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Authors: Karen Miller

Tags: #Fiction, #SciFi, #Star Wars, #Galactic Republic Era, #Clone Wars

Clone Wars Gambit: Siege

BOOK: Clone Wars Gambit: Siege
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Clone Wars Gambit: Siege

By Karen Miller

The Clone Wars - Book 5

The Clone Wars

01
- The Clone Wars

02
- The Clone Wars: Wild Space

03
- The Clone Wars: No Prisoners

04
- Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth

05
- Clone Wars Gambit: Siege

Dedication

Stories make the world go round.
This is for everyone who ever loved a story
.

Acknowledgments

George Lucas, as always, for his great gift.

Shelly Shapiro, for her patience and guidance.

Sue Rostoni, for believing.

Karen Traviss, for getting me involved in the first place.

Mary GT Webber and Jason Fry, for their invaluable feedback.

Everyone behind the scenes at Del Rey and Lucasfilm, who work so hard to support the
Star Wars
authors.

The fans, who keep the flame burning bright.

Richard Errington, who won the
Star Wars
Charity auction to raise money for the victims of the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. Thanks, mate. You really made a difference.

Dramatis Personae

Ahsoka Tano; Jedi Padawan (Togruta female)

Anakin Skywalker; Jedi Knight (human male)

Bail Organa; Senator from Alderaan (human male)

Bant’ena Fhernan; scientist first level (human female)

Greti; child (Lanteeban female)

Jaklin; teacher (Lanteeban female)

Lok Durd; Separatist general (Neimoidian male)

Obi-Wan Kenobi; Jedi Knight (human male)

Padmé Amidala; Senator from Naboo (human female)

Palpatine; Supreme Chancellor of the Republic (human male)

Rikkard; head miner (Lanteeban male)

Taria Damsin; Jedi Master (human female)

Tryn Netzl; biochemist (human male)

Yoda; Grand Master of the Jedi Order (nonhuman male)

Chapter One

Anakin couldn’t believe it.

More than three standard hours—really, closer to four—since their desperate escape from Lok Durd’s droid army and they were still flying instead of falling. What a shame Obi-Wan wasn’t awake—he was in the mood for a little not-undeserved boasting. But despite putting up a strong fight Obi-Wan had succumbed to sleep nearly two hours earlier. In the groundcar’s dim console light his mentor looked washed out. Burned out, or close enough. Their last-stand battle in the Sep compound had taken him to the edge of endurance and then pushed him right over.

Good thing I’m the Chosen One or we might be in trouble
.

Well. More trouble. Another glance at their stolen vehicle’s power-cell readout sent his spirits into a swift downward spiral. If they were lucky—ha—they had roughly one more hour of propulsion remaining. And after that…

The Lanteeb night continued thick and dark around them. To conserve their precious power—and remain hidden from prying eyes—he hadn’t turned on the rigged groundcar’s headlights, trusting instead to his instincts and the Force. And so far so good. Neither had steered him wrong. It was Obi-Wan’s decision to get them as far away from the city as possible before ditching their makeshift speeder, and since he didn’t disagree with that strategy it was exactly what they’d done. With the city falling farther and farther behind them, together they’d stretched their overstretched senses, trying to determine the best direction to take. To find safety, or what might pass for it, on what had without warning become the most hostile of worlds.

Bant’ena
.

The kidnapped scientist’s betrayal was just one more pain, burning in chorus with the others. At least, that was what he tried to tell himself. But really, it was a lie. That particular pain burned brighter than all the others combined.

Bant’ena, how could you do it? I trusted you. I tried to save you
.

Slumped beside him in the passenger seat, Obi-Wan stirred. “Don’t,” he said, his voice slurry. “What’s done is done, Anakin. Let it go. Now—how are your engine modifications holding up?”

“We’re still flying.”

“True,” Obi-Wan conceded. “And for that I sincerely thank you. But it seems to me there’s a rough note sounding in the primary coolant valve.”

Stang
. Trust Obi-Wan to notice. “It’s fine. It’ll hold.”

“If you say so.” With a stifled curse, Obi-Wan sat up. “Anyway. Where are we?”

Anakin sighed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, not really,” Obi-Wan said, then smothered a yawn. “How long have I been sleeping?”

“Oh, you know,” he said vaguely. “Not that long.”


Anakin.
” Obi-Wan glared. “I am
not
a decrepit relic.”

Oooh. Sticky ground. “I didn’t say you were. But Rex says a smart soldier eats and sleeps every chance he gets. You want to argue with someone, argue with him. I’m just following his advice.”

“Well, now you can follow
my
advice,” Obi-Wan snapped. “That’s twice on this mission you’ve conspired to stay awake while I slept. Do it a third time and there
will
be repercussions.”

Repercussions or not, he’d do it as many times as he had to—but that was a fight for another time and place. To keep the peace here and now, he nodded. “Whatever you say.”

And that earned him another sharp look—but sharp looks he could live with.

Obi-Wan raked his fingers through his hair. “How many more villages have we bypassed?”

“Since you fell asleep? Two. They didn’t feel right, so I kept going.”

“Good,” said Obi-Wan. “Let your feelings guide you, Anakin, and you won’t go far wrong.” He muffled another yawn. “But even so, I think circumstances are going to force our hand soon enough. No pun intended.”

“You’re right,” he said, and tapped a finger to the power cell’s readout. “We’re just about flying on fumes. How much longer do you want to keep pushing our luck?”

“Until we hear it scream for mercy,” said Obi-Wan, frowning. “I know we’ve already traveled a good distance from Lantibba City but right now there’s no such thing as too far.”

Actually, I’m starting to wonder about that
. “I don’t know. We’ve got a long hike back to the ship as it is. Assuming it’s still there, and some spaceport official hasn’t impounded it. Maybe we should be thinking about—”

“I am thinking about it,” said Obi-Wan, testy. “Now hush a moment. I’d like to get a sense of who and what’s ahead.”

Even tired to the bone, Obi-Wan used the Force the way a surgeon used a laser scalpel, neatly and cleanly cleaving his way through the night.

“There,” he murmured, eventually. “Can you feel that?”

Anakin nodded. “That’s the largest village we’ve sensed so far, I think.”

“And there’s safety in numbers,” said Obi-Wan, opening his eyes. “I don’t feel any immediate danger surrounding the place, do you?”

He was already angling the groundcar in the distant village’s direction. “No.”

Ominously, the controls were feeling sluggishly heavy now, less responsive than ever. Without warning the vehicle lurched, then dropped. Cursing, he wrestled it back under control.

“Blast,” said Obi-Wan, checking the power-cell indicator. “Are you sure this gauge is accurate, Anakin?”

Teeth gritted, arms aching, he fought the groundcar against another precipitate plunge. “Depends what you mean by
accurate
. And
sure
.”

A third lurching drop, then a stomach-churning sideways twist as their makeshift speeder tried to fishtail its way through the night. Obi-Wan grabbed the passenger-door handle. “So is
this
the point where we start falling instead of flying?”

He hated to admit it, but—“Yeah. I think it is.”

“Wonderful,” Obi-Wan muttered. And then he sighed. “Well, at least turn on the headlights. It seems a pity not to
see
death rushing to meet us.”

“Pessimist,” Anakin said, fiercely grinning, and flooded the endless dark with light. “Now hold on, Master Kenobi. Things are about to get a little bit interesting.”

Anakin was a brilliant pilot, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t use some help. Ignoring his leaden exhaustion, the warning ache in his bones, and the drag in his blood, for the second time that night Obi-Wan discarded prudent self-preservation and abandoned himself without reservation to the Force. Its power howled through him, setting his nerves alight. And howling with the power was the starkest of warnings:
Danger ahead, Jedi. Danger all around
.

Sweating and swearing, Anakin fought the crippled, dying groundcar. They were down to the dregs of its power cell now, encased in a shell of unresponsive metal. The headlights were fading fast and with them any hope of making some kind of informed landing. Darkness poised to swallow them. Death, too, if they didn’t find a way to control their out-of-control descent.

I may be a pessimist but it’s not without cause
.

And then the groundcar’s shielding gave out in a defiant spray of sparks, like fireworks.

There. You see? Wonderful
.

“Sorry,” said Anakin, his fingers bloodless on the stricken vehicle’s control yoke. “I thought we had a bit more juice left than this.”

Obi-Wan managed an encouraging smile. “Never mind. You’re doing fine. Just—”

With an ominous grumbling of stressed metal joints the groundcar’s nose dropped, sending them into a sharp dive. On a desperate gasp he wrapped the Force around them, swaddling the groundcar as once he’d swaddled Bail’s starship coming in powerless to a space station dock. Except this time was different. It might’ve handled like a flying brick but at least Bail’s small ship had been in a controlled glide. Their improbably rigged-up groundcar was
falling
like a brick. And when bricks hit the ground from a great height they had the disconcerting habit of smashing to splinters and shards.

“Okay!” Anakin panted. “You’ve got it. Hold it there, Obi-Wan. If you can just hold the barve
right there
I can—”

“Forget it, Anakin. This thing is past flying. All we can do now is cushion the blow.”

“No—no—I’ve still got it. I can do this. Just hold on to it, Obi-Wan—don’t let go of the blasted thing, whatever you do!”

If it had been anyone other than Anakin… but it
was
Anakin, so Obi-Wan poured his will into cradling the machine as his former apprentice bullied it into cooperating. The console lighting failed next—and then last of all the headlights. In the moment they winked out he caught a final glimpse of the on-rushing tree-scattered ground. Heard a curdling scrape of high branches along the groundcar’s belly.

And then the groundcar’s power cell died.

“Anakin?” He tore his gaze from the unshielded windscreen. “We’re out of time.”

No need to talk about it. In perfect, familiar unison they flung themselves into an active trance, imposing the Force upon the unresponsive groundcar and flattening their lethally steep trajectory. Amid loud crashing and splintering the groundcar blundered through the pitch-dark countryside’s clustered tree-tops, then struck one broad trunk hard and slewed wildly sideways. Blood swirling, their vision blotched and smeared, they used up what was left of their meager strength, keeping the Force wrapped close around the groundcar. It was the only thing standing between themselves and a bloody death.

And then they struck Lanteeban soil, skipping over the open ground like a stone across a flat pond. The noise was ferocious. Metal sheared and screamed and buckled and tore. They hit something unyielding, a rock or a felled tree, maybe the lip of a culvert, that flipped them into a crazy sideways roll. With the power cell drained dry, the expensive groundcar’s auto restraints couldn’t engage. Pebbles in a bottle, they rattled around and around and around.

At last, with one final roll and a rending shriek of stressed durasteel, their pulverized vehicle slammed right-side up and rocked to a halt. Stunned, his head still spinning, Obi-Wan sat in silence and breathed, just breathed, and waited for his pounding heartbeat to subside.

We’re alive. Who’d believe it? We must be better than I thought
.

His ears were ringing. He could taste blood in his mouth and feel it on his face and arms and legs. On his sweaty skin he felt the caress of fresh night air, flowing in through the ragged tears in the groundcar’s metal shell. It smelled cold and clean. No taint of habitation, sentient or otherwise. He couldn’t see a thing through the cracked windscreen but wherever they were, the village he and Anakin had felt through the Force was klicks and klicks away. Wonderful. Because there was nothing he liked better than tramping through an unknown wilderness in the dark. All that was missing now was a Sith Holocron.

I swear, the next time Bail Organa says he’s got intelligence for me to look at I really will throw him out of his speeder
.

Equally stunned, Anakin slumped in the driver’s seat. And then he laughed, sounding almost giddy with relief.

“So—Obi-Wan—what
is
it with you and crash landings, anyway?”

“Aren’t you the one who said every man should have a hobby?”

“Me? No,” said Anakin. “Sorry. Must’ve been one of your other former Padawans.” Another giddy laugh. “Seriously, Obi-Wan. So far you’ve accounted for a speeder bike, a starship, and now a groundcar. If you’re not careful you’re going to get a reputation.”

Since he was hurting too much to even contemplate moving, and they were in no danger of bursting into flames, Obi-Wan let his aching head rest against the back of the crumpled passenger seat and gave himself permission to indulge.

“I reject your hypothesis,” he said, deliberately prim. “I did not wreck the speeder bike, it was blown up by a bomb. And the Sith crashed Bail’s starship, not me. As for this groundcar, well, technically speaking I’m merely a passenger. So clearly I bear no responsibility at all.”

Anakin’s amusement flared brighter. “Admit it. You’re a common denominator, Master Kenobi.”

“Alas. That is sad but true,” he agreed. “Perhaps I should smuggle myself onto Grievous’s flagship. After all, what’s the point in having the mystical power to crash flying machines if one isn’t prepared to use it in a good cause?”

“Now that’s a plan,” said Anakin. “I’ll remind you to suggest it to the Council when we get home.”

When we get home
. Amusement fading, Obi-Wan closed his eyes. Yes. Getting home. Having survived Lok Durd’s ambush, that was their next challenge—which they wouldn’t conquer by sitting around in the dark.

Step one: exit the groundcar.

Warily, holding his breath, he shifted a little in his battered seat. There was pain, but no grinding of bones. No sudden gush of blood. Thank the Force for minor miracles.

“We need to get out of here. Are you still in one piece?”

“I think so,” said Anakin. “You?”

“Apparently.”

A soft snort. “In that case maybe we should go find ourselves a casino.”

“I’ll settle for a humble cottage and some friendly native faces.” Still moving cautiously, he tested the passenger door. “I’m trapped on this side. Can you get out on yours?”

A rustling of clothes and a muttered curse as Anakin tried his own door. “No,” he said, giving up. “Hold on.”

The darkness disappeared in a flash of blue light as Anakin activated his lightsaber.

Obi-Wan flattened himself against the passenger door. “Watch out! You’ll be cutting me in half with that thing if you’re not careful!”

Anakin tut-tutted. “Now, would I do that? Shield your eyes. There’s going to be dripping metal any second.”

Slowly, carefully, cursing their groundcar’s cramped interior and the droplets of slagged durasteel he didn’t manage to avoid, Anakin cut through the buckled roof, then used the Force to peel back the scarlet-edged sheet of metal.

His own skin stinging from a scattering of pinprick burns, Obi-Wan nodded. “Good. Now let’s get out of this tin coffin, shall we? I’ll go first.”

For once, Anakin didn’t argue.

Clambering clear of the groundcar woke every last bruise and scrape and blaster-bolt burn on his body. Letting the sharp discomfort ride him unopposed, standing free and clear of the smashed vehicle, Obi-Wan tipped his face to the moonless night and breathed out his shuddering relief. Then he sought for any immediate danger in the Force—and felt nothing. But was that because there
was
nothing, or because his reserves of strength were too depleted for him to tell?

On a slow surge of Force propulsion Anakin leapt from the groundcar to land unsteadily beside him. “I think we’re safe for now, Obi-Wan.”

He shook his head. “Hardly. The Separatists’ disarray won’t have lasted very long. There’ll be droids on our tail soon, if they’re not hunting us already. And you don’t need a casino to bet on that.”

“Sure, they’ll send droids after us,” said Anakin, unconvinced. “Without the first idea of what direction we took. They’re flying blind, Obi-Wan. The odds of them finding us straightaway—or at all—are—”

“And if Durd turns to Dooku for help?”

“Durd’s not going to tell Dooku about us,” said Anakin, scoffing. “He’s going to keep this quiet. If he doesn’t, he risks getting his head handed to him.”

“Possibly, but we can’t assume that,” Obi-Wan retorted. “We can’t assume
anything
. Mind yourself. In our situation overconfidence could easily prove fatal.”

Anakin’s impatient irritation seethed through the Force. “Maybe. But second-guessing ourselves could get us killed just as fast. So could a lack of conviction and being timid instead of—”

“Timid? Who said anything about being
timid?
” He took a deep, painful breath.
Stay calm. You know what he’s like
. “I’m saying we should be
prudent
, Anakin. There is a time for bold action and a time for reasoned caution and under the circumstances I think caution is called for.”

Silence. And then Anakin sighed softly. “Yes. It is. So what do you want to do?”

“Well…” He scratched his beard, considering their tediously limited options. “You’re not wrong about the odds being in our favor, at least for the moment. I say we lengthen them by hiding the groundcar, then getting to that village we were aiming for.”

“On foot?” Anakin heaved another sigh. “Yeah. Great. Because I was only just thinking that what I really need right now is blisters.”

Oh, Anakin
. “Cheer up. Things could always be worse.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Anakin. “Weren’t you listening?
Blisters.

Truly, their situation was anything but funny, but still—he had to laugh. Anakin’s irrepressibly irreverent humor was one of his most endearing traits.

“Come on,” he said. “That groundcar isn’t going to hide itself.”

Once more working in wordless tandem they used the Force to lift and shift and drop and lift and shift and drop the mangled vehicle back to the straggle of trees they’d crashed through on their descent. The task proved brutally hard. They were both so tired and knocked about, and even Anakin’s intimidating powers weren’t limitless. But they had no choice.

Done at last, bent over with his hands braced on his knees, his breathing harsh and fast, Anakin glanced up. “I don’t know if this is good enough. Wrecked or not, the kriffing thing still looks like a groundcar and there’s not enough cover here to hide it from a passing spy droid.”

Obi-Wan leaned against a handy tree trunk. There wasn’t a finger’s-width of flesh and bone in his body that didn’t hurt. “I know.”

Gingerly, Anakin straightened. “We’ll have to cut it up. Small pieces. Then we’ll need to scatter them. Spread dirt over them afterward so they don’t catch the light.”

Anakin’s endless resourcefulness never ceased to impress him. “Good idea. And speaking of light…”

At the far edge of the horizon a thin bright line was spreading like spilled plasma. Dawn. If they were going to do this they’d have to hurry. There was no telling how many spy droids were out looking for them, or how long it would take one to stumble on to their crash site. So they took out their lightsabers and dismembered the groundcar, hacking and slicing it into piles of scrap metal. After that they used the Force to scatter and camouflage the pieces.

And after
that
, spy droids or no spy droids, they both collapsed to the inhospitable ground.

“Wake me up this time next year,” Anakin muttered, sprawled full length, eyes closed in his filthy, blood-smeared face.

Slumped cross-legged on leaf litter and small stones, Obi-Wan pressed his fingers to his aching temples. “I wish I could. But we can’t stay here, Anakin.”

“I know.” Anakin sighed. The growing light showed a deep cut on his forehead and a blackish purple bruise on his cheek. His humble Lanteeban work clothes were badly stained and torn, and he looked to be favoring his right shoulder. There was a scorch mark along his side where he’d been clipped by a blaster bolt. “Just—” He cracked open one eyelid. “Let me catch my breath.”

Anakin
never
admitted exhaustion. Concerned, Obi-Wan stared at him.
I don’t think he’s been this pushed since Maridun
. “Yes. All right. A few minutes. But then we
must
go.”

A Jedi was taught from earliest childhood that the Force was to be used but never abused. And that used judiciously it would grant a feeling of well-being. Of buoyant energy. That it would replenish and nourish and gently nurture.

Of course, the key word is
judiciously.
Anakin and I, on the other hand…

He felt like he was ripping apart, in slow motion. The Force was never meant to be used the way they’d been using it these past few days. These past months. Ever since the war began, in fact.

Bail’s right. We’re flesh and blood, not machines. We can’t keep doing this. One day the price will be simply too high to pay
.

“Hey,” said Anakin. “You all right?”

Obi-Wan straightened his spine, wincing. “Truthfully? I’ve been better. Anakin…”

“Yeah, I know,” said Anakin, resigned. “We’ve got to go.” He pulled up his knees. “
Stang
. My bruises have bruises.”

“As have mine,” Obi-Wan said, allowing sympathy to show. “But we’ll feel better once we’re moving again.”

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