Chapter XV – Instigator
Sitting in a park with the Jedi Temple just behind him, Anakin paced in front of a bench and fidgeted, running a hand through his sandy colored hair. Over and over again, he tried to clear his mind and reach out with the Force. He tried to focus on the birds, the trees around him, or even the passing pedestrians. Every time he tried, his thoughts became muddled, un-coordinated, and always went back to Padme.
As the sun began to sink behind him, Anakin saw Padme and Khian coming along a path toward him. His mind instantly focused.
“Is it true, Anakin? The Jedi Order?” The sparkle in her eyes was all Anakin needed to see.
“That’s right. I’ve already been assigned to Jedi Kenobi as his Padawan. I start training tomorrow and I have no doubt that I’ll sail to the top in no time. Maybe I’ll even be ready in time to help out with your investigation,” Anakin threw out his chest a little.
Padme giggled and Anakin blushed as he looked into her eyes.
They both turned to look at Khian, who just folded his arms. “What?” he asked.
“Khian, can you go patrol a perimeter or something?” Padme asked.
“As you wish m’lady. Just bear in mind I won’t be far…from either of you,” he shot a dark glance at Anakin before walking down a path.
“I can’t believe this is all happening so fast. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I was just some chump pilot on Tatooine and now I’m going to be a Jedi in the middle of a galactic controversy,” Anakin said.
“That’s probably because it was just a short time ago. We’ve only known each other for a little while and so much has happened and even more is going to happen before we know it,” Padme replied.
“Those politicians you were with?” Anakin guessed what she was alluding to. “You almost disappeared into that crowd when we landed.”
“Next time I’m surrounded by some of the greatest politicans in the galaxy, I’ll wear higher heels,” Padme laughed and pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear.
“I met with Supreme Chancellor Valorum and briefed him, his aides, the High Speaker of the Republic, Senator Palpatine, and more dignitaries than I can remember on what we found on Alderaan. They watched the holo-image I recorded and were as shocked as we were,” she continued.
“Please tell me you edited out the part where I tapped on the glass,” Anakin pleaded.
“Look on the bright side, you are now known among the highest levels of the Republic,” she giggled again.
Anakin found it very hard to be mad or embarrassed when she was smiling or laughing.
“Was there more to the meeting than the recording?” Anakin asked.
“Yeah, sorry. After I showed them the holo-image, Chancellor Valorum wanted to know what we should do next. Senator Palpatine volunteered to help me with my investigation and the Chancellor agreed!” she was positively glowing.
“Wait, so he’s taking over? That doesn’t seem fair,” Anakin was confused.
“No, you misunderstand,” Padme explained as they strolled through the park. “Senator Palpatine will work with me. Anakin, there is the possibility that this will go well beyond one crazy general on one planet. I have to discover how far this conspiracy goes and having such an influencial and experienced man like him helping me will add some serious muscle,” she said.
“Just please be careful. We’ve already gone through one attack together. More attacks could follow if you’re right about this,” Anakin warned.
“Hey, enough about me. You’re the one living the dream and becoming a Jedi Knight!” Padme sat on a park bench underneath a blossoming tree and beamed at him.
“Well, I’m not actually becoming a Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan says it takes years of hard work, studying, and training before I can be his Padawan. I figure I’m on more of a learning curve,” Anakin smiled.
“How much of a curve?” Padme asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ll be knighted and able to help you in a week or so,” Anakin laughed as he sat down next to her. They settled into an uncomfortable silence as the sun began to dip behind the Jedi Temple.
“I’m going to miss you,” Padme finally broke the silence.
“Yeah I…wait, what?” Anakin looked at her with his mouth slightly open.
“Anakin, I feel really close to you,” she said, staring at the ground. “We’ve been through so much together in such a short period of time. It’s been an incredible experience and I don’t think I want that time to end just yet. I sound so selfish.”
Anakin wasn’t sure how he could speak with his heart thumping in his throat. “No you don’t. Can I tell you something?” he asked.
“Of course, you can tell me anything,” Padme looked at him with soft, understanding eyes.
“I had a home, Beru hanging around at every opportunity, Owen constantly looking after me, not to mention crowds of people cheering my name, and yet I’ve always felt alone.When I got to Alderaan, all of that changed. I was with people that mattered to me. I haven’t felt the empty feeling that loneliness walked with in a long, long time,” Anakin smiled.
“I think I know exactly how you feel,” Padme said and put her hand on his.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” a soft voice made Anakin and Padme jump where they sat.
They whirled around to see Senator Palpatine walking up the path to meet them. It was darker now and his figure seemed much larger silhouetted against the twilight sky. Padme’s hand shot away from his as they both stood up in his presence.
Anakin couldn’t help but feel compelled to bow a little, but Palpatine waved him off. “Please young man, a bow to a lowly senator isn’t necessary. If anything I should be bowing to the man who single-handedly saved Padme’s life and delivered her to the Galactic City.”
“Well I don’t know about ‘single-handed’, Obi-Wan was there,” Anakin blushed.
Palpatine put a hand on his shoulder. “Come come Anakin, the entire Senate is buzzing with your heroics on Alderaan. I have just come from the Republic Executive Building and your name is on everyone’s lips,” Palpatine said with a smile.
Anakin stared at him, dumbfounded as Palpatine added the compliment Anakin had been waiting for.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the halls of the Jedi Temple were ringing with talk about your admittance tomorrow. You may be the most anticipated Hopeful since Master Phanius.”
“That seems a little dark, comparing Anakin to the first of the Lost Twenty,” Padme remarked.
“Great Jedi are great Jedi, regardless of which ‘side’ history says they are on,” Palpatine replied.
“What brings you out here, senator?” Anakin asked.
“With all the pomp and circumstance, I didn’t get a chance to formally meet you earlier today. I wanted to take the opportunity to wish you the best of luck tomorrow and tell you that I shall be observing your progress with great interest,” Palpatine smiled.
“You came all the way out here just to wish me luck?” Anakin asked.
“How perceptive, dear boy,” Palpatine chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. “I saw the two of you walking together and decided to seize this opportunity to speak with my colleague as well,” he turned to Padme.
“I’m afraid I am going to take a rather larger role in your investigation than we previously discussed. I will need you to use your contacts on Alderaan to squeeze more details out of the facts while I look to more Galactic matters.”
“I was under the impression that being shot at by Tarkin’s men made this my investigation,” Padme protested.
“My dear you must understand that you’re on Coruscant now. You have done remarkably well, but this is a game on a much different level than what you’re accustomed to. Rest assured, I have much work for you to do. This investigation is creeping by and my needs require that it proceed much faster,” Palpatine replied.
Anakin’s communicator beeped at him. “I guess that’s my call,” he shrugged.
“Congratulations once again, young Skywalker, make us all proud!” Palpatine beamed at him.
Anakin turned to Padme. He wanted to say so much to her before he left, but he simply couldn’t get the words out. Instead he just reached out and shook her hand.
“Good luck Padme,” he said in a flat voice.
She returned the handshake, but the look in her eyes told him that she wanted to say more as well. “I know you’ll hear this a thousand times, but may the Force be with you,” she smiled.
Khian came back up the path. “Hey, you two done here?” he stopped when he saw Palpatine was with them. “Senator, how did you get by me? I didn’t see anyone else come up the path,” he asked.
“Really sir, you expect too much from an old man,” Palpatine resume his typical and kindly smile.
Khian took a hard look at him before turning his attention back to Anakin.
“Hey kid, knock ‘em dead in there and I mean that literally as well as figuratively. I hope you knock them flat on their butts,” Khian said with a grin. “Here, you’re gonna need this,” and he tossed Anakin a tiny piece of circular plastic wrapped in a soft fabric.
“What is this for?” Anakin asked.
“Trust me, you’ll find out and you’ll thank me for that someday,” Khian laughed again, but Anakin didn’t see what was so funny.
Padme thought she understood the game of politics, but over the next four months she had been run across more roadblocks, stonewalling, and difficulties than she ever imagined. The investigation on Alderaan was difficult enough, but now she was dealing with dignitaries, military officials, and diplomats from across the entire Republic. This meant that every one of the problems she initially faced was now multiplied on over a dozen worlds.
Her office was just the apartment that Palpatine had moved her to in the City of Spires on Coruscant, not too far from the Senate Rotunda itself. The view outside her sleeping quarters showcased the massive Senate building with the never-ending stream of traffic passing just in front of it. As she shook the sleep from her eyes, she was impressed with how different the society was compared to Alderaan.
On Alderaan, she couldn’t go more than a few meters without someone recognizing her. On Coruscant, with its endless skyscrapers, several trillion people, and constant interstellar traffic, she was beyond anonymous. Even in the world of politics, she was one among countless thousands who served the Republic. This world within the world of Coruscant was full of now familiar faces that were never happy to see her. She was the long arm of Senator Palpatine and she learned that his reach was long indeed.
Up until now, she had been able to use the momentum of her initial discovery to loosen a few tongues. She had learned that although General Tarkin was behind the expansions and the cloning facility on Alderaan, he was just another pawn in a much larger game. Every lead she followed spawned more questions. Every question she answered spawned two more leads. Who was giving the orders? Where did the funding come from? What was the purpose behind the clones? The Spaarti Cylinders didn’t come out of nowhere, what technicans engineered them?
Now, her investigation had stalled. She had reports from some of the greatest minds in the Republic. She was reading the words of Doctor Anton Billicks, Oro Thalia, and a dozen other genetic history makers. She had lodging and meal vouchers, transmissions sent to loved ones, personal logs, progress reports, everything to show they were working at a furious pace. What she did not have was their current location since a Major Issic assumed command. An entire team of genetic giants had disappeared.
Padme ran a hand through her hair in frustration as she read the messages on her digital display that was on the wall in her living quarters. Most of the messages she received overnight were responses to her responses to the responses of her responses to inquiries she had made over the past few weeks. There were also messages from various groups expressing either there support or condemnation of her investigation.
She had also received a message from Senator Palpatine reminding her that all personnel she brought with her from Alderaan had to file the appropriate travel forms. She furrowed her brow in frustration and went to order her morning meal. She had been on Coruscant for over two months. Why would he remind her to file paperwork for interstellar travel so long after it had happened?
She had come to admire the energy that Senator Palpatine had. He was constantly meeting with key senators, judges on the Supreme Court, corporate leaders, and dignitaries from across the Republic. His schedule over the last few weeks showed a whirlwind of meetings with regents and senators from over twenty different worlds along with communiqués from the same twenty world’s garrison commanders. Yet, with all this activity, he had never once turned down a request from her for a meeting whether it was just for a moment or over an hour.
As she sipped on her morning caffa, a thought struck her. She placed an urgent transmission to the Ministry for Military Transport. As the transmission was commencing, she checked her chronometer. Luckily for her, the call was answered by the Deputy Minister herself.
“Good morning Senator Amidala. What can I do for you?” the minister asked.
“Hello Illiana, it’s been a long time, how’s Satie?” Padme asked.
“She asks about you constantly. If she’s not asking about you, she’s telling her friends at school tales of her brave aunt who is saving our world from total destruction,” Illiana said with a smile.
“I wish she wouldn’t call me that. We’re not really related, we just spent a lot of time together at the Regent’s Office,” Padme sighed.
“And a lot of time dodging red tape, and a lot of time dodging my ex-husband, and too much time dodging very bad blind dates. But I doubt you called over here just to discuss our grand adventures,” Illiana brought the conversation back to business.
“Minister, anytime there is official business conducted by the military that takes them off-world, there is a paper trail, correct?” Senator Amidala asked.
“Of course. If the military brings even a hairbrush from off-world, they have to file the proper forms, just like everyone else,” the Deputy Minister for Military Transport responded.
“Then I need all military on and off-world transport forms filed six months before and after their first expansion of the garrison on Alderaan,” she requested.
“I’ll call up the paperwork and have it transmitted to your office within the hour. Is this related to the cloning thing?” Illiana asked, her eyes twinkling.
“You know I can’t discuss an ongoing senatorial investigation, even with you,” Padme began.
“Yes yes, you would if you could, but you can’t so you won’t. Watch your back out there, Padme,” Illiana ended the transmission.
Padme turned to look out her window at the Senate Rotunda. While she waited for Illiana to send her the data, she opened a link to the Coruscant Military Database. She began to maneuver her way through the database and began reading the section regarding travel orders. If there was a paper trail on her planet, then now was the time to stop thinking small and start looking for paper trails across the Republic. She began pacing in front of her window as she hoped this information would prove to be very educational.
Anakin’s morning was anything but educational. He was woken up by the early morning bells of the Jedi Academy. He stretched, rubbed his head and sighed as he felt the lack of hair. The Jedi had trimmed it down to a crew-cut style, except for the back, which he had begun to grow into a braid.
As he felt the small but growing braid, his fingers ran across the fabric covered hair tie that Khian had given him. He rolled his eyes at the thought of Khian giving him an “I told you so” look before rolling out of bed and joining his classmates for their morning lesson.
While “classmates” was the official term for the others in Jedi Hopeful Class J-94, being around children who were still learning how to wipe their noses was degrading. Every other Padawan looked at Anakin with a mix of curiousness and contempt. He could hear whispers in the halls wondering not only how someone so old was admitted, but what he was doing with a class full of babies. The questions were often followed by the pointing and the quiet laughter and once again, Anakin felt like he was an outsider who was second-best.
He had high hopes that Obi-Wan would come visit him today. On the rare occasions that his master had come to see him, Anakin was spared sleeping through lectures on how the Force was everywhere and how to respect all things. He had been at the academy for two months and all they had allowed him to do was levitate a few pebbles. The constraints placed on him were maddeningly frustrating, but his master reminded him that you have to learn how to crawl before you could walk.
He nearly tripped over one of his classmates on the way to Classroom 47-B in one of the lower wings of the Academy. He mumbled out a token apology to a curly headed boy named Tothic as he entered the familiar classroom. To his dismay, a protocol droid waited for them with a holo-imager. Anakin knew he was doomed to another lecture from a video that wasn’t even interactive presented by a droid that was oblivious to all reasoning.
The golden droid waited until they were all seated before speaking. “Hello Hopeful Class J-94, I am C-3PO, human/cyborg relations. Today, I have been assigned to present a very interesting video about the Force and how it interacts with all living and non-living entities. Please remain seated and silent until the video terminates,” the droid said in an annoying prissy voice. It pressed a few buttons on the terminal and a hologram appeared before them. It was of a Jedi Master that had already spoken to them several times before.
The image began to drone on about how the Force flowed through all living things and how you could use the Force to sense and manipulate non-living things. Anakin quickly began to lose interest and wonder to himself what he could “sense and manipulate” to liven things up just a little.
Anakin closed his eyes and began to stretch out with the Force. If there was one thing he had learned in his time at the Academy, it was how to sharpen his sense of the Force so that he could feel things much easier than before. This time, he could feel the young students concentrating on the video before them. Their minds lay open to him as he probed one and then another. Finally, he settled on Kymia, a Zabrak girl whose short temper made her an easy target on more than one occasion.
He stretched out and gave Kymia a little push in the head with the Force. She looked over her shoulder and glared at a Rodian boy named Jaton. This boy was smaller than the rest of his class and usually kept to himself. The combination of these two would make a wonderful morning diversion. Jaton looked blankly back at her before she turned back to continue watching the video.
Anakin reached out again and gave her hair a sharp tug. The girl whirled around and glared at Jaton who now looked both puzzled and defensive. Slowly, Kymia turned back, but threw the occasional suspicious glance back at Jaton. Anakin reached for a third time and focused on pushing her head one more time. He over-did it this time and Kymia’s head shot forward quickly and hit the floor with a loud thud. She leapt to her feet and lunged at Jaton, her vicious yell ripped through the air.
The entire class, except for Anakin, stood up and formed a circle around the two combatants and cheered loudly. Kymia and Jaton rolled across the floor grappling with each other. The protocol droid stopped the video and turned the lights on in the room.
“I’m not programmed to stop violent acts!” C-3PO exclaimed before shuffling its way out of the room and into the hallway.
Anakin roared with laughter, clutching his sides at the sight. As suddenly as the fight had started, it had stopped and the room again grew silent with the exception of Anakin’s laughter. Half a second later, he stopped laughing when he saw that C-3PO had returned and Obi-Wan Kenobi was standing next to the golden droid.
Without a word from Jedi Kenobi, the Hopeful class sat down and Anakin slowly walked out into the hallway.
“I realize how difficult this must be for you, I really do. You’re with children less than half your age hearing about topics that even I found boring when I was younger. But you cannot ignore the fundamental lessons of the Force, regardless of your ability. You have to understand that only when you learn the basics, can you advance,” Obi-Wan lectured to him.
“But Master, I am advancing! I can do so much more than any of those kids,” Anakin explained.
“If it were a simple matter of being able to use the Force, I’m sure they would advance you. You can accomplish so much more with a combination of ‘brains and brawns’ than with brawn alone. You have to try harder,” Obi-Wan said firmly.
“I’m sorry Master. I try to slow myself down, I really do. It’s just some of these droids with their videos can be so mundane. Aren’t there better ways to properly educate me?” Anakin’s desperation came through his voice.
“This is how the Jedi have been training throughout the centuries. The more you learn now, the better quality the training will be later. After all, if you don’t learn how to properly maintain and operate the Volo, how can you get the most speed out of it?” The analogy Obi-Wan offered hit home.
“It’s all a question of patience, control, and discipline. If you can get through C-3PO’s horrible, wretched, prissy voice and get through those boring lectures, then you will have no problem listening to two squabbling bureaucrats bicker over how high the flags should be at a conference table,” Obi-Wan explained.
“That explains how you survived the conference on Alderaan. I never thought Tarkin would shut up. I’ll go back in and listen, Master. I hate disappointing you,” Anakin started to walk back to the classroom, but Obi-Wan caught his arm.
“I have another idea. If you can give me your Word of Honor that you will give this your best effort, I think I can give you a little taste of what you can expect,” Obi-Wan began to walk down the hallway as Anakin gave him a suspicious glance.