The new capital of the world government, the Terran Republic, or the United Nations of Earth as it had briefly been known before humanity expanded across the stars, was located in New York, a decision which had drawn many an impassioned diatribe from a nationalist displeased at America wielding its influence in yet another quite blatant way. There'd been quite the fuss over the whole thing at the time before they'd found another issue to bicker over and things had moved on. It had been most amusing as far as Rachel was concerned. People would fight over the most pointless of things.
The actual building that the President was located in was a monstrosity of concrete and steel designed and built by people with too access to too much fancy technology and not enough taste. It was big, it was ugly, and it stood out like a sore thumb. Every time she saw it she could almost hear Giles in her head making derisive comments about Americans not knowing subtlety from their own arse.
Security was, as always, a pain as she entered. She'd passed through half-a-dozen checkpoints by the time she'd reached the lobby outside the President's office and she'd had to stop and go through the usual rigmarole of proving that she wasn't under polyjuice, imperius, or any of the million other ways that existed to change your appearance or control someone's mind. She understood the need given what she knew but it was truly irritating to have to go through it every time she needed to see someone important in the government.
But eventually, despite the determination of all to slow her down, she made it to the President's office. It was, as you'd expect, immensely large, dominated by a large desk and the fake windows behind the President's seat that showed a holographic representation of what laid outside of the building. Once upon a time they had been actual windows but then someone had tried to take the President of the time out with a sniper rifle they'd acquired somewhere along the way. The attempt had failed of course but extra protections had been put in place immediately.
The President rose from his seat when he saw Rachel enter. "Master Giles," he said, with a wave of his hand towards the chair opposite him. "Please, take a seat."
She did so with a polite nod. "You wished to see me?" she asked.
"Yes, yes," said the President, taking his own seat. "Ah, sorry, but I'm a little disorganised here. We've had some trouble with unions objecting to oil well closures the last few days and it's caught us all on the hop a little."
"Yes, I had heard something about that," said Rachel. "Very unpleasant. I do hope you can resolve it in a somewhat less destructive manner than Margaret Thatcher's issues with the coal-miners."
He looked vaguely horrified by the thought. "God, I hope so," he said. "The last thing we need right now is something like that. But, then, this isn't what I invited you here for. I'm sure you could come up with a solution to the problem but I think your time is best spent on more, ah, important subjects. Well, first, I want to extend my most sincere condolences for your loss. I know you were very close to Ms. Rosenberg and it's never easy to lose such a close friend."
Rachel was starting to become monumentally tired of people who didn't even know Willow offering condolences but she grinned and bore it. "I appreciate the gesture," she said.
"Hmm," said the President. "Well, on to business then. It's a messy thing, really. So many problems all cropping up at the same time, so many that I'd like to have your help with, but, really, my main question now is about the death of Ms. Rosenberg. I'm rather worried about it. If someone could call someone like her so easily, we could be facing a rather grave threat, and I'd quite like to be prepared for it if possible."
Rachel leaned back into her chair. "It's quite a tale of woe," she said. "But what it boils down to is that we're facing the Sith. How much do you know about my past?"
"I've read your file."
Rachel nodded. "Then you know all that you need of what we face then," she said. "Enemies from my past. Specifically, my old apprentice: Darth Malak. His teachings are what we face today. What can we expect? Violence. Lots of violence. They will seek to destroy all who can stand in their way and to subvert out institutions, our power, to their cause. Such is the way of the Sith.
"If they are intelligent, and it's best to assume that they are, then their claws are already in to society," continued Rachel. "They would not make a move such as assassinating Willow unless their resources were already in place and ready to follow up on it. This is the calm before the storm, Mr. President. Soon we will face a war on the home front.
"Most likely, it will be a war fought in the shadows," she continued. "At least at first. They are rather unlikely to have the strength to mount an open invasion of our territory. The numbers don't work for that. Instead, they will seek to undermine the Republic. They will seek to make it appear weak and incapable. And then, with that accomplished, they would move to sweep up the pieces and found their new empire in the ashes of our republic."
The President grimaced. "Now, I'd prefer to avoid that sort of hoo-ha if I could avoid it," he said. "Humanity sees enough violence without some superpowered lunatics starting a bloodbath right here on Earth. If there's one place in this God-forsaken galaxy that should be safe for us, it should be here, our birthplace."
"It's rather unavoidable, I'm afraid," said Rachel, wondering if she was talking to an idiot. Did he think that they could make the bad people go away? "They will try and overthrow your government. They will try and wipe the Jedi out. They will try and eliminate any others who can oppose them. That's just the way they work. You just have to make the best preparations you can to stop them."
He looked away for a moment before replying. "My VP is recommending some rather harsh measures," he said in a hushed tone of voice that Rachel would have had trouble making out before Oz bit her. "He believes that we are facing an imminent threat of armed insurrection and must quickly and decisively to nip the threat in the bud or risk presenting a weak front to our enemies. What you are telling me seems to be supporting that."
"That depends what you mean by harsh measures," said Rachel. "The Republic isn't exactly being ran along liberal lines to start with."
"He proposes that we make greater use of what intelligence we can gather and lower the barrier to action," said the President. "He believes that we should set our policy along the same lines as that of the government of World World Two and begin interning potential threats."
"Not a pleasant direction to set your policy in," said Rachel. "Especially without well-defined group to act against."
"Oh, I quite agree. Where would we draw the line? It's a can of worms I don't want to have to deal with. There'll be no concentration camps on my watch if I can help it. No, not a one. But I need to do something. You must understand, the people are scared, panicky. It would be dangerous not to act."
Dangerous to his chances of re-election was more like it but Rachel kept that to herself. "I suggest placing reserve forces at a greater level of readiness," she said. "And instituting stronger customs controls to monitor the movement of people from planet to planet and system to system. Those are quite visible measures, fairly high profile by their very nature, and would inflict nothing worse than inconvenience upon the average human while actually being of some practical use."
The President leaned back in his chair and gave Rachel a measuring look over steepled hands. "I can't see how border controls will help," he said. "We have no idea who our enemies are, so what would we be watching for? Weapons? They can be found anywhere if you have the money."
"We don't know who our enemies are right now but knowledge is power," replied Rachel. "They will reveal themselves in time and a database of movements would allow us to sweep up their associates when the time came and that, my friend, would be most useful. We could cut the cancer out before it grew too large, if the Force was with us."
The President nodded. "I agree," he said. "I'll see to it. It shouldn't be too big to get the measures past the senate."
"I wouldn't think so. The impetus to act should be strong for all involved now. No, what I'd worry about is the possibility of Sith links to your other issues. The wizards, the separatists, they would be useful pawns."
"I'm trying not to think about that possibility," he admitted. "The security services are keeping an eye out and I'm hoping it won't come to that, a co-ordinated rebellion, but if it does . . . well, you know what that means."
"Yes. Yes, I do," said Rachel. "And we must be careful not to cross the line that seperates us from that which we fight against, even if times become that hard."
The words rang hollow even to her, but she had to go through the forms. It was the proper thing to do.
"Ah, Rachel, it's good to see you again! I've been meaning to speak with you."
It was Senator Richard Lawson: a short, somewhat pudgy man who happened to be one of the few politicians that Rachel could stand. He was a cheerful sort, as a rule, and generally made good use of what he had between his ears, which put him one or two notches beyond the typical politico to start with. It was somewhat of a shame that he was so utterly wedded to the increasingly untenable position of the Liberal Party. Ideals were wonderful things but they needed to be tempered by practicality.
"Senator," said Rachel with a nod, ignoring several disgruntled politicians who had to step around her and the senator as they stopped to speak in the corridor. "I have time if you wish."
"Yes, yes," he said with a tired smile. "I'm finished here. Didn't really get what I want but that's the way it goes sometimes. Let us speak. I think we have much to discuss."
Rachel nodded and walked with him in a chatter of pointless small talk as they made their way out of the presidential offices and apartments, past the numerous security checkpoints and several overly chatty politicians who'd love to have a photo opportunity with a Jedi Master. As they exited the cordon and entered his speeder, things shifted to a more useful tone, or at least a more serious one.
"I'm worried, Rachel," he said finally. "The debates are taking on a decidedly ugly tone. I know you're probably not in a mood to think about such things right now, but it worries me."
"I know," she said. "And it worries me too at times, but I was under the impression that your party had sufficient support to provide strong opposition to such things."
"We are waning," he said with a rather exaggerated grimace. "With every election there are less of us returned and more of the Unity Party. Such a trend can only continue for so long before we are either broken and forced to shift to a more authoritarian stance or simply rendered irrelevant."
He looked as if the very idea made him feel ill. It amused the parts of Rachel that were somewhat less than pleasant. "You can't do any good if you're removed from power," she said. "Think about that."
"Do you think I haven't?" he asked, his voice and expression sharp. "It's the devil's choice. Sacrifice my principles or my position to do anything about them? No. I won't do it."
"How you ever attained political power is beyond me, but I suspect that you didn't want to speak to me so that I could disparage your political skills."
His face twisted into a grimace. "I was rather hoping that you could reassure me," he said. "Or, failing that, that you'd have some ideas for how to maintain sanity in our government."
"I'm rather the wrong person to ask for reassurance," said Rachel. "But I can tell you that Simpson seems to be at least a little bit spooked by Kahn's latest idea and agreed to do something completely different."
He blinked. "And what did he suggest that would spook our illustrious leader?" he asked.
There was a long moment of dead silence before he replied to that particular bombshell. "Oh dear," he said blankly before he assimilated the information fully. "Oh my. They've always at least found something to charge people with up till now. I wonder what changed their minds."
Rachel shrugged. "More his mind than theirs. I think this was entirely Kahn's idea," she said. "And it was rejected in favour of a 'do something mostly meaningless but visible' compromise."
Silence for a moment. "A good sign, I think," came the reply. "But nothing changes in the long-term."
"You can't change the galaxy to match the way you want it to be, Richard. You're going to have to meet the changes halfway, at the very least."
"And become what I work against? Never. This world needs an opposing influence, not two shades of the same belief-set."
"Just be careful not to render yourself irrelevant."
"If you can figure out how to make people listen to liberal politics when they're caught up in a decade-long four-war war that has no end in sight . . . well, I'll be impressed."
"I could do it, you know," he said. "All it would take would be your open support for our positions. It would be so easy. Between your popularity and your charisma, it would be a landslide."
"I've told you a thousand times," said Rachel. "No politics for me. I might play a few tricks behind the scenes every so often, but I'll not sully the Jedi Order with open politics. The Order must remain apolitical even if its members make their allegiances known."
"Ah but I have to try."
Rachel shook her head at him. "A waste of breath," she said. A moment of silence. "I recommend you step up your security," she said. "You are a potential target for assassination."
"You are a prominent figure. Your influence is known. That makes you a target."
He frowned. "It's hard to believe that they would come for me," he said. "I'm not even the party leader."
"But you hold considerable influence," she said. "That alone makes you a potential target. Your influence tends to be a stabilising one. That makes you a true target."
"I won't be beholden to the whims of madmen and murderers."
"You don't have to be. Just step up your security. A few more guards won't hurt anything. I could arrange-"
"It would be very discreet," said Rachel. "I would make sure of that."
"You have more important things to be seeing to than my security arrangements, Rachel. No, I won't have it."
"It won't do you any good cooping yourself up in here," said Molly. "Have you even eaten today?"
There were times when Rachel really regretting taking Harry's advice and taking on Molly Weasley to look after the children that inevitably fell into the care of the Jedi as the years went on. She was great with the kids, could cook brilliantly - though the food tended to be heavy and she had a nasty tendency to get into turf wars with Casey, but she could be a real pain when she got her mother on.
"I'm busy," said Rachel. "Very busy. There's nothing to be done about it. I just have to get my work done."
Molly ignored Rachel entirely and bustled around the room in a busy sort of fashion as she spoke, tutting at what she presumably saw as mess and clutter as she did so. "It won't do you any good," she said, her greying hair bouncing around as she shook her head at Rachel. "I know you're upset, believe me I understand as well as anyone can, but you can't lock yourself away in an office. That won't do you any good at all."
Rachel closed her eyes and counted to ten. She really, really didn't need a mother as far as she was concerned. And she most certainly didn't need an overbearing one. "I-"
"Your calming draught is curdling."
"Yes, it's meant to," said Rachel, her voice terse. "It's an experiment. I'm trying to increase the power of the effects."
"Oh," she said. "Is it working?"
"Not as such," admitted Rachel. And that really didn't please her. She wouldn't have time for any further experiments now and the existing calming draught was simply inadequate for neutering Sith as she'd planned. Ah, well. It had been a long-shot anyway.
"Ah. Well, you should still come out. Get something to eat, mix with your friends, that's the way to get over these thing, not locking yourself away."
"I'm not locking myself away."
"Yes, yes. I'm sure," said Molly. "Now come along. The children are beginning to wonder if you're ever going to turn up again."
"It's been less than two weeks!"
"And that's a very long time to a child," she snapped back quickly. "They don't think like you or I do, Rachel. They're children. Young children at that. Two weeks might as well be a lifetime to them."
"This is utterly ridiculous."
"Yes, yes. I'm sure it is. But that's life. Now come along, you're not going to leave the children in suspense are you?"
Yes, there really were times when Rachel regretted taking Molly Weasley on to look after those children. But it was still better than having to do it herself.
The children's common area, located in the centre of the main building of the Jedi Enclave, was more subdued than it normally was the level of volume was noticeably lower and the energy just wasn't there like it usually was. Rachel hadn't really thought about it, but it didn't really come as surprise to her. The children had known Willow quite well, she'd been a regular visitor to the Enclave, and it must have hit them hard when she'd been killed. Great way to make yourself feel like a heel, realising something like that, Rachel discovered.
Sister Helen Molony was the first to notice Rachel's arrival. She was an odd one was Helen. A Sister of Mercy from Ireland who'd been discovered to have considerable Force talents and then undertaken Jedi training to better serve her God's will. Well, partially. She'd have none of the combat side of the things. A Jedi without a lightsabre: not a common sight. Still, she was a very capable Jedi. Very good for charitable work, medical work, diplomacy, and so on and so forth. She just wouldn't have any of the more militaristic elements of the Order.
She greeted Rachel's arrival with a nod and it took only a moment for the children to realise that Rachel had turned up after that. Within seconds they had all discarded what they were doing in favour of swarming around Rachel in the sort of way that only excited kids can manage. It was times like that which made her quite grateful that the Jedi numbers were much more limited than they'd been where Revan came from.
The children themselves were a fairly eclectic bunch. There was no real pattern to the distribution of Force sensitives, not that Rachel had been able to discern at least, and it showed. They had twins from Nigeria, a girl from Japan, a boy from India, sisters from Germany, a little Maori boy from New Zealand, and a teenage boy from Brazil who was about ready to be taken under a master's wing. Quite a varied bunch and that didn't even take into account the kids who remained with their parents!
"The children have missed you," said Helen. Her expression looked to be almost disapproving. Ouch.
"It's been a busy few weeks," replied Rachel. She looked around at the children. "I can only hope it won't happen again."
And she really, really did hope that. All those kids giving her those wide, watery puppy-dog eyes was starting to give her the willies.
"Now, I want to hear what's been going on here," said Rachel. "I want to hear how life has been treating my littlest Jedi."
Sergio, the Brazilian teenager, rolled his eyes at her but the younger kids ate it up whole and soon she was inundated with tales of their days at school and their exercises assigned by the Jedi on teaching rotation. Most of it was all very mundane but one incident caught her attention: Makoto breaking a boy's nose at school because he called her a 'Chink'. That did not impress her one bit. Well, her martial prowess did, slightly, but she didn't like the incident one bit and chided her for losing her temper in such a way before moving the conversation back along. But that wasn't really the issue, kids would always have imperfect control, it was the casual racism. It wasn't a good sign. Kids didn't say that sort of thing without picking it up from someone.
Watching the light flicker back into HK's eyes did not fill Rachel with joy. As useful a tool as he could be, and as amusing as he generally was, he had seriously pissed her off after Willow had died. That had just been something she couldn't tolerate.
"Statement: systems booting. Initialising. Ready. Master, why?"
"You're not as stupid as you're pretending to be, HK. I don't program idiots."
"Query: I do not understand."
"Less people, less problem. Does this ring any bells, HK?"
"If you ever mock Willow's death again I will slowly dismember you and sell your parts off for scrap metal," said Rachel. "I will then plug your memory and personality chips into a cleaning droid to have you spend the rest of your miserable existence scrubbing toilets. Do you understand me, HK?"
"Statement: I understand," said HK. "Declaration: you are a cruel, cruel master, master. Most merciless. I like it."
"Just remember that, HK. I won't have you having fun at the expense of my dead friends. There are lines you just don't cross."
"Statement: as you wish, master. Query: do you wish for anyone to be maimed, killed, or tortured? I feel the desire to do some violence."
"Not yet, HK. Not yet. Patience. Targets will present themselves soon enough."
I truly amazed Rachel that a droid with completely inanimate features could manage to sulk. Few people would have believed it to be possible but there stood HK sulking without a facial expression to speak of.