July 15, 2000
Category: Star Wars, PG
Author: BeElleGee

[Disclaimer]

War Crimes

Summary: Takes place roughly five years before EPI. Qui-Gon volunteers for a dangerous assignment to Colla IV to try to thwart production of the galaxy's newest weapon of warfare: Droidekas.

Author's note: Quite a few references gave me the idea for this story. One being the Episode I Visual Dictionary and its description of Colla IV, the Colicoids, and Droidekas. Second was the first book of the Episode I Adventure Series in which it was revealed that padawans are not allowed on the more dangerous missions. And third, Obi-Wan's alarmed cry of "Master! Destroyers!" in The Phantom Menace.


Part One: CORUSCANT

Chancellor Valorum's pale blue eyes searched the stoic faces of the Jedi Masters seated before him in the spacious and opulent conference room. He sighed impatiently at their silence and leaned forward, spreading his hands in a pleading gesture.

"I don't ask this lightly," he reiterated. "Not knowing what I do."

The four Jedi Masters, Yoda, Adi Gallia, Mace Windu, and Plo Koon, exchanged glances. Yoda shifted uneasily in his chair and shook his head slowly.

"Asked our assistance in this matter, you have. Relying on our loyalty to the Republic which we serve, you are," Yoda began. "Counting, you are, on our ethics to comply."

"Trading on them, would be more accurate," Adi Gallia retorted. She lowered her head and stared unseeingly into the blackness of the conference room table.

"You know we are unable to refuse you," Mace Windu stated.

Chancellor Valorum shook his head. "No. That's not true." He inhaled deeply and frowned. "This is not a formal Galactic Republic request. That is why I have asked you to come here at such a late hour, instead of me presenting this through routine channels to the entire Council. I don't want you, any of you, to feel coerced in anyway. I wanted to make it easier for you to deny me, if that is what you strongly believe you should do. However, I did want to personally stress the gravity of this situation and be able to persuade you of the need for Jedi intervention here."

"Admittedly a need there is," Yoda went on. His face adopted a weary expression of sadness. "Tried before, we have, to intervene on Colla IV. Disastrous, it was. Many fine Jedi, we lost. Know this, you do. Futile this mission is, I feel. More fine Jedi, sacrificed will be."

"It doesn't have to be that way. Not if you know ahead of time what you will be going up against," Valorum assured him. He reached forward and inserted a disc into a holographic projector. "The information contained on this disc is accurate and first hand. It has been filed as top secret, but I will turn it over to you to assist your preparations." Valorum activated the disc which revealed a hologram of a prototype droid. It shimmered slightly and began rotating slowly, hovering just above the conference table top. With some reluctance, the four Jedi Masters looked up at it.

"They are calling it a Droideka," Valorum explained. "A completely mobile, centrally controlled battle droid with a body of plated armor and its own individual deflector shield generator. It is equipped with twin blasters on each 'hand' which has a collimating tip to concentrate the energy it fires. One droideka alone can bring down a starfighter within its range. It has optimum sensors and antenna to track its intended victim, so it doesn't rely on sight alone. It is impenetrable to regular blaster fire which makes it virtually indestructible. It is a gruesome and brutal new weapon of warfare which is about to be unleashed on the Republic's systems."

Plo Koon thoughtfully stroked his breath mask, then gestured at the hologram. "Warfare is always brutal, Chancellor. Besides being new, why does the production of such a weapon disturb you so? Is it not just one of many deadly devices being marketed to the highest unscrupulous bidder these days?"

Mace Windu straightened. His voice was sharp and his expression was unyielding. "Master Yoda is right. Trying to convince the Colicoids to cease production of these droids is futile. They are motivated by profit and greed only. To rely on their mercy and conscience would be a waste of time. It is simply not their nature."

"Masters," Valorum began in a soft measured tone. "A weapon offered of this quality and destructive capabilities will no doubt flush out a hoard of ruthless and ambitious beings bent on planetary domination. I believe it will actually incite warfare and pose a threat to the Republic's star systems. Any being, willing and able to put forth the money to have an army of these droids produced would become, without a doubt, all but invincible." He turned off the hologram and sighed heavily. "But we have one advantage. There is no large scale production as of yet. Presently, the Colicoids have only a handful of prototypes they are testing for demonstrative purposes. The information I have given you comes from my agents working on the Republic's outer core. Unfortunately, I have not heard back from them since these plans were dispatched to me. But I was assured by them in our last comunique that no contract for the droidekas has been drawn up. If the Colicoids are motivated only by greed, then it's their greed we need to prey upon. If the droids prove to be unprofitable to build, the Colicoids would inevitably abandon them."

Mace Windu furrowed his brow. "And how are we to do something like that?"

Valorum licked his lips apprehensively. "Simple, actually. The Jedi will publicly defeat these droids. Then the droids' reputation of invincibility will plummet. It will make them less appealing to would-be dictators if it becomes known that the tried and true forces of the Galactic Republic, the Jedi, can bring them down."

All four masters collectively stiffened with flares of emotions. Adi Gallia all but jumped out of her seat.

"How are we to defeat these droids? We have never gone up against the likes of such devices before! You said yourself they are equipped with shield generators. How are we supposed to breech a defense system of that caliber?"

"Even if a weakness can be found and exploited, many Jedi will have to lose their lives to in order to gain that information," Plo Koon added. "That is unacceptable."

"You are asking us to deploy our Jedi Knights for...a suicide mission," Mace Windu stated hotly. "There is no guarantee that even if we can find a weakness, it will convince the Colicoids to cease production. They may simply make adjustments to compensate for any weakness we may discover."

"Chancellor, with all due respect, what you are asking us to do is unconscionable," Adi Gallia told him.

"Master Gallia, please," Valorum intoned. "Hear me out. All of you." He passed his eyes over each of the masters before continuing. "It is an idea of mine. It is not necessarily the only way. But I believe the correct choice is clear enough. We can either confront a handful of prototypes now or we can engage an army of these finished droids in full scale warfare later. Either way, we must rely on a show of superiority to the Colicoids. It is why I have brought this before the Jedi. I am surprised however, by your reaction to my proposal. Why is it so outrageous to all of you? I believe in the superiority of the Jedi Knights and Masters that serve this Republic. Otherwise, I would have never suggested such a thing. Perhaps I have more faith in the capabilities of the Order than you do."

Yoda, who had been strangely silent during most of the proceedings turned to look at Chancellor Valorum. He drew his long ears down and narrowed his eyes in irritation.

"Faith in our Jedi Knights we keep in abundance. For our children, they are. Know them, we do. Taught them, we did. Extraordinary they are, but immortal, they are not. Simple, you make it sound. But dangerous it is." He paused and closed his eyes slowly, taking a deep breath. "See fit to order our Jedi Knights to undertake such an assignment as this, we do not. Good night to you, Chancellor Valorum."

Without a doubt, Master Yoda wielded the power of the final decision. Once his decision had been made, the four Jedi Masters rose as one as if on a silent command to make their way out of the conference room.

Valorum's face fell. He hadn't been prepared for such an abrupt dismissal. "Wait! May I make this proposal to you then?"

The Jedi froze and faced Yoda for their cue. Yoda looked up at Valorum and nodded once.

Valorum sighed, relieved. He passed his hand quickly over his eyes, his mind racing. "I can understand your reluctance to formally assign this mission. I know the weight of the responsibility it carries. You must understand my position in all this. I was given this information at no small cost of my own. I cannot consciously ignore it or refuse to act on it because of the dangers it involves. Therefore, I have asked for your assistance. I am only asking. I am not ordering. Will you consider doing as much? Ask your Jedi Knights, do not order them. Let them decide whether to partake of this mission or not."

Again the Jedi Masters focused on Yoda. He considered Valorum's request for a tense moment before nodding his consent.

"Ask them, we will." With that he bowed slightly and turned to leave.

***

Qui-Gon Jinn spared a quick confused glance at his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi just before they entered the Jedi Council chambers. The tension emanating from inside the room was both unusual and intriguing.

Qui-Gon did not know why he and Obi-Wan had been summoned to appear before the Council, but he had assumed it was simply to be assigned another mission.

As the two Jedi drew closer to the council room, the Force became charged with a variety of rare emotion. That alone gave Qui-Gon pause. He also felt the presence of several other Jedi assembled within; no less than twenty. Normally, assignments were handed out individually and in private. Something was up.

The doors opened and confirmed Qui-Gon's suspicions. The circular chamber was nearly wall to wall in Jedi of varying species and ages. Some were male. Some were female. Some were masters with padawans. Some were alone. All appeared just as intrigued and confused as Qui-Gon felt.

Qui-Gon motioned for Obi-Wan to follow him to the front of the assembly. He stopped before Master Yoda and bowed.

"My apologies for our tardiness," Qui-Gon began. "We came as soon as we received word. Have we missed anything?"

Mace Windu shook his head. He turned to Yoda. "I believe everyone is here now. Shall I begin?"

Yoda nodded. He closed his eyes momentarily and frowned. "Begin, Master," he said simply, his voice murky and soft.

Mace Windu rose from his chair and faced the assembled Jedi. "First may I say that all of you have been carefully selected by none other than Chancellor Valorum himself," he began. "All of you were chosen by him for one reason or another, but you are all capable and qualified to carry out the mission we are about to relay to you." He paused and looked around the room. "The High Chancellor has contacted us regarding a matter of utmost concern to him and the Republic as well. Information has been sent to him by his administration's outer core agents. Information which he strongly feels requires his personal attention and our intervention."

Master Yoda straightened and raised a small hand to silence the ensuing murmurs. "Dangerous this mission is," Yoda said. "And required to accept it, you are not. Decline you may and free to go you will be. Assign any of you to it, we do not. Asking for volunteers we simply are."

Plo Koon rose from his seat and came to stand beside Mace Windu. "After learning the details of this mission, Master Yoda, Master Gallia, Master Windu and myself agreed that this mission is an exercise in futility. Doomed from the start. We initially refused the chancellor our assistance. He has asked us, to ask you, however, if we would put the details before you so you have the opportunity to at least consider it."

Master Gallia leaned forward. "We do agree that the chancellor's concern is valid and justified. He has learned of a prototype for a new kind of battle droid. This one far more deadly than its predecessors. He fears the results of full scale production of these droids. Partly because of their virtual indestructibility, and partly because they are being manufactured by the Colicoids."

The Jedi in the room stood in stunned silence. As Adi Gallia's words began to sink in, another hum of commentary murmurs filled the Council's chambers. Two Jedi with young padawans in tow, immediately stepped forward.

Yoda folded his hands in his lap and focused his full attention on the two Jedi. The first, an older female Cerean with a twelve year old human boy, bowed deeply.

"With respect, Master Yoda, from what I know of Colla IV, I feel I must decline. My padawan is newly acquired and far from ready to face a mission of such perilous circumstances," she stated.

Yoda merely nodded. The Cerean placed her hand on the boy's shoulder and motioned him towards the door. The second Jedi, a Triller, bowed before Yoda as well.

"Masters, my padawan is also quite young and inexperienced--" he began. Yoda nodded consent again and Mace Windu cut him off.

"You are dismissed as well," Mace Windu told him. As the Triller ushered his padawan to the door, Mace Windu addressd the remaining Jedi. "Let it be known, that should you choose to act on the chancellor's behalf by accepting this mission, and should you be a master with an apprentice, you should know that we expressly forbid your padawan to accompany you."

Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan bristle beside him. Slowly Obi-Wan turned his large expressive eyes towards him seeking confirmation that the Council could not possibly be referring to him as well. Qui-Gon didn't respond.

Obi-Wan spared a quick glance around the room. The other padawans were all much younger than he was. They were far more inexperienced and not nearly as accomplished in the Jedi arts as he was. He was closer to knighthood than any of them as well. He took a deep breath and tried to quiet his pounding heart.

Obi-Wan remembered that Qui-Gon had been to Colla IV once before on a diplomatic mission. Obi-Wan had been forbidden to accompany him then as well, but he was much younger then and had stayed with Master Yoda until Qui-Gon returned. He remembered that it had been a difficult mission for Qui-Gon and it took the Jedi Master a long time to recover from it. Respecting his master's privacy, Obi-Wan never questioned him about it. All he knew was that if Qui-Gon was returning to Colla IV, Obi-Wan was definitely going with him this time.

"Masters, tell us about this assignment so we may decide," a voice from the back called.

"What is it that the chancellor would have us do?" another Jedi asked.

Qui-Gon fixed his eyes on Yoda. "How many Jedi does the chancellor need?"

Yoda raised his hand once more. "All your questions in time, we will answer. Know, you do, this mission to Colla IV leads. Anyone else, is there, who does not wish to hear the details, now should you speak."

No one else stepped forward. Plo Koon walked to the center of the room and activated the hologram of the droideka prototype.

***

Eight Jedi came forward to volunteer their services after the final details were given. Most had agreed with the Council and deemed the mission futile and most likely suicidal. The remaining eight either felt compelled to accept or were more optimistic than their peers in the mission's possibility of success.

As Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon back to their quarters to prepare for their new assignment, he sensed an unease in Qui-Gon that went beyond the hazardous mission he had just volunteered them for. Obi-Wan didn't pursue it. Qui-Gon would work it out in time.

In turn, Qui-Gon felt his padawan's unease. He turned and offered him a reassuring smile.

"Everything will be just fine, Obi-Wan," he began, once they had entered their quarters. "There will be plenty of support for us. Some of the finest Jedi in the Order are partaking of this mission. I've worked with quite a few of them before."

Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "I have to admit to being more than a little anxious," he replied. "I can't remember a mission where negotiations were not attempted first. I don't know very much about the Colicoids, but launching an attack on them without some sort of warning or ultimatum seems...unusual for the Jedi."

Qui-Gon moved about the room quickly, gathering whatever he felt he needed for his departure and packing it into a small case.

"It was my understanding that the details of our strategy hadn't been worked out yet," Qui-Gon corrected. "Master Rancisis is accompanying us so I'm sure all peaceful, nonconfrontational paths will be pursued first. These droids are indeed formidable. We cannot go up against one blindly. We will try to find some fault to their defenses first. It's our only hope really. But I believe our chances are good."

Obi-Wan wandered off into his room and began gathering his own things to pack. "If we can't find a vulnerability in these droids, we won't be able to follow the chancellor's plan. We will have to aggressively confront the Colicoids. We will need to destroy their plans and prototypes in an all-out assault. Hopefully as a last resort only," Obi-Wan continued, raising his voice so Qui-Gon could still hear him. "I fear that is where the real danger for us will lie."

"I agree," Qui-Gon said, coming to stand in the doorway of Obi-Wan's room. He stopped short and watched Obi-Wan silently for a few moments then began shaking his head. "What do you think you're doing?"

Obi-Wan gave him a preoccupied glance over his shoulder. "...Getting things ready. Why?"

Qui-Gon inhaled slowly. "Why indeed?"

Obi-Wan turned to face his master, startled by the tone of his voice. As usual, Qui-Gon's expression was passive, but Obi-Wan heard the sharp edge in his question and felt the Jedi Master's sudden apprehension. Realization dawned on Obi-Wan and he stared back at Qui-Gon with an incredulous expression.

Qui-Gon shook his head again. "No. You heard the Council. No." With that he turned and drifted back out of the room.

Obi-Wan gaped after him in shock, then sprang forward. "You can't possibly be serious!"

Qui-Gon whirled around to face him. "I've never been more serious. You are not coming with me."

Obi-Wan tried to smile. Obviously Qui-Gon had misunderstood the Council. "Master, they were talking about the children. It only makes sense. They were not referring to me. I'm twenty-one. I'm hardly a child."

Qui-Gon was adamant. "Then stop acting like one and accept the Council's decision."

Obi-Wan placed his hands on his hips. "Do you hear yourself? Since when does anything the Council decrees apply to you?"

Qui-Gon's expression darkened and Obi-Wan immediately regretted his rash bravado.

"Guard your tongue, Padawan," the Jedi Master warned quietly.

Obi-Wan swallowed hard and bowed his head. "Forgive me. That was uncalled for." He looked up pleadingly. "Qui-Gon... please. Let me come with you. This isn't the first time the Council has forbidden me to accompany you. It never stopped you from taking me with you before."

Qui-Gon sighed heavily. He placed his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "I'm sorry. It's too dangerous. I won't risk it."

"Risk it? You've already agreed to it," Obi-Wan countered. "And when you accepted this mission, I did too."

Qui-Gon dropped his hand. "I accepted this mission because I have a responsibility to serve the Republic as a Jedi."

Obi-Wan straightened indignantly. "So do I. Or are you forgetting that I am also a Jedi?"

Qui-Gon chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. He could feel a cauldron of emotions brewing in Obi-Wan. He knew he had to diffuse them soon before they both ended up saying things they would later regret.

"Try to understand my position, Padawan," he said, his voice softening considerably. "My very first responsibility is to you. I am obligated and bound to care for you first and foremost. That is why I cannot allow you to accompany me."

Obi-Wan was beyond the point of diffusion however. He was too insulted and hurt by Qui-Gon's rejection. "I can take care of myself."

Qui-Gon turned away from Obi-Wan and went to retrieve his case. "Fine. Take care of yourself here then."

Obi-Wan took several deep steadying breaths. He watched Qui-Gon snatch up his bag and stride powerfully towards the door. Obviously, the Jedi Master felt this discussion was at an end.

"All this time, I must have been deluding myself," Obi-Wan growled. He faced Qui-Gon squarely and crossed his arms over his chest.

Qui-Gon stopped walking, whirled around, and flung his bag forcefully into the nearest chair.

"All right, Padawan, let's have it," the Master seethed. "Before I go, I want to hear everything." He stalked up to Obi-Wan and stood towering over him, mere inches away.

Obi-Wan refused to be intimidated. He locked his eyes on Qui-Gon's and scowled.

"I always believed I was your partner--that we were a team. We would always be there for each other. You say you care for me and that you have a responsibility to protect me, well I have that same responsibility towards you. As much as you feel you cannot put me at the kind of risk this mission is fraught with, I feel I cannot allow you to participate in it without me." He paused and sighed, feeling Qui-Gon's anger dissipate. "I have to go with you," he said, his voice a mere whisper.

Qui-Gon shook his head. "I can't let you."

Obi-Wan backed away from his master and bowed his head. "You haven't been truthful with me, have you? I can feel it. You don't believe in this mission anymore than the Council does. Why are you going then if you don't believe you'll be coming back?"

Qui-Gon frowned. "Someone needs to stop the Colicoids. I believe in that much."

"Why you?"

"Why not me? I'm entirely capable and willing and more or less expendable."

Obi-Wan's eyes flashed. He became angry all over again. "And just who told you that drivel? Expendable? To whom? Certainly not to me. But apparently, I don't seem to matter very much."

Qui-Gon passed his large hand over his face to wipe away the inappropriate smile that threatened. He didn't want his outraged padawan to think he was making light of his indignation.

"You are all that matters," Qui-Gon told him. "You are my legacy, Obi-Wan. Long after I'm gone, you will still call upon my resources, my opinions and lessons, and values and principles. Everything I have impressed upon you in all our time together. Don't you see, as much as I want you with me, as much as I need you, it is self-defeating for me to lead you to imminent death."

Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes and shifted his hands back to his hips. "So even if the Council did not forbid apprentices on this mission, you still would refuse to let me come with you?"

"The Council's decision is final."

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "You have defied their decisions before. What's stopping you now? If you truly believe it's wrong, take me with you. They are used to your defiance."

Qui-Gon looked around, making an elaborate show of searching for something.

Obi-Wan furrowed his brow in confusion. "What are you looking for?"

"My padawan," Qui-Gon retorted. He gestured at Obi-Wan. "I can see you standing there, but you're not my padawan. My padawan always admonishes me for defying the Council. He never ever encourages me to do so. But I suppose it's different when it's something you feel strongly about. Isn't it, Obi-Wan?"

Obi-Wan had the grace to look ashamed. He swallowed uncomfortably. "Yes, it is," he replied softly. He blinked several times and shook his head. "For once, you don't believe they are wrong, do you?"

"It is a personal decision," Qui-Gon told him. "Please respect it." Feeling once more that their discussion was at an end, the Jedi Master turned and picked up his bag again. He glanced over his shoulder and offered Obi-Wan a small smile. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan bowed his head and would not look at Qui-Gon. The Jedi turned towards the door with a heavy sigh and hurried out.


Part Two: RELIANT

Jedi Master Oppo Rancisis, military tactician and strategic consultant of the Jedi Council, glided soundlessly through the Temple corridors on his way to the waiting Republic transport. He was accompanied by two interpreter droids which were programmed for use by ambassadors and agents deployed to the outer core territories.

He was grateful to have acquired them, since he didn't know how to speak the chitinous Colicoid language and to the best of his knowledge, no one on the team for this mission did. It had taken the Temple's administrators a long time to find these droids however and caused a considerable delay in the transport's departure.

He turned down the accessway to the Temple's hangar bay and found his path suddenly blocked by Qui-Gon Jinn's padawan.

"Master," he burst forth. "I must speak with you!"

Oppo Rancisis stopped but motioned the droids to continue on towards the transport.

"Quickly, Obi-Wan Kenobi, I am already behind my time," the Jedi Master said, his long white hair rippling fluidly about his face with every move of his head.

"I don't want to detain you," Obi-Wan told him, and gestured for him to continue. Oppo Rancisis bowed his head in appreciation and started walking across the tarmac.

"What did you need to speak to me about?" he prompted.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "I wish to volunteer my services for this assignment."

Oppo Rancisis suddenly stopped walking again and faced Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan hurried to explain. "Under code six, chapter twenty-nine, section 2D."

Oppo Rancisis shot Obi-Wan an impatient look. "Forgive me, Padawan, I don't have all two-hundred chapters of the Jedi code memorized. Would you care to enlighten me?"

Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak, but the Jedi Master suddenly raised his hand for silence.

"Do you have Master Jinn's permission to come along on this assignment? For that matter, do you have the Council's permission?"

"Ah...no, but under this section of code, I don't need their permission," Obi-Wan continued.

Master Rancisis shook his head and started walking towards the waiting ship. "I need their permission. I'm not going against the Council, or your master to placate you."

Obi-Wan skipped after him, stifling his rising irritation. "Section 2D pertains to any voluntary assignments," he began. "Specifically, who may and who may not volunteer for assignments and under what circumstances. I am fully qualified to volunteer my services for this particular mission, if it is of my own accord and I am fully knowledgable of what is expected of me."

Oppo Rancisis chuckled deeply. "Are you serious?"

Obi-Wan frowned. He was hoping for a much more impressed reaction from the Thisspiasan than that. "Master Rancisis, I have just spent the last two hours in the Temple library devouring anything and everything I could find on the Jedi code in order to make my seemingly impulsive actions legal in the eyes of the Council."

Oppo Rancisis made a sweeping gesture of welcome towards Obi-Wan. "Very well, Padawan. At the very least, I welcome your enthusiasm. And if Master Jinn disputes your presence, have him speak with me. Remember now, you are not his padawan on this mission. You will take orders only from me or your immediate superior, whomever that may be, understand?"

Obi-Wan nodded. He followed Master Rancisis to the transport's boarding ramp and tried not to think about Qui-Gon's reaction when he saw him.

***

Qui-Gon found a darkened deserted passageway, closed his eyes and cleared his mind to meditate. The journey to Colla IV was already proving tedious and lengthy and they hadn't even left Coruscant yet. It would be a good time to meditate and come to terms with his feelings surrounding this mission and his departure from Obi-Wan.

He was unhappy to say the least. Considering the mission he was about to undertake, he was hoping to leave on better terms with his padawan, but in anger, Obi-Wan had refused to see him off. He didn't wish him well, or even say good-bye.

Well, thought Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan would get over it in time. He was hot tempered but he never held a grudge and never remained angry for long. He was usually the first to apologize to mend any riffs, regardless of who was originally at fault. It suddenly pained Qui-Gon to think that at this very moment, Obi-Wan might be deeply regretting not saying good-bye to him and punishing himself by considering it may have been the last time they would ever see each other. If that was the case, Qui-Gon hoped Obi-Wan would just stay mad at him.

He began to wonder if maybe he had been wrong in refusing him. Obi-Wan was more than a capable Jedi. He could have contributed to this mission. He was courageous and dedicated and a superb swordsman. Qui-Gon had to admit he felt a little vulnerable not having Obi-Wan with him. They had been together for a long time. Obi-Wan was right. They were a team and it didn't feel right to be separated from him.

He tried to reassure himself that he had Obi-Wan's best interest in mind and that he had only acted as a caring, responsible master to protect his protege from known peril. He had done the right thing.

***

On board the crowded transport, Obi-Wan didn't see Qui-Gon, but he could sense his master's presence. He was certain Qui-Gon would be able to sense him as well and would in time seek him out.

He settled himself in the only seat left vacant near the entryway beside a Niaforian female who regarded him with some surprise.

"You're a padawan," she announced. "How did you manage to convince the Council of the necessity of YOUR presence here?" She drew her hood back and angled herself to face him better. She was older than Obi-Wan, with long amber-colored hair and large piercing brown eyes that were attractively accented by a green jewel implanted between her brows.

Obi-Wan bowed his head. "I didn't, exactly."

The Niaforian smiled slyly. She extended her hand in greeting. "I'm Jedi Knight Lyrik D'La Verge."

Obi-Wan glanced up at her and took her hand. "Obi-Wan Kenobi. How do you do?"

Lyrik dismissed his question as rhetorical. "Kenobi. That sounds familiar." Her eyes travelled up and down the length of him. "Strange, I don't believe we have met before. If we had, I assure you I would have remembered," she grinned. "You're not supposed to be here, are you? Does your master realize his padawan is missing?"

Obi-Wan scanned the room quickly. "Not yet." Obi-Wan gazed somewhat sheepishly at Lyrik. "He will when he senses me though."

Lyrik's eyes widened. "He's here?" She looked around as well.

Obi-Wan nodded. "He won't be pleased, to say the least, but I am here within my legal rights. The Council cannot dispute it. My master cannot dispute it. Though I'm quite certain he'll try."

Lyrik merely shook her head. "I hope you know what you are doing. I hope you know what you have gotten yourself into."

Obi-Wan looked offended. "Of course I do. I wouldn't be here otherwise." He sighed, regretting his sharp tone and lowered his voice. "Why are you here?"

Lyrik pursed her lips in consideration. "I can help. I wanted to help. Personal reasons." She shrugged. "Why are any of us here?"

Obi-Wan shifted uneasily. He felt the sting of Qui-Gon's rejection all over again. "Because we want to feel needed. We want to be able to look out for those we care for."

Lyrik gazed at him sympathetically. "Ah, it's personal too then."

Obi-Wan flushed slightly. "It wasn't before, but it is now. Apparently, I need to regain his confidence. I must have lost it somewhere along the way because he resolutely refused to let me accompany him on this mission."

"Directly disobeying him - that's a good start if you want to reinforce his confidence in you," the older Jedi teased. "I'm sure his confidence in you had nothing to do with it," she went on. "He most likely just wanted to keep you safe." She offered him a reassuring smile. "You're very young, Obi-Wan. You no doubt have that sense of invincibility that comes with youth. Nothing can stop you. Nothing can harm you. You will live forever."

Obi-Wan frowned. "Hardly. I'm a Jedi. I have a very keen sense of mortality. Thank you very much." He turned away from her and folded his arms across his chest.

Lyrik laughed. "Oh you are precious-looking when you pout," she teased. She placed her hand on his arm. Obi-Wan looked over at her. Her voice became soft and her expression solemn. "When I was a padawan, my master had to leave me behind sometimes. I didn't like it very much either, but at least I tried to understand that it was because she cared about me. And at least I respected her and trusted her judgement enough to accept her decision."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes tightly and shook his head. "Impetuous, aren't I?"

Lyrik cocked her head slightly. "Maybe. I would be more inclined to say opinionated and tempermental, I think."

"Mmm, that too," Obi-Wan said with a slight grimace. He looked around for Qui-Gon again. He was certain the Jedi Master could sense him. He didn't understand why he hadn't shown himself yet. "I'd like to think my heart was in the right place though. I simply couldn't bear the thought of being left behind, knowing the dangers he could face." Obi-Wan slumped back in his seat and sighed. "I know he's furious. The fact that he hasn't come over here yet speaks volumes."

Lyrik smiled easily. "Did you think he would welcome you aboard with open arms?"

"No, but I thought he would at least confront me. I'd definitely prefer that to 'simmering' silence."

"Maybe he is respecting your 'legal rights'," Lyrik offered.

Obi-Wan glanced sideways at Lyrik and frowned. "I'm certain it is not that. He can't possibly be aware such a thing exists. He isn't what you would call a disciple of the code." Obi-Wan shook his head ruefully. He knew he would not be able to spout passages of the code to Qui-Gon as his defense. Qui-Gon would only see that Obi-Wan had deliberately disobeyed him. He turned and faced Lyrik, feeling her eyes on him.

"Not a disciple of the code, huh? My master once used those very same words to describe a particular Jedi. Now I know who you are," she announced. "You are Qui-Gon Jinn's padawan." She smiled and grasped Obi-Wan's chin in her hand. "I recognize you now." She turned his face back and forth, gazing admiringly at him. "The last time I saw you, you were just a teenager. My, you've grown. And how."

Obi-Wan blushed under her scrutiny. "I'm sorry. I don't recall our ever meeting. Was I with Qui-Gon at the time?"

Lyrik sighed heavily and released Obi-Wan's jaw. "Yes. As a matter of fact, my master and your master were quite an item for awhile. They were inseparable whenever they were at the Temple together. You and I met a few times briefly. We even dueled once. Naturally, I won. I had you pinned in minutes. Of course, my being ambidextrous helped. I remember I didn't like you very much. I thought you were rather precocious."

Obi-Wan smiled warmly. "Lyrik, of course. I remember that duel quite well. You've done some growing yourself. I would have never connected you with that gangly, freckled padawan I fought so long ago. And I didn't like you very much either, if I remember correctly. I think it mainly had to do with the fact that you were taller and stronger than I was. But your master, Master Sheleigha. I was just as smitten by her as Qui-Gon was. Such a powerful Jedi and a lovely, elegant lady. She always sweetly tolerated my awkward attempts to impress her. How is she doing? I haven't seen her around since... since before Qui-Gon's last mission to Colla IV."

A flash of pain dulled Lyrik's soft brown eyes and she involuntarily recoiled from Obi-Wan. "Didn't Qui-Gon tell you?" Her face became a mask of sadness as a rush of unhindered emotions threatened to surface .

Obi-Wan shook his head confused. "Tell me what?"

Lyrik closed her eyes tightly and sighed. "She was killed on Colla IV."

***

Be careful what you wish for, was the last thought to pass through Qui-Gon's mind before feeling Obi-Wan standing in front of him in the ship's hallway. Instead of acknowledging him, Qui-Gon submerged himself deeper in his meditations and pulled the Force's calming potency to him. He didn't trust himself to speak wisely at the moment, so he refused to speak at all. He kept his eyes closed, knowing they would betray him and reveal the turbulant emotions he was presently struggling to subdue.

After awhile, Obi-Wan began pacing the hall, but remained silent, waiting for Qui-Gon to speak to him first. He could feel Qui-Gon retreating from his presence and shielding his emotions from him. Obi-Wan began to realize the extent of his displeasure. Finally, he sighed in resignation and sunk to the floor beside Qui-Gon to meditate as well.

Obi-Wan didn't know how long he had been meditating when he suddenly sensed Qui-Gon looking at him. His eyes snapped open and he turned to face him.

"...Master."

Qui-Gon lowered his eyes and rose gracefully to his feet, then started walking away. Obi-Wan quickly pushed himself up after him.

"Master?" Obi-Wan prodded.

Qui-Gon glanced back at him. "I have nothing to say to you," he told Obi-Wan in a carefully controlled tone. "I already know why you are here. I'm already aware of your contrition and your contrived shame, just as I feel you are aware of my disappointment in you. There is no need to expand upon any of it."

"It's not contrived," Obi-Wan protested quietly. His throat tightened uncomfortably and he felt as though the close quarters of the small passageway were pressing in on him.

Qui-Gon continued walking and said nothing.

Obi-Wan looked after him longingly. "I'm... I'm trying to apologize."

Qui-Gon stopped walking and turned to face him. He was losing his battle to keep his temper cinched. He drew himself up to his full imposing height and crossed his powerful arms over his chest to keep himself from acting on his sudden impulse to strangle his padawan.

"By all means, Obi-Wan. Apologize. But don't think that is going to make everything all right between us, because it's not. You've gone way past the point where I can just blithely forgive you. You've shown a blatant disregard for my authority by your underhanded scheming to get yourself on this ship and I want nothing to do with you on this mission. Just stay out of my way," Qui-Gon snapped, turning away from Obi-Wan.

Damn! Qui-Gon cursed himself. He should have clung to his first resolve not to say anything. He knew if he spoke, he would end up saying something he would regret and he regretted what he had just said. Space, space, space, Qui-Gon thought. He needed to put some fast distance between himself and Obi-Wan. Clamping his mouth shut, he strode purposefully down the hall.

Obi-Wan stared after him, stunned and psychologically bruised. He bit his lower lip savagely and quickly debated his next course of action. He had two options. He could let Qui-Gon go and be forced to endure his intolerance until he cooled off enough to bestow his forgiveness; or Obi-Wan could go after him and confront him and get everything out in the open all at once. He chose the latter, knowing his inability to wait patiently for anything.

Qui-Gon growled inwardly at his tenacious padawan as Obi-Wan came running after him and planted himself directly in front of his master. Qui-Gon stopped walking and glared down at him.

"I don't think you realize how callous you are sometimes," Obi-Wan began. "Or what a hard master you are. No matter what, I can't seem to please you."

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "And that's what drives you to do the things you do," he retorted sarcastically.

Obi-Wan visibly struggled against his own temper. "Admittedly," he continued, "My decision to come on this mission was somewhat rash, but then I didn't have the time to think through the consequences. Yes, I disobeyed you. But if you would look momentarily beyond your tarnished pride, you would be able to sense the underlying reasons which motivated me."

Qui-Gon's eyes softened somewhat and he sighed heavily.

Not wanting to lose his momentum, Obi-Wan pressed on. "I know you told me I had to remain on Coruscant. But if you would have been honest with me, about why you volunteered and why you were so concerned for my well-being, I would have understood better."

Qui-Gon shook his head. "That's not the point Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I realize that."

Qui-Gon frowned. "My reasons are my own. I shouldn't have to explain myself to you. You should trust me by now to accept my decisions and know that I have good reason for deciding what I do. I'm not the one at fault here."

"I didn't mean to imply you were. I'm only saying that, due to some inherent character flaw of my own, please consider being more forthright in the future and trust me with your feelings."

Qui-Gon looked slightly confused. "What are referring to?" His tone implied that he had a good idea of what it was already.

"I'm referring to the real reason why you took this mission. And the real reason behind you not wanting me to go," Obi-Wan informed. Qui-Gon merely stared blankly back at him. Obi-Wan lowered his eyes. "I'm talking about Master Sheleigha."

Qui-Gon's eyes darkened. "What about her?" He suddenly appeared decidedly uncomfortable.

Obi-Wan sighed. "Why didn't you tell me that she was killed by the Colicoids on your last excursion there? Why didn't you tell me that the reason you are here is to reconcile yourself with her death?"

Qui-Gon swallowed hard. "At the time, I was barely able to come to terms with the knowledge of her death myself, even though I knew the details. I knew what had happened to her. I didn't want to share that knowledge with you. I didn't feel the need to."

"You could have at least told me she died. I could have shared your grief," Obi-Wan said softly.

Qui-Gon's strength seemed to leave him. He leaned heavily against the wall as if for support. "What's done is done," he said simply. "What remains to be reconciled is the fact that because you are now here, you have rendered me powerless to protect you from an unspeakable evil. An evil I have faced before and know all too well. You have put yourself in grave danger, Young Padawan."

Obi-Wan felt chilled by Qui-Gon's words. "You are not powerless, Qui-Gon. And neither am I. We'll face this together. The way it should be."

Qui-Gon looked depressed, his normally vibrant eyes were now vacant and dim. "If anything happens to you, Obi-Wan, I'll never forgive myself."

Obi-Wan leaned towards his master. "Nothing will happen to me. You won't let it. Just as I won't let anything happen to you." The Force surrounding Qui-Gon was dark and turbulent. His shifting mood made Obi-Wan uneasy.

"Everything is so clear cut to you, isn't it? The answers are obvious. The right way is easy. Everything in black and white. You still see me through the eyes of a child. Is that what makes you think I can save you?" Qui-Gon retorted. "I couldn't save her. Even though she trusted me to, I wasn't there for her when she needed me and she was taken. I couldn't stop them and they killed her and... ate her."

Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon brush by him and heard his footsteps echo down the passage until they faded into silence. His lungs began to burn and his heart pounded inside his head. He suddenly inhaled sharply, gulping down air. It occurred to him that he had been so startled he had actually stopped breathing.


Part Three: COLLA IV

"That's not exactly encouraging, Masters," Oppo Rancisis stated, addressing the three Jedi seated across the table from him.

"Master Rancisis, it certainly wasn't because we did not try," the Jedi closest to him began. The other two nodded wearily. They had been given the task of studying the files and images of the droidekas to find a weakness that could be exploited. As the Republic Cruiser, Reliant, quietly entered the Colla system, they had sought out Oppo Rancisis to relay to him their lack of success.

"These droids are of an entirely new design. They aren't anything like the battle droids we are accustomed to. More thought has been put into their defenses. Their firepower is twice that of a battle droid and their speed and maneuverability is very impressive."

Oppo Rancisis immersed himself in deep thought. "What about close range contact? Can a lightsaber penetrate that shield?"

"A lightsaber can penetrate both shield and armor, but the difficulty lies in getting within range. Then the best possible course of action would be to sever the sensors located around the head. Its vibration sensor and radiation sensors being the most sensitive and accurate."

"Or lop off its arms," one of the other masters offered. "But that makes two targets where as the head just makes one."

"However, as soon as the droideka detects a threat, the shields go up and it fires. This is usually only seconds after it unfurls."

"Seconds," Oppo Rancisis pondered hopefully. "Seconds may be all we need."

"Anticipation of their assault will allow us to act accordingly," the Jedi Master explained to Oppo Rancisis. "Perhaps before the droid can react."

Oppo Rancisis gazed steadily at his advisors. "What about speed? And you mentioned their maneuverability. Just how impressive is it?"

"The projections we viewed showed an incredibly capacity for both. Droidekas transform themselves into wheels. That's when they reach their maximum speeds and maneuverability."

"What about in combat stance? When they are actually attacking?" Oppo Rancisis questioned.

"As I'm sure you know, being somewhat of reputable conceit, the Colicoids have fashioned these droids in their own image. The Colicoids themselves are neither fast or agile. When in combat stance the droidekas rely completely on their defense shields and their firepower. They are virtually indestructible when in that stage."

"What about intelligence?"

"Centrally controlled. Similar to the more common battle droids. They are told what to do and they do it."

Oppo Rancisis had heard enough. "Make sure every Jedi on this ship is aware of these facts. I feel our advantage lies in our ability to think and react before these droids do."

A red blinking light on the control screen left of Oppo Rancisis hailed his attention. He turned and studied the readouts, then faced the three masters.

"We are returning to normalspace." He rose and bowed. "If you'll excuse me, Masters, I need to organize a landing party and gather my interpreters. May the Force be with you."

***

"Hey."

Obi-Wan glanced up at Lyrik as she settled herself down beside him on the floor of the passageway.

"Hey," he repeated in a failed attempt at levity.

"Brooding, are we?"

Obi-Wan didn't answer. Instead, he drew his knees up to his chest and encircled them with his arms. He leaned his head back against the wall with a heavy sigh.

Lyrik gazed at him sympathetically and smiled warmly. "Was he very upset?"

"Disappointed, I believe was the word he used," Obi-Wan told her in a quiet voice. "I can't blame him. I'm disappointed in myself. I can't imagine what I was thinking, disobeying him like that."

Lyrik inclined her head. "You weren't rationalizing. You were just reacting. Justifying your actions by the intensity of your emotions. That's dangerous ground for a Jedi to tread."

Obi-Wan turned to look at her. She reached over and patted his knee reassuringly.

"His reprimands are hard for you to bear," Lyrik observed. "You don't disobey him very often, do you?"

Obi-Wan tried to smile. "No, and I couldn't have chosen a worse time to start. He's been very thin-skinned lately. But I think about it now and it's as if I wasn't acting of my own accord. I was just driven by this overwhelming sense that he needed me with him. That was all I could see."

Lyrik shot him a calculating expression. "Maybe that's it then. Maybe you were motivated to act by something far greater than yourself."

Obi-Wan looked back at her, startled by her revelation. Lyrik continued.

"You are a Jedi, Obi-Wan. Remember, whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you are tuned to the Force and the Force can think for us at times. It guides us and we follow. It speaks to us constantly, it's just that sometimes we don't recognize its voice."

Obi-Wan sighed. "If that's the case, why didn't I foresee anything? Why didn't Qui-Gon?"

Lyrik's reply was chilling. "Perhaps he did."

Obi-Wan dragged his hand through his hair anxiously. "I don't understand...."

Rising, Lyrik offered Obi-Wan her hand and helped him stand up. "Don't try to analyze anything at this point. Trust in the Force. Remember, it won't abandon you when you need it the most."

Obi-Wan squeezed her hand in appreciation before releasing it. "Your future padawan will be very fortunate to have such a wise master."

Lyrik grinned. "Your master is fortunate to have such a wise padawan. Even if he doesn't always see it at first."

Obi-Wan bowed to her. "Thank you, Milady."

Lyrik turned and motioned him to follow her. "Come on. We are coming out of hyperspace. There's going to be a briefing in the conference room. We need to head that way." She held out her hand to him again. He hesitated for a moment, then took it in a firm grasp. Lyrik smiled and laced her fingers through his. "And please call me Lyrik, Obi-Wan. I prefer something a little less staid coming from those lips."

***

The Reliant touched down on a pad within the capital city of Colla IV. Like Coruscant, the planet was entirely industrialized. Its dense tropical jungles had been completely razed. All its natural resources had been utilized for numerous pragmatic purposes with little regard for the planet's aesthetic appeal. Structures and machines were devised purely for function. Nothing looked natural. Not even the grayish-yellow sky.

Qui-Gon drew up beside Oppo Rancisis at the viewscreen. "We are ready to disembark, Master Rancisis," Qui-Gon informed.

Oppo Rancisis turned away from the grim vision on cockpit viewscreen and faced Qui-Gon.

"I wanted to speak with you privately, Qui-Gon," Oppo Rancisis began. "I need a reconnaissance team. I want someone observing from the outside. Very, very low key. I want you to take two other Jedi with you and try to infiltrate the factories. Find out just what's going on as far as production. We'll need that information to take back to the chancellor."

Qui-Gon nodded. "As you wish, Master Rancisis. I am at your disposal." Qui-Gon paused to organize his thoughts into words. "Master, about my padawan. I would like permission to take him with me as part of my team. Besides the fact that we work well together, I know I can depend on his acute sense of responsibility to wholly dedicate himself to any task he's given. He's courageous, and strong, and very tuned to the connecting power of the Force. I feel his presence would be an asset."

Oppo Rancisis sighed heavily and placed a hand on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "I am aware that you have been to this sector before. I know you are more familiar with the layout of the city than most of the Jedi here. That was why I wanted you in particular for this. I am also aware that your padawan is among those who volunteered. I hadn't considered it before, but a master-padawan bond would be beneficial when it comes to espionage. It would eliminate a lot of the guessing."

Qui-Gon sighed. "Thank you, Master. I'll inform him."

Oppo Rancisis nodded. "The plan is for me to ask for a demonstration of the prototype and then present the formal protest to the Colicoids as a representative of the Galactic Republic. Depending on how the Colicoids react to that, we will either challenge them or issue our farewells and be on our way. You should know, there will also be a backup team remaining on the ship. This backup team has been instructed to contact you for reinforcement should the need arise. It will then be up to you to retrieve as many Jedi as you can and head back to Coruscant. The chancellor and the Council will need to be informed." Oppo Rancisis paused and lowered his voice. "It is my experience that anything less than full scale deployment of the Jedi War Machine is a waste of time when it comes to dealing with these beings." He straightened and cleared his throat, returning to his normal volume. "But that is just in case something goes wrong."

Qui-Gon feigned shock. "But Master, what could possibly go wrong?" he asked dryly.

***

Being the only padawan on the ship was beginning to make Obi-Wan feel self-conscious. Everyone was offering him counsel and dispensing wisdom as if he had been collectively adopted by all of them while the man who actually was his master, presently wasn't offering him anything.

He tried to stay close to Lyrik. He felt comfortable with her: her coquettish remarks helped ease the burdensome tension throughout the ship; her sage advice was encouraging, and her sympathy welcome.

The ship's hull was awash with varying shades of brown. The Jedi mulled about in discussion; debating, meditating, or simply waiting. Qui-Gon was conspicuously absent. Obi-Wan began to wonder if maybe he was avoiding him, but dismissed it as too petty for Qui-Gon. Lyrik suddenly nudged his arm and he looked up just in time to see Oppo Rancisis enter the hull followed closely by a hooded Jedi.

Obi-Wan recognized Qui-Gon even before seeing his familiar leonine features. His Force signature was strong, and his presence, even amid the other masters, was commanding and formidable.

Qui-Gon made his way over to where Obi-Wan and Lyrik were sitting. He glanced briefly at Obi-Wan but stopped in front of Lyrik and bowed.

"Lyrik D'La Verge, I regret that I have not sought you out before this to renew our acquaintance. I was aware that you had also accepted this mission. May I say you are looking quite well?"

Lyrik smiled. "You may," she quipped. "I meant to seek you out as well, Master Jinn. I got a little side-tracked, however." Her eyes drifted towards Obi-Wan. "But with a face like that, who could blame me?"

Pointedly ignoring Lyrik's reference to him,Obi-Wan focused his eyes determinedly on his lap. He busied himself by pulling loose threads from the hem of his cloak. He felt he should say something to Qui-Gon, but there wasn't anything left for him to say. He shifted uncomfortably and scowled at his frayed cloak.

Qui-Gon gazed down at him and was stung by the portrait of dejection marring his padawan's usually vibrant features.

"Obi-Wan, look at me," he said quietly. He reached down and cupped his padawan's chin in his large hand and tilted his head back. Reluctantly, Obi-Wan raised his eyes. Qui-Gon shook his head.

"I know you probably think I've been avoiding you, but in truth, I have been with Master Rancisis," Qui-Gon explained.

Obi-Wan furrowed his brow and wondered if Qui-Gon's observation was merely a figure of speech, or if the Jedi Master actually did know that was what he had been thinking.

Qui-Gon grinned and continued. "Since you are here, Master Rancisis felt you might as well be put to good use. He was impressed by what I told him about you, and believed you would be able to contribute greatly to this mission. "

Obi-Wan looked even more puzzled. "Impressed?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "I told him you were a fine padawan. I told him that you were brave, committed, reliable, and capable. And, that I wanted you with me." His dark blue eyes locked on his padawan's. "I meant it."

A slow smile brightened Obi-Wan's features. He inclined his head in a gesture of appreciation. "Thank you, Master." He was considerably pleased by Qui-Gon's compliments but even more pleased to be teamed with his master again.

"You and I have been given a special assignment for reconnaissance," Qui-Gon continued and crossed his arms, burying his hands in his sleeves. "It has to be very low profile. We need to gather information to take back to the chancellor on the latest droideka developments. Master Rancisis spoke of possibly infiltrating the actual factory and then acting as reinforcements if needed." He faced Lyrik again. "Does this sound like something you would be interested in?"

Lyrik nodded. "Count me in, Gentlemen. What's the plan?"

***

Aware of the fact that the Colicoids were monitoring the landing pad and not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to themselves, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Lyrik departed the Reliant with the four masters that made up the main landing party. They stayed towards the back of the group, waiting for the opportunity to split from them and venture out on their own undetected.

The arrival of the insectoidal Colicoids to the landing pad caused slight wave of apprehension to ripple through the Jedi. The Colicoids were large, powerful-looking beings with glossy purplish-black shells. They walked in sporadic, halting steps; their limbs clicking with their mechanical movements. They had tiny vacant eyes which added to the impression of their lacking any kind of face. The predominant feature of their head was their numerous antennas, followed closely by their large jagged mandibles, which they constantly ground together with a soft scraping noise.

Obi-Wan shuddered involuntarily. It was difficult to view the Colicoids as the highly intelligent and sophisticated architects he knew them to be. They looked too much like machines. Cold and predatory.

The droids interpreting for Oppo Rancisis were currently engaged in conversation with the largest of the Colicoids' representatives. Finally, one of the droids by the name Two-Four M Eight, turned its attention to Oppo Rancisis.

"This is Ty R'Kerkov. He is a sergeant of rank of official forces here in the city. He was sent by his superiors to discover the reason for our intrusion. If sufficient cause can be determined, he has been instructed to release us, but insist on our immediate departure. If not he has authority to seize the ship and all those on board," 2-4M8 relayed.

Oppo Rancisis sighed. "Tell him he has no such authority over us. Warn him that should he attempt to carry out his threats, we will not hesitate to defend ourselves and our ship. Our purpose here is diplomatic, as representatives of the Galactic Republic. We seek information only. We came to see the droidekas."

2-4M8 hurriedly told the Colicoid what the Jedi had said. The Colicoid raised his arm in a dismissive gesture and replied in a flurry of caustic sounds.

"He says you are lying. He knows you are all Jedi and would not be interested in purchasing a contract for production of droidekas. The droidekas are war machines. Their very name means destroyers. Jedi would never support such production. He knows the Republic has sent you as a blatant act of aggression against his kind. He feels it only fair to treat you accordingly."

Oppo Rancisis shook his head. "Our expedition here is not an act of aggression. Tell him this exactly. The Republic is interested in the production of these droids. Not the Jedi. We are only acting as agents for the Republic. Tell him we wish a demonstration of the droids capabilities. We wish to test them ourselves to find out if they are as indestructible as they are proclaimed."

This seemed to appease the Colicoid. He turned and motioned the seven Jedi to follow him as he aligned his contingent of soldiers to lead them from the landing site.

Qui-Gon glanced over at Lyrik and Obi-Wan. He nodded and inclined his head to the left slightly. He began drifting slowly away from the group as soon as the Colicoids had taken them out into the center of the city.

The streets were all but deserted. Occasionally a mangy and feral creature scuttled from one hiding spot to another in the back alleys, but there wasn't any other signs of life and there wasn't any other Colicoids around.

"Something's not right," Qui-Gon whispered. "The foreboding I feel is very strong. The Force is trying to tell us something."

Obi-Wan leaned closer to his master. "Could it be stronger because we all sense it?"

Qui-Gon shook his head. He stopped walking and looked around. He quickly ducked into one of the darker alleyways and waved Lyrik and Obi-Wan to him.

"No, the Colicoids are going to attack," Lyrik announced with decided certainty.

From their position in the alley, the three Jedi watched as the Colicoids led the four Jedi through a passage and out of sight.

"Shouldn't we stay with them if they are about to come under fire?" Obi-Wan asked.

"No, we'll be able to reinforce them from a different vantage point this way," Qui-Gon told him. His hand was already on the hilt of his lightsaber. Lyrik drew hers and shifted it from one hand to the other a few times. "We'll circle around the building and intercept the Colicoids from the other side. They won't be expecting that, it might just give us an added edge."

Qui-Gon led them back out into the deserted street, skirting the perimeter of a vacanted building. They moved quickly and silently despite the fact there was no one around to see them.

Lyrik paused, an odd expression darkening her face. "Qui-Gon wait," she whispered loudly, pulling on his sleeve. "Do you hear that?"

Obi-Wan had heard it as well. He glanced at his master. Qui-Gon stopped, listening.

"Something's coming towards us," Obi-Wan stated.

Qui-Gon heard the haphazard rumbling of heavy metal rolling towards them at great speed. It was unlike any sound he had ever heard before. He glanced quickly at Lyrik and Obi-Wan with sudden dread.

"Destroyers!" he hissed and quickly pulled his companions further down the alley.

Six large armored wheels sped passed them and continued in the same direction the Jedi had been heading. They rounded the side of the building. Steadily the loud metallic clanging sound they made faded, then stopped completely.

The three Jedi looked at each other, then simultaneously sprang forward.

Now the sound of laser blasts hitting lightsabers filled the air. It resonated through the tunnel-like streets to ear-piercing levels. As Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Lyrik cleared the corner of the building, the sight that accompanied these disturbing sounds proved to be even more grim.

Master Rancisis was the only Jedi left standing. He was pinned inside a recessed threshold. The three Jedi who had been with him now lay dead in front of him on the street. The Colicoids and droidekas kept up a steady stream of blaster fire but he was effectively holding them off for the time being.

Qui-Gon noticed that two of the droidekas had been methodically destroyed, their heads severed. Parts of them littered the street. The interpreter droids were also demolished, but by blaster fire. Most likely from the Colicoids. Apparently the Colicoids must have felt they had nothing left to say to the Jedi before they attacked them.

The sudden unexpected presence of three more Jedi startled the Colicoids. They broke ranks and scattered for cover, but not before drawing the droidekas' attention away from Oppo Rancisis. The Jedi Master seized the opportunity he had been given and moved to attack. He brought down Ty R'Kerkov and two other Colicoids himself as Qui-Gon and company finished off the remaining five. Now there was just the four destroyer droids to contend with, but the Jedi had had enough already, and before the destroyers could center their assault on any particular target, Obi-Wan, Lyrik, Oppo Rancisis, and Qui-Gon hastily retreated back around the building, down the other side.

Qui-Gon took the lead and brought them into the vacant building they had passed earlier. He wanted to get them off the street momentarily and out of the droidekas' sensory range.

Qui-Gon turned and faced Oppo Rancisis. "We need to call the backup. We need their help."

"No," Oppo Rancisis stated emphatically. "I will not see more of my Jedi slaughtered. We will return to the ship and leave this place."

Qui-Gon swallowed hard. "But the masters... back there. We can't just leave them to the Colicoids."

Obi-Wan paled, remembering Master Sheleigha's grisley fate. "They'll be consumed," he said under his breath.

Oppo Rancisis sighed heavily. "We will get them and bring them back ourselves. We will not call out the others."

Qui-Gon nodded. He faced Lyrik. "Master Rancisis and I will carry the bodies. You and Obi-Wan will have to act as cover, understood?"

Lyrik and Obi-Wan both nodded.

***

As the Jedi slowly made their way back to the passage, they noticed a steadily increasing number of heavily armed Colicoids milling about. These new forces had been alerted as to the escape of the Jedi and were diligently scouting the immediate area for them.

Lyrik peered around a masonry wall surrounding a courtyard of sorts and frowned back at her companions. "We are never going to get back to that lane undetected now. There are Colicoids crawling everywhere," she murmured, then grimaced. "Uh, no pun intended."

Refusing to give up so easily, Qui-Gon began looking around. He noticed Obi-Wan steadily gazing upward.

"What is it, Padawan?"

Obi-Wan pointed. "An open elevator shaft. I can see it through the window. Inside that warehouse. If we can cross the yard and make it inside undetected, we can gain entry to the roof of the warehouse using that shaft. We could ascend the building without detection that way." He paused, calculating distances in his head while studying the outside of the warehouse. "Traveling down the length of that building would take us to the street just beyond the passageway. We could move a little more freely on the rooftops, I think."

Qui-Gon looked impressed. He turned to face Lyrik and Oppo Rancisis for a sign of approval. It was then he noticed the Thisspiasan was leaning unsteadily against the wall. He studied the Jedi Master and frowned deeply.

"You're wounded," he stated knowingly.

Oppo Rancisis nodded. "It's nothing to be concerned about. Nothing I can't manage with a little manipulation of the Force." He sighed and scowled at his companions' concerned expressions. "I'll return to the ship on my own. I don't want to slow you down. Young Obi-Wan's suggestion is a viable one. Go now." He nodded. "Go and may the Force be with you."

Lyrik licked her lips in anticipation. "Gentlemen, after you."

***

The elevator shaft was obtainable by climbing over the top of the elevator. The actual elevator rested on the groundlevel; its doors open and waiting for the next occupant. The warehouse itself was fairly quiet. The Jedi spied a few armed Colicoid workers acting as sentries outside a set of three massive double doors. Using the Force, the Jedi easily distracted the sentries and slipped into the open elevator shaft.

The elevator operated by means of a hydraulic lifting mechanism. The pressure tubing lining the sides of the shaft made scaling the inside fairly easy physically, but the climb was tedious and slow going.

"You know what I just realized? This scenario has all the ingredients of a recurring fantasy of mine," Lyrik began, as they finally reached the top. "An elevator. Two gorgeous men. You know the kind. If only we weren't being hunted by killer droids and giant predatorial bugs."

Obi-Wan pulled himself up out of the shaft and climbed onto the flooring of the uppermost level. He reached down and offered Lyrik his hand to help her up. She hoisted herself out and knelt down to assist Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon gave her a dubious look. "I can see where killer droids and predatorial bugs could put a damper on your erotic fantasies," he told her.

Lyrik grinned. "Who says they were erotic? My fantasy merely involved reaching a goal through my own efforts.... and having something nice to look at along the way."

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged glances. "I stand corrected," Qui-Gon muttered with a slight smile.

The three Jedi worked their way down the spacious halls to the farthest end of the warehouse in search of the roof's access. Their search of the entire upper floor proved futile.

Lyrik gestured at the window at the very end of the hallway. "We'll have to risk it," she told Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. "We won't be exposed very long. It's just a matter of climbing out and pulling ourselves up."

Qui-Gon nodded. "Quickly," he urged.

Lyrik started for the window. Obi-Wan skipped after her and almost crashed into her and Qui-Gon as they ground to a halt just before jumping out.

"Will you look at that," Lyrik whispered.

Qui-Gon peered out the window at the yard below. Hundreds of droidekas were lined up, row after row in precise formation. Colicoid workers were unloading more from the warehouse into the yard at a steady rate.

"We're too late," Qui-Gon said to no one in particular.

Obi-Wan leaned forward, looking out over Qui-Gon's shoulder. "They've apparently already started production. They must have a paid contract for these droids to construct this many of them."

"This warehouse must be a storage facility," Lyrik pointed out. She turned from the window and glanced around. "I wonder how many more there are inside."

"Qui-Gon shook his head. "I'd rather not stick around and find out. We have to get back to the ship. We have to hurry." He pointed up. "Let's go."

Lyrik silently hopped onto the window sill and pulled herself up. Obi-Wan glanced down below to check to see if the Colicoids had noticed the sudden activity above them. Slowly, he stepped out onto the ledge and looked up at Lyrik. She held her hand out to him encouragingly.

A blast coming from inside the building startled Obi-Wan to the point where he almost lost his balance and fell. He clutched the side of the building desparately as more blasts showered the hallway from the sudden appearance of two patroling droidekas. Qui-Gon's lightsaber hissed to life and deflected the blasts back down the hallway and into the surrounding walls.

"Go Obi-Wan! Get out of here!" Qui-Gon ordered, furiously swatting at the powerful blasts. The droidekas were slowly stalking towards him from the other end of the hall. The droids were surrounded by a violet-colored globe of energy which efficiently protected them from the Jedi Master's efforts.

Obi-Wan slipped back through the window, taking advantage of the added height the ledge provided and dove as high up as he could in the confined space of the hallway. He sailed over the two droids and landed just behind them with a perfectly executed forward roll. He immediately sprang to his feet while simultaneously spinning around and before the lumbering droids could turn their deadly blasts towards him, he cut them down: his lightsaber penetrating through the energy shields and armor plating with relative ease at such close range.

Now the only sound in the hall was the gentle humming of the lightsabers and the thundering of Qui-Gon's heart in his ears. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment and took a deep steadying breath.

Obi-Wan deactivated his lightsaber and walked over to his master's side. "That was a bit of an adrenaline rush."

Qui-Gon deactivated his saber and attached it to his belt. "That's the second time you've disobeyed me, Young Padawan," he began, the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile. "I hope you are not going to start making a habit of it."

"No Master, I promise," he replied, returning the smile. Then Obi-Wan lowered his eyes and his voice became very serious. "Thank you, Qui-Gon. I know you were ready to die for me and it was quite courageous and noble of you, but I just couldn't let you. Even if you were ready, I wasn't. You understand, don't you?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "I understand." He placed his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder and squeezed it in a gesture of appreciation. "And I thank you as well."

"Hey! If you two are finished playing around with the droids down there, you need to get up here now!" Lyrik's voice suddenly interrupted.

Together, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon lept onto the window ledge and climbed outside. They hurried over to the edge where Lyrik was waiting. She lay flat on her stomach, peering over the roof down at the activity below. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan settled on either side of her.

"What is it?" Qui-Gon asked.

She pointed. "There. That outbuilding. Service droids just carried three litters in there. Whatever was on them was completely wrapped in plastisene, as if for cold storage." She paused and swallowed uncomfortably. "I'm pretty sure it was the masters' bodies."

Qui-Gon furrowed his brow. He scouted the area and frowned. In the lot to their left, the Colicoids continued lining up the destroyer droids. To their right was the front of the building and a main thoroughfare. Workers were coming and going. Behind them was the sideyard and the masonry wall where they had left Oppo Rancisis. The side of the building they were currently looking down at was dark and relatively quiet. There wasn't any signs of Colicoids or droidekas in this area, just the service droids moving busily from one outbuilding to the next.

"Those must be supply houses," Obi-Wan offered. "For the warehouse. For the most part, they seem to be unguarded."

"Still, we'll have to try to avoid those service droids," Qui-Gon pointed out. "They may not be dangerous, but they can easily set off an alarm."

"Got any ideas, Master Jinn?" Lyrik said and sighed heavily.

Qui-Gon rolled over on his back to think. He closed his eyes to envision his plan.

"We can jump down to the roof of the outbuilding," he began concentrating. "We'll cut a hole in the roof. It's metal, so that shouldn't be difficult. I'll go inside, retrieve the bodies, and pass them up to you and Obi-Wan. Then we'll have to scale the masonry wall surrounding the perimeter, pass the bodies over to each other and follow the wall to the other side. I can carry two bodies and Obi-Wan will take the third." He paused and looked over at Lyrik. "I want you to go ahead of us and make sure the way is free of 'obstructions.' "

Lyrik nodded and sat up. She grinned devilishly. "You know, this reminds me of another fantasy of mine involving two well-built men and a sizzling hot rooftop. Or was it two sizzling hot men and a well-built rooftop?" She shrugged. "Mmm, either way...."

Standing, Obi-Wan laughed and shook his head. Qui-Gon rose to his feet and leaned over and planted a kiss on Lyrik's cheek.

"You're priceless," he told her. She merely smiled and bowed to him.

***

Qui-Gon's plan went without a hitch up until the point where they were to follow the wall surrounding the warehouse. The streets were bustling with activity now. Armed troops of Colicoids patrolled the area as well as the occasional contingent of destroyer droids. The Jedi were forced to move back into the outskirts of the city and then practically double-back in order to reach the landing pad. They were able to avoid the troops until they came through the passage that led directly to the ship. They were startled to discover the Reliant was entirely surrounded by Colicoid soldiers. The ship was sealed and the rampway was guarded by two droidekas.

Qui-Gon eased his burden to the ground and stood regarding this new predicament with vexation. He dragged his hand through his hair in frustration and turned to face Obi-Wan and Lyrik.

"We need a distraction," he stated. "The only way we are going to be able to get to that ship is to pull those troops away from it."

Obi-Wan turned feeling an approaching presence. His hand went to the hilt of his saber but stopped. Oppo Rancisis immerged from the shadows and ambled over to where the three Jedi were hiding.

"The others are sealed inside. They told me they closed the ship when the Colicoids showed up in force," Oppo Rancisis informed. He turned and gazed down at the bodies of the slain Jedi. "I'm pleased to see you were successful, Master Jinn."

"In more ways than one," Qui-Gon told him. "We now have knowledge that a full-scale production of these droidekas is currently underway. They've amassed hundreds of these droids already. So at least we were able to procure information the chancellor needs."

"And at least we know they can be destroyed with the proper application of technique," Obi-Wan added. "But, unfortunately, it won't be enough to convince the Colicoids to cease production. We were simply too late. So we failed in that respect."

Oppo Rancisis shook his head. "Even if this mission had gone as planned, Jedi would have still lost their lives and there was never any guarantee the Colicoids would cease plans for production. In a sense we have failed, but the first-hand experiences we have had with these droids will help the Jedi defeat them in the future. I do not wish to think these fine masters gave their lives for an exercise in futility."

Lyrik nudged Obi-Wan. "Give me your lightsaber, Padawan."

Obi-Wan gave her a puzzled look but complied. She took it and examined it carefully.

"Master Rancisis, contact the Reliant and tell them to prepare for take off. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready to go home," Lyrik informed.

As Oppo Rancisis activated his comlink, Qui-Gon faced Lyrik with an uneasy expression.

"Just what do you have in mind, Lyrik D'La Verge?" Qui-Gon questioned her.

She turned and started walking away from them. "You said we needed a distraction. I'm going to cause one."

Obi-Wan gaped at her in surprise. Qui-Gon sprang after her.

"No!" he spat and grabbed her sleeve, hauling her around to face him. "That's not what I meant!"

"Relax!" Lyrik hissed back at him and jerked her arm free. "Believe me, I'm not into theatrical heroics. I'm just going to buy us some time and opportunity. Have the ship ready to take off. I'll pull the troops off her and you boys get on board. No sweat. Just don't forget to swing by and pick me up when your'e ready to leave, okay?"

The Reliant's engines suddenly flared and fired up, startling everyone and everything at the landing site. Lyrik turned and stalked off. Qui-Gon looked longingly after her then reluctantly turned away.

The boarding ramp began to descend. The Colicoids were on full alert now, waving their weapons wildly at the unseen threat and scuttling about, searching to no avail. Suddenly the sound of two lightsabers being activated focused their attention on the far side of the landing pad on the top of a broken down and long since abandoned ship.

Lyrik stood perfectly balanced and ready in combat stance: feet apart and lightsabers held blazing in front of her, one in each hand. As predicted, the troop of Colicoids rushed to her, firing madly. The droidekas dropped and coiled into their wheel form and rolled towards all the commotion.

Qui-Gon moved to intercept them, his own lightsaber activated and ready. He disabled one while still rolling, narrowly avoiding being crushed in the process. The second droid straightened and Qui-Gon stepped up to it, crashing his lightsaber through the armored head. The droideka teetered, suddenly deprived of its guidance systems and sensors. It toppled over and lay on the tarmac, scraping the ground frantically to try to right itself.

Obi-Wan had already made it to the ship with one of the bodies. Oppo Rancisis had gathered up the others and was starting up the boarding ramp. Qui-Gon ran after him, seeing the Reliant begin to slowly rise off the landing pad. He jumped, his feet hitting the ramp just as the ship began to pull away.

Qui-Gon stayed on the ramp as the Reliant steadily gained height and speed. He watched the Jedi on the top of the ship with admiration and awe. Her style painfully reminded him of Sheleigha's. All grace and power and precision. Sheleigha had been an expert with a lightsaber. Despite his tension, Qui-Gon had to smile. Lyrik was Sheleigha's legacy just like Obi-Wan was his. Already he could see bits and pieces of his personality reflected in Obi-Wan. The boy was getting more head-strong and defiant all the time. If he kept it up, he would never be offered a seat on the Council either.

Qui-Gon braced himself on the ramp. He sent waves of encouragement to Lyrik through the Force. She wouldn't be able to hold them off much longer. He could feel her begin to tire as the exhertion she was undergoing slowly drained her. He held his breath and waited.

Despite that, Lyrik was fending off the Colicoids assault with considerable finesse. Both arms worked in perfect harmony with the two lightsabers, all the while leaping and spinning to avoid blasts she could not deflect. She heard the ship over her and jumped without looking at it, letting the Force guide her.

Qui-Gon caught her in his arms and crushed her to him. He covered her mouth in an impulsive and devouring kiss then released her, looking more than a little flustered. He slowly smiled.

"Forgive me," he breathed. "This has been one hell of a trip."

Lyrik smiled back at him and patted his cheek reassuringly. "Please Master Jinn. Don't apologize. That just made it all worthwhile."


EPILOGUE

Obi-Wan stared unseeingly into the flames of the funeral pyres that engulfed the bodies of the three slain Jedi Masters. Qui-Gon stood beside Obi-Wan, his head down, his eyes closed. Silently and without warning, Qui-Gon turned and began walking slowly away. Obi-Wan started after him.

The Jedi Master stopped outside the great hall of the Temple and leaned heavily against the cold stone wall. Obi-Wan approached him cautiously.

"Do you wish to be left alone?" Obi-Wan asked in a quiet and reverent voice.

Qui-Gon sighed and shook his head. "No, I don't wish to be alone. I don't ever wish to be alone."

Obi-Wan drew closer. "Don't feel as though you have to speak with me. I'll just stand here with you if it will lend a little support."

Qui-Gon looked up and smiled. "You're very kind and wise and a good friend to me, Obi-Wan. Sometimes, I don't think I deserve you."

Obi-Wan lowered his eyes. "I feel the same, Master. I feel very fortunate to have you."

"Obi-Wan...about all those things I said when we were on our way to Colla IV. I know I hurt you. I am sorry." Qui-Gon paused and pushed back the hood of his robe. "Sheleigha insisted on going to Colla IV with me too. She also felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility towards me. We argued. I know I said a lot of punishing words to her as well. I was afraid for her. I wanted to discourage her from ever doing anything of that sort for me again. Unfortunately, she was killed before I was given the chance to tell her what I was truly feeling. How grateful I was that she loved me enough to want to be with me no matter what. How much she meant to me and how special I thought she was." Qui-Gon's dark eyes glistened with unshed tears. He reached over and placed his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "I'm very grateful history did not repeat itself in this instance. I learned from my mistake with Sheleigha. I could see the same pattern developing and I knew I had to stop it."

Obi-Wan inhaled deeply. "It would appear my presence on that mission was guided by something of a much more profound nature than I originally thought," he began. "At first I believed I was only sent to save you, but now I see I was sent along to heal you as well."

Qui-Gon wiped at his watering eyes with his wrist and wearily straightened. "Come on, Padawan. Let's go home."

END

BeElleGee

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