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Hello, everyone! This chapter: Dooku is curious, Obi-Wan has a vision, and Sidious is evil. No warnings this time around, and sorry to disappoint you… the clincher is not also a cliffhanger. Ah well. We can’t always be having cliffies, now can we?

[10/27/2013: Edits to fix errors.]

[11/2/2013: Changed tagging to reflect current story status; aka, completed.]

Chapter VI

                Dooku eyed the young man who lay in the other seat of the speeder in a limp heap, due to the effects of the slave chip. The Sith waved a hand over the chip, deactivating it. Only a Dark Sider could deactivate the chip; Kenobi could not do it himself unless he used the Dark Side.

Which, despite all that had happened to him, the young man was still reluctant to try.

Strange, stormy eyes opened, several colors swirling and mixing, as the boy looked up in some confusion. Dooku did not miss the hard, sharp look that was flung at him. “Lie still and don’t try to struggle. The paralysis will wear off with time.” Kenobi gave an inarticulate groan, which Dooku ignored. He continued on his way.

Much sooner than he expected, Kenobi cleared his throat and said in a somewhat hoarse voice, “Where are you going?”

“Since you have seen fit to interrupt my business, boy, you will have to accompany me upon it,” Dooku said. “Sidious won’t miss you, don’t worry. Your chip is deactivated, which you could never do for yourself. The transmitter will be clear enough to tell Sidious that you must be with another one of us.” Dooku raised an eyebrow at the young captive. “You show a distinct lack of manners in trying to escape before our chess game, boy.”

The colors steadied and stilled, settling on a deep, uniform, steely gray. “If I see a chance to escape, I’ll take it.”

“Fool,” Dooku remarked. “You would never get beyond the palace walls. As I’m sure you’ve found out,” the Sith finished. The lad took up a stance of passive defiance, after trying to raise himself without success, letting out a hiss of pain in the process.

“I am not averse to a chess game,” Kenobi remarked. “However, I could find better company.”

“With less intelligence,” Dooku said. Kenobi perked a slight smile.

“It may be preferable, at times.”

“And at the same time, dealing with your inferiors becomes tiresome after a while.”

“I wonder why I’m even listening to you now, then.” Kenobi said dismissively. Dooku gave a deep chuckle.

“You’re not truly arrogant, so what are you?” he said, almost curiously. The young man’s eyes flashed a brilliant, dazzling blue before closing off, shutting down to almost-black.

“A riddle.” he replied with complete and serious honesty.

“Indeed,” Dooku replied. Kenobi shifted slightly in the other seat. Dooku spared him a swift glance. It was impossible to tell what the boy was thinking right now, at this moment. Dooku gave the young man a quick appraisal. Kenobi’s stance spoke of weariness, nothing else… except for the slight arch in his back, which gave the impression of passive defiance. By the time they had arrived at their destination, Kenobi had recovered somewhat. His outfit included a short midnight-blue cloak with a hood and a scarf; the slave pulled up the hood and covered his face with the scarf. Without a word, he followed Dooku into the office of the businessman.

Obi-Wan was privately amused by Dooku’s reaction—or apparent lack thereof—to his appearance. Evidently Dooku had his own reasons for wanting to keep Obi-Wan close by, though it was anyone’s guess what those reasons were. Obi-Wan was almost grateful for the scarf covering his face. It added nothing to his previously-existing defenses and carefully-controlled expressions, but at least he felt more sheltered, as if Dooku’s gaze was not burning his skin at every moment.

“Your display with Maul last night was impressive.” Dooku said. Obi-Wan fought the inward shiver that ran up his back, making sure that his shields were still in place, and made no comment. “I would almost say that you had been trained to use a lightsaber.” Obi-Wan met Dooku’s gaze icily.

“I’ve had more than enough chances to observe your acolytes in training,” he said. Dooku lifted an eyebrow.

“And yet, it’s almost as if you have a natural gift for swordplay,” Dooku mused. Obi-Wan silently bowed. “You fight using our motions, but not inspired by the same motivations. Your style is devastating, yet… restrained.” Dooku led him forward through an all-but-empty lobby to a lift. “Curious, is it not. I wonder what you could do, fully trained… and without those petty scruples that you call ideals.” Obi-Wan’s eyes sparked as he stared defiantly at the Sith. Dooku looked back at him. “If you did not hesitate, you would be unstoppable. And yet, you still fight against it. You are a curious man, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“I fear I’m beyond your comprehension,” Obi-Wan retorted, sotto voce.

“Perhaps, my young friend, you have simply placed yourself… beyond my reach?” Dooku studied the adamant eyes. “I will admit, your natural shields are the most impressive I have ever seen. And you have proven yourself capable of strong deceptions. You are clearly firmly within the light, but your presence is shrouded behind a cloak of gray. Curious—very curious.” Obi-Wan stared levelly at the Sith, disdaining to answer. The lift arrived at the top floor.

After an hour of having to listen to debate and business parlance, Obi-Wan was thoroughly ready to depart. He was, however, concerned by the object of said debate. Something was definitely up. He felt cold inside as the Dark Side suddenly pulsed around him.

Master, I have a bad feeling about this.

                I don’t sense anything.

                It’s not about the mission, Master, it’s something… elsewhere… elusive…

Obi-Wan blinked. Where had that come from? Was it in the future? No, that wasn’t quite right… Obi-Wan choked back a gasp at the other possibility.

An alternate reality. A might-have-been.

A might-have-been which was lighter and at the same time darker… Lighter, in that the Sith did not rule the galaxy.

Darker, in that the other-him and other-Jedi did not know that Palpatine was Sidious, was the enemy…

It was Sidious that the other-self had sensed!

Suddenly, there was a burst, an explosion of life in the Force. And yet, it was shrouded by darkness… A thousand doubles of one person… but how was that possible? What was it? What…?

A world in a rainstorm. The name ‘Kamino’ burst upon his mind unbidden. A meeting with… someone… walking through white, sterile, too-bright halls… meeting another man… Jango…

                An army in action, all wearing the same gear and equipment, each soldier physically identical to every other soldier…

                “Come on Cody!” his other-self shouting at a man in armor… armor that was vaguely familiar…

                Death.

                The soldiers had turned on his other-self. The Force screamed with a rift of bereavement as friends… names he did not even know… were torn away. Pain ripped through Obi-Wan, sending him to the ground in a welter of agony. Shrieks of pain, howls of death… The Force was suddenly a void, cold and dark and unwelcoming. The Dark Side had risen. The Sith had won.

                He walked into a building, strangely familiar. It felt like home more than any place he had ever been before. It was home, something whispered to him. Bodies. The floor was littered with them.

                “Who could have done this, Master Yoda?”

Obi-Wan came awake with a gasp, feeling as if an iron band was restricting his chest. He couldn’t breathe properly, and he felt as if sharp claws had locked into his flesh, ripping at his stomach and throat. Anguish poured through him as he struggled for breath, choking, drowning in the cold whirlwind that the Force was at the moment. He couldn’t move, and he was being battered away…

Someone grabbed him and pulled him back, away from the icy, howling void, back into the material world. Obi-Wan gasped, panting, his whole body still wrapped in cold. Light. Gray light. Colorless, but still… visible light. Slowly, color returned, and the world didn’t look quite so washed-out. “I thought you were lost for a moment, there,” Dooku’s voice remarked nonchalantly. Obi-Wan made a move to get to his feet. They were in the lift car again, and Dooku had—apparently—hit the emergency stop button. Dooku pushed Obi-Wan back down, then pressed the ‘resume’ button.

“I’m a’right,” Obi-Wan argued, his voice coming out more like a croak. Dooku gave him an extra push, just to make sure.

“Lie still. I’ve never seen a reaction quite that bad,” Dooku said with a warning tone in his voice. Obi-Wan glared up at him. “The Unifying Force is none too considerate of its fragile vessels,” Dooku observed. Obi-Wan groaned. His head pounded as if it had been slammed into a wall, repeatedly. Pain. It washed over him in another excruciating wave. He focused on just breathing for a moment, then stood up. The pain receded, though he staggered against the wall, falling clumsily against Dooku as a dizzy shower of sparks turned the world gray. He took a deep breath and it washed away. “What did you see?” Dooku asked, finally giving into curiosity. Obi-Wan rounded on him like a cat that has been provoked.

“That does not concern either you or me!” he snarled, then turned on his heel and exited the lift, which had by this time arrived at the ground floor. Dooku raised an eyebrow as he followed.

Apparently, the young slave did have his limits, after all.

The trip back to the palace was made in complete silence, though Dooku could sense tightly controlled indignation seething and bubbling just below the surface. Upon alighting, Obi-Wan left the speeder without a word of thanks, returning in angry silence to his own room, where he dropped on the bed. His stomach was still churning, and his head throbbed. He gave a low groan and fell onto the bed, closing his eyes in an attempt to quell the burning behind them. He slipped into meditation, allowing the restless emotions to disperse. The vision was unclear, uncertain, though horrifying in its implications. He needed to think, but more than that, he needed to clear his mind. Obi-Wan groaned. He was supposed to serve lunch to Sidious and some of the Sith’s associates, and it was the last thing he wanted to do at the moment. With another groan, Obi-Wan regained his feet and went to get the food from the kitchen.

“Taris has risen again, my lord,” one of the dignitaries commented. Obi-Wan fought down a yawn. Intelligence that he already knew. He glanced across swiftly at Sly Moore and saw her blank gaze looking off into space. Was she as bored as he was? Obi-Wan almost snorted at the thought. Never had he dreamed, even in his wildest imagination, that he would ever be in the same boat with Sly Moore.

“It matters little,” Sidious said in a bored tone. “There is nothing behind it but certain citizens becoming dissatisfied with our perfectly-good government.”

“I heard there was a disturbance on Kamino,” said a younger, green-haired man, who looked human but probably wasn’t. Obi-Wan knew this one by repute, an ambitious neophyte to the political game, a fangless aspirant to the vipers. Jackarr Bomani. “Didn’t the security force make an arrest? I thought I heard on the holonet that she had been brought here.” Sidious smiled—to Obi-Wan’s experienced eye extremely unpleasantly—and leaned forward, a grin that seemed cadaverous, like the grin of a skull, on his face.

“Yes, indeed,” the Sith Lord purred. “She was brought here. She is, at this moment, in the depths of this palace.” Obi-Wan almost caught in his breath. Whoever “she” was, “she” must be important indeed to be imprisoned here, instead of in the public or military prisons. “Perhaps, Jackarr, the Jedi were not so extinct as we once thought,” Sidious said, running a finger around the rim of a glass. Obi-Wan’s heart raced ahead, time blurred around him. A prisoner, perhaps a Jedi, almost certainly Force-sensitive, probably a Force user. Obi-Wan kept his attention on the present; Jackarr seemed flattered by Sidious’ confidences. However, the young entrepreneur missed the look that passed between Sidious and Sly Moore. Obi-Wan noted it, though. However, he was still more interested in the prisoner, whoever it was. Still, he would have to warn Jackarr of the danger… It was no less than his duty as a Jedi, to serve and protect. He wasn’t a proponent of defeatism or passivism by any means.

After what seemed like a long time of more commonplace banter and idle conversation, which Obi-Wan without conscious effort filed away in an active mind, the guests finally prepared to go out. He went out on a pretext, and “accidentally” bumped into Jackarr Bomani, under cover of the movement grabbing the entrepreneur’s arm and pulling him gently but swiftly aside. The man spluttered with anger. “How dare you, slave?” he demanded. Obi-Wan shot him a hard glance.

“If you value your life, you will be off of Coruscant and under a different name before nightfall. Sidious simply does not throw information about like that with loose ends around, and he kills for sport.” he said under his breath. In an instant, Jackarr’s face went from angry and outraged to frightened and grateful.

“Thank you,” the man whispered. “Oh, thank you.” Obi-Wan watched as Jackarr walked off, an unsteady hitch in his walk, as if he had a concussion. Obi-Wan’s mind was still. So much, so many betrayals… and yet this man had never been betrayed before. Oh, the bitter, bitter irony…

Obi-Wan thought out a mental expletive as he realized that he still had his chess game with Dooku to look forward to and instantly set off in that direction, offering no apology to Palpatine.

After all, since when had he been beholden to Sidious for anything?

Except for constant mistreatment.

There we go, for once it’s not a cliffhanger… X-P See?

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