This ship – it looks like a silver dove from the outside, a bird set loose into stars, a characteristically Nubian gesture of peace and beauty. They love beautiful things on Naboo. And children. They elect a child queen every five years. Children serve in their parliament, account for a startling proportion of their most cherished celebrities. This ship is no different. Ric Olie and I are the only ones here who are not children. Everyone else is a mere babe, a tender bud still unfurled in the Living Force, its destiny not yet fulfilled or even begun.
Olie is a good man. And a simple man. He is a pilot. He has no wife and family of his own, but like all Nubians he is devoted to his relations. He dotes on the children of his brothers and sister, telling me amusing stories of his nieces' and nephews' antics. He smothers his unease in fond memory, in warm affection. He at least is old enough to know that we go now into great danger, into sheerest unrest. He had never tasted such things before – Naboo has been blessed, up to this point in time, with an extraordinarily peaceful history – but he knows by instinct how to take the edge of fear off their prospect. His world is about to suffer a rude awakening from naivete into maturity, but he has preceded it there, his kind, smiling face still childish even in middle age.
"Ah," he chuckles, nodding happily at the last reminiscence. "Kids." His eyes turn away from the console for a moment, his expression poised to ask the habitual, the natural question. He stops himself, a little embarrassed. A small shake of his head. "I was about to make a fool of myself and ask if you had any of your own," he smiles, half apologetically.
It is difficult not to like him. I take no offense. Besides, I do have some of my own. Two of them are with me on this ship, though both or either may soon be ripped from my side- one by the obstinate blindness of others, one by his own obstinate lack of vision. On Naboo it is simpler. Children stay with their parents, or their relations. They are not rejected by those who should welcome them; they do not reject those who have nurtured them from a tender age. War does not mar the gentle lines of duty and piety. It is peaceful on Naboo, as I have said.
We Jedi are not always so fortunate. Our children are not ours to begin with, and not ours in the end. It is an old and foolish man who thinks that they are, indeed, his, even for the short time we are granted to suffer this illusion.
I rise, and leave the cockpit's thrumming haven. I must check on the children.
The child queen sits upon the simple throne, her ornate headdress and jewelry shed for a more pragmatic attire. Around her, resting upon the cushions of the padded benches which line the curving bulkheads, her handmaidens sleep, each one a slight variation on the other, on the original. They are still clad in their diaphanous veils of flame, the silken gowns which make them appear as torches set to burn about their lady.
"Master Jinn," the Queen greets me. Her voice is perfectly even, rigorous training molding it into formal perfection. Her hands are folded in her lap, waiting. This is a child possibly going to her death. Should we fail, the Trade Federation will not hesitate to execute her. And yet, her fear is contained.
She looks at me with dark eyes that plead for affirmation of her heartfelt belief: that love will triumph over hate.
It is a child's creed. Love brings both joy and pain, compassion and suffering. It is a double edged blade, a dangerous power, a thing to be approached and handled with caution. I know; those who say Jedi do not love are ignorant. And because I know, I understand. It is not love which will save her, or her people, or the galaxy itself. Not love as she knows and thinks of it. If there is a love which has such unfailing allegiance to the Light, it is that which goes by the name of sacrifice, of self immolation. Hope, idealism, passion, empathy: these are not enough. They can be quenched, or turned into weapons of hate. I have seen this, too.
"It is vital to enlist the help of the Gungans," I tell her. "Have you considered my advice on this matter?"
Her face is serious, a rehearsed mask. Children are the best actors, for they confuse their roles with their truth, and so indwell that which they represent. Perhaps this is why the Naboo choose to be ruled by children. "I have," she responds, levelly. "Our first task must be to parley with them. I will do whatever I must to regain their trust. Our peoples have too long been strangers."
"That is wise," I say. Her dark eyes thank me for the words. She speaks with confidence, but has yet no experience of warfare to guide her steps. After all, she is only a child.
I bow and leave them to their sleep- the Queen and the gentle maidens, all of them too young to be flying into uncertain battle.
The main hold is empty; those I seek are elsewhere. Below this deck are the crew's quarters, the galley, the maintenance and storage bays, the engine housing and power core. The ship's bowels are below. While the young ladies repose in the Queen's chambers, the boys have naturally busied themselves with the interesting parts of the vessel- the dirty, complex, humming ones.
I was once a boy too. I understand.
The lift opens off the ship's galley. A disastrous clattering and a rank odor assault my senses as I step out of the burnished doors.
"Ooooh!" an all too familiar Gungan voice laments, perceiving my presence in the threshold. "Master Jedi! Mesa so sorry for making desa mess. But time for snackin and crunchin is now, methinks. No takin on de bombad mech-a–neeka army wit nothing in de tummy, eh?"
Jar Jar Binks offers one of his absurd grins. He has no more wit than a small child, and never will. He speaks – it is true – but this is no indication of intelligence. "We have many more hours on transit," I remind him. "There will be time to tend to your appetite later."
He shoves the bit of food into his wide, lipless mouth and chomps hard, eyestalks waving comically as he labors to swallow the oversized morsel. "Okey-dey!" he agrees cheerfully. "Mesa needin' to feed de ol' nervos before speakin' wit' Boss Nass."
I sigh. It is unfortunate that our ambassador to the Gungan leader must be the very being whom he so recently banished…but the Force wills it, and so it must be. The Gungan prances about, a jig of childish delight at his own cleverness.
"Yousa looking muy muy serious," he declares, leaning forward into my face, at such proximity that the urge to draw back is nearly overwhelming. His skin smells slightly of swamps and salt.
"We are contemplating a serious conflict," I remind him. But it is possible that he never understood the gravity of the situation in the first place. He has dealt with this entire misadventure as though he were playing comic relief in a fast-paced action holo. I wonder if there is any hope of dispelling this unfortunate attitude. Likely not.
"Yousa wantin a little snacko?" he offers.
"No thank you." He thinks I do not see him stick out his long, purple tongue at my back as I turn away. Force help me- he tries even my infamous patience and affection for pathetic life forms.
I shut the galley door in his face with a judicious use of the Force.
Anakin Skywalker is a child like no other. When I first encountered him, I felt the Force churning around him, the breathtaking potential. Never before have I felt a vergence centered about a person…but he is, nonetheless, a mere child. I find him in the droid maintenance bay, kneeling beside one of the Nubian astromech units. A toolkit is laid out on the polished deck nearby, and the blue and white droid rocks on its thick legs and burbles softly as he works, as though pleased by whatever tender ministrations he offers it.
Like all children, he speaks to the thing like a toy, or a pet, or an imaginary friend. Children are the most honest among us, for they seek an audience for their every thought, an ear to hear their every confession. Only with age do we learn to smother these things within, where they can fester. I fear he will learn this too quickly. He is cynical, worldly wise for his age.
"I can't wait to see Naboo, Artoo," he rambles. "It's beautiful, they say. Queen Amidala says they have so much water there that it just falls over the cliffs in huge rivers. Can you believe that? And it's green. I've only seen Tatooine and Coruscant, but now I'm gonna see Naboo, too. I'm gonna see all the planets in all the star sytems, someday. Did you know that? I'm gonna be the first one."
I lean in the doorframe, enjoying his obliviousness to my presence. A Temple-raised youngling would have sensed me before I appeared. Anakin is preoccupied, and untrained. The droid blurps some low-pitched reply, which – to my surprise, though little surprises me with regard to this child – he understands.
"Nah, I'm not afraid. I know it's a war and all, but we've got Jedi with us! And I'm gonna be a Jedi, I think. I mean, I thought so but they really didn't seem very happy about the idea but Qui Gon says it'll work out in the end and not to worry about it. I wish I were already, though, coz then maybe I could fight in the war too. I bet I could help. I'm good at a lot of things – I could fight in a battle, I bet."
He is sadly mistaken if he thinks he will get anywhere near the inevitable battle. I must keep him close, for his pwn protection, but not that close. "Anakin," I interrupt his fond musings.
He slews round as though caught in a guilty act. "Master Qui Gon sir!"
It is tempting to chuckle at his stumbling torrent of deference. But I don't. "I thought I told you to go below decks and rest."
He frowns, mouth twisting to one side. "I am resting," he insists.
"That depends on your point of view, does it not? You need to sleep before we arrive. A Jedi does not waste a valuable opportunity, especially when he knows great exertion will be required in the near future."
He doesn't like what I am saying. He thought that liberation from slavery would entail liberation from all authority, all rules and mandates. He is very young, and untrained.
"Come," I say sternly. "The Queen said you might use her private cabin. Why are you skulking about down here?"
He looks at the decks. "I don't want to be any trouble," he mutters. "I was just staying out of the way."
I feel a spark of unfamiliar temper. He is genuinely worried – intimidated by something. Or someone. My gut clenches a little. There is only one here who might so overshadow this bright boy's spirit. The Queen and the handmaidens dote upon him; Jar Jar admires him; Ric Olie finds him bright and engaging. I am his temporary guardian, his trusted savior and unwilling hero. There is only one other person on board.
I release the anger. "If you don't want trouble," I advise him lightly, "You will do as I say. Come."
He trots along beside me. "I'm not sleepy," he protests.
"Ah. Well then, let me show you something new about the Force. You can use this time to practice it."
He embraces this idea eagerly. Were he Temple-raised, he would not fall for my mild deception. But he is an untamed child, a feral, untrammeled spirit – and untrained.
We find an empty crewman's cabin, a mere closet with an inset bunk. He lies down grumpily and I kneel beside him. "Now," I say. "Close your eyes and relax. Do you feel the Force around us? Inside you? Between us?"
He nods, and smiles happily. The Force surges around him, at his slightest beckoning, though he does not know yet how to control it. Who would not wish to teach this boy, to help him attain his birthright? The Council are all old fools.
"Good. Now I will show you something else the Force can do. Relax and pay attention to my words."
This is a dirty trick, but a necessary one. He is waiting, eager to learn, docile to my bidding.
And that is that. As cynical and worldly wise as he may be, my simple Force suggestion takes him entirely off guard. He is, in the end, a child. Naboo will take him off guard; the battle, should he glimpse any of it, may take him by surprise. Indeed, I fear that in his case, destiny itself will ambush him from behind, descend upon his slight shoulders before he is ready.
Somebody – someone intuitively wise and recklessly brave – is going to have to train this boy. At least, that is what should be. As it stands, he will be lucky to inherit an old fool like me. I did not think of myself when I took him to the Temple, but I will do what I must. Somebody must teach this child.
I had intended to return to the flight deck. There is nothing more for me here. But I am suspended now, before the door to the adjacent cabin.
There is one other here, beneath the shelter of this Nubian dove's wings. One far more experienced than the Queen, for he is a seasoned warrior. Far cleverer than Jar Jar Binks, for he is an able negotiator and diplomat, a wry wit. One not likely to be caught off guard, for he sees far into the future, beneath the surface of appearance. One whom, had I been frank with Ric Olie, I would have claimed as my own.
At least, before now.
Now, I do not know. What seemed certain is now blurred and confused. Filial affection melted into ugly disrespect back there, on that hangar deck. Behind words, I felt the sting of resentment and defiance. Anger. Distance.
Our children, in the end, are not ours. They depart, turn their backs and leave. They do not cleave to their families like the Naboo, they do not return in equal measure that which was poured out for their sake. They rebel against the hand that raised them, set off on lonely paths, self-imposed exile from such bonds. And little wonder. We do not encourage attachment. It is dangerous.
I slide the door open. And here is my other child, the one I recently and publicly disowned before the Council. At least, that is how he perceived it. Our focus determines our reality. I intended no more than a long-overdue promotion; but he perhaps mistook the lack of ceremony for a lack of approval. Children are also the harshest critics, of both others and themselves. Their exacting standards, their impossible expectations, have not been blunted by personal failure and the forgiveness it engenders.
Here he sleeps – one booted foot still resting upon the floor, the other propped up on the narrow cot. The saber hilt gleams dully at his side; fingers of one hand brush against its curve, ready to spring into action. He has not slept well since Tatooine, for so many reasons. The learner's braid, the lengthy record of our mutually entwined path, falls over one shoulder. His face is turned away from me, as it has been since that damning Council session.
My presence wakes him. I think of leaving, but too late. His head turns toward me, blue eyes looking up at me with childlike openness before he remembers that he is angry. The next moment, they are hard as ice.
I feel the answering chill suffuse my own bones. "Anakin is intimidated," I accuse, without preamble. Force knows what passed between them while I was in the cockpit. I am surprised by my own protective instinct. My Padawan has never before displayed cruelty or indifference.
He remains lying on his back, disrespectfully. I feel the thrust of my words flay through him, but all I receive in return is an eyebrow lifted with mocking disdain. "By my snores?" he inquires, sardonically. The venom is for me, not the boy. I have insulted him again by making such an ungrounded assumption.
The Force tightens further between us. By now it is like a knife's edge, grinding slowly on a sharpening stone. This is not the way to enter a battle. This is not the way to approach a delicate mission. This is not our way.
"Mind your thoughts," I warn him. "They ill become you."
There is no yes, master in reply. His mouth thins, and those hard, burning eyes gloss over with sudden pain. Then he turns his face away again, dismissing me.
I leave, heart aching. Children are a dangerous thing.
Ric Olie is still at the pilot's station, though the beautiful ship could run on autopilot. A few more parsecs, he informs me. We have time to breathe, yet. He is a good man, a happy man. He does his duty with skill and bravery, and does not suffer from immoderate anxiety. He has no children of his own.
"The kids all okay?" he jests, offering me an amiable smile.
A long breath. "Yes," I decide. The Queen restored to her throne, the Gungan to his people, there will be time to sort out Anakin 's fate with the Council. And that done, there will be reconciliation, and a Knighting. I ask the Force for guidance, for reassurance. Yes, it whispers to me. They will all be fine.