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Generated: Nov 20, 2022 12:56 PM
Post last updated: Sep 22, 2022 9:17 PM
there is no peace
Someone important is dead. Kina Skywalker takes this personally.
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The worst part is, part of her had been sure that she could have stopped this.

She couldn't have.  Qui-Gon Jinn simply has no fear.

And she does still think it's 'has', for all that it's no comfort when she sees the body.

There was a Force bond.  There still is one.  It's just not the same, now.

She doesn't mention it to the Order.

It's not relevant to the investigation.

She does mention the discussion she had, that C3PO recorded.

She does not mention the formless dread she'd felt, or the last words she'd said to him.

I'd be worse off without you.

How true that is.  She's cold, inside.  A sickening, dreadful feeling of emptiness as one of the few bright lodestars that are ever true to themselves winks out.

She sends a comm to Padmé, sneaking it through the firewall: QGJ assassinated in broad daylight just now.  Be vigilant.  Trust no one except probably Jedi.  S wanted Q alive for Coruscant.  Who benefits?

She holds her mother close, and tells her to stay inside the Temple's walls; it's quite possibly a matter of life or death.

She sends a message to Yoda; I had spoken with Master Jinn about this, but unfortunately, he was assassinated before he could pass it on.  I'd like to speak with you sometime, about why I believe you were teaching the wrong lesson in meditation class - I suppose it's still today, now, even though it feels like it's been a week.  I am a bit frustrated that you did not engage with my questions in the spirit they were asked at the time, but I wish to clarify that I hold no particular ill will towards you.  Sincerely, Kina Skywalker.

She sends a message to the Jedi High Council, via droid-delivered sealed flimsiplast: I have enough information on the Sith Lord that it is worth presenting to you so it can inform the Order's investigations; I was planning on bringing this to your attention through Master Jinn, but he was assassinated today - either in retaliation for his prior interference, or to directly impede the progress of this mission.  Please schedule a secure meeting as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Kina Skywalker.

Then...she heads for the armory.  She has a basic fact of geometry to exploit, and some tinkering to do, though it will bring her no relief.

Whatever Sith Lord arranged this will be ended neatly.  It's the least she owes him.

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When Kina arrives, there are a few other students there, assembling a few lightsaber parts. Bultar Swan is among them. "Hey! You're Kina, right? I thought you already had a lightsaber!"

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"That saber isn't precisely mine, but I'm here for something else regardless," comes a ragged, quiet voice, Kina's presence dim.

It's oddly simple, really, the thing that Kina's planned.  The Jedi's collection of parts, and attached workshop, has more than enough to make it and hardly even notice, especially given that they maintain starship turbolasers.

All it takes are some basic blaster schematics, a mounting bracket, some tubing, and a little bit of extra wiring.

The parts not yet assembled swirl in the air, listless but restless, as Kina fits the barrel of a blaster pistol to a simple metal hand-grip, a rod with a pistol's trigger, centered within a circle of metal.  Seven blastpistol barrels, spaced evenly around the circle.  That's how many shots she needs to be sure one will get through a two-armed Sith's best possible defense.

"I'm not at my best right now, Bultar.  Qui-Gon's...at best  discorporated.  And I can't help but think it's because of what he and I were working on, if not an attempt to hurt me.  Which sounds absurd, I know, but...I probably shouldn't discuss the details of why out loud.  Someone decided to kill him, though.  And it hurts.  He'd just told me he wanted me to be his Padawan.  He was going out to celebrate with Obi-Wan about Obi's becoming a Jedi Knight.  And then someone shot him.  Either to stop him or hurt me.  That was very stupid of them, but no-one accused Sith of being reasonable.

"So I'm making something to make sure that if I ever see the person who caused this, they won't be able to escape - whatever justice there is, at the time."

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Swan looks somber. "I'm sorry about that. Qui-Gon seemed like a nice person. Are you... trying to go kill a Sith? Aren't they dangerous?"

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"...He really, really was.  Is.  I'm more, preparing in case I end up fighting one anyway, than actively wanting to fight one, but I have more Sith-fighting experience than anyone else but Obi-Wan, right now.  I might have to do it regardless of my desires."

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"You have Sith-fighting experience? Is that where you got the lightsaber?"

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"He tried to massacre a ship of people; Obi-Wan got in his way, I threw a wrench at him and blasted him with a repulsor engine, Qui-Gon...actually stopped him.  And then stuff happened.  Which is how I ended up with the parts and crystals.  ...I should probably grab spares.  I don't think this design is for me at all."

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"A wrench. Cool. I feel like it's going to be pretty hard to defeat a Sith on your own, though. I mean, one time all twenty of us surrounded Master Windu with our training sabers, and he beat us without getting hit once. With his eyes covered. And no Force fighting. And he didn't actually start out with a lightsaber, he had to steal one of ours. And he had to limit himself to, you know, not hurting us."

"...you know what, why don't you have him fight the Sith?"

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That gets a small grin out of Kina, and a flicker of actual emotion in her Force presence.  "That's the plan, Bultar."

"Things almost never go according to plan, though, so...you should have backup plans.  Like having Master Windu and this blaster both ready.  ...Also, was he really fighting all twenty of you at once?  It seems like it's pretty hard to have twenty people all surround one person close enough to swing sabers, hm?  And then he breaks out of the scuffle, bowls someone over for their blade...I don't know much saber fighting, but I'm good at space and volume and motion.  ...Plus getting everyone coordinated to really cut off his movement would be pretty hard, because someone's bound to be impulsive enough to charge in anyway..."

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"Well, yeah, I'm not saying it was the best possible way to fight a Jedi. Just that it's really hard and takes a lot of training. Also, I have heard Master Yoda can catch blaster bolts, so a Sith might be able to do the same."

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"...okay, so I need two of these, then, I think."  It can't hurt to have a spare, anyway, just in case; maybe she'll make an extra for Obi-Wan and her mom, too.  "I'll have to ask Yoda about that, too...When next I see him, I suppose; shouldn't be all that long, now, I'm sure he wants to preach at me about...all of this.

"And...yeah.  It's hard to fight a Jedi.  That's why when you need a Jedi dead, you shoot them with a kriffing slugthrower rifle from several blocks away, apparently.  ...Kriff.  Still, somehow I don't think that's going to be an option to kill this Sith.  ...Or stop them.  I suppose.  ...I don't think they're going to end up stopped, though."  Kina sighs.  "I'm worried that I seem to have stopped caring about that thought, honestly.  I should probably care about it.  But he killed my Master, and probably wants to turn or kill me, and...At some point I run out of ability to consider basic sapient decency as having not been summarily rejected, apparently."

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At this point, Shmi arrives. "Kina." A thousand questions pass through her mind, eventually settling on "Why are you holding a blaster?"

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"Because there's a chance I might need to shoot a Sith with it, since I'm certainly not going to learn how to lightsaber a Sith well enough to win a hypothetical fight with one anytime soon.  You're getting one too."

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"I... am not against you defending yourself, but someone has to teach you how to use that thing. And teach me, while they're at it."

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"That makes a lot of sense.  Are there any Jedi you know of who use blasters, Bultar?  I don't want to go outside, right now."

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"Not that I know of?" says Swan. "There's probably someone."

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"...Maybe I'll ask Padmé again...She knows how to shoot.  ...I should make her one.  She's as much at risk as mom and I are..."

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At this point, the teacher calls Swan back over to the group.

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Shmi takes another look at the blaster. "Kina, are you okay? I mean, I completely understand how much... what happened... hurts you. But I'm a little concerned that your first response is to craft weapons. And if you're feeling scared, of course it's good to stay safe, but... I'm worried this isn't fear."

"Kina, are you planning to hunt down the killer?"

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"I'm planning to make sure he doesn't kill anyone else, insofar as I can.  The most effective way to do that is not hunting him down in person, and in no reasonable universe do I see it becoming that, though I suspect that even the Force cannot help me as much as I would like in ensuring this remains true, and I expect that I'll take an option to shoot him if I get it.  If I was - thrown out of the Jedi Order, deprived of all friends and allies, left to stew - maybe I might consider something like that.  But it won't help any, not right now.

"I'm not sure Qui-Gon is as dead as he looks, anyway.  There is no death, there is the Force."  Kina cracks a wry grin.  "It has to be there for a reason.  But...no.  I don't plan to do anything so absurdly suicidal as to go chasing down a Sith Lord myself, especially with absolutely no training.  It would take - I don't know what it would take, but you'd either be able to see the reason I was the only person left who could, or maybe dead.  Which is why you need to stay inside the Temple.  For everyone involved's sakes, Mom.  I hate that it's me having to ask this.  I don't know if I trust the Order to even consider what this could do, to me, specifically, though, because they - there's...some weird philosophy there - and I would put money that I do not even have on the fact that that Sith absolutely wants - me.  Somehow, in some way.  I don't know what their plan is but I'd be.  Far too helpful to it if they had me, I think.  So I'm trying to make sure that they don't get me.  And part of that means keeping the people who could be used to hurt me as safe as possible.  ...It's...a short list, at least.  Which is...also sad.  But probably necessary because Sith."

Kina's voice is still as level and quiet as it was when she started talking.  Frankly, she's concerned that she's not that concerned about that.

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Shmi nods. "I suppose we'll stay here for now, then, and hope the Jedi can handle this."

"Also, I think you might want to hear how the investigation's going."

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It seems that Qui-Gon's killer, who they assume was unable to arrange an alibi, made up for it by casting suspicion on enough people that no one could reasonably investigate them all. The total list of suspects includes 11,000 different people, such as the workers and customers at twelve different surrounding stores, each of which was found to have several grenades in the restrooms, twenty or so bounty hunters, who ostensibly came to Coruscant to pursue an unrelated target who happened to be in the area, the entire Galactic Senate and associated guards and assistants, which is missing the past month of security footage, thirty additional visiting politicians, the pilots involved in an incredibly large traffic jam directly above the site of the murder, seven other Jedi who were in the nearby area, a wampa, a Nightsister, a cyborg assassin who was found carrying a flamethrower, over a hundred people who in apparently unrelated incidents shot at the Jedi who tried to ask them questions, and Jabba the Hutt, who didn't actually have any particular reason for being included, but it's Jabba the Hutt, come on.

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"...This is really unsurprising.  ...Okay, the big list of potential suspects is unsurprising.  That no-one's consulted the Force about it...That's actually rather unpleasantly surprising.  I do not want to have to investigate this myself!"  Kina...takes a deep breath.  "...Who told you this, mom?  Did they say who to go to if we had any thoughts about the investigation?"

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"The Jedi who came by said that, uh... Saesee Tiin, I think, is in charge of the investigation? Although I think the whole Council has been discussing it."

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"I'll go find them, then."  And mom gets a hug, because they both need one, and off Kina goes Jedi-hunting.

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Tiin, along with Yoda and several others, is in the Council's room. None of them seem surprised to see Kina walk in.

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"...Masters Jedi.  Master Tiin specifically.  Are we discussing my Master's assassination?  Because - I can help, I'm reasonably confident in the skill I would use to help turning up something useful, even.  It would suck.  But I've done equally sucky things for less known benefit, so...I should be self-consistent, there."  Kina's...gotten a bit less flat on the way over.

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"What have you in mind now?" asks Yoda. It's at least a good sign that she's able to look to the future, although he assumes whatever plan she has will be risky at best.

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"How secure is this - ...you know what, I'm going to look for sneaky things myself."

Kina does a slow, methodical sweep of the room for listening devices, produces any she finds, silently, then unplugs everything that can theoretically broadcast, even the stuff that's supposed to be there.

"...Alright.  ...Actually, if someone could make sure that nobody's able to listen at the door or window or anything, that would be great."

...Assuming any of the Jedi Masters can put barriers over the space to stop sound from propagating...then Kina speaks.

"Yesterday evening, before he left the Temple, I spoke with Qui-Gon Jinn about some very concerning subjects.  First of all, there is at least the possibility of a third Sith being presently active; a Muun with a particular interest in Force-related biology to the point of running horrible experiments on Force sensitives - if there are Jedi corpses missing hearts and drained of blood, it was probably on his orders, though not by his hand - that seemingly commanded the Sith who commanded the Sith that's presently dead.

"Secondly, I believe the Sith who commanded the attacker to be seriously invested in galactic politics; I have unlocked the communicator we recovered on Tatooine, and he specifically ordered Queen Amidala to be left alive, presumably to cause the vote of no confidence - implying a concerning level of intelligence on the Queen's personality.  It's likely that whoever wins is who he wanted to win, unless he knows we know this, and forcing him to deny himself that victory is a victory of our own.  I spoke of this only to Master Jinn, and in a sensor blind spot.  The news that Senate security has mysteriously lost a month's worth of security footage right now only increases my confidence that there is a Sith very close to the Senate right now.  Unfortunately, I don't know who it is, but I am confident it is not the Senator from Malastare, one of the three Chancellor candidates, because I would have seen his distinguishing features even through the hooded robe I saw the not-Muun Sith wearing.  However, there's no way he isn't in some way a collaborator.  This does provide us with an avenue of investigation; he'll flip to save his skin.  I know his type too well.

"Thirdly, if I may have access to anything that was on the scene when Master Jinn died, but especially his kyber crystal or any physical evidence of the murder...I can probably replicate what I did to find out the information I just told you about the Sith Lords."

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"Most of this, Qui-Gon explained," Yoda says. "However, another situation, we have. If we interrogate the Senators, and cause a scandal, delay the end of the blockade it will. In danger, Naboo still is, and even when the Jedi arrive, handle this alone, we cannot. First must the Senate save Naboo. Only then can we search for our Sith."

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"I think she can have the lightsaber, under supervision," says Tiin.

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"Why is everyone jumping to interrogating the Senators?  Do subterfuge!  Offer guards, since the Sith is presently trying to interfere with the Republic's political process!  That's not even a lie!  And of course they have to be trained in sneakiness and spycraft to defend from an insidious threat like this!  And yes, supervision would be fine, you could probably help."

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...there's a bit of a silence.

"I think that's technically treason," someone says.

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"Understood it is, the importance of unravelling this mystery," replies Yoda. "But work with the Senate we must, and it moves slowly. Next week can we move forward, I hope."

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"...Why in the blasted sands would it be treason to offer to protect people from an insidious plot?  There are incidental benefits to it in that having sneaky Jedi constantly around makes it a lot more likely that they'll spot potentially concealed evidence of Sith doesn't make it less valid!"

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"It's not legal to spy on Senators without a warrant, which would take permission from a special session of the Senate," says Tiin. "We could put some Jedi in there to guard the Senate, but we can't actually send them into the Senators' rooms or anything, so we can't find anything out unless the Senators are openly plotting in the central building for some reason."

"...which, honestly, might catch a few briberies, but I doubt the Sith would be that careless."

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"...What, not even if they're invited in by the Senators?  Surely there's some close-protection protocol?"

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"Most of the Senators probably have non-Sith reasons to want their privacy. And even if we somehow got everyone's permission, there are a lot of Senators."

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"...So we focus on the Chancellor candidates.  Because they're targets.  And maybe agree to ignore non-Sith things, if necessary, perhaps?"

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"I think we can contact the candidates, then," says Tiin, "although Teem may not give his permission. Adi, Oppo, can you contact them and post a few people over at the Senate?"

They nod and exit.

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"Remember to tell Senator Teem that the Jedi can only stand between him and an angry Sith Lord cutting loose ends if he lets them!"

Kina's silent while the door is open.

"So.  Qui-Gon's assassination.  I'd put money on it being ultimately the Siths' fault, but obviously we still don't know who they used, here, nor how they arranged it.  If we can find out anything about their methodology here...That would be very good.  Is there any reason that we shouldn't do divination about this as soon as possible?"

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The Council members look around. "No," says Yoda. "Qui-Gon's lightsaber, we will use. Come, you should." Yoda leaves the room, signaling to Kina that she should follow.

As they walk, Yoda prepares several times to say something, but the words never seem right. He doubts Kina will take his advice on attachment, not after how the meditation had gone.

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"...There something you want to talk about?"  Yoda looks uncomfortable.  And maybe it's that it's her, being all outlier-y ever since she entered the Order, but...She'd rather have an ally, than an enemy, and so the air needs to be cleared.  "Can't promise I'll obey, but I will listen, if you want to say something right now.  And honestly I've been meaning to talk to you, I don't know if you got my message?"

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"Yes," replies Yoda, hesitantly. "In mourning you of course are. Concerned I am, that drive you to dangerous decisions it will. Already do you seek revenge. Such fury can lead you down a dark path, one from which you cannot recover."

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"Hmm.  You're not wrong about that being potentially concerning, honestly.  I don't think my primary motive is revenge, because most of this was already stuff I was planning to do, just...now with a very personal stake in the matter, and I'm trying to correct for that emotion, in my planning, or allow it an outlet that harms none.  But the thing is...you can't deny your feelings without destroying yourself.  So I can't deny that I feel an urge to avenge my Master - but.  I can control what I do with that urge.  I can learn to shoot a blaster, for example, instead of running off to search for the killer on my own.  Especially because doing that is the least effective way to try and solve the whole 'murderous Sith' problem.  My personal satisfaction for having theoretically solved the mystery myself would have almost nothing on - " she is randomly struck by an idea, and pulls out a flimsiplast to scratch 'midichloran testing - do Sith have fancy poison?  tox screen?' - "the sheer value of getting it done faster, done better, with the Order's help; they'll harm less people this way, as best I can approximate.  So I do the thing I think is most right, as best I can.  And if I feel emotions about that, I feel emotions.  What does it really matter, so long as the right things continue to be done?"

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Yoda sighs. "Say where you are wrong, I cannot. But stand before me, many have. Say they do, that no need to release their emotions, they have, that fueled by anger they can be, and yet nevertheless will they make the right decisions. Each time, no specific counter, I have. And yet each time have they turned to darkness."

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"Of course they have.  People aren't perfect.  You're not perfect.  I'm certainly not perfect, look at me, I'm a surprisingly functional bundle of pain response.  Did they pick themselves back up, when they fell?  Make amends for any harm they'd done when emotion overpowered reason, if possible?  Still try to do the right thing, when it came down to it?  Or did they break, instead of bending? That's my problem with how you're teaching what you teach.  There's no way back up from falling down, the way you tell it."

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"Yes! There is no way back! Great power over its users, the dark side of the Force holds. Once one has fallen, recognize that their actions are wrong, they no longer can. Futile it is, to teach you to recover, when the mistake warps you so that there can be no recovery!"

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"...What the kriff, Master Yoda?"

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"That doesn't make sense unless - suns-blasted sands, I might've been more right than I knew when I was speculating about why prophecies - but - how even?"

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"Surely if it can be done by the Dark, so can it be undone by Light?  If it is a warp, warps can be straightened; if it is a break, breaks can be mended; how came you to this conclusion?  How can you be sure?"

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Yoda stops in his tracks. "Make myself clear, I must. No longer do I see you as a child. Noticed your power, we have. Good, it could bring to the galaxy. But easier it is, to destroy everything."

"Skywalker, we fear you. Unlocked powers, you will, that none before you could hope to grasp. Sure, I am not! Should anyone come back from the darkness, you, it would be. But know that, you cannot either. If you fall to the dark side, more than yourself, you risk. The fate of the galaxy, you may wager, and for all your skill... this game, none before you have won."

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"...Yeah.  It's terrifying from the inside, too.  I don't blame you for the fear.  I'm worried.  I'd be worried, were I you.  ...and...this - it's always the metaphor of games, isn't it, with politics, when there are trillions of lives on the line.  It trivializes the costs.  It's...that's the important thing to hold to, no matter what.  People matter.  People living their best lives.  That's all I want.  I think it's what the Force wants, too.  I can't know for sure, because it's so much bigger than me.  But I have to hope.  And - and for that hope, for the cause I've chosen, I'll struggle and strive with every bone in my body, til the blasted sands scour them to nothing but dust.  No matter what comes.  Because to not play this game is to forfeit it to destruction.  It shouldn't be this way, but regardless of should, it is, so - we have to try our best to win, or somehow flip the table.  I hope we can.  I fear we won't.  But in the end, we have to try, because if we don't try, we can never succeed.  Even if we fail, it's better than - doing nothing at all, and facing that same failure as if it's preordained."

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Do nothing, and at least you won't actively make things worse. But he can imagine how she'd respond to that.

By now, they've made it to the medical wing, where Qui-Gon's body is kept. Yoda goes in by himself, since she likely won't want to see the bloody half of a corpse. When he comes out, he's holding the damaged remains of a lightsaber, the bottom half slightly melted. Carefully, he extracts the crystal, and hands it to Kina.

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Kina clutches it close to her chest, like she's hugging her lost teacher tight.  "Is there...somewhere close, suitable for meditation?  I could sit here and just go anyway, but...the mindset helps, I think.  ...No, is there somewhere he'd like to meditate.  With liveliness, with life.  It'll work better that way.  All things are one in the Force, but some things are closer together, and the way I do this...it helps to be connected.  Where should we go..."

Kina ties a string to the crystal, and reaches out with Qui-Gon's kyber crystal, asking her master's advice for where she should lead this meditation...

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The string flops around.

"...what are you doing?"

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"Seeing if that works.  Guess it doesn't, or I'm not doing it the right way.  Still...does the Temple have - gardens?  Something like that?  I feel like it's the right sort of place to try."

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"Yes. Head there, we can. At peace, we should be."

Yoda heads towards the gardens, calling Tiin as he walks. The rest of the Council would be useful here.

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"I'm not sure I can do peace, as I am, but I can be calm."  To the gardens, then.  "Don't forget the sound barrier, please, Masters Jedi.  I can't see how someone would even try to spy here, but...better over-cautious than caught unprepared."

Kina's...felt out somewhere slow, quiet; an appropriate place for somberness.  At which point, she just plops herself down, clasps the kyber between her hands, closes her eyes...

Takes a deep breath in, and a deep breath out...

And meditates, opening herself to what the Force wants to show her of Qui-Gon Jinn and his death.

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He's in the depths of Coruscant.

Qui-Gon tips the driver and steps out of the cab, walking through the streets. He starts to hear the Force screaming at him, and he spins around just in time to catch a rocket with his gut -

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There's pain, and there's shock, and everything is beginning to fade, but he sees, standing above him, kneeling down to collect a sample of blood, someonesomeone in a dark robe covering what looks like armor, and they raise their hood and he sees -

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That's... odd.

He can see what's under the hood. It's right there. If he looks at any particular place, he sees it, fully clear in his vision. It just... doesn't seem to make anything. When he's looking at it, it seems like a recognizable shape, but... he can't recognize it. He can't even tell whether it's a face or a mask or just an empty space leading into the back of the hood, or what colors or shapes might make it up, or whether... Why is he confused. Something is blocking him from knowing what that is, even though it's obviously...

...what?

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If Kina can't figure out what that face is - and she can't, after three tries, so she gives up for now - she tries to figure out what that face before her isn't, asserting that it's not ...what?  It's not unlike troubleshooting problems you don't already know the source of; you pick a part, you remove it, you see if the problem's still there.

 

...This still doesn't work, but she tried.

Does dissociating really hard at this and letting her hand sketch automatically on a flimsiplast work?  Probably not, but she's going to keep at it.  She's fighting this power with all the ideas she can bring to bear, no matter how futile it seems, because maybe the Sith who's doing this, this, slipped up somewhere.

...She's not thinking about other avenues to find out what this person looks like, right now, just in case.  She'll focus on trying to figure out where this interference is coming from, instead; all things are connected through the Force and that meddling is connection.

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This could be dangerous. He should stop this...

His body doesn't seem to be... moving?

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The Force does what it wills, Master Yoda.  Apparently seeing this through is part of it.  Or it's enemy action!

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And the vision fades away.

Kina's standing in a dark space, empty blackness save for the tall white face on the horizon, illuminated by the dim glow of a red lightsaber.

"I wish we were meeting under better circumstances, Skywalker," he says. "I don't think you got a very good first impression of the Sith."

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"I daresay that depends upon the qualities you look for in impressions.  Might I ask your name?  You seem to have me at a bit of a disadvantage, after all."

Her hand's already moving, so transcribe, and then no thoughts.

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"Unfortunately, I have a bit of a public persona attached to my name. What is your view of the Sith? And for that matter, what of the Jedi?"

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"I'm sure you do."

Kina's head tilts to the side, as if she's thinking.

"My view of the Sith?  I daresay it's quite occluded.  Hiding from the public eye except in those moments you wish to commit murder hardly makes for a legible public image.  My view of the Jedi?  They've been kind, in their way.  I've hardly known them long enough for detailed impressions."

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Plagueis nods. She's probably trying to play with him, somehow? Interesting. "Fair enough. Well, I'm told that you have quite a bit of potential. Already on the level of a Jedi Master, in a few areas, and quite possibly the subject of a prophecy. We would be quite interested in recruiting you."

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"Hmm.  Recruiting me to do...something in particular, I imagine?"

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"Several things, many of which would have to stay confidential. We're working on quite a few projects. My apprentice is handling the political aspect, overthrowing the Republic, establishing a better order for the galaxy, that general area. I'm... research and development, you might say."

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"I'm curious; certainly I agree that the Republic as it is has problems, but what would you replace it with?"

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"The structure would primarily be a monarchy. The primary goal is to have enough military strength that we can actually enforce laws instead of bowing to any criminal with a large enough army. Most planets should at least retain some autonomy, but will need to support us with troops, at least for however long there still is opposition. A majority of our reforms are those that everyone would say they agree with, but never seems to sacrifice anything to support. Such as, in your case, ending slavery."

"Barring exceptional circumstances, we'll try to end any war as quickly as possible. We hope we can convince planets to submit simply through the better quality of life we'll be able to provide. I haven't yet found the breakthroughs in my research I was hoping for, but I've already synthesized cures for a few diseases. Several million lives saved, and simultaneously providing funding for our other projects. Of course, I hope to do better than millions."

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"Well.  I've done a bit of reading on politics, and I can't say you haven't found some real flaws in the Republic's operations.  That said...why, of all things, monarchy?  And if those goals are what you campaign for, then why do your actions in service of that campaign - what little I know thereof - disagree with any coherent strategy leading to such a campaign's prosecution?

"It is only in results that we measure our impact upon the world, unfortunately, not the pretty words we say.  You may claim all you like to have cured diseases, but if there is such a person who did so, I know not their name, nor what they cured, nor indeed how they cured it.  So how exactly am I supposed to distinguish you from a back-alley surgeon with a hacksaw and delusions of grandeur?"

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"A reasonable sentiment," says Plagueis, beginning to smile. "When it comes to government, I would say that dividing power among too many rulers makes it impossible to efficiently bring about change. Are the two thousand Senators of the Galactic Republic more effective than one would be? And yes, I quite agree that the outward appearance of our actions seems not to fit with any sane strategy. I'm afraid this is deliberate deception on our part; our actions, and goals, are not quite what they seem. I have no records leading my releases back to my own name, and some of my more effective projects are those I might not want known were developed by the Sith. But you will find that the hadeira serum used to treat bloodburn was left on the doorstep of the Medical Corps, and contains several molecular structures almost identical to those found in midi-chlorians, that I developed in part of my research."

"Last I checked, ten thousand pilots were spared from intense pain due to my work, each gaining several decades of life expectancy. That - only a small fraction of my total accomplishments - means more by itself than the hundred or so people I've killed so far."

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"There's a tradeoff between stability and speed of response in any government.  2000 Senators ensure that the Republic continues on in all but monumentally unprecedented circumstances.  One despot can order mass executions at his whim.  Frankly, the problem I see in the Republic, that you have not actually addressed, is that it's actually both too weak and too centralized, if the situations of individual systems must be dealt with by desperate petition to a central authority who is swamped with the complaints of thousands more, regardless of the Republic not even giving that alleged authority any actual power to act.  And as far as the several decades of life expectancy...you're privileging the second-order effects of what you've built, over what you destroyed.  How many lives could a hundred Jedi have personally saved, let alone helped better via other skills?  How many lives has your apprentice taken, simply via Naboo?  I'll give you some credit for the medicine...but it's not outweighed by the costs."

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"We've only killed a dozen or so Jedi," Plagueis says, "but yes, I understand your point. Naboo contains a supermajority of the cost we've had to impose, but it was necessary for our success. Unfortunately, most of the numbers you're getting are deliberately masked - if I was able to give you a full list, you would see that we have saved more lives than have been lost on Naboo. But really, where the list is now isn't of much importance. Once I finish certain projects that have not been released, then I hope to save quadrillions from death."

"Yes, Skywalker. The goal is immortality. I already have the power to keep any Force-user safe from any natural damage to the body, permanently. Once I can generalize it to others, then the few deaths I bring will be the last the galaxy sees."

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"That's a legitimately interesting line of research.  What's giving you trouble with generalizing the technique?"

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"It's directly tied to the midi-chlorians, which most people contain only a small amount of. I'm hoping to either enhance the power of individual midi-chlorians or to artificially create substitutes, but I haven't found a way to do either to any sustainable degree. And of course if everyone in the galaxy became able to use the Force, there would be side effects, not all of them good."

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"...Hmm.  You know, this opens up some very interesting options.  Most of them, however, depend on your ability to conduct yourself according to your incentives, and that you are not simply lying to me about what your real goals are.

"So.  How would you propose proving your goal-alignment to me?"

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"If you want proof that I really am capable of curing diseases, the next time I develop something useful and drop it on someone's doorstep, I'll sign a note as 'back-alley surgeon with a hacksaw.' No, scratch that, it would give the wrong impression to everyone but you, I'll just abbreviate it 'BASWAH' and let them think it's a name. But it could take a month or so before I have something else good to release, and in any case, it's my motives you're concerned about. Hmm. There are ways to feel someone's motives through the Force, but I suspect I'd be able to disguise myself even from you. Still probably worth a try."

"Oh! Here's something I can do!" A knife emerges from Plagueis's sleeve without warning, and before Kina can even flinch, the small lock of her hair tied in the Padawan style has fallen to the ground. "That'll stay cut even once you wake up. Doesn't prove I have good motives, but it shows I'm not your enemy, seeing as I could have killed you but chose not to."

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"It does prove you prefer me alive."

She seems surprisingly unruffled by the knife's passing.

"But yes, let's see if we can discern your motives, shall we?"

And Kina practices the virtue of cooperation by not just probing Plagueis' mind by herself - she invites along every single Jedi in the room; all is one in the Force, and her bonds are not weakness but strength.

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The Jedi High Council isn't at its strongest. With several gone on various missions, and Yoda still somehow stuck, they don't have a lot of firepower compared to usual. But... given that their usual is one of the most powerful forces in the galaxy, they're still doing fine. Six Jedi materialize in the emptiness, several already drawing their lightsabers, but staying cautious, he likely has some tricks still up his sleeves.

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"Oh, so this is your plan!" says Plagueis. "Interesting, I don't seem to be able to leave. Kina, I thought we were having a polite conversation!"

The smile hasn't left his face, but he's letting his anger bubble up just beneath the surface, in case he needs it.

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"I think this is actually reasonably polite, considering the overall circumstances!  No-one's fighting yet!  Now, I do believe you said you could fool me if I were to probe your intentions...but can you fool me, and all of them?"

Kina is holding fast to the connection...and now, where once Plagueis had to push...Kina, hopefully with the Council's aid, is going to pull.

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"I truly do want to try to fool them, but I suppose you deserve to see a little. Do I have the word of the Council that once my terrible, awful goals have been revealed to be nothing but ending death and a few of the galaxy's other problems, I'll be allowed to leave?"

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"No," says Tiin. "Even, Eeth, watch him for any trouble, and help me hold him here. Yarael, Depa, Yaddle, break this Sith."

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"I don't really appreciate - " Plagueis pauses. "Oh, here we go."

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There's a stream of memories, locked behind Plagueis's control at first, but the Jedi force their way through it, each with their own tricks. And now -

- there's a boy at a funeral, clearly Plagueis at a younger age. He's sobbing as he sees the coffin going deeper into the ground, and there's a man kneeling down to comfort him. "I know you're upset, [----]," he says, "and I miss your mother too, but you have to - "

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"Go back!" says Yaddle. "The name, we need."

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NO.

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Depa slams into Plagueis with her consciousness, and he falters for a moment. Yaddle tries to pull the threads of time back, but Plagueis continues to resist. Yarael tries another route, whispering to Plagueis in his own voice, letting him hear what seems to be his own thoughts saying that he can reveal himself now, it won't matter once he's killed the Jedi... no, that didn't fool him, did it.

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Kina, frankly, thinks that they can find out more if they continue onwards.  A puzzle with more pieces is better, even if they don't have the corner yet.  And she actually wants to know his motivations!  Maybe there's a chance!

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The vision flickers, then returns to where it was. "You have to accept that she's not coming back," his father is saying. "I know you didn't want this to happen. None of us did. But this is a part of the natural progression of life! Nobody can live forever!"

"I wanted her to," wails the boy. "Why does she have to go?"

"That's just how the world is," his father says. "There's no sense in fighting what you can't - "

And the boy pushes him away, throwing him to the other side of the field, over twenty people to land in a heap in the grass. "I will! I don't care if it's natural, I'm not going to die!"

He only realizes then what his hands have done. How did that even - he felt something happen, the second when he got so angry - he's running, not by any conscious decision, but because it's the only thing he can do. He finds himself in the hole next to the coffin, and he's touching his mother's body now, trying to pull her back with whatever this force is, but it's not working and he's only getting more and more furious and it's giving him more energy but he can't -

Then a shadow of a breath escapes his mother's lips.

Relief washes over him. Joy. He just has to maintain whatever it is he's doing, he can feel her returning... but just as he realizes that maybe she will come back, the power leaves him.

She doesn't breathe again.

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...Well.  She has a complaint to file with the Dark Side's management, someday, because that was, in fact, sands-blasted messed-up bantha dung, and she's sorry that it happened to him.  She keeps pulling in the stream of memories, finds the next link in the chain -

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He's older. Typing into a computer, looking over a hologram of a midi-chlorian, zooming in on the molecular structures inside, taking notes...

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All right, they've seen more than enough. After asking Yarael to weave a convincing distraction, Tiin draws his lightsaber again, calling Eeth Koth and Even Piell to his side, and swings downward -

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- and the Force she's still wide open to tells Kina that someone's about to be a kriffing moron so she yanks the Jedi that is about to try to stab the Sith Lord away, having to let her grip on the vision slacken for a moment to cover them in a snap-hiss of telekinetically-whirling saber interposed between that Jedi and the Sith for an infinitely long second as she shouts "Stabbing the Sith while we're digging around in his mind hurts us, you sunsscorched -" and recovers her saber and pulls again on that memory chain -

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The memory keeps playing for a few seconds, but not much comes through before Plagueis manages to wrench his attention from the mind tricks. Drawing his own lightsaber, he marches across the void towards Tiin. He's angry, not even a deliberate calling of the dark side, but a natural fury. "That was a mistake," Plagueis hisses.

In the back of his mind, buried because he can't afford to think happy thoughts right now, something is grateful to have a good excuse to kill Jedi.

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"So is proving them right."

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Plagueis ignores her and keeps slashing at Tiin.

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Two Jedi step in the way, and the other three arrive behind him. He can't actually beat six of the galaxy's top Jedi in a lightsaber fight, no matter what Force shenanigans he's pulling.

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"...Well.  So be it.  I won't summarily destroy your research, should you arrange for a copy to make it into my hands in some manner, but that's all I can commit to, given the way this situation is currently going."

And Kina lets go, and pushes the Sith Lord away.

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Plagueis is now alone, and seething. Even under the JEDI excuse for "ethics," you can kill someone who struck at you first! Fine. He doesn't need the pathetic girl, he'll handle this himself. He'll call Sidious and tell him that the next Jedi on the kill list is Saesee Tiin.

(Half an hour or so later he will be calm enough to realize that approximately zero of his previous statements made sense.)

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"That went excitingly wrong!  On the plus side, maybe he's angry enough to do something that we can catch him at, because frankly I almost thought he'd listen to me and then he didn't; his rationality was gone and might remain so for a while.  Be careful, and assume he's trying to kill you, personally, now.  ...You alright, Master Yoda?"

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Yoda's dazed, but he manages to snap out of it. "Concerning, that was. Unsure I am, of how the Sith Lord could touch us. If kill us at any time he could, already dead would we all be. A trap planted in the Force, perhaps, at the scene of Qui-Gon's death? Beyond even my power, that would be. Suggest, I do, that we avoid these visions." He sighs. "A report, I will want. Over your conversation and battle, a fog was."

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"What did you do?" shouts Tiin at Kina.

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"Save your life when you messed up my plan to gather intelligence on him by giving the Sith Lord a reason to be angry instead of amused.  You know how there's this neat little voice in your head that screams danger at you sometimes?  Next time the Force tells you that you're going to kriffing die if you do a thing, maybe listen to it!"

"Now.  Yes.  Let's do a report."  Kina pulls out a voice recorder and, after a minute's deep breaths, calms herself enough to start dictating the conversation she had with the Sith Lord, Force-assistedly close to verbatim, in an even tone.

She also checks her braid.

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Yoda listens through the report. "Rest, we can now. Tired, we all are." Or possibly he's the only one who's tired. Oh, well. He waves goodbye, and they exit.

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Kina's honestly pretty tired too, so...she's just going to sit here for a bit.  She has a few initial impressions, but none of them are the sort she expects to be unable to rederive.  "I think the Muun's non-Sith identity is likely to be a public figure in his own right, because he expected to be known and recognized by name" is about the most important thought she's had, and she wrote that down.

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Three days later, the funeral for Qui-Gon Jinn begins.

Obi-Wan is there, standing beside the strategically arranged half of a body, finding himself in tears as he watches Yoda light the pyre. He shakes his head, and wonders why none of this feels real.

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Kina's standing next to him, and while she's trying to support her fellow Padawan, she's letting the tears flow too.

She only knew Qui-Gon for a few days, but she knows, deep in her bones, that he would have been a very good Master, would have taught her much, had the capability not been taken from him by the various Sith Lords' machinations.

She doesn't think he's dead-dead.  She doesn't think that that matters as much as she'd like it to, with his lifeless body there in front of them.

She's still holding tight to his kyber crystal, like it's a promise he swore and she's holding him to it.

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There's one guest at this funeral who isn't a Jedi, at least, not anymore. When Kina turns around, he's there at the coffin. He gives a curt nod to Yoda, who turns away, before exchanging a glance with Obi-Wan. There's a lot that he wants to say, but none of it seems right.

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And so Count Dooku waits, and watches his apprentice turn to ash.