Darkness was encroaching on Cato Neimoidia's western hemisphere, though exchanges of coherent light high above the beleaguered world ripped looming night to shreds. Well under the fractured sky, in an orchard of manax trees that studded the lower ramparts of Viceroy Gunray's majestic redoubt, companies of clone troopers and battle droids were slaughtering one another with bloodless precision. A ashing fan of blue energy lit the undersides of a cluster of trees: the lightsaber of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Attacked by two sentry droids, Obi-Wan stood his ground, twisting his upraised blade right and left to swat blaster bolts back at his enemies. Caught midsection by their own salvos, both droids came apart, with a scattering of alloy limbs. Obi-Wan moved again. Tumbling under the segmented thorax of a Neimoidian harvester beetle, he sprang to his feet and raced forward. Explosive light shunted from the citadel's deector shield dappled the loamy ground between the trees, casting long shadows of their buttressed trunks. Oblivious to the chaos occurring in their midst, columns of the Five-meter-long harvesters continued their stalwart march toward a mound that supported the fortress. In their cutting jaws or on their upsweeping backs they carried cargoes of pruned foliage. The crushing sounds of their ceaseless gnawing provided an eerie cadence to the rumbling detonations and the hiss and whine of blaster bolts. From off to Obi-Wan's left came a sudden click of servos; to his right, a hushed cry of warning. "Down, Master!" He dropped into a crouch even before Anakin's lips formed the Final word, lightsaber aimed to the ground to keep from impaling his onrushing former Padawan. A blur of thrumming blue energy sizzled through the humid air, followed by a sharp smell of cauterized circuitry, the tang of ozone. A blaster discharged into soft soil, then the stalked, elongated head of a battle droid struck the ground not a meter from Obi-Wan's feet, sparking as it bounced and rolled out of sight, repeating:"Roger, roger . . . Roger, roger . . ." In a tuck, Obi-Wan pivoted on his right foot in time to see the droid's spindly body collapse. The fact that Anakin had saved his life was nothing new, but Anakin's blade had passed a little too close for comfort. Eyes somewhat wide with surprise, he came to his feet. "You nearly took my head off." Anakin held his blade to one side. In the strobing light of battle his blue eyes shone with wry amusement. "Sorry, Master, but your head was where my lightsaber needed to go." Master. Anakin used the honoriFic not as learner to teacher, but as Jedi Knight to Jedi Council member. The braid that had deFined his earlier status had been ritually severed after his audacious actions at Praesitlyn. His tunic, knee-high boots, and tight-Fitting trousers were as black as the night. His face scarred from a contest with Dooku-trained Asajj Ventress. His mechanical right hand sheathed in an elbow-length glove. He had let his hair grow long the past few months, falling almost to his shoulders now. His face he kept clean-shaven, unlike Obi-Wan, whose strong jaw was deFined by a short beard. "I suppose I should be grateful your lightsaberneededto go there, rather than desired to." Anakin's grin blossomed into a full-edged smile. "Last time I checked we were on the same side, Master." "Still, if I'd been a moment slower . . ." Anakin booted the battle droid's blaster aside. "Your fears are only in your mind." Obi-Wan scowled. RLuceno, James is the author of 'Star Wars Revenge Of The Sith ' with ISBN 9780345485380 and ISBN 0345485386.