A Village Hidden in Hope
Part 2:7 New Worlds, Old Weirdos
The Naboo Consulate and Diplomatic Residence
The gruel his mother cooked up for breakfast wasn't as bland as what they usually ate in Hope, but the flavoring agents were unfamiliar, and Anakin found himself stuck halfway through the bowl. Guilt and a lifetime of deprivation reminded him other people in the universe were starving, and he might not get anything else to eat for the rest of the day. He gave his bowl a baleful stare, and choked down another spoonful.
"Nervous?" Sua'alant asked. "Humans regurgitate when they are nervous, correct?"
"I'm not that nervous," Anakin said, annoyed that he had admitted to it at all.
He had no idea what the Jedi would expect him to do for the test, but Padme had said it was usually for very small children, so it couldn't be that hard. Master Jinn seemed to think he would do well, and he was an expert.
Anakin looked over at the com interface. It was a decent model, but it didn't have the processing power to slice into a complex security system. He hadn't packed much of his gear, just a few of the basics they used for overriding slaver implants. He did not know what kind of protocols the Jedi had in place, but he thought he could probably break into the Temple's low priority streams. Of course, they probably would not store test answers there.
Stupid Naruto, giving me stupid ideas.
He stabbed his spoon into his gruel again. The Jedi were all about honesty and heroism and things like that. They wouldn't encourage people to cheat.
"Where's Naruto?" Anakin asked.
"He left with Kn'lillo," Shmi said. "He couldn't get through to his consulate through the com system, so they went in person. He may not be back by the time you leave, but he said to wish you good luck."
Anakin wasn't sure if he was disappointed or not. Naruto hadn't woken him to say good luck and goodbye, or ask him a thousand annoying questions about to how to use the com unit, or the rehydrators, or the lights. Did that mean Naruto was mad at him? Or had he just forgotten him now that there was a big exciting planet to explore? Anakin was still brooding when his mother settled her hands on his shoulders.
"Have you finished?" she asked.
"Yes, mom," he replied.
"Captain Panaka is going to meet you in the embassy's lobby in twenty-five minutes," Shmi said. "You should brush your teeth."
"Ok," he said.
He expected her to let go, but her hands stayed in place. She wasn't holding him hard enough to actually pin him in place, but with her standing behind the chair, he couldn't push back without risking her toes.
"Yes?" she said.
Anakin had a very strong feeling that she wanted him to declare that his stomach hurt, that he wanted to go back to bed, and not to the Temple, to the Jedi. Though still sitting securely in the chair, he felt extremely unbalanced. He exhaled, and cleared his thoughts, using a meditation technique Master Jinn had taught him on the flight from Tatooine. He felt centered.
"Mom…I'm going to be late."
"Of course, Ani," she said, releasing him so he could to scamper to their room.
He was not sure what he would need for the test, so he put on his standard mission gear. Everything but the blaster was concealed within his clothing. His mother hovered over him as they boarded the elevator. They arrived in the lobby just before Panaka did.
Anakin studied Captain Panaka, hoping to practice for the upcoming test. Master Jinn had told him the impressions he got were transmitted to him through the Force. All Anakin got from the Captain was a sense of annoyance, and that did not require any supernatural insight. It was pretty obvious from the look on his face.
"Are you ready to depart, Mister Skywalker?" the Captain asked.
"Yes, sir," Anakin said. "Goodbye, mom. I'll tell you all about it when I get back."
Instead of saying goodbye, she caught him in a surprisingly strong hug that crushed all the air out of his lungs. She did not let him go until the Captain cleared his throat.
"I will see you this evening," Shmi said. "Do your best."
"I will," Anakin said, wondering at her emphasis.
They took an elevator down a few hundred floors and crossed a long walkway to a public transport station. Anakin hoped they would rent their own speeder, but he doubted the captain would agree to let him pilot. Instead they lined up for the hired taxis. It did not take Anakin long to notice the Gamorrean waddling up to join the line behind them.
"I know it's you, Naruto. Go back before you get me kicked out," Anakin said.
The large porcine being stared blankly at him. A bubble of snot formed and burst in the Gamorrean's left nostril. Captain Panaka looked back and forth between them. A few other people in the line were staring as well.
"You stink, Naruto, but not enough," Anakin added.
The Gamorrean gave a snorting squeaky sigh and vanished in a puff of smoke. In its place stood a grinning humanoid in an orange jumpsuit.
"Yeah yeah, ok," Naruto said. "Next time I'll bring the garbage along instead of just rolling in it."
"You are so gross!" Anakin said.
"But an awesome kind of gross, right?" Naruto asked, smiling.
"No!" Anakin said, scowling, though secretly pleased he had not been forgotten.
"I just came by with some advice," Naruto said. "Don't screw up!"
"Yeah, that's the best advice ever," Anakin said.
"Also, I wanted to give you something!" Naruto said.
"Good luck noogie!" Naruto declared.
Anakin tried to dodge but Naruto was still much faster. The older boy caught him in a headlock and drilled his knuckles into Anakin's scalp. Anakin pulled a knife out of his sleeve and stuck it into the back of Naruto's thigh. The clone was still cackling as it exploded into smoke.
A few of the people on the platform were gawking, and quite a few had given up their place in the line for a better view of the scuffle. Anakin scowled.
"Was that…a hologram?" Panaka asked.
"No," Anakin said. "It's just something Naruto does because he is the most annoying person in the universe!"
Captain Panaka nodded in genuine agreement, and hustled him to the next open taxi.
The sensation of stretching was overpowered by the quick, sharp ripping that separated him from himself. Naruto looked over at Naruto, and then recalled the plan. He used the transformation technique to become a middle-aged human male with boring brown clothes. He felt the drain on his chakra. He could probably change shape three or four more times before running out. If he could stick with this boring disguise, he'd last for a couple of days before dispelling.
"Don't get caught," Naruto said.
"I know," Naruto replied.
As a clone, he wasn't exactly worried about personal safety, but some Jedi had seen him use his shadow clone technique to defend the bus, and they could probably put one and one together and come up with clone. On the plus side, the Jedi did not react as badly to the clones as they did to his real solid self. The more he observed them, the more he was certain they were entirely hung up on the Fox.
Even if they didn't seem to have it in for him, or at least his passenger, Naruto still would not have been comfortable letting Anakin go anywhere alone. The planetary information system didn't tell him as much about the Temple as he wanted to know, so he decided to scout it out, and if he heard Anakin calling for help, or heard a shifty Jedi planning to stuff him in a sack or some such thing, he'd be able to let himself know, right away.
The original Naruto handed him a credit chip so he could take the tram over to the Temple, instead of wasting chakra trying to run up, down and over various miles-high buildings in order to get there. He arrived a little after Anakin, but he was pretty sure his younger brother wouldn't be on the lookout for him, having "caught" his tail already.
The security wasn't terrible; retinal scanners and touch DNA readers controlled access through the lower level doors. But the security wasn't great, either. It looked like just about anyone with a speeder could land on the upper-level docks, and it wouldn't have been much of a challenge to just drop down on the roof from a ship passing over. He saw a few security cameras that would likely see him if he did such a thing, but there were no gun turrets or other active guards against intrusion. He supposed the Jedi thought they were quick enough to catch anyone the cameras saw.
Naruto found a service entrance and pondered walking in as a droid, but Anakin had told him about coded radio frequency bursts that machines used to identify each other. While he waited, an opportunity presented itself. A mechanized cart rolled by. The top was closed, but he could smell fruit through the vents. He transformed into an orange, and dropped onto the little ledge projecting from the back of the cart. He rode passively into the kitchen.
Once inside, he was scooped up by a droid and tossed into a compost bin. He gave it a thirty count and then transformed again, this time into a rat. He climbed up out of the bin and, when the droid's back was turned, he scampered away. He had used up half his charka, but he figured his job was half done, since he did not have to worry about getting back outside again.
He only ran into two other small animals as he explored the building. He supposed that was a point for the Temple in terms of sanitation. That was balanced against the bland nature of the building in general: long gray hallways with polished floors, free of decoration, ornament or personality. Naruto could understand that in a hospital or a court or something, but Anakin was going to be living here. It took him longer than he expected to find the students. The Temple seemed to be mostly empty space.
He found empty dormitories and empty classrooms and a small nursery with three babies asleep inside. He finally found a group of twelve small children, somewhere between five and seven years of age, gathered in a gymnasium. There was no teacher in sight, so he decided to get some more direct information. He scampered into an alcove and transformed into a small brunette human child, dressed in loose tan clothes. He sidled up to a blue-skinned humanoid kid who was standing a little away from the others.
"Hi!" Naruto said. "I'm new. How's all this work?"
The kid stared at him.
"Do you like it here?" Naruto asked.
The kid shifted, and reached out to tug on Naruto's sleeve. "Are you sure you are here? You don't feel like you're here."
"I'm not really. I'm more like a shadow, but back to my question. Do you like living at the temple, and all the Jedi training and stuff? Is training fun, hard, boring, awesome?"
"I…I don't know. Why are you a shadow?"
"It makes multitasking easier," Naruto said. "Do you like this class?"
The kid shrugged. "We're not supposed to talk. We're supposed to meditate until the teacher gets here."
After that the kid only shushed him, and insisted he wait for the teacher. Deciding that the teacher would probably notice an extra student, Naruto slipped out of the gym and found stairs leading to an observation area. The teacher, a tall humanoid with a very long neck, had the kids get up and run a few laps around the gym. None of them mentioned the mysterious kid who wandered in and wandered out. Most of them did not even speak unless asked a direct question.
All the kids were incurious, polite, and un-opinionated. Naruto hadn't seen any of them pushing or shoving, or trying to wipe boogers on each other, or any of the other fun idiocy that little kids get up to. There was no shrieking or hair pulling. There was a little bit of laughter, but it was quickly and apologetically stifled. Even the fighting was overly civilized. The kids that went wild were pulled off the mat and left in the corner to meditate.
He watched for another half hour, and then went back to scouting, still in his five-year-old guise. He did his best to avoid direct contact with other people, though a few Jedi nodded to him, and one old lady patted his head. He thought about lurking in one of the cafeterias and gossiping, but decided adults wouldn't bother talking to a kid, and if he changed into an adult, and didn't dispel from chakra exhaustion, he didn't really know enough about the Jedi to pretend to be one. Eventually he found a cavernous room he assumed was the library, and decided to lurk under desks and behind shelves, listening in on conversations.
It seemed like all these people ever talked about was work, and not even the cool kind of work talk, like "I once had to decapitate a Muslarkian fang fish with a broken beer bottle," or "We should totally practice blowing stuff up." It was all logistics this and politics that.
Naruto supposed a peacekeeping force should know about all that boring stuff, but it seemed like they talked about that and nothing else. Anakin already had a seriously repressed sense of fun, and Naruto didn't think he'd benefit from the fun-ectomy these Jedi all seemed to have. Qui-Gon Jinn seemed to have a sense of humor. He couldn't be the only cool Jedi, could he?
"You aren't supposed to be here unescorted, youngling," a light tenor voice called.
Naruto looked up and saw a tall Chalactan in a gray jumpsuit looking down at him. Naruto wasn't an expert on Chalactan, but thought he looked amused rather than suspicious.
"Right! Sorry!" Naruto said, in his best innocent little kid voice. "I was just looking up something before class."
"Perhaps I can help you," the Chalactan said. "What were you looking for?"
"I wanted to find out where babies come from!" Naruto said, thinking it was the most awkward thing a kid could ask. He hoped to be given a pamphlet and an awkward shove out the door.
"For what species?" the Jedi asked, completely unbothered. "Human perhaps? Your species actually has a fairly simple reproductive cycle since there are only two genders and each contribute half the genetic material to the offspring, not counting mitochondrial DNA, of course-"
Naruto almost sighed in relief. Even if he hadn't managed to scare the Jedi off with his question, at least the man was one of those adults who got cryptically technical, so he could drift off instead of-
"-stimulation of external genitalia."
The Chalactan talked for 15 minutes straight. And then he gave Naruto a pamphlet.
The Naboo Consulate and Diplomatic Residence
It took Naruto almost a half hour to run out of patience. He or his clones had escorted the last of the refugees to their respective consulates or business contacts, and he really didn't have anything else planned besides waiting for Anakin to come back. He supposed he could try to butt in on Shmi's meeting with the charity ladies, but he didn't think he'd be able to sit through it without saying something less than socially acceptable.
He considered attempting to deliver a lunch to the Temple that Anakin had "forgotten" but was pretty sure the Jedi wouldn't buy that excuse. He couldn't sneak up on them the way his clones could, and since it hadn't dispelled itself, he assumed it was doing alright.
He turned to the com station and tried to find information on the local pit fighting rings, but the com just kept giving him alerts from the CPSF that pit fighting was illegal, as was betting on pit fighting. He was trying searches for alternate names for pit fighting, which the locals must use to get around that rule, when a message from Padme came in. It was text only, but Naruto, after an intense stare-down with the com, managed to open it rather than erase it.
"Chancellor has postponed our meeting again. We will return late."
It wasn't exactly an invitation, but Naruto was struggling to keep himself occupied.
Finding the Senate wasn't too difficult, since it was considered a tourist attraction. He had to admit he was impressed with the size of the buildings, if not their odd cubes-around-a-mushroom style. The complex was probably as big as all of Hidden Leaf Village, and the Hokage's tower could have fit inside the lobby and not even touched the walls or ceiling.
He paid for the tour, which had helpfully included a holographic display pad with pictures of the Chancellors past and present. He knew from Padme that the man's name was Valorum, but a picture is always the best way to make sure you have the right target. Despite their tour guide's long speech about the peerless security system, it wasn't too hard to sneak away from the group. He had honestly had more trouble getting around bouncers in Mos Eisley's dive bars.
While security was not a problem, the size of the building was. There were no convenient signs to guide him to the Chancellor. He had tried asking one of the protocol droids he found wandering the halls, but it would not tell him without a confirmed appointment with the guy. Finally he just decided to go where the security was tighter, figuring he could follow the gradient, and find the head of the Senate in the hardest place to get to.
Naruto walked past a pretty likely suite of offices a few times under different henges, once as a Kel Dor and once as a protocol droid to practice their silly walk. The door had two human, or at least humanoid guards outside, and there was a fairly pricey-looking scanner built into the frame. Of course that kind of equipment only helped when you bothered to use it.
Naruto stuffed the weapons he had snuck through the tour security checkpoint into a service panel and then lurked in an adjoining hallway. He waited for someone leaving the office to turn the corner and pass him, in this case an overweight Tholothian in a gray toga, and then used a henge to copy his form. He walked up to the door with his eyes searching the ground.
"I've dropped a data disk," Naruto said.
The guards opened the door without his even asking. He walked down a short hallway with thick red carpets. He had hoped to find Padme and the Queen's party in a waiting room or something, so he dropped his disguise. Instead, the hallway led right into a large office. Chancellor Valorum sat behind a desk reading a data pad with huge windows at his back, another big security flaw in Naruto's book.
"Hey mister, can I talk to you for a minute?" Naruto asked.
The man did not look startled, so he must have heard the door, but he did look a little confused.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Did we have an appointment?"
"No. The door was open so I came in," Naruto said. "You're the leader of the Republic, right?"
The Chancellor nodded while trying to subtly push a button under the edge of the desk, probably to call in the guards, or maybe to fire them.
"How did you get in here?" the Chancellor asked.
"I bought the ticket," Naruto said, holding up the little holographic display he had been loaned at the tour admission as proof. "Mostly I was trying to find Padme. She said the Queen had an appointment to talk you but you kept moving it later and later, so I figured I'd come by and see what's up."
"You are with the Naboo delegation?" the Chancellor asked.
"What? Oh? No, not really," Naruto said, realizing he could make things worse for Padme if he pissed this guy off. "They just gave us a ride to this planet, but they're all pretty upset about being invaded. I figured since all those people and the worlds they represent agreed to do what you say, you could just order the Trade Federation out of there, or send in the army if they won't go, right? Doesn't seem like it should take this long."
The Chancellor shook his head. He seemed pretty nervous even though Naruto was doing his best not to look threatening. "I have only limited powers. The Senate must vote on any action as extreme as military intervention."
"Well, then how do you deal with pirates and things like that?" Naruto asked.
"Local police forces usually deal with the crimes that occur in system."
"But if they can't, you send people to help them, don't you?"
"Well yes, but-"
"So aren't those trade guys being pirates? They can't legally hold people hostage on a planet and take their stuff, right?" he asked, genuinely confused, since the Chancellor didn't seem like a bad guy.
"The Trade Federation does have authority to refuse licensing and service to any government that does not honor their contract," The Chancellor said.
"I thought the Republic didn't allow hostages as part of contracts," Naruto said. "That doesn't sound all that much better than the Hutts' system. I'm pretty sure the Queen didn't sign the contract either way. It seems like you could help if you really wanted to."
"You don't understand. Taking any kind of heavy-handed action would divide the Senate and cost me my place as Chancellor, and all the projects… all the things I've been trying to accomplish would be swept away by my replacement."
"Is what you're trying to do worth more than a whole planet full of people? And if they get away with it once, they'll do it again. That's how bandits and pirates and missing nin work. Miste,r you've got a chance to do something right. Not politically right, or smart, just plain right. Maybe you'll get in trouble for it, but doing right isn't usually easy. It's memorable, though. You want to be remembered, don't you? People who take big steps get remembered."
"But many are remembered as fools for taking a big step in the wrong direction."
"Do you really think helping Naboo is wrong?"
At that moment a dozen armored men rushed into the office, along with a R879B battle droid. Naruto didn't make any sudden moves, but he didn't think he had to. If these were the guys the button had summoned, they had taken their sweet time in arriving.
"Please escort this young man out of the building," the Chancellor said. "And update the security protocols for the tour groups."
Naruto supposed that was better than being escorted to jail. He considered pushing his luck and asking to be taken to the Naboo Royal party instead, but thought better of it. He did send a clone to get the weapons he had left in the panel, but decided he would wait for Padme outside.
The Jedi Temple
Anakin Skywalker sat in a little tent in the middle of a cavernous room. The fabric was thick enough to keep out light and what little outside sound was present, but not so thick that he felt trapped by it. Master Plo Koon had left him there almost twenty minutes ago with instructions to meditate. Anakin wondered if this is where the nap break occurred for normal candidates.
He had spent most of the morning taking tests: academic and medical. He was sure he passed the basic literacy, math, and science questions, which were followed by more and more difficult questions on coding, mechanics, and engineering. He doubted many three-year-olds were asked about shearing stresses and reentry speed. After that he was left standing on a scanner for almost an hour while a medical droid asked him questions about his diet and how well he slept. A female Togruta stood against the wall for the duration, saying nothing, but staring intently. Her expression reminded him a little of buyers in the slave markets.
I'm here because I want to be, he told himself. He shifted in the dark quiet space, trying to find a comfortable way to fold his legs. He could hear his heart beating and his own breath. He stretched a little and heard his back crack. He blinked in the blackness and held his hands up in front of his face. He saw nothing.
Anakin had read a little about sensory deprivation after another stupid argument with Naruto a few months ago. Naruto had said he'd prefer torture over being left alone in a dark cell, "because it would be so boring." Anakin declared him a moron, but since neither of them had been seriously tortured, Anakin went to his room to back up his opinions with research papers from the public archives. The papers, annoyingly enough, lent some credit to Naruto's side. Anakin went back to let Naruto know he was maybe half-right and found him tacking the end of a blanket to the wall over the closet.
"You sit in there in the dark, and I'll zap myself with this shock prod, and whoever gives up first loses, right?"
Anakin still wondered how neither of them had noticed mom standing in the doorway behind them. She was definitely madder at Naruto that time.
Frowning in the darkness, he shifted again. He wished he had his data pad to fiddle with, but the Jedi had confiscated all of his equipment and weapons at the first security checkpoint. Mater Jinn had not been there to meet him, and he wondered what he should read into that. Maybe the other Masters were worried Master Jinn would help him cheat to get a better score.
Meditating, he told himself. I am supposed to be meditating.
He lay down on his back and folded his arms under his head. He tried to empty his mind, pushing out thoughts before they could really form as he looked up into the darkness. As he watched, the darkness lightened into gray and then into the pale featureless brightness of a desert sky.
At first he thought he was dreaming of Tatooine. He saw nothing but sand stretching to the horizon, which shimmered and twisted in the heat. He turned his face up, and saw only one sun. He blinked as a shadow passed over him. A cloud of sand drifted to the dunes in front of him and settled with unnatural speed, revealing two people.
A pale-skinned human with dark red hair and dark rings around his eyes stood next to a female figure of about equal height. The human wore a loose brown tunic and trousers and had a huge gourd strapped to his back. The woman was covered head to toe in a hooded off-white robe. The hood covered her face completely, without even eye holes to see through.
The woman pointed towards the horizon, where a glimmer of light suddenly erupted into a huge ball of fire. The ground began to rumble and a shockwave blasted towards the pair. The red-haired human raised his hand and sand flowed up from the dune they stood upon, forming a dome over the two. Just before the dome closed, the red-haired boy turned toward Anakin, and he saw a symbol tattooed in red on the boy's forehead.
Anakin sat up, staring into the darkness. He'd only had a couple of waking visions, and those were only ever about people he knew. He wondered if this was part of the test. He wished for his data pad so he could at least jot down some notes. Maybe the vision of those strangers was something he was supposed to report.
It felt like a long time before he was able to push thoughts and feelings away again, but a new vision faded in almost immediately when he did.
Anakin saw a dim, circular room, ringed with throne-like chairs, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows. Through the windows he saw familiar buildings, and realized the room was somewhere in the Jedi temple, higher, but on the same side as the landing platform he had entered the building from. He wondered if he was about to see the next part of the test, but was slightly annoyed that it would take until after dark to get there.
Light from neighboring buildings reflected off the floor and dozens of eyes. Small figures leaned out from behind the chairs, trying to see something without making an obvious silhouette. Anakin tried to turn and look, but could not move.
"Are they coming?" a high voice whispered.
"They'll find us. We should run," another said.
"Knight Gr'olan said to hide until he got back."
"He's already dead."
"Be quiet! Be quiet! Someone's coming!"
There were hisses and whispers, but the children weren't entirely silent until the doors behind Anakin opened. There was a sizzling noise, and red light flooded the room. With a great effort he turned. He saw only blackness.
Anakin sat up and flailed around until his hands found the fabric of the tent. He scrambled out into the dimly lit room.
"Anakin Skywalker?" a voice called.
Anakin turned and saw an elderly Zabrak in a tan tunic staring at him. Anakin gulped down the angry frightened feelings that were making his stomach flip.
"Yes, sir. That's me."
"I am Knight Eemerth Tol. I am here to escort you to the Council Room for the next part of the test."
"Yes, sir," Anakin said, hurrying away from the tent.
They set off down a long hallway. As they walked, a sense of deja vu made Anakin's nerves jangle again.
"Sir, is there a Knight named Gr'olan?" Anakin asked.
"There is a Padawan by that name," the elderly Jedi replied as they stepped into an elevator that looked similar to the others Anakin had ridden that day. That had to be why it felt so familiar. They crossed another hallway and a large set of doors slid open.
The ring of throne-like chairs was just the same.
Mace Windu spent most of the morning in his room, reviewing the CPSF files on the assassination attempt of the "Tatooine Party". CPSF had concluded that someone from Tatooine, likely the Hutts, had organized the assassination attempt with local criminals, but Mace was not convinced. Though the battle droids' memory circuits were destroyed beyond recovery, their broken metal bodies had a great deal to say.
The corrosion on their metal armor was consistent with being stored outside on Coruscant for several years, without maintenance. Their antenna relays were oxidized, but not badly, which meant they were probably high above ground level, and out of direct sunlight. While he studied the forensics, he envisioned the droids dropping out of under the balconies of several high-class apartments, and slipping unnoticed into the traffic streams. The droids must have had up-to-date traffic transponders, since they did not set off any alarms until they started shooting.
He sent a request to the CPSF traffic authority for data on any transponders that had cut out during the battle in the area. The instant reply of "none matching the criteria found" did not convince him he was on the wrong track. He knew the speeder flown by Knight Edra had lost its transponder during the battle. They had already received a citation for it.
He next read over the reports of all the Jedi who were present at the initial disembarkation of the Tatooine group, but they were too distracted by Uzumaki Naruto to recall much about air traffic on their way to and from that confrontation. None of the Jedi had noticed Uzumaki's younger brother. Mace brought up footage from the Temple's speeders, zooming in on Anakin Skywalker, and then panning over to Qui-Gon Jinn.
A high midichlorian count was not enough to become an initiate. A youngling must also show some propensity for accessing the Force, whether consciously or not. But more importantly, a candidate must show an evenness of temper. Though small children were rarely exactly like their adult selves, it was rare for a volatile child to grow into a calm adult. Force sensitivity could exacerbate even minor flaws in character.
He frowned and brought up Anakin Skywalker's tests on his screen. Aside from an astoundingly high midicholrian count, the boy was physically a fairly average young human. There were no signs that growing in proximity to Uzumaki had stunted him in any particular way. Academically, Skywalker was brilliant in everything except for emotional intelligences. Mace flipped through the Healer's and Teacher's reports. The boy would likely be easy to fluster, and his attachment to his home and family was obvious even without a deep psychological evaluation. He wondered why Qui-Gon thought the boy would be a good candidate.
Many candidates were found by Masters or Knights in the course of their work, instances of happenstance that many Jedi believed were manifestations of the will of the Force. Some candidates were brought to the attention of the Jedi by their parents. Though levitating toddlers were rare, they were not unheard of, and in the Core worlds at least, it was not hard to send a request to the Temple for an evaluation.
Mace checked the time, and then closed his workstation down. It was a lengthy walk to the Council Chambers, since he had not moved to closer quarters when he was elected to the Council. Yoda had teased him about forming an attachment to his room, but he would not be goaded into moving nearer to the initiates' quarters and the nursery. He arrived before Skywalker, but the other Masters were assembled.
Mace Windu watched Anakin Skywalker as he was introduced to the Council. The boy turned toward each Master as their name was given, obviously nervous and uncertain of the proper protocol. The boy did not stand out from other humans. He was neither ugly nor pretty, neither shy nor charismatic. The only thing Mace really noted was a sense of foreboding. He sat in his chair and felt that if he looked up, he'd see a boulder, poorly balanced, about to crash down on his head. He did not look up.
"Become a Jedi, why would you?" Master Yoda asked.
Usually the interview did not involve questioning the motives of the candidate, but they were rarely old enough to have motives, so no one objected. They were used to following Master Yoda's lead.
"So I can help people," Skywalker answered.
"Help them, already do you not?" Yoda asked.
"Yes…but if I had training, if I was a Jedi, I could do more."
"What more would you do?" Ki-Adi-Mundi asked.
"Master Jinn said I'd be able to move faster, and use the Force to sense danger, and if I could use a lightsaber, I could fight too, instead of having to hide when missions go bad."
"Even to become an apprentice you would likely need years of remedial training," Saesee Tiin said. "You would not be assigned to Tatooine, because it is outside the Republic's jurisdiction. The Jedi help people, but you would not be sent to pursue personal goals."
Mace supposed he should have expected Tiin to try to warn the boy of the real focus of the interview, but the other Master had not been explicit enough for the child to understand. The boy seemed to take it as an attack instead of a warning.
"Why not?" Skywalker asked, his voice getting slightly shrill. "The Outer Rim needs way more help than the Core worlds."
"A conquering army, the Jedi are not. To maintain peace and order our goal is," Yoda said.
"If the Republic were to sanction, or through the Jedi imply sanction, of inciting rebellion on a Hutt-controlled world, it could lead to a large-scale war with millions or even billions of people suffering the consequences," Eeth Koth explained.
"But people are already suffering," the boy said.
"Those people still have their lives, and rash action might cost them that, when a slower, more compromising course of action might improve their situation without needless death," Koth said.
Skywalker did not look convinced.
"Why do you think fighting is the correct course of action?" Koth asked.
"It's the only thing I've seen work," Skywalker said.
"Is it?" Ki-Adi-Mundi asked. "According to Master Jinn's report, your brother bought your freedom."
"After he fought and killed a kyrat dragon to get the money," Skywalker said.
"So you want to fight because your brother fights?" Mace asked.
The boy looked at him a little suspiciously. "I want to be able to do the things Master Jinn does. Not just fighting."
"If suited you are, see we shall," Yoda said.
"We will begin with a series of simple tests that focus on different aspects of sentient interaction with the Force," Depa Billaba said. "Respond to the best of your abilities."
Depa Billaba touched the controller on her chair and a panel opened in the wall. Three paper boxes sat in a row on a small levitating tray. The tray floated to the center of the room.
"What do these boxes contain?" Billaba asked.
"Beetles," the boy answered.
"And which beetle bites?" Billaba asked.
"This one," the boy said, pointing at the leftmost box.
"Pick it up, can you?" Yoda asked.
The boy looked at them a little suspiciously, but then lifted the box, which had no bottom. The beetle, now exposed, hissed in agitation and clacked two sets of inch-long jaws. Its red and yellow shell lifted up and four delicate glassy wings emerged. Before the small creature could take to the air, the boy's hand lashed out.
For a moment Mace thought the boy had killed the insect, but he did not feel its death through the Force. The boy walked up to Master Yoda, and held out the beetle, its head between two fingers while the other three pinned its body to his palm. The boy had used speed, rather than calming the creature through the Force. The test was meant to show if the candidate had a strong connection to other living things. All they knew at this point was that the boy had quick hands.
Yoda held out his hand and the beetle floated up out of Skywalker's palm, lifted not by its wings, but by the Force. The insect drifted back to the tray, and the box flipped itself back over the top of it. Skywalker returned to the center of the circle, his expression faintly envious as he watched the insect recaptured.
"For this next test, tell me what is on my side of the screen," Mace said, as he took the data pad from the pocket of his chair.
The boy did well at first, answering a ship, a cup, and a speeder as each appeared before Mace. He felt no intrusions through the Force, which meant the boy was precognitive, rather than a mind reader. He could tell the boy's confidence was growing.
"Next," Mace said.
"Three planets," Skywalker replied.
"An animal," Skywalker said. "I don't what kind. Six legs, red and yellow fur."
The boy startled. "A picture of my stupid brother."
Mace felt a conflicting swirl of emotions, affection and jealousy surged in the boy's mind. Skywalker fought them back down, burying the emotions, instead of letting them go.
"Another brother, do you have that is smart?" Yoda asked.
"No, sir," Skywalker said.
Mace set his screen to display a series of less-neutral images. A blaster, a Hutt, a battle droid, and a dead body followed the image of Uzumaki Naruto. Saesee Tiin shifted in his chair, and Mace knew his fellow Master was about to intervene again. Mace raised an eyebrow at Yoda, who nodded. Mace put the data pad away.
The next round of tests were usually not given until a youngling had received some training, but this was as much about what Skywalker already knew, and if any of it was related to the Dark Side, or the Sith.
"These next tests will show if you have any skill in physical manipulation using the Force," Yarael Poof said.
Another tray was brought out. This one held a small photon-stream generator, a hard rubber ball three inches in diameter, and a foam block. Poof waved the boy closer and turned on the generator. It was a low-powered cousin to the lightsaber, easily visible, but unable to cut or burn.
"Use the Force to bend the beam," Poof said.
Skywalker stared at the faintly blue light streaming from the end of the small wand-like device. He chewed his lip, and his face scrunched up. The beam remained unaffected.
"I can't," the boy said. "I don't know how."
Poof nodded and shut off the beam. Without comment he waved the boy back to the middle of the circle, and then tossed the ball. It rolled to a stop at Skywalker's feet.
"Step on that and balance on one foot for as long as you can," Poof said.
The boy stepped onto the ball with his right foot, his arms held out to his sides to steady him. The test was meant to show if an initiate could call upon the Force to support himself physically, or to increase his own stamina. After five minutes, the boy began to wobble, and after twelve he toppled, hopping on his left foot and shaking out the right with a pained expression. Mace had not felt the boy call upon the Force, and though he exhibited good balance and endurance, it was from stubbornness rather than the living Force's support.
"Without touching it, bring the block to you," Poof said.
Skywalker held his hand towards the ball, his face scrunched in concentration. Nothing happened. Poof sent the tray back to the panel it came from.
"Have you ever had a vision through the Force?" Mace asked.
If Skywalker had seen the same entity as Obi-Wan, it could confirm its existence.
"Two today," the boy said, apparently relieved that he could show off his skill after three failures.
"Have you ever had a vision about the entity within your brother?" Mace asked.
Skywalker looked at him. The jealousy had returned, but now suspicion came with it.
"No," Skywalker said.
"See through you, we can," Yoda said.
"We can tell you are lying," Ki-Adi-Mundi said.
"You said to respond to the best of my ability," Skywalker said, swallowing nervously. "You didn't say to tell the truth."
"If you wish to be a Jedi, you should answer honestly," Mace said.
"So if I answer honestly, I can be a Jedi.?" Skywalker asked.
The Masters exchanged looks. None of them was willing to say yes.
"Honesty will not work against you," Ki-Adi-Mundi said.
"What is working against me?" Skywalker asked.
"Your fear," Yoda said. "Your brother, much fear of him do I see in you."
Skywalker scowled. "I'm not afraid of Naruto!"
"Obi-Wan Kenobi believes he has made contact with some sort of entity sharing a body with your brother," Mace said. "Have you seen evidence of, or communicated with this entity?"
The boy started nodding and then froze.
"Is this part of the test?" Skywalker asked. "Do you ask all candidates weird questions about their families?"
"If you become a Jedi, your family will not be a continuing influence in your life," Saesee Tinn said. "A Jedi lives a life of service. Your attachment to your family would be a distraction and a hindrance to your training."
"As Jedi we must concern ourselves with the safety of worlds, not with the preserving of the bonds of a single family," Eeth Koth said. "You must know your brother-or, rather, the entity within him-is dangerous. We need to know everything about it."
"Well, I don't have anything to say about it," Skywalker said. "I want to leave now, please."
"You may leave when you have answered our questions," Eeth Koth said.
The boy's eyes drifted towards the door of the Council Chamber. He gritted his teeth. He obviously knew he wouldn't make it.
"A lot of people know I'm here," Skywalker said.
"You will not be harmed," Oppo Rancisis said. "But you must answer our questions."
"I've only got one thing to say to you!" Skywalker said.
His arms were crossed and his shoulders were hunched, but his glare was unwavering. He opened his mouth to speak, and then vanished in a puff of smoke. A faint hint of death echoed in the chamber, and Yaddle and Even Piell turned their heads, tracking something that fluttered through the window beyond perception in the crowded city.
As the smoke cleared, a pamphlet fluttered to the ground in the center of the Council Chamber. Ki-Adi-Mundi stood and then picked it up, as Mace sent out a security alert. Eeth Koth and Plo Koon hurried to the door, which had been pried slightly open without their noticing, and was now jammed.
"Oh…my," Ki-Adi-Mundi muttered.
Mace held out his hand and the pamphlet fluttered to him. The paper bore anatomical drawings of human reproductive organs. A cartoonish sketch of Mace's face had been added to an improbable area of the male reproductive system.
"Skywalker is still in the building," Mace said. "We will find him."
Author's note: What day is it? What year? Bleh. I've rewritten this chapter like 20 times and it still isn't quite right, but I'm trying to update more than once a year. So here we are.