A sudden drop out of hyperspace sent Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi careening out of his chair, gracefully spilling out onto the floor in a mess of flailing brown robes.
Obi-Wan had only a fleeting moment to reacquaint himself with his new location before the navicomputer began broadcasting its diagnosis in the form of a shrill wail that quickly cut through the haze of his confusion. He stumbled quickly to his feet in the face of the ship’s momentum—Sith hells, the dampeners must also have been damaged—to find himself face-to-face with the reason for all the bad feelings he’d been having since he’d left Bothawui this morning.
“Force,” Obi-Wan swore as he read off the first line of the diagnostic report, fingers deft across the console as he desperately maneuvered the ship out of its crash course, pulled in by the gravity of the nearby planet.
Of all the places for him to be forced to land, why did it have to be Tatooine?
Tatooine was exactly the same as he had left it eight years ago. A smoldering pit filled to the brim with criminals and swindlers alike.
“The docking fee is 1000 credits after dusk. We don’t haggle.”
Case in point. No other world he’d visited had ever charged more than 500 credits for a docking fee. Obi-Wan made a valiant attempt at preventing the building stress and exasperation from showing on his face. Tatooine was one Hutt short of becoming a second Ryloth, he groused, already feeling the corruption of the planet authorities sinking into his skin, as physical as any real substance.
“You don’t have to have as many personnel manning the dock at these hours. It surely wouldn’t hurt if you lightened up the fee. And I expect I’ll be staying a long time for repairs, which is excellent for your business.” Authority be damned, he would haggle if he needed to. If he was going to be staying here for an extended period of time, even the smallest amount of credits would make a difference in the long run. Before even factoring in the potential cost of repairs.
The Sullustan dockmaster brought a gloved hand to the holopad, flicking through its contents with a series of quick gestures, likely checking the profits he’d made earlier today.
“750 credits, and you stop arguing.”
Obi-Wan sighed and agreed quickly, letting the Force compulsion slip out of his voice. As a negotiator, Obi-Wan knew exactly when pushing started hurting rather than helping, and he didn’t enjoy using the Force on those who didn’t deserve it.
“I will pay for three days’ worth of fees,” he said, drawing out a bundle of Republic credit chips from his utility belt. He was immensely grateful that Republic credits still had some worth in the Mos Espa spaceport. Being so far out from the Republic, Republic currency didn’t carry much weight out in the Outer Rim worlds. He would have to exchange some of the Council-issued emergency funds into the local Hutt-enforced currency. “Would you be able to point me to a mechanic?”
“Bay D-14 is the ground for contracted mechanics,” the Sullustan said, scanning the exchanged credits with a dated, dusty scanner plucked off of his utility belt. The dockmaster waved him off curtly, moving back towards the dock office. “The creds are good. Have a nice day.”
Obi-Wan adjusted his ratty shawl with a sigh before setting his shoulders and moving out of his borrowed landing pad and into the adjoining hallway. Even as the Tatooinian heat did no favors for his increasing stress levels, the Force hummed with a strange, resonant energy underneath his mental shields. It was a bright buzz in the corner of his mind, intent clearly benign. But he knew that if he were to let up his shields even for a second, it would throw him headlong into the beginnings of a burgeoning headache he absolutely did not need. The sensation was suffused in the blanket of the Force, and he found it quite impossible to discern the source of the power.
The fabric of the Force was unusually strong, here.
But if Obi-Wan had to put a name to how the Force felt, it would be irritated.
At least he wasn’t the only one feeling that way today, he thought as he swiped at the sweat accumulating on his forehead.
His eyes skimmed the labelling on the bay doors as he mentally reinforced his shields to the best of his ability, providing an instant relief from the pressure on his mind. Bay D-14.
Obi-Wan stepped into the large, repurposed docking bay full of ships of all types, machines of every variety, and mechanics and engineers covered in dirt and oil. Sticking out like a sore thumb in his stain-free disguise he was instantly spotted by the manager, an aging green Twi’lek, who greeted him from his supervisor’s chair.
“Looking for help?” The man withdrew a pen from a pocket from the lapel of his stained jumpsuit, holding it in his teeth as he stood up to search his utility belt.
“Indeed,” Obi-Wan said, making his way towards the large stack of crates the man had been inventorying before his interruption. “I have an HWK-290 freighter with a damaged hyperdrive in Bay C-8.”
The Twi’lek supervisor made an assenting noise, finally pulling out a small notepad from a pouch. He stuck a thumb midway through the pad and opened it, flipping two pages backwards. He tapped the page with a pause that indicated some thought.
“I will have a mechanic go over to the bay and assess the damage,” the manager said, and let out a high, sharp whistle that made Obi-Wan’s eye twitch. “Anakin!”
If Obi-Wan never had to hear the sound of assorted metallic parts clattering to the floor again, it would have been too soon. As it was, assorted tools skidded screeching across the hangar floor as a figure skittered out from behind stacked crates, catching him in a rare moment of surprise. A surge in the Force washed over him, a subcategory of the prods and hints that he usually heeded, a whisper of indication that there was something unusual in the destiny of this lanky teenager.
“I told you to stop tinkering with your projects on duty,” the supervisor said, pinning him with an annoyed look. The boy, Anakin, frowned, an insubordinate spark flaring to life in his eyes even as his posture slumped almost imperceptibly.
“I’m off duty right now,” Anakin protested, defiant in a way that could only be attributed to youthful rebellion. His supervisor slapped him upside his unkempt blond head with the notepad, making Obi-Wan wince and look away briefly.
“You were on duty two hours ago. Go to bay C-8, check out the HWK there. Give me a report when you get back.” The supervisor made a shooing motion with his hands, a clear dismissal. Anakin scowled, stashing his tools onto his utility belt and stomping towards the exit. Obi-Wan nodded at the manager, who had already directed his attention elsewhere, and followed Anakin out of the bay.
There are a lot of things about this planet that were throwing him off, Obi-Wan considered. The rampant crime, the bizarre behavior of the Force.
Because that is what Anakin was, a slave. The truth of it was written in his posture, the years of servitude written in the lines of his skin. Obi-Wan could feel the frown that wanted to surface and beat it back down into submission. He was not here to sympathize with the troubles of the planet, no matter how unjust and distasteful he thought the plight of the slaves was on this blasted planet.
He was suddenly struck with the keen desire to see Coruscant again; to be able to walk into the Temple and fall into the grass of the Room, where the temperature didn’t threaten to rip his skin off, where he could prod and needle his padawan at his leisure—
“So, where’re you from?”
Obi-Wan blinked the vision of home away from his thoughts. “I’m sorry?”
Blue eyes rolled over to look at Obi-Wan, affecting casual disinterest, even as Obi-Wan could sense in the Force that it was emphatically untrue. “You don’t seem like the sort who usually come here for business,” he threw out carelessly, stretching his arms out as they walked. “The usual Outer Rim business, I mean.”
Obi-Wan couldn’t help the snort that ripped its way out of his throat. “Like anything short of engine trouble would ever make me willingly come out to the armpit of the galaxy.”
He hadn't meant for the quip to make it past the cutting room floor, either.
Anakin blinked a few times and spluttered a little, genuinely startled out of his apathy. “That’s one way to describe Tatooine,” Anakin laughed, and turned to look at Obi-Wan as if he were seeing him for the first time, reassessing his worth. “And having lived here all my life, I can vouch for it. But you didn’t answer the question.”
“Coruscant,” Obi-Wan offered, throwing the mechanic a bone. It wasn’t a lie, and Coruscant was the center of galactic trade and politics and most travelers had gone there at least once. It was specific enough to be convincing and vague enough to protect his identity while planetside. Though, as Anakin had pointed out, Core world business didn’t usually find itself in the Outer Rim.
“Coruscant,” Anakin exclaimed, coming to a screeching halt in the hallway. Obi-Wan was taken aback by the sudden burst of youthful energy. “You have to tell me what it is like! I’ve heard only stories, but I don’t know if what they all say are true.”
“Maybe,” Obi-Wan said only, and lead them into Bay C-8. “Preferably after you fix my hyperdrive.”
Anakin flashed him a single, blinding smile before running into the docked ship doors, ostensibly looking for the broken hyperdrive unit. Obi-Wan followed after him and hoped that he didn’t trip over anything too important along the way.
“So how long have you had this ship,” Anakin queried from his place on the floor, already removing a panel from the side of the hyperdrive unit. Obi-Wan waved a hand in front of his face, coughing slightly at the smell of burnt rubber and the metallic smell of scorched durasteel. “Oh, and I never caught your name.”
“Ben. And not long, maybe a few months,” Obi-Wan answered, though this was a partial lie. The cargo that this ship carried didn’t fit in the Jedi transport his padawan had taken back to the temple, so the Bothan government had given them another ship as a gift.
“It’s a pretty new ship and asides from being shot to hell, I can tell that the drive is fresh off the production line,” Anakin observed. “I’m surprised that it blew up.”
That was interesting, Obi-Wan noted. It might have reeked of sabotage to the paranoid mind.
Paranoia probably kept people like him alive in the worst situations.
“Yeah, you’re really not going anywhere with that hyperdrive. It would be cheaper to find a replacement unit than to create all the broken parts from scratch.” Anakin straightened from his crouch beside the slightly smoking unit as Obi-Wan let out a long-suffering sigh. “I can tell that some other systems have been fried as well,” he commented, pulling at some of the broken wires behind the ship’s panels. He fingered a yellow and red wire, both snapped, in between his gloved fingers. “Inertial dampeners. Your comm system’s blown, too.”
There went his plans of trying to contact the Council with his report. They knew he had already left Bothawui having been successful with the negotiations, but here on Tatooine there was little he could do to update them on his situation. It was possible that he could attempt to fix the comm himself, which would cut costs, but would take him longer than a professional mechanic. It was unlikely that he would find a secure comm channel on Tatooine to update them or contact them for help. With luck, they would be able to retrace his steps to Tatooine, but he wasn’t banking on it—it was difficult to track hyperspace jumps. That may have been handy for quick getaways, but not for stranded Jedi.
Stranded. Obi-Wan removed his face from his hands.
“How much is this going to cost me?” Obi-Wan prayed to the Force that he had enough emergency funds to cover this disaster. Anakin peered at him from beneath his blond fringe, already putting away his tools in his utility belt.
“I can’t give you a solid estimate, you’d have to ask my boss, but I would estimate something around 30,000 credits if you bought a new hyperdrive from the market.”
Obi-Wan’s fears evaporated immediately, although some lingering apprehension remained. The funds from the Council didn’t cover it, no, but together with the monetary gift to the Order from the Bothans it would. It would be a matter of convincing the mechanics’ supervisor that the trouble wasn’t worth more than the attempted extortion.
“Thank you, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, and thought Anakin looked far too pleased for a simple ‘thank you’, which in turn, reminded him of what planet he was on and how quickly he wanted to be off it. “Let’s get that estimate from your boss, then.”
“I’m only paying for installation costs since you can’t supply the hyperdrive,” Obi-Wan argued, and had been at it for at least a quarter of an hour. “And I could just as easily fix the other problems by myself. 15,000.”
“We could repair the hyperdrive for 35,000,” the Twi’lek shot back, hands twitching. But Obi-Wan wasn’t famed for his skills at negotiation for nothing.
“That is far above the price of a new engine. I have it on good authority that HWK hyperdrives in the Tatooinian market aren’t uncommon,” he said, relentless. “Provided that I’m not down on my luck and cannot find one on the market, creating the parts should not be worth the market price of a new engine.” Obi-Wan sensed it in the Force before it happened.
“Fine,” the supervisor spat, looking like he’d smelt something foul, the familiar look of a man who had never been on the side of a losing argument before. “28,000 to create a new engine.”
“It’s all I could have asked for,” Obi-Wan said pleasantly, satisfied at his second success at thwarting the efforts of yet another duplicitous merchant. “I’ll return within the next two days to report my success or failure in finding the engine.”
Anakin, for his part, had been watching the back and forth between his master and the offworlder with compounding fascination. As Obi-Wan turned away, Anakin ran up to him, catching him by the exit.
“That was so wizard,” Anakin enthused, stars in his eyes. “I’ve never, never seen Rol give in like that! How did you…”
“It just so happens that in negotiations, if you're patient enough to wait your opponent out, they’ll give you an opening.” Wisdom imparted from years of experience negotiating with stubborn governments. “In this case, he would sooner have punched me than to continue negotiating in circles, and he agreed mostly just to get me off his back.” Obi-Wan mused that his style of negotiation was much like his skill with Soresu, outlasting another before a weakness revealed itself.
“Thank you for your help today, but if you’ll excuse me,” Obi-Wan continued before Anakin could say anything else, gently pushing past him to the bay doors.
It wasn’t that he wanted to get rid of Anakin. It was just that he was quickly growing uncomfortable with the knowledge that he was talking to a slave. Anakin was pushy, talented, and for a lack of a better word, radiant in presence. He couldn’t say that Anakin was innocent having been raised in slavery all his life, but it made Obi-Wan wonder what he would have grown up to be like free in Republic space.
Down that road lead to dark things. Obi-Wan could not suffer attachment here, of all places.
Anakin jogged up to his side. “I was thinking,” he drawled in that local Tatooinan accent, “that I could help you find that hyperdrive engine. You’re probably going to need some help navigating the local markets tomorrow.”
Obi-Wan let his brows furrow down in protest. “I’m sure I can find my way around the markets well enough. Besides,” he said, pointedly, “don’t you have to work?”
“He can’t fire me,” Anakin said with too much mischief to be accidental. Obi-Wan grimaced at the mention of Anakin’s status again. Then, again; “I want to help, please.”
“Why are you so interested,” Obi-Wan muttered, almost to himself. Anakin had clearly taken this as acceptance as he let out a small sound of victory. If he were honest, he could have used the help if the boy’s offer was truly genuine. He could feel the other’s joy through the Force, strong even if muffled behind his mental shielding.
Anakin let a solid three seconds of pause pass between them before he opened his mouth again. “So, where’re you staying for the night?”
Obi-Wan shot him a curious look. “The ship, where else?”
“You can’t stay there,” Anakin said absentmindedly, like he was remembering something.
“Why not,” Obi-Wan asked, nonplussed. Was Mos Espa one of those ports that required personnel to find lodgings outside of their ships?
He didn’t need to wonder long, as Anakin confirmed his suspicions. “They don’t let crews stay on their ships overnight here.”
“Is that so,” Obi-Wan said with no small amount of sarcasm. It was just as well; he could probably find a cantina, and if he talked to the right people, maybe find some sort of secure communicator.
Anakin looked like he was considering something before he turned to Obi-Wan with a decisive look in his eyes. “You can stay with me.”
The offer caught him off-guard and Obi-Wan actually physically faltered before he regained his balance. “Thank you for the generosity, Anakin, but surely the local cantinas supply room and board at reasonable rates.”
“My place is closer, and we could go to the markets together first thing in the morning. Besides,” Anakin said, cheekily, gesturing at the exit to the streets, “there’s a pretty bad dust storm going on.”
Obi-Wan wondered when he started losing arguments after so much success at winning them. Resigned, he nodded, but not before discreetly withdrawing a small device from his belt and flicking the switch on.
Obi-Wan had gotten more than enough sand in his collective orifices for a lifetime.
He and Anakin stumbled into the small apartment in the slave quarters with some difficulty. He must have been a sight, and was glad that his fellow knights weren’t able to see him furiously spitting out sand like a man possessed.
“You look ridiculous,” Anakin laughed, though he was in no position to laugh himself—sand in his hair, clinging to his tan tunics, and even stuck to his cheeks. Hypocrite, Obi-Wan thought, sourly, as he shook the blasted particles from his robes.
“Master Anakin, I’m so pleased to see you’ve returned safely from that terrible sandstorm outside,” a warbling, metallic voice echoed from the direction of the kitchenette. Obi-Wan turned around, the motion shaking loose a few particles of dust, to find a protocol droid in rusted durasteel. Obi-Wan could tell that it had been built with care, however, although it was missing its left forearm. “I was so worried!”
“Yeah, that’s pretty normal,” Anakin said, patting the droid with a dusty hand and consequently smearing the droid’s durasteel casing with particulate. “The storms and your nagging, that is. Ben, this is C-3PO. Threepio, Ben.”
“C-3PO, human-cyborg relations. Pleased to meet you, Master Ben,” C-3PO introduced itself, bowing at the waist, and Obi-Wan found himself privately marveling at the impressively human-like behavior of the droid. It was positively jarring to see such depth of concern from a droid. Obi-Wan returned the courtesy, bowing back.
“And you as well, Threepio,” Obi-Wan said, and looked up to Anakin shuffling around the small kitchenette, pulling open the cabinets and the small cooling unit that could have been considered a fridge.
“Would you like anything to eat or drink? We have blue milk, and…” Anakin peered into the aged cooling unit. “More blue milk. I hope you like milk.”
Obi-Wan didn’t particularly enjoy it, but he wasn’t going to say that to his gracious host and risk being thrown out into the storm for his ingratitude, although he highly doubted Anakin was that type of person. “Blue milk would be fine, thank you.” At least it wasn’t Hoi broth.
“I’ve got some flatbread and womp rat stew.”
Obi-Wan wondered if he could decline the womp rat stew without coming off as the galaxy’s greatest nerfherder. He was almost certain that the nutrient capsules clipped to his utility belt tasted better than womp rat. He immediately chastised himself for his reluctance—he had never tried the dish before, and the taste could possibly even surprise him.
I am a Jedi, Obi-Wan thought loudly, Jedi do not focus on the material.
“That would be great, thank you,” Obi-Wan replied with more sincerity than he actually felt. How many worlds’ cultures had forced him to indulge in their local cuisine? Force, being a Jedi practically equated to food critic on a resume.
Anakin looked impressed despite himself as he set down the containers on the dining table. “And I was so certain you would decline.”
So that was how it was going to be. He was going to be verbally aggravated to death by an impudent teenage slave from Tatooine.
In lieu of calling Anakin out for his insolence, Obi-Wan came over to his side, peering at the containers. “Would you like some help with that?” Anakin turned around and placed the containers in the microwave and then spun him around to herd him to the dining table.
“Who’s the host here? You just sit down; stew’ll be ready in a sec.” Obi-Wan sat down at the worn wooden table as Threepio poured him a glass of blue milk with his single appendage, tittering over him all the while. Obi-Wan smiled gratefully at the protocol droid and sipped at his drink. Anakin came back over with the heated containers, followed with bowls and cutlery. He dished out the steaming, brown stew in equal portions and laid a piece of flatbread on the brim of each dish. He slid one of the dishes across the table into Obi-Wan’s hands.
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said, and observed that Anakin had given him the bowl with slightly more stew. It could have been a goad or simply courtesy, he couldn’t tell. Despite the foul nature of the creature itself, the stew itself smelt surprisingly fragrant. Anakin raised his eyebrows at him over the loud consumption of his stew and flatbread. Obi-Wan threw caution to the wind and crammed the spoon in his mouth.
It wasn’t bad at all, and he was still alive. In fact, it had tasted better than some other dishes he’d had containing less suspect meat. He let out a relieved sigh and continued eating at a more sedate pace.
“Told you,” Anakin grinned over his dwindling piece of bread, and Obi-Wan rolled his eyes at him. “Mom’s recipe. She made anything taste better than it really was.”
Obi-Wan didn’t want to pry, but Anakin had brought it up. “Is your mother here?” He wondered if Anakin was in the habit of bringing home strays and if his mother minded.
Anakin’s smile didn’t falter; if anything, he seemed to glow with the question. But Obi-Wan could feel the positive emotion had been tempered with bitterness. “No, she was sold to a moisture farmer some six years ago. From what she told me, though, he freed her as soon as he bought her and even married her. I can’t leave the city, but she used to come by every few months.”
Oh, now he was definitely prying, but he couldn’t help himself. “What do you mean by ‘can’t leave the city?’ Did she stop coming?”
“Going past the city boundaries means that I probably lose a limb or two,” Anakin explained inelegantly, almost flippant with the knowledge. It was clear that he had long since accepted this grisly facet of his existence. Obi-Wan held back a grimace and set down his spoon, appetite lost. “Chips are fitted somewhere on our bodies, and we’re not supposed to know where. I think my mom was able to have hers removed, though. And I think,” Anakin paused, “I think that she was told not to come to the slave quarters anymore. We’re not supposed to live in luxury, and she was bringing me food and other things.”
“You’re not sure? You haven’t kept in touch then?” Obi-Wan’s soup was growing proportionally colder to his growing interest in the conversation.
“No.” A pause. “But I have been building a short-range communicator.”
“Maybe I could get it to her, somehow,” Anakin said wistfully, leaning back into his chair and folding his hands over his stomach, satisfied with his meal. Anakin’s pale blue eyes suddenly fixated on Obi-Wan with a peculiar intensity. “I know you’re dying to ask, so go ahead.”
The edge of Obi-Wan’s mouth twitched upwards, independent of his will. “Seen right through me, huh.”
“Yep,” Anakin said, popping the ‘p’ and letting the feet of his chair clatter back to the ground.
“Then I have to wonder why you want to help me so badly,” Obi-Wan said, carefully using the Force to observe any change in his host’s emotions. Instead, he was gifted with a change in facial expression. It was the first serious look he’d seen on Anakin’s face since he’d met him.
“I feel like I know you from somewhere.” Obi-Wan couldn’t sense anything in the Force except genuine honesty, which puzzled him. “Or at least, I should know you. And that I should be helping you.”
Somewhere in his mind something clicked, but Obi-Wan couldn’t yet figure out what it was. He had visited Tatooine with Qui-Gon years ago during that nasty affair with Naboo and the Trade Federation blockade. But he had not once stepped into the city proper and had remained with the ship and its crew. They had not been able to repair the hyperdrive of the Nubian ship, instead discreetly purchasing another ship and flying back to Coruscant in that craft.
It was all very déjà vu, came the miserable thought, what with all this business of broken hyperdrives and valuable cargo.
He knew he should have pushed further, but intuition told Obi-Wan that Anakin knew no further intentions outside of a genuine desire to help.
“I’ll accept that.” Even if I don’t understand it. Obi-Wan continued to finish his now cold soup, not wanting it to go to waste. “Well, thank you for all that you’re doing for me.”
“Don’t mention it.” Anakin swept up their dinnerware to be put into what looked like a homemade sonic dishwasher. Of course Tatooinian natives would be conscious of their water usage. “You can probably sleep in mom’s room. Threepio, is the room ready?”
Later that night as Obi-Wan stared blearily at the ceiling of his borrowed room, grateful for the reprieve in the day’s hectic events he had carelessly relaxed his mental shielding.
And promptly sat up with a gasp.
Anakin was Force-sensitive.