“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Chapter One

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER ONE

19BBY – AMARATH, DALLIK

“General Puri, a platoon of droid troops has been spotted surrounding a Separatist bunker, forty kilometers east of your position. Sensors tell us that it might be the droids’ shield generator for this system.” The clone trooper’s voice crackled over the two Jedi Knights’ comlinks. 

Both Romulus Wort and Wo-Chen Puri exchanged hopeful looks. The destruction of the droid army’s shield generator could spell victory for the Republic’s army here on Dallik. It could also mean the capture of former Republic Senator Perdito Vedlik, now one of the Separatist leaders in this sector. The Jedi Master responded, “Hold your position, Sergeant Minos. Colonel Wort will soon link up with you to initiate an assault on the generator station.”

“Roger that, General Puri.”

Wo-Chen turned to his former apprentice. “Romulus, I’m sure that you know what to do. As soon as you and Telos knock out the shield generator, contact me. I will move in to arrest Vedlik at the City Administration building.”

Romulus responded with a sharp nod. “Right. I should be able to contact, as soon as possible.” He turned to face the clone officer nearby. “Captain, bring three platoons and follow me.”

Captain Telos crisply replied, “Yes sir.” The clone officer turned away to bark orders to his subordinates.

As Romulus prepared to depart, Wo-Chen spoke up. “By the way, Romulus . . .” the young Jedi Knight stared at the older man. “No mad rushes to overwhelm to the enemy. I do not want a repeat of what happened on Koorivar.” Romulus’ face turned hot. He knew that Master Puri spoke of an impetuous charge he had led against a company of Corporate Alliance troopers in the midst of one of the planet’s lush rainforests. He had barely survived.

“I promise to be careful, Master,” Romulus replied.

Wo-Chen smiled affectionately. “Good. I would hate for the Order to lose such a promising knight, such as yourself.”

The comment drew a surprised stare from the young Jedi. “I never realized that you consider me promising, Wo-Chen.”

The Jedi Master responded with a warm smile. “Of course I have. Yes, you can be slightly impatient, but that is only indicative of your age. With time and more experience, you can become one of the Order’s most highly regarded knights. Now, enough of this. You need to take out that shield generator.”

For one long moment, Romulus stared at Master Puri. A disturbing thought came to him that he and his former master might soon be permanently separated. Which seemed ridiculous, as he gave a second thought to the idea. After all, he should have no problem knocking out that shield generator. And Wo-Chen will only be forty kilometers away. Romulus flashed a bright smile at the older man and replied, “Yes, Master.” Then he followed Captain Telos and the other clone troopers away from the city’s administration building.

The half-ruined streets and avenues of Amarath’s main business district provided a maze for Romulus and his command. They eventually found Sergeant Minos and a squad of clonetroopers gathered in a small passageway between two buildings along Avenue Caldik. The wide avenue overlooked a once spacious park now slightly damaged by combat. At the park’s northwest edge stood a low bunker surrounded by trees and Trade Federation droids.

At first, Romulus wondered how he could take the droids by surprise. Then an idea came to him. He ordered one of the lieutenants from Captain Telos’ company to lead a squad back into the city’s streets and make their way toward Boulevard Trilak, which bordered the park’s northern side. “Lieutenant, you and your squad are to make your way to the hotel over. Once you position yourself, place a few snipers on the roof and take out those droids guarding the bunker.” The clone lieutenant acknowledged Romulus’ orders and disappeared from view with a squad of troops.

To Romulus’ relief, everything went according to plan. Lieutenant Bellon and his squad managed to position themselves at the hotel/casino on Boulevard Trilak. Minutes later, the Jedi Knight used his macrobinoculars to observe the blaster fire that eliminated the bunker’s guards. Once the bunker was left vulnerable, more droid troops poured out of its left side. Romulus ordered Telos to lead the remaining company in an all out attack. During the middle of the firefight, the doors to the bunker’s main entrance slid open. More droid troops appeared. Romulus lit up his lightsaber. Then he turned to his remaining men and ordered them to follow him.

Romulus took a deep breath and rushed forward. The clone troopers followed. Blaster fire exploded to the left and right of the Jedi Knight. Using his lightsaber, he deflected the droids’ blaster fire and sliced several of them in half. Finally, he and Captain Telos met near the bunker’s entrance. “All right, Captain,” Romulus said, “I want you to prevent the droids out here from following me, while I’ll take a squad inside.”

“Yes sir,” Telos replied with a sharp nod.

With his lightsaber still lit up, Romulus led his contingent deep inside the bunker. There, they found a handful of droid troops and a Neimodian officer, standing in front of generator, armed with blasters. The enemy fired and Romulus deflected most of the shots with his lightsaber. One of his troops ended up struck down. The Neimodian aimed his blaster at Romulus and fired. The Jedi Knight easily deflected the blasts and killed the officer. It did not take long for his command to destroy the rest of the droid troops.

“Sergeant,” Romulus began, “have your men place the charges around the generator. Give yourself time to clear out.”

The sergeant nodded. “Yes sir.” While Romulus strode out of the generator room, Minos barked orders to the remaining troops.

Once outside of the bunker, Romulus contacted Wo-Chen. “Master, we have assumed control of the shield generator. It should be destroyed . . .” He paused, as Sergeant Minos and the other clone troopers rushed out of the bunker. Several explosions consumed the structure.

An anxious-sounding Wo-Chen cried out, “Romulus? What happened?”

From the corner of his eye, Romulus saw the remaining fighting droids come to a standstill. “My troops and I have destroyed the shield generator, Wo-Chen.”

“Yes, I see,” the Jedi Master commented drily. “Good job. Make sure that all other Separatist troops have been captured.”

“Yes, Master.”

While flames continued to engulf the bunker, Romulus strode toward Captain Telos. He had not taken five steps, when he dropped his commlink. As he bent over to pick it up, blaster fire zipped over his head. Stunned, Romulus glanced up and saw none other than Captain Telos aiming a blaster rifle . . . at him! What in the blazes? Romulus quickly straighten up and grabbed his lightsaber hilt. And just in time. He lit up his blade and managed to deflect more shots from Telos and the other clone troopers. One of the blasts he had deflected, struck the officer’s chest.

More blaster fire came from troopers behind the Jedi Knight. Thankfully, the blasts missed. Romulus tossed them back, using his telekinesis. It finally occurred to the Jedi Knight that Wo-Chen might also be in danger. Using accelerated speed, he zoomed away from the burning bunker and toward the city’s center.

By the time Romulus reached the city’s Administration Hall, he found his former master battling clone troopers on the building’s wide steps. Separatist leader, Perdito Vedlik laid dead beside Wo-Chen. The young Jedi Knight stepped forward to aid his former master, when three clone troopers emerged from the building’s entrance and fired upon the Jedi Master. The latter fell forward – dead.

“Wo-Cheeeen!” Rage overwhelmed Romulus, as he lit up his lightsaber. The clone troopers spotted him and began to fire. Romulus deflected their fire with ease, killing several troopers in the process. Eventually, some semblance of common sense broke through his anger and he realized that he could not single-handedly defend himself against an entire battalion. He immediately snapped off his lightsaber and once again, fled from certain death.

——–

MUSTAFAR

Red-hot sparks upward, while two men in Jedi tunics swung back and forth from cables that hung from a metal collector tower that flowed along a river of lava. Despite their situation, the pair managed to continue a deadly lightsaber duel that had begun not long ago on more solid ground.

Anakin Skywalker, now the Sith Lord, Darth Vader, had been sent by his new master to permanently deal with the Separatist leadership. He had arrived on the fiery planet of Mustafar, met with the surviving Separatist leaders and slain every last one of them – including the troublesome Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation. Once he had completed his task, he had been surprised to learn that his very pregnant wife, Senator Padme Amidala, had followed him to Mustafar in order to confront him about what really happened at the Jedi Temple back on Coruscant. And he had his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi to thank. Surprise, however, soon turned to shock and anger when the hated Kenobi appeared on the ramp of Padme’s skiff – confirming Anakin’s suspicions that Padme and Obi-Wan had betrayed him.

Anakin’s anger had led to his attack upon Padme. Obi-Wan stopped him before he had the chance to kill her. But that did not stop the young Sith Lord from demanding that Obi-Wan pledge allegiance to the new Emperor. When his former master refused, a fight ensued.

The brutal duel, which had begun just meters away from the Nabooan skiff, now continued on the metal tower collector, as it floated on the lava river. Anakin felt oblivious to his tenuous situation. His attention remained focused upon the bearded man, who seemed determined to end this duel with a fatal blow, as much as he did. Then a loud snap caught the young Sith Lord’s attention. He glanced up. The collector’s metal had begun to break apart. More snaps followed, along with a few loud groans. Not only was the contraption in danger of breaking apart, it seemed to be heading straight toward a lava fall. Anakin glanced at Obi-Wan. Apparently, the latter had also noticed the danger. The older man did a double-back flip and landed squarely on a platform floating along the river.

Panic briefly struck Anakin. He realized that not only lack a structure to land safely upon, he was in danger of sinking into the lava river, along with this tower. Then he spotted a solution to his problem. Construction droids. Anakin took a deep breath and swung back to the tower’s main column. Then he climbed up the tower, made a running leap and landed on top of a chattering construction droid.

Without pressure from the two men’s combined weight, the giant collector tower moved swifter along the lava’s current, until it eventually disappeared over the falls. Meanwhile, both Anakin’s droid and Obi-Wan’s platform floated toward the lava river’s bank. The moment Anakin’s droid reached the platform, the young Sith Lord and the Jedi Master resumed their duel.

Balanced precariously on the droid and the platform, the two men battled away with fury. But their situation made it impossible to deliver any meaningful blows. To Anakin’s surprise, Obi-Wan paused and stared at him with eyes that illuminated with disappointment and regret. “I have failed you, Anakin! I was never able to teach you to think.”

The Jedi Master’s words inflamed Anakin’s rage. “I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over!” he cried.

“From the Sith! Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”

“From the Jedi point of view!” Anakin retorted. “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!”

Disbelief now shone in Obi-Wan’s eyes. “Well, then you are lost!”

But Anakin did not hear his former master’s last words. Instead, he declared, “This is the end for you, my Master. I wish it were otherwise.” He flipped onto Obi-Wan’s platform and the fighting resumed.

As the platform eased closer toward the riverbank, Obi-Wan surprised Anakin for the second time and jumped to the safety of the lava bank’s black sand. “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!”

Anakin’s eyes scanned the lava bank. Sure enough, Obi-Wan stood on a high bank that sloped upward from the river of lava. But the younger man refused to give up. He felt certain that he could overcome his former master’s advantage. “You underestimate my power!” he growled.

Obi-Wan shot back, “Don’t try it!”

Before he could spring off the platform, disturbing images filled Anakin’s mind. He saw himself leap from the platform in order to attack Obi-Wan. He saw the latter cut off his legs at the knees and his left arm. More disturbing images followed – his torso engulfed in flames, his body encased in a monstrous black suit, him strangling Padme with the Force and her dead body being carried throughout the streets of Theed. Anakin blinked several times. Memories of his past deeds and what laid in store for him filled him with horror. The red haze that had gripped his mind, slowly disappeared.

“Anakin?” Obi-Wan cried out.

The young Sith Lord’s gaze fell downward. He saw that the platform was in danger of melting into the lava. Using the Force, Anakin levitated toward the sandy bank, opposite Obi-Wan. He turned off his lightsaber. “You’re right, Obi-Wan. It’s over.” He sighed and shook his head. “What have I done?” he muttered to himself. Feeling a sense of failure and utter despair, Anakin turned away.

Again, Obi-Wan cried out, “Anakin!”

“You’ve won, my Master. Let it go.”

But in another one of those rare moments, Anakin saw that even Obi-Wan had difficulty in letting go. “Let it go?” the Jedi Master exclaimed angrily. “You were the Chosen One! It was said that you who would bring balance to the Force! Not leave it in Darkness!”

Anakin opened his mouth to speak. But words failed to spill out. How could he deny Obi-Wan’s accusations? Because of him, the Jedi Order no longer existed. He took a deep breath, silently shook his head and started to walk away.

Obi-Wan bellowed ominously, “Anakin! Where do you think you are going?”

The younger man murmured, “Honestly, I do not know. But definitely away from here.”

“We are not finished . . .” Obi-Wan continued. But Anakin spotted a well-sized rock in the black sand. With the Force, he used it to strike Obi-Wan’s left temple. The older man immediately fell to the ground, unconscious.

Anakin regarded his former master with pain and regret. Then he stared at the lightsaber in his hand and tossed it at Obi-Wan’s prone body. He quickly made his way back to Padme’s skiff, where he found Threepio and Artoo attempting to carry his unconscious body inside the vehicle. More waves of guilt washed over Anakin, as he again recalled his attack upon Padme.

“Threepio, I’ll take her.” Anakin stepped forward and the protocol droid placed Padme into his arms. He carried her aboard the ship, ignoring Threepio’s chatter and Artoo’s beeps. Once inside the skiff, Anakin gently placed his wife upon a narrow bunk. He leaned down and placed a light kiss on her forehead. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Padme,” he murmured in a wavering voice. “I’ve ruined everything. I can’t . . . I can no longer be with you.” He inhaled deeply. “I don’t deserve to be with you. You and the baby will never be safe with me. You need to be strong, Padme. For you and the baby’s future. But don’t forget . . . I will always love you. Forever.” Then he kissed her forehead again. “May the Force be with you.”

Anakin strode down the skiff’s ramp with Threepio close at his heels. “Master Anakin,” the droid cried, “where are you going?”

“I’m leaving, Threepio.” Anakin headed toward his fighter. “Don’t worry, Master Kenobi should soon join you. Meanwhile, I need you to take care of the senator.”

Threepio refused to be deterred. “But sir, what shall I tell Mistress Padme? Where are you going?”

The protocol droid’s question led Anakin to pause beside his fighter. He heaved a loud sigh. “Tell her . . . tell her that I love her.” Then he patted the droid’s golden forearm. “Good-bye Threepio. Take care of your mistress and the baby.”

Threepio merely stared, as Anakin began to climb into the cockpit. A series of whistles and beeps revealed Artoo rushing toward the starfighter. Anakin waved him away. “No, Artoo. You stay with Padme. She will need you a lot more than I will.”

Low whistles emitted from Artoo, indicating the droid’s displeasure. Anakin settled inside the cockpit. As he glanced down at the two druids, he realized with a pang that he might never see them or his beloved wife, again. Even worse, he would never have a chance to know his child – thanks to his blind arrogance and selfishness. Anakin closed his eyes and heaved one last sigh. After donning his headset, he closed the cockpit and started the engines. Before long, his old Jedi fighter finally zoomed out of Mustafar’s smoky atmosphere and into deep space.

——–

An uncomfortable, burning sensation tingled the surface of Obi-Wan’s right cheek. His eyes flickered open and he realized that he lay sprawled on the black, steaming sand. Then it all came back to him – stowing aboard Padme’s ship, confronting Anakin, the duel and the sensation of pain striking his left temple. Anakin.

The Jedi Master struggled to his feet. He spotted his lightsaber on the ground and picked it up. Then he saw the other object – Anakin’s lightsaber. Obi-Wan regarded it with a frown. His former padawan must have tossed it aside. But why? What had led Anakin to end the duel, let alone give up his weapon? An anxious thought came to the Jedi Master. Padme. Anakin may have taken both her and the droids away from Mustafar. Hopefully, not back Coruscant . . . and Sidious.

Fighting back a sense of panic, Obi-Wan picked up the other lightsaber and rushed back to Padme and her starship. To his relief, he found the Nabooan skiff still there, along with the Skywalkers’ two droids.

“Master Kenobi!” Threepio’s voice rang with relief. “Oh, I am so glad to see you!”

Obi-Wan nodded curtly. “Where is Anakin? Is he with the senator?”

Threepio replied, “Oh no, Master Kenobi. Master Anakin has left. But Miss Padme is aboard the ship. He had carried her aboard before leaving.”

Anakin had left? Obi-Wan glanced to his right. Sure enough, the yellow Jedi fighter had disappeared. An unexpected pang struck the Jedi Master beneath his chest. He felt as if a part of his life had suddenly been erased. Obi-Wan had not experienced such a feeling since Qui-Gon Jinn’s death.

With a sigh, he ordered Threepio and Artoo to board the skiff. After he followed the pair aboard, Obi-Wan ordered the protocol droid to take off. Meanwhile, he followed Artoo to one of the bunks, where he found a semi-conscious Padme mumbling incoherently.

The senator’s dark eyes fluttered open. “Obi-Wan?” Breathing heavily, she added, “Is Anakin . . . all right?”

Obi-Wan began to answer, “Yes, he . . .” Then he found himself unable to speak.

“He spoke . . . to me,” Padme continued to whisper. “But he’s go . . .” She broke off and became unconscious.

A heavy sadness welled within Obi-Wan’s heart, as he brushed tendrils of Padme’s hair from her forehead. Poor thing. He left Artoo with the unconscious senator, while he joined Threepio in the cockpit.

The protocol droid asked, “Pardon me sir, but where are we going?”

Lacking an answer, Obi-Wan merely stared ahead in pensive silence.

END OF CHAPTER ONE

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