Down the Wrong Path: Chapter 1

How the other half scouts…

            Anakin Skywalker didn’t like this.  This mission.  This planet.  This jungle with its insects and smells and far too squishy ground.  This being separated from Obi-Wan and the squad, off trying to find Count Dooku’s hidden base. 

            Well, that part he liked, a lot.  He flexed his metal hand, a reflex now whenever a stray thought of the old Sith Lord wandered into his consciousness.  Yes, he really liked the idea of finding Dooku.

            Another sigh as he encountered yet again thick undergrowth blocking his way.  His blue blade quickly undid the blocking.  He took the momentary pause to stretch out further with the Force, following his orders.  Obi-wan had said the Force might be the only way they’d be able to sense anything on the planet.  Something about a mineral that was in the water, and hence everything else, on the planet that was essentially just a vast ocean world with a scattering of tropic islands.  Anakin had only been half listening as his master – no longer a padawan, but old habits died hard – rattled off the specs of the planet, Xaantiis.  Whatever the mineral was, it was scrambling their sensors, making any orbital scans sketchy at best.  The idea was for the Clonetroopers to scour the ocean, leaving the Jedi to scout the islands on foot.

            And other things Anakin didn’t remember.  General Obi-wan had briefed the squad when they were all still in orbit.  Anakin had been there, can remember being at the observation window as the planet slowly rotated below them.  But he had been looking off into space, to no where in particular.

            No, that’s a lie.  He knew where he had been looking. 

            Whenever they were in the Outer Rim Territories, there was only ever one place he looked.

            Back home.

            Not Coruscant, where his secret wife waited in love for his return.  The Core was always too bright to look at from here, so trying to pick out the capital of the Republic was simply draining.

            But finding the twin suns of Tatooine amongst the sparse systems of the Outer Rim was easy.  Looking at them, never was.

            Anakin caught himself clenching his metal fist, his jaw, his shoulders.  There was no alarm in the Force.  Just memories, that somehow remained so excruciatingly vivid, even after all these years.  Perhaps that was a result of the Force, of being the Chosen One.

            Chosen One.  No one ever called him that, not to his face, but he heard it in their voices, saw it in their eyes whenever they interacted.  The other Jedi had such high hopes for him, but there was also a lot of doubt that he could do it, that he was even the One.  There was doubt, and Anakin was sure at times he even sensed fear.  Fear of him.

            But never from Obi-wan.  Obi-wan didn’t fear him.  Obi-wan might worry about him, as Anakin’s actions while being his padawan gave him reason to be concerned that his young friend would never make it past his first lightsaber practice.  But Obi-wan never looked or talked to him like the others did.  Obi-wan was more like a doting parent, a mother fenil bird clucking nervously after a venturesome youngling.  Now they were more equal, more like brothers.  After Padmé, Obi-wan was the only other thing he loved in the galaxy.  Even if at times his ex-Master reverted to a fenil bird state.

            Thinking about his friend loosened the tension in his body.  Thinking about Obi-wan was always relaxing, just as thinking about Padmé was quite the opposite.  Both were very good feelings.  Anakin relished his good feelings.  They were the one possession he wouldn’t let any one take away from him.

            Grounding himself back in the here-and-now, the living Force, just as Obi-wan chided him to do, Anakin opened up to the Force again, feeling the cool waves of life swirl around him, peaceful, calm, without an eddy or whirlpool.  No disturbances whatsoever.

            “Damn it,” he muttered, peering at the thickets surrounding him from behind his damp blonde bangs.  “Where are you hiding, Dooku?”

            His comlink started beeping.  At last, perhaps someone found something to get him out of this forest.  He unclipped the link, and recognized it wasn’t a communique beep.  This one was rhythmic, constant, quick, urgent – a homing beacon!  Anakin sighed when he saw whose it was.

            “Not again.  What have you fallen into this time, Master?” he emphasized the end of his muttering, out of habit as his way of chiding the old fenil bird.

            But, then again, if something had happened to Obi-wan, why didn’t he sense a disturbance in the Force?

            Anakin set into the forest to follow the homing beacon’s signal, a greater urgency in his lightsaber as he cut down any underbrush in his way. 

            There was something wrong with the Force, he was certain of it, although the Force felt just fine.  Wait, that was it.  The Force felt too fine – there was no changes, no subtle differences from moment to moment to indicate the ebb and flow of life that sustained it.  It felt still, almost frozen.

            Could Dooku being doing this?  Could a Sith Lord’s powers be so great that he could control the very flow of the Force to cloak himself?

            No, not possible, Anakin assured himself, stepping back as a rather large tree-type plant crashed to the surface, spreading chaos as animals shrieked away for safety.  Anakin checked the comlink and calmly leapt over the tree.  Even if Dooku could cloak himself, there was no way he could cloak the army of droids he traveled with.  Right?

            Damn, this is where Obi-wan came in handy.  He knew more about the ways of the Force than Anakin ever would, even if Anakin was more skilled in using it.  Probably why they made such a good team, he mused, a small smile creasing his tense face.  Especially whenever one or the other gets in trouble.  Of course, it seemed to be more Obi-wan getting into the trouble.  Perhaps it was Anakin’s time to mother him.

            The beacon became louder, more intense.  Anakin was getting close.  And still, nothing.  Just the same annoying forest, as even keeled as a streamlined Naboo shuttle.  They’d landed at the same spot, and Obi-wan had then decided to split to cover more space.  Anakin hadn’t wanted to, so he didn’t go far, and did it very slowly.  Anakin would’ve much rather gone with the troops, skimming the ocean surface in a waterskiff, rather than traipsing through the mud and vegetation.  Disobeying orders was second nature for the young Jedi Knight.  And this time, Obi-wan would have to be glad that he did.

            After a short while there was only one last tree.  It crashed down into a small clearing, sending up a swarm of insects that immediately headed for his lightsaber.  Only slightly perturbed, he unleashed the Force on them, harshly blowing them back into the ground.  Stupid insects.  Never had then on Tatooine, or on Coruscant for that matter.  He sheathed his lightsaber and walked further into the clearing.  The homing beacon was a steady shrill now.  He knew he was there.

            But no Obi-wan.

            There was only a fleeting alarm in the back of his mind.  He quickly jumped back as the ground started to give away under his feet.  His back to the forest, the alarm dissipated.  He stepped forward more cautiously now, and stopped well before the hole that sank deep into the ground, into complete darkness.  Brow furrowed, he levitated the fallen tree closer, setting it down to run alongside the hole.  When the ground didn’t collapse under its weight, he leapt onto the gray bark and came to stand directly over the hole.

            He couldn’t see how far down it went.  He stretched out with the Force, probing the depths.  Nothing.  No, that wasn’t right – it wasn’t that there was nothing down there, it was that he couldn’t sense anything down there.  The hole didn’t only exist in the ground, it existed in the Force as well. 

            For a moment he considered dropping down into the darkness, but without being able to sense anything…

            “Obi-wan, can you hear me!”

            Silence from below, and around him.  Just the forest, an even pitch of noise and sensations.  Force or no Force, if his fenil bird was down at the bottom of that hole, he was going down there.

            It was the homing beacon that stopped him from jumping into the darkness.  He finally noticed the slight change, that it wasn’t so constant now.  Anakin turned slowly, holding the comlink at arm’s length.  Gradually sweeping the little device across the forest backdrop, the signal again returned to a constant shrill.  Anakin stepped off the log and walked to the forest edge.

            He saw it, and chastised himself for not noticing it earlier.

            Someone had fallen and slid through the mud into a patch of thorny bushes.  He squatted down, and gingerly picked off from the bushes a piece of white fabric, with drops of blood.

            Obi-wan…

            He stuffed the fabric inside his tunic, and a glimmer caught his eye.  Shoving his metal hand into the thorns, he withdrew Obi-wan’s comlink, and lightsaber.

            Anakin tried very hard to use the Force to calm his emotions, to keep his sight clear, but the clenching of his fist, jaw, shoulders now enshrouded his heart.  For now he noticed the footsteps in the mud, retreating into the undisturbed forest.  And still, the Force told him nothing.  It was so damningly quiet Anakin wanted to yell and strangle it, make it tell him what had happened to his friend. 

            He tried very hard, but the Force couldn’t lighten his heavy heart.  He had a very bad feeling about this.  And Anakin did not like having bad feelings.  They always led to bad things. 

Chapter 2…