Morlok was a peaceful world. It was small, comparable to the fourth moon of Yavin, and alone in its orbit around a single, yellow sun. Covered with jungle, it boasted a varied ecosystem of small life forms.
A man sat in a cabin on this world. Nestled in his voluminous cloak, he touched a faded, patterned hand to his chin. Light eking in through the cracks in the hovel's ceiling showed black stubble on his cheeks and jaw. He set his hand to his left side, and closed his eyes.
A splash in the Force, like a familiar scent that brings back memories of an entire day, sent his eyes flashing open.
Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped out onto the ramp of the small ship as soon as the door swept aside. With relief he breathed in the fresh air, verdant with the smell of rich dirt. Animals sang four-note alarms from within the green jungle, complaining of the ship's descent and tail of smoke.
The Jedi Master hopped down off the ramp onto the grassy ground, leaving twenty-two-year old Anakin Skywalker standing in the relative shadow at the top of the ramp. Then the serious-faced Knight stomped down the ramp after him.
"What are you complaining about?" Obi-Wan asked dryly. "This is the one planet in the galaxy we're not likely to get shot on."
"I know, Master." Anakin replied, inflectionless. "But that's exactly why I feel we shouldn't be here. Scouting for resources? We could be out fighting combat droids right now; doing actual good."
"We need our rest, my very young apprentice. On the flight here—oh that's right, you were sleeping through it."
"I always woke up for maintenance checks—"
"What are they, three days apart?" Obi-Wan chuckled. "We're exhausted from the war. And resources are very important. The Republic has a clone army ready-made, but needs metal to build them ships to use. If we find that, we'll be doing equal good of a different sort."
Anakin grumbled, and set his hand on his lightsaber hilt as he passed Obi-Wan and took a few steps in to the jungle. Obi-Wan doubted that Anakin sensed anything worth going on the defensive about. Rather, what had him upset was the peace. Morlok seemed utterly untouched by the war raging across inhabited planets. It begged a question: how could this place be so peaceful, when other grounds were torn and bloodstained? Did only a twist of fate decide which life forms—sentient or nonsentient—would be spared or slain?
"We are Jedi, Anakin. We are not supposed to be as used to war as war is making us." But you do not know that. You have been raised in a Temple overshadowed by violence. Ah, fate, do you build toward a resolution?
Anakin's attention had wondered. Obi-Wan remote-locked their ship and followed the Knight into the woods.
For fifteen minutes they trekked. Obi-Wan waved a device the size of a commlink around in the air, testing for metal underfoot. Trees, underbrush, and vines filled his vision with a spectrum of green. The Force flowed silently, serenely, around the two Jedi. Even the food chain of Morlok, as far as Obi-Wan could sense, operated in smooth balance. Prey creatures accepted their role, and sacrificed themselves to predators to regulate the populations.
Once, Anakin's brown-clad back stopped moving forward. Obi-Wan pushed through low, leafy bushes to stand beside the younger man and look out over a vista. The sound of thunder engulfed the plain in front of them as four-legged creatures stampeded across the flat land, their furred ears high, sleek legs pounding. From the high ground, the Jedi could watch the tan-furred bodies wheel like a flock of birds.
"They're frightened," Obi-Wan observed.
"Only of us." Anakin too, Obi-Wan noticed, sensed the unusual breaking of the area's peace.
Through the jungle they walked onward, following a ridgeline gained by the path of least resistance. It is possible to move through the jungle here, Obi-Wan noted, where elsewhere it is impassable tangles and flowers. He looked back at the younger man for a moment. "It looks like this path was made. Created."
Anakin ducked a low-hanging branch and gave a disgusted expression to the implied maker. "It could be from animals."
"We have not seen any up this far." Obi-Wan returned his gaze to the path, scanning the foliage and ground for signs.
"That doesn't mean they never come here."
But Obi-Wan had found a track, a deep, treaded boot-print in the soft earth. "I think this does."
Anakin knelt and examined the track with a critical eye. "It's fresh. And humanoid, just like us. Like what the animals were scared of. I guess you're right, Master."
"Yes…that does, occasionally, occur." Obi-Wan mused, then switched to a serious tone. "What can you tell about it?"
Anakin's eyes narrowed. "I'd guess it's from a male, of average height. The spacing here…and he's got a false left eye."
"No." Anakin grinned.
Obi-Wan huffed out a laugh and continued walking. The tracks continued for a few steps, fainter as they moved farther from the low, soft patch of dirt, finally leaving only the path itself as a sign of their passing.
The next sign that the planet was habituated by someone able to cloak their existence, and, more importantly, their presence in the Force, appeared as the Jedi came around a bend in the rudimentary path. Rocks had been piled up on the circle of cleared ground in front of them, flat stones from the river that they could hear rushing in the distance. Obi-Wan immediately linked a memory to the structures: Yoda made Jedi children build towers like this, out of stones as well as objects or the occasional droid or person unfortunate enough to be present, so that the apprentices would develop their ability to focus. This was simply a whole series of towers like those, of varying heights, made of the washed-round river rocks.
Anakin walked in among the towers, and touched one to sense the residual Force-signature of the architect. Obi-Wan could sense it too, partially through the conduit of his bond with his apprentice. A Force user had built these, someone powerful and neutral, or morally alone. Nuances of the presence reminded Obi-Wan of something he could not place; it was obscured by time, but linked to sadness.
"Does this feel familiar to you, Anakin?"
"No." Nonchalantly the Knight walked out from between the stones. Obi-Wan, wracking his brain for the memory, followed him into the verdant jungle.
The path ended at a tiny house beside the river. Grass was encroaching on the gravel it sat on, vines climbing down from willowy trees to embrace the slanted, wooden roof. The door was hinged and ajar. The wooden walls had cracks, knots, and bark on their drab, brown surfaces, and the one window, made of a single pane of transparisteel, showed on the opposite side of the small room it looked onto a shelf holding clean kitchenware. The glass and the shelving unit looked modern compared to the construction of the hut itself. This, thought Obi-Wan, is the shelter of a shipwreck survivor. The panes and galley were salvaged.
"Someone is here," Anakin said with enthusiasm, and hastened forward to enter the hut and rescue the person from their exile, or perhaps just barge in and attempt to be impressive.
"Wait," Obi-Wan ordered. "What do you sense here?"
"It's the same type of nothing we sensed at the pillars."
Anakin's face looked blank.
"Let's take a look around first."
He led the way around the hut. Nothing was there to be seen, except for the river and another window.
There was a person inside the hut, sitting in a wooden chair, shrouded by a black cloak. One of its hands was revealed, draped over the arm of the chair. The skin was odd; black stripes over red traced the lines of the bones.
Closer, the stranger's Force presence was not hidden. Obi-Wan could monitor his movements now if need be, but still could detect no personality, no moral alignment, and the figure remained perfectly still. Surely, Obi-Wan thought, it can sense us from here. Maybe it wants us to be polite and use the front door.
So they walked back to the front. Anakin was confused and antagonistic. "Be calm, Padawan," Obi-Wan consoled.
"This is too strange. To get no reaction at all from a Force-user we're spying on?"
"I think that's what he wants us so think."
The primitive door had no control pad, but rather a curved, lever-like handle. Hesitantly he knocked on the planks with his knuckles.
Nothing changed in the Force although he was carefully monitoring it; no new emotion, no awareness. The door swung fully open with a slight creaking, revealing a wooden-floored hallway with two closed rooms on the right side and one straight ahead. On the left was an open entryway, which Obi-Wan knew had to open onto the sparsely furnished living room where the mysterious man sat. The angle from which he watched now showed only the brown walls.
Anakin eased forward, hand on the hilt of his lightsaber.
Obi-Wan did not stop him. He didn't have any better ideas.
Soft, deep laughter began when they were halfway down the hall. Obi-Wan stilled silent steps as a spike of fear speared through Anakin, then left him as quickly as a blasterbolt. When the laughter stopped, the Jedi peered around the corner of the woodwork.
The shrouded man sat unmoving in front of an empty fireplace as they approached him.
"We mean you no harm," Obi-Wan announced. "We are Jedi Knights, on a scouting mission for the Republic." Loyalty was not something one Force user could hide from another.
The stained-glass hands twitched, then lifted to lower the cowl. The face that looked at the two Jedi was strikingly familiar to Obi-Wan. Maybe the Battlemaster, Cin Drallig, had eyes like that—widened by utter intensity created by pain layered on experience on focus. Last time Obi-Wan had seen this man, the Jedi hadn't been old enough to placate fear. He'd been too caught up in the fight, too trying to hold Qui-Gon's death inside himself in a little ball of poison wrapped in a Code-imposed peace, while the fleet-footed Sith danced away from Qui-Gon's life-leaking body. Lightsabers buzzed as they closed and battled again on the rim of the pit. The Sith—sun-orange eyes, striped face that Obi-Wan only recognized as belonging to a Zabrak much later—evaded two slashes that left him open for a quick stab. Obi-Wan sunk the blue lightsaber to the hilt in the Sith's chest and didn't bother to watch him fall as the Padawan sprinted back to his mentor…