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Chapter TwoCopyright 2002 by Alan Dean Foster
"Haja, sweet scentwhat're you hiding under that big ol' robe?"
Luminara Unduli did not look up at the large, unshaven, rough-hewn, and unpleasantly fragrant man
or his equally coarse and malodorous companions. She treated their knowing grins, the eager forward tilt of their
bodies, and their leering eyes with equal indifferencethough
their collective body odor was some-what harder to ignore.
Patiently, she raised the spoonful of hot stew to her lips,
the lower of which was stained a permanent purplish black.
A series of interlocking black diamonds tattooed her chin,
while more intricate markings decorated the joints of her
fingers. The olive color of her skin contrasted strikingly
with the deep blue of her eyes.
These rose to regard the younger woman who was seated on the other side
of the table. Barriss Offee's attention shifted between her teacher and
the men crowding uncomfortably close around the two of them. Luminara
smiled to herself. A good person, was Barriss. Observant and thoughtful,
if occasionally impulsive. For now, the young woman held her peace, kept
eating, and said nothing. A judicious reaction, the older woman knew.
She's letting me take the lead, as she should.
The man who had voiced the impropriety whispered some-thing to one of
his friends. There was a ripple of crude, unpleasant laughter. Leaning
closer, he put a hand on Luminara's cloth-draped shoulder. "I asked you
a question, darlin'. Now, are you gonna show us what's under this lovely
soft robe of yours, or d'you want us to take a peek ourselves?" An air
ofpheromone-charged expectation had gripped his companions. Huddled
over their food, a few of the establishment's other diners turned to
look, but none moved to voice outrage at what was happening or to
Spoon pausing before her lips, Luminara seemed to devote greater
contemplation to its contents than to the insistent query. With a sigh,
she finally downed the spoonful of stew and reached down with her free
right hand. "I suppose if you really want to see . . ."
One of the men grinned broadly and nudged his hulking companion in the
ribs. A couple of others crowded closer still, so that they were all but
leaning over the table. Luminara pulled a portion of her outer robe
aside, the intricate designs on the copper- and bronze-colored metal
bands that covered her upper forearms glinting in the diffuse light of
Beneath the robe was a metal and leather belt. Attached to
the belt were several small and unexpectedly sophisticated examples of
precision engineering. One of these was cylindrical, highly polished,
and designed to fit comfortably in a closed hand. The aggressive
spokesman for the group squinted at it, his expression slightly
confused. Behind him, a couple of his heretofore hopeful cronies
abandoned their leering expressions faster than a smuggler's ship making
an emergency jump to hyperspace.
"Mathos preserve us! That's a Jedi lightsaber!"
Expressions falling like hard rain, the band of would-be aggressors
began to back off, split up, and drift hurriedly away. Unexpectedly
deserted, their erstwhile leader was unwilling to admit defeat so
quickly. He stared at the gleaming metal cylinder.
"Not a chance, no. A 'Jedi' lightsaber, is it?" He glared belligerently
at the suddenly enigmatic object of his attentions. "I suppose that
would make you a 'Jedi Knight,' sweet splash? A lovely, lithe Jedi at
that!" He snorted derisively. "Sure and that's no Jedi lightsaber, is
it? Is it?" he growled insistently when she failed to respond.
Finishing another spoonful of her meal, Luminara Unduli carefully set
the utensil down on her nearly empty plate, delicately patted both her
decorated and her untouched lip with the supplied linen napkin, wiped
her hands, and turned to face him. Blue eyes peered upward out of her
fine-featured face, and she smiled coldly.
"You know how to find out," she informed him softly.
The big man started to say something, hesitated, reconsidered. The
attractive woman's hands rested, palm downward, on her thighs. The
lightsaberit certainly looked like a Jedi light-saber, he found
himself thinking apprehensivelyremained attached to her belt. Across
the table, the younger woman continued to eat her meal as though nothing
out of the ordinary was taking place.
Abruptly, the gruff intruder became aware of several things
simultaneously. First, he was now completely alone. His formerly
enthusiastic companions had slipped away, one by one. Second, by this
time the woman seated before him was supposed to be anxious and afraid.
Instead, she only looked bored and resigned. Third, he suddenly
remembered that he had important business elsewhere.
"Uh, sorry," he found himself mumbling. "Didn't mean to bother you. Case
of mistaken identity. Was looking for someone else." Turning, he hurried
away from the table and toward the tavern's entrance, nearly tripping
over a scraps bowl on the floor next to an unoccupied serving counter.
Several of the other patrons watched him go. Others eyed the two women
fixedly be-fore finding reason to return to their own food and
Exhaling softly, Luminara turned back to the remnants of her meal.
Making a face, she pushed the bowl and what remained of the meal away
from her. The boorish intrusion had spoiled her appetite.
"You handled that well, Master Luminara." Barriss was finishing up her
own food. The Padawan's perception might occasionally be lacking, but
never her readiness to eat. "No noise, no fuss."
"As you grow older, you'll find that you occasionally have to deal with
an excess of testosterone. Often on minor worlds like Ansion." She shook
her head slowly. "I dislike such distractions."
Barriss smiled gaily. "Don't be so somber, Master. You can't do anything
about physical attractiveness. Anyway, you've given them a story to
tell, as well as a lesson."
Luminara shrugged. "If only those in charge of the local government,
this so-called Unity of Community, were as easy to persuade to see
"It will happen." Barriss rose swiftly. "I'm finished." Together, the
two women paid for the meal and exited the establishment. Whispers,
mutterings, and not a few awed words of admiration trailed in their
"The populace has heard we're here to try to cement a permanent peace
between the city folk of the Unity and the Alwari nomads. They're
unaware of the far greater issues at stake. And we can't reveal the real
reason for our presence here without alerting those who would oppose us
to the fact that we know of their deeper intentions." Luminara drew her
robe tighter around her. It was important to present as subdued yet
impressive an appearance as possible. "Because we can't be completely
honest, the locals don't trust us."
Barriss nodded. "The city people think we favor the nomads, and the
nomads fear we're on the side of the city folk. I hate politics, Master
Luminara." One hand fell to her side. "I prefer settling differences
with a lightsaber. Much more straightforward." Her pretty face radiated
a zest for life. She had not yet lived long enough to become inured to
"It's difficult to persuade opposing sides of the rightness of your
reasoning when they're both dead." Turning up one of Cuipernam's side
streets, chaotic with traders and city folk of many different galactic
species, Luminara spoke while scanning not only the avenue but also the
flanking walls of commercial and residential buildings. "Anyone can
handle a weapon. Reason is much more difficult to wield. Remember that
the next time you're tempted to settle an argument with a lightsaber."
"I bet it's all the fault of the Trade Federation." Barriss eyed a stall
dripping with jewelry: necklaces and earrings, rings and diadems,
bracelets and hand-sculpted flash corneas. Such conventional personal
ornamentation was forbidden to a Jedi. As one of her teachers had once
explained to Barriss and her fellow Padawans, "A Jedi's glow comes from
within, not from the artificial augmentation of baubles and beads."
Still, that necklace of Searous hair and interwoven pikach stones was
"What did you say, Barriss?"
"Nothing, Master. I was just expressing my dissatisfaction at the
continuing scheming of the Trade Federation."
"Yes," Luminara agreed. "And the Commerce Guilds. They grow more
powerful by the month, always sticking their money-hungry fingers in
where they're not wanted, even if their immediate interests are not
directly involved. Here on Ansion, they openly support the towns and
cities that are loosely grouped together as the Unity of Community even
though the law of the Republic guarantees the rights of nomadic groups
like the Alwari to remain independent of such external influences. Their
activities here only complicate an already difficult situation." They
turned another corner. "As they do elsewhere."
Barriss nodded knowingly. "Everyone still remembers the Naboo incident.
Why doesn't the Senate simply vote to reduce their trade concessions?
That would settle them down a bit!"
Luminara had to fight to keep from smiling. Ah, the innocence of youth!
Barriss was well meaning and a fine Padawan, but she was unsophisticated
in the ways of governance.
"It's all very well to invoke ethics and morals, Barriss, but these days
it's commerce that seems to rule the Republic. Sometimes the Commerce
Guilds and the Trade Federation act like they're separate governments.
They're very clever about it, though." Her expression twisted. "Fawning
and bowing before emissaries of the Senate, issuing a steady stream of
protestations of innocence: that Nute Gunray in particular is as
slippery as a Notonian mudworm. Money equals power, and power buys
votes. Yes, even in the Republic Senate. And they have powerful allies."
Her thoughts turned inward. "It's not just money any-more. The Republic
is a soiled sea roiled by dangerous currents. The Jedi Council fears
that general dissatisfaction with the present state of governance is
giving way to outright secession on many worlds."
Barriss stood a little taller as she strode along beside her Master. "At
least everyone knows that the Jedi are above such matters, and aren't
"Not for sale, no." Luminara sank farther into preoccupation.
Barriss noted the change. "Something else troubles you, Master
The other woman mustered a smile. "Oh, sometimes one hears things. Odd
stories, unaccredited rumors. These days such tales seem to run rampant.
This political philosophy of a certain Count Dooku, for example."
Though always eager to display her knowledge, Barriss hesi-ated before
responding. "I think I recognize the name, but not in connection with
that title. Wasn't he the Jedi who"
Stopping sharply, Luminara threw out a hand to halt her companion. Her
eyes flicked rapidly from side to side and she was suddenly no longer
introspective. Her every nerve was alert, every sense on edge. Before
Barriss could question the reason for the action, the Jedi had her
lightsaber out, activated, and fully extended before her. Without moving
her head, she raised it to a challenge position. Having drawn and
activated her own weapon in response to her Master's reaction, Barriss
searched anxiously for the source of unease. Seeing nothing out of the
ordinary, she glanced questioningly at her teacher.
Which was when the Hoguss plunged from aboveto spit itself neatly on
Luminara's upraised lightsaber. There was a brief stink of burning
flesh, the Jedi extracted the beam, and the startled Hoguss, its now
useless killing ax locked in a powerful but lifeless grip, keeled over
onto its side. The heavy body made a dull thump as it struck the ground.
"Back!" Luminara started to retreat, the now anxious and alerted Barriss
guarding her Master's rear and flanks.
The attackers swarmed down from rooftops and out of second-story
windows, came bursting through doorways and up out of otherwise empty
crates; a veritable flash flood of seedy infamy. Someone, Luminara mused
grimly as she retreated, had gone to considerable trouble and expense to
arrange this ambush. In the midst of genuine concern for herself and her
Padawan, she had to admire the plotter's thoroughness. Whoever it was
clearly knew they were dealing with more than a couple of female
tourists out for a morning's sight-seeing.
The question was, how much did they know?
There are only two ways for non-Jedi to defeat Jedi in battle: lull them
into a false sense of security, or overwhelm them with sheer force of
numbers. Subtlety obviously being a notion foreign to their present
assailants, a diverse rabble of bloodthirsty but untrained individuals,
their employer had opted for the latter approach. In the crowded, active
streets, the large number of attackers had gone undetected by Luminara,
their inimical feelings submerged among those of the greater crowd.
Now that the attack had begun, the Force throbbed with an enmity that
was out in the open as dozens of well-armed hired assassins fought to
get close enough to their rapidly withdrawing targets to deliver a few
final, fatal blows. While the narrowness of the street and the aimless
fleeing of panicked bystanders eliminated a clear line of retreat and
kept the two women from sprint- ing to safety, it also prevented those
of their attackers who were wielding firearms from setting up a clear
shot at their intended targets. Had they been tacticians, those in front
swinging blades and other less advanced devices would have stepped aside
to give their more heavily armed comrades room in which to take aim. But
a reward had been promised to the ones who made the actual kill. While
this served to inspire the truculent rabble, it also made them reluctant
to cooperate with one another in achieving their ultimate objective,
lest it be a colleague who claimed the substantial bonus.
So it was that Luminara and Barriss were able to deflect bursts from
blasters as well as blows struck by less technical weaponry such as long
swords and knives. With high walls shielding them on either side and
merchants and vendors continuing to run for cover, they had room in
which to work. Bodies began to pile up in front of them, some intact,
others missing significant portions of their anatomy, these having been
neatly excised by whirling shafts of intensely colored energy.
Barriss's exuberance and occasional shouted challenge were complemented
by Luminara's steady, silently ferocious work. Together, the two women
not only kept their attackers at bay, but began to force them back.
There is something in the hushed, frighteningly efficient aspect of a
fighting Jedi that takes the heart out of an ordinary opponent. A
would-be murderer has only to see a few blaster shots deflected by the
anticipatory hum of a lightsaber to realize that there might be other
less potentially lethal ways to make a living.
Then, just when the two women were on the verge of pushing the remaining
attackers around a corner and back out into an open square where they
could be more effectively scattered, a roar of anticipation rose above
the fray as another two dozen assassins arrived. This melange of humans
and aliens was better dressed, better armed, and tended to fight more as
a unit than those who had preceded them. A tiring Luminara realized
suddenly that the previous hard fighting had never been intended to kill
them, but only to wear them out. Steeling herself and shouting
encouragement to a visibly downcast Barriss, she once more found herself
retreating back down the narrow street they had nearly succeeded in
Drawing new courage from the arrival of fresh reinforcements, their
surviving assailants redoubled their own attack. Jedi and Padawan were
forced steadily backward.
Then there was no more backward. The side street dead-ended against a
featureless courtyard wall. To anyone else it would have appeared
unscalable. But a Jedi could find hand- and footholds where others would
see only a smooth surface.
"Barriss!" Lightsaber whirling, Luminara indicated the reddish-colored
barrier behind them. "Go up! I'll follow." Dropping to his knees, a man
clad in tough leathers took careful aim with a blaster. Luminara blocked
both his shots before taking one hand briefly off the lightsaber to
gesture in his direction. Like a living thing, the dangerous weapon flew
out of his hands, startling him so badly he fell backward onto his butt.
Protected by his fellow assassins, he did not panic like a common killer
but instead scrambled to recover the blaster. They couldn't keep this up
forever, she knew.
"Up, I said!" Luminara did not have to turn to sense the unyielding wall
Barriss hesitated. "Master, you can cover me if I climb, but I can't do
the same for you from the top of the wall." Lunging, she disarmed a
serpentine Wetakk who was trying to slip in under her guard. Letting out
a yelp of pain, it stepped back and switched the hooked blade it was
holding to another hand, of which it still had five remaining. Without
missing a breath, the Padawan added, "You can't climb and use your
"I'll be all right," Luminara assured her, even as she wondered how she
was going to make the ascent without being cut down from behind. But her
first concern was for her Padawan, and not for herself. "That's an
order, Barriss! Get up there. We have to get out of this confined
Reluctantly, Barriss took a last sweeping swing to clear the ground in
front of her. Then she shut down her lightsaber, slipped it back onto
her belt, pivoted, took a few steps, and leapt. The jump carried her
partway up the wall, to which she clung like a spider. Finding seemingly
invisible fingerholds, she began to ascend. Below and behind her,
Luminara single-handedly held back the entire surging throng of eager
Nearly at the top, Barriss looked back and down. Luminara was not only
holding off her own assailants, but had moved forward to ensure that
none of those in the back would have time to take aim at the climbing
Padawan. Barriss hesitated.
"Master Luminara, there are too many! I can't protect you from up here."
The Jedi turned to respond. As she did so, she failed to see or sense a
small Throbe standing behind a much larger human. The Throbe's blaster
was small, its aim wild, but the undeflected shot still managed to graze
the woman in the umber robes. Luminara staggered.
"Master!" Frantic, Barriss debated whether to ascend the remaining
distance to the top of the wall or disobey her Master and drop back down
to aid her. In the midst of her confusion, a subtle tremor ran through
her mind. It was a disturbance in the Force, but one very different from
anything they had experienced this dreadful morning. It was also
Yelling encouragement, the two men plunged past on either side of
Luminara. Neither was physically imposing, though one had a build
suggestive of considerable future development. Lightsabers flashing,
they fell in among the bewildered band of assassins, their weapons
dealing out havoc in bantha-sized doses.
To their credit, the attackers held their ground for another couple of
moments. Then, their associates falling all around them, the survivors
broke and fled. In less than a minute, the street was clear and the way
back to the central square unobstructed. Letting go of the wall, Barriss
dropped the considerable distance to the ground, to find herself facing
an attractive young man who wore confidence like a handmade suit.
Smiling cockily, he deactivated his lightsaber and regarded her
"I've been told that morning exercise is good for the soul as well as
the body. Hello, Barriss Offee."
"Anakin Skywalker. Yes, I remember you from training." Automatically
nodding her thanks, she hurried to her Master's side. The other newcomer
was already examining Luminara's blaster wound.
"It's not serious."
Luminara pulled her garments closed rather more sharply than was
necessary. "You're early, Obi-Wan," she told her colleague. "We weren't
expecting you until the day after tomorrow."
"Our ship made good time." As the four emerged onto the square,
Obi-Wan's gaze swept the open space. Presently, it was as void of
inimical disturbance, as was the Force. He allowed himself to relax
slightly. "Since we arrived early, we suspected there would be no one to
meet us at the spaceport. So we decided to come looking for you. When
you weren't at your stated residence, we decided to take a stroll to
acquaint ourselves with the city. That's when I sensed the trouble. It
drew us to you."
"Well, I certainly can't fault your timing." She smiled gratefully. It
was the same intriguing smile that Obi-Wan remembered from working with
her previously, framed as it was by its differently toned lips. "The
situation was becoming awkward."
"Awkward!" Anakin declared. "Why, if Master Obi-Wan and I hadn't" The
look of disapproval the Jedi shot him was enough to destroy the
observation in midsentence.
"Something I've been curious about ever since we were given this
assignment." Barriss moved a little farther away from her counterpart
and closer to the two senior Jedi. "Why are four of us needed here, to
deal with what seems to me to be nothing more than a minor dispute among
the native sentients?" Her impatience was palpable. "Earlier, you spoke
of greater issues." "You remember our discussions," Luminara explained
patiently. "Well, the Alwari nomads think the Senate favors the city
dwellers. The city folk are certain the galactic government will side
with the nomads. Such perceptions of favoritism on the part of the
Senate are dangerously close to persuading both groups that Ansion would
be better off outside the Republic, where inernal disputes could be
settled without outside interference. Their representative in the Senate
appears to be leaning in that direction. There is also evidence to
support the contention that offworld elements are stirring the pot,
hoping to induce Ansion to secede."
"It's only one world, and not a particularly important one at that,"
Luminara nodded slowly. "True. But it's not Ansion itself that is so
critical. Through a multiplicity of pacts and could pull other systems
out of the Republic as well. More systems than I, or the Jedi Council,
likes to think about. Therefore, a way must be found to keep Ansion
within the Republic. The best way to do that is to remove the suspicions
that exist between the city dwellers and the nomads, and thereby
solidify planetary representation. As outsiders representing the will of
the Senate, we will find respect on Ansion, but no friends. While we are
here, suspicion will be our constant companion. Given the fluid
complexity of the situation, the matter of shifting alliances, the
possible presence of outside agitators, and the seriousness of the
potential ramifications, it was felt that two pairs of negotiators would
make a greater and more immediate impression on the situation than one."
"I see now." There was much more at stake here, Barriss found herself
thinking, than a disagreement between city folk and nomads. Had Luminara
been instructed to conceal the real reason for their journey from her
Padawan until now, or had Barriss simply been too preoccupied with her
own training to see the larger issues? Like it or not, it appeared that
she was going to have to pay more attention to galactic politics.
For example, why would forces beyond Ansion want to see it secede from
the Republic badly enough to interfere in the planet's internal affairs?
What could such unknown entities possibly have to gain by its
withdrawal? There were thousands upon thousands of civilized worlds in
the Republic. The departure of one, or even several, would mean little
in the overall scheme of galactic governance. Or would it?
She felt sure she was missing some vital point, and the fact that she
knew she was doing so was exceedingly frustrating. But she couldn't
question Luminara further about it, because Obi-Wan was speaking.
"Someone or several someones beyond Ansion doesn't want these
negotiations to succeed. They want Ansion to secede from the Republic,
with all the problematic consequences that would ensue." Obi-Wan
squinted at the sky, which had begun to threaten rain. "It would be
useful to know who. We should have detained one of your attackers."
"They could have been common bandits," Anakin pointed out.
Luminara considered. "It's possible. Anyway, if Obi-Wan is right and
that rabble was hired to prevent us from continuing with our mission,
their employer would have kept those who at-tacked us in the dark as to
his or her identity and purpose. Even if we had been successful in
capturing one of them, an interrogation might well have been useless."
"Yes, that's so," the Padawan had to admit.
"So you were on Naboo, too?" Feeling left out of the conversation
between the two older Jedi, Barriss turned curiously to her counterpart.
"I was." The pride in the younger man's voice was unapologetic. He's a
strange one, she mused. Strange, but not unlikable. As stuffed full of
internal conflicts as a momus bush was with seeds. But there was no
denying that the Force was strong within him.
"How long have you been Master Luminara's Padawan?" he asked.
"Long enough to know that those who have their mouths open all the time
generally have their ears shut."
"Oh great," Anakin muttered. "You're not going to spend all our time
together speaking in aphorisms, are you?"
"At least I can talk about something besides myself," she shot back.
"Somehow I don't think you scored well in modesty."
To her surprise, he was immediately contrite. "Was I just talking about
myself? I'm sorry." He indicated the two figures preceding them up the
busy street. "Master Obi-Wan says that I suffer from a surfeit of
impatience. I want to know, to do, every-thing right now. Yesterday. And
I'm not very good at disguising the fact that I'd rather be elsewhere.
This isn't a very exciting assignment."
She gestured back in the direction of the side street they had left
piled high with bodies. "You're here less than a day and already you've
been forced into life-or-death hand-to-hand com-bat. Your definition of
excitement must be particularly eclectic."
He almost laughed. "And you have a really dry sense of humor. I'm sure
we'll get along fine."
Reaching the commercial district on the other side of the square and
plunging back into the surging crowds of humans and aliens, Barriss
wasn't so certain. He was very sure of himself, this tall, blue-eyed
Padawan. Maybe it was true what he said about wanting to know
everything. His attitude was that he already did. Or was she mistaking
confidence for arrogance?
Abruptly, he broke away from her. She watched as he stopped before a
stall selling dried fruits and vegetables from the Kander region to the
north of Cuipernam. When he returned without buying anything, she eyed
"What was that all about? Did you see something that looked tasty but on
closer inspection turned out not to be?"
"What?" He seemed suddenly preoccupied. "No. No, it wasn't the food at
all." He glanced back at the simple food stand as they hurried to catch
up with their teachers. "Didn't you see? That boy over there, the one in
the vest and long pants, was arguing with his mother. Yelling at her."
He shook his head dole-fully. "Someday when he's older he'll regret
having done that. I didn't tell him so directly, but I think I got the
point across." He sank into deep contemplation. "People are so busy
getting on with their lives they frequently forget what's really
What a strange Padawan, she mused, and what an even stranger young man.
They were more or less the same age, yet in some ways he struck her as
childlike, while in others he seemed much older than her. She wondered
if she would have time enough to get to know him better. She wondered if
anyone would have time enough to get to know him. She certainly hadn't,
during their brief encounters at the Jedi Temple. Just then thunder
boomed overhead, and for some reason she could not quite put a finger on
she was afraid it signified the approach of more than just rain.
From the Audio Cassette edition.