Once again Anakin awaited his Master in their quarters, with Master Jinn having told him over the comms that he had some very stern words for him. But instead, even before he came in, Anakin could sense concern coming from him instead. When the door opened, he walked in drawn up tall, barking a sharp “Anakin!” But then it snapped shut, and a moment later Master Jinn had pulled him into an embrace even harder than the one with which he’d left him. “How are you, Anakin?” he asked softly.
“I’m fine,” said Anakin. “I’m sorry the mission failed, but we’re all three of us fine, so long as you can keep anyone from punishing me.”
“Well,” said Master Jinn, “I may have to give the impression of keeping you confined here for a few days. But I’ll bring Padawan Naberrie in to see you, if Master Windu allows it, and especially if we can do it without anybody noticing. You should probably spend a few days catching up on your readings anyway, since preparing for this has caused you to neglect that a bit. Or we could start learning more about the communication and encryption equipment you worked with, although there I must admit to having too little knowledge myself; we may both learn about it. A pity we cannot even trust Master Nu; she would be a truly excellent teacher. Perhaps later we can engage her in a limited way…”
Thinking about Master Nu brought Anakin’s thoughts back to the subject of Master Dooku. He wasn’t going to talk to Master Jinn about that now; he very badly didn’t want to when he Master was hugging him and being so wonderful and kind. But she was friends with him, and she might also have a clearer view of him than Master Jinn, since she hadn’t been his Padawan. It was true that they couldn’t completely trust her, because they still couldn’t completely trust anyone outside the five of them, except maybe Master Yoda. But Anakin found it hard to believe she would be the spy. How much of the knowledge the Sith had managed to obtain would she even know anyway? Unless she’d gotten it off communication signals, but their Masters seemed convinced the spy wasn’t doing it that way.
And even if it might still be a bad idea to try to tell her they thought Master Dooku was a spy, maybe if he talked to her about his being in that communications room, without saying anything else, that might get her to talk about it. She was a stickler for rules; if she’d known he’d broken this one before, she might complain about it. Or she might go scold him for it, and he might reveal something to her Anakin might be able to get out of her later. There were any number of ways he or Padmé might be able to get information about him through her.
He would talk to Padmé about it, he decided. He just needed to get her away from Master Windu. Or maybe he could get Obi-Wan to help, although he’d have less chance to talk to him, he might have less chance to talk to Master Nu, and also, he wasn’t the one Anakin wanted helping him.
Meanwhile, Master Jinn finally let go, and said, “Tonight I think we should dedicate to meditation. I know Obi-Wan worked with you and Padmé both on that, and I would like to guide your thoughts on your recent experiences; I sense already you still have some turbulence about them, and you should get them settled in your head. Remember all that has happened cannot be changed, and it does not do to dwell on it out of regret.”
“Okay,” said Anakin, because he really couldn’t refuse, but there was no way to hide the dismay. He can’t find out what I’m thinking about Dooku unless I let him, he reminded himself, but he didn’t know how he was going to do this.
Luckily he’d had this reaction before, and Master Jinn just chuckled and said, “I am still awaiting the age in which you appreciate this more, my young Padawan. But first, we have not eaten. Since we want the Temple to think I am punishing you, you should stay and let me bring lastmeal here.”
“Yes, Master,” Anakin agreed. That gave him about half an hour, maybe a little more, to figure out how to keep himself from feeling too much guilt or how he was hiding anything from his Master. It wasn’t an impossible thing to do, he thought, but it would require a lot of clever direction of his emotions. He might have to let his Master believe he felt a lot more bad about failing than he did. This exercise might actually teach him more than Master Jinn thought.
If anyone said anything about him in the Council chambers, or any similar places, he didn’t hear anything about it. Within a couple of days he pretty much stopped worrying about it.
Once he got back to a more regular schedule, though he was still refraining from some of his favorite activities, he still found himself going to the Archives more than usual. For the most part history that wasn’t related to the Jedi Order bored Anakin (even history that was sometimes didn’t engage him much), but by reading enough of it, he found himself feeling a curiosity about the Works, which maybe he played up a little to get Master Jinn to send him researching to the Archives more. He also went there to read more about the equipment he’d dealt with in that communications room, though he still had to limit that. He especially didn’t want Master Nu to notice; she might innocently mention it to Master Dooku.
So when Master Nu came his way, he had a tablet in front of him detailing the disastrous results of too many stone mites being released into the Works and their infesting the surrounding area, including part of the Senate District, which of course had provoked much outrage from the Senators. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you here so much.”
“Well, it’s partly punishment, I’m afraid,” said Anakin. He and Master Jinn had already agreed to tell this story: “I did something I shouldn’t have done, and now Master Jinn has commanded me to spend all my time reading and isn’t letting me do any flying or anything with droids for a few weeks. I suppose I should’ve known better than to try anything while he was away. His old Master was actually the one that caught me!”
“Really, that’s remarkable.” He didn’t sense any deception in Master Nu when she said this, though of course he could always be wrong.
“Yeah, I was a little surprised myself when it happened,” he said. “I…I don’t know if I should tell you what I was doing, but…it was somewhere I had the impression neither of us should’ve been at, though sometimes I admit I don’t really pay enough attention to where higher-ranked Masters should and shouldn’t be, so maybe I was wrong about that.”
Master Nu was silent for a moment, then she said, “You really do want to go to places you know are off-limits don’t you? You’re like your mother that way, you know.”
Normally her mentioning new facts about his mother got Anakin’s excited attention. His first thought was to not let it; he couldn’t get distracted today when he had to get their conversation to go where he wanted. But then he thought she might wonder why if he didn’t, so he let the spark of excitement take him as he said, “Really? Did she get in trouble often for it?”
“A few times. Mostly when she was younger than you are now, though. There was one time when she was nine and snuck away to the pylons and climbed and climbed until she was tired and hungry, and that time the only punishment I gave her was insisting she climbed down immediately and without help. Master Dooku actually suggested that punishment; he happened to be with me at the time.”
Easy way to get the conversation back to him: “Did he see much of my mother? I’m afraid I got him angry at me; maybe I shouldn’t have, if he could’ve told me more of her.”
Master Nu considered this. “I don’t think he was ever alone with her, so he couldn’t tell you much you couldn’t hear from me. Though they did see a lot of each other, I suppose. He was training your Master at the same time, of course, although they actually didn’t see each other as much. But you probably know about all that already.” Anakin did; Master Jinn had talked at great length about how much Master Dooku had always controlled whom he could see. It was something Anakin was very grateful Master Jinn didn’t do. “His memory is very good, of course.”
“But yours is perfect,” Anakin grinned, because he’d long been convinced of that.
Even if she chuckled a little, and said, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“But are you sure he’d remember? I mean, he didn’t even say to me, ‘Just like your mother,’ or anything like that.”
“That’s because he is a sensible man who isn’t going to judge a young Padawan by his parent.” That was always possible, Anakin supposed. “Also, he might be worried that once you knew he knew your mother, you might bother him with questions about her. I’m afraid he’s not the kind of man who likes to be bothered.”
“Not very generous of him,” said Anakin, just a little jestingly, to keep her from getting offended on her friend’s behalf. “What if I’d been Master Jinn’s son? Or the son of one of his other Padawans? I’m sure Master Jinn couldn’t be the only one he’s ever trained, not at his age.”
To his surprise, Master Nu looked down, and said, “I don’t know if…"
“What’s wrong?” Anakin asked, genuinely concerned. “Did something bad happen to another Padawan of his? Or to him? I could look it up in the records, you know.”
“Very little of what happened with the Padawan he took after Master Jinn remains in the records,” she said. “She did not become a Jedi.”
“Why? Did she fail her trials?” That was hardly something he ought not to know about. Padawans failed their trials sometimes. Although in recent years, they very rarely got expelled because of it, instead just remaining Padawans and trying again later. But that was because the ranks were now so thin; it had been much more common before the first Sith attack.
“She never took them. It’s a complicated story, some of which I don’t even know; there are things no Jedi Master talks about to others. Put simply, she was judged unsuited to be a Jedi around the time she would have taken them.”
“What happened to her?” Anakin remembered what Padmé had said, so long ago now, when she’d been worried about never getting a Master and leaving at thirteen, and if she thought they might just let her go home to Naboo. “Do you know?”
Master Nu shook her head sadly. “She turned down the Reassignment Council’s offer of help and walked out of all of our lives and knowledges, except possibly Master Dooku’s, and I don’t think even he’s kept track of her. It’s not even impossible she could be dead…” She drifted off too quickly, as if there was some reason for that she didn’t want to tell Anakin.
He’d never get that out of her, he thought. In fact, he probably should limit his remaining questions about this failed Padawan of Dooku’s. Her name, the dates of her time in the Temple, and facts like that he or Padmé could get from other sources, so he wouldn’t bother with any of those. Instead he made his voice softer and sadder as he commented, “That must have been hard on him, huh? Losing a Padawan like that.”
Master Nu stood there quietly for a few moments, while Anakin even looked back at his readings, though it was hard for him to focus on the words enough to read them. Then she said, “Master Dooku, I think, would be very reluctant to admit to that. He is firmly of the belief that Jedi should be above those kinds of emotions, especially as related to their own successes or failures. I have never even heard him mention that poor girl’s name since only about a month or so after she was gone. Nonetheless I believe you are right.”
“Well, I trust your judgement on that.” He made himself grin again. “You’re the one who knows him, after all. Do you think had you been where nobody was supposed to be, he might have told *you* what he was doing there?”
That got a little smile, but also a shake of the head. “Master Dooku is a man of many secrets, Padawan, even from his friends. Plenty from his former Padawan; if you were to ask Master Jinn, Anakin, I am sure he will give you a whole list of things he’s still wondering about.”
“But is your list longer?”
“Probably,” she said easily, but then, more firmly, said, “But that I don’t think I should be relating to just anyone, Padawan.”
That was probably his cue to back off, so he said, “That’s okay. I should get back to work anyway.”
I’ll look some things up myself,” she added when their Masters returned a moment later. “See what I can find.” That made sense; she was allowed to access a lot more of the computer databanks than he was yet.
Late in the afternoon, Anakin was in the Archives once again, this time when Master Nu was somewhere else, hidden from most of the vast room in one of the wall nooks. He was getting a little reading in about the communications equipment when unexpectedly he felt the presence of Padmé near him, and moments later heard her footsteps. It made him feel warm inside, getting to anticipate her like that, and he knew his smile was way too big when she called, “Ani?” even before she peered into his nook; she’d probably found him using that same new awareness of each other. She grinned back, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you enjoy reading so much.” That made Anakin feel a little embarrassed, though he wasn’t entirely sure why.
Thankfully he didn’t long, since when she sat down by him, she said, “I got all the information on Master Dooku’s other Padawan that I could. Her name was Komori Vosa, and he took her as Padawan not long at all after your Master was knighted. About ten years ago, when she was 23, she was brought before the Jedi Council out of concerns that she was ‘unchangeably unsuited to become a Jedi Knight.’ They ruled she was. There’s no record as to why; there usually isn’t in such cases. There are probably records of it somewhere else, more protected, out of respect for her privacy. Some of her most painful emotional problems and secrets could be in there.”
“You don’t want to try to get at those, do you?” Anakin asked, trying not to sound too unhappy, even though she could probably sense his feelings there anyway.
She sounded unhappy herself, as she said, “Not unless you we really think we need to.” Obviously she already feared they would. “Anyway, she turned down the offer of the Reassignment Council to find her a position somewhere and walked away. As Master Nu indicated, there’s no further records on her in the Temple, which is actually a little more unusual for older failed Padawans, but hardly unknown.”
“There might be, then…” Anakin started.
“I know,” she said. Of course that thought too had occurred to her, and it was one she didn’t like at all. “Honestly, I doubt I could get at any more secreted records, and knowing how deeply some of the medical-related ones are protected, I'd say we'd need someone with real hacking training. Which the more I think about it, the more one of us should have...”
“You think is should be me?” He tried to sound neutral.
“Then we probably should talk to Master Jinn about that, at least.”
Anakin’s first impulse was to agree, but then he thought about having to talk to Master Jinn while trying to hide deception and guilt. “I...don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of thing,” he admitted.
“Let me do it, then.” She must have sensed his shock, but she went on anyway, “I’m pretty sure I can; he won’t get as good a read on me as on you, and Master Windu’s been teaching me how to make my shields really good too. I mean, we don’t have to talk to him tomorrow; we can wait until I get the chance. Maybe I should even try to do it when you’re not there; that’ll make things much easier.”
He should’ve known that, yeah, Master Windu would do that. Anakin had no doubt he’d told lots of people lots of lies, and probably saw that sort of thing as necessary, maybe even at times when it really wasn’t. But it was still strange, to think of Padmé learning to lie, learning to get good at it. “Okay,” he said.
“That’s agreed, then.” She smiled, and said, “Meanwhile, I’ve got a spare hour here, maybe a little longer. What are you currently reading about?”
So he showed her, explained it to her as much as she could grasp when she still knew little about the subject. Master Jinn would want to know what he’d learned that day, so it was good practice. There was even one point where trying to explain to her exactly how a monitoring delay worked led to him having a better understanding of it himself.
“I’m afraid Master Windu and I are taking lastmeal in our quarters,” she said when at last they got up.
“If he tells you anything important, will you tell me?” he asked. “Unless he tells you not to?”
She hesitated, she probably at least partly thought she should only do that if he outright gave her permission, which Anakin didn’t think he’d do. “Maybe,” she finally said. “Definitely, if it has anything to do with this. I don’t think he will, though.”
Anakin could sense she sincerely believed that. He didn’t know why he was convinced Master Windu would. Or why he didn’t say so to her then, but something held him back, some weird nervousness of how she would react.
He tried not to think about it too much when she had gone off and he was on his way to join Master Jinn and Obi-Wan in the refectory. He was even a little proud of how he finally managed to during the meal itself, when he had a conversation to focus on instead.
She held onto that belief and that hope for most of the time they were actually eating. The conversation was mostly about the day, and Padmé had done enough before meeting with Anakin that she didn’t even have to avoid talking about it, even though he didn’t tell her much about his initially.
Until they were nearly done, and Padmé looking at her dish and noting her appetite had decreased. Not too long ago, when she’d eaten this much, if she hadn’t still felt hungry, she hadn’t felt full the way she did now. She wasn’t sure whether that was simply that she was getting older, or because she was getting more anxious.
Then he said, “I got a message today. One I went to talk with Master Yoda with; I’m going to leave it up to him whether we tell the rest of the Council, but I have decided to tell you. But you must promise to not discuss this with anyone until one of I or Master Yoda gives you to go ahead, not even with Master Jinn, Knight Kenobi, or Padawan Skywalker.”
“Of course I won’t.” Could he sense her relief? She might have been very tempted to tell Anakin if he hadn’t been directly told not to, even though she’d know she shouldn’t.
“Good,” he said. “I will show you the message itself.” He got up and got a pad. “I won’t show you who it’s from, at least not yet.” He moved a finger on the surface, and when he held it in front of her, it was scrolled past the information related to date, time, and sender. She was left to read:
Forgive me for this long delay, during which so much has happened; I have read all your messages, and hope only you still have use for this information. Getting all the tracings you wanted took me much longer than it would most of the time; there were none not at least in deep encryption, and most were further than that.
“You know what deep encryption means,” Master Windu said carefully. Padmé nodded; that was a pretty basic term in communications technology, although it wasn’t one used lightly; deep encryption required so much time and money it was typically only used by governments to transmit classified information.
However, I was able to find the datestamp and rough interplanetary location for them all. As you suspected, they were all sent from the same solar system, the Avvarbor System, from all three of the inhabitable planets on it. The technical details follow:
Those details were a series of numbers and letters Padmé recognized as technical descriptions of when and from where transmissions were sent. “These,” said Master Windu as he took the tablet back, “are transmissions from over a year ago now that we believe are connected to the Sith. Looking at the times, I do not believe the Zabrak Sith Lord could have sent them; they would be either from his Master, or from some accomplice. That accomplice would likely not be a Jedi; there are no Jedi that were even remotely in the area for even a majority of them, however, there are qualities about the encryption that make us believe that whoever was involved in the encoding of them was at least Force-sensitive. There are a good number of communities in that system that are very closed off and hostile to outsiders, and the parents in them are almost never willing to give their Force-sensitive children up to the Jedi, so that person may be one of them.”
“Or the transmissions could be sent by someone other than whoever encrypted it,” suggested Padmé. She had the strong urge to ask questions then, about Master Dooku or his former padawan, which would sound crazy to him, she knew. It felt wrong to bite them down; she felt the deceit of that in her teeth.
And her Master was looking at her oddly, because he had to be able to sense she was holding something back. “This does not necessarily have anything do with our spy in the Temple, Padmé,” he said. “You ought to know by now that such a conspiracy as the Sith have perpetuated, likely for centuries and centuries now, would have to involve more than one person, more than one plot, and more than one dark corner.
I know,” he then added, “that you saw Padawan Skywalker just now. I know the two of you are working on something you are not talking to us about, although I cannot imagine why.”
“It’s because of Master Jinn,” Padmé blurted, desperate to not let him think she would ever want to keep anything from he himself. “Anakin and I think…”
“Master Dooku, you mean.” He’d figured it out before she could decide whether to tell him. “I admit, I have wondered myself, although I have seen nothing from him outside his being in that room that casts the least suspicion on him. I will keep an eye out, however, and for now I will not speak to either Master Jinn or Knight Kenobi about it.”
“Oh you can talk to Obi-Wan about it,” said Padmé. “We’ve talk to him about…some of it.” She braced herself for her Master’s displeasure at this confession, that she had talked to someone other than him about it without talking to him about it. She wasn’t even sure why she’d done it that way, except that it was just how events had gone and Obi-Wan had been on the spot, and it was what her feelings had told her to do.
But her Master kept his face to his usually neutral, and merely commented, “Well, at least you two haven’t been running around completely on your own, then. Continue to work with him too, then. I want you to understand this, Padmé,” and he actually took her hand as he spoke to her, which he didn’t do that much of anymore, since she didn’t really need it now to know when he was this serious, “when I say to you I’m going to allow this, that means I am putting trust in your judgement, though it relieves me to know you’ll be taking heed of the judgements of your elders as well. You know I don’t trust your friend’s judgement, which means I am also trusting you to lead him.”
“I won’t let you down, Master,” she said to him. “I promise.”