"Darth Sidious has gone beyond having to use the physical aspects of the Force. He corrupts people emotionally. He could leave someone alone in a room and they'd just tear themselves apart. That's what he's doing to the Jedi, making them do things they normally wouldn't stand for—like using an army of slaves."

~Dave Filoni

"Star Wars is the story of a boy lost in the desert."

~George Lucas

(paraphrased from discussions at Celebration V)


Though The Desert May Be Dry

"I'll come back for you one day," Anakin said as he sat on the sand in the lee of Watto's shop and skimmed a hydrospanner through the air, pretending it was a starship. "When I get off this planet, I'll free everybody."

Kitster's ship was made out of a sprig of prickly vine and the rusted casing from an exhaust port. It spiraled around Anakin's. "Pew, pew! Ani, everybody says they're going to get off this planet. Good luck if you do."

Anakin twisted its ship to show its belly. "Shields below to one hundred percent—port cannons fire! Psheeew. You're out of the game!"

"Psheeeew!" Kitster dodged and weaved and crashed.

"I am going to get out of here. I feel it. I'll come back for everybody."

The back of Anakin's own neck started to itch as Kitster dropped his vine ship in the packed sand and touched the skin above his control chip, probably not even noticing he was doing it. Kitster said, "Everybody wants to become a bounty hunter or a smuggler or a Jedi." And wallop their master good, Anakin thought, but you didn't say that where a person or any recording device could hear you. Words like that felt like any breeze might steal them away, and it would be Watto's little ear-holes that got to them next.

But Anakin set his shoulders and narrowed his eyes and maybe it was just looking fierce that made him feel better, or maybe the fierce had been there all along waiting under his skin and he just let it peek out. "Well, I know that's what they all say. I know the danger. You gotta have credits to pay off the right barves, and, and you've gotta watch the Hutts. But that's okay. I'll cut through that."

"Like a Jedi. You can pretend to swing a lightsaber all you want—"

"Vrooosh. I'm gonna do it."

And Kitster settled against the sand and looked at Anakin like maybe he could see a lightsaber in the boy's tight-curled little fists, except that the blade was washed out by the sun like everything else in Mos Espa and you just had to know it by the tiny blue glint that could as easily be sky.

"Bossa mi pleeki, Ani," Kitster sighed. In Huttese it meant something like "You're the kind of crazy that just might succeed."

-/-

Anakin felt thin lines of sweat flow under his shoulder armor as he watched Obi-Wan slog back across the desert. The clones marched off in the opposite direction, sunlight marking out the rainbow of rank blazes. This was a hot planet without a name Anakin knew—it had a number on the official mission report, with maybe an Aurek in there somewhere—but the Seperatists were here and so the Jedi were here after them, dogging them like an akk.

Obi-Wan drew up beside Anakin and folded his hands into his sleeves. "Rex's squad will scout out the desert and deal with any emplacements that have been set up. For now, those of us without full body armor best wait."

Anakin looked at the sun the way he looked into Padme's or Palpatine's eyes—he tried to meet that gaze, but there was too much brightness there and his body was not made to handle it. Looking over the right shoulder of the sun he asked Obi-Wan whether it was safe to let the clones travel alone.

"They're not children, Anakin. It is their job. Captain Rex will report back if they need any assistance."

They are children, Anakin thought. (Two-year olds wearing blaster rifles and bandoleers of grenades and flak-resistant armor.) He can sense their fear eking through the plastic-and-ceramic helmets. The clones know they are sent to do the dangerous work.

("Anakin! Lazy bookie. I dropped the spanner in this engine—get in there, work it out." And Anakin's small pale hand could fit where Watto's couldn't, but as he reached in and felt the heat glowing off the sides of the pod he thought that Watto just didn't want to risk it.)

He remembered clones sitting around a heater and talking about Kamino. Their talk of peace always turned to talk of war eventually, like they found it fun—talk of calibrating and cleaning guns and 'fragging tinnies'. But Anakin feels them relax, and it always seems that they talk louder to him about leave than about service.

Obi-Wan could not be entirely blind to what Anakin was saying. "I must admit I am not always sure how to talk to them."

(But then, you are used to having people call you Master-)

Anakin shrugged. "They're loyal to the Republic. I find that gives us one thing in common."

-/-

Storming the Temple is a timeless moment. Anakin feels in the ground beneath his feet and the gloves on his hands the dust and sand of years growing into dunes of memory—he is looking up into the blueblueblue sky of Tatooine as a boy; he is back-to-back with Rex in the wars; he is hooding his eyes and showing the back of his neck, letting Palpatine see the trust Anakin places in people who trust him back.

All times are falling together now, as he has never seen the front gates of the Temple quite like this before, so dark and imposing and limitless.

Rex's voice is echoing in his earpiece even though it has been a long time since the clone has had to tell anyone to form up or look sharp. The 501st is more than ready for the task ahead of them. (For the mission without parameters, without Council documentation, without mercy.)

Dusty clouds of Coruscant smog roll in and harsh the air like Tatooine sandstorms. Anakin knows that he has smelled this one thousand times before, and always turned away from it in disgust, or laughed it off with other Padawans—but today there is something right about the gritty tang. Coruscant should show its ugly face, should take off its shining Republic mask, should reveal the Jedi as the rotting theocracy they are—

Because Coruscant always thought it was better than Tatooine, but Anakin sees now that no planet is different from any other. Someone must always be called master. (Who or what masters Sidious is something Anakin plans to find out in the next few weeksmonthsyears.)

He can feel the Jedi inside, besieged by their own belief that the Temple cannot be taken. By their belief that because it is the dark side it must fall.

Anakin knows it's not like that. The Force is an ocean with tides, and they're sweeping out leaving a dead expanse of sand bleaching in the suns. Anakin is the wrack left behind, the things burying themselves in the grit to keep cool before they cook. Anakin is the desert.

He knows some of the presences inside the Temple, some of the life-lights. It will be a chore to desiccate Drallig. (But Obi-Wan is not here and Padme is not here, and so the Jedi can be a concept to him.)

The presences behind him are more familiar. Rex has always been like this, confident and determined. Anakin thinks about how the clones have served him, have stood in rapt rank before the Jedi and the Chancellor, about how each one has a number instead of a name.

The double doors of the grand Temple entrance, as thick as his waist, open before him. He thinks that there is some justice in the clones being here with him. It would not be right to have droids here now. Clones have spirit. They stick their hands in the fire because their generals tell them to and because they were born to it. ("We weren't born slaves, Ani." "I don't think anyone knows that but us, mom." )

In a way this is revenge for the clones as much as it is for the Sith.

Anakin is finally freeing the slaves.

(Somewhere on Tatooine in his head people are turning over boxes and speeders and storefronts with the force of their flooding anger, and Watto has had his wings cut off and left on the floor so that he knows what it is like to not be able to run, and Shmi has finally, finally traded her sad smile for a new one-)