Autopilot (G)

By : FernWithy

Archived on: Monday, August 20, 2001

Anakin has a frightening experience during a test in his training.

Anakin Skywalker watched the flashing light on the panel, knowing he wasn't allowed to do anything about it. Obi-Wan had rigged a second alert system, linked to the navigation system, to ring a bell if something happened that was actually unexpected.

Apparently, this proximity alert had been expected. Anakin looked dimly ahead, saw a large asteroid, and watched it approach. He hoped vaguely that there wouldn't be a collision.

There was no exhilaration at cheating death when he passed -- this was out of his hands, and he hadn't done anything special to avoid it. He just looked at it, cataloguing it in his mind, and noticing the way the veins of carbonite made a pattern in the craters. He noted it on his datapad, watching his hands curiously. They had gotten bigger and broader in the months since his twelfth birthday -- a lot bigger and broader -- and, though they still did what he commanded them to do, they looked like they belonged to a stranger.

He couldn't exactly say he was enjoying the ride, but he wasn't unhappy, either. The outer reaches of the Coruscant system had some interesting sights to see, and he let himself see and appreciate them.

He did not have an urge to take the controls. That was where Obi-Wan had miscalculated.

This was one of Obi-Wan's special lessons, the lessons that made Anakin feel like a building being renovated by an eager architect. The facade was fine, but all the supports were in the wrong places, and needed to be carefully moved. And Obi-Wan usually was careful. Anakin complained about the special lessons, but he understood what Obi-Wan was getting at, and knew his Master was being as gentle as he could. Anakin himself might have made the same mistake with this one, and as mistakes went, this one didn't seem to have many dire consequences. He felt funny, kind of far away from himself, but that couldn't do much harm, could it?

Most of Anakin's training was the same as any other padawan's, even if some of it was a little bit late in coming. Those things, like learning bits of gymnastics that the others could do in their sleep, were sometimes embarrassing. He had fallen off the low balance beam so often in the first two months of his training that the other nine year olds -- who worked on a higher, thinner beam with no spotters, and were almost ready to go to the high wire -- started teasing him about being "chosen to bring lack of balance to the Force." He didn't know how rumors about the stupid prophecy had already gotten here, but he did learn that news traveled fast among telepaths, once it was loose.

After six months of this, he'd decided that he'd rather not be such an obvious target, and snuck down during sleeping hours one night to practice until dawn. He found the rhythm of it finally, and once he did, the rest was easy. When the others came in the next morning, he greeted them from a handstand on the highwire, then handspringed out of it onto the platform at the end.

The teasing had stopped (to be replaced by what felt like dull resentment), but the lectures from Obi-Wan had started, and so had the special lessons. The first had been on his temper. Obi-Wan hadn't minded that he'd finally mastered his balance, but he'd been very disturbed that it had been done out of annoyance -- anger -- at the other students, so there had been a series of lessons in which Anakin had been exposed to progressively worse provocations and expected not to lose his temper. He passed some of these tests, and failed others. Obi-Wan was patient with him, and always forgave his failures and reminded him of his successes. He was beginning to think he could win this battle with his temper, if he tried hard enough and let Obi-Wan teach him.

That was the other part. At first, Anakin thought Obi-Wan just felt snubbed about him going off to learn something on his own, but he found out that it was something else. "Anakin," he'd said, "the skills can come to many people. Even untrained people may be able to use the Force from time to time. But we pair Masters and padawans not simply to teach skills, but to share experience. You should have come to me. I would have helped you with the beam-work, and helped you handle your anger at the others. You must let me know when such things come into your heart. You must learn trust. In yourself, in me, and in the Force."

Trusting himself wasn't a problem. He'd always trusted his own skills, and learning the beam had been just the same as teaching himself to pick up speed at Metta Drop. He'd known he could do it, and he did it.

Trusting Obi-Wan took a little more effort, because Anakin was always sure that sooner or later, Kenobi would decide to give up his little construction project. Sorry, no offense, but I can't work with this substandard material. Pathetic life forms need not apply. (Anakin had found this comment in Kenobi's mind when they were sharing memories of Qui-Gon right after the funeral, and had -- for the only time in his three years of training, thank the Maker -- burst into shameful tears, feeling that he had consigned himself to the care of someone who despised him).

But Obi-Wan had changed somehow, and earned his trust by always being there, and always being patient, and giving of his own soul as readily as he expected Anakin to. He set up exercises where Anakin literally had to put his life in his hands, and he never failed. He always showed up when Anakin had nightmares, and sat quietly with him until the shakes stopped. It had taken the better part of that first year, but Anakin had finally given his complete trust to his Master, and even begun to love him a little bit.

It was trusting in the Force that was going to break him.

That surprised him. When Qui-Gon had told him to trust his instincts -- what he associated with the idea of the Force -- it hadn't seemed any different from trusting himself. But Obi-Wan added, "Let go your conscious self," and Anakin found himself very resistant to do so. They'd tried a lot of standard exercises for padawans, but none of them seemed to get to the root of it, so Obi-Wan had come up with this one, and had come to him early this morning.

"I know you've been wanting to fly again -- "

Anakin's heart had lightened immediately. He'd been given a Naboo fighter after the battle, which the Council had grudgingly allowed to remain in the hangar at the Temple, but he hadn't been allowed to fly it anywhere. "I finally get to?"

Obi-Wan sighed, but Anakin almost didn't care that a test of some kind was being set up. Flying again! "After a fashion." The tone sobered Anakin a little, and he let his Master go on. "I know how you love to fly, Ani, don't think I don't. And I know you've been wanting to, but there are so many other things... and it's not thought well of in some quarters."

Anakin frowned. He knew which quarters didn't approve of any distractions. "But you're going to let me?"

"I've been working on your fighter for the last couple of days" -- he held up a hand to stop Anakin's protests -- "not on any of the mechanical systems, simply on the navigational ones, and it is all easily reversible. In short, Anakin, I have been working with the autopilot system."

"Oh, come on... "

"I know you dislike autopilot."

It was an understatement. Anakin held autopilot in about the same regard as Mace Windu held the toy lightsabers that children outside the Temple played with. His face fell.

"But I want you to learn to let go and trust. To stop fighting against the motion of the Force at every turn."

Anakin was ready to protest that he didn't think it was right to just let things happen, then he realized that this was the lesson Kenobi was trying to teach him. Sometimes, things would be out of his control, and he would have to trust something beyond himself to get through. It didn't mean blindly accepting everything, just learning to live with some things. He agreed to the exercise (Obi-Wan never made him do these things without asking for his agreement; that was another reason Anakin trusted him).

"Good. I've suppressed the display of the coordinates in the naviputer. It's easy enough to change the settings, of course, but I'll be tracking it. I have set a safe course for you, but there will be a few warning lights. Do not respond to them. If a real danger approaches, you'll know. It is unlikely. Observe the system. Tell me what you see when you get back."

He'd been kind enough to let Anakin control the launch himself -- what pure joy that had been, even if just for a moment or two -- but the long, looping path through the Coruscant system was completely out of his control. Both he and Kenobi had assumed that the fidgeting and the urge to take control would start to overwhelm him before he hit the edge of the belt of communications satellites. They'd been right. It was driving him mad for the first ten minutes or so.

Then something else had happened, something that had a sickeningly familiar feel to it.

He was staring resentfully at the autopilot, which was displaying only soothing pictures of various worlds -- its sleep mode -- and his hands were itching to reach out and take control of the fighter. He was wishing for Artoo to talk to, at least. And thinking he could just fail it and take the lecture, and still get a little bit of real flying in before he went back.

Then the fighter swerved on its own, around a comm-sat, and dove under a small surveillance satellite, and Anakin felt the change. His mind accepted that he had no control over the situation.

Anakin Skywalker had been a slave for most of his childhood. He knew a lot about not having control. But instead of reaching for a trust in the Force, the something-else had happened. The almost-forgotten something.

There was one way Anakin had been able to be free when he was mucking around in Gardulla's wine cellar (where he'd been small enough to scrub the dregs out of the barrels and scrape them into a dish for her pets), or lugging boxes of junk around Watto's shop. He simply put his body on autopilot. On the outside, he did their work, and did it well. On the inside, he went elsewhere, thought his own thoughts, dreamed his own dreams. Sometimes just curled up and went to sleep while his body went on doing the jobs he was supposed to do. Sooner or later, the chore would be done, and he would wake up and be all in one place again. Meanwhile, his mind had picked up bits and pieces of daydreams, and rested itself.

Maybe, he thought dreamily, this is trusting in the Force. But he knew better. He knew it because he looked at his quiet hands, stared at the stars outside, made a few notes in his comm-pad, and felt ashamed.

Another warning light flashed, but the special sound-alarm didn't come on. Obi-Wan expected this one, too.

Break the rules! something in his mind shouted. Something is really, really wrong!

It was a panicked voice, this stranger in his head -- he didn't remember ever hearing it before -- but it was faraway, unimportant. He knew it was right, but he couldn't seem to do anything about it. His hands felt heavy and numb.

The fighter shifted, and turned back toward the inner part of the system. Anakin's mind began to stir. A small meteorite floated by a few kilometers to his right, and Anakin saw a flicker of movement near its surface. Was something living in that rock? One of the sarlaaci type pit serpents? He'd heard of something like that. Interesting.

His hands became lighter, and he could feel his fingers wanting to twitch.

A far-flung satellite to his left caught his eye; it was close enough to set off another warning light, and this time, Anakin had to fight off a mild urge to steer away.

I'm coming back. It's okay.

He was relieved enough to resolve to pass the test the rest of the way, and he fought his growing instinct for control all the way back (the return part of the loop was a much straighter line). Finally, he reached the traffic belt around Coruscant, and the comm-link beeped.

"You may control your landing now, Anakin." A pause, then good humor. "I will expect you in, say, thirty minutes."

The landing would take ten. Obi-Wan was giving him window to fly, at least as much as a person could in this mess. But Anakin's mind was on the strange, shameful lack of action at the far edge of the system, that sense of turning himself into someone's droid, and after a few halfhearted tricks, he gave up, and flew directly to the hangar at the Temple.

Obi-Wan was waiting for him. "You didn't need to come back so early, padawan," he said, but he was smiling. "You did well. I hadn't expected you to be able to give your trust on the first test. I'm very pleased with this, Anakin."

You did well.

Did well.

Anakin was planning to tell him what had happened, how he hadn't trusted in anything, how he had simply surrendered. But Obi-Wan looked so happy. So pleased. Anakin almost never got the special lessons on the very first try. It was good to feel that he had, to see what it looked like when Obi-Wan seemed to want to brag.

So he said nothing.

After all, maybe Obi-Wan was right. Maybe he really had trusted the Force. He'd never trusted it before, so who was he to know what it would feel like when he did?

Perhaps he really had done well.

Obi-Wan gave him the rest of the afternoon to himself.

He used it to unwire the autopilot.

Original cover design by Chris Madden/Mojomoe. HTML formatting copyright 2001 TheForce.Net LLC.