29 BBY They were lucky the people who’d planted the bomb hadn’t really known what they were doing. It had clearly been placed in the room just below the throne room, and when the explosion hit, the room was rocked, and Anakin thought the floor had probably sustained some damage. But it held itself together, unbreached, and it didn’t feel like the building’s support structure was going to give either, at least not immediately.
No one in the throne room was seriously injured either, although a few of the Sellians were thrown against the walls and the furniture. Anakin had known those fancy table legs had been a terrible idea. As he determined this, Master Jinn fell to his knees and into meditation. Anakin didn’t ask him why; hopefully he’d explain at some point.
In the meantime, looked like it fell to him to get over to the Prince and try to keep him calm. It wasn’t looking promising. He’d been thrown to the floor, and was rubbing his knees as he got up; he’d probably scraped them. Lady Riva was draping herself over him, not even pretending she wasn’t his mistress in the way she was cooing her concern. When Anakin called out, “Are you all right, Your Highness?” he looked up, and his face was filled with thunder.
“Who did this?” he demanded. “Do you know?”
Anakin didn’t even call him out for that ridiculous question. “Not yet, Your Highness,” he said, “but I promise you, we will find out.”
“Well, it must be either the Sharos or Lord Mussi,” said Lady Riva, looking at him in a way that made it clear she couldn't look past his being twelve; she didn't even know he was going on thirteen. “Who else could it be?”
Anakin wasn’t about to make that kind of assumption, especially because he didn’t think it was the Sharos. They would’ve done a better job at it, would’ve known where in the palace to place the bomb. A political rival, possibly Lord Mussi, seemed more likely. In any case, that wasn’t the most important thing right now. “We must get you and everyone else to safety. Can you tell us who knows how many people are in this palace and where they are?”
“There are eight wounded on the ground floor,” Master Jinn announced from where he was kneeling. “At least one person has been killed, possibly more.”
“If you want to know who’s where in the palace, Master Jedi,” said Lady Dara, coming over to them, perfectly steady on her feet, “then you want to High Master. He’ll know. I’ll comm him if you want.”
“Yes, do that,” Anakin told her. “And we need to send people downstairs to help the wounded.”
“He’s know who to send. I’ll tell him that.”
Meanwhile Master Jinn had risen from his meditation. “I don’t think there is any further strike imminent,” he said. “Nonetheless, I would still recommend the evacuation of the palace, both as a precautionary measure in case I am wrong and because we cannot be certain about the extent of the structure damage.”
“Flee?” protested an indignant Lord Currs. “On those flimsy grounds?”
The final decision had to be the Prince’s, Anakin supposed, although he wasn’t whom he personally would’ve chosen to make it. “Your Highness,” he urged, “there are many lives at stake here, including yours.”
There was a pause, where at least the Prince’s face went from anger to a more contemplative look. Lady Dara was talking quietly over the comm, then she announced, “He’s sending a stitch party.”
“They’ll need to be gotten out of there as soon they can all be moved,” said the Prince. “Make sure that is done as well; have the High Master send extra people if needed. Also, get everyone off this top floor. Then all the staff except the High Master, his two deputies, and the Master Carpenter are to evacuate. Others may also go if they wish. I will stay. We will all gather at the undamaged end of the palace and I will meet with my main chamber. Master Jedi, if you would be so good as to attend?”
Better and more thought-out than Anakin had expected. He would’ve liked to have gone to help the wounded instead though. He suspected he would’ve been of much more use doing that.
Lady Dara repeated the Prince’s commands to the High Master; a moment later the announcers came on, the High Master spreading the word throughout the palace. Calm was taking over the throne room, everyone heading towards the doors, and the stairway was just below. “Someone should at least stay up here until everyone is off the floor,” said Lord Currs.
“Padawan,” Master Jinn nodded to him, much to Anakin’s relief.
The grand staircase was just outside the throne room; Anakin saw the group down it, Master Jinn with them, just before another group of people approached, led by a woman he was pretty sure was one of the High Master’s deputies. “How many people on this floor?” he asked her as he intercepted them.
“About a hundred,” she said. “Mostly staff. A few of them have living quarters up here; I’m afraid one woman had to go back for her baby. Most of the rest will probably be getting out by the side stairs; at this time of day half of them would be on and off them anyway.”
The crowd of Sellians running past Anakin, not even paying much attention to him, were at least a couple dozen, probably more. By the time they were on the first floor, if the deputy was right, there would be few enough people left up here that tracking them through the Force would be easy. He decided to focus on the servant with her child.
A couple of the stragglers at the back did stop to talk to him, mostly asking questions about what was going on or thanking him. He appreciated the latter well enough, but wished he had a real response for the former. Instead he said words about the palace being under attack and the first priority before finding out who’d done it was getting everyone to safety.
When virtually everyone else was off the floor, he honed in on two life forms near him, and was alarmed to sense that they weren’t moving. Also that they were completely terrified, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. He pushed aside a fallen pillar with the Force and stepped into the room he believed them to be in, and then he started to feel the floor below him start to shake.
It was a complicated room, with fancy screens built into the floor and thick curtains hanging from the ceiling, most of which were still in place. Anakin could hear, somewhere beyond the barriers, a female voice pleading, “Please, Darry, please, let go, let go!”
Some of the lights had been knocked out. One of the screens had a lantern attached to it that was easy to pull off. Holding it in front of him, Anakin sought out the location of mother and child through the Force, pushing aside a thick blue curtain with ridiculously heavy trim, and making his way around two lengthy screens that bent and twisted themselves to give the feeling of walking in a maze. The woman was still pleading with her son. Anakin recalled that the Sellians, though mostly like humans, had an ability to grip with their hands that made it hard to wrestle anything away from their grasp.
“Madam?” he called as he maneuvered around a second, lighter curtain, and came upon the pair. The baby was holding onto another curtain, one apparently made of stuff durable enough it refused to rip, and she was struggling in vain to pull him off. She looked at him desperately.
It was the work of a moment to use the Force to tug at the two ends of the cloth roughly enough that it tore off. The baby promptly began to wail at the top of his lungs. It was loud enough Anakin briefly worried for the building’s already weakened foundations. On impulse he lifted the lantern up and forward over the baby’s head, and shook it. It was made of two oblong globes, both of which generated light, connected to each other by a silver chain just long enough for it to swing back and forth a little. The baby’s attention was grabbed, although he didn’t stop crying entirely. “Come on,” he said to his mother. “Let’s get you two to safety.”
He ended up holding that lantern up the entire time as she led them to the nearest back staircase, using his other hand to lift up anything in their way with the Force. It was a good thing to have on the stairs anyway; the lighting had been knocked out, and those there was some sunlight coming in, the lantern really helped them see where they were going. Near the bottom Darry finally stopped crying completely, and when Anakin looked down at him, he saw he was nearly asleep.
There was a back door at the bottom of the stairs. “You should go out here,” he advised the servant. “Can you get to safety on your own?”
“Yes,” she said. “Thank you, Master Jedi. I think you probably saved both our lives back there.”
Conservative in her gratitude, Anakin thought; he was much more sure he had. She wasn’t the first Sellian, though, he’d seen be like that; he knew obligations were important to them, and so a lot of them didn’t admit to them lightly. Although it didn’t seem that likely to him he’d ever need a favor from her anyway. “Take the lantern,” he offered. “It’ll be dark soon.” She thanked him again as she did so.
The door opened into a secluded alleyway, and Anakin watched her head down it with her son. He could sense his Master and a number of others now gathering at the far end of the palace, and when she was gone from his sight he hurried to join them.
“And if we sit here arguing for much longer, and it is Lord Mussi,” said one man whose name Anakin didn’t know, “he could be at the spaceport by now, and we can’t stop him from leaving the planet. And how do we really know the Republic will be willing to arrest him?”
“That would depend on the planet he landed on, wouldn’t it?” asked a young woman sitting near him.
“It would,” Master Jinn confirmed. “But you heard his highness; there is, right now, no evidence against anyone. For the record, during my own brief meeting with Lord Mussi, I sensed no particular deception from him, but I could have very easily been mistaken.”
“Really?” laughed the woman. “That kind of uncertainty is not what I would expect from a Jedi.”
“It was under highly unusual circumstances,” Anakin told her. Don’t get angry, he reminded himself, but that wasn’t easy. “And he barely had five minutes to talk to him.”
“In that case,” said the Prince, loudly enough to cut off two more voices that had just started speaking, “Master Jinn, if we are able to keep Lord Mussi here on Sopertlia, would you have confidence of being able to judge him in a longer interview?”
“Still quite an if there,” Anakin heard the man from earlier murmur. He wished he’d shut up.
“I should be able to,” said Master Jinn, his sereneness a sharp contrast to everyone else there.
“What about in this room?” asked Lady Riva. “Is there anyone here being less than honest with us?”
Anakin hoped there was then, and that his Master would easily be able to find them and show all these stupid haughty nobles just how competent he was. But he shook his head. “You all have emotions running very high right now, and some are you are much more afraid than this situation truly calls for. But no one here is engaging in active deceit.”
The young woman snorted, obviously unimpressed. That caused Anakin to demand, “Can anyone here determine better?”
“Peace!” called Lady Dara from where she was seated by the Prince at the head of the table. “If we go much further down this route it shall not matter whether or not anyone here means the rest of us harm; we shall all do it to ourselves as well as each other anyway. Let us return to the main point. We have two ideas for how this attack could have happened, as well as multiple candidates for who in particular. We have one name who has come up.” Anakin noticed Master Jinn perk up at that; it seemed he had sensed something else he wasn’t willing to impart to everyone just yet. “We also have a public that must be talked to, and soon. What do we tell them?”
“No names yet,” said Lord Currs.
“But they’ll know Lord Mussi is the top suspect,” protested someone else, whom Anakin believed was known as Lord Rosc.
“Oh tell them it’ll be investigated,” said the Prince. “Will that be what they think of first?”
“Of course not,” laughed a certain Lady Oller, whom Anakin had gotten into an embarrassing argument with his first day there. “They’ll want to know how likely it is another explosion will go off, one that might hurt them.”
“If it was Lord Mussi,” said the man, “then most of them will be safe. What interest would he have in blowing just any part of the city up?”
“But we don’t know it’s not!” protested Lord Currs. “You are not suggesting we say it’s him just to keep them from panicking?”
“Probably wouldn’t work,” said the Prince, in a way that made Anakin think he’d had no qualms about making such an accusation if he’d believed it would work.
“You can say,” offered Master Jinn, “that you have reason to believe another attack outside the palace is not imminent. It is better than saying nothing.”
“What would you know about it?” scoffed Lady Oller.
“He knows more about than any of the rest of you here!” snapped Anakin. “You should listen to him!”
“Anakin,” said Master Jinn, very gently. Anakin didn’t think he even quite disapproved of his Padawan’s attitude, but was simply worried for its consequences.
The Prince didn’t seem to disapprove either, as he said, “Then we will say is it an ongoing investigation, and we do not believe another explosion is about to happen. I do not think…” But just then, one of the High Master’s deputies came into the room, clutching one of the pieces of metal the Sellians sometimes liked to write on when they wanted to write something and not on a computer. She held it close to her chest until she reached the Prince, and then she drew it forward just enough so that only he could see what was written on it as she whispered in his ear.
When she drew away, he rose. “Things have gotten more complicated,” he announced. “Everyone please leave this room except Lady Dara, Lord Toll, Lord Drasa, and Lady Fodni.”
Protests from everyone except the four named filled the air, Anakin didn’t know if his own was heard by anyone, even Master Jinn. But Master Jinn did not protest, which baffled Anakin, who was sure he ought to know, so he could help these people.
Eventually, the Prince had his way. The two Jedi ended up being among the last to leave, Lady Riva with them. “I agree with you, by the way, Jedi Skywalker,” she said. “He ought to have let your Master stay. I think if one of the deputies came in like that, it means some servant has inadvertently said something important. They may know it was Lord Mussi now. Or the Sharos. Or somebody else.”
“Can we eavesdrop, at least, Master?” Anakin asked.
“No,” said Lady Riva sadly, and Master Jinn echoed it: “The walls are soundproofed. They will allow us to do no more here. We will go around the building and search for where the foundations are most stressed.”
That was a mind-numbing task to do; he had to phase his mind completely into it, until he was away of nothing but wood and stone and pressure and gravity and the other forces acting on them. He had been told it was kind of crazy that he was better at it than his Master was, because Qui-Gon Jinn was one of the best at it in the Order. Although his Master was arguably still better at analyzing the stresses he found and figuring out what to do about them, even if Anakin was improving there. Which meant it was Anakin doing most of the tedious scanning, Master Jinn joining in only when he found something.
It was a long process too. It was well into the evening when they had at last covered the entire palace, and Master Jinn presented his findings to the High Master. It was from him that they learned that Lord Mussi had indeed left the planet, and there was talk of requesting the two Jedi pursue him. Not the best use of them, Anakin had to admit, but he couldn’t say he’d mind the task. He’d be much better at it than he was at the negotiation table. At least there had been no further attacks anywhere.
He woke up very early in the morning, according to the large light-up chronometer someone had been thoughtful enough to put in the middle of the floor. Master Jinn was gone, probably off doing some really early morning communion with the pre-dawn air or something. The High Master was gone too, which wasn’t a surprise either; he’d probably be the busiest person of all that day. The Prince, on the other hand, was fast asleep. Anakin noticed that while Lady Riva was nowhere in sight, her scarf had somehow ended up placed on top of him. If he understood Sellian custom right, that was supposed to bring him some vague protection.
Most of the others who had taken cots there the previous night were also still in them, but there was one that was empty. Anakin ran over his mental list of who’d been there, checking them off as best he could against those he could see present-he’d thought before the Sellians wore too much jewelry, but maybe they didn’t as much as it had seemed, because there wasn’t as much as it around to help identify them as there could have been. He was especially relieved to see Lord Truo still there; he’d had some close association with Lord Mussi in the past. He thought the missing one was instead Lady Oller.
His first thought was she could just do whatever far away from him. But that wasn’t very responsible of him, so he opened his mind up to the Force, and quickly located her and the High Master a couple of rooms away, along with his deputies and the Master Carpenter.
He was pretty sure the whole thing was harmless by the time he walked in to find her sitting and watching as they examined the rooms walls, consulting with their datapads which he thought had to contain the information he and Qui-Gon had gotten for them last night; they were very near one of the stress points they’d found. He was about to leave, and possibly go look for Master Jinn, or just return to the others and wait for them to wake up, when Lady Oller called out to him, “Master Jedi?” That in itself was surprising; she’d previously addressed him only as “Padawan Skywalker.”
“Yes, Your Grace?” He hadn’t addressed her with that honorific either; it was a pretty formal one anyway. Even so, he was surprised when hearing it caused her look down, as if it made her feel a little humbled.
“I feel like I should apologize to your Master. Maybe you too. For what I said, yesterday, about his level of knowledge. I have since come to think about the fact that he has likely seen thousands of people like us, in our kind of situation, and that you were right; he would know well what to do. I’m afraid at the time I was really only think about how relatively little you two still know about our world.”
“Wow,” Anakin couldn’t help but say. “You know how few people in your position would make that kind of admission?”
“Even to a child such as yourself?” she asked. “I still believe you are one, and I have not changed my mind about anything I said to you during our dispute. But I have always believed that one should not put one’s self wrongly over a child, especially not out of pride.”
Don’t get angry. It was easier than it had been a year ago. It helped that he was still genuinely impressed with her odd integrity.
Master Jinn had gone further afield than he’d thought; just then he felt him returning into his easy range, walking briskly back towards the palace. “Will you find the time to apologize to Master Jinn? I believe he is coming.”
“You are showing off,” she snapped at him, quite unlike someone who had just expressed repentance. “And he is old and wise enough not to need it.”
“You still should do it,” said Anakin, “It’s the right thing to do.”
“The right thing to do is to stay here where I am supervising the staff.”
That was true, and Master Jinn would’ve backed her up, which was the biggest reason Anakin let it go. Still, he thought, it didn’t look like she was actually doing anything useful here. It left him with quite a few peeved feelings he had to make himself release as he went off to meet with his Master.
He slipped out one the back doors, one that led down another one of those alleyways. In the early morning light, he tried to take a survey of the building, but from where he was standing there wasn’t much to see, especially when the walls blended into the various lines of buildings that formed beyond it. He had pretty much given up by the time Master Jinn appeared in the alley, holding a parcel. “Good morning, Master. What’s in there?”
“Your thirteenth nameday present,” said Master Jinn, smiling. “Have you forgotten it is nearly here? Two weeks away, of course, but I had the idea for the present this morning, and it was one I wanted to get here.”
He hadn't forgotten, mostly because he'd felt the aggravation of being so close to thirteen and yet being unable to yet claim the age. But wasn’t in the recent weeks he’d been thinking about his nameday itself. That had instead been four months ago, when he had last seen Padmé, and she had confided to him she thought their Masters were waiting for it to do something. “They were talking about it covertly, like it was an important date. Maybe it’s something to do with this whole Chosen One thing.”
He didn’t believe that anymore, though. Maybe Master Windu kept secrets like that from her, but he couldn’t help but believe Master Jinn would have told him by now if something important was going to happen then.
Unless what was in the parcel somehow had something to do with it. As Anakin took it from his Master, he tried to gauge what was in it. It felt like a pair of lumps. “Go on,” his Master said to him, “open it,” and he was quite happy to pull the paper open.
It was a lantern, much like the one he’d charmed the little boy with the previous day, with the same two globes and silver chain, although this one had a proper handle and had obviously been made to be carried around. It felt weird to take it out, to think of it at his. It had been one thing the previous day, when he’d been improvising in an urgent situation. But this delicate, probably expensive thing was not something that was supposed to belong to a Jedi.
Master Jinn probably guessed what he was thinking, because he said, “It might not look like much, but two lights which are just small enough you can carry them can find many uses. Indeed, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to rig it so you can detach and reattach them from the chain, so take that as a challenge.” Anakin did like the sound of that, as well as the idea of Master Jinn’s gift providing him with the kind of job he enjoyed above all others, he sometimes thought. “And while I suppose their beauty might not mean that much to you, I hope, when you are older, you will come to feel some appreciation for the kind of craft that goes into it, that someone cared enough about the universe around them to make the effort to create beauty. That is something Jedi tend to overlook, and I find that sad, that we spend our lives in service to the people of the galaxy without appreciating such a great part of why they are worth that.”
It was a very Qui-Gon Jinn way of thinking, and Anakin supposed he understood where he was coming from. Still, he thought, by the time he got old enough for that kind of appreciation, what state would the lantern even be in?