Detention Block 2224
It was a tough day today. It was a tough day yesterday. It would be a tougher day tomorrow. Those three thoughts blazed their way into the mind of Kieran Maclay, who grew angrier at the words the more he thought of them, more so than anyone in his position might be able to comprehend.
How long had he been here? He had no clue. At a place like this, time ran together, eventually getting to the point where it became difficult to distinguish when one day ended and the next one began. All Kieran knew was that it had all started the day that he had been captured by a Jedi that, through either some stroke of luck or the ineptitude of his crew, had managed to infiltrate the ranks of the pirate group he had led. While there, the Jedi had managed to find out that he had captured one of his companions in order to intimidate the Trade Federation, one of his more audacious plans. Nobody, not even them, would have been stupid enough to attack him if they knew his group had a Jedi in their midst.
But he didn't count on the stupidity of crew. Though to be honest, it was not much of a surprise to discover that they had been powerless to stop her as she jumped off ship while they were at Duro. And worse yet, how they had all been bested by a single infiltrator who had not even gone there to find out about that to begin with. At least he had the pleasure of knowing that the Federation, upon learning that he had lost his bargaining chip keeping their wrath from coming down on him, sent the most despicable bounty hunters to do away with most of the imbecilic Sithspawn, saving him the trouble of having to do it himself. Most of the ones who were lucky enough (or, more unlikely, smart enough) to escape managed to find an out of the way hole to bury themselves into.
Others, including himself, were not as lucky.
But it was not the indignity of all that which angered him the most. No, it was the fact that, on his way to be tried and sentenced to this place, he had encountered a female, one who looked suspiciously like the Jedi they had captured. But that could not be right. He had personally burned from the galaxy the ship that she had been traveling on. It was only later that he learned that it was not the Jedi he thought he had killed, but her child.
Spitting on the floor, Kieran glanced out the viewport, which offered a spectacular view of the galaxy beyond. Not much was in view at the moment, only the rocks of varying shapes and sizes that made up the Oovo IV asteroid field. Every so often a transport or shuttle would pass by, delivering prisoners or cargo and taking away personnel or prisoners that would be transferred to one of the other prison facilities.
Kieran had looked out that viewport ever day for the past month, ever since receiving that message, given to him by a guard who looked rather reluctant to do so, but had no real reason to deny him contact with the outside world. It had been a simple message, and one that he, well versed in the trade languages of the Outer Rim, could easily decipher.
"Bossman, no fret much. Not stay locked away for much longer. Thirty orbits from now, will come to prison and break you out. Be ready. One shot at this, or we all get 25 to life. PS: Once off prison rock, job need done for bigwig. Will tell us more once we free jailbird."
It was written in Trader's Argot, one of the more complicated languages spoken by the smuggler types that frequented the area. He guessed that must have been the reason the guard decided to give him the message, figuring that it was nothing more than gibberish.
Ever since he had received that message, Kieran had spent the majority of his days staring out the window, watching the shuttle traffic. The other inmates, along with the majority of the guards, had begun to question what he was doing. But most of them came to realize that as long as it kept him quiet and under control, they were content to leave him be. After all, it meant that he wasn't taking his frustrations out on others.
Kieran knew, without knowing how or why he knew it, that today was to be the last day he would have to suffer the indignity of having to deal with the guards, the other prisoners and living on this rock.
The cargo shuttle touched down inside the hanger bay, ASP droids watching with interest as they prepared to offload the cargo. The attendant on duty looked up as the ship touched down, and began to grow curious as to why the ship had not lowered its cargo ramp to allow the ASP's to begin offloading its contents.
Withdrawing his blaster, he walked towards the door, his other hand moving to the comlink strapped at his belt. There was something about this he did not like, and he wanted to be prepared for any eventuality.
But all his training couldn't prepare him for the sight of door being blown away as he approached. Rolling out of the way of the incoming projectile, he raised his blaster and shouted into the comlink, "Invaders in Hanger Bay 327! Repeat, invaders in Hanger Bay 327! Send all available forces down to level 23 immediately..."
A blaster bolt emerged from the hole left behind by the imploded door, impacting the man directly in the face. He was dead within seconds, and thus never saw the group of beings emerge from the shuttle and head towards the exit.
Kieran smiled as the alarm began to ring, knowing that the time of his liberation had finally come. He wondered for a moment if the guards would be able to handle his rescuers, whoever they were. The message hadn't given him any indication as to who they were, only the cryptic remark of "bossman" being enough to convince him that it was someone from the old gang. But that didn't mean anything. Kieran was a well known and influential figure in the underworld, and most people he knew would refer to him like that. And besides, if any of the old boys had planned this, then they wouldn't be able to get past the airlock.
But as he heard the unmistakable whine of blaster fire coming from down the hallway, Kieran began to realize that whoever was in charge of this little skirmish knew what he or she was doing. There were few people that could break into what was supposedly a maximum security prison and get this far without being caught.
The blaster fire was growing in intensity, the cries of pain of the guards falling under the approaching group's fire starting to mix in with the sound of the weapons. Kieran jerked his head around to see one of the guards collapsing to the floor, body armor clattering and smoke rising from the wound on his side. Stepping over the body was an eclectic group of individuals, which consisted of a human female, two human males, a Wookiee, a Quarren, two Rodians and a Duro.
One of the females, a stunning beauty with light red hair and blue eyes and a exquisite body that was sheathed in form fitting armor, pointed a blaster directly at the lock and discharged a bolt directly into its workings, slagging the delicate electronics instantly.
As the door opened, Kieran stepped out and accepted a blaster rifle from one of the Rodians. "Well, Beth, it's been a long time."
The redhead smiled. "It has indeed. I haven't seen you in a long time, Uncle. Not since that Jedi scum locked you away."
Kieran's face darkened as he checked the charge on the blaster rifle. "Don't worry about it, Beth. I can assure you that I'll start working on rectifying those mistakes."
Jedi Council Chambers
Tara Maclay stood in the center of the Jedi Council chamber, a room she had been a guest in many times before. But on this occasion, there was a special feeling to be in the presence of so many important members of the Order.
She was going to be joining them.
Eleven chairs in the circular room were occupied, all by Jedi who had done far more important things that she had. There was the Vurk Jedi Master Coleman Trebor, who had become the Council's representative to the galactic media. And was, very much like herself, diplomatic in voice and gentle in touch. There was also Shaak Ti, a wise and noble Togruta who herself was a recent addition to the Council, after the death of Yaddle three years ago. Tara kept her face forward, but she knew of the others who were in the room: Thisspiasian Oppo Rancisis, born of royalty but giving up the title to serve the entire galaxy. Iktotchi Saesee Tiin, one of the best pilots the Jedi had to offer.
Tara tried to control her feelings as her eyes found the horned Zabrak Jedi Master Eeth Koth. It had been nearly ten years since it had happened, but every time she saw a Zabrak, she was instantly transported back to the planet of Naboo, when she had nightmare visions of a horned and tattooed demon very much like Koth. During one of her visions, she had seen the aged and contemplative Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn fight the demon, and looked on in horror as Qui-Gon morphed into Willow and was speared through the stomach.
Tara had never spoken of her nightmares. She had not brought them up to Qui-Gon, the overall obvious danger at the time being more important than the supposed personal danger. It had made learning of the elder Jedi Master's death unbearable for her to deal with, knowing that she could have prevented it if she had spoken up. But though she had not discussed her visions, they had discussed her feelings towards Willow, and Qui-Gon had told Tara that he was aware of the emotional connection she had forged with her red haired Padawan. He had also insisted that she tell the Council about it. And when he had died, Tara swore that she would honor that promise as soon as she could prepare herself to deal with the repercussions of her actions.
But such a situation never seemed to occur, as one thing after another had been brought up to occupy her time: Missions around the galaxy that required her total concentration, lest she make a mistake and kill either herself or Willow. The increasing political strife between the Republic and threats, both external and internal, that threatened to tear the galaxy apart.
And there was her more proactive approach to training Willow. Where before she had been merely content to keep the redhead out of danger and train her in diplomacy and other activities requiring peace of mind, she had, after the incident on Naboo, reluctantly decided to make sure that Willow knew how to defend herself, a situation that her Padawan had readily agreed with.
And in the ten years since, armed with her newly created lightsaber that was in every way a mirror image of her own, Willow had become more confident and powerful, which both frightened and pleased Tara. The blonde knew that, as a Jedi, Willow was very special and wanted to use her abilities for the benefit of all. But she also knew that the redhead, despite all the changes she had been through, still occasionally thought of the Force as nothing more than a tool to be used in whatever way that she thought was best in order to solve a particular problem.
Tara was thankful that no situations had occurred in which Willow had the opportunity to use the Force to influence others, but she knew that the day was coming soon when Willow would not longer be hers to watch over. And when that day came, Tara had cause to wonder if she could truly allow herself to let Willow go.
Tara's thoughts returned to the present at the sound of the unmistakable voice of one of the two senior members of the Jedi Council. She tried to keep the smile that threatened to form on her face from manifesting itself as she saw the small form of Yoda sitting on his chair, green face a mask of calm emotion that Tara knew belied the nearly 900 year old Jedi's untapped power. The last time that Tara had faced him in this manner, she had been speaking to the Council as a whole, telling them of the good that Willow could bring to both the Jedi and the Republic if she were allowed to be reprimanded into her care.
"Yes, Master Yoda?"
Yoda smiled. "Understand you do the honor the Council gives you today?"
Tara nodded. It was indeed an honor, one she thought she would never deserve. And yet, she couldn't help but wonder if she was truly deserving of what the Council was giving her. Certainly there must be other Jedi in the Order more right to take her place. Obi-Wan Kenobi was obviously a better choice. Anyone who could take the nine year old boy whom she had met all those years ago and turn him into a Jedi as good as the one that Willow had become obviously deserved the honor of being part of this body more than she did.
"Then unto you we, the members of the Jedi Council, this seat give." Yoda gestured to the seat opposite his, which had been the seat that had once belonged to Yarael Poof, a Quermian Jedi Master that had served on the Council until perishing in a failed attempt by the Annoo-Dat General Ashaar Khorda to destroy Coruscant some years back.
As she sat down in the chair, Tara felt a great sense of accomplishment, knowing that it was from here that she could make sure Willow was the safest she could possibly be. But even as she wondered this, Tara wondered also if it was selfish of her to think that way. There were more important things that should concern her, now that she was part of the Jedi Council.
No, she realized. Willow was, and would always be, the main concern of her life. The question was whether or not she would allow that to interfere with her decisions?
She didn't answer that question now. And she wondered, for the briefest of moments, if she ever would.
The day was nearly over, and most of the other Council members had departed. But Tara remained in the High Council chambers, looking out at the setting sun as it dipped behind the Manarai Mountains.
She wondered, not for the first time, how she could find pleasure in seeing this. Despite the fact that it was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen, it took place on a world of technology and lifelessness, where the entire surface was covered from pole to pole in one endless city. There was no natural life to be found on Coruscant. The closest thing that came to nature on this planet was the Western Sea, and even that was little more than the result of technology running rampant on the planet's surface.
The only place where Tara could be comfortable enough to relax and be contemplative in was the Room of a Thousand Fountains. Only there, among the various plants and as close to an approximation of nature that she could find on Coruscant, was the blonde at her most comfortable. Not even with Willow was Tara at such peace. Not to say that she couldn't find solace in the company of her Padawan. But it just wasn't the same.
She heard the door to the room open, and felt the presence of who it was through the Force, so she didn't turn to face the newcomer. "Master Windu."
Walking forward to stand beside Tara, Mace Windu also looked out onto the skyline. "Master Maclay...Tara, there is something I needed to discuss with you."
Tara didn't need to use the Force to detect the tension in Mace's voice. She tried to keep the fear from her voice as she responded, "About what, Master?"
"Your appointment on the Jedi Council," Mace responded. "I could sense throughout the meeting that you were wondering why you had been given the honor in joining us."
Tara really couldn't deny it, and so she silently nodded in reply to the statement.
Mace's face took on a slight frown. "Your feelings betray you, Tara. It is not right for you to think that you have not accomplished great deeds in the Order. No one Jedi is more important than the other. Master Yoda and I are not the grand and glorious warriors that the media have made us out to be. The moment that any one Jedi starts to believe that they are better than the rest, he or she begins to take the path to the Dark Side."
Tara nodded in understanding, knowing how right Mace's statement was. This was merely the latest of a long series of incidents in the past ten years where she had tried to prove herself better than her contemporaries. What kind of an example was she setting for Willow, whom she had often scolded for doing the exact thing?
"There was something else," Mace continued. "We've been watching the progress of your Padawan for quite some time, and we feel that she has learned all that she can from you and has successfully passed the Trials. The time has come for her to become a Jedi Knight."
Tara kept herself composed on the surface and tried to control her emotions, lest Mace pick up on her happiness. But the truth of the matter was that she was happier at that moment than she had been at any point in her life. Nearly twenty years ago, she had stood up for Willow and made sure that the Council understood how important it was that she became a Jedi. And for Mace Windu to freely admit that Willow was now ready to take the next step in her journey as a Jedi meant that the blonde had done well in instilling within the redhead the values and beliefs that made one a good Jedi Knight.
Despite her good feelings, this news deeply troubled Tara, if only for a moment. With Willow becoming a Knight, that meant that they would no longer be together. And although she was not required to do so, Willow would no doubt select a Padawan of her own and begin to train that person in the ways of the Force. It was that which troubled Tara the most. Despite how much she had grown in the past two years, she knew that Willow was neither fully ready nor adequately prepared to do that.
And there were still the feelings that they had for each other. Willow had never really kept them a secret, at least from her. And Tara had always felt an emotional connection to the redhead from the moment they had first met, one which time had grown from simple respect and admiration to something more emotional.
But now things were going to be different. Willow would need to show the responsibility and strength that she had developed ever since her trial under fire on Naboo on a near constant basis. Tara knew that she could do it, despite whatever reservations she still had about whether or not Willow was truly ready for it. But could the two of them continue to feel the way they did towards each another, knowing that their responsibilities to the Order and to themselves were about to be fundamentally altered?
For now, that was a question that Tara was prepared to leave unanswered. She would not allow thoughts of what might happen in the future to impact the happiness she should be feeling in the present.
"Thank you, Master Windu," she said. "I am sure that she would be honored to know that you think that way of her."
"We will hold the ceremony tomorrow morning," Mace said as he turned to leave the room. "May the Force be with you, Tara."
"And with you, Master Windu."
'I'm not late. I'm just...making a fashionable entrance. That's it. That's what I'll tell them.'
Willow moved through the corridors of the Jedi Temple as fast as she could without attracting unwanted attention from passersby. As one with a well known reputation for being a troublemaker, even if she had never really meant to cause the trouble she somehow inadvertently created, she didn't want anyone to become aware of the fact that she may be in trouble again. After all, she had worked hard in the ten years since her last overt act of going against the Jedi Code to develop a more professional attitude. But there were times, like this, when she inadvertently fell into old patters.
'Why didn't I set my chrono last night? It's never a good idea to keep the Council waiting, but especially when it's me; it's not a good idea to get on their bad side. I hope that Tara can understand what happened. I don't want her to have to come to my defense again. I'm a big girl now. I have to be able to take care of myself.'
Willow slowed to a rapid walk with the occasional skip as she thought about what she had just said. While there were indeed times when she slipped back into old habits as if she were slipping into her robes, it was true that she was no longer the spazzy Padawan that she had once been. Tara had a lot to do in turning her into who she was today, and for that she would be forever grateful.
The mission to Naboo had changed everything for them. The redhead had never kept it a secret how much she loved her Master in ways that were less than typical of the standard Master/Padawan relationship, and she had long suspected that Tara felt the same way towards her. But until Naboo, there had been no overt action on her part to confirm that.
But it was during that influential time when Tara had finally opened herself to Willow, and the redhead knew that, having been done, there was no way that they could go back to the way they had once been. Neither had really regretted it, but both knew that it would be a challenge for them to keep their feelings for one another a secret from others.
For ten years they had managed to do this, but having been summoned to the Council room, Willow knew that something had happened and that her life was going to be altered forever because of it.
Approaching the door to the High Council room, Willow moved to readjust her robes, making sure that she was as presentable as she could make herself. Once she had done so to the best of her ability, she stepped up to the door, which opened, showcasing the darkened room inside.
Moving cautiously inside, one hand moving to the lightsaber she wore on her belt, Willow tried to hold back her fear, succeeding more easily than she would have thought possible. Of course, this had to do with the fact that she was in the Jedi Temple, one of the most impregnable buildings on the planet. If anyone could have infiltrated the Temple, there most certainly would have been more commotion going on.
Willow walked into the center of the room, head darting around cautiously in an attempt to find something familiar to ease the fear that she was beginning to lose control of. She soon found it as twelve lightsabers ignited. The mixture of blue and green light from the weapons highlighted the circle of twelve beings that stood around her, forming the wheel that she became the axle of.
Turning her head, she saw the twelve Jedi Council members looking at her. Among them included Tara, who was trying to keep the tears from falling from her eyes. But Willow knew that, of all the people in the room, she was the most proud about what was going to happen.
What was going to happen...
Willow took another looked at the assembled group and suddenly realized what it was she had been summoned to the High Council room for, a smile forming on her face. It was difficult to contain her emotions, but this had been the moment that both she and Tara had worked hard ever since Naboo to reach. And in a galaxy currently filled with danger and the threat of civil war, they would both let themselves have this moment.
The assembled Jedi spoke as one. "We are all Jedi. The Force speaks through us. Through our actions, the Force proclaims itself and what is real. Today we are here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed."
Then one voice among the dozen spoke up. "Step forward, Padawan."
Willow recognized that voice, and turned to see the diminutive Jedi Master Yoda. It constantly amazed her that so much power could come from such a small and unassuming figure. But, as she had often been taught while she was growing up, size mattered not.
Moving forward to kneel in front of Yoda, Willow couldn't help but be amazed at what was about to happen. Far too many times when she had been brought to this group, it had not been a comfortable experience for her. But now, there was nowhere else in the galaxy she would rather be.
Yoda placed the ignited blade of his lightsaber on Willow's right shoulder, then moved it to her left. As he brought it back to her right, he casually flicked his wrist, slicing the neatly woven Padawan braid from her hair.
"Willow Rosenberg, by the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, I dub thee, Jedi Knight of the Republic."
If Willow was a sun, the light emanating from her at this very moment would have eclipsed the light given off by the lightsabers of the Council. All of her hidden fears and buried insecurities disappeared. There was only this room, herself and the other Jedi, who no longer saw her as she one was, but as one of their own.
"Take up your lightsaber, Willow Rosenberg, Jedi Knight. And may the Force be with you."
It was another recognizable voice that spoke those words, and Willow got to her feet and turned to look at Tara, their eyes meeting and locking for what seemed liked eons. The two knew that what had just happened was but a tiny droplet of water in the sun baked expanse of the galactic turmoil that was threatening to turn the entire galaxy into a war zone, but that single drop was enough to sustain them, their bond stronger now than it had been before.
Together, Willow and Tara knew that the love they had for one another and their new responsibilities wouldn't do much to change the galaxy. But it would make them happy.
And sometimes, that was more important than keeping the galaxy safe from evil.