He started to think things might be otherwise as they sat down. Master Jinn, though his voice was always kind, and he was even smiling for the most part, was clearly in a very serious mood as he asked Anakin about his day and placed their meal on the table. That was another thing; usually Anakin took care of getting the dishes both on and off the table when they ate in their quarters.
They ate in silence for the first few minutes, which was also typical. Master Jinn had spoken of not wanting Anakin distracted by his hunger. Which was nice most of the time, but now gave Anakin the chance to get nervous, thinking of what this might be about. Since Padmé and her Master had headed out, no one had told Anakin anything about how the mission was going, not even where they were, exactly. He didn’t think Padmé was dead, because he’d pretty sure he’d have felt it if she’d died. But that didn’t mean any number of things couldn’t have gone wrong and Master Jinn wasn’t about to break the news to him.
But instead, he said to him, “Anakin, I want to discuss hacking with you.”
All of Anakin’s feelings were ones Master Jinn expected him to have, at least. A little gladness, of course. A little relief, too; at last they were talking about it. But a good deal of unease. Master Jinn would be pleased about that, because he didn’t know why Anakin felt it.
Out loud, he just said, “Am I going to learn it properly, now?”
“Yes,” he said. “And no. Not tomorrow, or next week, anyway. But I suspect, though I do not promise this, that you will be working to seriously improve your skills by the time the year is out, likely sooner. I think you must have some idea of this already, but your friend Padmé, before she left on her current mission, talked to me about it. I have given the matter very great thought since. One of the five us does have to become a master at it, the way none of us currently are, and you are the one who would do so fastest.”
“But you’re worried about what learning more will do to me,” said Anakin, because that was obvious.
“I am,” said Master Jinn. “Anakin, do you remember, a couple of years back, when we talked about the friend you made on Corellia?”
“Uggoti, yes, I remember.” Uggoti had been a couple of years older than Anakin, and had been known for serious troublemaking. “You said it was all right to be friends with him, even though he did a lot of things that he shouldn’t do, but that I had to be careful. You said I had to watch who and what I was letting influence my thoughts. You said I could even learn useful things from him, like how to sneak around, but then I had to be especially careful, that I didn’t do those things in the same way he did, or at least not for the same purposes.”
“Exactly,” said Master Jinn, sounding very pleased. “I suppose you might think, right now, that you wouldn’t feel the temptation. I think you thought that way back then. And perhaps, at the time, you genuinely didn’t feel any temptation to sneak around for anything but the right reasons.”
“That’s…” Better to admit it, for more than one reason. “…not entirely true. I, uh…” Did he have to give the details?
“Did want to do something that I assume you ultimately did not do?”
“Yes,” said Anakin, very grateful. “It’s okay, I know not to do everything I’m tempted to do.” And it wasn’t as if he was going to do anything bad out of this, or at least, he didn’t plan to right now. Yes, he might do some things without his Master knowing about them, all reasons for everything aside.
“I am glad to know you are already on your guard. Nonetheless, I must still emphasize to you: be even more so. If you think about it, being able to break security systems and retrieve protected information from databanks can give you far more power than a blaster or a lightsaber. You know already, of course, that the greatest weapon is knowledge. And the kind of knowledge you can get from hacking includes secrets of all kinds, secrets that can determine the outcome of battles, secrets that can topple leaders, secrets that people are so desperate to keep, they’ll do anything to win your silence once you know them.”
“Like the kind of knowledge that got Tru killed.” He had to say it. “Yes, I know that very well.”
“Exactly,” Master Jinn might have been planning on that. “So once you do this, you will be in a position to make more Tru Velds.”
“I would never!” Anakin protested, shocked. “Master, why would you ever believe I would even be tempted…”
“Obviously you would never deliberately do anything that would get any of your fellow Padawans killed.” Master Jinn was as calm as ever. “But the Jedi are not the only people who can get hurt or killed if the wrong person finds out where they are going to go and what they are planning to do. Indeed, that information you do find may lead to the death of Darth Maul, and that, of course, is something that must be done. But he is very far from the only person you will be able to target, and there will be others vulnerable to you, or whom you impart your information to. Some of them will not be good people.”
“I know not all bad people deserve to die,” said Anakin. He’d known that perfectly well even before Master Jinn had hammered it into him during their first years together. Really, why was he sensing genuine anxiety from his Master about this? “I promise you, Master, I’m not going to go crazy.”
It was a good thing he was genuinely feeling dismay his Master would even think that. It kept him from feeling anything about going after Master Dooku, all reasons for everything aside.
It seemed to give Master Jinn pause, too, sensing that. For a few moments he just sat there, looking down at his plate, lost in thought. Anakin ate in silence, trying to enjoy the brief respite.
Finally, he said, “I want you to promise more than that, Anakin. I want you to promise me that you’ll remember it is not your place-or anyone’s, I should clarify, to decide the fate of all the people you will have power over. I’m not even just talking about the hacking there, either. This is something I would hope you would have come to know instinctively within a few years, when most Padawans would. But now you have to get it through your head a little earlier than usual. When the time comes that you hold your lightsaber at the defeated foe you do not have to kill, you must be able to know you do not have to kill him, and you certainly must not kill when you know you don’t have to. Promise me you will do all of this, Anakin.”
“Of course I will, I promise.” Anakin maybe kind of understood what Master Jinn was afraid of there. Except he still didn’t quite understand why his further developing his hacking skills should be the conversation to lead to such a general fear probably all Masters had about their Padawans.
He thought Master Jinn could tell that he really did mean it, though. He could sense his relief there, and his voice was much warmer, “Very well, then, Ani. We will discuss this again when it is time to. For now, I have some thoughts on your schedule for today. I would like you to work with Obi-Wan…”
First, however, was a task he hadn’t been able to attend to as much as he would’ve liked. Neither their Padawans, nor Obi-Wan, nor the Council knew that he and Mace were secretly still in communication. Shortly before he and Padmé had left for Avvarbor, they’d been able to persuade Master Dooku to show them how he’d been in sporadic communication with his failed Padawan since the first Sith attack, which had been his reason for being in the communications room. “She would fall victim to the Sith for certain if I did not do it,” he had said to them. “I never approved of how the Council wanted none of us to have anything to do with her. It was the height of irresponsibility on their part.”
That he was in contact with her was beyond doubt, though Qui-Gon knew Mace feared his motivations were not what he claimed. While he would admit even he could not always tell when his old Master was deceiving him, he knew the man. He couldn’t believe he would betray the Jedi Order.
Besides, the methods of escaping detection he had shown Qui-Gon and Mace seemed to be working so far. Except that the previous day he’d heard a remark from Master Yoda that left him wondering if he’d someone mystically known anyway, but he supposed such a thing couldn’t be helped, if so. Perhaps he still wouldn’t tell anybody.
One of things Master Dooku had advised was that they not spread the data from its initial location in the bank, not even to download it to any viewing devices. Qui-Gon knelt over the console by his bed, despite the awkwardness with his height, to read Mace’s updates.
Most of them were about Padmé, who seemed to be getting more done at the moment. But in their meditations, both Masters had sensed far less danger in her path than Mace’s, though neither could tell how or where. It might be why he was reporting more about his current companion than he’d normal bother to tell about such a man.
In the brief messages he’d hammered out to Qui-Gon when he hadn’t been corresponding with his Padawan, he’d noted that his companion claimed to have lived in Colorpa for twelve years local, that the cold seemed to irritate him more than usual, and of course all the details about the woman in the transit tower he’d told him, which weren’t many. Unfortunately Mace’s last message had been from before they’d gotten to her.
He read it all; he received no true illumination from it, besides that the news related to Padmé was hopeful. Reluctantly he turned the console off, deleted the message and deep-purged the short-term memory the way Master Dooku had instructed, and slid down to his knees, straight into his meditation position. He kept the words he had just read in his head, making sure they would stay in his memory for as long as this mission went on. Then he put them away, and moved on to he responsible for them.
He sometimes thought they ought to pull Anakin into this exercise. Qui-Gon had no doubt he would master it when Padmé was the subject, and through his connection to her, he would get longer and more detailed experiences of what she had known. Although he also believed he himself would’ve done the same, had his subject been Obi-Wan. But he was safe here in the Temple, and his friendship of Mace was enough, when he reached out, and the other man, even from all the light-years away, felt him, and guided him to the right memory.
Qui-Gon was there, now, Mace’s hood over his head as he entered the room and saw the woman sitting at her console, her head occasionally jerking and sending her stiff ponytail bouncing.
Xador was below; Mace had managed to persuade him to stay there. The memories of how irritating and reckless Xador was threatened, but no, Qui-Gon kept that at bay, allowing himself moments to consider only his greed and his foolishness. He had not even known, and still did not, what the woman he was after was doing in the transit tower at night. So far it had not turned out to matter, and Mace, with his ability to see these things, was convinced it would not.
She was definitely Force sensitive. Mace had already sensed this, but when immersed in the memory, Qui-Gon could detect still more, how pumped she was with the Living Force, to the point of danger when she was completely untrained, and while she was not as strong with the Dark Side as they first feared, she certainly tapped into it when the wrong feelings took her.
They were lucky, Qui-Gon found himself thinking, that she actually did not get angry when she realized he was there. Her scornful laughter neither of them minded. “Master Jedi,” she sneered. “I did not even have to look for you.”
“So you did want me,” Mace said. “I’m curious what for.” He could’ve made that more convincing; Qui-Gon told him so.
“Oh,” she shrugged, “I want you to take out Big Hargo for me. You ought to, because if you didn’t know it already, he is someone who has sworn to kill any Jedi who lands on our planet. Noone is even sure why; there are stories he’s possibly gone mad, or some strange wizard visited him and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” The second one was looking much more likely from their vantage point, of course. “And, of course, he wants to kill me. I suppose you want to know why.”
Qui-Gon actually did, even though he could see through Mace’s ability to that this actually wasn’t important. Nor did his friend care. He simply said, “You’re afraid of him.”
“I can’t do anything to him. You can. From all accounts of how he’s talking, he’s an ignorant fool, thinking if the Jedi are just dragged to him, maybe a little beaten up already, he can be a match for them. He’s a brutal fighter, with a history of brawls for money in the seedier parts of both here and Astromi. If I was brought before him alone…” The slightest of shudders, and Qui-Gon could not help the deep compassion and dismay. “I would be lucky if killing me was all he did.”
Qui-Gon would have agreed to go with her on the spot. Mace…hadn’t decided yet. He would take Qui-Gon’s opinion after they had relived the entire memory together. He saw no shatterpoint here; it was not absolutely vital to the mission he either go or not go. This did not mean there wouldn’t be serious consequences either way, though. Mace was especially worried about what might happen to Padmé if he extended his time away from her, because he had the feeling this would take longer than one might have thought.
He had decided to tell her he was currently fallen in with a man who was after her. “That’s unfortunate, since he needs Big Hargo to be able to give him the money.”
“He’s a simple-minded man in some ways,” Mace said to her. “It probably would not be difficult to persuade him that it would still be in his advantage to help us take him down. Do you know if Big Hargo has anything he could loot? I would even be willing to let him actually have it.”
“Don’t know specifics, but I’d be amazed if he didn’t.” Qui-Gon agreed with Mace’s assessment that she’d want that for herself, even though at this moment she didn’t believe she would. He himself would’ve been concerned about that, but Mace was not.
“I must consult with him, however, and I fear he may not be willing to decide immediately.” That was true, though it was not the whole truth. You will be back here?”
“Tomorrow night, same times.”
The memory ended there. The two of them remain in each other’s minds. Mace wanted to know if Qui-Gon could truly look at the situation.
Qui-Gon forced himself to view it without emotion, though he could not do so as Mace could. Big Hargo was worth investigating in any case, though it might even be wiser to do so with Padmé, him being a man with some power within Colorpa. Bringing him down would be something Mace would not mind doing, though he feared the consequences for the city or even more would be further-reaching than even he could foresee. He was also concerned about what Xador might try to do if he refused to go along with his plan. He whispered what he knew to the wrong person, whom he might find even if Mace tried to get him arrested, and everything could end in disaster.
Do not alienate anyone without need, my friend, Qui-Gon thought. Your Padawan would tell you that, were she with you, and she would be right. And you need not have your confrontation with Big Hargo right away. All three of you will have more chance of getting what you want if you take a little time to plan. We can form plans of our own, of course. You might even send more instructions to Padmé. Even if she can’t join you in time, there are still things she can do.
Thank you, my friend, was Mace’s response, and the connection started to dissolve; it had taken a great effort on Mace’s part to hold it for as long as he had.
Mace’s decision still was not made, of course. He didn’t have much more time, but what time he did have he would take; Qui-Gon had sensed that. It was a strange weakness of his friend’s, to sometimes linger too long over decisions when he couldn’t see any shatterpoints, or anything else from the Force, to give him extra guidance.
But he had the feeling Mace would ultimately take his two new acquaintances to Big Hargo. Hopefully good rather than ill would come of that.
Right now, it was not that he could concentrate on; it had to be entirely left to his friend now. Instead, Qui-Gon turned to the final task of his morning meditations, the one he most did not want to do, but the one that might be the most important one of all, for it involved the possible child of prophecy, and at any rate the boy under his care and teaching.
He had never been able to see much into Anakin’s future. He’d never had as many visions through the Force as most anyway, which he had long accepted as the result of being stronger in the Living than the Unifying Force, but it was troubling to him that he never had more than feelings, the vaguest ideas of what might come to him. The most concrete thing he could sense was Padmé would play a vital part in his life, and that was hardly something he’d needed the Force to tell him.
But now, as he fell into meditation, the terrible feeling he’d had in his meditations last night came to him again, the darkness that lay in the future. Not even from Darth Maul, not truly, that he had known already. And not, he now also sensed, in the immediate future at all, but instead in the immediate future were its origins, but he could sense nothing as to where or why or how, no hints as to how he could possibly avert it. Qui-Gon Jinn searched and searched and searched, dwelling on all the faults he knew well his Padawan possessed, his temper, his impatience, his occasional arrogance.
They were mixed up in it, he could now see. But that was all.
The pain that brought, the dead certainty that potential disaster lay in young Anakin’s future and he might not be able to stop it, broke Qui-Gon, sent him out of his meditation and he fell forward onto the floor, bracing himself on his hands and knees as he struggled to breathe. Not since he had faced his own temptation from the Dark Side and nearly succumbed had Qui-Gon felt so close to losing control of himself, his feelings, his fears.
In other room, Anakin had been left to wait for Obi-Wan, and was using the time to read something, probably some article about robotics; he read all the ones he had time for. His mood was cheerful, the conversation he’d just had with his Master apparently not taking up too many of his thoughts just after it. Qui-Gon kept his shields up just enough to keep his distress from his Padawan, but allowed himself to breathe in that momentary contentment, a reminder that for now, at least, Anakin was still all right.
But he wasn’t able to conceal it to Obi-Wan. He had been far too close to their quarters for that, and indeed, with the amount of distress he was in it was possible he might have felt it had he been halfway across the Temple. Qui-Gon could sense his approach speed up, him picking up his pace, his alarm at sensing his former Master in such a state.
He pulled himself up into a kneeling position when he realized Obi-Wan was going to come straight for him. It would not do for Anakin to see him otherwise.
Thankfully his former Padawan also realized the need to keep his feelings concealed around his current one. Qui-Gon heard him talk to Anakin, sounding perfectly serene as he told him they would be going within a few minutes, but there was just a brief matter he needed to discuss with Master Jinn first. Anakin sounded a little intrigued, maybe wondering if it was related to the Sith, or directly to Mace and his Padawan, but he definitely was not upset.
When the door opened, Qui-Gon concentrated on holding his position, and Obi-Wan calmly stopped in front of him and stood there until the door was safely closed behind him. Then Qui-Gon let himself sag again, and Obi-Wan was even faster, catching him as he fell, and giving him support to lean into. He spoke no words, asked no questions yet, and Qui-Gon was not yet up to giving answers either.
Instead he made no resistance as Obi-Wan looked into his mind, reading everything with no effort at all, including all of Mace’s memories that he own mind had retained, and the rest of it too. He reacted to it only with his breathing, a change in sharpness and speed that felt to Qui-Gon like great oceans heaving all of their great waters onto the shores, strong enough to knock whole cities down.
It took Qui-Gon a couple of minutes to take what Obi-Wan was offering him. It wasn’t what he wanted to demand from him; it wasn’t not any further knowledge of what awaited; he couldn’t even tell if he had it or not. Instead, it was just comfort, and strength, and love, and support, and all the things Qui-Gon knew were supposed to make him able to face and cope with what was coming. Things Obi-Wan was giving freely beyond what he was supposed to, and Qui-Gon also recognized and was more grateful for that than he could say.
More than anything, he wanted to believe it would be enough, and to have Obi-Wan know that too.
When that belief did not form, and Obi-Wan too knew it wouldn’t, his former Padawan took hold of him, firm hands on his shoulders, and shifting him around to face him, managing without breaking most of the physical contact between them. Since the whole thing had begun, and Obi-Wan had lost his own Padawan learner, it seemed every time Qui-Gon looked him in the face close up like this, he seemed to have aged fathoms since the last time.
“We must…” Obi-Wan started, then gave up, and just pressed his forehead to that of his former Master. “Oh, Master, are we both to suffer in this way?”
“There is much that I have suffered already that you may yet escape,” whispered Qui-Gon, for he had lost a Padawan to far worse than death. “Remember Tru is still with you in the Force. Just like you will be with me in the Force, or I with you, if…”
“That I will be,” Obi-Wan agreed fervently. Neither of them would ever speak it, the knowledge that if Obi-Wan alive wouldn’t be enough, nothing would be, but when it was very possible even death wouldn’t stop him from doing everything he could for Qui-Gon, that certainly wouldn’t.
For a minute or so, Qui-Gon though that would be all there was to say that morning, even they pressed themselves more deeply into each other’s embrace. They weren’t even trying to actively communicate between their minds, if only because there was only so much of that Qui-Gon could do within one hour. They didn’t need to; even those feelings they could passively sense within each other sufficed for this moment.
Then Obi-Wan said, “I spoke with Master Yoda. He has spoken about my possibly going out, especially since, remember, I now risk only myself.” He paused to feel the grief, perhaps because Qui-Gon was a rare companion who would let him without impatience. “Not to the Avvarbor System itself, but somewhere close, from which I could get to Avvarbor Prime within an hour, although if we landed one of our pilot crafts on the planet without any authorizations…well, it might still be worth it, but the repercussions would still be terrible.”
Another thing to worry about, and yet Qui-Gon felt more gladness than anything else to hear it. “Don’t tell Anakin that, yet,” he whispered back. “He’ll look at the two of still staying here, and feel either angry, guilty, or both.”
At the reminder of Anakin, Obi-Wan pulled back slightly, but didn’t let go, not yet. “I won’t go for at least a week,” he said. “Probably more. Unless something crazy happens with Master Windu and Padawan Naberrie.”
Qui-Gon had already assumed as much, but even so, on hearing it, he found himself saying, “In that case, before you go…will you come spend a couple of evenings here? I don’t know if we’d have Anakin with us or not for them…”
“Either way will make me glad,” Obi-Wan murmured. He clasped Qui-Gon’s hand and pressed their cheeks together, warm skin to warm skin, his breath blown across his ear. He would do no further than that this morning. More days than not, the two of them did only as much as would satisfy their emotional hungers, although those were sometimes far greater than they were that morning. It would not do to get caught up in what was between them, what they quietly allowed themselves when they could, what Qui-Gon took, refusing to consider whether it was breaking the rules or not.
The truth was, they both needed it, if only because of the circumstances under which the five of them lived. Qui-Gon was fairly certain Obi-Wan had stopped questioning it after he’d lost Tru. That was all there was to that.