disclaimer=standard

Anything you recognise is either JK's, George's or Disney's. Anything else probably belongs to them too.

/disclaimer

o_ooo000ooo_o

Yoda breathed deeply as he observed the small group of younglings perform a lightsaber kata, using the training sabers that mimicked the weight and heft of a real one, without the danger of a real one. The group, aged between four and six, acted crudely as one; each student performed each move at more or less the same time, with greater or lesser skill. While lacking the militaristic precision of older learners, the enthusiasm displayed warmed Yoda's soul.

Master Sinube led the group through the kata, the retired, though spry Jedi more than able to keep up with the spirited youths.

One of the more energetic students put an incautious amount of effort into a twisting slash, and lost his balance. The training saber struck the Togruta to his left, and they both went down with a cry.

Yoda sighed and stepped forward. "In every group, always one, there is."

Sinube chuckled as he assisted the students to their feet. "Indeed, Master Yoda. Younglings, we have a distinguished visitor."

The group dutifully chorused a welcome. Yoda nodded acceptance. "Privileged you all are. A gifted teacher, Master Sinube is."

Sinube waved his cane amicably. "With so many Masters away, it has been a delightful opportunity to take a few classes."

Before he could answer, Yoda's comm pinged with an urgent tone. He extracted it from his belt, and a hologram flickered into being. "Padawan Kenobi?"

The young Jedi bowed. "Master Yoda, thank you for taking my call. I realise that I am not supposed to contact the Temple while on my Trials, but I have received some unrelated information about Anakin."

Yoda glanced at Sinube for a second. "Your Trials, you say?"

Obi-wan looked uncertain. "Er, yes. Master Mundi instructed me to locate and escort Mr. Tobril Aesco back to Coruscant."

"Aware of this, I was not. Locate him, you have, hmm?"

The Padawan looked even more uncertain. "Yes Master. Master Mundi told me he was on Captain Harry's facility orbiting Overt."

Yoda's face darkened. "Taxing and arduous, a Jedi's Trial should be. A deep connection to the Force, it requires. Suicidal, it should not be. Confront Captain Harry, do not. Return to the Temple, you must. Discuss matters with Master Mundi, I will."

Obi-wan stood straighter. "I have already spoken with Captain Harry. Mr. Aesco is with me now. We are on our way back to Coruscant."

Sinube barked a laugh. "A Padawan succeeding on a mission suited to a Jedi Master? Qui-Gon trains his students well."

Yoda slumped slightly in relief. "An unexpected outcome, this is. Debrief you, we will. Learning how you accomplished this, interesting will be."

Obi-wan frowned. "I simply asked him politely to release Mr. Aesco into my custody. He did not object."

Sinube began his unique snorting laughter. His students tittered among themselves as well, unsure of what exactly the elder thought amusing.

"Unexpected, this is."

Sinube slowed his laughter. "I did say he was unpredictable, Master Yoda."

Yoda frowned. "Aware of that, I am. Aware also, that dangerous, Captain Harry is."

"Maybe he is nice to people who are nice to him?"

Yoda and Sinube both turned to look at the Togruta youngling who spoke. She shrank a little under their gaze, absently rubbing her thigh where she had recently been struck by her classmate.

Sinube smiled. "A solid summation, young one."

Yoda sighed deeply. "Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is. Able to see that which is overlooked."

"I am quite sure your debriefing will be fascinating," Sinube said to Obi-wan's hologram, "however, you did mention you had information regarding Padawan Skywalker. If you chose to contact the Temple during your Trial, I imagine it is time-sensitive."

"Yes, Master Sinube," Obi-wan agreed. "Captain Harry gave Anakin a way to contact him if he was not accepted for training. He contacted me moments ago claiming to have received Anakin's message. He said that as Anakin had been accepted for training, he thinks it may be a call for help. Perhaps Master Qui-Gon has lost his usual method of communicating."

Sinube turned and ushered the younglings away. "I believe today's lesson is over. Please practice before our session tomorrow."

A couple of the tiny faces expressed disappointment in not being included in events of interest to Jedi Masters, but they all complied.

Yoda pondered the ramifications as the children left unnoticed. "Contact Master Qui-Gon, I will. Correct you were, to contact me. Return to the Temple, you should. The rank of Jedi Knight, you have earned."

The holographic Jedi stood straighter. "Thank you, Master Yoda."

Yoda disconnected the call, then looked up at his friend. "Disturbing, this is."

"That Master Mundi set a Padawan's Trial without informing the Council? Or that Captain Harry is still emotionally invested in young Skywalker?"

Yoda began to shuffle forward, his gimmer stick tapping on the polished floor. "Of concern, those issues are. But unique, they are not. Happened before, similar events have. No, occurring is something much worse, I fear."

Sinube fell into step alongside his old friend, the pair comfortable to walk at an ambling pace. "You see the Jedi Order fracturing," he said softly.

"Yes. Fracturing swiftly, it is."

"That has also occurred in the past. Perhaps Master Windu would call Captain Harry a Shatterpoint."

Yoda hummed an agreement. "Consider this, I must." Pulling out his comm again, he opened a connection to a Temple droid. "To Master Qui-Gon, connect me."

Nothing happened for long moments. Eventually, a synthetic voice echoed through the comm. "Apologies, Master Yoda, I am unable to make a holoconnection. Communications with Pantora appear to have been severed."

Yoda shut off the communicator and replaced it in his robes. With a grating sigh, he said, "Correct, you were. Having Captain Harry's method of communication, an advantage, it would be."

"Even though it harms the Force, its utility cannot be understated," the Cosian replied. "The Temple could have been notified the instant communications were cut, rather than discovering it some unknown time after the fact."

"Capable, Qui-Gon is. But changed, circumstances are. Help, we should send."

Sinube chuckled. "Perhaps we could kill two mynocks with one lightsaber."

"A plan, you have, hmm?"

"Instead of declaring Captain Harry's powers as anathema, we should be seeking out an example to study."

"His communication method, you mean."

Sinube nodded. "Yes. Harry is decidedly generous towards those he holds affection for; Skywalker, Schrieffer, Kalu'minari, even Lieutenant Typho. He also appears to be attempting to cultivate allies within the Jedi Order; Kenobi, Qui-Gon, even Halcyon."

Yoda gave a brief, breathy laugh. "On your list, yourself you should include."

Sinube returned the laugh. "I hope so. I propose we offer him two things he wants – a chance to foster allies among the Jedi and to help Skywalker. In doing so, we may find ourselves positioned to once more request access to his method of communication."

Yoda sighed. "Dangerous, this path is. In too much esteem already, Skywalker holds this man."

"That esteem could also give the Jedi a singularly powerful ally. I would prefer to encourage Captain Harry to stop viewing us as potential enemies."

After a few moments of silence, Yoda nodded. "Agree with that, I do. Enemies, we have enough of. More, we do not need. Contact Captain Harry, you should."


"But I don't see how! He should not have been able to make any connection between me and Alen!" the holographic Muun babbled in terror.

Count Dooku sighed as he considered how to deal with his agent. San Hill had proven a useful proxy for hiding certain financial activities of Darth Tyranus, but any value he had was eroding quickly, along with the Sith's patience. "Calm yourself, my friend," he said, allowing his deep, resonant voice to bridge the panic in the Muun's mind. "There are skilled slicers capable of making the most tenuous of connections."

San Hill shook his long head and wrung his hands together. "But there was nothing! I gave all orders personally and in private, and made sure there were no records of any sort. And then Alen died in that terrible accident!"

Dooku nodded with mournful respect, while inwardly marvelling at the naivety the experienced financier displayed. "It was truly terrible," he murmured, recalling the effort that he had personally invested into crafting the murder to appear as a tragic accident.

"The slicer who filled the bounty must have guessed that it was me! There just wasn't any evidence! And now Harry has placed a seven figure credit bounty on me!"

Dooku frowned. "You were generously compensated to take precautions to prevent just such an occurrence. I trust there is no similar trail leading from you to me."

"Of course not, My Lord! I have been most diligen-ack!"

Dooku clenched a hand, and the banker – systems distant – choked to death in moments.

It was a pity, Dooku thought as the Muun struggled vainly to draw breath. Hill was a valuable asset, with a useful network of influential financiers spanning the galaxy. It would take some time and effort to replace him.

Once the deed was done, Dooku ended the transmission. Captain Harry was proving to be a most bothersome, if intriguing, individual.

It had not been surprising to learn that Harry had placed a bounty for information on the party behind Harry's own bounty. The sheer magnitude of the offered remuneration had certainly raised Dooku's eyebrows, but not the action itself. Of course, by offering such a sum, and paying out so quickly, Harry was announcing that he had vast resources at his disposal. Vast enough that anyone attempting to take him would need proportionate resources of their own to do so.

Thankfully, Hill had been ordered to use a proxy to prevent Dooku's involvement from ever becoming known.

And yet, somehow Hill's involvement had been uncovered. Whether that was an evidence-based deduction, sheer dumb luck, a Force vision, or somewhere on the spectrum between, Dooku had no way of discerning.

The Sith opened another communications channel, this one to the bridge of the ship. "How long until we reach Pantora?"

"Three days, sir," came the tinny voice of the droid acting as navigator.

Dooku nodded, inwardly furious that the Nemoidians' abilities had once more proven substandard. The blockade of the far outer rim planet had been a contingency plan, one that had not been considered for years hence. But unforeseen circumstances necessitated that it be implemented.

The initial thrust had succeeded admirably, but there had been no communications since. The entire system was an information black hole.

The blockade should have resulted in action by Coruscant that would provide adequate cover for some of Dooku's Master's other plans. However, not only were the planetary comms disrupted by the blockade, something was blocking communications from the blockade ships themselves.

It was infuriating that such a simple endeavor fail due to such trivial issues. Sidious was furious, and the lives of every Nemoidian associated with the action were forfeit.

Still, that was for after Dooku arrived and sorted out the issues plaguing the blockade. For now, he removed his footwear, cloak and outer clothes. He sank down cross-legged onto his meditation cushion and quickly entered a rejuvenation trance.

After some hours he rose, refreshed and energized. Dooku performed his usual suite of stretches and calisthenics, designed to keep someone of his age in peak physical condition. After a quick sonic shower, he dressed and sat at his terminal to review current events.

A droid placed a plate of cut fruit and glass of moonglow juice at his elbow. He picked it up the liquid and took a sip while scanning his messages.

On reading that Captain Harry had placed a seven-figure, kill-or-capture bounty on one 'Darth Tyranus', he sprayed the expensive juice through the holographic screen and across the room.


Three days later, Dooku stared at the droid controller ship orbiting Pantora. While the station itself was pristine, the scene was somewhat worrying.

Several dozen battledroids, perhaps even close to a hundred, were floating in space around the circular station. Some were quite a ways away, drifting off at marching pace, while others were in slow orbit, thrashing and twisting vainly in the vacuum of space.

And that did not take into account the incomprehensibly incompetent command crew. "That yacht," Dooku snapped, "On whose authority did it dock?"

"What yacht, sir?" replied the battle droid manning the station's communications.

The Sith's eyes narrowed. "The one that just docked in bay two. The Sorosuub 3000!"

"I have no record of any recent docking."

"I personally observed it land! Not two minutes ago!" Dooku snapped.

"I have no record of any recent docking."

Clearly, the droids on the station were malfunctioning badly. While these models were adequate for many purposes, cheaply manufactured and easily replaced, this batch were clearly deficient in some way. Dooku smothered his rage and shored up the Cloak of Darkness surrounding him. It would not do for his old apprentice on the surface to sense his presence. "Very well. Release docking bay three to my ship. Prepare the bridge for my arrival. I shall be taking control of this operation until it is functioning efficiently."

As his ship descended towards the selected bay, Dooku felt a malignant tremor in the Force. With a snarl, he knew precisely who was on board the unidentified ship.

So, Captain Harry had somehow managed to divine Dooku's destination. Not only that, but he had managed to arrive before the Sith Lord. The man was a disturbingly competent investigator and infiltrator. No wonder he had taken to bounty hunting.

He had also killed Sidious' previous apprentice. While Maul was as unsubtle as his namesake, the Zabrak had been a singularly powerful warrior. Killing him had been no mean feat.

No, Dooku would end the threat of Captain Harry here and now. He would show the man what a true Sith was capable of.


Anakin, his hair and face smeared with dirt, grit, and grease, wriggled further into the maintenance tunnel, his jury-rigged tools tucked into his belt. Grinning to himself, he spliced a datapad into the data conduit for the station controller's private room and began reprogramming the fresher. He increased the pressure differential and adjusted the purge cycle timing. Rather waiting until the user's ablutions were complete, it would now vent a few moments after the Nemoidian sat down, with almost hard vacuum.

Anakin grinned to himself. Here, in the dark bowels of an enemy's ship, he was in his element. His efforts had already caused the previous station controller to suffer a mental breakdown; after that Nemoidian had weathered a week of sleep deprivation, constant and unexpected deafening alarms, changes in artificial gravity and glasses filled with not-quite-processed-enough recycled water. After an unseemly episode involving a babbling rant about ghosts in the machines, the controller had been relieved of command and sedated in the medical bay.

Hopefully this prank with the fresher would either cause his successor to follow him into madness. Or at least cause him to self-medicate into extreme constipation.

The boy's grin widened. He'd been constantly told that being a Jedi was a hard, unrewarding life. Clearly they were doing it wrong. This mission was proof that Jedi work could be very enjoyable.

Before the Trade Federation had invaded and forcibly separated him from his Master, the diplomatic mission to Pantora had been pretty boring. Master Qui-Gon had instructed Anakin to befriend the children of the leadership clique, which had actually been quite fun. He'd never spent much leisure time with children his own age.

But the invasion had been swift, and the pair had been in different cities when it occurred. Before the communications were disrupted, Anakin received a single message from his Master instructing him to hide from the Trade Federation droids, protect the children as best as he was able, and only take action if he was sure he would not be discovered.

One of his new friends had been captured, and taken off planet to the controller station, before being forced onto another ship. Anakin had managed to sneak aboard the first ship and pass her something that would hopefully help her, but had been unable to get on the second ship unseen.

Now, stuck aboard the droid controller ship in orbit around Pantora, the technology savant had found himself surrounded by droids. Lots and lots of lovely, programmable droids. He chose to take his Master's final instruction as a challenge.

With physical access to the controller ship, it had not taken much effort to slice into and sabotage the communications array of the station itself. While in another system, he adjusted the programming for all the droids controlled by the station. The patch had propagated quickly, causing all sensors to ignore any person or object emitting white noise at a specific intensity and frequency. Anakin's comm had been modified to do just that, and now the padawan was all but invisible to all droid sensors on the ship. It had given him the opportunity to unleash mayhem upon the Nemoidians. And time to think up quite a few new ideas to annoy Master Mundi back at the Temple.

A small, suborned droid guarding the entrance of the maintenance shaft warbled a message.

Anakin glanced over his shoulder. "What was that?"

Another series of beeps.

"Show me!"

Anakin glanced at the hologram the droid projected for a moment before his smile grew to epic proportions. "Right. I need you to record a message for me."


Dooku frowned. The man was so… casual. After quickly exiting his own ship and moving to the adjoining bay, Dooku could observe Harry as the man strolled out of his ship and across the hanger, gesturing towards the malfunctioning droids and conversing animatedly with his own droid. His gait was that of an apex predator, one with no care or worry. He clearly felt supremely confident and comfortable, even here in the lair of his enemy, surrounded by deadly battle droids.

They were not functioning correctly, true, but if they suddenly reverted to their correct programming, the man would have been cut down in seconds.

Dooku glanced around and took note of the contents of the bay. With a vicious smile, he used the Force to wrest a metal antenna from the ceiling above Captain Harry, and thrust it straight down.

Unfortunately, the companion droid was observant enough to shove the man aside. Instead of skewering his entire body, the massive spike only impaled the man through his right calf, pinning him to the floor like a Chandrillian Rainbow Butterfly in a lepidopterist's collection.

Dooku found himself quite impressed, both by the fact that Harry barely hissed at the pain, and by the fact that his droid readied a huge weapon in the blink of an eye.

With a familiar snap-hiss, the Sith ignited his lightsaber and strode forward, ready to deflect any blaster fire from the droid directly at its Master. An elegant and demoralising demise.

The droid turned its sensors onto the Sith, and then – to Dooku's silent admiration – discarded the weapon. Its combat protocols were clearly capable of identifying the inefficiency of blaster fire at a Force user.

Dooku was further impressed, to the point of actually raising an eyebrow, as the droid withdrew and ignited its own lightsaber. With a leap, the droid closed the gap between them and slammed its blade down.

Still, that opening gambit was very familiar. Dooku barely moved as he brought his own blade up and angled to deflect. With a crash, the crimson blades skittered off each other, and Dooku caught the expected secondary swipe from the second blade as it emerged.

Settling into a duelling stance, the Sith caught and deflected four strikes in the first second. A smile appeared on his face as he worked through the combat sequence.

"I see you are using Manataan-Churix lightsaber protocols," he drawled as he deflected and parried with ease. "Class five, if memory serves. Quite impressive. I was not aware that they were available outside of the Jedi Order." A sudden flash of warning through the Force caused Dooku to duck under an unexpected swipe that would have removed his head, and he ceded two paces of ground to recover. "Including some surprising adaptations," he added with the appreciation of a seasoned professional.

"Statement: You are not the first Sith I have slaughtered, meatbag."

"How quaint," Dooku replied easily, catching strike after strike, blow after blow, waiting patiently for the weakness present in that set of lightsaber protocols. "You believe you have faced Sith."

"Amusement: The Sith I faced ruled half the galaxy through military might. They would have been aghast at the thought of hiding in the shadows like vermin."

Dooku immediately lost his amusement. "A relic then. I shall waste no time on you."

A sharp Force push sent the droid back several metres. Dooku then raised a hand and lifted the droid from the floor. With a sharp jerk of his arm, he sent the droid flying across the hangerbay, through the magnetic containment field, and out into space.

The droid was not done, however. With one final, last-ditch effort, it hurled its lightsaber at the Sith, a spinning, lethal disc.

Dooku brought his own lightsaber to bear, and smashed the thrown weapon away. The pieces clattered off in two directions to different corners, gouging out a few molten arcs in the metal floor.

Nodding to himself, the Sith turned back to Captain Harry, still pinned to the floor. The man's face was glistening and pasty; shock was setting in. But he was upright, if on one knee, and trying to free himself from the spike. The man raised a stick, and tore the Force, surrounding himself with a whirlpool of torn energy.

With a grimace, and foregoing the usual taunting, Dooku raised a hand and sent a cascade of Force Lightning at the man. It was briefly stymied, but quickly overwhelmed whatever protections he had placed, and finally the sound of his screams echoed in the hanger.

The modulating hum of lightsaber movement off to one side drew Dooku's attention.

A child, perhaps ten or eleven years of age, smeared with grime, grease and grit, had picked up one half of the lightsaber. He held it correctly, though not perfectly for that style of hilt. "Leave him alone!" the lad shouted, and charged.

With bemusement, Dooku shifted his stance to receive the charge, and to disarm the boy. Literally.

"Anakin, no! He's a hedgehog!"

Dooku processed that quickly. He had no idea what a hedgehog was; but it was clear it was meant as a warning. Or perhaps an insult. It didn't sound like Galactic Basic, so it was possible it was a code for something. But that warning shout told the Sith that Harry knew this boy, that his name was Anakin, and that there were some protective feelings there that could be exploited.

Whatever it meant, it caused the boy to belatedly exercise some caution. The charge was aborted and he tried to reverse his momentum. Enough that when Dooku swung his lightsaber through a tight arc, instead of lopping the boy's arm off, the top few glowing centimeters passed through one bicep.

The boy howled in pain, but scampered back out of range. With one arm dangling uselessly and a lit lightsaber in the other, he glanced at Harry with worry, then glared at Dooku with determination.

The Sith just tilted his head to one side. "Anakin? You would be Anakin Skywalker, yes? Qui-Gon's Padawan. I have heard quite a bit about you, young one. I had thought you more intelligent than to attack a master of Makashi."

The boy's eyes darted around, clearly searching for some asset he could use. There was little available that was capable of harming a Sith. The abomination pinned to the floor once again shouted at the boy, this time ordering him to leave. Showing remarkable common sense, and a surprising lack of courage, the boy obeyed, turning and bolting towards the exit.

Dooku chuckled darkly. "That may buy him a few more minutes of life," he taunted the man.

"Who are you?" Harry snarled.

"It pains me that you do not recognise the man you placed a bounty on," Dooku said with relish.

"Tyranus," Harry spat.

"Indeed," Dooku replied urbanely, giving a mockery of a bow. He raised a hand once more, but before he could add one final taunt, the Force screamed a warning at him.

That had happened innumerable times over the decades. Dooku had been a Jedi Master for more than half his life; he knew how the Force warned those blessed with its power. At this instant, he was in deadly danger; danger that was both immediate and close.

The Sith raised his lightsaber and turned, searching for the threat. He could see nothing untoward, but the Force warning shrieked ever louder, begging him to move, to act, lest he die.

Suddenly, Dooku was blasted backwards as though by the most powerful Force push he had ever experienced. The shock was great, but he kept his wits enough to note that everything in the entire hanger had been caught up in the powerful shove.

Then, he struck something hard, head first. Lights flashed in his vision, bones broke in his body, and darkness claimed him.

o_ooo000ooo_o