"I have a bad feeling about this."
Anakin turned inside the cockpit to look intently at Obi-Wan. The Jedi Master's eyes remained fixed on the viewscreen as if lost in thought. Anakin maintained his gaze. Finally, Obi-Wan seemed to sense that Anakin was staring at him and he turned.
"What?" Obi-Wan's brows were drawn inward in what Anakin knew to be absolute confusion.
"Master," Anakin replied, keeping his voice as respectful as he could but being unable to hide the sardonic tone, "do you realize that you say that every time we go on a mission?"
Obi-Wan's brows drew tighter. "Say what?"
"That you have a 'bad feeling' about the mission."
Obi-Wan glanced down at his hands, eyebrows knitted before looking back up at Anakin. "Are you sure?"
Anakin sighed. "Eight missions in the last four months, eight bad feelings."
Obi-Wan reached up and stroked his beard. "Hmm...so what's your point?"
Anakin threw up his hands and spun back to the pilot controls. "Point? My point is that you keep taking the fun out of these things!"
"Missions are not supposed to be fun, padawan." Obi-Wan's lecturer voice made Anakin shudder, just a bit. "We live to serve, that is all."
"Yes, Master." The words were automatic, but the tone communicated the you're driving me crazy thoughts running through Anakin's mind.
As usual, Obi-Wan couldn't let it go. "It's not like I've been wrong now, have I?" Anakin glanced up as Obi-Wan shifted to twirling the edge of his mustache. "All eight of those missions went rather poorly, as I recall."
"Self-fulfilling prophecy," Anakin whispered under his breath.
"What was that?"
"Nothing, Master." Anakin decided to change the subject. "At least you'll have me there save you...again." Anakin grinned. Obi-Wan turned and frowned.
"I'm sure." Obi-Wan crossed his arms, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes.
"What would you do without me, Master?"
Obi-Wan kept his eyes closed and let out a sigh. "Sleep."
As they stepped off the ship and into the camp, Obi-Wan's face contorted into a shape Anakin had never seen before. His Master's nose had descended at least an inch on his face and the corners of his upper lip turned upward into an odd semblance of a closed-mouth snarl. Furthermore, Obi-Wan's eyebrows had drawn together tightly, furrowing his forehead into multiple disturbing lumps. At best, Anakin figured it was a look of disgust.
"Master! Are you okay?"
Obi-Wan turned to Anakin, his eyebrows raised in a clear indication of surprise. "Do you not smell that?"
Anakin drew his own eyebrows tight. "What?"
"This is not funny, Anakin." Obi-Wan pulled his robe over his nose and glanced around. "That has to be the most putrid smell I have ever come across!"
Anakin smiled in realization. "You're talking about the sulfide gas. Master, didn't you read the report? That's what those capsules we were supposed to take are for. They nullify the effect of the smell." Anakin stood tall and crossed his arms across his chest, and assumed his very best Obi-Wan lecturing pose. "You did take your capsule, did you not?"
Obi-Wan glared at Anakin. "I'm not about to take some capsule without having any idea what its effects are."
"So you didn't read the report!" Anakin grinned, feeling as if he'd just discovered the meaning of the universe. "Ha! Master! I'm very disappointed in you."
Obi-Wan frowned. "I was very tired and I didn't see the point. Besides, these missions are all the same. We meet with the Clone Commander, and then we'll find out that it's imperative to get to the control center to shut down the shields, or else the battle will go on forever. But we will be informed that it is impossible to get to the control center. After that, we'll go and get into the control center, blow it up, and watch the clones clean up the mess--" Obi-Wan went into a fit of coughing. He pulled out his rebreather and took a deep breath. Finally the coughing died down a bit. "Does that about sum up our 'mission briefing'?"
"You forgot the part about the capsule."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "Let's get this over with." Raising his cowl over his head, Obi-Wan started walking toward the clone bunker a few hundred meters away. Surreptitiously, he slid the capsule out from under his robes and swallowed it, glancing at Anakin from the corner of his eye.
Anakin grinned and trotted to join his Master, reaching down to his belt meanwhile to energize a small field transmitter. A moment later, a torrent of large globules of water descended all around them. The water hissed against Anakin's shield harmlessly.
Obi-Wan, on the other hand, was being properly drenched. Anakin grinned as the smoke began to rise from his Master's robe. Obi-Wan stopped and looked at Anakin. His face was not as contorted as before but it definitely bore a look of disgust.
Anakin's grin widened. "Oh! The report might have mentioned something about highly acidic rain." Obi-Wan's look of disgust deepened, if that was possible. "Don't worry, though. It'll stop in about ten minutes or so."
"Lovely." Obi-Wan turned, pulled his robe more tightly around him and continued toward the camp.
"Sir!" As the Clone Commander snapped his salute, the DC-10 rifle he had been holding in the same hand clattered hard into the soaked mud. Obi-Wan raised his right eyebrow and glanced at Anakin. Anakin shrugged and smiled as he noticed two other clone troopers walking by, shaking their heads.
The Clone Commander wore none of the colors nor had any of the markings one expected to see on a battle-hardened clone. His helmet sat at a slightly off-kilter angle on his head, which gave the impression that he was looking at them questioningly....constantly. Anakin found that particular aspect of the trooper extremely disconcerting. As Anakin settled his gaze on the trooper, the soldier started to actually fidget. Anakin's eyes widened and he glared at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan, always one to grasp a handle on odd situations merely nodded before addressing the strange clone. "Field promotion, I take it?"
"Umm...yes, Sir." The clone removed his helmet somewhat awkwardly before it finally slipped out of his grasp and joined the blaster that was now sinking deeper into the mud. The clone seemed to consider bending over to pick everything up before shaking his head and directing his attention back to Obi-Wan. The clone extended his hand excitedly. "Clone Commander Shinar, Sir! At your service." Obi-Wan nodded and grasped the clone's palm. "Yes, Sir. I was field promoted. Several of the original commanders were killed either by droid fire or the fumes when we first got here. Those capsules don't just knock down the smell, Sir. They protect you from the poisonous effects."
Obi-Wan glanced sidelong at Anakin who was grinning and made a tiny, though undeniable shake of his head. "Poisonous effects?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Yes, Sir. Prolonged exposure leads to degradation of the nervous system." Shinar suddenly took on a sheepish look. "That's why I tend to have a hard time holding my weapon, Sir."
"Indeed." Obi-Wan rubbed a thoughtful hand across his beard. "Well, I suppose that is understandable. Tell me what you need, Commander."
"Yes, Sir." Shinar pulled out a small holoprojector from his belt. Anakin watched in frustration for several long seconds as the device slipped from Shinar's hands, popped into the air, only to be caught and then slip again. Finally Anakin grasped the holoprojector with the Force and held it steady. Shinar glanced nervously at Anakin before reaching up and activating the floating device.
The hologram that appeared showed a fairly simple layout of the droid control center. Anakin looked closely at the defenses and noted minimal suppressive fire zones and very few guards. A careful look at the schematics of the area under the shielded dome showed a surefire point of entry. Anakin grinned and waited for Shinar to speak.
"Sir," Shinar began. "We've been bombarding the shield for weeks now with no impact. We've sent in three teams already to try and break through their defenses and shut down the shield but they've been cut to shreds every time."
"I suppose you were leading the teams, Shinar?"
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan's face was stern. After the Jedi Master apparently got what he wanted-Anakin bowed an unfelt apology-he turned back to Shinar. "Go on, Commander."
Shinar continued to brief them but Anakin was no longer listening. It turned out that Obi-Wan was right-again. The details were different but in the end, he and Obi-Wan would just end up getting shot at for a few hours while they worked their way into the control center and destroy the shield. Anakin sighed.
It suddenly occurred to Anakin that the whole mission might be a lot more interesting if he simply took care of it himself. Without glancing back, Anakin turned away from the pair and started out toward the main trench that would take him to the control center by the best route he could think of-the direct one. Best to get these things over with quickly.
He wasn't sure, but he could have sworn he had heard Obi-Wan yelling something or the other-probably another one of his 'bad feelings'. Deciding he needed to get things moving, Anakin broke into a Force-enhanced jog.
Two hundred meters from the control center shield, Anakin came to a halt and looked around. The trench would ramp up at a steep incline to ground level over the next fifty meters or so and Anakin contemplated whether he wanted to run out of the trench, or to leap out of it gracefully. Running out would have the advantage of being able to head straight for his target-a small gap he had noticed in the overlap of the three shield generators. Of course, running wasn't particularly dramatic. Leaping also had the added benefit of giving him a high-up look at everything before all the blaster firing began.
Suddenly Anakin felt a slight prickle at the base of his skull. Anakin reached back and rubbed his neck. It was the oddest sensation. Confused, he tried to find some sign in the Force. Again, the prickly sensation came, more insistent this time, accompanied by the hairs on his arms standing on end. Anakin scratched his thick mane of hair.
"What is going on?"
Reaching into his robes, Anakin pulled out his two-way communicator and activated it.
"Anakin?!" Obi-Wan screamed. "Where in blazes are you?"
Goosebumps joined the raised hairs and prickly sensation.
"I'm just outside the control center, Master."
Obi-Wan's exasperated sigh transmitted perfectly over the tiny radio. "Wait for me. I'll be there shortly."
Now a sudden hollow sensation in his stomach kicked in.
"What now, Anakin?"
"I know this may sound strange but...I think I'm having a bad feeling about this."
The silence on the other end was palpable. At length, Obi-Wan spoke. "Did you get a prickly feeling at the back of your neck?"
"Yes." Anakin looked around nervously. "And an odd empty feeling in my stomach."
"That's probably hunger. You haven't eaten in days."
"Good point, Master. So...when you have these feelings, what do you do?"
"Normally, I just say out loud that I have a bad feeling and go headlong into danger anyway. Usually somebody saves me."
Anakin shrugged. "Okay."
Anakin leaped out of the trench.
"No! Anakin wait! I was just joking! Stay put!" The transmitter was screaming but was muffled by the mud as it sank deeper into the spot where Anakin had dropped it.
Two hundred battledroids against one Jedi is not bad. Three or four hundred is pushing it. Rumor had it that Master Windu had taken out over a thousand without his lightsaber once. But that was Master Windu and that was only a thousand.
As Anakin landed on the ground, it became blatantly obvious that the little gap in the shield had been bait, the ten thousand battledroids that emerged seemingly out of nowhere were the trap, and he was the hapless womprat.
Well...not completely hapless. His lightsaber was moving faster than it ever had before. He wasn't quite sure how he managed to deflect all ten thousand blasts that seemed to be all coming right at him while he was in the air but he decided it best not to question it. As he landed in the small circle the droids had conveniently made for him, Anakin pushed hard with the Force and shattered at least fifty droids. The droids behind the fallen ones simply stepped forward and the circle shrunk back in.
Not good! Anakin thought. Not good at all!
The droids started firing again and Anakin was deflecting blasts again. With that many shots being directed his way, he was so busy protecting himself that he could barely control the direction of the deflections to take out some of the other droids.
"Okay, Obi-Wan..." Anakin panted between movements of his lightsaber. "Any time now on that rescue would be great."
Anakin kept on deflecting fire and smiled as he noticed that he was managing to take out one or two droids every few seconds. At this rate, he figured he would gain the upper hand in about a day or two.
"Obi-Waann....my arm's getting tired here..."
A loud explosion erupted behind him and the droids all turned toward the source. Anakin blinked the sweat out of his eyes as the shield suddenly vanished. The droids seemed to suddenly lose interest in Anakin as clone troopers appeared and began firing.
Anakin wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and charged through the distracted droids, slicing his way back to the trench. As he slid over the edge and into the trench, Anakin slipped and landed unceremoniously on his backside, splashing mud into his face.
"What were you thinking, Anakin?"
Anakin glared at Obi-Wan who stood on the other side of the trench, looking implacable and obviously trying to suppress a growing smile. Anakin felt a surge of anger. "You couldn't come rescue me before you destroyed the generator?"
Obi-Wan looked genuinely surprised. "You'll have to forgive me padawan, but I don't recall you ever needing rescuing."
"I told you I had a bad feeling. What more hint do you need?"
Obi-Wan grinned. "I think the troopers can take it from here. Let's get back to the ship."
"Wait a second. You didn't answer my question."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Look, you were doing a fantastic job of distracting the droid army. I guess they must have heard about the great Chosen One because they sent everything they had at you."
"My arm was tired. I could have died."
Obi-Wan nodded. "True. That would have been unfortunate."
"Unfortunate? Because you wouldn't have your precious Chosen One anymore?"
"No... just that I would have lost a bet to Mace."
Anakin grunted and marched toward the ship.
Obi-Wan let out a loud breath and started after him.
"Where is our next mission anyway?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Cato Nemodia," Anakin answered, staring ahead.
"I have a bad feeling about this..."
Original cover by Souderwan. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.