"Failure and success seem to have been allotted to men by their stars. But they retain the power of wriggling, of fighting with their star or against it, and in the whole universe the only really interesting movement is this wriggle." ~E.M. Forester "They... who await
No gifts from Chance, have conquered Fate."
"They... who await
Even to a former slave kid from Mos Espa, the starport of Voktunma reeked. The body odors of six indigenous species were bad enough, but it was unlikely that anyone had bothered to clean the streets since they were first laid.
To be frank, Anakin Skywalker couldn't think of a single redeeming thing about the planet. Well, maybe one thing: It was no longer under Separatist control. The grubby humanoids who ran the place actually seemed grateful for their liberation, which was definitely an improvement over some places. At least no one here had thrown rotten food. They probably wouldn't have bothered if the world weren't right on the way to the Banking Clan's base of operations.
Anakin longed to flee the city and hold one of Obi-Wan's urgent meetings in the mountains to the west or the forests. Maybe he could take a patrol and go after Separatist stragglers, find a nice place to just close his eyes and think of somewhere—or someone—else.
There were a bunch of problems with that, though. For one thing, Obi-Wan had a sixth sense about the word 'fun.' He looked down on it the way Hutts looked down on soap and diet pills. Sure, you could notice a sense of humor if you spent ten years with him, but getting appointed to the Jedi Council had only made Obi-Wan more crotchety.
The second problem was that their mission parameters had been very clear about the acceptable amount of damage. Voktunma's economy thrived because of both their agricultural exports and the starport's services. They had worked very hard to keep the war out of the forests and Anakin wasn't about to change that just because the Chosen One needed a vacation.
The third problem was much less ambiguous. She was awfully tiny to have such a big personality, but she claimed to have learned it from him. The third problem with getting away from it all was that Ahsoka would probably feel it was her duty to snitch. Something about him snoozing while there was training to be done.
Currently, though, his diligent Padawan was trying her best to hold off a salesman. "Cut rate," the Voktunman gurgled in barely passable Basic. "Cut rate for hero."
"But I don't need a new speeder," Ahsoka protested. "It's very nice of you to offer, but…"
It would have probably been better to let her get out of that entanglement on her own, but they were running low on time and the fun would have worn out in about two minutes.
"Yes, Master," she said dutifully.
Maybe it was something in his tone of voice or his posture, but the used speeder salesman backed off as soon as she called him Master. The duty of a Jedi Padawan to her Master was one of those things that few people were stupid enough to argue over. Even Anakin had gotten out of the habit of defying Obi-Wan in public. It had just taken him a little while longer than your average Padawan.
"How many times?" Anakin joked.
"I was just being nice," she said. "His roof caved in during the battle and I couldn't just leave him like that."
Sometimes, Ahsoka reminded him very strongly of himself in his early days as a Jedi. She was eager to help and firmly opposed to the sometimes hands-off approach that the Force demanded of its servants.
"That's what the Army Corps of Engineers is for," Master Skywalker informed his Padawan. "Or do you have a degree in civil engineering that you forgot to mention?"
"No," she conceded, "but I…"
"It's good to help people right now," Anakin interrupted gently, "but it's better to get them help permanently. Once we're back at the staging grounds, you can let someone know where the building collapsed. They'll be able to help him rebuild. All we can do is levitate a bunch of rocks."
She gave him a complicated look coupled with a Force projection. The combined effect let him know that she saw some wisdom in his "give a man a fish" analogy, but she didn't agree with it. If he had grown up with Ahsoka, they would have probably been kindred spirits who teamed up to drive their Masters crazy. Instead, she was a fourteen-year-old version of himself that taught him where all of Obi-Wan's grey hairs were coming from.
"Come on, Padawan," he said at last. "Let's check in with the boys and find something to eat while we wait for reinforcements."
The report didn't take long. It basically consisted of doing a retinal scan to prove that they had been there and leaving instructions with Captain Rex for when Obi-Wan turned up. Only five minutes after they arrived at the GAR checkpoint, they left in search of something that tasted like actual food.
"What are you in the mood for?"
Ahsoka rarely got to call the shots when it came to food, since the options were usually rock-hard-protein-supplement or rock-hard-protein-supplement-with-a-twist-of-slime. Instead of jumping in with a dozen suggestions, she looked thoughtful.
"Do you remember the market we passed a few hours ago?"
Anakin tried to remember anything about a few hours ago, but he remembered the stench of fried wiring and several explosions that he should have been able to prevent. It hadn't occurred to him to look for shopping opportunities.
"Was it where that one bomb detonated or the other?"
Ahsoka planted her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes in a very good imitation of Master Skywalker's most impatient look. "Very funny," she pronounced. "We hid behind a fish-seller."
"Okay, that I remember." Fried wiring and disemboweled chau-fish were not two things that he could forget in a hurry. "What about it?"
"Well, I was thinking we could grab some real food and bring it back to the squad."
"Not a bad idea."
Her impatience immediately evaporated and she was back to being his enthusiastic little shadow. "Good," Ahsoka replied. "I know a great recipe for fish stew."
His stomach rumbled to remind him that he was, in fact, hungry enough to eat something like that. Growing up on Tatooine, he hadn't had a lot of exposure to fine cuisine and once he got to the Core, he'd never really developed a taste for all things slimy. That fish-vendor's stall had been a convenient hiding place, though, so offering the owner their custom was the polite thing to do. And maybe, just maybe, they had something nearby that tasted like nerf nuggets.
Ahsoka practically skipped ahead at the thought of being out on the town, winding a serpentine path through the stalls. Like most vendors, the people didn't seem to have minded the battle as long as it didn't involve them. They'd probably complain about how much business suffered while the Jedi and clone troopers were saving their skins, but for now, the businessmen were back to price-gouging and rate-haggling.
"Tell your fortune?"
He hadn't even noticed the woman sitting in the shadows of a doorway. It took a moment for his eyes to focus enough that he could see that she was humanoid. Beyond that, he couldn't tell much about her. She was one of the mammalian indigents who came from the southern continent and he'd never been good at telling age in that species. Her voice was a low croak, but that didn't tell him much.
"No thanks," he said with a wry grin. "Busy schedule."
"Not take much time," the woman protested. "Tell fortune for Jedi brave."
Apparently, it was customary to thank your saviors by taking advantage of them. It was one of the perils of saving the neighbors of the Banking Clan.
"Very busy and not in the mood," he called back cheerfully. "You're welcome, by the way."
"Fortune free for Jedi handsome."
Great, now she was getting insistent and sounding like Master Yoda. "Really," Anakin insisted. "Not in the…"
"Tell you many things will I," she interrupted. "What mean love in your life."
"Already have a love of my life, thanks. Have a good…"
"Tell you outcome of war your."
That caught his attention. The Force, for all its guidance on the subject of right and wrong, light and dark, had been absolutely silent on the subject of which side it favored. The woman had probably never been off-planet and might just tell him what he wanted to hear, but if she could see where his journey as a warrior ended, maybe she could shed some light on what his life would be like when there was no more fighting to be done. Maybe she could peer into the future and see the name of his first daughter or Ahsoka's first Padawan. Maybe she could help him glimpse a day when he could present his wife to Obi-Wan.
"Why not?" he muttered.
He turned to call after Ahsoka, but she had struck up a conversation with their fish-vendor.
"Not take much time," the seer repeated. "Come. Tell fortune."
Ahsoka had enough mastery of the Force to find him and knowing her, she would be picking out fish until after sundown. He pushed a tendril of thought towards her along the lines of "Be right back" and ducked into the doorway of the seer's house.
The air was even more oppressive than it had been outside. Outside, the stink was everywhere, but the occasional breeze took it away. In here, the air was thick and almost stagnant as if it hadn't been disturbed for ages.
All right. Two 'insights' and then it's back to work. Obi-Wan won't like it if he turns up in a war zone and finds me having my palm read.
As if reading his thoughts, the woman latched onto his left hand, the real one. He was momentarily disappointed that she hadn't tried to read his fortune as designed by Biotel. She might as well have tried to tell the fortune of a navcomputer.
"Much loved ones lost have you," she murmured, her long nose poking at his palm. "And much yet still lose you will."
Anakin snatched back his hand, already displeased by this alien crackpot's ramblings. "Tell me something I don't know," he muttered. "I know what I've lost."
And I don't want to know who's next in line.
"What know you not tell," the seer mused. "What you know not. Start where to?"
"Very funny," he said. "Thanks, ma'am, but Jedi brave has to go now."
It shouldn't take long to find Ahsoka and no one needed to know that he'd been mocked by an alien midget who made even less sense than Obi-Wan did in the mornings.
"Outcome good will not be," she said sharply as he got to his feet.
"I'll live." He ferreted around in his pocket for a spare coin to give her for her troubles. "Thanks for the help."
"Enemy have that know not you."
Like the promise of foreseeing the outcome of the war, her shrill and shrewd observation gave him pause. Maybe staying another minute wouldn't hurt anyone. He sat down, but kept his hands to himself this time.
"Jedi you are," she observed. "Jedi always you been have?"
"How to Jedi you become?"
Oh, no. No matter how interesting she was, she was not getting that information out of him. "Long story," he said defensively. "Very long story."
"A man see I," she continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Master call him. Not first man thought to be master you."
Not true. He had been a stubborn kid and followed his Mom's example. Watto had never heard that word from him. The first person to earn that respect…
" Qui-Gon, sir, I don't want to be a problem."
He suddenly felt much more claustrophobic, as if a fire had been lit too close to his chair. His stomach lurched in sync with the room and he nearly fell backwards in his chair, but the woman seized his arm—the artificial one this time.
"Not your first master," she hissed. "Yes?"
When he opened his mouth, nothing emerged but an exhausted wheeze. What the…
"Yes," he said with difficulty.
"Another rescued you."
It had to be the claustrophobia talking. There was no way she was starting to make sense.
Her voice was a distant echo through the pounding of blood in his skull: "You were brought out of slavery by one much wiser than he."
"A Jedi…" Anakin gasped for breath and squeezed his eyes shut as the room whirled again. "A Jedi Master."
"Yet what if he never came?" she said. "Your life would have been very different. You would have never known the wonders and heartaches that have filled your life."
Would that have been so terrible? The Force would have still brought him to his angel—their meeting had been its will, he was sure. But if Qui-Gon hadn't been the one to take a chance on a podracing slave boy, he wouldn't have known a decade of humiliation as Obi-Wan's apprentice. He wouldn't have lost Mom.
He wouldn't have…
He wouldn't have…
"Think of Master Jinn," she encouraged quietly.
I never said his name.
"Master Jinn," she repeated. "Without Master Jinn…without Master Kenobi… without Master Jinn…"