Chapter XIV – Knights and Pawns
Koth Styemms sat down at the terminal with a frown on his face. He was experienced in removing information from computer databases all over this sector of space. However, putting information in the system was very different and proving to be more difficult than he first thought.
He checked the readout on his SB-20 droid and continued working. This had to be one of the more unusual requests he had gotten from a client, but he didn’t ask questions. Smugglers ask questions, not slicers and certainly not one aspiring to be the best in the sector.
“SB, run a check on the internal scanners again and make sure that we’re alone. I don’t want another repeat of that little ‘accident’ with the wookiees on Kashyyk,” Koth said. “When you’re done there, run another back-trace so we’ve covered ourselves well enough.”
The Bothan’s fur rippled in concentration. He was well beyond slicing into merchant accounts or rigging starfighter races. This was a job that would catapult him into legendary status. Finally, his talents would be used by some of the best (and best paying) people on the black market.
When he had first constructed a working computer at the age of three, he knew he was destined for the world of electronics. Over the years, that knack had evolved into a trade that he was plying throughout the digital galaxy. Only missed opportunities and bad luck had stopped his reputation from being known in every back alley and slicer’s den in the galaxy. This time, everything would be different.
His SB-20 droid had a positive report on everything. No personnel were around to disturb his work and the one trace that was done was simply a routine security sweep. The false network he set up had it completely fooled.
The minutes ticked by as his work continued. Nearly an hour later, SB chirped at him.
Koth patted the droid on its metallic head. “Almost there, little byte. All that’s left is a little careful backtracking to make sure no one can even tell I was ever here,” his brow furrowed as his concentration intensified.
He checked to make sure he had added the travel orders, personal logs, meal vouchers, financial transactions and everything else his client had asked for. As an added bonus for authenticity, he sliced into a meeting between multiple heads of state and added a few things to their agenda.
Then he double checked his work to make sure it met not only with current Republic codes, but the timetables were correct as well. One missed detail meant sloppy work and no one ever paid for sloppiness. Finally he set his sights on one last assignment that was apart from the others. One that his employer was very, very specific on.
Finally, he sat back and sighed. The job was absolutely perfect, without a doubt his finest achievement. He disconnected the SB-20 droid and replaced the socket guard on the terminal. All that was left was to make contact and collect the rest of his pay. He keyed the completion code into his transmitter and left the room. He made sure to put the tunic of the technician he “borrowed” back on and that the false name tag was in view. Whistling to himself, he and SB-20 walked out of the Republic Data Center with not so much as a second glance from security.
Koth took the Mass Transit System and finally let a smile creep upon his face. As the buildings whipped by him, he chuckled quietly to himself. It took a great deal of restraint to stop himself from laughing loudly and drawing attention to himself. His financial future, his career, his legacy, they were all secure now.
He stepped off the MTS and walked over to a quiet alley and waited for his client. The SB-20 droid whistled a warning and he tensed automatically. Seconds later, a man in a dark cloak and hood pulled up over his head appeared out of the shadows. He approached Koth Styemms slowly.
“You indicated that the job is completed?” the man asked.
“It has to be the best job I have ever done. It also has to be the most unusual job, but still a masterful job. Now where’s the rest of my pay?” Koth asked, his eyes narrowing.
“You will wait while I ensure the job is of the quality I am looking for,” the client pulled out a digital tablet and began to key in a series of commands. Koth nervously looked around for a minute before the man returned his attention to the slicer.
“The orders are flawless, the work impeccable, and everything I want appears to be there in every detail,” the man finally said.
“Making heads of state look bad is one thing, but I’ve never had someone plant transmissions on his own assistant before. Especially ones so…incriminating. I assume Senator Palpatine has good reason for that,” Koth said.
The hooded man only grunted in reply while he checked his tablet.
“So now I can get paid for quality work?” Koth said with an air of annoyance.
“Absolutely,” the man said and pulled his hood back revealing a black and red streaked face with small horns protruding from the top of his head in a circle. He raised his hand to be eye level with Koth and squeezed the air.
Koth began to make soft choking noises. He grabbed at his throat and struggled to draw in any air at all. His SB droid made a tremendous noise, beeping and chirping and spinning in a circle. With his other hand, Darth Maul used the Force to rip the top off of the droid. Koth Styemms looked on in horror as the droid fell over in a shower of sparks.
He tried to move toward the man, but found his strength leaving his body. Still, he managed to take a few steps toward his murderer. Darth Maul’s eyes glinted in delight. He dropped to one knee, but still reached out toward his former client. In response, his killer squeezed his hand until it closed into a fist.
Koth Styemms heard his windpipe crack shortly before he fell over and let death take him. The last thing he saw in this life was his killer standing over him, clearly enjoying himself.
Anakin thought that his heart was going to beat itself right out of his chest. He was standing on a golden floor in the middle of a circular room. The floor was two circles, the outer circle was gold with red markings and the inner circle was red with gold markings. Sitting in chairs with low backs to them in an almost full circle around him were the twelve members of the Jedi High Council. A number of objects were in front of him ranging from four small red balls to rocks and another chair. Obi-Wan Kenobi was standing in a corner, mute and unmoving.
“Anakin Skywalker, you have been brought before the Jedi High Council to see if you have the necessary ability with the Force to be trained as a Jedi Knight of the Republic. If you do, then you will be admitted to the Jedi Academy and be trained in the ways of the Force,” Jedi Master Mace Windu said.
Anakin couldn’t help but notice how Master Windu didn’t mention what would happen if he didn’t pass this test. He swallowed a little and tried to mentally prepare himself for whatever was coming next.
“We will put you through a series of tests starting with the most basic of trials. After which we will discuss your future,” Mace Windu continued.
“Now comes the fun part,” Anakin muttered. But hardly had the words left his mouth before all four of the balls began to hover into the air. One of them shot towards him and Anakin had just barely time to move his head out of the way. A second moved towards his chest and Anakin jumped to one side as the Masters looked on. The third and fourth moved together at incredible speeds and tried to come at him from opposite angles. Anakin dodged one and plucked the other out of the air. He dropped to all fours to avoid one, and then rolled over flat on his back as one narrowly grazed his forehead.
The three remaining red balls continued their assault on Anakin. They came at him from different sides, angles, and speeds, trying to keep him off balance. He had managed to use his reflexes to keep from getting pummeled by the Jedi’s test. He knew he couldn’t keep dodging them forever, something had to be done.
“This is pointless,” Anakin said to himself.
He felt the remaining three balls coming toward him. He flung the ball he had in his grip toward one and when the two collided they both dropped to the ground. The other two increased their speed and aimed directly for his chest. Anakin reached out with the Force again to increase their speed so that they overshot him. As the balls blew past his shoulders, he whirled around to see that he overestimated how much influence with the Force he needed and both balls shot through a window on the far side of the Council Chambers, shattering it instantly and vanishing from sight.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Anakin said to the Council. “I’ll pay for that! I’ll stay here and fix it myself if I have to!” he said quickly.
The Masters exchanged looks. “The window is of no importance,” Master Windu said.
The green skinned Master Kit Fisto stood up and walked toward Anakin Skywalker with a helmet in his hand. He then closed his eyes for just a moment, and four additional Kit Fistos appeared. All five of the Jedi Masters grinned at the perplexed Anakin.
“You must determine which one is real,” Mace Windu said.
“Well that’s easy!” Anakin exclaimed. “He never moved at all!”
“I wasn’t finished,” Kit Fisto said and walked toward Anakin and placed the helmet on Anakin’s head. The helmet had a blast shield that blocked his entire vision. Anakin now had to pick the real Jedi Master out of the lineup totally blind.
He heard the five Fistos slowly walking in a circle around him. While Anakin was thinking, trying to figure out which one was which, he heard their pace quicken and they also changed direction at random moments. Anakin turned where he stood; trying to determine which one was the real Jedi Master. He tried to figure it out by listening to their footfalls. Perhaps the real one would have real footsteps? After a few minutes, they were walking very fast now and Anakin was thoroughly confused. He knew that this too had to be a pointless exercise if he used conventional means to succeed. Anakin closed his eyes and concentrated on the Force.
The instant he began to use the Force to flesh out the real Master Fisto, he heard five snap-hiss sounds and a humming filled the air. He panicked for a split moment as he envisioned five Jedi Masters with lightsabers ignited circling him and his hold on the Force evaporated.
The five Jedi Masters began to swing their lightsabers in his direction. Anakin instinctively ducked and dived as he felt the blades whirl past him. He was totally blind now; the Force and his sight were gone. All he could do was imagine one of those green blades slicing into his head.
One of the blades finally struck home and Anakin felt a searing pain in his leg just below the knee. He dropped to one knee and clutched the leg in pain. Surprisingly, there was no gaping wound in that leg. Another blade struck his shoulder and again he cried out in pain. Anakin knew that he must be being hit by the “fake” Masters, but if he was hit too many times or if one hit his head, he wouldn’t last too long even if he wasn’t being hit by an actual lightsaber.
The five Kit Fistos turned their walk into a jog and Anakin shook the panic from his head. He dropped all the fear from his mind and stretched out with the Force yet again. He could feel the doppelgangers melt away until the five Jedi Masters jogging around him with lightsabers blazing, were reduced to only one. As one of the blades swung for his head, he reached out and grabbed the robe of the real Jedi Master.
Anakin felt the helmet being lifted off him and his first image was a grinning Kit Fisto. The Jedi Master’s obsidian eyes glinted in the light. “Not bad, kid,” he patted Anakin on the shoulder.
“And now Anakin, we have one more trial for you today,” Mace Windu said as Kit Fisto sat back down. “Just relax, Master Yoda won’t take long.”
Anakin took a deep breath and tried to prepare for the next taxing trial.
“How feel you?” A soft voice asked.
Anakin nearly jumped on the spot. While Mace Windu’s voice was deep and strong, this voice was soft, almost curious in nature. Yet it held such confidence and conviction that Anakin knew instantly to be serious with the small, green Jedi Master sitting in the center of the circle looking at Anakin with great interest. The entire Council seemed to melt away and he felt as though he and Yoda were the only two in the room.
“I don’t understand,” Anakin responded.
“Physical in nature, not all trials are,” the small Master replied. “Mental, spiritual, more important trials these can be. How feel you?” He asked again, pointing a gnarled wooden cane at Anakin.
“A little tired, sir. I’ve never done anything quite like this before back home,” Anakin admitted.
“Miss your home, do you?” the Jedi Master asked.
Anakin pushed thoughts of Owen out of his mind. “Not really, there wasn’t much for me to miss. I was very glad that Jedi Kenobi didn’t send me back to that waste of space. I’m looking forward to…looking forward,” Anakin said.
“As a Jedi, much accomplishment you hope for?” He asked Anakin.
“I can do amazing things with the Force and I know that I can do much more when I am trained,” the Masters exchanged glances again. “We’re only given one life, sir. With the Force, I know I will do great things and become something incredible,” Anakin swelled up with pride.
Yoda sighed. “Much ambition I sense in you. To recklessness your ambition leads you. Fear too, there is. Fear of failure, fear of your future, fear of anonymity.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to do your best? Master, people have been holding me back my whole life. For the first, and perhaps the only time in my life, I can be something other than a nobody from the planet known throughout the galaxy as “Nowhere”. I have a future here, a real future!” Anakin had to stop himself; his hands were slightly shaking and were balled up into fists.
In a corner of the room, he could see Obi-Wan Kenobi shaking his head and mouthing “pleasure to serve”.
“Jedi Kenobi, join your Hopeful you will,” Master Yoda beckoned him to stand in the circle.
He walked over and stood beside Anakin with his hands folded inside his simple, brown robes. He gave Anakin a look of reassurance as the two of them stood before the Jedi High Council. Anakin felt comforted that the Jedi Knight who had been with him at the beginning was now standing with him in his hour of greatest need.
“Strong feelings you have that he should be trained,” Yoda said as a statement, but there was the air of a question.
“He is older than any other Hopeful we have accepted in the last two hundred years. There is no denying that the disturbance he makes with the Force can be felt by everyone in this building. Look at what he has accomplished on Tatooine and Alderaan with no training at all. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the finest Knights in the Jedi Order.”
Anakin couldn’t help but feel his chest swell his pride.
“Agrees with you, the Council does about his ability,” Yoda said. “But doubts we have, about his discipline and control. Concerned we are, about his reach into the Dark Side,” several other Masters nodded in agreement, including Master Windu.
“I believe the only reason there is any pull to the Dark Side is because of a lack of training and education. He doesn’t fully understand what is happening to him, he doesn’t know how to control the unique ability he has with the Force. Anakin may have shown dark tendencies, but I am convinced that all he needs is the proper guidence,” Obi-Wan said.
It was then that Obi-Wan took his leap of faith. “If the Council has doubts, then let him be my Padawan. I will be responsible for his training and oversee all aspects of his education. Together, we will iron out the wrinkles he has and ensure his commitment to the Jedi Order,” Silence filled the room as Anakin’s heart hammered in his chest.
For a long time, no one spoke. Anakin felt the room swirl before him and he felt infinitesimally small. Finally, Master Yoda said, “To have your Padawan, too young you are. When trained, assigned to him, another Knight will be.”
Anakin’s heart did a flip. Just like that, he had gotten both exactly what he wanted and exactly what he didn’t want. He would become a Jedi Knight, he would be trained in the ways of the Force, but he would have to leave Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Disagree with the decision of the Council, you do? Yoda asked.
Anakin almost screamed the nature of his disagreement, but before he could speak, Obi-Wan answered and Anakin realized that the question wasn’t meant for him.
“Yes I do. Anakin and I have a history together. I discovered him, and I made the case for him before you today. I have witnessed his abilities and we have a bond together. He trusts me and I…I trust him as well,” Obi-Wan admitted. “If the Council has doubts, then I ask for a sponsor. I ask that a Master supervise the training and education that I give to Anakin.”
“That’s an interesting request,” Master Windu said. “I don’t see the harm in it. You propose that Anakin receive his Jedi training from a Knight he is comfortable with and our Knight will receive his Jedi training from a Master. I am comfortable with this arrangement,” he nodded his bald head and Anakin saw others on the Council nod with him.
“Will of the Council it is,” Yoda said. “Train Jedi Kenobi I will in ways of training a Padawan. Place Anakin with the Hopefuls, we will. Much work he must do to catch his peers.”
Anakin couldn’t hold it in anymore and burst out, “When do I start??” His comment drew several chuckles from the Council.
“After we make you look more like an official Jedi Padawan,” Mace Windu said and Anakin felt the eyes of everyone in the room go right to his shaggy hair. “Before we begin, it is tradition that you say farewell to your loved ones. Who shall we make arrangements with?”
Anakin seriously doubted that Owen would even believe he had been accepted into the Jedi Academy and doubted even more that he would come say farewell to him. His thoughts gravitated to only one person he could possibly want to see before he enters the Jedi Order.
“How do I get in contact with Senator Amidala?” he asked the High Council.
Felic paced outside Spaceport Terminal Forty-Two. The shuttle had docked nearly ten minutes ago and his party had not arrived yet. Were they discovered? Had he been sold out? He nervously glanced over his shoulder just to make sure that the Republic Guards weren’t behind him.
Finally, he walked away from the shuttle. He would look out of place if he stood by an empty shuttle for too long. He checked his personal communicator to see if he had missed any messages from them.
As he walked, he was flanked by two Anzati who kept pace with him.
“The Sable Dawn greets you once again, Felic Ordon,” the taller one said.
“We need to speak somewhere more privately. There is a secure room nearby that the Dawn uses for such occasions,” the two Anzati escorted him to a conference room in the spaceport and locked the door behind them.
“You aren’t the ones I dealt with on Alderaan. I need names to verify identities,” Felic demanded.
“Not trusting the Sable Dawn can be most hazardous. Our names stay with us for…security reasons.” Two tentacle-like proboscises curled out and extended from their cheeks and began feeling their way to Felic’s head. “Surely, you understand the need for anonymity,” the shorter one said.
“Y…yes, yes, of course,” Felic stammered and shied away from the probing tentacles. “I can assume all the arrangements I set into motion are nearing completion? My timetable is very tight.”
“The Gamorreans and the Sennex pirates will be arriving when and where you specified. They cannot arrive too soon or else they will attract attention. Subtlety is our most potent weapon at this point,” the taller one said.
“Whatever. All I need to know is if everything is going as planned?” Felic asked nervously.
“Everything will be fine as long as the Sable Dawn gets paid,” the shorter one said.
“You don’t work in politics this long without knowing how to move a little money around,” Felic said and a grin grew across his face.
“Taxpayer money is the best currency the Sable Dawn could ask for,” they smiled back at him.