So sorry for the very long wait, I've been trying to balance a lot lately. Thanks for your patience and understanding, and as always thanks for the reviews (your feedback was very helpful for writing this chapter), favorites, and follows. Extra long chapter for the extra long wait.
Interlude V – Annabeth
Annabeth didn't know what woke her. Everything was quite in their guest bedroom, but she had the feeling that she was in danger. It was the same feeling she got before a monster attacked. Percy's hand suddenly gripped hers, and she knew he felt it too. She scanned the room. The most likely place for an attack would be from the windows. She tugged on Percy's arm as she reached for her blaster on the bedside table. After so many years of fighting together, he knew what she wanted. She dove off the bed, and he followed. Of course, he tried to be chivalrous and used his body to shield her as something crashed through a window on the other side of the room.
A blaster went off as a figure swooped in. She saw the blue bolt arc across the room in the direction of the door, probably blasting the controls. The intruder chuckled, "No one's leaving this party early." He had a gravelly voice with a strange accent and was humanoid with a bald head from what Annabeth could see in the dim light from Coruscant's skyscrapers shining through the broken window. She felt Percy silently shift into a crouch ready to spring, but R2-D2 beat him to it and charged the intruder with his shock prod after several angry beeps.
"Attack plan beta," she whispered to Percy.
Percy didn't reply, but he rushed forward while the intruder was distracted by R2. The attacker must have had an ion blaster because he fired at the brave little droid, and a blue charge raced over R2's circuits causing the droid to shutdown. Percy ignited his green lightsaber, "That wasn't very nice." Of course, he just had to add a taunt. The intruder whirled around, but before he could fire an ion bolt which would still stun Percy, her boyfriend sliced through the blaster, only missing the hand by a few inches as the bald alien jumped back in shock. Fast refluxes, Annabeth added to her mental list of strengths and weaknesses of their mystery opponent, also night vision since the intruder was blinking rapidly as if the glow of the lightsaber hurt his eyes. "You're a Jedi?" he asked completely surprised.
"Not exactly, it's a friend's," Percy retorted as he advanced on their attacker.
The intruder grinned in a creepy way that made Annabeth think he might actually be a serial killer level psychopath, "Good, it's always more fun when the prey come out to play!" In one motion, the alien drew a large vibrosword that was strapped to his back and swung it down at Percy.
However, Percy wasn't the best swordsman at Camp-Halfblood for no reason. He deflected the vibrosword and followed with an attack forcing his opponent to step to the side. Come on Percy, a little more, Annabeth thought. She carefully aimed her blaster while staying out of sight, waiting for a clear shot.
She had to admit that the assassin (it had to be an assassin since the attacker was definitely going for the kill), was pretty good. Percy pressed him hard, not giving him a moment to realize that she was hiding in the corner, but the assassin surprisingly kept up and prevented Percy from ending the bout quickly. Either he was a Force sensitive or was stronger and faster than the majority of humans. She also could tell the moment the assassin realized that he was outmatched. His swings became harder and wilder, like a cornered animal. Finally, though it probably had been only a few seconds, Percy maneuvered the intruder so that his back was directly in her line of fire. She pulled the trigger, and the intruder collapsed.
Percy prodded the fallen attacker with his foot. "Is he dead?"
"No, just stunned," Annabeth replied as she stood from her hiding spot and grabbed Daedalus 2.0. "It's much harder to get answers from the dead."
Percy turned on the lights, and she had her first good look at their attacker. He had pale skin with a dark tattoo on the lower half of his face and pointed ears. Definitely not completely human then. While Percy rummaged through his bag and pulled out his Naboo Security Force issued binders to restrain the assassin, she scanned the intruder with her laptop and after a few seconds had a positive match, Sixtat, the Outlands Butcher. He was wanted in nearly a hundred systems with several death sentences for vicious murders. The images of his brutally mutilated victims made her shudder. "I'm starting to wish I had killed him," Annabeth muttered. Percy glanced up in surprise from tying the assassin's legs together with torn strips from the red sheets. She wondered if he did that to purposely annoy their host. "He takes way too much pleasure in his killings," she explained. "He's also a Sakiyan. They're stronger and have better reflexes and senses than most humans."
"That's why his swings felt like they were from a cyclops. I thought I was just too tired. What now?" Percy asked with a yawn. "Can we just throw him outside the door and go back to sleep? I was actually having a good dream for a change."
"Someone just tried to kill us, Percy!" She couldn't believe her boyfriend could be thinking about sleep right now.
"So, someone's trying to kill us," he parroted back in that sarcastic tone of his. "What's new?"
She groaned, sometimes Percy could be so annoying, but she also had to resist laughing. He did have a point; someone was always trying to kill them. "But who?"
He shrugged, "I don't know who have we ticked off recently? A Sith Lord," he raised his index finger counting, "the Trade Federation, Hades maybe even Tapalo if he figured out he won't actually be getting any plasma from the Gungans. I'd say the Jedi Council, but I don't think assassinations are really their thing."
Those were the most likely suspects minus the last suggestion, but she knew he had meant it as a joke. The Jedi weren't a threat to them – yet, but the Sith. . . "I don't think it was Darth Sidious since he's trying to recruit you."
"Unless he's mad because he found out we're helping the senator, which he did because you purposely baited him."
That was true, but she still didn't think that was it. "Yes, but he would want it to happen quietly, an accident that wouldn't attract attention. That's not Sixtat's style. I don't think it was the Trade Federation either since they would probably go after Padmé. Why focus on us? Tapalo though does make sense. Our deaths would definitely hurt the unification process and representation for Gungans would be pushed back several years. No doubt the plan was for Sixtat to make a brutal example of us to scare everyone else. Plus, he probably assumed we are more vulnerable here without the protection of the queen and Panaka."
"That old sot really is getting annoying." Percy glanced at the door. "Where is the protection we do have anyways? Shouldn't the senator's guards be banging on the door by now. The whole crashing through a window wasn't exactly quiet."
Annabeth shook her head, "No, the soundproofing is too good in these rooms. I assume Sixtat must have disabled the external alarms before breaking the window. The only other way they would have known was with the secret cameras and mics that you told Palpatine to remove."
Percy rolled his eyes, "If Palpatine says, 'I told you so,' there's going to be some serious damage to his plumbing."
"At least it does give us time to do our own investigation and question the assassin ourselves," she stated. "I doubt the law enforcement would have let us." She rebooted R2 while Percy removed an extra blaster, several hidden vibroblades, and a utility belt from Sixtat. That was one thing they had both learned from Leo, never underestimate the utility belt. After several annoyed beeps, R2 plugged into the room's network and lowered the blast protection shutters to seal off the broken window. Annabeth glanced back down at the unconscious assassin, "And now we wait."
Waiting had never been one of Percy's strong suits, so after a few minutes he went to the refresher and returned with a large sphere of water which he dropped on the assassin. Sixtat jerked awake, head and shoulders completely soaked. He struggled to get free, but the restraints held, even the torn sheets. Annabeth didn't recognize any of the knots Percy had used to bind the assassin's legs. He probably had just made them up as he went since her boyfriend was rather talented at tangling things up. Once he realized he couldn't get free, Sixtat glared at both of them, "You're gonna be sorry you're ever born."
Percy snorted, "If I had a drachma every time someone said that."
Frustrated that he hadn't succeeded in intimidating Percy, Sixtat snarled, "You wouldn't be laughing, boy, if you knew who I was. But once I get free, you will. I'll make you watch while I cut your pretty friend here into little bits."
Percy's eyes darkened, and she felt the change in the Force (now that she knew how to recognize it) as he involuntarily gathered his power. Before he could lose control and destroy Palpatine's plumbing or do something even worse, she said "Percy," in a calm but slightly annoyed tone.
He glanced at her, and she stared into those sea-green eyes of his that seemed to pulse with the power of hurricanes at the moment. Then he looked down and sighed as he mentally released the build-up of his power. When he once again looked at her, there was an embarrassed smile playing on his lips, "Sorry Wise Girl, I know you're perfectly capable of kicking this psycho's butt yourself and don't need me to protect you."
"Good," she flashed him a relieved smile in return. "Now, that's settled. We can get to business." She glared at the assassin as she stated in her coldest most intimidating voice, "We have some questions for you that you are going to answer."
For a second, Sixtat flinched. He must have seen something in her eyes that made the hardened killer realize she wasn't some helpless prey but rather the most dangerous predator he had ever met. As if trying to make up for his moment of weakness, Sixtat growled, "What makes you think I'm gonna do anything little girl?"
"It's simple," she made a big show of turning up the intensity of her blaster. "If you don't tell me who hired you to assassinate us, I will kill you." She leveled the blaster at his head with a steady arm and an unflinching gaze. "And I'll sleep wonderfully knowing there is one less monster in the galaxy."
"Don't know," Sixtat spat out.
Annabeth smirked, "That's too bad for you that I know you're lying. Someone like you would make sure to know the identity of his clients, so you know who to go after if they reneged on their payment. I'm sure I'll figure it out anyways since there always is a trail for things like this. Your cooperation would only have saved a little time and your life. That's really not too much." She started to slowly squeeze the trigger.
"Wait!" Sixtat shouted. Annabeth cocked an eyebrow in challenge. "I'll tell you what I know if you won't kill me."
Annabeth nodded, and lowered the gun. Sixtat relaxed and took a deep breath. "Snitching is bad for business, but suppose I don't owe the bastard a thing, since he lied about the hit," he reasoned. He squinted at her as if trying to see beyond her appearance. "Can't tell if it was a set-up or if he just didn't know. Said it'd be easy, two humans barely more than kids. You two might look human, but you don't smell human at least not completely. And y'all aren't easy. I'd wager by the way you fought, boy, you've got more experience than most bounty hunters."
Percy gave her a worried look from his spot just behind Sixtat, but Annabeth didn't allow her concern to show on her face. They couldn't let Sixtat know how important that information could be. Instead, she acted annoyed with a hint of disbelief, "You're just stalling. Of course, we're human. What else would we be?" While there were other kinds of half-humans in the galaxy, they usually had much more visible characteristics of their non-human parent. "If you're just going to make stuff up, then. . ." She raised the gun again.
"He's on Naboo," he said desperately. "Ras Tapalo. Some rich, big-wig lord or something."
Well, he was the most logical suspect, but she hadn't anticipated Tapalo doing something quite this desperate. She supposed it was possible that the Sith could have manipulated Tapalo to do it. Just to be sure though, she asked, "What does Tapalo look like?"
Sixtat shrugged the best he could with his arms cuffed behind his back. "Didn't meet with him in person since I'm a wanted man and all, but he had fancy robes, dark hair and beard, and a big nose."
"That sounds like him," Percy muttered. By the look in his eye, Annabeth bet he was imagining punching said nose, but then he smiled. "Wonder what we're going for these days? How much was he going to pay you?"
The assassin frowned clearly not expecting to discuss his price with his intended victims, but it was a good question. It would let them know how much Tapalo wanted them dead and if he had additional financial support for the deed. "Thirty-thousand credits."
"What only 30,000 measly credits!" Percy exclaimed pretending to be offended. "I feel like Gaea was offering way more than that on her wanted posters." It was on the lower end, so it probably was just his money. If they didn't do something about Tapalo though, he would get worse.
Annabeth rolled her eyes, "Well clearly you haven't annoyed Tapalo as much as you annoyed Gaea."
"Huh, maybe I'm losing my touch," Percy replied with a smirk.
Sixtat looked from Percy then back to her clearly confused. She figured this wasn't the typical response from people who were almost assassinated. "Let's just say this isn't the first time someone's placed a bounty on us," she explained.
She saw a flash of respect in the assassin's eyes before he said, "You got what you want. Suppose you gonna hand me over to the police now?"
Annabeth glanced at the blaster in her hand. It would be so easy. She'd killed before and not just monsters, (they were archetypes and therefore didn't really count) but friends whose only crimes were that they wanted a better life and believed Kronos' lies. Those deaths did haunt her. Not even Percy truly understood since he hadn't really known the demigods Luke had recruited, not like she had. But unlike her friends, Sixtat was a killer, a murderer who enjoyed making others suffer. It would be easy.
"Do it, kill him," a voice said in the back of her head. It sounded familiar like a half-forgotten voice from her dreams.
Sixtat must have deduced what she was considering. "You promised, girl," he spat out. "We had a deal."
It was true. They did have an agreement, but it wasn't like she swore on the River Styx. She stared at the assassin as he desperately struggled against his restraints trying to break free, but he was helpless just like so many of his victims must have been as he cut them apart. She glanced at Percy, but all she saw was understanding in his sea-green eyes, no judgement. "Do it," the voice hissed.
Suddenly as she gazed at Percy, it felt like he had dumped cold water on her, and she could think clearly again. Yes, she could kill Sixtat. He probably deserved it, but in this case, she didn't have to. Despite all the lives she had taken, she had never been an executioner, and she didn't think she wanted to start now. They could turn him in, and he would pay for his crimes the legal way.
Immediately, a plan started to form in her mind. Maybe, she could use this to get rid of another problem as well. "Very well, we will turn you into the authorities," she casually tossed the blaster on the bed. Sixtat froze in shock. "But if you don't want to get extradited to a system where you will face the death penalty, I suggest we make another deal."
"What sort of deal?" Sixtat asked licking his lips in anticipation.
"Provide sufficient evidence and testify against Ras Tapalo, and I'll make sure you don't get extradited. You do have proof that Tapalo hired you?"
Sixtat nodded, "Just in case something like this happened, and I get double crossed. Can't make no promises though. Rich lords don't usually end up in cells."
Annabeth was impressed. Sixtat was more intelligent than he appeared which also made him more dangerous. "I just need enough evidence for him to go to trial. If you cooperate, you'll stay in the Coruscant or Naboo sector and off death row."
"Sounds like agreeable terms, Mam. I'll do my part if you do yours."
Annabeth allowed herself a small smile, she was Mam now, not little girl. "Good, we're in agreement then. I will warn you though if you escape or are anything other than a model prisoner, Percy and I will hunt you down and kill you. I promise you haven't seen even half of what we're capable of." She let the calculating coldness return to her glare as a reminder and a promise. Sixtat nodded his head in understanding.
She gave Percy the look, and he knocked out the assassin with one well-placed blow to the head. "Thanks," Percy said with a grin, "I've been wanting to do that for a while now."
Annabeth knew the responsible course of action was to call for the guards and law enforcement, but it was a rather ungodly hour, and Percy used his baby seal eyes to beg for sleep. Something that would not happen for several hours if they did the responsible thing, so instead Percy tossed Sixtat into the antechamber and told R2 to shock him back to unconsciousness if the assassin woke up.
It did allow Annabeth to enjoy four glorious hours of sleep. In fact, it was the best sleep she had in a while. Maybe, it was the extra soft mattress or all the Jedi nearby sending positive vibes in the Force, but there were no dreams or voices or suggestions, just quiet, peaceful sleep.
That was until the protocol droid woke her and Percy up once the sun had risen. The droid politely declared that Senator Palpatine wished to see them immediately regarding the wanted murderer in the antechamber. Great, Annabeth thought this will be a fun conversation.
Palpatine's office was swarming with his personal guards and several law-enforcement officers with Sixtat in the middle. As soon as the senator spotted her and Percy, he said, "I assume there is an explanation on why a wanted murderer was found restrained in your chambers this morning?"
Before she could answer Palpatine with a more diplomatic answer, Percy replied, "Well, he broke through our window last night and tried to kill us, but since we can take care of ourselves without your secret spy gear, we tied him up, so you guys could arrest him."
"I see," Palpatine stated though he couldn't completely repress the surprise that flashed across his face. "And why did you not notify my staff or law enforcement immediately?"
Again, Annabeth opened her mouth to speak, but Percy beat her to it, "Because it was super late, and I needed my beauty sleep."
Annabeth groaned. Sometimes she really wished her boyfriend had a mute button though she knew there was a reason Percy was being so disrespectful. No doubt, he was hoping his cavalier treatment of the assassination attempt would get a reaction from Palpatine if the senator had known or been involved in it. She studied Palpatine's response closely, but if the senator was indeed wearing a figurative mask as her boyfriend suspected than it was a very good one since instead of any anger or annoyance Palpatine seemed genuinely amused and even chuckled. "Your frankness is refreshing as always, young man, and I am relieved you are both safe."
It did take a while for the police to collect their statements. Percy's face was priceless though when one officer mentioned that he and Annabeth would be receiving 100,000 credits for Sixtat's capture. "What?" he asked completely shocked. "You actually get paid for stopping someone who tries to kill you! I love this place!" In all the excitement last night, Annabeth had forgotten to tell him about the reward for Sixtat's capture or death.
When Annabeth finally managed to escape from the police's questions, she pulled Palpatine to the side, "I have two favors to ask."
"If it is within my power, I will do what I can, my dear," Palpatine responded with an appreciative smile. "Besides the fact that I would like to help you, it seems as if you and young Percy are once again heroes. You have done this Republic a great service by apprehending the Outlands Butcher."
"About that," Annabeth bit her lip. "Do you think you could keep this all quiet? Surely, someone as influential as you could withhold the public release of the details surrounding the why and how Sixtat was caught just until after the Gungans formerly have their representation?"
Palpatine looked at her carefully like he was trying to answer a question that he hadn't asked yet, "I believe I can manage that, but I assume this is not just for the sake of your modesty?"
"No, not completely. I believe this attack was to prevent Gungans from gaining representation in the Senate." Annabeth explained. "The motion cannot afford for anyone on the Commission to be intimidated by such violent actions and withdraw their support."
"That is a very strategic move," Palpatine praised. "I see why Queen Amidala values your advice so highly. Does this mean you know who sent the assassin? He has remained silent on that front until a lawyer comes."
Annabeth nodded, "Yes, Sixtat confessed that is was Ras Tapalo and claims to have sufficient evidence to accuse him which leads me to my second favor. In return for his cooperation, I would like Sixtat to carry out his sentence in either the Naboo or Coruscant system whichever will be easier for the trial. Sixtat was only the arrow. I want the person who fired the bow."
"That is most troubling indeed that Ras would resort to assassination," Palpatine frowned in concern. "I have friends in the Justice Department that should be able to help with your request though I doubt Tapalo will be convicted."
"I know," Annabeth admitted. "But a long, unpopular trial will damage his reputation and political career. He will be out of our way politically and will have less resources to pay for future assassins, especially once word gets around that Percy and I bested the Outlands Butcher. I don't think many assassins will be too eager to take us on without an extremely large monetary award."
Like most politicians, Palpatine was usually a hard person to read, but right now she could tell he was impressed. "My dear, when you undoubtedly become bored with Naboo politics, I hope you will consider bringing your talents to the galactic scale. I could use someone like you on my staff."
She could definitely see the appeal of galactic politics and was flattered by the offer. However, Palpatine was a career politician who reveled in the game of it. She could see that this man wasn't solely motivated by the welfare of his constituents. Not that he didn't care about them, but he wore his power too well to not enjoy it. Unlike Percy, she didn't necessarily think this was a reason to dislike Palpatine since it wasn't too different from the career politicians back home, but it was a reason to distrust some of his motives. And given the choice she would prefer to work with Padmé, someone passionate, whose sole goal was to better the lives of the people she served. "Thanks for the offer, Senator, but right now I'm very happy working with Padmé."
"I understand," Palpatine told her. "Her passion and enthusiasm can be rather appealing. Though I hope we can still discuss any particularly interesting or difficult issues that come up in the future? I believe we could both learn much from each other."
"Of course, I always love challenging problems," Annabeth replied with a smile. She did believe she could learn a good deal from Palpatine, and it couldn't hurt having a powerful 'friend' with the amount of legal trouble Percy tended to get into.
Despite being delayed due to the assassination investigation, the rest of the day ran smoothly. Since they were only requesting the addition of a junior representative to a system already in the Republic, they only needed the agreement of the Galactic Representative Commission and the Supreme Chancellor not the entire Senate, and because of Naboo's current popularity in galactic politics, it should be an easy pass. Both Percy and Jar Jar did a surprisingly excellent job with their speeches and interactions with the politicians. Chancellor Valorum, himself, assured them that everyone had already agreed to the Gungan addition although the official announcement would be in a Senate session tomorrow. Luckily, it seemed like Palpatine was able to keep the assassination attempt quiet.
Because of her holo-tracking device, she received alerts every time Palpatine received a hologram reminding her of the real reason they were here, but none of the calls had been the Sith. She knew that the senator had scheduled a speech for the next day. The rumors surrounding that speech had the media in an uproar speculating why the favorite candidate might possibly withdraw from the election.
After a day of endless meetings, handshaking, and a fancy dinner, Annabeth feared that the Sith wouldn't contact Palpatine, but she finally got the alert she had been waiting for two hours after dinner while she and Percy were in their room. She thought the Sith might be waiting for Palpatine to be alone, so they had left him in his office. Immediately, she used Daedalus 2.0 to project the hologram, activated the programs in the holo-tracker, and got to work.
"I am most disappointed, Senator," the hooded figure said in that deep, gravelly voice. "Not only did you seek help from those children, but you foolishly think you can thwart my plan simply by withdrawing from the chancellor election."
Although they couldn't see him, Annabeth's holo-tracker still picked up Palpatine's voice. "I will not be intimidated into handing you the Republic."
The Sith chuckled. At the sound, Annabeth noticed Percy's hands tightened into fists. "Such bravery, Senator. Perhaps you think I am bluffing as the girl said. I assure you I am not."
The hologram changed. Instead of the Sith, there was a woman resting her head against a much younger Palpatine's chest, "I wish it could always be like this, Sheev."
The young Palpatine slowly stroked her long hair, "As do I, Jocasta."
The two figures faded away, replaced by Darth Sidious once more. "I have the rest of the conversation recorded, as well as the events before and after, Senator. However, if that is not sufficient motivation, I have a surprise for you tomorrow, as a reminder of what happens if you do not do as I ask. A partnership with you is the swifter, more elegant method to achieve my goal, but it is not the only way. If you insist on resisting, then I will be forced to tear the galaxy apart, and that insignificant planet you call home will be the first to be destroyed. I am not unreasonable. Work with me as chancellor, and you will be rewarded. Your planet will prosper, and those you care for will not be harmed. The decision is yours, Senator." The glowing blue projection vanished as the hologram ended.
"Man, that guy's really starting to get on my nerves," Percy said in the sudden quiet of the room. "So, how's the hacking going?"
Because that was the real plan all along. Sure, knowing the Sith's location was the back-up plan, but erasing the blackmail material from afar was better. While the Sith had been busy making threats, she had hacked into his system with her own special version of a Trojan horse inspired by some of Daedalus' projects. "Actually, we got pretty lucky. This holoprojector is on the same network as a computer that has tons of recordings," she answered as she continued typing furiously initiating a safe and stealthy download of all the files. Daedalus did a basic scan, but she kept the files in a specialized quarantined program just in case the Sith had a nasty surprise even though her cyber invasion should go by unnoticed. The Sith's defenses were designed to stop slicing attacks using known techniques from this galaxy not the hacking from home which accomplished the same thing just in a different way. It was sort of like if the Sith's defenses blocked all emails, but texts could still get through. "Looks, like I got them all!"
"Great going Wise Girl!" Percy cheered. "So where is this secret Sith base? Might be good to send the Jedi that way."
Annabeth checked the readings on the tracker. "Based on the signal, it looks like it's on Mustafar, a volcanic planet on the Outer Rim."
Percy shuddered, "I hate volcanos. They're even worse than deserts. Good thing we won't have to go there. You should pull out of there or whatever it's called for hacking. You got what we need."
"One second," Annabeth replied. "Since we're in the Sith's system, why not do a little spying ourselves." At the moment she had complete control over the Sith's holoprojector, so she turned on its camera. Immediately, an alarm blared, and she knew she pushed her luck too far. Somehow, she must have triggered an alert by activating the holoprojector. "Styx!" Annabeth quickly made sure Daedalus would be protected if the Sith tried an immediate cyber counterattack. She glanced at the holo-image displayed from the projector, but all she could make out was a torso with some kind of cloak, cape, robe flapping around. Then a glowing lightsaber blade descended, then nothing.
"That was over dramatic," Percy stated.
Annabeth sighed, relieved something worse hadn't happened. At least Daedalus was safe, and they had the files. "It was crude, but effective." They wouldn't be spying from that system again, and they still hadn't seen the Sith's face which was probably why he took that particular action. "Let's double check that we actually got the right video."
"Eww," Percy face scrunched up in disgust like he just smelled a stable full of flesh-eating horse poop. "Do we really have to watch a video of old people getting all mushy and . . . you know?"
"No, thank the gods Daedalus 2.0 has a very good image recognition scan for files," since she really didn't want to see any of that either. The laptop would just show her a short clip and the percentage of the total file that included those individuals. "According to the scan, we've got two hours' worth of potential blackmail along with old communications with the Trade Federation, and what looks like videos of Darth Maul's training."
"Great just what I wanted to see, evil tattoo face learning how to kill people," Percy grumbled. "But glad we got that blackmail video."
Unfortunately, that was the easy part. The trickiest thing with blackmail in a digital age was that the blackmailer could have unlimited copies of the blackmail hidden anywhere, and all it would take was one copy making it to the right people to ruin the senator's and Jedi's careers. Instead of trying to track down all the copies or find and kill Darth Sidious, who at the moment was more allusive than smoke, she would focus on making sure the right people couldn't get it or at least share it.
"Now for Part Two. Are you ready R2?"
The droid beeped an affirmative.
"Well let's head down to the communication room then," she glanced at Percy. "Are you coming?"
"Of course," he replied with a smirk. "I'll be there for moral support and to watch your back in case another assassin comes while you're too busy doing your genius computer work."
She laughed, "Really Seaweed Brain, two assassination attempts in one day?"
He shrugged, "Well, it is us!"
It felt weird being back in the same room where she had foiled the Trade Federation's communication block five months ago. The last time Annabeth was here, she had no idea what she was doing with the strange technology, and it had felt like she was groping for straws in the dark. Now, she had a much greater understanding of the HoloNet and knew exactly what she had to do as she hooked up Daedalus and R2 to the right computers. She was going to do something that had never been done before. She was going to corrupt the HoloNet.
If someone had told her a year ago, that she would become a master hacker, she would have thought Dionysus had cursed them. Then again, she never thought she would be sent to another universe either. Luckily, Daedalus had set up his laptop with very sophisticated hacking tools. The inventor had even developed a way to intercept and influence Iris messages, probably to keep an eye on Minos or anyone else who might be hunting for him. Targeting the allusive S-threads that ran the HoloNet wasn't too different from pinpointing the specific dimension the goddess used for her communications. After that, all Annabeth had to do was input a virus that specifically targeted any images from the blackmail. Hopefully, it wouldn't break the HoloNet because that would be bad.
Annabeth wasn't sure how long it took, but by the time she was finished her eyes were so tired that she could barely read the Greek and Aurebesh text scrolling on her screens. R2 beeped a cheery congratulations, but the room was eerily quiet for one with a bored Percy in it. She turned around and saw her boyfriend sitting cross legged on the floor meditating of all things. He really had come a long way. She took a minute to center herself and reached out to him in the Force. It was something they had been practicing, but it only worked if both of them were outside their natural mental shields and in contact with what she considered the Outside or Surrounding Force something Annabeth was proud to say she could do much quicker than Percy. She loved sensing Percy in the Force. It was like seeing a different, purer part of her boyfriend that was still so him, a bright, beautiful light as mesmerizing as the shifting light in water and was as vast as the sea.
Percy felt her presence as well and immediately smiled and opened his eyes. "Did it work?"
"I'm about to test it." She pulled out two spare holoprojectors and inserted a holodisk with a clip of the blackmail video into one of them. Then she tried to transmit it to the other one over the HoloNet. The holoprojector with the disk sparked and shutdown. The disk and the holoprojector were literally fried. She knew if it had been a computer, it would have been completely destroyed. It wasn't a hundred percent full proof, but it did prevent the Sith from simply sending it to the media. Even if he sent a holodisk, as soon as anyone tried to display it on anything accessing the HoloNet, the blackmail and device would be destroyed.
Percy whooped and lifted her up in his arms swinging her around the room before kissing her in that way that made her breath hitch, and her heart beat faster. Finally, he pulled away, "You're amazing, Wise Girl! And since there's no chance that a queen will walk in on us this time, I think I should kiss you some more." That was something Annabeth wouldn't complain about.
Annabeth didn't have an opportunity to discuss the blackmail with Palpatine until they were in the Senate Building the next day. The crowded hallways made it difficult for a surveillance device to overhear their conversation, and any spies or eavesdroppers trying to follow them would be noticeable as the group took the long, scenic route to the Naboo repulsorpod. She also charged Percy with making sure other senators wouldn't try to interrupt them. Her boyfriend could look quite intimidating when he wanted to. Jar Jar should already be at the repulsorpod with Palpatine's assistant. She had sent him ahead, so hopefully, the usual Jar Jar lateness wouldn't be a problem.
"I assume you heard the message last night?" Palpatine asked quietly.
Annabeth nodded, "Yes."
"And the surprise he mentioned for today?" Annabeth bit her lip at the senator's concerned question. That was something she and Percy had talked about late into the night. "Do you think he has the ability to block the Gungan representation?"
"That was my first thought," Annabeth admitted. "But he still wants you elected. Stopping the Gungan representation would only hurt your campaign because it would make you appear incompetent. Instead, I think he will try to do something that will drive support to you but still hurt. I warned Panaka late last night that he could try another assassination attempt on the queen since that would definitely do the trick."
Palpatine frowned in concern, "In this case then, I hope you are wrong my dear." For once, Annabeth hoped she was wrong too. "Did you get what you needed at least?"
"I think so," Annabeth replied. "The message came from Mustafar."
Palpatine frowned, "That is a rather dangerous and unpleasant place."
"Luckily, we won't need to go there." Annabeth repressed a smile as an expression of surprise flashed across Palpatine's face.
"You will not? How else will you stop the blackmail?"
"It's already taken care of," she explained. "I was able to slice my way into the Sith's system last night and stole the blackmail. Then I made it, so no one can use the HoloNet to spread or share it. Without an actual video to show, it will be difficult to blackmail you even if there are more copies lying around. It's not perfect, but it will make it much harder for this Sidious to use his leverage against you."
Palpatine froze for a few seconds, completely stunned but started walking again before he could cause a hold up in the hallway. "How is that even possible? No one has been able to infiltrate or corrupt the HoloNet."
"Let's just say Percy and I have a gift of making one question exactly what is in the realm of possibility," she smiled sadly as she remembered Qui-Gon saying those words all those months ago. "But I did do it, so your problem should be solved for a while at least."
Palpatine shook his head in amazement, "Yes, I am starting to see that the impossible is a daily occurrence for you two."
"I wouldn't say daily," Percy interjected from his spot in front of them. "At least not usually, it's more of a monthly thing."
"Well, thank you. Even if the impossible is commonplace for you both, you have made this old man very grateful. If there is ever anything I can do for either of you, I hope you will not hesitate to ask."
That was what Annabeth had been hoping for. It was the main reasons why she had wanted to do Project Blackmail in the first place. "Actually, Senator, I was hoping we could discuss some anti-slavery measures you could implement after the election, like using the extra revenues from your proposed corporation tax to increase the bounty on known slavers and double the funding in three or so years for the refugee program that helps freed slaves rebuild their lives."
Palpatine chuckled, "You truly would make an excellent politician, my dear, though maybe next time try not to seem quite so eager. Of course, I cannot make any promises at the moment, but if I am elected chancellor, then consider it done. Those seem like very reasonable request that I am sure many senators would love to support."
Annabeth thought she knew what to expect inside the Grand Convocation Chamber, but she still gasped when Palpatine led them out onto the Naboo repulsorpod. The pattern of over a thousand repulsorpods in concentric circles was beautiful in its simplicity and awe-inspiring in its size. Knowing that the fate of nearly 25,000 solar systems depended on the decisions made in this arena caused her to feel far humbler and more insignificant than any temple she had ever been in. Chancellor Valorum started the session by officially welcoming the Gungans into the Galactic Senate with a junior representative position for the Naboo System.
"All right Jar Jar, you got this," Percy said encouragingly as their repulsorpod left the wall and moved toward the center of the chamber. This was the moment that Annabeth had worried the most about, Jar Jar doing something ridiculous on a galactic stage. However, it turned out that the clumsy Gungan was a natural public speaker. He delivered his short speech perfectly thanking the Senate and chancellor. Then Palpatine gave an excellent speech about coming together during adversity.
As their repulsorpod returned to their designated spot, Annabeth relaxed. They had officially accomplished everything they needed to on Coruscant, and for once everything had gone surprisingly as planned, minus the assassination attempt, but even that would help get Tapalo off their backs. So, of course, something had to go wrong. Chancellor Valorum took the floor once more and gravely announced, "Justice Pavond has overturned the ruling of the Royal House of Naboo vs the Trade Federation." All Hades broke out in the Senate Chamber.
"That's a big pile of Bantha poodoo," Percy shouted. Luckily no one else could hear the Huttese insult because of the cacophony of all the other senators. Though, he was right. It was a big pile of foul-smelling substance. She caught Senator Palpatine's eye. This was the surprise Darth Sidious had promised.
The horde of reporters was waiting for them as soon as they excited the Senate Building.
"Senator Palpatine, will you make a motion for a new trial?" one reporter asked.
"Are the rumors about dropping out of the chancellor election true?"
Palpatine stopped at the top of the steps so that he had a stage. Between the reporters and holocams, whatever the senator said would be broadcasted all across the galaxy. "Citizens of the Republic, I assure you that the Trade Federation will be brought to justice for the crimes they have committed not only against my home world but the galaxy. It is true that I considered withdrawing from the chancellor election. Before this morning, I believed that it would be best for me to maintain my senatorial position to help my home adjust to the recent changes and guide the Gungan elected to the role of junior representative. However, I now see that the rampant corruption in our government is too great to ignore. This is clearly much larger than Naboo. I can no longer sit idly and watch our great Republic crumble due to the greed of corporations. If elected chancellor, I promise to return the Republic to the people once more."
Annabeth was impressed how Palpatine had used a rather compelling speech to perfectly twist the circumstances to strengthen the support for his cause. He was a genius, an artist, but instead of paint and canvas he used his words and people. Percy had certainly been right about one thing, Palpatine was an exceptional orator.
"How could this happen?" Annabeth asked rhetorically as she paced in Palpatine's office. The first thing she did as soon as she stepped foot in the room was smash the stupid surveillance gadget under the table. She'd played her hand well and no longer needed to worry about tipping Sidious off about her ability to detect them. Unfortunately, Sidious had also played his cards too. They should have been celebrating their victory after months of hard work, but instead the atmosphere was gloomier than the Underworld. "That trial was done by the book, and the evidence against Gunray and the Trade Federation was insurmountable. How could this judge possibly get away with a judgment notwithstanding the verdict."
Palpatine referenced a datapad, "I believe Pavond claimed that the verdict was decided by passion and prejudice of the jury and that the evidence may have been compromised since Jedi from the Order also claimed to be attacked by the Trade Federation."
"That's ridiculous," Percy exclaimed from his seat at the desk. Once again only two legs of the chair were on the ground though no one seemed to care enough to reprimand him at the moment. "Can't we just fire him? Anyone with half a brain knows that's not right."
Palpatine sighed. "I am afraid the only way a judge can be removed is by impeachment through the Senate. Something Chancellor Valorum will not encourage since he appointed Justice Pavond. It will have to wait until the new chancellor takes power." Percy groaned and muttered something about hating politics.
"Clearly, he must have been bought off by the Sith," Annabeth reasoned. "If he has that much influence over a Galactic Judge who else does he have?"
"It is worrisome," Palpatine admitted. "I fear by defying the Sith now, we might have made things worse. Any thoughts on his other threat to tear the galaxy apart if I would not be his pawn?"
Percy glanced at her. That had also been another sleep depriving topic from last night. "Well, he could mean it literally. With all your fancy tech, maybe he's making some kind of weapon that can literally tear the galaxy apart," Percy suggested.
"Or he could mean figuratively," Annabeth continued. "Which would probably be a Civil War."
Palpatine frowned, "Neither of those options are particularly good."
"Well, neither will happen overnight," Annabeth reasoned. "He did say this other way to reach his goal would take time, so hopefully between all of us and the Jedi we can stop this Sith for good before he can execute this other plan."
Suddenly, they were interrupted by Palpatine's assistant, "Your visitors are here, sir."
"Ah, yes please send them in." Annabeth was surprised to see an eager smile flash across Palpatine's face despite the troubling events surrounding them.
Before she could turn to see who these visitors were, a familiar voice exclaimed "Annabeth, Percy?" Anakin Skywalker slammed into her middle with a hug.
"Ani!" Somehow Percy had sprung off his chair and joined the hug too until an equally familiar cough made them all separate.
"Oops, sorry," Anakin muttered. "I don't think I'm supposed to do that anymore."
Obi-Wan starred down at them looking extremely irritated. Annabeth would almost say angry even, but she knew Obi-Wan didn't let himself get angry. "I cannot believe you would do something like this Percy. What about the cosmic consequences and fates worse than death?"
Percy laughed which only made Obi-Wan more annoyed. "Good to see you too Obi-Wan. And why would you think this is my fault?"
"I truly thought you would take sacred oaths more seriously," Obi-Wan retorted.
But before Percy could argue back, Palpatine stepped in, "Master Kenobi, Percy and Annabeth knew nothing about your visit. I am afraid I arranged it all on my own. I only thought to coordinate a nice surprise for my guests to meet their friends."
Obi-Wan still looked suspiciously at Percy, but her boyfriend just smiled, "See we didn't try to contact Anakin, so we didn't break the oath."
"A very convenient loophole you seem to be using a lot," Obi-Wan glanced Annabeth's way and narrowed his eyes in accusation. "Though perhaps I'm blaming the wrong friend."
Annabeth used her best dumb-blonde smile, but of course Obi-Wan knew her too well to believe it. So what if she casually told the senator about the oath they had made, and Palpatine had figured out the way around it. The look on Percy's face when he had hugged Anakin made it all worth it.
"In case you were unaware Senator," though the hint of sarcasm in Obi-Wan's tone made it clear that he thought it unlikely, "the Jedi Council wishes to limit contact between my Padawan and Percy and Annabeth. If you wish to continue helping Anakin with his education and furthering his understanding of the Republic and workings of the Senate, I would advise you to not coordinate anymore surprise visits among these friends."
"I am terribly sorry, Master Kenobi. I hope you can stay just this once, and I promise it will not happen again." The senator's smile looked slightly mischievous. "After all, I am sure none of us would wish for the Council to become cross with us."
Percy burst into laughter then, and Annabeth couldn't resist a smile, herself. Anakin pouted so adorably he could probably give Percy a run for his money, "Please, Master Obi-Wan," the boy begged. "Don't be a spoil-sport. It could be ages before I get to see them again."
Obi-Wan sighed, "Oh very well, but you will do an extra hour of meditation when we return to the Temple."
Percy and Annabeth told Anakin all about his mom's new life on Naboo, filling in the gaps that had been lost in their strange game of telephone with Obi-Wan. When Anakin finally got up the nerve to ask about Padmé, his cheeks turned bright red. Annabeth took pity on the poor boy and answered his questions before Percy could tease him about it. Afterwards, Anakin told them everything about his new life at the Temple.
"I made friends, Percy! Zandro's my age and he's in my mechanics class. I tried to help him build his energy cell when he was having trouble. At first, he wouldn't let me help which kind of made me upset, but afterwards he apologized and asked if I could help him after class since he's not very good at fixing things. I was going to tell him no, but then I thought he might have been embarrassed like when Clarisse didn't want Peter Johnson's help on her quest even though she needed it. So instead I helped him, and he's been helping me with High Galactic since he already knows it."
"That's great Anakin! I'm sure Peter Johnson would be very proud," Percy said with a wink.
"And then there's Kira. She's two years younger than me and had a . . ." he paused and glanced at Obi-Wan before continuing, "disagreement with some of the other kids, so I might have started a food fight to make her feel better. The Masters made me clean up the mess, but she stayed and helped."
Percy laughed, "Man, I wish I could've seen that!"
Obi-Wan glared at him, "That incident I do blame on your influence, Jackson."
"But it was a lot of fun Master! And no one got hurt. Plus, it was a good bonding experience."
"And this is coming from the same Padawan who argued with a Master over the food wasted by Kuat nobility," Obi-Wan added with an exasperated huff.
"I didn't know the Temple's extra food went to hungry people on Coruscant," Anakin defended himself though he looked slightly ashamed.
"I still cannot believe you thought we just threw it out, Padawan. That would be too wasteful."
Anakin flashed Obi-Wan a cheeky grin that definitely reminded Annabeth of Percy, "That's what the Kuat nobility do."
"Force save me from my impertinent Padawan," Obi-Wan muttered which of course made Percy laugh so hard he fell off the couch. Obi-Wan even chuckled which meant he must be really enjoying himself.
For the most part, Palpatine was content to be a silent observer only adding a comment here or there as the four them reconnected in the brief time they had. All too soon, it was time for the Jedi to return. Somehow this goodbye seemed less final than the one five months ago although Anakin still looked sad when he said his farewell and asked them to tell his mom hello for him. "I wish you guys were at the Temple too," he mumbled.
Percy laughed, "Yeah, I don't think that would be a good idea. I'd probably break so many rules and traditions and toilets that Master Yoda would chase me out with that stick of his while Master Window holds the door open." Picturing that image made them all laugh. "But, I'm sure we'll see you around Ani," Percy said with a wink. "Take care until next time."
Obi-Wan groaned, "Percy!"
"What? I'm sure the Will of the Force will bring us together again," her boyfriend flashed that troublemaker smirk of his. "After all the Force works in mysterious ways. Who are we to question it?"
"Well you certainly would, if it was something you did not agree with," Obi-Wan sarcastically replied.
Annabeth stepped in before those two started a sarcastic statement sparring match. Percy seemed to like needling Obi-Wan's dry humor. "Goodbye Obi-Wan it was nice to see you again. I expect we will be in touch really soon. There are some recent developments we need to discuss."
"Indeed," Obi-Wan said seriously. No doubt he had heard about the release of Gunray, but then his expression morphed into an amused smile, "I've heard the most interesting rumor that the Outlands Butcher was discovered tied-up in your room yesterday morning. I look forward to hearing the entertaining explanation for that one."
Anakin's eyes were as wide as saucers, "No way! You guys caught the Outlands Butcher! Wicked!"
Once Obi-Wan and Anakin were gone, Percy clenched his jaw which usually meant he was about to do something he didn't really want to. He turned to the senator and said in a serious and respectful tone, "Thank you Senator Palpatine for arranging that. I really appreciated it."
"You are very welcome my dear boy. I am just glad I was able to help you see your friends." The smile on Palpatine's face was one she imagined grandfathers saved for their favorite grandchild. "I know it helped young Anakin as well. Our queen asked me to keep an eye on the boy. I imagine adjusting to the Jedi lifestyle is difficult for him, so I do my best to help when I can. I am afraid next time it will be more challenging to make such a meeting possible, but I will try to come up with a solution if you visit again."
Annabeth wondered if Palpatine knew how much this meant to Percy. She figured for someone as perceptive as Palpatine it would be hard to miss. So, was he just trying to be a kind grandfather, or was there an alternative reason to reuniting Anakin and Percy? If the senator was trying to win her boyfriend over, it would take more than just a few surprise meetings to make Percy like him, although Percy would probably try to be less disagreeable around the senator. But why bother trying to win Percy over to begin with?
Annabeth understood Palpatine's interest in her since her strategic thinking was useful in politics and even Anakin who would have ties and influence among the Jedi Order one day and become a powerful Jedi in his own right, but Percy didn't make sense. She knew her boyfriend was extremely talented in his own way. He was an incredible warrior and a natural leader. He had successfully led their troops in the Battle of Manhattan, and not just anyone could walk into Camp Jupiter and become praetor in less than a month. But, Percy didn't play the political games necessary for the complex galactic political stage. He was more like a general who was a good leader because he inspired loyalty in others. So why would Palpatine want a warrior during a peaceful time? Did he want a bodyguard or someone who would take out his enemies? She didn't like the idea of anyone using Percy like that.
She watched Palpatine closely as Percy thanked the senator for his offer, once again rather respectfully. For the briefest of moments, she swore that there was a hungry look in Palpatine's eyes that made her think maybe Percy was right, and the man did resemble a shark. For the time being though, they needed him whether he was a shark or not. Palpatine could pressure the right people when it was time for them to move against the Hutts. He would also be their best protection if the Jedi did decide to give them trouble, and now, he could help them see Anakin. Neither she nor Percy had to like the senator or even trust him necessarily, but they would have to play his game whatever it was at least for now. It was a good thing then that Annabeth was excellent at winning games.
Addendum - Palpatine
Palpatine watched the Naboo cruiser leave the atmosphere. It had certainly been an interesting two days. He had underestimated those children once again. But in this case, much as the girl had done in their Shah-tezh game, he had not been playing to win but rather playing to learn. He was testing their defenses and observing what rules they played by since clearly they did not share the same limitations as others in this galaxy.
Originally, he had created that recording of Jocusta years ago in the hopes of using it to gain access to the Jedi archives one day. However, this was a far better use for it since after his seduction of the Jedi, he knew she was far too noble to ever give in to blackmail or threats. By using it to blackmail himself, he had confirmed Palpatine's innocence in the attack on Naboo placing the blame solely on Darth Sidious and the Trade Federation. The blackmail also acted as a trial for the children. It was supposed to lead them to Mustafar where he had several traps to test their abilities and even his new secret apprentice waiting for them. If they were competent, Dooku was supposed to let them escape with the blackmail and information he had planted on that computer including the files of Maul's training that would teach them the tenets of the Dark Side.
The girl though had found a convenient way around that. From the information he had gathered, Chase and Jackson were supposed to be from some primitive backwater planet that struggled with the early stages of space travel. The girl had even used a bow and arrow analogy for Force sake, yet she had somehow breached his advanced cyber defenses, detected his undetectable espionage devices that he had planned to use to spy on them, and effectively manipulated the HoloNet. Clearly, they had access to technology that surpassed even his, or Chase was smart enough to push this galaxy's technology to new limits though it probably was a combination of the two. He just needed to get his hands on that datapad of hers, the one she carried everywhere with her.
At least that assassination attempt had provided an assessment of their physical capabilities. Sakiayan's were known for their strength. It would have been difficult for even an average Jedi to best that assassin, yet the two children seemed to have done it practically in their sleep. Surprisingly, it had been one of the few assassination attempts in the galaxy that he had nothing to do with. It seemed like Chase and Jackson indeed had a talent for angering powerful people.
He knew that Jackson and Chase were still weary of Palpatine. His attempt to better Jackson's opinion of him had backfired and raised the girl's suspicion. However, the visit had forced the children to develop a codependent relationship with Palpatine and that was something he could work with. Besides, the long, challenging games were always far more interesting.
Next chapter will be Percy's point of view and should be some space pirating and Percabeth which hopefully will be a nice change from all of the politics. I should be able to post in two weeks, so you won't have to wait too long.