The Count of Serenno
Diana DeRiggs & Csillag

Thanks to Runt for being a nice beta and movie partner.

Jocasta was so deeply absorbed in the newly acquired archives of the Arixi Sisterhood that she did not at first hear the chime which indicated that a Jedi Master was calling her to request assistance. When the chime sounded a second time, she almost jumped. She looked at the screen on her desk to see where in the Jedi Library she needed to go to and to which Jedi she had been summoned.

She smiled when she saw that it was Obi-wan Kenobi who had called for her assistance in the Map Section. She remembered him from the time he was an infant. Even then, she recognized that he had a uniquely inquisitive and rare mind. As he approached the age of 13 -- after which a Jedi was forced to leave the Temple if he or she was not selected as a Padawan -- he wanted so much to impress the Masters. His efforts at research and the amount of time he spent practicing his skills visibly doubled and trebled.

Qui-gon Jinn had stated many times that he would not take another Padawan. His previous apprentice, Xanatos, had turned away from the Temple's teachings and Qui-gon did not appear to trust himself that such a thing would not happen again. Yet events brought Qui-gon and Obi-wan together, and the two spent the rest of the elder Jedi's life together as Master and Apprentice.

However, Obi-wan had quickly learned that Qui-gon was not the most forthcoming with information about their missions, so he continued to visit the Archives, almost as a necessary self-defense. Jocasta Nu was responsible for preparing information for missions, but she recalled the many hours Obi-wan spent here, looking for additional morsels of data that might help his assignments to succeed.

Jocasta smiled to herself again and went to meet Obi-wan. What a pleasure it was to watch Younglings turn into Masters! She thought of some of the many beings she had helped throughout their lives.

She pulled up short at the entrance to the Map Section when she saw young Obi-wan standing before a carved bust of the former Jedi Master, Dooku. It was difficult to school her expression and emotions before going over to him. The emotions were uncomfortable and unwelcome, and came to the fore when she was in this section of the Archives. It was here that she would come face-to-face with the image of the man who had been responsible for her breaking one of the most deeply ingrained tenets of the Jedi. And that was only a small part of the guilt that burned in her each time she gazed on his visage ...

"Did you call for assistance?" Her voice sounded harsh even to her own ears, but rigid control of her emotions was a necessity. She hoped Obi-wan would not notice her shrill tone and nervousness. This is when my reputation as an old biddy actually helps, she allowed herself to smile, albeit tersely.

She had hoped to find whatever it was that Obi-wan needed quickly and leave the Map Section as soon as she could. She knew her assistants had often wondered why she preferred to check their work in the Map Room remotely with the datapad she carried in her robes. Some even noted her nervousness in that part of the Archives. Fortunately, it was only fodder for gossip amongst themselves, and they never asked or reported her aversion.

Obi-wan appeared to be as lost in thought as she had been absorbed in the Arixi Archives just minutes ago. Finally, he answered her. "Yes, yes I did." He noticed her looking intently at him, but did not appear to notice her slight stiffness.

She knew she had to say something, and cleared he throat, enunciating the words, "He has quite a powerful face, doesn't he?" That was nothing less than the truth. "He was one of the most brilliant Jedi I have had the privilege of knowing." That was also the truth. Though she appeared to smile primly, she chewed on the inside of her lip, trying not to project her discomfort.

"I never understood why he left," Obi-wan said looking back at the bust of Dooku. "Only twenty Jedi have ever left the Order, but his circumstances have never really come to light."

"The 'Lost Twenty'," Jocasta said, sighing. "And Master Dooku's leaving was the most recent and, as you say, the most painful due to it's mysterious circumstances." She still held her emotions rigidly in check, trying not to talk too much, keeping her feelings buried. "No one likes to talk about it. His leaving was a great loss to the Order."

"What happened?" Obi-wan asked, seemingly oblivious to the burgeoning panic within the elderly Archivist. She did seem a bit shrill, but she was always a tough old woman, even when she was young. He recalled a few tales his Jedi Master had told him about her being the toughest nut to crack when she grew stubborn.

Jocasta forced herself to answer conversationally, "Well, one might say he was a bit out of step with the decisions of the Council. Much like your old Master, Qui-gon. They were alike in many ways. Very individual thinkers... idealists... " Her voice trailed to a reverent whisper as she remembered back ten years and her expression softened, becoming almost dreamy, "He was always striving to become a more powerful Jedi. He wanted to be the best. With a lightsaber, in the old style of fencing, he had no match. His knowledge of the Force was ... unique. In the end, I think he left because he lost faith in the Republic. He believed that politics were corrupt, and he felt the Jedi betrayed themselves by serving the politicians. He always had very high expectations of the Government. He disappeared for nine or ten years, then he just showed up recently as the head of the Separatist movement."

There was a long pause, as she thought about the flesh and blood man who had inspired the sculpture. She was startled out of her reverie by Obi-wan's voice, "Interesting ... I'm still not sure I understand." He was almost glaring at her, in that way he had; his eyes bored into hers intently.

Flustered and trying not to blush, Jocasta decided a change of subject was in order. "Well, I'm sure you didn't call me over here for a history lesson. Are you having a problem, Master Kenobi?" She hoped the formal use of his title would cut off any unintentional invitation to continue this topic of conversation.

"Yes, I'm trying to find a planetary system called Kamino. It doesn't seem to show up on any of the Archive charts."

The moment she heard the name Kamino, the breath caught in her lungs and she willed herself not to gasp. She forced her emotions down to answer him. "Kamino? It's not a system I'm familiar with. Let me see." She refused to meet his curious gaze as her lie caught in her throat. A headache started to develop in her temples, right behind her eyes.

Kamino, oh no, why Kamino?? The two things she feared about the Map Room, and Obi-wan had brought them both up within 30 seconds! She tapped some keys and stared at the screen, telling herself to encapsulate her feelings. "Are you sure you have the right coordinates?"

He explained that though his source of information was "under the table," he considered it very reliable. She sniffed a bit at mention of such a source, but opted to plead ignorance, "Let me do a gravitational scan ... Hmn ... Well ... there are some inconsistencies here. Maybe the planet you're looking for was destroyed?" The supposition was weak, and Jocasta noted with dismay that she answered in a defensive tone.

Obi-wan looked at her in surprise, "Wouldn't that be on record?"

Jocasta's looming headache threatened to blind her now, and she answered in a snippy, condescending tone, "It ought to be. Unless it was very recent." She put on an air of finality, "I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you're searching for doesn't exist." And that's that, she silently.

The younger man was incredulous and insistent, "That's impossible! Perhaps the Archives are incomple-"

Trying not to resort to shouting, Jocasta abruptly interrupted him, "The archives are comprehensive and totally secure, my young Jedi," she couldn't help but emphasize the diminutive, "One thing you may be absolutely sure of: if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist!" Sensing another Jedi needing help, she turned turned sharply away from Obi-wan. She was relieved to see it was young Padawan Jett, standing directly behind her. Without really hearing his question, she shunted him out of the Map Section.

Curious ... Obi-wan stared at her as she left, then turned his attention again to the map on the screen.

* * * * *

That night, Jocasta Nu slept fitfully. In her dreams, Master Dooku was with her again, explaining his thoughts, explaining why he couldn't continue with the Order. They had made love; though such an act was not expressly forbidden, the feelings she felt for the strong, handsome Jedi were strictly not allowed. But he asked so much of her, to betray her profession and her life's mission. She never would have done it ... except for love.

They had trained together, and were now old. Surely, she would be forgiven for giving in to human desire before she died? She had served faithfully and infallibly, both on the Jedi Council and as Chief Archivist. She had logged many years of field service and missions. Surely, she would be forgiven?

Dooku suddenly sagged, tired and old, "My Padawan was killed on Naboo today."

Jocasta started, "No! Not Qui-gon!" Underneath her tough exterior, Jocasta was a soft soul; she crafted her persona precisely to combat her true nature, but with Dooku, she could be her real self. She burst into tears, half for Qui-gon, and half for the handsome man embracing her.

His hold on her tightened, and she wiped her eyes, "I have been talking with him about my feelings regarding the Senate. He seemed to understand, but he told me his oath was with the Jedi Order, right or wrong. He's still a stubborn, idealistic boy. But I told him I needed him, practically begged him for his help, and he promised to consider me seriously when he returned from this last mission." A lone tear glimmered on the corner of his eye.

"My darling Jocasta ... I ask what I ask of you because I have nowhere else to turn. I cannot continue like this." His voice dropped, below a whisper, "I will leave the Order, my dear. No one will know precisely why. Only you. Only you will know what I have taken, and what I have left."

The librarian gasped and her eyes pooled with moisture again, No ... no! But she knew deep in her heart that he was right.

Dooku embraced her closely, "I must. I cannot stay, knowing what I know. More than being a Jedi, I must be true to my own code, my own ethics. The Sith are gaining in power, even though the Council denies their existance!"

"But what will you do? Where will you go?" Jocasta clung to him, as if she was drowning. She feared for him, but she feared for herself, too. What if anyone found about her her treachery? What would become of her?

He smiled, "My birthright. Jedi do not possess money or titles, but as of a few days ago, I am the Count of Serenno, the scion of a large fortune and holdings. When I was taken to study with the Jedi, my older brother inherited everything. Word has come to me that he has passed away, peacefully and naturally. He had no verifiable children, thus the property and title reverted to me. Do you not see, my sweet Jocasta, the timing is impeccable and irresistable -- my lineage is remarkable, my fortune is vast, and I swear I will use these tools to fight this cancerous disease that is destroying the Republic! It is the will of the Force!"

Jocasta was dazzled by this man's passion, his desire to do what was ultimately right. His connection with the Force was special, even amongst the most talented of Jedi. Dooku was never wrong when the Force spoke to him.

Dooku continued, "When I leave the Order, I will no longer be constrained by it's rules, and I will be able to claim what is rightfully mine. I am fabulously wealthy, Jocasta, don't worry about me." He kissed her forehead tenderly, "But, my love, I cannot take you with me. Your destiny lies in other paths."

As she had that night over a decade before, tonight Jocasta lay wide awake, her eyes open, streaming tears. Other paths ... without him ...

* * * * *

Dooku, Count of Serenno, knelt before the man he would, from now to the end of his life, call Master. The Count was older than Darth Sidious, but in his heart and in his mind, he was convinced that this was the right thing to do. He would not likely survive his master.

He was now Darth Tyrannus, "Terror Lord." He had spent much time studying the Sith Holocron, taken from the Jedi Archives. He had seduced the elderly archivist to obtain it, and to add and delete information at will. Nothing was above him, nor was nothing beneath him, to achieve his noble ends. It would all be worth it. From within the Sith, he would set the Republic back onto the right path.

* * * * *

"Archivist Nu?" the creaky old voice penetrated her reverie, "Feeling unwell are you?"

"I beg many pardons, Grand Master," Jocasta couldn't believe she hadn't noticed the diminutive Yoda before her. True, he was so small as to normally be below her line of sight, but right now, he was hovering before her on a repulsorlift couch, and his strong presence could be detected from any distance. "I was contemplating an apparent problem with the Archives." There was no sense in lying to him.

"Know I do about Obi-wan's lost planet," he said it without accusation, but Jocasta had to suppress a shudder, "A shame it is. Wonders one, how many other discrepancies could have the Archives?"

"Yes, Master," Jocasta smiled, but didn't really feel it, "I was thinking the same thing. I had told Master Kenobi that perhaps his source of information was faulty, or the planet had been destroyed recently?"

"Dexter Jettster the source was," Yoda's voice was still laconic, "Reliable he is, though strange he might appear." Jocasta tried not to wrinkle her nose in distaste at mention of the former rogue miner, who now operated a diner not far from the Temple. Still, he had been a friend of the Jedi for many years, and his record of information provision had been impeccable. She sometimes wondered if she might not be a little jealous that he knew so much without formal education, and in such unconventional ways.

"And records there are none regarding the destruction of Kamino. Trust Dexter I do. The Archives then ... imperfect they are." Master Yoda leaned forward toward her, as if challenging her.

She sighed again, trying to buy a little time to formulate her answer, "But Master, you know they are absolutely secure. Only a Jedi Knight would have the ability to make such a change!"

The green-skinned Jedi smiled, though Jocasta thought it was more a grimace. "My dear, the problem that is. Contacted you Count Dooku has, hmn?"

Jocasta stared at him. "N-no, Master." She mentally slapped herself for stuttering.

The library was strangely empty, "Betray you your feelings do. Powerful emotion is love. Secrets one keeps on its behalf."

Should she deny it? Her mind floundered, trying to locate an escape out of this interrogation, even though such a search was futile. "What are you saying, Master?"

Yoda turned away, looking toward the beams of late afternoon sunlight, streaming down the tall windows. When he turned back, his expression was serious and sad. "So powerful is love, commit a crime for it, hmn? Even oneself, one would betray."

Tears started to brim in her eyes. He knew. Perhaps he has always known, and she had been foolish to suppose she might have been successful at keeping her secret. She slowly closed her eyes, and fat tears ran down her lean, wrinkled visage. "No, Master. I have never betrayed myself." She suddenly appeared much older.

The two Jedi faced one another in silence for a long while, before she stood up and followed him into the meditation chamber.

* * * * *

"He was nothing if not charming," Mace Windu tried to keep his features calm. It was a good exercise for him to stand before Yoda when hearing very bad news. Otherwise, he might destroy something.

"Blame Jocasta Nu I do not," Yoda still looked sad from his interrogation of the elderly Archivist, "for charming Dooku is. Treacherous also."

"But it's not in his nature! How could he advocate war and murder? He's a Jedi!" This new information was simply too much for Master Windu to process. Denial was the logical thing, "How can you believe that dried up woman? She's so above everything, makes you suffer for every morsel of information, lives vicariously through others ... I can't believe Dooku would stoop so low!" He hated himself for picking on the Jedi Archivist so willingly, but anything was more believable than this!

When Mace was growing up at the Temple, Master Dooku was one of the most respected and greatest of Jedi. Leaving the Order, the tall, handsome man left a huge hole in the Order's collective confidence. The pain of his rejecting the Jedi ideals still smarted, a decade later. The other Jedi clung to the probability that Dooku had left for idealistic and noble reasons, perhaps in connection with his ancestral inheritance. But now Yoda was telling him that the lost Jedi had stolen and sliced material in the Archives, and he had seduced a fellow Knight to gain access. It was incredible and totally unbelievable.

"My Padawan he is," murmurred Yoda, "In pain I am as much as anyone ... control I cannot my feelings. Betrayed he has himself, cajoled he has others to do likewise. Explosive this news is, and weep I do for my old Padawan."

To hear the Grand Master talk of weeping was a rare thing. Mace Windu bowed his head, ashamed that he had not considered Yoda's feelings in this affair. "Forgive me, my Master. I spoke without control. It's too much to understand, it counters my deepest beliefs."

The only indication that Yoda forgave him was a conciliatory and somewhat absent-minded nod. "Tested all Jedi are, even after Knighthood attained."

Mace Windu sighed, burning from Yoda's chastisement, "I will alert Obi-wan of this news."

Yoda shook his head and stated slowly, "Benefit him it will not. Report soon he will from Kamino. Encrypted packets his R4 unit conveyed, the planet in gravity's center it was. Approached I did Archivist Nu after this data received." The gray hairs on his head formed a halo in the early evening sunlight, and Mace saw his Master's ears quiver. "Wait we will. Learn much we must."

* * * * *

Count Dooku knew that his Master would not take any arguement to the contrary, and so he sought a template for the army that was being ordered from the cloners of Kamino. Dooku rolled his eyes at mention of "Jedi Master Siphoudeeus," seeing immediately that this was a play on his Master's name, Sidious. Ironically, there had been a Jedi recently killed, named Sifo-Dyas; it was not so much a lie as a deception. He did enjoy that the Sith had principles. He also agreed with Sidious that the template should not be a Force user, but a modicum of Force ability might be useful.

He was impressed by the young bounty hunter he had interviewed. True, he was not likely as young as he appeared; he wore the armor of the Mandalorians, which could age him at nearly double the perceived time he'd been alive. Dooku felt this was an important genetic feature; it would not do for the clone army to appear older and more rickety than their years. The men of the army would need to be strong, brave, bold, and to instill fear in their enemies.

This bounty hunter was different from the others he'd studied. Not only was his success rate good and the type of missions he undertook extremely difficult, but he showed a keen intellect. A Jedi mind-probe had shown him to be somewhat Force-talented -- though not nearly high enough to have been considered for training -- and extremely creative and perceptive. More importantly, he felt that this man was loyal and had principles, despite his insistance that he was simply a common man trying to make his way through life. Having a loyal and modest bounty hunter at his beck and call could be an asset.

There was one more final point in the bounty hunter's favor. Upon meditation, the Force also showed Dooku that Jango Fett was not long for this galaxy, that he would be dead in about ten years time. The timing would be perfect.

* * * * *

A low, calm voice came from the other end of the room, "Count Dooku, I assume."

The elegant older man in black bowed low at the waist, implying his great respect of the beautiful woman before him. "Senator Amidala, I've heard so much about you. I'm delighted to meet you, at last. We have a great deal to discuss, Senator."

The Geonosian guards had sat the Senator in a chair, but her arms were bound behind her, the wrists shackled to the chair itself. Her chin was up, and her tone was official, "You are holding a Jedi Knight, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am formally requesting you turn him over to me, now. Likewise, I demand that your mistreatment of me and my Jedi protector cease, at once!"

The Count smiled, and took a seat opposite her at the conference table, "Master Kenobi has been convicted of espionage, Senator, and will be executed. In just a few hours, I believe." He smiled more broadly, now showing his large teeth, "It is my understanding that you and your Jedi protector have destroyed and disabled a good deal of private property yourselves. Likewise, you and he will also go on trial."

The eyes of the former Queen of Naboo narrowed and she cocked her head to one side, "Count Dooku, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were threatening me?"

"Milady, I hold no authority here. I am simply here at the invitation of the Techno Union, who operate the foundries and factories that you have seen, first hand. Far be it from me to pass any sentence." The Count's tone was deferential and polite. Seated as they were at the engraved table, it looked to any observer as if they were discussing a vexing business deal.

Amidala's head straightened, "The Jedi you are holding, he is an officer of the Republic, you can't execute him!"

Dooku's smile faded, "Alas, Milady, the Republic is not recognized here, only the Alliance holds any outside ruling influence. But if Naboo were to join our Alliance, I could easily convince the local rulers to hear your plea for clemency."

"Alliance? The Separatist Alliance, I presume? The rebellion you are credited with creating?" The Senator nearly spat out the words and her voice shook with anger.

"Now, now, Milady, none of that. After all, I have been watching you closely, and I see that you believe in the same ideals we believe in," Dooku was starting to become impasssioned, "the same ideals we are striving to make prominent!"

"And if I don't join your little rebelli--"

She was swiftly interrupted, "I don't wish to make you to join our cause against your will, Senator, but you are a rational, honest representative of your people and I assume you want to do what's in their best interest. Aren't you fed up with the corruption, the bureaucrats, the hypocrisy of it all? Aren't you? Be honest, Senator." His tone became a bit conspiratorial and persuasive, underlying the force with which he spoke.

Falteringly, the Senator from Naboo formed her answer, "The ideals are still alive, Count, even if the institution is failing. If what you say is true, you should stay in the Republic and help Chancellor Palpatine put things right." It was with disappointment that she knew Dooku was stating the truth; this was what she had felt. But as Queen Jamilla had stated, to abandon the system was to abandon democracy. She couldn't allow that to happen.

Dooku's face grew sour and his eyebrows descended, reminding Amidala of a looming thundercloud, "The Chancellor means well, but to be frank, he is incompetent. He has promised to cut the bureaucracy, but the bureaucrats are stronger than ever!" He smoothed his hands over the table, "Milady, I once thought as you do. But alas Senator, the Republic cannot be fixed. It is time to start over! The democratic process in the Republic is a sham, a shell game played on the voters. It is a cult of greed, disguised as a governing body, and it will lose even the pretext of democracy; as for freedom, it will simply be a distant memory, Senator, like a bad dream!"

Amidala strained against her bonds, leaning forward, not able to contain her emotions, "And I suppose your solution -- your Alliance -- is any better! You describe the Republic as a corrupt and greedy entity, yet your alliance of business concerns will be no better! It's simply business as government! I can't believe that is the solution. I will not forsake all I have honored just to turn traitor on the Republic!"

"Senator, such feeling! Such bravado! If only you weren't so blind," Dooku applauded her as he stood up. He walked away from her.

Her eyes followed her captor, "Is this conversation over, then? What is to happen to me? Am I to be executed also? Why do you have me bound like a prisoner!"

Dooku turned to face her, now standing at the doorway, "I wouldn't think of such an offence. But, there are individuals who have a strong interest in your demise, Mila--"

"I had assumed it was you behind the murder attempts, Count Dooku." She had nothing to lose in stating her suspicion.

The Count looked offended, "No, my dear ... it has nothing to do with politics, I'm afraid. It's purely a personal vendetta, and the responsible parties have already paid great sums to have you assassinated. I will admit, they are members of this Alliance, and are actually here on-planet. I am afraid now that you are also here, they were stop at nothing to see their passion play through. I am sorry, Milady ... since you are not an officer of the Alliance, the Geonosians have told me that you will be treated as a common vandal, the same as the young man you brought with you. I've done all I can for you." He bowed deeply, once more, and said as he left, "It is my honest and heartfelt regret that things did not work out better between us."

"You are committing an act of war, Count! I hope you and your rebellion are prepared for the consequences!" Amidala yelled at his receding form. Even to herself, the threat rang hollow.

Oh, Ani! She tried not to weep, What have I done?

* * * * *

Jocasta Nu was at her desk at the Archives, but things were different now. She was on probation; her tasks were tightly defined, and she was always to be with another Jedi. She no longer held the title of Chief Archivist. The first order of business was to investigate all the surreptitiously sliced information and correct it.

There was an astounding volume of it. Master Dooku had changed, very subtly, a number of datapoints, creating misinformation that would be difficult to track or discover. Fortunately, Jocasta had a rare talent, and she could see fairly immediately when data had been altered; she also had a photographic memory for information tables and databases. She had remembered what much of the data should have looked like, before it had been altered a decade ago. But now she had to differentiate between valid information entered into the databanks in the passing decade, and that which was faulty and misleading.

The crime Yoda had charged her with was one of negligence. Of her violation of the creed against forming an attachment, he said nothing.

She was grateful for the Grand Master's mercy and consideration; he must have realized that she really was penitent. Yet, I regret nothing, she quietly admonished herself, and the Force help me, I would do it again ...

* * * * *

The woman known as Padmé Amidala was chained to the floor of the dungeon room. There was no sleeping platform or any elevated surface to put her above the dirty, gritty flooring. She grimly felt some relief that this was a dry planet, or else she was sure she'd be knee-deep in disease-bearing slime. The insects and vermin crawling on the floor kept her from lying down or even sitting; she elected to remain standing, though the chain she was tethered to was not long enough to allow her to stand quite erect. She stepped in various patterns around the room, as far as her constraints would let her, to keep her blood flowing and her mind less likely to think of what would become of her, Anakin, and Obi-wan.

She had insisted to Anakin that she would help Obi-wan. She had spent a long night at the Lars homestead on Tatooine, just the night before, thinking about Anakin racing out in the desert wastes in search of his mother. Padmé had not thought of Shmi Skywalker in many years, and felt remorse. That woman had given her son to help Qui-gon Jinn and herself. Filled with shame, Padmé realized she should have thought to let the woman know that her son was well, or even to try and buy her from Watto, the junk dealer.

Why hadn't I sought her? she had not been able to sleep, worrying about Anakin and his mother, Why had I forgotten her?

She has been under enormous stress, of course. Barely 14 years old, she had caused the ouster of the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic in her bid to obtain help from the Republic Government for her beleaguered home planet. She had opted to return home and take back her rule by force, and had forged a hasty alliance with the disenfranchised Gungans to accomplish her means. A Jedi Knight had been killed while serving to protect her. There had been so many things to consider, and so many changes wrought. Padmé supposed she could have been forgiven for forgetting the slave who had helped her. Why had Shmi helped total strangers, at such great risk to herself?

For most of the night, she rehearsed what she would say to Shmi. She had put aside thoughts of the troubles of heading the Opposition group in the Senate, of the assassination attempts, of the deaths of her loyal guards, of the people left behind. Padmé was burning to make things right with Anakin's mother.

But Anakin returned late the next morning, carrying his mother's body, wrapped in a shroud he'd taken from the Tusken Raiders who had held her. Padmé had no Force sensitivity that she knew of, but even she could feel his rage and anger. His frustration at not being able to save his mother, at watching her die -- these were things she could not contemplate. What she did understand was that she had lost her chance.

So when R2D2 had revealed that Obi-wan Kenobi was in mortal danger, she didn't hesitate. She told Anakin that if he wanted to protect her and fulfill his Jedi mission, he'd have to come with her to Geonosis, for she intended to help Obi-wan.

She had even ordered Anakin to let her find a diplomatic solution to releasing the Jedi Master. Alas, they had discovered that Count Dooku was in charge, and that those who wanted her dead were in league with him. Diplomacy was not possible in an environment where you were given but one choice to save yourself. The other option was death by execution.

In this dungeon cell, there was no one to talk to, and no one to negotiate with. Her formidable skills could not be used; her one chance to try and free Obi-wan was a joke played at her expense. Dooku had no intention of letting her and the Jedi go. She wondered what he had against them. Did his hatred of the Republic run so deep as to murder it's representatives? She wondered why he did not consider holding them as hostages.

She heard a deep, rumbling noise above her, but there was nowhere to go to hide from it. It was the scraping open of the ceiling trap door. Two Geonosian guards flew in, bringing with them a ladder. One bent her over and held her well away from the ladder while the other steadies the rickety structure. She saw a tall man in a black cloak descend.

Padmé stared at Count Dooku as the Geonosian guards fluttered upward, taking the ladder with them, exiting and sealing the trap door.

"We are alone, Senator Amidala. No one can hear us; none will disturb us." Dooku spoke softly.

She moved away from him, as much as her restraints let her, "I do feel safer knowing that, Count." She used his civilian title, refusing to honor him as a Jedi. A Jedi like Obi-wan. And like Anakin.

He was not offended, and he maintained his soft tone, "Senator, forgive me. It was not my intention to see you executed; the Jedi know their business, and they will be all right, I assure you. They are Jedi, as I once was." Dooku smiled, and Amidala noticed his face was much changed. "Do you understand why I left the Jedi Order?"

Padmé shrugged, feigning an air of indifference, but she was actually intensely curious. Why was he even here?

"I spoke the truth to you earlier when we first met, every word of it," he was whispering now, "I did once think as you did, that the Republic was worth preserving, no matter how faulty it was, for at least it stood for freedom and justice. I had always been disappointed with it, however, make no mistake. Democracy became an excuse for filibustering for personal gain and glory -- it was all so blindingly petty and stupid! But I tried to work from the inside: training Jedi, helping politicians, taking on the most ghastly and impossible of missions, all in the name of the Republic!" As he paced away from her, she leaned forward to hear him better, avidly interested, "Former Queen -- do you know why your planet was invaded by the Trade Federation? Believe me, it wasn't about taxation of the trade routes. That was all smoke and noise."

"The man who engineered the whole fiasco is a Sith Lord -- have you heard of the Sith, Milady?" He turned to look at her, and saw her nod. "They are the anti-Jedi; they are power-hungry, grasping, greedy. They believe the Jedi do not use the full capacity of the Force because they fear it. In actual fact, they are the strongest users of the Force; their destruction thousands of years ago was effected not by the Jedi Order, but by their own petty thirst for power and self-glory."

Padmé had heard this from none other than Master Yoda himself, after Qui-gon Jinn had died on Naboo.

"The Sith," Dooku hissed out the word, "are not gone, Milady. They are very much alive, with their own codes, their own protocols, their own training methodology. It is a Sith Lord who was in league with Nute Gunray, and who designed the invasion of Naboo as a way to oust Supreme Chancellor Valorum. It is this same Sith Lord who has hundreds of Senators under his thumbs. Viceroy Gunray came to me for help after he was left to hang and dry by this Sith Lord. He told me everything."

"Is this an explanation justifying the invasion of a peaceful planet? The destruction of Republic officers?" Padmé had no idea why Dooku was telling her this tale.

Dooku walked slowly toward her. She held her ground, not wanting him to see how much he frightened her. She held in a gasp as he gripped her shoulders tightly. "Stupid girl, this is not about you! This is about the Jedi you brought with you! I am not working alone -- I take orders from one above me. Yet in violation of his wishes, I am trying to help you!"

He held her so hard that Padmé shook. His face filled her whole vision, "I once thought as you did. But now I see, there is no hope for the Republic as it is. It is absolutely necessary to destroy it, and rebuild anew!"

Terrified, Padmé reflexively spat at her tormentor. He did not step back, but he did loosen his grip on her, and he slowly pulled out a cloth to wipe the offending substance off his face. He took a deep breath and looked closely at her again, "Despite your girlish instincts, this is not about you. This is about the Jedi you brought with you. As there is one above me, he is fated to be the one to come after me." He paused and blinked, "Excuse me, Milady, this is about you. Do you understand your feelings for that Jedi Padawan, Senator?"

"My feelings are none of your business, Count Dooku." She needed to hold onto her haughtiness. It kept her from crying and screaming.

"Oh, but they are, Milady," Dooku was calm once again, and smiling cooly, "I will make a deal with you -- I will help you survive the execution, and will ensure that you and the Jedi get away."

Her eyes open wide, she let out an audible gasp, "You'll help us to escape?"

"Whether you escape or not will be entirely up to you, Milady," he looked away from her and was pacing around the little cell again, "Don't you want to know what your end of the deal must be?"

Not trusting herself to form the right words, Padmé nodded.

He walked silently up to her and held her again, his lips brushing her shell-like ear. Fearing the worst, she remained rigid, but listening. "This is something even my Master has not foreseen. You must bear the child of the Jedi who came with you." He said it so softly, she swore she sensed his demand more than she actually heard it.

She turned her head to look at Dooku. Was he crazy? But no, he looked sad, though very urgent. "It is your destiny, Milady. I regret that you will not live to see the whole scene come to pass. But you must trust me, Padmé -- it is your child who will bring about the redemption of the galaxy. It has been revealed to me through the Force, and I have not shared this vision with anyone, up until now. Not even with my Master."

Bear Anakin's child? "What if he doesn't want me?" She had to maintain her official bearing; she felt herself unravelling and hysteria crabbed at her innards.

Count Dooku had let her go and looked exhausted and wan, but he was firm in his tone, "That is up to you, Milady. You must do it, or I will not help you." His eyes flamed with determination, "Despite what you and others may believe, I am not doing what I do for power or fame or fortune. I am doing it for the good of the galaxy; I adhere to my personal ideals and principles; I am absolutely true to myself. I am resorting to these methods because the established pathways have failed. I am desperate to save us all, Milady. We are not so different, in this respect."

Padmé felt dizzy and nauseous. It wasn't the thought of having Anakin's child that made her feel like this, she suddenly realized, I have a reason now. With all my heart, this is what I most want to do ...

* * * * *

Padmé woke up lying on the filthy floor. She felt the crawly critters climbing and crossing over her body, but she willed herself to not feel them. Dooku was gone, and she was alone again. She was unready to make herself get up.

She remembered the bizarre conversation she'd had with him, and wondered how he could guarantee they would be all right. He'd told her that he had spoken the truth, so it must mean that he was not able to affect whether the executions would take place or not.

Something chewed on the skin on her neck and she yelped in surprise and horror. She got up quickly and though her arms were still restrained behind her, she managed to get the creatures off her by jumping and throwing herself against the walls, squashing and knocking the creatures off her body. As she thus jolted herself, a thin piece of metal flew out of her belt and clattered dully on the sandstone floor. She had never seen it before.

Divested of the crawlies, she forced herself to squat down and look at the wedge-shaped piece of metal. She saw it was carved with notches, and she realized she had heard about such tools. This was commonly called a "jimm" and with manipulation, could be wriggled around in ancient styles of locks to pick them open.

Dooku must have slipped into her belt; perhaps she had given her assent somehow, or perhaps Dooku had simply probed her mind. This was obviously the means she would have to escape from the execution arena.

Padmé forced herself to lie down again on the floor and she strained to pull her torso through the opening formed by her bound arms. Twisting her body, she held her breath and felt her shoulder ligaments pop as she forced her buttocks through. Huffing and puffing, she felt lightheaded but relieved -- her wrists were now behind her knees, and she rested a bit before drawing her legs through. She had to lie down amongst the things that littered the floor, till the intense soreness and cramping abated.

Gingerly, she bent forward to pick up the jimm and put it in her mouth. She wriggled the metal strip in a hole in one of the wrist cuffs she wore, turning her head back and forth, and to her surprise, the bindings popped open without much trouble! She carefully replaced the jimm in her belt buckle, and enjoyed her relative freedom for a few moments before pushing the cuff closed once more. She was sorely tempted to remove the restraints completely, but realized the Geonosians would simply replace them if they found her unrestrained, and would immediately suspect she had a tool that could unlock the shackles.

It was a small thing, but it might be enough to tip the balance in her favor. She had not seen the execution arena, so she could not formulate a reasonable plan regarding how she would make her escape. Perhaps she would be able to give the jimm to Ani or Obiwan, assuming they would be in the arena together with her? Or would they be executed one at a time? How was she fated to die? But Dooku had promised that the Jedi would be fine by themselves. Did she trust him?

She hoped that Anakin and Obi-wan were not suffering. Though she was incredibly uncomfortable, at least she wasn't in real pain, and the Geonosians had promised a quick application of her sentence. They laughed in their language as her punishment was read; she wished she understood them.

As slim as it was, she now had hope. Count Dooku told her that if she had Anakin's child, he would ensure her safety. She still wasn't sure she trusted him, but she didn't seem to have many options; she'd take what she was offered.

Padmé settled for propping herself up against a near wall and dozing fitfully till the Geonosians came for her. All that time, she dreamt about how she could tell Anakin that she wanted to have his baby ...

* * * * *

The others on the balcony had giggled and slapped him on the back like schoolboys when he had come out of the dungeons. They had rolled a chance cube to decide which of them would get to taunt and molest the beautiful human Senator from Naboo, restrained and imprisoned, awaiting execution. Count Dooku had begged to not be forced to take part in their silly game; of course, manipulating the minds of beings such as these was a small task. He didn't even bother scuttling the chance cube; it was a slightly higher challenge to cloud their minds simultaneously. He had to, of course, accept that he was the reluctant winner of the the privilege of visitation.

As the call went out among the drones and workers about the public execution display, Dooku rested, meditating to ease his fatigue. His Master had specified that Obi-wan's apprentice should not be killed or damaged. Anakin Skywalker's destiny as a Sith Lord was so obvious as to be palpable; it was so strong that Palpatine needed to cloud the whole Jedi Council's vision to not see it with any clarity. It was disquieting to know that Dooku would not be Anakin's Master.

Dooku reminded himself of the ideals that lead him to seek out the Sith so many years ago. The Republic wasn't so much crumbling as festering within, rotting and dying at it's very heart. He needed a new, unexpected way to battle the fetid structure. He had stolen the Sith Holocron and saw that though it was layered in evil, the Sith had the same principles and issues he did. Additionally, he had been profoundly impressed with the dark power emanating from the Holocron when he first opened the Force-protected safe deep below the Jedi Archives. It was stronger than anything he'd previously experienced as a Jedi Knight.

He plunged himself into the Dark Side, even knowing that when his efforts were done, he would likely be dead. He had no delusion that he could possibly recover from such as immersion; he was a human, at the end of a long life.

But he couldn't leave the galaxy in the permanent power of the Sith. He was not in it for that. As closely as the Sith ideals paralleled his, he knew that this would not ultimately best, for the evil greed that was at the core of the Sith legacy ran counter to what he knew was good and right. Dooku, as he had sworn to Jocasta nearly 10 years ago, would use his legacy as the Count of Serenno to set the universe back onto the right path. If it had to take a long detour into the Dark Side to realize where that path was, so be it.

Darth Sidious knew, as he himself did, that if this Anakin Skywalker -- the Jedi with the highest midichlorian count ever recorded -- had a child, he or she would have the potential to definitively destroy the Sith. That was why Sidious was obsessed with this particular Jedi; Dooku knew that this Skywalker would be Sidious's final and perhaps greatest Apprentice, the one he'd been seeking all his life.

For the galaxy to survive the pain of the coming years, a child of Skywalker must be born, to deliver the universe into it's renewed incarnation.

Upon meeting her, Dooku realized that Padmé Amidala was fated to be the mother of Skywalker's child. She had the Force with her; her will, courage and determination -- he had never encountered one like her, combined with such intelligence, poise and beauty. Dooku had to ensure she would survive. It was a risk. He would likely be executed if this was discovered. He remembered how Sidous had killed his first Apprentice, splitting him in half slowly from his head through his torso ...

The Count of Serenno smiled grimly. His entire career as a Jedi Knight -- if not his whole life -- was all for this. He would ensure that Padmé and Anakin would survive this ordeal.

He will have then fulfilled the will of the Force.

* * * * *

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