knight. “I . . . will decide my children’s future. And until they assume the age of consent, they will stay with me. I will not split them up.”
Anxiety flashed in Master Kenobi’s eyes. “Padme, you cannot be serious! You simply cannot take your children back to Naboo. It will not be long before the Emperor finds them!”
“I will not return to Naboo.”
Again, silence enveloped the room. The two men and Yoda frowned at the Nabooan senator. “But . . . we are bound for Naboo at this moment,” Bail said. “In fact, we should arrive within a day.”
Padme sighed. “Then I suggest that we adopt Master Yoda’s idea . . . fake my death. However, my parents must know the truth.” Kenobi opened his mouth to protest, but she continued. “I need them to help me acquire all of my personal assets, Obi-Wan. I will need those assets to maintain a comfortable life for my children and myself.”
Bail asked, “And after that? After the funeral?”
Padme hesitated. “I don’t know. Find a new home for us. I might consider asking Ani . . . Anakin’s family on Tatooine to allow us to stay for a while. At least until I can find a new home.”
“Why don’t you stay with us?” With a jolt, Bail realized that he had spoken. Yet, the more he considered his suggestion, the more he agreed to the idea. He felt certain that his wife, Queen Breha of Alderaan, would not mind the company. Padme could pose as a distant Organa kinsman.
Everyone else in the room stared at Bail. Both Yoda and Kenobi looked skeptical. Padme, on the other hand, seemed conflicted by the idea. “Bail, I don’t . . . I don’t know what to say. I would love to accept your offer, but Alderaan isn’t exactly located in the far reaches of the galaxy. If the Emperor happens to sense the twins . . .”
“It will not matter,” Bail replied. “Trust me. I am sure that Master Yoda can attest to the fact that being inclined toward pacifism, many Alderaan citizens were reluctant to hand over their Force-sensitive children over to the Jedi Order. They did not approve of the martial arts. Which means that a good number of our citizens are Force-sensitive.”
Padme blinked. “Oh. Then . . .” A bright smile – the first he had seen in a very long time – illuminated her otherwise pale and drawn face. “Then I accept your offer. Thank you, Bail.”
Skepticism remained stamped on the two Jedi Knights’ faces. Kenobi opened his mouth to speak, but Padme added, “Would you all please excuse me? I need to see to the children. And I need more rest.” She turned to the protocol droid. “Threepio?”
“Yes, Miss Padme.” The droid rushed over to help his mistress stand up. The men also stood. Bail summoned Raynor to help the droid escort her back to her cabin.
The Alderaanian senator realized that he need to make arrangements for their arrival on Naboo – and for the deception they were all about to perpetrate. He excused himself and started toward the door. As he paused in the doorway, he glanced over his shoulder and saw that the two Jedi Masters were already deep in conversation.
“. . . any way to change Padme’s mind?” Obi-Wan was saying to Yoda. “Surely she must realize that keeping the twins together might be dangerous.”
Yoda closed his eyes and sighed. “Clouded by her emotions, the senator is. Trust us, she no longer does.”
Obi-Wan glanced away. “Speaking of which, I have yet to tell her about Anakin.” He paused. “And I have not decided whether I should or not. What do you think, Master Yoda?”
“Find him, she will not,” Yoda proclaimed. “Not without great risk to her children.” He gave the younger Jedi Master a surreptious glance. “As for your decision to search for him . . .”
With a slight cough, Obi-Wan declared, “My decision has remained firm on this matter, Master Yoda. I must be certain that he has not returned to Lord Sidious.”
Yoda nodded. “And your plans, if you do not find him?”
Obi-Wan searched his mind for an answer. “Find a permanent home. Since I am headed for Tatooine, it seems like a good place to stay.”
The other Jedi Master leaned back into his chair. “In that case, in your solitude on Tatooine, training I have for you.”
Leaning forward, Obi-Wan said, “Training?”
“An old friend has learned the path to immortality.”
The Jedi Master’s eyes grew opaque. “One who has returned from the netherworld of the Force to train me.” He paused dramatically. “Your old Master, Qui-Gon Jinn.”
The news took Obi-Wan by surprise. His heart nearly leapt at the mention of his former master. “Qui-Gon? But how could he accomplish this?”
Yoda leaned forward. “The secret of the Ancient Order of the Whills, he studied. How to commune with him, I will teach you.”
Obi-Wan shook his head in confusion. “I will be able to talk to him?”
Nodding, Yoda replied, “How to join the Force, he will train you. Your consciousness you will retain, when one with the Force.” His small eyes glittered with promise, as he added on a final note, “Even your physical self, perhaps.”
Accompanied by his aide, Sly Moore, Emperor Palpatine slowly walked along the wide corridor of the new Imperial Security Bureau. The pair finally came upon a pair of double door that led to the Bureau’s rehabilitation facility. Two members of the Red Guard, now renamed the Imperial Guard, flanked the doors.
“Stay here,” Palpatine barked at his aide. Sly Moore nodded and remained outside, while the Sith Lord entered the facility. Inside, he found his new prisoner laid across a gurney that also served as a bed. Metal clamps stretched across the prisoner’s chest, while other clamps imprisoned his arms and legs. Palpatine nodded at the FX-9 medical droid. “Wake him.”
The droid glided over to the gurney and inserted a drug-filled injector into the prisoner’s left arm. Nearly a minute passed before the prisoner’s eyes flickered open. Palpatine pressed a button, allowing the gurney to rotate into a vertical position. The prisoner glanced around and groggily asked, “Where am I?”
“You are inside the Imperial Security Bureau,” the Emperor replied. “Here on Coruscant, of course.” He continued in a polite voice, “May I ask what where you doing at the Jedi Temple? Hoping to meet a few of your conspirators, perhaps?”
The prisoner frowned. “Conspirators? You dare question . . .” He paused. “The clone troopers on Dallik had mutinied against me and my master. And when I had arrived here . . . I was attacked. By other clones.”
Smoothly, Palpatine replied, “Naturally. You are Jedi. What did you expect? Your masters had committed treason against the state. Both Masters Windu and Yoda had attempted to assassinate me . . . due to a plan by the Jedi Council to take over the Senate.”
“You’re lying!” the prisoner exclaimed. A piece of equipment zoomed across the room, narrowly missing the Sith Lord’s head by inches. “The Jedi would never have made any assassination attempts. That is not our way. If they . . . if they had tried to kill you . . . they must have had a good reason. Many of us knew of your connection to a Sith Lord named Sidious.”
The news startled Palpatine slightly. He had been aware of the Jedi Council’s suspicions and the evidence they had discovered. But he never realized that the Jedi rank-and-file also knew. “From whom did you learn this?” When the prisoner failed to answer, Palpatine smiled. “Ah, of course. I should have known that Jedi Master Wo-Chen Puri must have said something to you. I understand that he had been a friend of Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, who was a member of the Council.”
A startled expression flitted across the prisoner’s face. “You . . . you know who I am?”
Palpatine’s smile widened. Like a reptile that had ensnared his prey. “Of course. Jedi Knight Romulus Wort. You were considered one of the Order’s most promising initiates of your generation. Along with Ferus Olin and Anakin Skywalker . . . also known as the Chosen One.” He inhaled slightly to mask his own frustration and anger at his former apprentice’s defection.
“If you’re asking me for their whereabout, I don’t know,” Wort spat out. “Ferus had left the Order before he could be knighted. Before the war. As for Skywalker . . . I assume you had him killed.”
His voice dripping with false modesty, Palpatine countered, “Now why would I do that? Master Skywalker had been a great help to putting down the Jedi rebellion.” Savoring Wort’s surprised reaction, he added, “Did you know that he had saved me from Mace Windu, when the latter tried to kill me? He even ended the war by destroying the Separatist leadership on my orders.” He paused. “And helped end the Jedi Order’s rule once and for all.”
Palpatine could practically feel the Jedi Knight’s consternation rising. In fact, he savored every moment of it.
“What are you saying?” Wort demanded. “For all his faults, Anakin Skywalker would never betray the Order. He has always been a loyal knight.”
A heavy sigh left Palpatine’s mouth. “Really?” Using a remote, the Sith Lord activated a holoprojector situated not far from the gurney. A holographic image of the late Mace Windu wielding a lightsaber, a fallen Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker appeared before the pair. With concealed glee, Sidious watched the Jedi Knight stare at the unfolding scene:
A holographic Palpatine gasped, “I can’t . . . I give up. Help me. I am weak . . . I am too weak. Don’t kill me. I give up. I’m dying. I can’t hold on any longer.”
Windu growled, “You Sith disease! I am going to end this once and for all!”
“You can’t kill him, Master!” the holographic Skywalker begged. “He must stand trial.”
“He has too much control of the Senate and the Courts!” Windu retorted. “He is too dangerous to be kept alive!”
Palpatine watched his holographic self beg once more for Skywalker’s help. And as he had recalled, the latter demanded restraint on the Jedi Master’s part. He then watched as the holographic Windu raised his lightsaber for the death blow.
Skywalker demanded, “He must live . . .”
“Please don’t,” the holographic Palpatine begged.
Skywalker added, “I need him . . .”
“Please don’t . .”
Then Palpatine’s missing apprentice cried out, as he stepped forward to chop off Windu’s sword hand. Palpatine had to refrain from chuckling aloud at the moment. He then reveled at the sight of his holographic self blasting the Jedi Master with Force lightning.
Gasps escaped from Romulus Wort’s mouth. The Sith Lord could feel the young man’s anger growing stronger.
Then the holographic Skywalker bemoaned, “What have I done? After the Palpatine hologram reminded the Chosen One of destiny being fulfilled, the latter pledged, “I will do whatever you ask.”
“Good,” the holographic Palpatine said.
“Just help me save Padme’s life. I can’t live without her. I won’t let her die. I want the power to stop death.” While the holoprojecter displayed Skywalker pledging his life to the Sith, Palpatine switched it off.
“This . . . this isn’t true!” a horrified Wort exclaimed. “Anakin would never be . . .” He turned accusing eyes upon the Emperor. “You’re the Sith Lord! You deserved to die at Master Windu’s hands! Anakin would never betray the Order!”
“Are you so certain, my young Jedi? Then I suggest that you continue to watch.” Again, Palpatine switched on the holoprojector.
A holographic image of Skywalker as Darth Vader surveyed the carnage inside the Jedi Temple. Palpatine could not help but admire his former apprentice’s handiwork. Then his holographic counterpoint appeared.
“The traitors have been taken care of, Lord Sidious,” Vader declared.
Nodding, the holographic Palpatine murmured, “Good . . . good. You have done well, my new apprentice. Do you feel your power growing?”
“Yes, my Master.”
“Now, Lord Vader,” the other Sidious added, “now go and bring peace to . . .”
“NOOOOO!!!” The cry escaped from Wort’s mouth, as medical equipment zipped back and forth, across the room. Droids crushed into pieces of metal without any effort. The Jedi Knight’s restraints snapped free. Using the Force, Palpatine detached a needle from one remaining medical droid and inserted its tip into Wort’s neck. Seconds later, the Jedi Knight slumped to the floor, unconscious.
The Sith Lord heaved a sigh of relief. He had no idea that Romulus Wort would prove to be so powerful. True, he may never match Vader’s raw strength, but he came pretty close. Developing this young man into a Sith apprentice might just make up for the loss of Vader.
Satisfied with his work for the afternoon, Palpatine left the room. He found Sly Moore, as he had left her, standing in the corridor. Only, she now held a data pad in her hands. “This is for you, Your Highness,” she said in a solemn voice. “It is news from Naboo.”
END OF CHAPTER THREE