Hondo is not, in all technicality, invited to this event.
Hondo is also, in all technicality, not turned away at the door.
That’s the sort of thing that happens when you come in on the arm of a very rich and very powerful executive. Hondo won’t claim to know what it is that she does—that’s how a man loses fingers—but she’d thought it quite the grand joke to bring famed and endlessly charming Hondo Ohnaka to a political mixer! He does belong, he assures everyone. He knows plenty of wealthy politicians, including on the other side of the war. Why, he’s captured Dooku himself, before!
He’s fairly certain the clones are giving him dirty looks from behind their helmets. Alas, he cannot see them. He recalls they are handsome fellows, and takes a chance to flirt with one.
The trooper directs him to the buffet.
Hondo entertains himself, nonetheless. He speaks with everyone! He dances! None are safe from his endless wit and seductive gyrations. He speaks with diplomats! He speaks with senators! He speaks with capitalists, and their fake-smiled wives!
He also steals from them.
It is, of course, not the great Hondo’s fault. He is simply, ehhhh… sticky-fingered! A lifetime of habit, to be sure. His dear mother did teach him so very well.
Hondo fills his pockets. There are rings slipped from fingers and credits galore. Some of the politicians are even carrying datasticks, as though planning to exchange information at this wondrous event! How absolutely naughty. Even Hondo is ashamed for them. Perhaps he ought to call their parents.
After a certain point, Hondo isn’t even paying attention to what he’s taking anymore. He is very quick about it, and almost anything he can slip from these people is either very expensive, or very incriminating, or very tasty. He has admittedly grabbed their plates as often as their wallets, when distracted.
He is, after all, but a humble pirate! His stomach, it hungers.
Hondo continues the night that way, and he may take advantage to slip little things into drinks. What can he say? He likes an easy mark. If they hadn’t wanted him stealing everything but the clothes on their backs (and even some of those), they wouldn’t have let him in the door. He even gets the Chancellor!
Hondo knows that he is good at what he does, but this place should really have better security for the head of state. He’ll let Kenobi know. He owes it to his friend to let him know about the gaping opportunities.
He slips past the Chancellor, gripping him by the forearms as he tells a wild story that is only somewhat untrue, and comes away with something that feels hard and complicated and expensive. He slips whatever it is in his coat and moves on to his next target. The Chancellor doesn’t even notice! Perhaps he is, after all, going as senile as the papers say. Hondo decides he doesn’t believe that, because he likes the fact that he got one over the man, and that’s more impressive if the Chancellor is mentally capable (except for the drugs Hondo put in his drink).
Hondo slips into the bathroom—legally, no cameras!—and looks upon his many findings. There are credits! There are jewels! There are incriminating things!
There is a lightsaber.
Hondo looks at it.
Hondo holds it, and passes his mind over the past several hours, and thinks that only one of his lifts had quite this feeling.
Perhaps this is better handled by someone who is not Hondo.
He is far too pretty to die by the Chancellor’s hands, yes?
It is past three in the morning when Obi-Wan’s comm rings. He checks the caller ID, sees that it is not one he recognizes, and slams it off. He stuffs a pillow over his head, curls closer to the warm body he’s been cuddling, and tries to go back to sleep. He just got back in from a campaign. His leave is lasting less than a week. If it’s not the Council, Anakin, or the Chancellor himself, he is not waking up.
The comm rings again. He rejects the call. And again. He rejects it. It rings again.
A dark hand, nearly invisible in the night, reaches past him and grabs it before he can turn it off again. The comm flicks on.
“What?” Quinlan nearly growls out, just as pissed off as Obi-Wan.
“Hello, friends!” The familiar, cheerful, damnably awake voice is too much. Obi-Wan wants to commit some crimes about this. He won’t. He wants to. “I did hope this was Kenobi’s comm line, but if you could direct me to him, I may just owe you a favor.”
“It is three in the morning,” Obi-Wan grinds out. “How did you get this number and why are you calling me.”
“I got it from a wonderful friend of yours, a Besalisk with food fit for the gods! Or at least for pirate kings, and really, are we so different from—”
“Why are you calling me?”
“Ah, my friend, you need not worry; I would not waste your time for little nothings! You see, I call upon our wonderful friendship, for Hondo has some very important questions!”
“Get to the point,” Obi-Wan orders. Quinlan groans, pressing his forehead into the bare skin between Obi-Wan’s shoulder blades. “If it’s not good, I’m hunting you down and arresting you myself.”
Hondo titters. “Oh, to be sure! I would, after all, only submit to one as—”
“Is the Chancellor allowed to have lightsabers?” Hondo asks.
Obi-Wan’s brain screeches to a halt. Quinlan’s own presence, though only barely palpable in the first place, nearly disappears into itself. His fingers clench into Obi-Wan’s shoulder.
“What.” It’s all Obi-Wan can manage.
Hondo explains, sounding almost cheerful about it. “I see I have surprised you! The wondrous and amazing Hondo just lifted one of these fiddly little laser swords off of the Chancellor. ‘Maybe it’s an antique,’ thought I, but it lights up in red, which I recall you aren’t very fond of. I simply thought I should ask my favorite je–”
“Where are you?” Obi-Wan demands, flinging off the covers and lurching out of bed. Quinlan follows. “I’m coming and I’m bringing a friend and if this is a setup, Anakin’s coming after me and you KNOW he doesn’t bluff.”
Obi-Wan’s already pulling on his leggings as Hondo keeps talking. “I believe I shall take that as a ‘no, my amazing and most talented friend, Captain Hondo Ohnaka, Prince of Pirates, the Chancellor should not have any laser swords.’”
Quinlan swears as he trips over some shoes—Obi-Wan doesn’t care to see whether their his own or Quin’s—and Obi-Wan uses the Force to carry the comm near his face as he pulls on his tunic. “For pity’s sake, Ohnaka, there are no good reasons for the Chancellor to have red sabers without the Council knowing. How did you even—how did you get confirmation?”
“Ah, you of all people should know how light Hondo’s fingers are when he wants something!” the man himself tells him. “And, eh, perhaps I cheated. Only a little, I tell you! The Chancellor did not refrain from drinking the wine at the party, you see, but I have stolen sabers from Dooku as well, as I am sure you remember.”
Hondo’s tone drops, not quite so cheerful. “I am very good at these things, Kenobi.”
Well, yes. He is. That much has been clear.
“Are you somewhere safe?” Obi-Wan asks. He thinks probably—he’d apparently gone to Dex for help, so there are at least a few safe houses available to him—but if not…
“As safe as I can be on this planet, I think,” Hondo says. “Ah, but it would be better with you at my side! Are you sure I cannot tempt you to drop the Jedi in favor of a life among the stars, full of drink and pretty girls? Or boys! Hondo does not judge.”
Quinlan’s radiating irritation amidst the worry as they rush to the speeder deck. “Is he always like this?”
“If the Chancellor doesn’t kill him, I might.”
Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. “Hondo, just—where should we find you?”
“We? Are you bringing Skywalker? I’d love to—”
“No, not Anakin,” though he’ll have to figure out something to tell his former apprentice, “but someone that will be able to get a better idea of why the Chancellor had those in the first place.”
“We have a very tight timeframe,” Quinlan mutters. “Someone needs to buy time.”
Obi-Wan rushes into the speeder bay, presses in his emergency council clearance, and hops onto a bike. Quinlan grabs another, because they’ll need the option if things go too far south. “Hondo, if this is a trap—”
“A trap! A trap, he says! Oh, Kenobi, my friend, as if I would ever do that to—”
“You’ve done it before,” Obi-Wan snaps. “So just know that I do have backup.”
“You wound me,” Hondo insists. “But, ah, you are a clever man! You do not underestimate Hondo, not anymore!”
“Hondo, how should I find you?” Obi-Wan asks.
“Bring me a burger,” Hondo says, and hangs up.
Well, that’s clear enough.
Obi-Wan shares an exhausted look with Quinlan. “Call the council. I’ll call Anakin.”
“You want to bring him?” Quinlan asks, doubting even the idea.
“No, but I want him to come after me if it’s a trap,” Obi-Wan says. “Also, I’m going to tell him a very specific version of the truth, so make sure the Council knows to play along.”
Quinlan raises a brow at him. “That’s not going to go down well with the kid, Obi.”
He has to wince at that. “Yes, well… as needs must.”
They’re already racing through the city when his call goes through. The comm rings several times before Anakin picks up. He’s audio-only, probably to avoid letting Obi-Wan see that he’s sharing a bed with Padmé. Really, that boy.
“Mmm, ‘bi-Wan?” he mumbles groggily. “The hell…?”
“Hello, Anakin, terribly sorry to wake you—” and he really is, almost as sorry as he was to be woken, “—but an emergency’s come up and I need you to be ready in case something goes wrong.”
“E chu ta.” There’s a rustle of fabric and a bone-cracking yawn. “What’s going on?”
“I received word from a contact,” Obi-Wan says, picking his words as carefully as he can while driving through nocturnal Coruscanti traffic. He hisses under his breath, dodging a delivery bike. “About… well, I can’t tell you the specifics. I need you to be ready to follow and find me if this is a trap.”
“Yeah, okay,” Anakin says. He yawns again, and then groans. “Hell, did they have to contact you now?”
“It’s incredibly time-sensitive,” Obi-Wan says. He dodges another speeder, and the blare of the horn fades quickly. “And—”
“Are you driving?”
“The Chancellor might be in danger!” Obi-Wan shouts. He can sort of feel Quinlan judging him. He’s not sure how Quinlan heard him, or if he even did, but he’s going to ignore the man. The rustling on the other end of the line, what little he can hear past the whipping of the wind in his ears, gets more frantic.
“The Chancellor’s in danger?” Anakin demands. “Why didn’t you start with that?”
“Because I’m more likely to be in danger than he is,” Obi-Wan says, which is very true. “Quinlan was with me when I got the call, he’s letting the Council know. Meet up with them to arrange a protection detail. The Chancellor has a history of rejecting security, even when he really needs it, so they might need you to help convince him that it’s necessary.”
Technically all true. If Hondo’s lying, and this is a ploy of some sort, then the Chancellor probably is in danger. This is assuming it’s not a ruse for some other target, which it very well might be. Obi-Wan is very tired.
“I can do that,” Anakin asserts. There’s a voice in the background, sleepy and feminine, and Obi-Wan pretends he can’t recognize it. Anakin at least mutes the call when he responds, and is then back. “Okay, keep an eye on your emergency beacon—”
“It’s the dead man’s switch one,” Obi-Wan says.
“Right,” Anakin says, “and convince the Chancellor to accept protection from the Order. I can do that.”
“Thank you, Anakin,” Obi-Wan says. “Thank you for trusting me.”
There’s silence on the other end of the line, and then Anakin sighs, so heavily that Obi-Wan hear it. He’s slowing down to land at the diner, but that doesn’t actually make it easy to hear. When Anakin speaks, it’s low and resigned. “You’re holding something back, aren’t you?”
“You’re on a personal comm,” Obi-Wan says, which Anakin will take issue with, because his private comm has been tweaked to hell and back for security, but will allow because he thinks Obi-Wan is much more of a stickler than he actually is. “And it’s… complicated. I almost hope it’s a trap, because—”
“Obi-Wan,” Quinlan says, elbowing him. “We need to move.”
“—it will be very complicated if it’s true,” Obi-Wan finishes. “Please follow the Council’s lead, and do not leave the Chancellor with less than two Jedi in the room at any given time.”
Don’t be alone with him, Obi-Wan thinks. Don’t let him trick you into giving the game away.
“I’ll listen to the Masters,” Anakin says, and then Quinlan’s saying goodbye for him and shutting the comm off.
The safehouse is a stereotype of such things. It’s a warehouse, technically, filled with crates and flickering lightbulbs and a mostly-clean refresher. Obi-Wan almost laughs, except none of this is funny.
“Alright, asshole, come on out,” Quinlan calls, because Obi-Wan hesitates to find Hondo first, and can’t stop him. “We are armed and dangerous.”
“That does not fill me with trust to meet with you!” Hondo calls from somewhere in the maze of mesh walkways above them.
Obi-Wan eyes them critically. They should really have railings. This is a CWHSC violation, he’s sure of it.
“You’re the one that begged us to come, Hondo!” Obi-Wan shouts, and is met with a dramatic sigh and clattering footsteps as Hondo descends a staircase that is… very rickety and somewhat rusty. Obi-Wan is tense until Hondo steps off, and it no longer threatens to collapse under him.
Hondo grins bright and airy, for all that it’s nearing four in the morning, and spreads his arms wide. “Friends!”
“Business,” Quinlan says. Obi-Wan doesn’t bother to argue.
Hondo’s smile falters. “Ah, perhaps a drink—”
“Show us the saber,” Obi-Wan says, his voice as low and even as he can manage. He can hear the shakes, but he’s not sure anyone else could. If anyone would, though, these two would be likely candidates. “The accusation suggested in your claims is… horrifying in the implications.”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Hondo mutters. He reaches into his coat, and pulls out a sleek, oddly shaped silver and gold cannister from an inner pocket. “What implications, if I might ask?”
Obi-Wan steps forward first, holding out his hand, and Quinlan remains stiff and unhappy at his back. “Let’s start with ‘likely genocide of the entire Jedi Order’ and work our way up from there.”
Hondo stills, and Obi-Wan imagines he’s blinking behind the goggles. He looks at Obi-Wan for a long moment, steeped in discomfort, and then presses the suspected saber into Obi-Wan’s hand. “Aye, that does sound like something even I wouldn’t stomach.”
The cylinder is cold in his hand, and not just in temperature. He wouldn’t call it cold in the Force, necessarily, because that would imply that it has a presence in the Force. It doesn’t. It’s a tiny blip of a void, only noticeable because he’s already looking.
He holds it vertically, and ignites it.
Just like that, the dark fills t̼̻̼̫̘͍h̰̪̩̖̫̠e̹̩̩̟ ̹͎͓̮w̲̳̗ar̞̻ͣ̈́ͥ̂ͣ̇ͩe͈̭̣̬͇̬͊ͬ̊͆h̐̂̏́ô̧̻̞͍̳̱̻͓͔̮͇̬̹͇̲̙͉̿̉ͥ̓͡͡ǔ̶̪͙̦͚̟̳̦͖͙̯̩̤̻͈͖̬ͥ̃́ͯ̄̌ͣ̾ͫͩͨ̕͝š̶́̎ͭ̈́͐ͤ͐̊̐̔̈҉͏̷̜̯͈̮ͅȩ̰̫̺͍̮̬͇͖̞̞̬͇̖͇̩̪̓͋͗ͯ͠ͅͅ.͗̈͒̂͏͚̘̲͚̘͙͔͔̠̩̭ͅ
Obi-Wan turns the saber off.
“So…” Hondo says, after several seconds of horrified silence from the Jedi.
“We’re all going to die,” Quinlan says. He doesn’t say it brightly, or contemplatively, or in despair. It’s not even resigned, really. It’s just a realization. This is happening, and the words are to be spoken, and that’s all there is to it.
“We are not,” Obi-Wan says, almost scolding. “First thing’s first, we need to figure out if this was planted on the Chancellor, if it’s an antique or novelty purchase a rich person might make without understanding what it is that they’re buying, or if it’s… well.”
If the Chancellor is a Sith.
Quinlan eyes the saber in distaste and well-hidden fear. Obi-Wan’s known him too long to miss that. Unfortunately, he knows just why Quinlan’s not too keen on touching a lightsaber, let alone a dark one.
Your saber is your life, as all Jedi know.
To put a full life in a psychometric’s hands is… Quinlan doesn’t even hold Obi-Wan’s without first wrapping his hands.
“Dooku once told me, right at the start of it all, that there was a Sith in the Senate,” Obi-Wan reminds him. “We can’t ignore this.”
“Ye—no shit we can’t ignore it,” Quinlan says, sputtering. He looks almost disgusted with Obi-Wan. He puts on a feigned and exaggerated Coruscanti accent. “‘Oh me oh my, I’m Obi-Wan Kenobi and I dare say we cannot simply ignore that—”
“Stop stalling,” Obi-Wan says. He won’t hold this against Quin. Not this. He’d be reluctant too.
Quinlan meets his eyes, and the way his brow furrows up as his eyes open, as if he’s about to cry or beg—
“We can’t stall,” Obi-Wan says, quiet as he can manage. He ignores Hondo’s awkward shuffling, and holds the saber out to Quinlan.
Quinlan meets his eyes, and pulls off a glove. He reaches out, and touches the saber.
He hisses and yanks his hand back, horrified.
“He’s the Sith Master.”
Hondo coughs lightly. “And that means—”
“Worst case scenario,” Obi-Wan says. He sees Quinlan gearing up for another pass at the history. “You’re going to want to hide as well as you can until he’s… handled.”
“And just how bad is—”
“Very, now shut up,” Quinlan snaps. Hondo does, at least shut up. “Okay. What to focus on…”
“Incriminating evidence, how to take him out, and contingency or backup plans,” Obi-Wan says. “The scope of whatever his current crimes are can wait until he’s been neutralized.”
“I know that,” Quinlan says. “Incriminating evidence… right. Secret comms to Dooku. Passwords. Locations. I can do that.”
“If the suggestion of a criminal is worth anything to such fine Jedi as yourselves…”
Quinlan glares past Obi-Wan, who turns anyway. “Yes?”
“Anyone running a criminal empire will have contingency plans that take forever to dismantle,” Hondo says, with a smile and a shrug. “I would know! That you have the information to arrest him, eh, less important. You said he wants you dead, yes? Then you need to make sure that showing up to take him out won’t kill you.”
“We’re aware,” Obi-Wan says. “But to even start building that case—”
“You have your evidence,” Hondo points out. “I do not know enough about the courts to know if it is admissible—the great and gallant Hondo has never been captured for long enough to find out what matters there!—but you know he is, shall we say, the biggest of the bads. He has had his power for a long time, my friends. You will save yourselves if you start with the contingency.”
“It’s not procedure,” Obi-Wan says. “We are legally required—”
Hondo laughs, loud and rough and not even the slightest bit actually amused. “Oh, Kenobi, my friend! Such an idealist you are. What you are legally required to do? It doesn’t matter! It is only there to hold you back! My favorite Jedi, don’t you see? He is the law.”
Obi-Wan flinches. He turns to Quinlan. Quinlan is, in fact, making a face.
“He has a point,” Obi-Wan says.
“I’m aware,” Quinlan grouses. “Fuck. Okay. We get what we can out of this thing, then… how long can they stall before he notices, do you think?”
“Morning,” Obi-Wan says. “You have a plan?”
“Sabotage the blade in a way he won’t notice,” Quinlan says. “Put it somewhere he might be willing to believe he dropped it while drunk. Raise hell in another sector so he’s too distracted to follow up properly. Hopefully, we’ll buy enough time to neutralize his contingencies that way…”
It’s still risky. Obi-Wan pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to release some of the tension.
“I could sell it.”
Obi-Wan lifts his head and turns to Hondo again. “What?”
“I am not the kind of man one expects to be honorable, my friend. What kind of pirate would bring a secret lightsaber to a Jedi instead of selling it to an antiques collector?” Hondo asks. He’s grinning. It’s a little fake.
“A smart one,” Obi-Wan says.
Hondo laughs. “Kenobi, you flatter me! But my friend, I even know someone that likes to buy such things, here on Coruscant! Bits and bobs, collectibles of old Force things that I can’t say I understand. Perhaps it is even Palpatine himself, behind a mask. Nobody would suspect that I had done anything but find a place to pawn it.”
“You’d die,” Quinlan says, flat as a pond.
“Eh, there are middlemen,” Hondo says. “It will pass through many hands before it reaches his, and I will be long gone by then.”
“And all of those people will die too,” Obi-Wan says.
“Those people are worse than I am,” Hondo points out. “I have seen you tortured, Kenobi. This scares you more than Dooku did. I have no wish to see what it really means. If a few of Coruscant’s worst get their just desserts while I run home to Florrum, what skin is it off my back?”
“We’re Jedi,” Obi-Wan says. “We’re not going to sell out strangers just to—”
“Aurra Sing,” Hondo counters.
Obi-Wan’s brow furrows. “Explain.”
“She is Force Sensitive. She is on-planet. She will believe that the item is hot, so to speak, and that I wish to rid myself of it as quickly as possible, and she will sell it herself as soon as she can.” Hondo’s grin goes a little dark, and Obi-Wan finds himself again wishing he could see the pirate’s eyes. “She is much more likely to survive Sidious than most, and she knows… discretion.”
“It’ll work,” Quinlan says. “Ohnaka, set something. Obi-Wan… help me figure out what contingencies we need to be worried about.”
He holds out his hand, and Obi-Wan gets ready for a night of quick touches and recoveries from horror.
Nothing good can be gleaned from the saber of a Sith.
“Chips, in the clones’ heads.”
“We already knew about them having chips—”
“Mind control. Order Sixty-something is to execute the Jedi. There are more variations. We need to de-chip the entire army, or neutralize the code in an outgoing transmission, or—”
“Okay. Okay, I can… I’ll message Siri. She can code a worm for the communicators. Garble transmissions with the code phrase beyond recognition, and we can send someone—Artoo?—to Kamino to see if we can recode it from the base. They must have a way to adjust coding and add new orders from there, right?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ll have to take another look.”
“He got Skywalker’s mother killed.”
“Your boy Fell, Obi, he—oh hells—”
“Quinlan, you—Quin? Quin, stay with me. Just breathe. You can work through the memory, we both know it.”
“He bribed a Tusken tribe to kidnap—Shmi was tortured for weeks, and Sidious sent dream visions to Skywalker—dozens dead, even the children, Obi—”
“He’s grooming him. He’s going to make Skywalker his next apprentice.”
“That’s… we can stop that. We can prevent it, Quin. Just… dig deeper.”
“I know, I just. Wait. Wait, no, I can fix this.”
“Quinlan, you need a break—”
“He’s got a cloning program for himself.”
“He’s going to transfer his soul into an identical vessel if the program gets far enough.”
“Also I spied some codes to deactivate the clone chips, at least temporarily, but if I do it wrong, they’ll explode.”
“For fuck’s sake, Quin!”
“—like to report that the current situation, as far as we’ve been able to ascertain, is that Aurra Sing has acquired what we believe might be an antique Sith saber,” Obi-Wan says, careful as he can. Hondo’s already gone, setting up a meeting where he’ll give Aurra a discount on the saber in exchange for her claiming he pawned it off to someone else, and that she’d gotten it from that middleman a few hours earlier than she actually had, along with a bit more stalling.
Sing is a terrible person, but she’s competent, and she’s among the few people that Obi-Wan thinks might be able to get away with this gamble. There’s even something approaching informed consent; Sing knows what dabbling with a red lightsaber means, especially when Hondo’s giving discounts to cover his own ass. It’s just that she’s also more than capable enough to decide the potential payoff of selling a Sith saber back to its owner is worth it.
Obi-Wan hopes she doesn’t connect the dots about Hondo reaching out to the Jedi first, and just assumes that Hondo spent more time hiding than he’s willing to admit to. He really hopes Palpatine doesn’t rip into her mind for that information, or get it another way.
The entire ruse rests on the hope that Palpatine believes that they got a tip off about a Sith saber going on the market in Coruscant with usubstantiated rumors that it had been recently acquired from a living Force User, rather than just an antique.
It won’t match up with what Sing says, but that’s rather the point. If it sounds like either they or she got something wrong, then it’ll sound like the Jedi were lied to, rather than the ones lying.
“My informant said they’d been told it was contemporary and recently acquired,” Obi-Wan continues, keeping his gaze on Quinlan’s glassy eyes and labored breathing as he tried not to vomit where he sat in the corner. “But Quinlan managed to get a glance at it; we found that the courier had leaned against a table while showing it to a potential buyer, so the psychometry worked there, and its design doesn’t match Dooku or Ventress. Quite frankly, I’d say it matches the aesthetic of the old Republic knights more than anything.”
“What?” Mace asks, eyebrow going up.
“Gold and with some curved details,” Obi-Wan explains, “but the informant was certain they’d heard the courier say it was a red blade.”
“You think it’s an antique,” Mace prompts.
“Well, we’d presumably know if there was a Sith Lord on Coruscant,” Obi-Wan says, dry and wry as he can. “I can’t imagine we’d miss someone of Dooku or Ventress’s caliber for very long, not with the entire Temple here to sense for them. If it was someone like Maul, I’d find it even easier, I think. No, I don’t think the courier was correct about how recently and where the saber was acquired. The fact that it’s on Coruscant at all suggests someone has been illegally collecting the objects, though, and it might draw in Ventress.”
Take the bait. Take the bait. Tell yourself the Jedi are too naïve and that we’re fools for thinking Dooku and Ventress are the be-all end-all. Congratulate yourself for fooling us even when you’re drunk and losing your saber to a pirate.
“Who has it now?” Palpatine’s voice, faintly quavering with hangover, crosses the line.
“Unknown,” Obi-Wan says, and hopes the tension in his voice is enough. “We traced the courier’s path, but it goes cold after a few levels. A few people suggested that a high-level bounty hunter or one of the Hutt lackeys on-planet might have made the purchase, since everyone knew it was hot by now, but we can’t say who. I don’t think Bane is on planet, but other than that…”
He wonders how much time he can buy. “Master Windu, should we continue investigating?”
“Yes,” Mace says, and he seems as annoyed as Obi-Wan himself for this to be eating up their time. “We’ll keep a watch on the Chancellor until you’ve either found this saber or confirmed it’s gone off-world.”
“Oh, come now,” the Chancellor protests, tremulous in a vague sort of way. He’s not in range of the camera, but he’s plenty audible. “Master Kenobi did say it was just an antique, yes? There’s no Sith on Coruscant. I hardly need an escort around the clock!”
“Your Excellency, there could be a Sith running around,” Anakin immediately protests. “If Ventress hears these rumors, and I’m sure she’s got someone reporting to her, or at least willing to sell her the information, she might come to Coruscant to investigate. If Ventress manages to get on-planet, then you’ll be the most obvious target unless you have Jedi protection.”
That’s my boy, Obi-Wan thinks, with a solid dash of guilt for mostly lying to his former padawan. It’s for everyone’s good, he assures himself. Anakin’s a terrible liar, when it comes to people he cares about, and he unfortunately cares quite a bit for Palpatine.
Obi-Wan thinks he can maybe make it work, afterwards. Palpatine is behind the war, which means he’s probably behind the attempts on Padmé’s life before all this started. Quinlan didn’t exactly get that much from the saber, but it’s almost definitely true.
If Obi-Wan times that revelation too poorly, Anakin might spontaneously combust. It’s a very real worry. He’ll be careful.
(He shoves down the memory of a scant hour earlier, learning about the Tuskens and what Anakin had done.)
(Anakin can keep a secret, apparently.)
(Obi-Wan will have to deal with that, at some point. After.)
“I’ll leave you to arranging the Chancellor’s security,” Obi-Wan says, because Anakin’s going to do all the work for him, on that front. Mace will know the real intent behind Obi-Wan’s advice. Quinlan had told the senior council members enough earlier. “I’ll let you know if we find anything else.”
He hangs up, and goes to sit with Quinlan. He rubs Quin’s back for a bit. They’ve got a bit of time. Not much.
“You know how, earlier, I said I could fix this?”
“About Palpatine grooming my padawan?” Obi-Wan asks, trying to inject some levity into his tone and failing so utterly that he thinks he might cry instead. “I’d love to know what you meant.”
“Yeah,” Quinlan says. “I’m gonna need you to drive me down.”
At least they have something to fill their time as they fake an investigation.
Obi-Wan drives down, down, down, far lower into Coruscant than he usually travels. It’s not the furthest inward he’s ever been, but it’s significantly lower than most trips. Intersections are barely lit, if they even are, and the gaps between are dark and dripping. The light doesn’t extend far, and most of the old doorways are dilapidated and clearly abandoned. Broken windows and rust dominate the area. He sees a single neon sign a few blocks away, and a twi’lek dancer, covered in loose and scattered in glitter, smokes outside the venue. She raises a penciled brow at them, and then shrugs with a laugh.
It’s the only inhabited building for what feels like miles.
(It’s less, he knows, but sound doesn’t travel as it should, down here. The loudest noises will echo endlessly, but everything else gets blurred and trapped by the endless little sounds. Sounds bounce off of metal and duracrete, but they are swallowed.)
Obi-Wan parks. He wonders if the speeder will still be here when they’re done. He supposes they can ask for a ride from the dancers if it’s not. He’d rather not climb… sixteen hundred stories, or so.
“This way,” Quinlan says, guiding Obi-Wan through one of the many broken doorways—this might be actual rotting wood—and into what may or may not be a home that was abandoned over a century and a half ago. Quinlan’s come with a small light, though it doesn’t do enough. There’s dust, and vermin, and broken ceramics. Anything worth taking has long since been scraped out. Obi-Wan needs the Force to actually navigate without tripping or, ugh, touching something nasty. “Don’t touch anything. Infections everywhere.”
Why are we here? Obi-Wan does not ask. Quin’s got a plan. He always does.
“Careful,” Quinlan says, ducking through a hole in a wall to the next room. There’s faded wallpaper here, with little stylized tookas and bantha on it. A crib still stands, somehow, in the corner. It’s very depressing. Quinlan ignores it and goes to the opposite corner, one that is between the hole they passed through and the door the family probably used, and presses a panel in the wall. It slides open to reveal a chute.
Obi-Wan knows exactly what face he’s making, and Quinlan no doubt recognizes it. Quin grins. “Promise this part’s clean, Obi.”
“Mouse droid for the chute?” Obi-Wan asks, edging closer. He’s done worse for the Order. For the Republic.
For a Sith Chancellor, technically.
“Something like that,” Quinlan says. He gestures. “Hurry up, Obi. We don’t want anyone following us, now do we?”
“So uncivilized,” Obi-Wan mumbles, leveraging himself as well as he can without letting his robes touch too much of the surrounding grime. He goes down the chute. It’s near vertical. It’s clean, and lacking in dangerous rusted nails and the like. He slips out before Quinlan comes down. He can’t see a thing until Quinlan gets out, and then it’s clearly almost exactly the same kind of place, only now it’s a living room so abandoned that even the spiders aren’t making webs. He assumes the panel above closed up behind them.
“C’mon,” Quinlan tells him, heading towards the broken, empty window. Stale air whistles through this level, and Obi-Wan can’t see any lights but the one Quinlan shoves in his pocket, now. He thinks he might see a glint of something, blocks away, but he can’t be sure. It is absolutely lightless down here, and Quin’s lam is recently enough extinguished that his eyes haven’t adjusted. They use the Force to balance, and walk their way across a rope that’s meant to look like an abandoned laundry line. Quinlan assures that he installed it himself, and so Obi-Wan follows him into another old, dilapidated structure. When Quinlan deems it safe to bring the light back out, Obi-Wan sees that this one used to be a corporate office building. It’s a mass of moth-eaten cubicles that hold dried, empty rodent nests, filled with skeletons that must have lost their battle against time decades ago.
“Obi-Waaaan,” Quinlan cajoles, lacing their fingers without warning and pulling Obi-Wan along. “Lingering’s a bad idea.”
Obi-Wan wants to say that this is too much caution and intrigue. He would be lying. They’re hiding their movements from a Sith, not just any crime lord.
They continue in that way for a bit. The next random chute is an old garbage line from under one of the office desks. They pass by muffled, loud music at one point, and Obi-Wan doesn’t try to guess what it is that’s making money so deep below the city proper. That’s Quinlan’s job. Obi-Wan’s not supposed to see any of this, not really.
They go through a factory, climb down an old elevator shaft that lets out into a parking garage. They take a hidden speeder to what may have once been a water park. There’s a hidden passage in one of the rides that Obi-Wan thinks was meant for service staff to restock without the park attendees seeing them. They get to the other end and have to work their way through the ducting above a defunct train station to get to a school, and then it’s another suspiciously clean chute of uncertain purpose down to a shopping mall.
They finally get to a small room in what used to be a lingerie store. Obi-Wan thinks it might have been a manager’s office, once.
Quinlan activates a comm unit he must have installed himself at some point. Obi-Wan doesn’t even want to guess at how encrypted it must be. Quin has it, and it’s probably approved by the Master of Shadows, and that’s all he’s required to know. He’s already seen too much tonight.
He needs some sleep. They both do.
The number Quinlan calls is unfamiliar. It’s lengthy enough that Obi-Wan suspects it’s also an encrypted unit, possibly a burner. When the answering voice is obscured by a vocal modulator for security reasons, he’s even more sure. “Stripe, why are you calling me?”
“What, after that wonderful night we spent together?” Quinlan drawls. Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. “Also, careful, darling. You’re on speaker.”
There’s a faint noise of breathing coming from the other end, and then the person scoffs. “Who’s there?”
“A friend of mine. You’ve met. You’ve tried to kill him.”
“Doesn’t narrow it down.”
“No, I suppose it wouldn’t,” Quinlan says, still sounding like he’s musing. “Anyway, remember when you said you’d only consider defecting to the Republic if I had something really, really good to convince you?”
“Doubt you have anything that’ll work, Stripe.”
“I know who Sidious is.”
“…you found the name of Tyranus’s master,” the voice on the other end says, grudgingly impressed. Obi-Wan has an inkling of just who this voice is, and it dawns on him slowly, and with an implacable trickle of horror. “That doesn’t mean you know his identity.”
“I do, actually,” Quinlan says. He smirks and glances at Obi-Wan, the harsh blue light of the comm’s interface playing oddly with the contrast of his skin and tattoo. “Got my hands on his saber, and you do remember just how… magical they are, don’t you?”
“I’m going to hang up on you.”
“He’s planning to cut you and your master out of the picture, Ventress. He already has his sights on a different apprentice.”
Obi-Wan closes his eyes and almost leans back against the wall. He doesn’t actually do it, because it’s gross as hell, but he wants to.
“Who?” Ventress demands, at length. “And who’s in the room with you?”
“He calls you darling, too.”
Ventress snarls, and it crackles across the connection. “Fine! Who is Sidious and who’s he going to replace me with?”
“You’re too willful for him, I think,” Quinlan says. He’s stringing her along, but Obi-Wan doesn’t interfere. Quinlan’s got an in, one that Obi-Wan doesn’t know anything about, and that’s… important. “And Dooku’s older than him, so he’s harder to manipulate. Sidious wants someone pliable. Someone he’s had the better part of a decade to mold into trusting him.”
“The hell are you getting at?” Ventress snaps.
“He’ll cut you out before he cuts out Dooku,” Quinlan says, sitting up and flattening his voice. “You’re a loose end. This entire war’s a sham, and I think you know it.”
“And what do I care for the war, Jedi?”
“You care because it’s all a plot to get the Jedi out of the way, along with any threats to his power,” Quinlan says. “That includes, I think, all of Dathomir.”
“Who’s the new apprentice, Stripe?”
She’s still using his code name, even though he didn’t use one for her. Obi-Wan hopes it’s a good sign.
“The apprentice doesn’t know he’s being groomed. He doesn’t know the Sith is even Force-Sensitive. I want to keep him out of this for as long as possible.” Quinlan spins in the chair he’s taken. Obi-Wan thinks it’s probably three hundred years old. It might be older. “Don’t target him.”
“Darling,” Quinlan drawls. “I told you. Even if you get him out, you’re too willful for Sidious. I saw into his mind, sweetheart. He’ll only keep you around for as long as you don’t argue back, and then you’re dead. It’s as good as slavery.”
“What do you want?”
Quinlan glances at Obi-Wan, and then back to the comm. “Part of Sidious’s ploy involves manipulating the war to the point where the galaxy is in such chaos that people are grateful for someone to take control, even if that someone is worse. He’s going to have Dooku killed as a patsy, and you as a loose end.”
“Still not telling me what you want.”
“Optimally, to defect and join me in the Light again,” Quinlan says, with a winning smile. Obi-Wan snorts. “More concretely, though, taking out Grievous or Dooku first would be good, especially if you can steal the records of his non-Sith contacts with Sidious to manipulate the war from both sides.”
“I don’t even know who Sidious is, or what name that contact would be under,” Ventress points out. “That information is—”
“If you get to Coruscant in the next few hours, possibly the next two days, you can buy Sidious’s lightsaber off of Aurra Sing,” Quinlan says. “Do that, and you can pick up some of my dataworms to make it easier on yourself while you’re here.”
“You’re so sure that Sidious plans to betray us that soon.”
“Rule of Two, and you’re already at three,” Quinlan says. “Dooku can’t kill him. You’re good, but neither can you, not yet. They won’t teach you enough to where you’ll have a chance, because they’d rather keep their power than grow the Sith. You’ve noticed it. I know you have.”
“As soon as Sidious is dead, Dooku will teach me—”
“And Sidious won’t die,” Quinlan cuts her off. “He’s already got almost all the power he could want. You’re a loose end, and you’re going to be cut very, very soon. All the Separatists are.”
“You still won’t tell me why.”
Quinlan taps the air a few times, as if counting heartbeats, and then says, “he has all the power already, and people won’t question it, especially if he can turn his new apprentice at the right moment to kill the stragglers as the war ends.”
“Why?!” Ventress snaps. “Tell me or let me leave this inane, pointless conversation, and—”
“Because Sidious got his power by being voted in as Chancellor,” Quinlan says. “It’s Palpatine.”
Ventress breathes, heavy and harsh.
Obi-Wan really, really hopes Quin knows what he’s doing. There’s tacit approval from the Council, if only because Obi-Wan himself is here, but that’s a very, very thin line.
“Darth Sidious, as he calls himself, has subverted the clones, long before the Jedi got them. We’re working on that, but as it stands he can tell them to turn on us, and no matter how much they care, they will.” Quinlan gives that a few more counted beats to sink in, and then says, “He will turn them on other powers, after. Dathomir is a threat.”
“Mother Talzin said she earned the planet’s safety when she gave him Maul.”
“She was lied to,” Quinlan says. “Given that Sidious managed to hang about under our noses for this many years, I imagine he’s a very, very good liar. Besides, Maul didn’t last. He might consider that contract broken.”
Ventress breathes, loud and a touch ragged, and then snarls. “I won’t come to Coruscant.”
“Of course not.”
“If you want me to use that stupid dataworm, then find me yourself, asshole. Or have Kenobi do it for you. Dooku sends us after each other often enough already.”
She hangs up, and Quinlan turns to Obi-Wan with a grin, arms spread.
“How’d I do?”
“I hate everything about this plan,” Obi-Wan tells him. “How do we get back to the surface?”
“We don’t,” Quinlan says. He seems a bit giddy, suddenly. “How likely is Skywalker to let you borrow his astromech?”
“…somewhat,” Obi-Wan says carefully. “Why?”
“How likely are you to get that astromech to Master Ti with a subtle Jedi and a dechipped clone escort we can trust to have full discretion?”
Obi-Wan considers this for a moment.
“…you know how my padawan-brother is the most forgettable man in the galaxy?” Obi-Wan offers.
Quinlan grins. “We’re sending Feemor?”
“We’re sending Feemor.”
Obi-Wan and Quinlan lurk about the criminal underworld, literal as it is, for a bit longer. The trek back to the surface is lengthy and uncomfortable, and involves a lot of stopping off at sketchy bars and illegal bowling alleys. They need to make it look like they’re investigating, after all. That means making veiled inquiries and flirting with criminals. At least once, Quinlan comes up behind Obi-Wan puts an arm around his waist, and whispers in his ear with the energy of a lover with a spicy idea, as cover for sharing information. His breath is warm and wet against Obi-Wan’s ear, lips just barely brushing, and he has to wait until they’re yards away and hidden to rub furiously at the skin because that’s gross, Quin, what the hell.
Quinlan just grins at him, utterly unrepentant. What an ass.
“Remind me why I let you share my bed?”
“Ah, yes. Quite.”
They wind up and through and out. By the time they’re back to the speeder, they smell like tabak smoke and liquors. By the time they’ve hit their last information spot, just five levels below the ones that actually get sunlight, Obi-Wan’s pretty sure that someone dumped a sex drug in his hair. It has to be burned to actually work, so it’s not like he’s feeling it, but it’s damned annoying.
“Show up at the Chancellor’s like this, do you think?” Quinlan asks. He grins, leaning over the speeder and bouncing his brows. “Might make him underestimate us.”
“Hardly,” Obi-Wan scoffs. “Get in, I’m driving.”
“You wound me,” Quinlan accuses, but jumps in without hesitation. The cool air on their faces as they rise is a blessing, especially when it gets drier and almost fresh as they exit the upper levels and enter overground traffic.
Mace calls them up seconds later.
“Vos. Did you find anything?”
“Not really,” Quinlan says. Obi-Wan should probably be the one reporting, as the senior Jedi in terms of rank, but he is driving. “A few rumors, but nothing I’d put any faith in. We’d come report in person, but we’re not really fit company for the Chancellor, of all people. Master Kenobi said he’d recommend keeping up the Jedi escort for another two days, at least. Not Council Masters, obviously, but a pair of knights, plus Skywalker…”
“Plus Skywalker?” Mace questions. Somewhere in the background, faint enough that Obi-Wan isn’t even sure he can hear it over the wind, he thinks the Chancellor is speaking. He wishes he could enjoy the sunlight. He cannot. It’s giving him a headache.
“What, you think we could pull him away?” Quinlan teases. “Kinda assumed he’d volunteer, Master Windu.”
“Ignore him,” Obi-Wan calls over. “Anakin should get some sleep when he can; he doesn’t need to stay. Two knights will be more than enough, so long as the Chancellor is not left alone.”
“Yeah, don’t want Ventress taking a potshot if she stops by for this,” Quinlan adds. “Or Grievous. I bet he’d love a red blade of his own.”
“He would,” Obi-Wan mutters.
“We’ll take your suggestion under advisement,” Mace tells them. “Get a report filed, and get some sleep. You’ve had less than Skywalker.”
“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan mutters. Quinlan repeats the words loud enough for the comm to catch, and somewhat more cheerfully. They shut the call, and Obi-Wan guides them back to the Temple.
“We’re not actually getting any sleep, are we?” Obi-Wan asks.
“I can spare a few hours after we talk to Master ‘so bland it makes your beige look like neon,’ I think.” Quinlan dodges Obi-Wan’s attempt at tripping him with a laugh. “What? He is.”
“He is not,” Obi-Wan huffs. They pass through the hangar, and the hallways.
The council member remaining and awake is Ki-Adi Mundi, so they fill him in on all the details in a full-privacy Shadow reports chamber, along with the plan and steps taken so far. He’s not impressed or particularly convinced, especially regarding the Ventress ploy, but he agrees to go with it for now, and to fill in the others when they get in or wake up. They don’t need his approval to send out Feemor or for Quinlan to go off to meet Ventress, not when Obi-Wan’s on the Council himself and is capable of solo approvals for the sake of emergency, secrecy, and expediency when absolutely necessary. It’s good, though, to have agreement from an older, more experienced Council member.
Quinlan goes and finds Feemor. Obi-Wan grabs Artoo, and Bant. They’ll need a surgeon. When Quinlan comes back, it’s with Obi-Wan’s padawan brother and a pair of troopers that Obi-Wan doesn’t recognize. He thinks they’re SpecOps. He nods to them, and they go into another Shadow room. This one, for reasons Obi-Wan doesn’t want to think about too hard, comes with an exam table and surgical droid.
“So,” Quinlan says brightly, clapping his hands together. “Troopers, you’re getting your brains de-chipped before we do anything else.”
(And so begins the end.)
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