Prologue: Mace Windu

Coruscant

13:3:19 GrS (22 BBY)

In front of a dome-shaped building in an underground city, a mixed crowd of Sullustans and humans held up flimsiplast posters. Star-like orange and white lights glowed from the taller cityscape and buildings built on the natural walls.

For the moment, the protestors stood their ground around the building, yelling and screaming slogans in at least three different languages.

Something was wrong. The frontmost row of protestors broke rank, retreating towards the domed building, with the second row following. Many of the much shorter Sullustans were trampled, squashed by the much larger humans as they all ran in a panic.

For five seconds, the scene devolved into a stampede. Then it became clear what the crowd was fleeing. Four hulking grey and white NR-N99 Persuader-class droid tanks drove straight into the crowd.

At first, they did not seem to slow at all, but as the crowd thickened, bloody bodies stuck in the rolling treads caused the NR-N99s to bounce and buckle.

Closing his eyes in anguish, Mace Windu paused the holoprojector. Displayed on his desk now, was a mere example of what was occurring across the Galaxy. The third he had received in a week where thousands of completely peaceful protesters lost their lives.

Suspected SoroSuub crime against the Galaxy? Mace Windu thought incredulously, recalling the title of the holofootage sent by the Republic Office of Criminal Investigations.

Windu turned to the transparisteel window, shaking his head. Through the window, the Coruscant sun gleamed, reflecting off the thousands of speeders flying busily by, piloted by beings without a care in the universe.

On the other hand, as the Master of the Order, Mace Windu was a cog in the densest bureaucracy in the Galaxy. A bureaucracy struggling to hold the Galaxy together—struggling to even understand its role as the Galaxy split in two.

Sullust is now a Separatist world, Mace Windu reminded himself with growing frustration. The Judicial Department, the Jedi, the ROCI, the Sector Rangers—none of us have jurisdiction unless the Sullustans invite us to investigate.

Windu ran his hand over the back of his neck, turning his head in an anguished stretch, then closed his eyes. "You may enter," he muttered, sensing a presence that was about to press the doorbell.

The automatic door opened with a hiss, revealing a red haired eyeless Miraluka female named Jazal. She was about a head shorter than Mace Windu and wore brown robes with a matching cloth band covering the eyeless sockets in her face.

As Master of the Order, Mace Windu had the unpleasant duty of assigning and managing Jedi who were running missions with the Republic Judicial Corps. With the Galaxy splitting divided, almost every warrior was busy, but Jazal was no warrior. The increasingly strained Jedi Order now was transferring Jedi from Consular duties to peacekeeping operations. Jazal was a Jedi scientist who did research involving eye structures.

After more than ten seconds of silence, the Miraluka pulled out a datapad and began fiddling with it. "You wanted to see me?"

Mace Windu raised one eyebrow at the Jedi Knight. "Yes, I do." Are you really going to start playing with a datapad while in a meeting with me?

"I presume you are sending me to Sullust then," Jazal muttered, rubbing her hand across her datapad screen.

"No," Windu answered. "How can you see the holoprojection?"

"Oh… Well Master, it's simple. I patched your holoprojector into my ShadowSync datapad," Jazal explained, turning the device around in the palm of her hand. The screen was a viscous liquid, now jutting out a few centimetres in the shape of Sullustan Assembly building.

Windu frowned, now able to see the tiny triangular shapes of the SoroSuub tanks running over protesters. When most humans frowned, it meant something negative. However, a mild Windu frown was a sign he was slightly impressed. "You knew it was Sullust just from the shapes against your hand?"

"Yes," Jazal answered with a hint of impatience.

Windu frowned more strongly, this time annoyed at this Jedi Knight's attitude. "Back to the topic at hand..." He walked around to the front of the holoprojector, removing the datacard containing the footage from Sullust, then inserted another datacard. "I don't believe it myself, but the Senate Bureau of Intelligence suspects former Master Dooku may be committing sedition against the Galactic Republic."

Jazal snorted, chuckling cynically.

Does she think I am a complete moron? "Is something funny?" Windu asked sternly, folding his arms.

"Apologies, Master," the Miraluka chuckled. "Have you seen Count Dooku's latest speeches? 'There are 10,000 Senators on Coruscant. Not a single one cares about you.'" Towards the end of her quoting of Count Dooku, Jazal's voice switched to a deep Serennian accent.

Windu shook his head. "There is a difference between free speech and advocating for illegal acts, young Jazal. I do not believe—not for one moment—that Master Dooku is doing the latter. However," Windu stopped speaking for a moment, considering his next actions thoughtfully. Might as well play Jazal the tape. He had not considered the possibility that she would be able to feel a holoprojection.

Jazal stood by patiently as Mace Windu inserted another datacard. The scene on the holoprojector changed. The recorded holopresence of Governor Wilhuff Tarkin, a gaunt middle aged human with brown hair and blue eyes appeared with no projected surroundings.

He spoke in a posh Eriaduan accent, his voice filled with urgency. "I wish to inform you, Chancellor, that you are being played. Dooku has visited me not once, not twice, but thrice now. I believe he means to make war, for reasons I cannot fathom. Today I turned down his request for Eriadu to sign the Raxus Treaty for the third time, and for me to pledge the loyalty of the Outland Regions Security Force to him. It is clear Dooku has already committed to war. I suspect a group of elite outsiders, Count Dooku, Passel Argente, Nute Gunray, Watt Tambor, and others are going to make a move against the Galactic Republic any day now. I am prepared to resign as Governor and accept a commission in the Republic Navy, should the Naval creation act pass. Chancellor, you will continue to have Eriadu's utmost support."

"So you want me to go to Eriadu and spy on this Governor Tarkin?!" Jazal gasped in surprise. "To help Dooku!"

"No!" Windu yelled. It was a tone much louder and more frustrated than he had intended. Blast these Consulars "The SBI gave us this clip," he explained, making the shape of a disk with his fingers. He began speaking slowly as if explaining something to a five year old Youngling. "Tarkin is a credible source who has just explained a credible threat to the Galactic Republic. We are now assembling Judicial special forces teams to surveil the so-called 'elite outsiders.' Your team, a Judicial Extraction Team—"

"—You want me to extract Count Dooku!" Jaza interrupted, yelling back in alarm. "Master, he is far too powerful, I do not think it wise to send one Jedi alone to do this, even with a team of Judicials."

Windu rubbed his eyes wearily. Am I really this confusing? "Jazal," he grunted, pulling a Republic Peacekeeper Badge out of his desk. "Here's your badge. No, you are not extracting anyone, not yet. I am sending Rael Averross—"

"—Rael Averross!" Jazal gasped. "The Rael Averross? But Master, I do not think Rael Averross can—Isn't he on probation for misconduct? How can we possibly trust him?"

"Do not interrupt me again," Windu instructed in a testy tone. "I consider Master Rael Averross to be a friend. While he is… Different, he is still a Jedi Master and you will trust him implicitly. Am I understood?"

Before Jazal could answer, a dishevelled human with greying black hair burst into the room uninvited. He wore a sweat stained tank top, ripped green jeans, and sandals. "Mace!" he yelled excitedly. "I heard you were talking about me. Who is this?"

Mace Windu sighed. "Rael Averross, meet Jazal. Jazal, Averross... "

"Blast!" Averross exclaimed in shock, getting a better look at Jazal. "You are sending a blind woman on an extraction mission?"

It was Jazal's turn to frown. She locked her jaw, turning to face this Jedi who was dressed like a vagabond.

"We aren't extracting anyone!" Mace Windu yelled exasperatedly. "When did I say you were extracting anyone?"

"Then why have you put Extraction Team Cresh under my command?" Averross asked incredulously, gesturing to the door.

Mace Windu's jaw went slack. Just outside the door, he could sense the form of a Bothan and a Neimoidian—No a Duros… "Enter!"

A Bothan and a Duros entered Windu's office, dressed in Judicial blues. Standing in the centre of the room, they snapped to attention.

Mace Windu was used to assigning Jedi to be in charge of Judicial teams in peacekeeping operations. However, this was highly unusual. Under normal circumstances, the Jedi assigned to Judicial teams would journey to the Judicial Arcology to brief their personnel there. Mace Windu was deeply suspicious of all Judicials, as it was well known that corruption had grown deep within their organisation. Escorting two Judicials into the Jedi Temple—into areas where they were not normally cleared to visit, created the potential for espionage.

After a few moments of silence, both the Judicials chanted in unison, "good afternoon, sir."

"Uh, at ease," Rael chuckled, elbowing the Bothan Judicial in the ribs.

The Bothan yelped, but then locked his snout shut, holding it in.

Windu walked behind his desk and sat down, feeling exhausted. "Who might you be?"

"Zuro Pax," the Duros answered. He had blue skin and bright red eyes. "Team Leader, Extraction Team Cresh."

"Itoll Oc'nel," the Bothan growled, not explaining his job at all. He had tan, brown, and black fur in an almost Hyena-like pattern. Most unusually, he had heterochromia—his left eye was blue, but his right eye was red-brown. "Might I say what a pleasure it is to meet you, Master," he added.

Not particularly liking Bothans, Mace Windu continued frowning Oc'nel, staring at his unusual eyes. Finally, he turned to Averross. "Here is your warrant. It is to surveil Senator Passel Argente. Find him, put surveillance devices on him. Send it to the SBI. Then maybe—Just maybe we can ascertain the truth behind Wilhuff Tarkin's concerns..."

"Wait," Averross asked. "Who's Passel Argente?"