Anakin Skywalker swore to himself, his concentration broken by a fleeting thought of his mother. As he righted his shoulders to restart his kata, Anakin acknowledged how much he missed her ever more these days. Since Darra's passing the Temple seemed lonelier than ever. Tru Veld had not spoken a word to him since that unfortunate mission, Obi-Wan seemed ever more preoccupied studying the deteriorating political situation of the Republic, and hells, he even missed Ferus Olin sometimes now that he was gone. The former Padawan of Siri Tachi never failed to grate upon his nerves, but Anakin couldn't deny that the rivalry kept him on edge.
Swinging his wrists and moving slowly forward, Anakin decided to defy his master's instructions. He would think of his mother. Those thoughts calmed him, and sharpened his focus. As much as he hated the idea of her remaining on Tatooine, subject to the whims and fortunes of Watto or whomever he probably gambled her away to, Anakin nevertheless had a good feeling about his mother. She was safe, he thought. And happy even. He didn't know how he knew, but he just knew. But that didn't mean he could afford to be complacent. As his movements grew faster in the small training room and sweat started staining his brown robes, Anakin swore to himself that he would be a good Padawan from now on. He would listen to Obi-Wan unfailingly, even when the man was being ridiculous. Whatever it took to become a Knight. Then he would go back to Tatooine and find his mother. Obi-Wan wouldn't be able to stop him then.
And maybe he would pay a visit to a certain planet not far from Tatooine in the Mid-Rim. Actually, Padmé was no longer queen, he remembered. The new Queen had appointed her Senator, he had read on the holonets. It was fitting, Anakin thought. It was a position she deserved after saving her planet as a Queen and presiding over a grand peace; all the better that her new role would soon bring her to Coruscant. Obi-Wan would try to keep him away from her, the old man always prattling on about letting go of his past feelings, but he would find a way. Anakin Skywalker always did.
Maybe the Supreme Chancellor could help. They were from the same planet, after all? Anakin cared nothing about politics, but Palpatine was a friend, a surprising one at that, and in the moments where he was most honest with himself, the idea that the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic would go out of his way to show kindness and caring for a former slave seemed almost as wondrous...nay, more so, than the entire Jedi Order sometimes. He could tell the Chancellor that he wanted to spend more time in the Senate, perhaps take on some assignments guarding some of the politicians. Then a reunion would almost be inevitable.
Caught up in his fantasies, Anakin did not sense the ripple in the Force until it was too late. Engulfed by a silent nausea, the entire universe seemed to be swept away from him as he fell, gasping for air. It felt like an eternity before he landed.
One of the perks Padmé enjoyed as Queen of Naboo were the training facilities. Jumping and sweating her way through the obstacles, she fired her blasters in opposite directions, watching with satisfaction as her virtual attackers fell away one after another. She enjoyed the physicality of the exercise, a blessed escape often from the difficulties and challengers of ruling a planet, and somehow she had a feeling that though the war with the Trade Federation was long over, she could still use the practice. Nute Gunray was still at large, after all, and if all the rumors about both Count Dooku's movement as well as the mumblings in the Senate about the creation of an army were true, who knows how long the peace would last.
The scene changed, the simulator moving on from a warehouse level to an outside setting, and Padmé frowned. The new Queen Jamillia must have really gone out of her way to upgrade the training courses, because she swore she could smell the forest, the trees, the flowers. Stepping forward, she heard the crunch of leaves under her foot. It felt...well, it felt real. Sith hells, that couldn't be. The simulator never felt this real before. She stopped. It was odd, the forest was too quiet. Where were the assailants for this level? All she could hear was the chirping of insects around her. The air was humid, that was new too.
"By Shiraya," she muttered to herself, "did Jamillia empty the entire year's treasury to upgrade this thing?" She knelt down, picking up a small leaf and squeezed with her fingers, watching it fracture and break apart in her hands. No, she realized. This was real. Somehow she was outside. She looked around, truly seeing her environs for the first time and studying it. She stood at the edge of a small grass clearing. Ahead of her was some kind of...road? But the road looked primitive, as if all it was was a worn trench cut from the dirt. She looked at the trees around her. They felt...alien to her. They were similar to the trees and bushes she had grown up with on Naboo, yet they seemed entirely different. Something was not right.
"Padmé?" The noise started her, and she spun around quickly, pointing her blasters at the tall figure emerging from the trees behind her. To her surprise, the person was a very young man, whose height belied his youth. His hair was dark blond, his eyes unnervingly blue, though something about those eyes rang the alarm of familiarity in the recesses of her memory. More specifically though, Padmé found her eyes drawn to the small braid in the boy's hair: a Jedi Padawan braid. An idea started to form in her head, but before she could finish the thought the young man spoke.
"Padmé...don't shoot. It's me..." The boy raised his hands in surrender, and Padmé saw that he made no effort to reach for the lightsaber at his hip.
Realizing he was not a threat, she lowered her blasters, and her voice spoken before she had even meant to.
"...me, Anakin. Anakin Skywalker? From Tatooine?"
They stared at each other in confusion, both appraising the other and taking in the changes in appearance after having parted more than eight years ago.
"Ani?" She took a step closer to the young man. He had changed, grown up of course, but once she recognized him all the memories came rushing back to her. Glimpsing around her and seeing that there were no stray observers, she steadily towards him and embraced him in a hug. "Ani," she cried out happily, "of course I remember you."
Pulling away, she saw confusion in his eyes, and sensed more than a bit of shyness in them. He clearly did not expect her to embrace him so boldly, though she saw the beginning of a giddy smile form on his mouth, quickly as he did try to hide it. Padmé laughed. Apparently the boy still had a crush on her, after so many years.
"Milady," he bowed politely, "my apologies. I was not expecting to see you here."
"That's preposterous," Padmé said, her strange experience with the simulator briefly forgotten. "But what are you doing on Naboo? And why did you not tell me beforehand you were coming here? I would have made arrangements, of course...the Queen should make arrangements! Considering that you are a hero..."
"Naboo?" The boy seemed even more confused. "I...I thought..."
"You thought what," Padmé asked. There was something in his expression that suddenly unnerved her, and she remembered the intense feeling of strangeness she had ever since the simulator somehow transported her outside.
"I was on Coruscant...," he started, pacing the small grassy clearing. He saw the strange road, tracing its dirt tracks with one finger, studying the soil. Intrigued, he rose and started down the road, Padmé quickly following him. "It was night...but I couldn't sleep. So I decided to practice a few katas in one of the training rooms."
"Is that your lightsaber," Padmé asked, pointing to the weapon clipped into his belt. She had almost touched it, but then stopped short, remembering how particular Jedi were about their weapons.
"It is," Anakin said, beaming proudly. "I made it myself."
"You've grown," Padmé almost sighed out. "Your mother would be proud of you."
"Thank you," Anakin said shyly, looking away from the Senator and former Queen. Studying their surroundings as they walked, he had no difficulties changing the subject. "So where are we then? I was practicing, and then all of a sudden something swept me off my feet, and I found myself here."
"You did not come to Naboo," Padmé asked. "How long have you been here then?" Tapping into the logical part of her brain, it was clear to her that they were no longer on Naboo. It made no sense how that could be, or why Anakin happened to be here with her, but there was no point denying their new reality. The sooner she acknowledged it, the sooner she could figure out what exactly was going on.
"Only a few minutes," Anakin said, frowning. "Somehow I ended up in these woods. I was walking around, trying to gather my bearings, when I sensed your presence and found you not far away."
"You sensed me," Padmé said. It was startling, and she had to once again remind herself that she was no longer dealing with little Ani Skywalker, but an almost fully grown Jedi Knight now.
"I could sense you from anywhere," Anakin said almost too nonchalantly. Immediately he realized and regretted what he just said, but was relieved when he saw that Padmé barely noticed his slip-up, so intently she was in analyzing their situation. "So you were just on Naboo before...before this?"
Padmé nodded. "I was." She pointed to her blasters. "I was in the middle of a training exercise. Queen Jamillia has generously allowed me the continued use of the palace simulators."
"I don't think this is Naboo," Anakin said thoughtfully.
"No," Padmé answered. "Nor Coruscant."
"What bothers me...," Anakin started, then stopped. Sensing his apprehension, Padmé gently placed her hand on his arm, trying to reassure him. Gods, he had grown tall, she thought as she truly took in his appearance for the first time.
He hesitated. "I sense...I sense no one. Not Master Obi-Wan, or Masters Windu or Yoda, or even...even..."
"And you're usually able to sense them all from...from a distance?"
He nodded again. "Not strongly, mind you. It's not like I can sense my mom like she's sitting in the room with me. Or standing next to me here, like you are. But there's...there's usually something. Like a signal...weak and faraway, but still there."
"Okay," Padmé said. His musings were doing nothing to comfort her about the seriousness of their predicament, and she found that she could not help but grip his arm tighter. "So somehow we were just transported to what appears to be a foreign planet. I don't know where, or how, or...but...this is not Naboo. Or Coruscant. Or anywhere either one of us have been." She thought further on the situation. "If you cannot sense those you are accustomed to sensing, my guess is somehow we're on the edges of the Outer Rim. Or maybe Wild Space?"
"Shhh," Anakin whispered suddenly, bracing his body. "Someone's watching us."
Sure enough, an object flew in the air at them, and with lightning speed, Anakin bent backwards while pulling Padmé sharply back as well, their faces avoiding being struck by the object by mere inches. It hit a nearby tree, and Padmé noted that it resembled a vibroblade...except much cruder. Before she could react, several figures emerged upon them from the trees. Noting that several them held the same blade like weapon in their hands, she immediately pulled out her blaster just as she heard the hum of Anakin's lightsaber. Reacting quickly, she shot at the assailant closest to her, the man crying out in pain and dropping his weapon as the blast marked his wrist. Next to her, in a matter of seconds, Anakin had somehow cut down two assailants. One of the men, for they did appear to be human, looked at the stump of where his arm had been in shock and unreserved horror. The other, a burly fellow who had been the closest to striking Anakin, lay dead on the ground, a charred hole through his chest.
"Look...we don't want any trouble," Anakin started, but before he could finish, the two surviving attackers uttered some sharp swears in a foreign language, then ran away as fast as they could back into the forest. He looked quickly at Padmé, who stood crouched and still ready to fight, clearly surprised as he that their attackers had given up so easily. They were obviously human, she thought, though their weapons were quite primitive, and they smelled worse than some of the foulest shaaks out in lake country.
"Well this is interesting."
Both Anakin and Padmé jumped at the sound of a soft voice behind them. Turning around quickly, they saw two armored men flanking either side of a young boy with curly, sandy colored hair. All three of them were straddling some kind of beast resembling the horses of Dathomir, the boy's mount a white one. Both men looked at them with the same shock their attackers had displayed before running away, while the teenager, though Anakin could sense his fear, seemed to hide it well, and his face displayed only a kind of disinterested curiosity.
"Gods," one of the men started to stammer out. He was a huge, brute of a man, taller than even Anakin, with short dark hair. "...are ye...Gods?"
"Quiet Pullo," the other man, shorter with clipped blond hair several shades lighter than Anakin's, ordered to his companion. "Don't alarm them."
"We mean you no harm," the boy started to say, his eyes studying their weapons. "And no offense either," he hastily added.
"Are you Apollo," the blond man asked sternly at Anakin. He looked up at the sky. "No, the sun remains in the sky. Mercury, then. And you," he turned his attention to Padmé, "not, not Venus. But Minerva?"
Realizing something horrific, the man quickly jumped off of his creature and onto the ground. Crouching into a bow, suddenly he dared not to even look at them. His larger companion, Pullo was his name, did the same, though the boy remained on his mount, frozen with indecision.
"Forgive our sacrilege, my lords," the blond man said, hands now trembling.
Padmé laughed out loud. Everything was so preposterous, she could do nothing but laugh. "By Shiraya, we are not Gods," she scoffed. She looked over to her companion. "Right Anakin?"
He shook his head. "Prophecy or not, I'm definitely not a God."
"Please! Rise!" Padmé shouted at the men, though she still kept her distance. "This is becoming embarrassing."
As the two armored men, warriors by the looks of them, rose uncertainly, the spoke again in his oddly impassive tone. "So you claim not to be Gods. Maybe you're not. You could be lying of course. Or maybe you're not aware of it, I've heard such stories. But whatever you are, you are obviously not from here."
The blond pointed towards Anakin as he spoke in deference to the boy. "Perhaps they come from the Celtic tribes across the waters. I've heard stories from some of the legions who campaigned in Britannia...they speak of magic and wizardry in the far northern hills."
Padmé stepped forward, extending her hand towards the shorter warrior. He seemed higher than his taller companion in hierarchy, though both of them seemed to act deferentially towards the boy, who carried himself with an air of aristocratic grandeur.
"I believe we have yet to introduce ourselves. I'm Senator Amidala of Naboo, and next to me..."
Before she could finish, both the boy, who appeared to be several years younger than even Anakin, and the man called Pullo guffawed in laughter, while the blond soldier still stared at her as if she were some kind of ghost.
"What is so funny," Anakin asked, stepping up next to Padmé and clearly not liking the tone of their laughter.
"You," Pullo asked incredulously, "a Senator? Senator of what?"
"The Republic," Padmé said indignantly, her patience trying.
"I am Octavian of the Julii," the boy spoke haughtily. "I come straight from Rome, and am quite familiar with the names of every Senator of the Republic. Unless things have changed dramatically since I left weeks ago, I know of no Senator or family by the name Amidala."
"A woman a Senator," Pullo asked, not even trying to keep a straight face. "That's a good one. You're a funny little piece."
The hum of Anakin's blue blade brought everyone to silence. "Do not speak to Padmé like that, or..."
"Ani," Padmé said softly, placing her hand on his wrist and gently nudging him to deactivate his weapon, which he grudgingly did so. She then turned back to the group. "Clearly this is a misunderstanding. I have not heard of Rome, but I was appointed several months ago to the Galactic Senate by Queen Jamillia. My friend here is Anakin Skywalker, who serves a Padawan in the Jedi Order under Master Obi-Wan Kenobi."
Apparently none of her words sparked any recognition in the small group. If anything, it made them more confused. Nevertheless, the blond warrior stepped forward politely, his hands still shaking.
"Pardon our rudeness...Senator," gesturing towards Pullo, as if apologizing for him. "I am Lucius Vorenus, Centurion of the Thirteenth Legion." He pointed at Pullo. "Titus Pullo, Legionary, also of the Thirteenth Legion."
"You are soldiers then," Padmé remarked, racking her brain trying to remember from her old classes and briefings any known planets called Rome, with apparently fairly primitive home guard legions. "If you don't mind me asking, where are we? What is this Rome you mention?"
Pullo gave his companions yet another incredulous look. "They...they've never heard of Rome!"
"We are in Gaul," Vorenus said firmly, quickly recovering his soldierly bearing. He pointed behind him. "Rome is in that direction, several weeks' ride away."
Anakin looked warily at Padmé. "First thing I do when I get back to the temple is to tell Master Nu that her records are incomplete," he said with an almost mischievous glint in his eye, clearly looking forward to confounding the old Archivist. "I've never seen a planet named Gaul, and trust me, I've spent months studying all the systems."
"Planet," Vorenus asked sharply. "Gaul is not a planet."
"What planet is this," Anakin started, "if I may ask then?"
"Planet?" Vorenus repeated himself. He pointed to the ground. "This?"
"Juno's cunt," Pullo swore next to him. "Are you mad? This is just...well. Here. Earth. Terra. Gaia."
"By the line of your questioning," Octavian said, his expression still coldly neutral despite what his young mind was quickly processing and understanding, "I can infer that you will claim to come from other stars or planets."
"Ummm...well yeah," Anakin responded. Obi-Wan would be proud of him, he tried very hard to not roll his eyes.
"By the stars," Vorenus muttered, "I've gone mad, so help me Mars."
"None of you have met travelers from other planets," Padmé asked carefully, pointing at the skies while trying her best to maintain her diplomatic tone.
"You are Gods," Pullo muttered, suddenly nervous again.
Anakin stared blankly at Padmé as they both tried to take in the situation. Facts, he thought to himself, trying to gather his brain in order. This was a human civilization. This was an intelligent civilization. This was an extremely primitive civilization, completely ignorant of the state of the Galaxy. And that could only mean something terrible.
"So you have no ships that can travel offworld," Anakin asked, realization dawning upon him.
"Offworld?" Vorenus batted his eyes. "The Roman fleet can cross the Great Sea barring..."
"He means to the stars, Vorenus," Octavian scolded arrogantly.
"You believe them?"
Octavian squinted his eyes, and Anakin had the feeling that the boy's brain never once stopped thinking and analyzing them this entire encounter.
"You saw their weapons, Pullo, and what they can do. It's impossible, but when there is simply no rational explanation, only truth remains, however improbable."
"Or they're Gods," Vorenus said.
"I'll believe in star travelers before that," Octavian said dismissively. He rode out towards the two. "I'm sure you wish to return to wherever you come from. Unfortunately, I do not know how you will accomplish that. You may accompany us, however, if that is your wish. Or not. Clearly you've shown that you can handle the ood bandits here and there. But I'm afraid that aside from us, you will not find much in company of quality on this side of the Alps."
"And where is it exactly you're going," Anakin asked skeptically. There was something to this boy, he sensed. Not that he could trust him, in fact Anakin sensed the opposite. But the Force seemed to swirl around the boy, amplifying the importance with which he already carried himself with.
"Alesia," Octavian replied. "My uncle, the General and Consul Gaius Julius Caesar, has just won a great battle over the combined tribes of Gaul. I am to present this horse as a gift on behalf of my mother, his niece."
"The young man was accosted and taken captive by a small band of outlaws while on his way," Vorenus stated. "Fortunately we ran into them while searching for Caesar's standard."
"Pompey's spies," Pullo muttered with distaste in his mouth, gesturing towards a small box on the wagon their horses were pulling.
"That is to be determined by Caesar once we reach camp," Vorenus grumbled.
Octavian spoke again. "I will not stay long, and you may accompany me back to Rome if you wish. The roads are plagued with bandits and fugitives, as you can tell, and I can use the protection. In return, I will speak to my uncle on your behalf, and I offer you the assistance and the resources of our House once in Rome. I do not know how you can return to your place in the stars, but if you can't find it in Rome, I doubt you'll find it anywhere else."
"How can you be so sure," Padmé asked. The boy was well connected, that was for sure. At the very least to some local warlord, and possible to the nobility of this Rome place they all kept referring to. She noted that in dealing with him, she needed to treat him on the same level as her, as a politician for all intents and purposes.
Pullo laughed. "Cause Rome is the center of the fucking world."