Obi-Wan's ship brakes out of hyperspace.
"There it is," he says to himself, "Right where it should be. Our missing planet. Kamino."
Kamino is a water planet, a single blue gem orbiting a red giant star. Obi-Wan taps at his console, scanning the worldwide ocean with the ship's sensors. The seas are thick with life, but the computer finds no signs of intelligence.
He stretches out his senses with the Force. It is difficult to sense an entire planet at once, but his intuition nags his attention toward a small spot near the equator. Here the mottled ocean floor takes on definitive shapes, circles and lines that seem like they might have been laid out by sentience.
And then he senses a mind.
He can't sense much more than that, but whoever it is, they must be very powerful for him to sense them from orbit.
With a few more taps at his console, the cockpit of his spacecraft detaches from the bulky hyperdrive engines. He glides down through the atmosphere and into the waters of Kamino.
The shapes he sensed from orbit turn out to be the stone ruins of an ancient city on the ocean floor. Curtains of seaweed hang from columns and archways scoured by the ages. His ship floats between the remains. Whatever destroyed civilization on this planet, it washed the world clean.
The other mind is strong here, but he can't tell where exactly it is at. It seems to be all around him. Whoever is out there, he senses that they are confident, unafraid and focusing right back at him.
Just when he thinks he'll have to get out and swim to get any further, a great circular hatch opens in the ancient plaza beneath him, bathing his ship in a powerful white light. Sensing no malice from his mysterious observer, he passes through it.
The hatch seals above him, his ship comes to rest on a grated deck, and the water drains out of the chamber. He steps out of his ship cautiously, hands raised away from his holstered saber.
"Please, show yourself," he says. "I mean you no harm."
A sleek countoured door opens, and a soldier steps out--a clone of the bounty hunter. He is followed by another. And another.
Other doors open, and Obi-Wan is quickly surrounded. Each clone trooper points a blaster directly at him.
"Well," he mutters to himself, "I think I'm in the right place."
From behind the troopers steps a tall, thin and delicate alien with more neck than body. Her skin is creamy smooth, and she has ebony eyes that seem to twinkle with the light of the galaxy.
"Jedi Master Kenobi," she sings in a calm lilting voice. She bows low, her head nonetheless remaining well above Obi-Wan's. "Welcome to Kamino. I am Prime Minister Lama Su. I am honored to finally meet you."
"I'm expected?" asks Obi-Wan, unable to contain his surprise.
"Of course! Jedi Master Sifodyas told us he would send you." The tiny mouth of the strange creature seems to smirk as she adds, "Though after all these years, we were beginning to think you weren't coming!"
"With all due respect, I--"
Obi-Wan cuts himself off. He was about to mention that he knows of no Jedi named Sifodyas, but then he thinks--Sifodyas? Sidious? Best to play along; time to improvise.
"I hope you will find me as worthy as my master," he says ceremoniously.
"I am sure we will. Now please, this way..."
Obi-Wan follows her into what seems to be an elevator. The doors slide shut. Obi-Wan presumes they're moving, but from the inside the elevator is motionless and silent; he finds the effect unsettling.
"You will be delighted to hear we are on schedule," says Lama Su. "Two hundred thousand units are ready, with another million well on the way."
"I'm sure you will be proud of the army we have built for you."
"For the Republic. But you must be anxious to inspect the units for yourself."
Obi-Wan shrugs. "That's why I'm here."
The doors open, and Obi-Wan finds himself on a catwalk running the edge of a giant underground cavern. The polished walls and bright artificial lights stand in sharp contrast to the ruined city above; this is a fully modern facility. Stepping to the edge of the walkway, he takes in the view below him.
Across a parade ground stand hundreds of troopers in formation, each identical except for the colored stripes on the shoulders and helmets of their armor. Without any perceptible signal, they raise their large blaster rifles in unison and begin to march perfectly in step with one another.
Lama Su beams with pride. "Magnificent, aren't they?"
Lama Su leads Obi-Wan through a tubular walkway with transparent walls, allowing them an overhead view of the enormous base that stretches beneath the bottom of the sea. Obi-Wan looks out across acres of jars, each containing a fetus suspended in pale blue bacta solution. Slender Kaminoans drift among them, tending to various dials and control panels.
"As you can see, each unit is hand crafted," says Lama Su, "in full compliance with the Republic's prohibition against automated mass production."
"Very impressive," Obi-Wan says, keeping his revulsion well hidden.
"I'd hoped you would be pleased," sings Lama Su. "We consider them our finest work."
"Even finer than Queen Amidala?" Obi-Wan asks.
Lama Su pauses in her walk, and for a moment, Obi-Wan fears he's pushed too hard. She considers his question and replies, "Cloning Amidala is mere genetic replication, no tampering with the midichloric structure, no growth acceleration. And of course, we had to keep it a secret. Until Queen Amidala revealed our work to the galaxy, we had no leeway to experiment, and no one to experiment on. We have merely been her technicians. But this--"
She gestures below.
"--this is a work of science."
Happy to have confirmed Amidala's connection to Kamino, Obi-Wan decides to let the topic rest for now. Better to give the prime minister an excuse to ramble, and see what she spills.
"And what have you accomplished with your experiments?" he asks. "You mentioned growth acceleration..."
"Oh yes, it's essential. Otherwise, a mature clone would take a lifetime to grow. Now, we can do it in half the time." She leads him past a regiment of identical adolescent boys practicing martial arts in perfect synchronicity.
"This group was created about five years ago. They are totally obedient, taking any order without question. We modified their genetics to remove their personal desires, making them utterly dependent upon Republic authority for their sense of purpose. Yet clones can still think creatively; you will find that they are immensely superior to droids. We take great pride in our combat training program."
She leads him over a workshop. Sparks fly as several armored clone troopers weld panels onto a half-completed ship. "We have taught them to build all that they need. Abandon them on a planet with sufficient mineral deposits, and in a year you will have an armada."
"I don't see them talking to one another," says Obi-Wan, "Do they share a telepathic connection?"
"They share a link," replies Lama Su, "An unavoidable consequence of the process. Bodies can be cloned, Master Jedi, but the soul remains as one. Do not fear; we have erased their memory of the original host."
"And who was the original host?"
"A bounty hunter by the name of Jango Fett."
The pieces are falling together, thinks Obi-Wan. "Do you keep him here?"
"No, his presence would interfere with our modifications. In return for his pay, which was considerable, Fett agreed to have no contact with the product."
"I see," says Obi-Wan. "I would very much like to speak with one of the...product."
"I would be very happy to arrange it for you," Lama Su sings.
The tube opens up onto a wide balcony overlooking a launching pad. Thousands of clone troopers march in formation onto massive triangular battle ships known as star destroyers. Each spacecraft bears the Seal of the Galactic Republic.
"As you can see, the first shipment is ready when you are!"
Obi-Wan Kenobi is speechless.