"Yes? What is it?" His eyes were as cold as his voice as he glared at his assistant.
"I'm sorry to disturb you again, My Lord, but you asked me to let you know if young Skywalker requested a meeting."
"When. I asked you to let me know when he asked for a meeting."
"Yes, My Lord."
"He just called."
The Chancellor briefly considered treating himself by crushing the Rodian against the wall, but decided he was too busy to find a replacement just then.
"Give him a meeting tonight after my last appointment."
"Yes, My Lord." Sensitive as he was to his Master's moods, Dar Wac scurried out of the office as fast as he could without seeming to hurry. He was erased from the Chancellor's thoughts as soon as he left the room.
Right on schedule, Palpatine thought briefly to himself before turning his attention back to the larger matters at hand.
Dead, Anakin thought as he stared at his right hand. Dead, dead, dead. He rhythmically clenched and unclenched the golden metallic fingers, unable to imagine that he ever would be able to use them as effectively as his own. They were clumsy and unresponsive and above all they felt nothing. He refocused his eyes to watch the sheath of light that played around his living hand and arm. Then he looked at the artificial limb with the same focus. Nothing. Clearly the living Force wanted nothing to do with a machine, even if it was attached to you. He sighed, and then crossed his arms as he waited for the lift to stop at the floor of the Senatorial Office Tower that held the Supreme Chancellor's office.
Anakin's request for a meeting had received an almost instant invitation. He always had enjoyed good access to the politician and generally took it for granted. Now, with Palpatine's expanded powers as Chancellor and with galactic war raging, even Anakin was surprised at how readily his request had been answered. It was late in the evening, long after the close of the day's official business. But the Chancellor was still in his office waiting for him. Anakin made certain that he was on time.
The Chancellor's Rodian assistant bowed and showed him into the inner office. Clearly Dar Wac's days were as long as the Chancellor's. Palpatine stood silently by the wall of windows, a tall dark figure staring out over the vast, brightly lit city that lay far below.
"Jedi Padawan Anakin Skywalker," the Rodian announced, and the Chancellor turned, waving genially.
"Welcome, my boy! Come over here and join me at the window."
Anakin crossed the room in a few long strides. "Good evening, Chancellor," he said, bowing. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice."
"You are always most welcome, my young friend." Palpatine smiled warmly at Anakin, putting him at his ease. Then he turned to his assistant and said, "Leave us now, Dar Wac. You are finished for the day."
"Thank you, My Lord," the Rodian said, and bowed. He left quickly. Anakin suddenly wondered why he had addressed the Supreme Chancellor as "My Lord," but he was immediately distracted by his host's warm attention.
"Tell me what is on your mind, Anakin Skywalker."
"Well, sir, when you visited me in the Jedi Temple you asked me to call on you when I was healed."
"So I did. And how does the new arm fare?"
Anakin was in the habit of telling his mentor what was on his mind, and so he felt comfortable offering the truth. "It's a clumsy thing. I can't imagine regaining full use of it, although I practice all the time. It's ... discouraging."
Palpatine looked at him keenly, allowing a silence to build up between them before he asked, "Is that the only thing discouraging you?"
Anakin dropped his eyes, feeling as he had so often before that the older man knew him almost as well as his Master did. The difference was that the Chancellor never judged him or lectured him, whereas nothing he did ever seemed to please Obi-Wan. Anakin decided to speak freely, if only to have the rare pleasure of being heard by a sympathetic ear.
"No." He sighed. "I keep thinking about how easily Master Obi-Wan and I were defeated on Geonosis."
The Chancellor smiled. "Surely not! I have been given to understand that you both fought brilliantly."
"That's just it," Anakin said, earnestly. "We fought as well as we ever have, even after having fought all afternoon in the Arena." He stopped, and his gaze seemed to turn inward, remembering being slammed into the wall effortlessly, by something that felt like a bolt of lightning - by something that drained him of his strength completely. "But I have never experienced power like that before." Anakin paused, but Chancellor Palpatine maintained an attentive silence. The room was still. "I know that Count Dooku was trained as a Jedi, but that he left the Order. I keep asking myself where he learned to use the Force in that way."
"Perhaps you feel that your Masters have left you at a disadvantage?" Palpatine suggested, ever so gently.
The Chancellor's words cut straight into Anakin's heart. For weeks questions had been rampaging inside of him, questions to which he was being given no answers. If there were forces and powers greater than those taught by the Order, how were Jedi expected to face them? What was the point of years of training if he and Obi-Wan could be sliced up and tossed aside like rag dolls? He clenched and unclenched his artificial hand again. How much more would he have to lose at the mercy of powers he was not allowed to understand?
"They have taught me nothing about these powers," Anakin said bitterly. "They always warn us to beware the Dark Side of the Force, but I never knew what they meant." He sighed, and looked out the window into the night. "Now I do."
Palpatine looked at Anakin with an expression of deep sympathy on his face. He said kindly, "That must be very frustrating." The words were simple, even neutral; yet again Anakin felt them like the edge of a scalpel. Feelings of frustration and rage began to pour out as though from a wound.
"The Dark Side took my first Jedi Master, Qui-Gon. I'm sure of that now," he burst out. "Those same powers almost took Obi-Wan." He looked down at his unsatisfactory hand. "They left me with this dead thing." He took a deep breath and plunged on. "I don't understand why my Jedi Masters act as though they don't exist. I don't understand why we aren't trained to match them."
"Have your Masters ever told you about the twenty so-called "Lost Jedi", and why they left the Order?" Palpatine asked, with great delicacy.
"No." Anakin shook his head. "It's not something that has been spoken about." Even in the midst of rising resentment he managed a wry grin. "At least not with me."
The Chancellor nodded and smiled, acknowledging his young visitor's feelings. "Do I understand then that our reverend Jedi Masters are still concerned about containing - shall we say - your enthusiasm?"
Anakin grinned again, somewhat ruefully. "I think it's fair to say that they are concerned that I don't fit the mold well enough." Then he grew serious. "I have tried, I really have. I respect my Masters. It's just that?" He stopped, feeling that he needed to be careful with his words. He couldn't afford to raise suspicion about his loyalty to the Jedi Order. Not now.
"It's just that your Masters don't seem to understand?" Palpatine suggested, just as delicately.
Anakin suddenly felt that he was at the edge of a dangerous precipice and needed to step back from it. Caution began to take the place of anger. "Please understand that I don't mean to sound ungrateful," he said.
"Of course not, my boy, of course not." Palpatine stirred himself once again to genial hospitality, as though he had tested the waters and made a decision. "I think that you have been through a difficult time, and that you would be happier with action than with waiting around for your next assignment."
"Yes," Anakin laughed. "I would, but that will depend on the will of my Masters."
"Even so, my boy, it occurs to me that I have a task for you that, provided your Masters concur, I would be most grateful if you would agree to undertake."
"Of course," said Anakin. "If it is within my power."
"It's Senator Amidala," the Chancellor said earnestly. Anakin used every skill he had ever learned to stay calm and not jump at what he thought he was about to hear. "She needs to return to Naboo, and I don't want her to travel without a competent escort. Especially not now."
"I would be honored to accompany her," said Anakin as his heart began to pound painfully, "but to be honest, I believe that my Masters are unhappy about my friendship with the Senator. I doubt that they would give their permission."
"I see." Palpatine scrutinized the young man's face carefully, saw what he was looking for, and proceeded. "I respect your Masters, of course, but the Senator's safety is my responsibility and my first priority. I know that she feels confident in your abilities to protect her."
Anakin scowled and looked down at his golden hand. "I wonder whether I can?now."
"Senator Amidala told me herself that you have a knack for saving her life." Anakin was unable to suppress a look of surprise and delight at the idea of Padm? praising him to his mentor. The Chancellor saw it, and continued. "It seems to me that in the present trying circumstances? the War..." he allowed a look of pain and grief to mark his face "? friendship among staunch allies is to be encouraged."
Anakin said again, "I will be most happy to accompany her, if my Masters allow it." He doubted whether they would, but he would have to comply with his Masters' wishes in order to keep his secret safe. Still, Chancellor Palpatine seemed to have a good relationship with the Jedi Council...perhaps this was the chance he and Padm? had been waiting for?
"I'm grateful to you, my boy, I really am." The Chancellor's words broke into his thoughts, hurrying the conversation along. "I will speak to your Masters personally, and we will see what can be arranged."
Anakin bowed, assuming that the meeting was over. When he looked up again, the older man was regarding him intently. Anakin found to his surprise that he was unable to pull away from that gaze.
"The Galaxy is vast, my boy," Palpatine said softly. Every word he said seemed to drop like a stone into Anakin's consciousness. "It is full of unlimited possibilities. I am certain that it also contains the technology to provide you with an arm that will respond to the Force."
Anakin looked at him in surprise. "You know about that?" As soon as the words slipped out he stopped as though he had been slapped. He had the overwhelming feeling that it was not his place to speak. Not now.
Palpatine continued to speak with soft intensity that made Anakin lean forward slightly to catch every word.
"The Jedi are not the only ones who understand the ways of the Force. From my vantage point here," and the Chancellor made a circular gesture as if to indicate the realms that lay at his feet, "I have access to knowledge of all kinds, both ancient and modern."
Anakin felt impelled to listen with his whole being. He could not have formed words if he tried.
Palpatine continued to speak. "I can tell you about the Lost Twenty. I can tell you about the powers that Count Dooku has mastered. And I can tell you about the future I foresee for the Galaxy once these dark times have passed."
Involuntarily Anakin looked down at his mechanical hand, and then back into the face of the Galaxy's supreme politician. Something felt wrong, terribly wrong, but he couldn't make sense of it. For the briefest of moments his head felt as dead as his arm.
Suddenly he felt his freedom to speak return. His wits did not return quite as quickly.
"I? I would like that very much, Chancellor," Anakin stammered, not knowing for the moment what to say. "Thank you."
"Very good," said Palpatine. "I look forward to speaking with you upon your return from Naboo."
The rush of pleasure Anakin felt at the mention of the journey with Padm? completely washed away his earlier feeling of disquiet. Clearly the Chancellor had no doubt that his request to the Jedi Council would be honored.
"Thank you for everything, Chancellor," he said sincerely.
"Not at all, my boy," said Palpatine, waving him away. "Not at all."
Anakin left the Chancellor's office feeling, for the first time in a long time, that things were going his way. All he needed to do for now was to sit back and wait.
Too easy by far, Darth Sidious thought to himself with genuine disappointment. You'd think a boy with that kind of talent would put up more of a fight. He remained at the window, staring thoughtfully into Coruscant's multicolored night.
On the other hand, the Jedi had saved him the trouble of providing a good basic training in obedience. The boy was no trouble at all. The thought made him smile to himself.
Once a slave, always a slave.
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