Jedi Temple, Master Kato’s Office, Coruscant

Ava Valorum’s journey to the Jedi Temple in Coruscant had been uneventful. She had been permitted to drop her belongings off at her apartment before reporting in for reassignment. As she made her way through the temple, Ava spotted old friends and acquaintances, but she did no more than acknowledge their presence. They, like her, seemed to be busy. Such was the nature of these times. Ava had been relieved when she learned that she would be receiving her orders from Master Kato. After her rebuke by the Council, she was not particularly eager to find herself under Master Windu’s withering gaze.

Ava had not even had a chance to buzz the door before the door came open. “Miss Valorum! Come in, come in!” Master Kato’s Office was relatively small and adorned only by a few display screens, shelves with holotapes and texts, a desk, and a few seats. Like a good many other such offices stuffed into the cavernous base of the Jedi Temple ziggurat, Kato's office had no windows, nor anything else particularly remarkable about it.

“Welcome back to Coruscant!” the aging Jedi Master rose from his seat to greet her. “When were you last here?”

“About a year ago, to undergo the Trials,” Ava replied. “Once I passed and was knighted, I returned to Lanos, where I have been ever since, well, until now I suppose.”

“I see, have a seat Miss Valorum,” Master Kato gestured, “we have much to discuss.”

As she lowered herself into a chair, Ava began, “Before we get started, I must inquire, how is your Padawan, Luna, fairing? It was a great privilege to work with her during our investigation into Radall’s wrongdoings. She is a sharp one.”

“Her studies go well,” the Jedi Master replied, getting back into his seat, “I fear she grows stir crazy, but my duties contain me here in the Temple, and I do not desire to place her into too much danger when I am not close enough to help. Even then, if I can help it, I would keep her out of frontline combat if at all possible.”

“You don’t want her to participate in the war?”

“I do not,” Master Kato responded firmly. “I review the casualty reports almost every day, and I can confidently say that far too many adolescents who haven’t had a chance to fully develop their skills and powers have been killed or maimed by Separatist forces. If it were up to me, I would forbid Masters from taking their Padawans into active warzones, and I certainly would not assign them command responsibilities, however, the Council has dictated that they desire to maintain the tradition of Padawans accompanying their Masters on missions, regardless of the greater danger inherent to battlefront missions.”

That Master Kato was openly voicing his disagreements with the Council was a good sign that this was a topic he was very passionate about. While Ava could understand his point, she, having herself been a Padawan until last year, could also empathize with Luna and other stir-crazy young Jedi who knew that there was a war going on and felt that it was their obligation to end it and save as many lives as possible. Had Ava been sitting around doing chores at the Temple when Master Zaris had sacrificed herself, she would have been furious. However, if Master Kato was the one giving her the briefing for her new assignment, he would also probably be doing debrief once she returned, and being in his good graces would likely paint the final report in a prettier picture. After her thrashing by the Council following her method of deposing the corrupt Governor Radall, she could use as many friends in high places as she could get. As such, voicing her disagreements with Master Kato would only be counterproductive, and so she instead replied, “You make an excellent point, Master.”

Master Kato nodded. “There will be a time soon when this war will be over and we will find ourselves picking up the pieces. We need to be thinking about that time now and preserving what we can for that light at the end of these dark times, which, as it happens, brings us to your assignment. Are you pretty familiar with the state of the war at this time?”

Ava grimaced. “I can’t really say that I am. I typically only heard intelligence reports regarding suspect enemy movements in the sectors around Lanos. Other than that, I occasionally listened to public broadcasts and news networks, but I am under the impression that those reports are more, well, encouraging, rather than factual.”

Master Kato smirked. “Very astute. Yes, you are better off watching travel alerts instead of war correspondents if you wish to follow the progress of the war. However, while the news is certainly toning down our defeats and aggrandizing our successes and heroes, for the most part, the war actually is going fairly well, all things considered. Battle lines, if you can call them that, have largely stabilized, despite the best efforts of some Separatist leaders such as Grievous and Eronoss, who’s offensives have become increasingly easy to contain. Our forces, on the other hand, have gained significant ground in many sectors. All in all, we seem to have them on the back foot, and this war has ceased to become a matter of whether we will win but rather when we will win… and at what cost. If we have to besiege every inhabited settlement on every inhabited Separatist planet, this war will claim billions more lives, a great many of them civilian, and cost trillions of credits, even before reconstruction efforts, over the course of potentially even fifteen years. Fortunately, not all of our enemies are so devoted to the cause that they will fight to the end, and as they begin to see that the tides of the war are turning against them, we believe a great many star systems will be willing to give up the fight before we have to invade them. In fact, this process has already begun in some places, which is where you come in.”

“Am I to be an ambassador to these surrendering star systems?” Ava asked, astonished by the potential level of responsibility being given to her.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm,” Master Kato smiled, “but we are not sure you are ready for that quite yet. No, we are having you run security for one of the Chancellor’s ambassadors and his staff. Actually correction, you will be the security for this mission, as this ambassador explicitly requested not to have any clones accompany the mission.”

That wasn't quite the response Ava had hoped for. Mercenary bodyguards could be found all over the galaxy, so she felt it unnecessary for her to accompany this emissary solely for the purpose of security. She was finding herself very curious as to why she had been chosen for this task, however, simply asking Why me? would likely be met with a Because those are your orders or something equally unproductive. As such, a more diplomatic form of that question was in order…

"I see, and…" Ava pursed her lips, "ah, what is it that I am expected to be bringing to this team, beyond my capacity to swing my lightsaber at potential threats?"

"And using the force to sense those threats before the shooting starts?" Master Kato reminded her.

"Of course, but well," Ava stammered, "there are other Jedi with a greater mastery of using the force to detect hostiles. Is there anything in particular you expect from me? Or is this a test?"

"Everything is a test, young one," Kato answered calmly. "However with regards to why you were chosen for this assignment… don't look so surprised, I'm a Jedi Master, not a Clone Trooper… we are rather counting on your diplomatic experience to help you understand the Chancellor’s Ambassador's tactics and be able to effectively report on what happens, because, as I explained earlier, I am expecting a cascade of such opportunities to accept surrender as this war winds down, and we may need someone like you to lead those teams once that happens."

Ava grinned. So this could be her chance to prove herself to be a potential ambassador for the Jedi Order.

"Also…" Master Kato’s expression faltered, "Nevermind."

"What is it?" Ava pressed.

"Er, to be honest, the Supreme Chancellor recommended you for this task," the Jedi Master admitted.

Ava was stunned. "For real?"

"Actually, he recommended you and Padawan Tano, but Skywalker and the Council weren't terribly keen on sending Tano on this mission…"

"I suppose I should be honored," Ava sighed, although the Supreme Chancellor was someone she had mixed feelings about. Ava had never quite forgiven him for deposing her uncle, Finis Valorum, from the Chancellorship. Even though as a Jedi she was supposed to relinquish her family ties, Ava still hoped for the best for her clan… and hoped for less than the best for those who opposed her clan. "Does the Chancellor regularly make such recommendations for Jedi businesses?"

"It has been happening a fair bit lately,” Master Kato responded. “Regardless, let us get back to the matter at hand…”

“Yes Master,” Ava intoned. “So I am acting as a bodyguard to an ambassador as he goes to negotiate a surrender with someone.”

“Correct,” the Jedi Master replied. “You will be going to the planet of Falleen to speak to their king. To give a bit of background, Falleen was among the many systems to join the Confederacy of Independent Systems during the Separatist Crisis, however, once the war began, they quickly decided to rejoin the Republic. We sent a small task force to protect them during those chaotic early months of the conflict, a force that ended up being destroyed by an unexpected attack from General Grievous. Although we were able to stall Grievous’ campaign shortly thereafter, the Separatists were able to send an occupational force to Falleen. It is my understanding that the Falleen did not put up much resistance. Now they have reached out to us to rejoin the Republic again now that we have made substantial progress in reducing their neighboring sectors.”

“So basically these Falleen are shaky allies at best,” Ava concluded.

“They are a people caught in the middle of a war they have no desire of participating in,” Master Kato riposted. “However, to your point, Chancellor Palpatine has expressed a desire that this mission extract some reparations from the Falleen to impress upon them that changing sides won’t be cheap, although continuing to resist will be considerably more expensive…”

Master Kato rose from his seat and approached one of his shelves, he plucked out a holodisk and explained, “While the ambassador will decide the amount of reparations to demand, he requested help from us to provide him information that he can use to calculate that sum. In this disk are lists of the casualties we sustained in the battle of Falleen, as well as projected casualties if we commit to a siege of Falleen if they do not surrender.”

Handing the disk to Ava, who rose to accept it, he continued, “Deliver this to the Chancellor’s Ambassador, a human man named Velen Ytergann. You should be able to find him at the Senatorial Offices. He will give you further instructions from there."

Ava nodded and pocketed the disk into her robes. "Understood."

"Any questions?"

Ava paused and replayed the conversation in her head. "So… we are going deep into enemy territory to visit an enemy leader, and I am all the security this team is going to get… Is there any chance that this is a trap?"

"I did ask Mister Ytergann about the dearth if requested security, and he assured me that the Falleen King and his ministers could be trusted," Master Kato answered.

"Trustworthy politicians," Ava grimaced. "I believe that is an oxymoron."

"You are welcome to bring up those concerns with the Ambassador himself," the Jedi Master noted.

"That I will," Ava sighed.

"Any other questions?"

"No, I think that's it…"

"In that case, you are dismissed."

That was sudden. "May the Force be with you, Master Kato," Ava bowed.

"And may the force be with you too, Miss Valorum," he responded in kind.

As the doors to the Master's office closed behind her, Ava found herself deep in thought. Making her way out of the Jedi Temple, it occurred to her that this job could be an excellent stepping stone to greater responsibility within the Jedi Order. If this did lead to her becoming an Ambassador for the Order by the end of the war as Master Kato had suggested, that would look very favorably on her chances of being assigned a Padawan, or even becoming a Master herself…

… if this didn't end in disaster of course. But what was the worst that could happen?

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