Inside the small but functional slave hovel, Qui-Gon allowed himself a period of relaxation. It had been a hectic period over the past several hours. What had, at first, seemed like an ordinary assignment had sent them clear across the galaxy to land on a planet that was, for all intents and purposes, as far out of the way as one could imagine.
Tatooine indeed held its share of secrets. And one of those secrets had become rather well known to him in such a short time. Having failed to convince the Toydarian junk dealer to accept their money for the damaged hyperdrive that had forced them to land here, one of their number had come across a rather dangerous and mean spirited Dug. And it was only through the intervention of a nine year old boy that had allowed their companion to escape with his life.
Qui-Gon thought briefly for a moment about the boy. There was something more to him that he was ready to admit, but there would have to be a time for that later. All they could do no was ride out the sandstorm.
A sudden chirp caught his attention. Reaching for his comlink, he pulled it free.
"Master?" It was Obi-Wan.
"What is it, Padawan?" he asked.
"The Queen’s just received a message from Naboo," Obi-Wan replied. "The Governor has informed her that the people are being killed and the death toll is rising. He’s been informed by the Viceroy that the situation will continue until she returns and signs the treaty."
Qui-Gon thought for a moment before he reached a conclusion. "It sounds like bait to establish a connection trace."
"But what if it is true?" Obi-Wan asked.
Qui-Gon shook his head. "Either way, Padawan, we’re running out of time."
There was a slight pause before Obi-Wan replied, "Master, I’m rather ashamed to bring this up, but...I fear for the safety of our companions."
Qui-Gon let out a deep sigh, knowing that he too shared Obi-Wan’s feelings for the safety of Tara and Willow. He had felt Willow’s fear as the invasion began, and knew that she would only feel worse as time went on. And while Tara was a capable and strong Jedi, with no one there to console her, she would eventually break down and be unable to be of any use to anyone. It had been a character flaw of hers for many years, and he, among others, had tried to teach her to think otherwise. There was something to be said for trial by fire training, but this was the last instance he would have expected to have this sort of thing happen.
"I do as well, Obi-Wan," he said. "But do not despair. They are resourceful. They will find a way to survive and to help the Naboo. Contact me later if anything else develops."
As he turned off the comlink and returned it to his belt, another thought flashed briefly into his head. During the battle with the destroyer droids onboard the Trade Federation ship, he had felt a surge in the Force. He hadn’t been able to identify it at the time, but now that he had time to think, he realized that it must have come from their companions when they joined hands to follow them down the corridor. Clearly the two were more powerful together than he had thought.
He moved away to join his companions in the living area, hoping that the situation would somehow make a turn of the better.
It was the middle of the night on Coruscant, though for the average citizen to refer to it as such would be akin to calling a exploding star a thing of beauty. For while the natural light of the sun had long since vanished, the planet spanning city, with its billions upon billions of residents occupying hundreds upon hundreds of levels of living quarters, entertainment districts and the vehicles that took them to and from those locations, provided a diluted, though still bright in its own fashion, way of illuminating the area. There were, of course, many areas where even that dim glow never reached, but those areas were only frequented by three kinds of people: those with nowhere else to go, those who had a death wish, and those who could do so freely without fear of harm from the previous two.
Darth Maul was certainly among the very few who could count himself in that third category.
To the common being who skulked these dilapidated areas, Maul was little more than a dark cloaked specter, his upraised hood concealing his features from all save those who had the unfortunate happenstance to cross his path. And such people either made haste to find their way out of it or met a very unfortunate end.
Maul paused a moment and moved a gloved hand inside his robes, feeling the smooth metallic form of his lightsaber clipped to his belt. Somehow, it gave him comfort to know that the weapon was close at hand. Though he was adept at various forms of martial arts, there was nothing he enjoyed more than to bring the synthetic red blades of his weapon to life to end the existence of those whom his Master deemed unworthy.
His Master, Maul knew, had great plans for the future, though he was rarely party to discussion about the larger scheme he had planed. And Maul neither cared nor wished to care. He was an instrument to be used in whatever manner his Master desired, nothing more.
And yet...there was always this small part of Maul that realized that in order for him to ascend to the highest levels of the Sith Order, Sidious would have to perish. Maul knew that he could not bring this about himself, as he owed everything that he was now to the teachings he had imparted on him. He banished the thought from his mind just as quickly, as it would not be appropriate to think such things when he arrived.
Reaching a turbolift car, he stepped inside, taking some small pleasure in the fact that the car’s previous occupants, a Twi’lek and a pair of humans, made quite a scene in their attempt to get away from him. It was not the first time such an instance had occurred, and he knew that it would not be the last. He punched his destination onto the inset keypad.
The doors closed and the turbolift moved upward. Inside, Maul once again allowed himself the opportunity to think about the reasons his Master had summoned him. He knew that Sidious’ pawns, the Neimoidians, had failed in their task and that it was now up to him to correct their mistake. What had made him especially eager to do the task was the knowledge that there were Jedi involved. He had longed to bring his blade against that of a Jedi, and knew that this mission would finally bring him that opportunity. He had faced Jedi before, but compared to those he was likely to face now, they had been mere playthings for his amusement. He knew that the Jedi he would face here would more of a test of his skill.
The turbolift opened, showing Maul a rather opulently decorated finishing room. It was furnished in the finest architecture Maul had seen anywhere, all of it draped in the color red. Statues decorated the area as well, recognizable to only himself as ancient Sith sculptures. He knew that his Master was brazen enough to display them in such a fashion, but also knew that there were none among the living who could recognize them for what they really were.
A door silently opened, but Maul knew immediately who it was that had entered the room. He turned to gaze upon the being who had just arrived and knelt to one knee in a gesture of obedience.
Sidious gazed at him for a moment, and then gently waved a hand. "Rise, Lord Maul."
As Maul did so, Sidious moved towards the door leading to the walkway. Maul fell into step beside and slightly behind his Master as he walked outside into the cool air of nighttime Coruscant.
"You have located the Queen?" Sidious asked.
Maul nodded slightly. It had not taken much difficulty in locating where the Queen's ship had gone. Although he considered the practice beneath him, he monitored the transmissions that had left Naboo since the Queen had left. Knowing that their ability to communicate was hampered somewhat, they would have to be desperate to send such any transmissions off planet. One such transmission did indeed occur, despite the Neimoidians' best efforts to block it. The message itself was brief, but had lasted long enough to determine its destination.
Sidious turned to face Maul. "Tatooine? I had thought that the Queen would be en route here to debate the legality of the blockade to the Senate."
Maul did not respond. His opinion on the matter was neither wanted nor needed, and he was very much aware of that.
After a moment’s pause, Sidious shook his head slightly. "It does not matter why she is there. She is there. But she will not be there for long." Maul tilted his head. Sidious could feel through the Force the eagerness that his apprentice felt for the assignment. He knew the real reason for the excitement, of course.
"Be mindful, Lord Maul," he cautioned. "The Queen is in the protection of the Jedi. It shall not be an easy task to take her back to Naboo to sign the treaty. And even if you accomplish this task, there is no telling what may await you when you return. I feel a great disturbance in the Force. Something is occurring there even now that I feel will have an impact on our plans."
If Maul had any misgivings about the situation, he did not voice them. Sidious allowed a small smile to spread across his face. This was his apprentice’s most valuable trait. Once he was given a task, he would go to whatever lengths were necessary to accomplish it.
Maul looked out onto the skyline of Coruscant. In the distance, he saw the spires of the Jedi Temple thrusting into the air. How he longed to walk into that place of light and contemplation and strike down all that stood in his path, to kill those who stood in the way of his Master’s plans, to burn the building to the ground.
That day was coming soon, of this he had no doubt.