Finding the Boy
In a high skyscraper overlooking an industrial sector of Coruscant, Darth Sidious stood watch at several towers spewing fire from their tops. Coruscant was made up of many levels of metal and electricity. It was almost like the beating heart of the galaxy. There were, however, some places in the metropolis where one could find a degree of solace and anonymity. Very few living beings made their way to the industrial sectors outlying the exciting city core where the Senate and the Jedi High Council were located. Mostly droids and the dregs of society—along with the occasional scoundrel or bounty hunter—dared show their faces in these parts. This made it a perfect place for the Sith Lords to hide. It was a desirable place to orchestrate a campaign against the Republic.
Sidious heard a door close behind him and turned around to find his apprentice looking at him with blazing red eyes. Darth Maul was a curious apprentice part Dathomirian and part Zabrak, he had spikes and thorns jutting out of his head along with red skin which he accentuated with black tattoos all over his body. He lowered his hood and knelt before Sidious.
"Rise my friend." He stood up and followed his master to the balcony overlooking the foundries and towers.
"The news from Alderaan is disconcerting. We should not trust Gunray and the Federation, they will fail us."
"That may be so Lord Maul, but they are a means to an end. The Republic needs to be pushed to its breaking point if we are to have any chance of succeeding with our plans." Maul nodded his head in agreement.
"The Federation reported that they destroyed the Queen's shuttle…"
"And they failed to kill her."
"How can you be sure?"
"Search your feelings Maul. She is alive as are her Jedi protectors."
"Qui-Gon Jinn is very formidable…and I have heard much regarding Kenobi's reputation." "That is why you must be very careful." He reflected on Jinn's career and the hand he played in Sidious' own rise to power. "Jinn killed my master on Dantooine, he is strong with the Force."
"Can you sense where they are?"
"We know that the firefight left them near Tatooine. You must go there, find them, and capture the Queen. I will do my part with the Jedi Council and the Senate to keep them distracted and unaware of the Federation's invasion. Go now and fulfill your destiny."
"Yes my master." He bowed and took his leave. Sidious smiled. He would accomplish what Darth Plagueis had been unable to do, and he would have his vengeance on Qui-Gon Jinn as an added bonus.
Mos Espa was not so different from any other settlement or "city" one could find on Tatooine. Though the Outer Rim Territories counted as Republican space (and some worlds like Dantooine, Sullust, Korriban, and Mon Calamari had played pivotal roles in galactic affairs)—many worlds were dens of thievery and deceit and those that were under the jurisdiction of the Hutts, though nominally a part of the Republic, were in actuality ruled by the whims of bounty hunters and gangsters. Order and attention to conventional laws and protocols were optional at best. Tattooine was a desert world that was as barren as it was lawless. Mos Epsa's light brown colored (mostly cylindrical) buildings housed various cantinas, trading spots for local moisture farmers, and boasted a large track for the city's main attraction—pod racing. Queen Amidala began to understand why her Jedi protectors had been so adamant about her remaining behind. Nevertheless, it was not her first time seeing this sort of environment. Qui-Gon Jinn observed the city briefly before making his way toward a large group of buildings.
"I am going to go speak with one of the local dealers, see if we can't get the parts we need." Jinn moved toward a large structure in the center right by an overflowing pile of junk and entered leaving Padmé and Obi-Wan alone. Kenobi moved toward a small cantina.
"Where are you going?"
"If you'll excuse me your highness I am going to get a drink."
"You sure that's a good idea Kenobi?" He barely acknowledged her and walked off. She gave him a look as if she couldn't care less about him, but the truth was a bit more complicated than that. As she watched him enter the cantina she lowered her guard. She liked the young clean-shaven Jedi accompanying his older master. He was arrogant and thought much of himself, but he was a skilled warrior who had defended her life back on Alderaan. She decided to follow him.
Obi-Wan found a seat and grabbed a drink as he waited. Padmé Amidala bothered him. She was capable of immense loyalty to her people, to the Republic, to her men. Look at how much she cared about Panaka, he thought to himself. But her cavalier attitude was dangerous for a place like Tatooine. He didn't care how much she had been trained with a blaster—this was no place for a queen. No sooner had he started drinking that he felt three men approaching him from behind. Padmé saw them too. They did not look friendly at all
"Jedi scum aren't welcome in this establishment." The tallest one said. He had two large blasters at his side. "Why don't you go back to whatever part of the Core Worlds you're from and leave this place?" Obi-Wan closed his eyes as he sipped his drink. He exhaled and turned to face the three men. They had tattoos. They were definitely bounty hunters with their dark brown vests and green colored fatigues. The two smaller ones sported long knives that hung from their ammo belts. Obi-Wan concentrated on their minds and began to speak. He gestured subtly with his hands.
"You don't want any trouble with me. How about I get you a drink?" For a moment, he thought they were weak minded enough to back away. He was wrong as the one in the middle pulled out his blaster and waved it in Obi-Wan's face.
"How about I blow your face off?" Obi-Wan felt sweat dripping down his face. Even with the Force he could not move fast enough to counteract them. That is until the lead bounty hunter felt a hard blaster up against his head.
"How about you leave my friend alone and go about your business boys?" It was Padmé.
"Ah, so you've got a friend? Whoever she is, I don't think you are getting out of this fix so easily." Using the Force, Obi-Wan spoke to Padmé.
"On my signal shoot….one, two, three…" She fired one shot blowing the first bounty hunter's head clean off as Obi-Wan lit his blue lightsaber and sliced the arm of another off while Padmé pushed her back against his as they faced several more goons who decided to join the fray. One of the original bounty hunters was still standing.
"Well you sure know how to pick fights."
"You're good with a blaster, that much I'll give you." She held her blaster high warding off two other men, while Obi-Wan kept his lightsaber at the neck of the last remaining bounty hunter. "We're going to get out of here now…and we don't want any more trouble." They kept their gazes fixed on their respective targets, the original bounty hunter grabbed his injured friend and ran off while the other goons chose the lesser of two evils. Padmé and Obi-Wan wasted no time in heading back out near some of the dealers outside. "You saved me in there your highness." He added the last part with a bit of sarcasm to it, but he had lost much of the desire to bother her after her stellar performance in the cantina. There was a sense of mutual respect growing between the two of them that belied their earlier tension.
"Please just call me Padmé…"
"Look I am sorry I doubted you."
"It's okay, I kind of dared you to prove yourself and you did." She paused as she holstered the blaster. "Truthfully, you seem like a fine Jedi Knight." There was something about her that drew him. She was about to say something else when Qui-Gon Jinn joined them.
"We may have found new hyperdrive engine we can use. But this is not going to be easy. Follow me."
Darth Maul's ship landed on Tatooine at nightfall. He stepped out on the ramp and was quickly followed by three probe droids. He pressed a few buttons on his wrist and sent them out to scour the landscape. There was no doubt that the Jedi were here. He could sense them quite strongly. But it would take a few days to locate them. He would rest and wait for the right time to strike.
Qui-Gon entered a building filled to the brim with busted droids and scrap metal. Both Obi-Wan and Padmé were not hopeful with the scene they saw in front of them.
"Where is everybody?" exclaimed Padmé. From the shadows came a teenager, he must have been seventeen years old. He had sandy brown hair and deep blue eyes. He was handsome but the bracelet around his ankle identified him clearly as a slave.
"I didn't hear you come in. Can I help you?" The two Jedi Knights felt a strong tremor in the Force as soon as the boy entered the room.
"Master, did you feel that?"
"Yes…it's coming from the boy…"
"There's something very strong here."
"Can I help you?" The young man asked again.
"Yes, you can. We're looking to secure a new hyperdrive engine for our ship. I spoke with Watto earlier today. Who are you?" The young slave looked up and gave a small smile.
"Anakin Skywalker." No sooner had he said his name than Watto his master entered the room. The dealer was a Trandoshan who had definitely seen better days. He bore a large scar on his forehead, and his dark green leathery skin was gnarled with age. He stuck his tongue out a bit giving off a slight hiss as he began to speak.
"My answer hasn't changed since this morning…" He licked his sharp reptilian teeth as he spoke. "No one accepts Republic credits here…it's not how we do business in the Outer Rim." Qui-Gon stepped forward.
"We should be able reach some kind of bargain."
"Only if you are willing to gamble with some of the best scum Mos Espa has to offer. I am just a businessman. For the right price, I'll help you out. Just remember that no one else has the kind of Alderaanian hyperdrive you need. I have the only one." Qui-Gon nodded his head and sighed with some frustration as he motioned for Obi-Wan and the Queen to follow him out.
"Well that didn't go so well."
"And he's too strong-willed for a Jedi mind trick to work, believe me I tried this morning." Amidala was about to intervene when the boy they met briefly in the shop ran out after them.
"Maybe I can help you out."
"All the dealers care about is gambling, that's their lifeblood.
"That's what Watto told us…"
"They do podracing here. It's the big event that makes them throw everything on the line and caution to the wind. If you can find something to use to pay for the entry fee, there might be a shot to get the engine you're looking for…" Padmé spoke up.
"So we'd have to gamble on a podrace?"
"I am afraid so. There's no other way." Qui-Gon scratched his beard deep in thought.
"What do you have in mind?"
"I've been working on a podracer. It's almost finished. I am perfectly willing to give it to you to enter the race. All you would need then is a pilot." Qui-Gon spoke up.
"Why not you?"
"I am just a slave, Watto won't have it. And I am not that good. The last time I didn't even finish the race." The boy's humility and meekness impressed the seasoned Jedi Master.
"When can we meet to see the podracer?"
"Come by the shop late tomorrow afternoon. Watto won't be around."
"We'll see you then Anakin." Qui-Gon shook the boy's hand gingerly.
"Interesting boy…" said Obi-Wan.
"More than that is at work here." He paused for a moment and look at Padmé. "My Lady, with your permission, I think we need to consider putting the ship on the line if we enter this podrace."
"So you want to risk gambling our only means of transportation on a hunch given us by a young boy we know nothing about?" Obi-Wan's eyes widened. Qui-Gon spoke up softly.
"It sounds like the Force is behind all of this. It's not a coincidence that we ended up here Padmé. That boy might be the key to getting us safely out of here and to Coruscant." She looked away from them for a moment, lost in thought. She believed in the Force just as much as the Jedi did. Though it sounded crazy, what Qui-Gon was suggesting made sense to her.
"Very well then. We'll do it. But you better be right about that boy." Qui-Gon smiled as she walked away in the direction of the ship.
"Obi-Wan…hang back with me for a moment."
"That boy was strong with the Force. Stronger than anything I've felt before."
"Very much so."
"He needs to be trained. I need to train him, there's something about him." Hearing this made Obi-Wan Kenobi's heart sink. Qui-Gon could tell what was bothering him and Obi-Wan refused to keep his mouth shut.
"The Council won't allow it. It's unheard of to have more than one padawan learner at a time. And besides…" he paused, "You haven't finished training me yet Qui-Gon." Qui-Gon gently patted Obi-Wan on the back.
"Obi-Wan you stopped being a naïve padawan a long time ago. I am fully confident that when we return to Coruscant you will pass the Trials and become a great Jedi Knight. There's very little you can learn from me anymore." Obi-Wan felt a sense of pride at hearing those words, but part of him felt disheartened that he might be losing his master to a younger upstart whom they had just met. Despite his misgivings and the pangs of jealousy, he trusted his master's judgment. Qui-Gon had never led him astray before. The two of them quickly rushed to catch up with Padmé.
Qui-Gon went out alone later that night to see the young boy they had met at Watto's shop.
"Qui-Gon, you're early."
"I know I am." He paused for a moment by the front of the building. "I wanted to catch you before we talked about this podrace." The boy with sandy hair looked at him quizzically. Out of the blue, Qui-Gon tossed what looked like a smaller metal canister at the boy. There was no way a normal person could avoid it or catch it. Anakin raised his hands above his head, shutting his eyes to protect himself from the object. The hit never came. He slowly put down his arms and opened his eyes…seeing the metal rod floating gently by him.
"I don't know what's going on here at all."
"You know a lot more than you are letting on." He looked at the rod. It wasn't a canister, it was a lightsaber.
"How did you realize I could do this?"
"I felt your presence as soon as we entered Watto's shop. You have many gifts it seems…when did you start being able to manipulate the Living Force?" Anakin sighed.
"It started when I was eight. I could see things before they happened. I felt the world around me and it was insane…I felt united with everything around me. Do you know what I mean?"
"Perfectly." He paused for a moment. "Who was your father? Was he a Jedi Knight?"
"No. It was just my mother and me up until a few years ago."
"She died?" Anakin nodded his head.
"Yeah. Sand People came in and raided the slave quarters of Mos Espa. I was away, she was alone. They killed her."
"How did you respond to that?"
"I was angry at first. But then I realized they didn't know what they were doing. The Tusken Raiders are just as scared of us as we are of them. I stopped hating them a long time ago." Qui-Gon was amazed by the insights and empathy the boy had.
"Did your mother tell you anything about your father?" The answer Anakin gave him sent a cold chill running down the Jedi Master's back.
"I don't know how to explain this…She told me there was no father. She became pregnant, she carried me, she raised me. She didn't understand any of it—but this much she knew—I was a blessing from the Force. She was convinced of it." He decided to take a gamble.
"What's the real reason you don't want to race?" Anakin looked away, caught off guard by so direct a question.
"I've been a slave all of my life. These gifts are great, but it doesn't change who I am Qui-Gon. The only thing I am good for is serving others. I am clumsy, shy, I am not suited for the limelight. I am lucky I can repair what little Watto trusts me with in the shop…how can someone like me race? No human has ever completed a pod race. The one time I did it, I couldn't even complete the race and I busted up the pod Watto gave me to use." Qui-Gon moved closer to Anakin.
"The perceptions others have of you do not matter next to the power of the Force." He faced the horizon as the twin suns of Tatooine slowly began to break through the night sky. "You are defined by the Force and nothing else. I know that you have the capacity to win that race…more than that…you could be a powerful Jedi Knight. You were meant for more than just the life of a slave in the Outer Rim." Anakin looked him. He couldn't tell if the boy believed what he said, but some of it was sinking in. "I'd like to see the pod, but I want you to take the chance and race for us. We know nobody else here…Anakin…you are our only hope." He paused. "Will you help us?" Anakin breathed in deeply and closed his eyes. There was a shift in him. He turned and faced Qui-Gon with some newfound confidence, though he hardly knew where it came from.
"Yes…I will help you"