disclaimer type=standard

Anything you recognise is either JK's or George's. I dare say anything else belongs to them too.

/disclaimer

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Milanench received a bare half second's warning click before a crate of salvaged droid heads landed on the shop floor behind him. The Harch spun his bulbous body around and raised his cane threateningly. He cursed and ranted at the incompetent who'd almost squashed him.

He didn't recognise the worker; no doubt it was one of the numerous spawn of one of his lazy nest-mates.

Just as he was taking a breath in order to continue his tirade, a human voice interrupted him. He'd missed the customer entering his store in all the commotion. "Do you happen to have anything that can translate for me?"

Milanench turned to face the human. It was a young adult – male, presumably. The Harch could never tell with any surety. It... no, he wore high-quality clothes and stood like a warrior born. The green eyes however were most unsettling; not just the fact that it had a single pair, but the intense colour. Thankfully, the hideous organs were behind a pair of archaic corrective lenses.

Odd that a human would not open negotiations in Basic. The Harch stretched out an arm towards his protocol droid. "M9! Translate!"

As the droid stepped forward to speak to the human, Milanench observed his customer closely. There was something about him that made the old spider nervous. Very, very nervous. There was nothing out of the ordinary, besides the human's odd ignorance of Galactic Basic, but for some reason, Milanench really, really wanted the young man out of his shop.

M9 seemed to have difficulty in understanding the human's speech. The droid even tapped its chest plate and recited its designation as though it were meeting a new species for the first time.

After a few rounds, the human eventually shook his head in disgust. "I want to buy a robot that can understand me," he said, while pointing towards M9.

He wanted to purchase the protocol droid? Not likely, or at least, not for an insignificant sum. Milanench reached out and gestured for some credits.

The Harch stiffened suddenly as the human drew a blaster, but instead of threatening with it, he placed it on the counter. Obviously offering it for trade.

Milanench glanced down. A DL-44 heavy blaster pistol. Durable, efficient and popular with smugglers and bounty-hunters. Simple to resell, retaining most of its value.

The Harch almost laughed. The human really thought that such a mass-produced weapon was anywhere near the cost of a protocol droid? More like… He reached behind him into the recently scattered droid heads and picked one at random. He tossed it to the human, and snatched the blaster off the counter.

The human struggled briefly with the rusty droid head, before adjusting to the odd balance. "That's it? This hunk of junk is all I'm getting?" the human demanded incomprehensibly.

Despite the droid remains being worth less than a tenth of the probable resale value of the blaster, Milanench stood firm. He had a business to run after all, and the last thing he wanted was to give this human such a good deal that he would think of returning.

The human gave up after a couple more attempts to parley more value from the transaction, and turned away without further incident. Milanench watched him leave the store. Something about the creature frightened the old spider; some feeling he couldn't shake. He turned his head to face his protocol droid. "M9, what language was that thing speaking?" he clicked.

M9-R42 took a few subtle steps backwards and to his right in order to turn to face his owner in a properly deferential manner. "I am afraid I have no idea," the droid clicked back. "Linguistically, the words of his language seem to be made up of few syllables, with inflection apparently random. Without more exposure I cannot be sure, but I calculate a moderate probability that the language originates from a low-technology culture."

"Non-Spacefaring?"

"Almost certainly."

Milanench shook his head and resettled six of his legs in their positions against his body. The sense of relief that had washed over him as the human had exited the store was still fresh in his mind. Whoever he was, Milanench wanted absolutely nothing to do with the human ever again.

"Get the astromechs to assemble some guard droids. If he comes back, I want to scare him off."


Obi-wan frowned as he and his Master were ushered out of the Council room with unseemly, even un-Jedi-like, haste. His Master's report on the status of their mission had been received with polite disinterest, as though an entire peaceful, civilised world forced to exist under the yoke of an uncaring foreign power was a matter of little import.

The revelation that a Sith had been encountered had far more impact. Yet not for the impact to the mission.

Master Qui-Gon had found the reception odd too, and had pointedly asked about it. After all, the mission had been instigated at the personal request of the Supreme Chancellor. Politically, the outcome was imperative. If the ancient enemies of the Jedi were once again stirring, then their impact on the current political environment must be considered. Especially as the target of the Sith appeared to be the Queen of Naboo.

But to no avail. The non-answers had been curt and dismissive. The assembled Masters were far more interested in the fact that the Sith had reappeared concurrently with the enormous Force disturbance that had left the pair vulnerable.

They had been very interested in the effect that incredible Force disturbance had on the pair, light-years away and in hyperspace. Both Master and padawan were questioned deeply on how long they had been rendered insensate, and how far from Coruscant they had been when the event occurred.

Their own questions of the event had been brushed aside.

The one flicker of interest in the mission had come only when the young stowaway had been mentioned. Qui-Gon had claimed that Anakin was a vergence of the Force. That announcement had been met with some murmuring, especially when Skywalker had been described as a young, male human, but the interest quickly dissipated when a more descriptive version of his age, appearance and origin had been given.

Despite the boy's unprecedented midi-chlorian count, it had taken all of his Master's persuasion for the Jedi Council to even consider meeting with the lad; and even then the meeting was scheduled well into the future.

Obi-wan opened his mouth to question his Master, when both Jedi gasped at a sudden, intense disturbance.

After a second or two, the padawan shot his Master a questioning look. "Master? Another one! They are becoming more regular. What-?"

Qui Gon held up a hand, and the sounds of frantic discussion echoed from behind the door to the Council Chamber. "Not here, Obi-wan. Come."

Obi-wan glanced over his shoulder as he was led away, noting with interest that four of the Councilors emerged from the room with expressions of intense determination as they headed in the direction of the vehicle bay.


Darth Maul entered his master's secret chambers, deep in the heart of the labyrinthine property. It was one of the most guarded dwellings on the already paranoid planet; protected by both mundane technology and the Force. As he expected, Darth Sidious was waiting for him. The cloaked figure's face was in deep shadow under the robe's hood, only his chin, mouth and the tip of his nose visible. Maul knelt before his master.

"Report, Lord Maul," the cloaked figure said in a cultured, yet menacing voice.

"Your intelligence was correct, my Master. The queen was on Tatooine."

There was a short pause. "Yet, you have not returned with her."

"No, Master. I located the Queen's transport just as it was lifting off. I engaged the Jedi Jinn, hoping to force the ship to land, but he was able to escape me."

Darth Sidious looked down on his apprentice and mentally cursed. His apprentice Maul was a supreme warrior and powerful force user, but beyond the scope of combat he had little subtlety. He lived for battle; lived to kill at his master's whim. A living weapon that could be used as a deftly and discretely as a laserscalpal or as crudely and devastatingly as the blunt instrument he was named for. So eager to engage the Jedi, he had discarded the very secrecy that had kept them relatively safe for so long.

"The Queen has arrived on Coruscant, and will address the Senate tomorrow," Sidious informed his apprentice. "The Jedi have no doubt reported your existence to their council. They will assume that you were attempting to abduct the Queen, and will focus their surveillance of her accordingly."

Darth Maul remained on one knee, waiting for his Master to pronounce his punishment for failure. "Two Jedi or twenty, it makes little difference. Shall I kidnap her before she addresses the Senate?"

"No, my apprentice. Her presence there can be exploited." Sidious had instructed the Nemoidians to capture the young monarch and force her to sign the treaty he had drafted. Both depressingly and predictably, they had failed. Without the queen's forced ratification of the treaty, he did not have the 'evidence' that his home planet was being punished in response to the Senate's taxation laws. Without that treaty, he could not muster support from specific voting blocs in his upcoming attempt on the Chancellor's Office. He needed that treaty to enact his plans.

But while her successful escape from the blockaded planet briefly stymied his plans, it also opened some other opportunities. It would be trivial to convince the Queen to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum. But taking that step would in turn force him into making other moves earlier than originally planned. Without the treaty, it would be difficult, but not impossible to convince others of the danger to Naboo's sovereignty. This new set of circumstances had a lower probability of success, unless proof could be found of Naboo's occupation.

Still, he could not wait for rumours of the horrific conditions on Naboo to filter their way across the galaxy. For the greatest probability of success he would need Queen Amidala to address the Senate, call for a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor, and then fall into the Trade Federation's hands. Maul could kidnap her, certainly, but he would have a greater chance of success if Sidious could manipulate the Queen to into making the decision to return to Naboo herself. That should be relatively easy; she was a naïve child with an immature understanding of the realities of her situation.

"As you wish, my Master."

"Rise, Lord Maul. It will be some days before you shall be required to capture Queen Amidala. There is another task I must lay upon you."

Maul rose to his feet, meeting his Master's gaze. He remained silent, waiting with the patience of a cadaver for his Master to speak.

"There was a powerful disturbance in the Force. Beyond any in all of history."

Maul swallowed. "I felt the Force shriek, even in hyperspace," he offered cautiously.

Sidious nodded. "It was powerful enough that I suspect every Force Sensitive in the galaxy felt it. But there have been others; less intense, but more specific. Centred on Coruscant."

"Master, what has caused them?"

This time, Sidious snarled. "The Jedi are hunting a human. The Force does not flow through him. He tears it instead of wielding it, and the Force cries out each time. Find him, Lord Maul. Find him and destroy him. Destroy him before he destroys the Force itself."

"Your will, my Master," the Sith replied. Despite his curiosity, he did not voice the question on his mind.

But Maul had no secrets from his Master. A smile played around Sidious' lips as he answered the unspoken question. "I have another way of learning his secrets, my Apprentice."

Sidious watched as his apprentice left, contemplating events. It was unfortunate that this should happen now. The Jedi would be on guard now; alert and curious for any unexpected event. And Maul had just revealed himself to them.

Had he the opportunity, he would have severely punished his apprentice. It was certain that the Jedi would consider the events related. But that would need to wait until events had run their course. He needed Maul and his precisely directed violence now.

Sidious swept from the room and drifted towards another secure room deep within the complex. He activated the security protocols on the door, both the external scanners and the internal, Force-manipulated locks. Once open, he stepped inside, his senses stretched out before him.

The medical and scientific droids bustled around the prisoner, taking scans and samples. Without the burden of ethics protocols, the machines performed efficiently in gathering data and answers.

The naked woman bound to the theatre table had not been allowed to regain consciousness, not since she had been overcome by the defenses in his quarters. Her arrival coincided precisely with that of the human male the Jedi were hunting. It was no great stretch to assume the pair were somehow related.

There was a certain elegant symmetry to it. One arriving in the heart of the Light, the other in the pit of the Dark. Of course, only the Sith had the presence of mind to extract whatever value possible from the opportunity. The Jedi were predictably offended, and would attempt to destroy 'their' resource.

"Yes," he repeated to himself, as the woman's body was repeatedly violated by the droids. "I have another way of learning his secrets."


Tracking the human was trivial. Either he was ignorant of what effect his manipulation of the Force had, or he was ambivalent. Neither situation was tenable; the potential for havoc was too great. Maul's master was perfectly correct in his assessment – the human must die.

The most recent Force tremblings drew the Sith like a mynock to a power conduit. To Maul's Force senses, the human might just have been carrying a tracking beacon.

The luxury hotel in which his target was located loomed large on both the screen in front of him, and on Maul's senses. The Sith considered his options. The most efficient method would be to simply drop a small warhead onto the building, and bring it down. The only problem with that approach would be the difficulty in confirming the human's death afterwards. Maul was a perfectionist, and even a minute chance of failure meant that the tactic was not worth considering.

In any event, Maul craved challenge. His brief duel with the Jedi Jinn on Tatooine had whetted his appetite for battle. This human who could rend the Force would be a welcome diversion, and would perhaps even be a challenge.

With skill won from hard hours of laborious practice, Maul piloted his craft around to one of the freight entrances in the lower levels of the building. He exited, and engaged the security protocols.

It was the work of a moment to drift unnoticed past the workers on duty. Maul cloaked himself in the Force and drifted as silent as a shadow through the opulent building, passing by guests and staff unable to register his presence. Had it proved necessary to his mission, or even minutely increased his chance of success, he'd have snuffed the life from every one of them without hesitation or remorse. As things stood, he ignored them, focusing all his attention on the task his master had assigned him.

The closer he got to his target, the more he felt the pervasive pollution of the Force. It was not the malignant taint of the Dark Side; Maul bathed in that daily. This was contamination.

He entered a service turbolift and selected the top floor. The utilitarian capsule rose up through the hotel. A soft chime announced the end of the journey. Maul stepped out of the turbolift and extended his senses, feeling his way to his target. With deliberate steps, he made his way through the elaborately decorated hallways.

He paused in his advance down the final corridor. To his senses, a shimmering veil covered the hallway for several metres on either side of the penthouse door. Whatever it was, he would have to pass it.

Maul closed his eyes and dropped even deeper into the Force, wrapping the living energy around him. Tentatively, he stepped forward, letting his Force sense guide him. He reached out with both hands and used the Force to touch, and then to grasp the invisible veil. He drew his arms apart, stretching the veil thin. He spent a few moments experimenting, twisting and stretching the energy curtain, getting a feel for its properties before he released it, and took a step back to observe and reflect.

Despite its unfamiliar, foreign composition, the Force could manipulate the energy in front of him. It acted as a barrier, not as a medium. Once past it, he should be able to move about undetected. The Force allowed one to pass living and non-living creatures undetected; perhaps it would allow passage past this barrier as well.

Maul centred himself. He drew the malignant energy of the Dark Side around him, forming a layer around his entire body. Holding the dark layer steady, he pushed one hand through the veil, fingers extended and rigid. There was a subtle pressure, but no friction. The Sith grinned; he slipped across the threshold unnoticed.

Past the first barrier, Maul approached the door. The Sith extended one hand, feeling more of the odd force sensations surrounding the door; similar to the veil in the corridor, but with a different purpose. Whoever had placed these energies had skills beyond Maul's experience.

Still, if a simple, albeit powerful Force shield enabled him to bypass the outer defense, then it seemed that his target had never encountered a Sith or Jedi before. He gave his extended hand a wave, mentally manipulating the locking mechanism. The door hissed open, allowing an errant wisp of water vapour to curl into the corridor.

Maul almost smiled. His target was in the fresher. How fortuitous.

He strode into the room, scanning and cataloguing possible weapons, ignoring the ostentatious displays of wealth. His Force Sense told him that there was only one living being in the apartment, and one activated, but severely damaged droid.

To his left, the decapitated head of a droid started hissing as though expressing air through the grill on the front. A damaged vocal processor? Given the state of the droid's head, it was not an unreasonable assumption.

Oddly, that was enough to warn his target. A young human male, perhaps twenty-three standard years of age, stumbled out of the fresher, dripping wet and completely nude. His black hair was plastered damply against his skull, and his lithe, well-toned body displayed several scars that bespoke much experience with pain. The young man forced a crude set of corrective lenses onto the bridge of his nose, and stood in the doorway to the fresher with nothing more than a small wooden stick for a weapon.

Maul gave a feral smile. His presence had startled the human, but the Sith sensed no fear in him. Time to change that.

Slowly, Maul reached up and pushed the hood of his black cloak back, revealing his face and head. It was the first step of a dance he had played out many times; a move that always instilled fear in his opponents.

The young man simply tilted his head slightly to one side, not the least bit intimidated.

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AN: Thanks to my reviewers - Memory25, TheReader8, Duquette7, Jman12394, Zen Rinnegan, tenchifew, So you want to be an Author, metal.v2, Lordban, Rake1810, Zealot of Reading, crobhdearg, Orlok Tsubodai Bahadur, exaigon, Nate88, killroy225, Raychaell Dionzeros, unanimously anonymous. mostly, Beloved Daughter, erisedreturns and Beware of Nargles.