When the other two had their plates clean, and Padmé’s was close enough under the circumstances, they went into the dialogue they had rehearsed the previous night. “Master Windu asked me to show you something, Padmé,” said Obi-Wan. “I’m afraid it’s something Padawan Skywalker can’t see yet.”
“Why not?” asked Anakin, trying to sound as put out as he’d be were the situation real. “Did he talk to Master Jinn about it?”
“I don’t know, Padawan,” said Obi-Wan, putting a little haughtiness into it. “All I know is I have to take her immediately.”
“I’m sorry, Ani,” said Padmé. “Hopefully this won’t take too long. You should go back to your quarters; I’ll try to make it back there before lunch-do you think I should, Knight Kenobi?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Don’t be too disappointed if she doesn’t, Padawan Skywalker.”
“Hmph.” Anakin liked to think that in reality, this wouldn’t make him pout as much as he was now pretending too. But he wasn’t sure it wouldn’t.
“You have work to do too, I believe,” Obi-Wan said, rising to his feet, Padmé rising with him. “Now, if you’ll excuse us.”
Anakin was able to track them both through the Force now, and, for Obi-Wan, further than he would’ve been able to the previous week, although he supposed that didn’t matter too much unless he and Padmé separated. He stayed at the table for a few more minutes, fake sulking, before getting up.
He went about halfway back to his and Master Jinn’s quarters, until he came to one of the Temple’s lifts. He made a show of stopping, and staring at it for a bit, then hit the pad, trying to make it look like he didn’t care if he broke it.
The lift was pretty typical of the older ones in the Temple. It was big, and slow, so Anakin ended up waiting perhaps another ten minutes before it arrived, and it went down to much lowel levels of the Temple that were no longer in use. Levels on which, when the security cameras shorted out, no one was going to bother getting them repaired. Which most of them had done, though not all. Also where the Sith attack from years ago had left damaged floors and ceilings that had never been repaired, which the three of them had mapped out and memorized.
He emerged from the lift into a corridor much like the one up above, maybe even originally identical, or maybe now it was a little narrower. Also a cold place, although Anakin wasn’t sure if that was literal cold, or if he was just feeling cold for the relative lack of lifeforms and the resulting thinness of the Force immediately around him; both, probably. He took a moment to open up further to the Force; it was still there, which reassured him.
Another big difference was the huge hole up ahead, which looked like the work of metal-eating mites or microbes. These corridors were flooded with substances to kill them at various intervals, often enough to keep them from threatening the Temple’s foundations, but sometimes they ate a lot of metal first. Trying not to look too purposeful, Anakin walked slowly over to it and peeked in.
The room looked vaguely like it might have been someone’s quarters once; there was a stump in the middle which a table could’ve been put on, like what one sometimes saw in buildings shortly after the Ruusan Reformation, and there were a pair of doors that looked like they led to smaller rooms. No holes in the floor, and when Anakin stepped in it felt sturdy enough.
Ignoring the smaller doors, he went to the main one. It slid open automatically. The corridor beyond was dark, though he could see at least one working light very far to his right. Not as near to the ladders as he would have liked, but enough to make finding the rungs easier if he mainly did that through the Force.
At least he certainly wasn’t being watched now, he thought as he went out into the darkness, at least not literally. He hoped having a limited ability to perceive him wouldn’t make Padmé too anxious. He himself was less bothered by the darkness than by the continuing cold. It felt like it was closing around him a little, invading the air and threatening to destroy the Force in it completely, freeze it out at temperatures where it couldn’t live any longer.
There was definitely a literal chill down here; when Anakin’s hands first touched the rungs of the ladder, he initially pulled them back from that icy surface. But he’d touched much colder and scarier, he reminded himself, and firmly took hold of them again. He could barely see them in the dim light from a handful of lengths away, but they were proportioned exactly the same as the ones he and Padmé had spent an hour scaling together the previous day. They weren’t as well kept, and the rustiness on some of them was a little worrying, but the ability to quickly call on the Force in case of a fall was something he’d been keeping up for years, and even used once back when he’d been ten.
He didn’t need to use it again anyway; he went up three levels on the rungs and then slid through an automatic trapdoor. A maintenance hatch; the tubes he was now in would have once provided access to the power cells that had at the time kept many of the various utility systems running. He took a minute to try to feel out through the Force if any of them had been left there, but he couldn’t detect any sign of it, and anyway, it was unlikely. He really was getting tall; not too long ago he had squeezed through tunnels almost exactly like this one with ease, but now it felt like his limbs were continually getting in the way as he tried to shift his way through it.
The tunnel snaked upward; Anakin ended up using the Force to get through at least once section. He wondered how the non-Force sensitive workers who once would’ve used this tunnel had managed. At the top, another hatch had probably once spent most of its time locked had rusted and fused itself to the surrounding tunnel roof, and Anakin had to use his lightsaber to rectify that problem. That left him sorry he hadn’t happened to bring any of the other things he could’ve broken through with; he bet using any of them would have really impressed Obi-Wan.
But he didn’t allow himself to think about that anymore, because now he was reaching his destination. Amid all the rooms whose doors filled the corridor intersection into which he had risen, there was one that led into one of the Temple’s secluded communication hubs, the one used when the Jedi needed to confer with someone from the Senate about restricted information. The communications here had the highest amount of encryption on them, and all records of them were supposed to be automatically erased after they were over. If a member of the Council, or possibly anyone in the Temple at all, was communicating with the Sith, this was the most likely place they could do it without detection.
Except that while the communications sent were supposed to be erased, and would appear to be to most people, the system that could truly wipe every trace of something away from its databanks was very rare. Anakin had always had a knack for technology; he and Master Jinn had discovered that very early on in his apprenticeship. He tended more towards mechanics than computer databanks, and wasn't a proper hacker, but he could do more things with computers than most Padawans his age. He’d studied the Temple’s computers enough over the years to be pretty sure that unless they used a completely different type for the restricted comms, he could at least retrieve a few months’ worth of information on who had contacted whom, maybe even some of what they’d said. The trick was getting it in, retrieved, downloaded, and out without being stopped. Preferably without being seen, but they might or might not be able to manage that.
They were going to try to. Anakin didn’t go anywhere immediately, but instead went to a nearby wall and sat down against it, drawing his knees up. There was almost certainly a camera somewhere in the area on it, and to it, right now, his sulk would appear to be still harmless. After all, they hopefully assumed he didn’t even know there was anything important behind any of the surrounding doors. But he was in fact waiting, staring idly at a wall that happened to include a yellow light on it. Obi-Wan and Padmé, who had been preparing for this a lot longer than he had, had devised a trick that they were hoping would take down all the area’s cameras, including the ones in the communications room itself, disable the door enough so that his own skills could do the rest, and, also, make that light blink to signal him that the cameras were off.
So he sat there, and waited. He considered meditating, maybe even pulling himself up to his knees. Maybe if they saw him doing that on camera, they’d hope he was thinking better of his ways. That would be a good thing, when he knew that even if they got away with this, if subsequent events didn’t lead to them having to then reveal they’d broken into the computer, whoever learned about his stalking about here right now wasn’t going to have a very high opinion of him, and when members of the Council might…well, it would be a lot better if they thought he at least regretted it.
Part of him really didn’t want to impress those people, though. That kept him where he was until the yellow light flashed.
They hadn’t compromised the lock as much as they’d hoped. He broke through, but it took nearly twenty minutes, not good when they could only keep the cameras offline for so long while making it look like they’d malfunctioned. Also, if he was found out later, they’d see him as really determined to be rebellious and disobedient at best. They might not even leave his punishment to Master Jinn, although he hoped Master Windu might try to take charge of it. Mostly.
Making so many things in the area fritz about had taken a few lights out too, but when Anakin had memorized where everything was in the room there was light enough to get to the corner of the room where a small grey bank with only a handful of controls on the top sat. Here was where the main encryption work was done, and where the message contents stayed the longest before being wiped. There was a tiny jack in the back, built so that the console could be fried from the inside out if that ever proved necessary. Anakin slipped himself down to his knees, almost completely hidden from the rest of the room behind on of the larger consoles, and from his belt pouch he removed an old-fashioned databit and an adapter. He just hoped the latter worked, since he’d never gotten the chance to test it.
The console beeped when he plugged it in. He hoped this wouldn’t cause it to fry the banks; then he’d be left with no information and a difficult explanation to give. But it continued to hum at the same volume, and when he tapped the databit’s tiny display screen, it announced itself as plugged in, no data found on subject.
He had to rise from his hiding place then, carefully looking around even though he couldn’t sense anyone being even in the immediate area besides himself, and turn the console on, which was much more dangerous; they didn’t know doing so wouldn’t send a signal out to somewhere. He didn’t sense any new danger as it lit up, but he wasn’t entirely sure he absolutely would.
The Force didn’t necessarily tell one much about the state of computers. It was generated by living things, after all, and they were what had their presence in it. But when Anakin concentrated on the Unifying Force, glad now for the guidance in it Obi-Wan had sometimes given him over the years, he found himself automatically reaching for and pressing another button, unbothered even by the somewhat indignant noise the console responded with. Several commands were entered in. His focus came back from the console; it was asking for a password. He entered in the one Master Windu had supplied Padmé with before leaving.
The display was showing him times and amounts of data deleted. The interface was the same as it was on every Temple computer. That was enough; he could do the rest himself, at least with the Force directing him.
He didn’t exactly go back into the trance he’d been in to get the console loaded, but he did get pretty absorbed. Master Jinn had told him once that according to the Crechemasters he hadn’t needed to have his mind opened to the Force as much as the other crechelings had, that he connected to it without thinking even more than most Jedi did. He also warned him that this meant when he got too focused on something, usually building something, or, more recently, flying something, he was surprisingly vulnerable to someone sneaking up on him. He’d been giving Anakin extra exercises in trying to prevent this.
At first Anakin remembered all this, and kept his awareness up. But as he had to rely on his instincts more and more for deciding what command to enter in next, he slowly let it slip. Without even noticing-until he nearly jumped at the sound of the door opening, too late for him to hope he could dive back behind the console without being seen; all he could do was whirl around with his hand on his lightsaber, and find himself facing Master Dooku.
“Well, well, well,” Master Dooku’s voice was cold, amused, menacing. Anakin could not help but be terrified. “What in the galaxy are you doing here, Padawan?”
He tried to think of what Obi-Wan or Padmé might say, but no, he thought, that wouldn’t be believable coming from him anyway. Instead he clenched the fist that wasn’t on his weapon, and said, “What are *you* doing here? You’re not on the Council.”
“Only because I have never conformed enough for their tastes. And it is not always Council members who use this room. Your Master was in here once, a few years before he took you.”
But he wasn’t saying he was supposed to be here. Anakin was attuned enough to the Force right now he would probably be able to sense if he was lying, and probably he had sensed this. “So if I happened to mention you being here to Padmé, who you know is *going* to tell her Master, you wouldn’t have anything to worry about?”
“Impertinent boy,” he hissed, and strode across the room until he loomed over Anakin. “I should go straight to Qui-Gon and tell him his Padawan snuck into a place he certainly should not be in and then tried to blackmail me.”
At least Anakin didn’t have to fake the chuckle. “But will you?” he challenged. He kind of hoped Master Dooku did; Master Jinn could probably figure out a way to get his former Master reveal more during such a conversation than he planned to.
Even so, the cold smile that filled his face in response couldn’t help but make Anakin shiver a little. “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t,” his voice icy mockery. If Anakin really had been doing something he didn’t want Master Jinn knowing about, it might have given him nightmares. “For now, I will at least remove the intruder who has no business being in such a room. Come along.”
As he seized him by the wrist, Anakin’s thoughts flew to the databit still plugged into the back. If he left it in, it might just still download. If Master Windu had still been in the Temple, he could have easily come back here and retrieved it within an hour. But he wasn’t, and neither Obi-Wan nor Padmé could risk it now. It would have to go unretrieved for days, and even if Master Dooku by some miracle didn’t think to look for it, there was so much time for someone else to look. Once it was found, they’d know it was his, and getting caught at the point meant they’d know everything he was trying to do.
But of course, he could still try to just pass it off as the random actions of a Padawan feeling disobedient and deciding to make trouble using computers, because he happened to be good with them. The spy, if there was one, might now be worried about the older Jedi Darth Maul was set against or even Padmé having their suspicions, but he was still young enough he might not be worried about. And he thought he probably had gotten at least some of the information onto the databit by now. More might even download itself in.
“Hey, watch it, not so tight!” he snapped at Dooku, though while he made a show of trying to yank away, he didn’t actually use his full strength; if there was a real struggle it increased the old Master’s chances of spotting the databit. He glared up at him, and met his eyes like never before.
There was darkness in them. Suspicion. Intent.
Anakin reached out to the databit through the Force, and squeezed it, and then kept on going, pressing molecules into molecules, until it crumpled to a tiny piece of debris and then fell from the jack. He deliberately stomped his foot, just in case that amount of mass hitting the floor was audible.
He waved his arm and used the Force to hit a few more controls, and the databank rescrambled itself. It would now be difficult for anyone to see any particular purpose to what he’d be doing on it, and even Master Dooku probably wouldn’t find that worth the effort.
“I just wish we’d gotten something,” said Padmé. “Anything. We got so close, and you made so much effort, Ani, and now what if you do end up getting in trouble, and our Masters aren’t able to get your out of it?”
But there, Anakin said, “I don’t know. I think maybe I did get something. I didn’t think this earlier, but Padmé, I’m starting to think you were right about Master Dooku.”
“I told you,” said Obi-Wan, “that he didn’t want the Council finding out about his being there doesn’t necessarily mean anything. There really is a bit of a push and pull conflict about the use of that room, and he may very well have just wanted to avoid having Council members harp to him about it. You can’t make that kind of assumption from such a brief meeting…”
“I’m not assuming it, then,” said Anakin, annoyed. “But I am wondering a lot more about him than I was. I want to talk to our Masters about it. Master Jinn could probably easily get into his company more…”
But Obi-Wan sighed, and said, “That’s not going to be an easy thing to say, Anakin, or for him to hear. I mean, just think how you would react if somebody tried to tell you they thought Master Jinn had fallen to the Dark Side and collaborated with the Sith, and when we still don’t have any real evidence-you know that even if someone had it, you’d probably still be upset. I’m not saying we should rule out the option of talking to him, but…"
Just then, the comm beeped. Padmé went over to look, then said, “It’s them.”
“Don’t tell them about Master Dooku now,” said Obi-Wan immediately. “At the very least, that should be done in person. Especially since, also, we cannot assume no one is monitoring that line, so we should talk only about their mission, and otherwise say what we would want a spy to hear.” That all made sense enough, and though when they assembled in front of the console, their being shorter than him caused Anakin and Padmé to both stand in front of Obi-Wan, he was the one who reached forward and brought the holographic images of Masters Jinn and Windu. “Good evening, Masters,” he said. “I’m afraid I have bad news for you; Master Dooku caught Anakin snooping somewhere he shouldn’t.” Anakin, getting the idea, duly made an ashamed face.
Master Jinn played along too, sighing and looking down, and saying, “I would be more displeased with you, my Padawan, if I had the energy for it right now. We will talk about that when I get back. But meanwhile, I’m afraid we have more bad news. Our mission has failed.”
“What?!” That wiped all other thoughts from all three of their minds. “Why?” asked Obi-Wan. “How?”
“We got word from the planet we were being sent to,” said Master Windu. “They don’t want us anymore. We actually got two transmissions; the first was just that, and the second was from an opposing party, who claimed he’d seen fishy characters talking to the people who made that decision. Gave us good dates and locations, and we’ve zeroed in on the probable signals for that, and they match what’ve been confirmed as other Sith transmissions.”
“So he found out,” said Obi-Wan. “Any idea how?”
“Well,” said Master Jinn, “knowledge of this mission wasn’t entirely confined to the Council. But it was supposed to go around on a need-to-know basis. We even delayed the notification to the Chancellor of who was being sent; I doubt he’s known for more than a day, if he does at all, if he’d even looked anyway. So that narrows the group of people who could be sending transmissions, but there were still plenty of them. I don’t know how well they were encrypted.” That last part was for a spy’s benefit, of course, to make him or her think they had no suspicions.
“You know,” added Obi-Wan, “I think Master Dooku said you were tampering with one of the machines they would’ve used, Anakin. Did you know that?”
“Thought it might be,” said Anakin; it would’ve been suspicious had he claimed he had no idea. “Wasn’t sure, though. Whatever it was, it was advanced beyond what I’ve studied yet.” That was true enough. There was the reason he'd had to tune in to the Force that much.
“Perhaps you should learn a little bit about it,” said Master Jinn. “In a more appropriate way, of course.” It was a very Master Jinn thing to say; it wouldn’t make anyone suspicious.
“If you want me too, Master,” grinned Anakin.
“You need not smile, Padawan; you are still in very deep trouble. I hope, in fact, that you will think over how much tonight.”
“I think I may have a word with the Council over it,” added Master Windu. “Perhaps I can teach you to regret this properly.” That was only a smart thing to say over this transmission, of course, setting up for Master Windu to take charge of Anakin’s punishment.
Meanwhile, Master Jinn was going along with it, “Shall we discuss it over lastmeal, Master Windu? We really should go and eat it.”
“You should, if you haven’t yet,” Obi-Wan agreed. “Would you contact us again within a couple of hours, before it’s time for your Padawans to go to bed?”
“In an hour,” said Master Jinn. “Force be with you until then.”
Anakin was honestly a little surprised by how everything just seemed to go out of Padmé then. He saw her frame give a little, just a little, the instant the images of their Masters had disappeared, and the rest of it gave when she went and sat down, and he could sense a lot of sadness and listlessness in her. It got him and Obi-Wan both anxiously leaning over her. “I know this is hard,” said Obi-Wan. “It is a very great disappointment, especially since I know you, like the rest of us, very much wanted this over before Anakin could be put into any more danger. But we must keep up the fight now, you must be strong.”
“Well, it would be too late for that anyway, would it?” sighed Padmé. “Do you know how closely I was watching your Master’s reaction to talking about Dooku? Master Windu’s been teaching me to make close observations on people, says I’m naturally good at it, so it’s a skill I should hone. I was hoping to see something on his face to make me think…”
“Padmé,” said Obi-Wan, “you can’t expect him to think anything of his old Master being in that room.”
“Master Dooku’s not on the Council,” she said. “I’ve truly been wondering what he was doing in there.”
“Me too,” Anakin added.
“Only because you were suspicious of him already. It’s not at all unknown for other senior Masters to be in there. As he told you, Master Jinn has been in there. As I said earlier, his not wanting the Council hearing about it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. And as I just said now, you cannot expect his former Padawan to just agree with your way of thinking so quickly; I am sure Master Windu would tell you this were he here; think back to the lessons in diplomacy you have learned as well.”
Anakin sensed the surge of anger that took Padmé for a split second. She didn’t let it keep hold of her, of course, and nor did she say what he *knew* she was thinking. So he said it instead: “You are starting to sound like you don’t believe it either.”
“I honestly don’t know. I do think, after the news we’ve just received, that the likelihood of there being a spy here is that much more. But I also think the likelihood is more that our spy in on the Council.”
Anakin sensed no deceit in him, and his logic was pretty good. But he had known Padmé’s instincts about people to be right far more often than other people’s instincts were, and he still couldn’t help but feel Obi-Wan wasn’t fully appreciating that, thinking her young and maybe even silly.
If neither he nor their two Masters were willing to believe them, Anakin thought, should they try to be disobedient for real? Despite what some Masters who didn’t know him well thought, he actually didn’t want to be that much, not towards Master Jinn. And he wasn’t sure it would ever be possible to persuade Padmé to be, at least not outright.
But…this was the future of the Jedi that was at stake. And if their elders were so clouded in their thoughts by their longtime friendships with Master Dooku, and only the two of them could see the situation without that in the way, well, maybe there were some things it might be necessary for them to do. Maybe they wouldn’t even have to disobey any actual orders of their Masters; maybe they could try doing things they hadn’t been outright forbidden to do in their spare time. Such as hack into Dooku’s files, if Master Jinn actually did let him develop his skills there further. Or ask some of their friends to keep an eye on him, since if they tried following him themselves he would get suspicious. There probably wasn’t much they could do that way, but it was better than nothing.
It looked like now wasn’t the time to ask Padmé, because she seemed to be subdued, probably by herself more than by Obi-Wan, even before she said, “I suppose you’re right. But if so, is there even anything more we can do to…”
“Right now,” said Obi-Wan, “I think we’re just waiting for instruction. Or at least for Masters Jinn and Windu to get back here.”