Anakin could feel the powerful sun beaming down on him mercilessly from above. Soft sand shifted underneath his knees and the hard rock he was leaning on dug into his chest and stomach. The dusty, dry air tickled his nose and throat. Pressed to two of his eyes were mechanical binoculars. They were zoomed in on a tall, white building that gleamed under the sun and stood out against the vibrant sapphire sky. The building wasn't large, but it was surrounded by an impossibly tall wall. Jagged spires rose from within. Men in white armour patrolled its rim. Their guns were held loosely in their arms.
With the force, he could feel that there were many troopers inside the building, but the majority were sedentary and passive. Pulling the device from his eyes, the compound became nothing more that a white speck on a barren plateau of cracked, parched ground. Only the occasional rock or dehydrated tree could be seen to mark the flat landscape. Sliding down the rock, he sat by its base and ducked his head beneath it. "Let me guess," spoke Obi-Wan, who was seated by Anakin's side. "There's been no change whatsoever." Anakin sent him a levelled glare. Obi-Wan shrugged and smiled. "That's what you said the last twenty times you checked." The master crossed his legs over and placed his palms on his knees.
"We've been waiting for over an hour," Anakin grumbled, lifting an arm to wipe the hot sweat from his brow.
"Are you doubting the senator's capability?" Obi-Wan cocked a groomed brow. Over the last few months since the empire took over, he'd been allowing his already impressive beard to grow out. It was large and bushy now, nearly concealing Obi-Wan's lips.
"No. I know how persuasive she can be," he admitted with a sigh, leaning his head back against the rock behind him. It's surface was burning hot to the touch. Obi-Wan hummed in agreement. Somehow she had persuaded them both to bring her on this mission against their collective better judgement. "I still don't think we should have let her go alone, not until we know for sure Malice can't escape." He crossed his arms over his chest.
"Malice hasn't been in control since you stopped her at the Jedi temple," Obi-Wan regarded Anakin with gentle tenderness. The younger Jedi cast his eyes to the floor. That memory stirred unease within him. The thought of Malice springing to control at any opportune moment and vanishing into the vastness of space with Padmé in tow still made his blood run cold. "You were there when we came to the conclusion that she can't seize consciousness unless prompted by near death or an external influence," Obi-Wan tutted. "You know she locked away in the light of Padmé's mind."
Anakin let out a long sigh and raised worried eyes to his master. "What if she runs into something that nearly kills her? What then?" he asked, cocking a brow.
"Give Mrs Amidala more credit," Obi-Wan spoke. "It takes quite a lot to knock her down." Anakin let out a rush of air through his nose and nodded his head. It was true, Padmé was a lot more difficult to defeat now that she had unhindered access to the force. Still, it wouldn't stop him worrying. Anakin didn't think anything ever would.
They sat quietly for a little while longer, until lots of little grey specks appeared on the shifting, shimmering horizon. Anakin and Obi-Wan acted like a mid point for the compound behind them and the beings ahead of them. "I think that's them now," Anakin pointed ahead. The specks grew larger and he could feel many, marbled presences approaching. Fronting their advance was a pure white force signature. One he knew well.
"Looks like she succeeded," Obi-Wan smiled, glancing over at Anakin. "I told you there was no reason to worry." Anakin nodded and rolled his eyes.
Using the force, he reached out to the bright presence. It welcomed him instantly, allowing a sturdy connection to form between the pair. His eyes fluttered shut and the corners of his lips tugged upwards. "So you actually got them to pick up arms? I'm impressed," Anakin chuckled down their force link, but didn't need to say the words out loud. His mind could simply transfer them.
"I rallied what I could," her airy voice drifted through him. "There isn't an army of fighters, but I think you'll find they're more than plenty." Padmé's feelings of triumph were practically tangible. His smile widened.
"Good, we need the fuel in that compound badly," he hummed. "Make sure they know to be ready for nightfall and that they shouldn't use violence unless absolutely necessary." Padmé had gone to enlist locals of the planet to aid them in breaking the empire's control over this religion and harvest the supplies inside. Two Jedi couldn't defeat an entire compound of clones alone, after all.
"They'll be ready by the time we reach you," she responded gently, cutting the link between them. Anakin felt a little sadness in his chest at her missing light, but he knew he would see her soon. The locals they were bringing were tiny, monkey-like men that were known for their tenacity in a fight. Hopefully they would prove their worth when they charged the empires refuelling station, the compound behind them.
Anakin blinked his eyes open, the traces of a smile still lingered on his lips. "I hate it when you do that," Obi-Wan grumbled from beside him as he watched his former padawan with hardened eyes. Anakin sent him a sheepish smile and an innocent shrug. "I never know what you're actually saying to each other."
"Padmé recruited the locals and she says there should be enough to take hold of the station," he jutted a thumb over his shoulder towards the gleaming building behind him.
"Well then," a twinkle returned to Obi-Wan's eyes. "This should be a breeze."
Just as predicted, they had claimed the fuel station by the time the twin moons had peaked in the sky. The huge, sandy docking bays were filled with clusters of stormtroopers in white armour. They were all bound and forced onto their knees by thick, scrappy rope. The locals, that only reached up to the trooper's waists were circling around them with large, pointed sticks aimed at their throats. A frosty bite was in the air, making Anakin's breath rise in curling plumes around his face. Thousands of twinkling stars shone in the black sky above. The station's large walls rose tall around them and the gargantuan building with peaking spires was at the opposite end of the compound, standing straight like a gravestone.
The locals were hissing and snapping at the troopers every time they moved. Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padmé were going along the rows of troopers, pulling off their helmets and removing the chips inside their heads. A trooper was leering up at Anakin as he pressed a cylindrical, metal device to the soldier's temple. It let out a wheeze and a click. The soldier jolted and hissed in pain. The Jedi removed the device, but it left behind a circular, metallic plaster that cradled the curve of the clone's head. The trooper stared up at him again, but the anger and animosity behind his eyes was gone. All there was on his face was abstract horror. It was a transition that always broke Anakin's heart to witness and feel, no matter how many times he saw it.
"Anakin, Obi-Wan," Padmé called suddenly, a hint of urgency in her voice. Anakin straightened up, his eyes scanned the docking bays before him. She was a bay over, a trooper was on his feet in front of her and she was holding a blaster to his back. The trooper's hands were bound behind him and his head hung. Padmé nudged him towards them. Obi-Wan, who was closer to Anakin, sent him a confused expression. They waded through the troopers on the floor towards her. A sense of dread washed over him. Her face was taught with anger. "Lift your head," she commanded the trooper as the two Jedi came within a few body lengths.
The trooper lifted his head and Anakin's heart leapt into his mouth. Blue eyes stared at him angrily from within a pale skinned, light haired body. The Jedi traded shocked looks. "You're not a clone," Obi-Wan spoke, his voice hitching.
"Obviously," the blonde man spat, his eyes narrowing to venomous slits. Padmé nudged his back with her blaster, making him go completely still.
"Why are you here with the clones?" Anakin asked, narrowing his eyes and crossing his arms tightly.
The man's eyebrows furrowed and he stared at them incredulously. "I'm a soldier in the empire's grand army," he informed them, speaking slowly like they were toddlers struggling with basic addition. Anakin clenched his teeth and fought down the annoyance that rose within him.
"The empire are recruiting?" Padmé pressed, her voice firm and steady.
"Have you been living under a rock?" the soldier asked, a wary smile curling his thin lips. Anakin narrowed his eyes. They more or less had been, after all, it wasn't easy to stay informed and evade the empire that was gunning for their heads. "The empire had started an intense recruitment scheme. Everyone is joining," he explained. "I'm one of the first deployed." A hint of pride rose within him.
"What should we do with him?" Padmé asked, flicking her eyes between the two Jedi.
Obi-Wan pressed his lips into a thin line and ran his fingers through his beard. "Lock him in the barracks," he nodded to the large, white building. "If you find any more, do the same." Padmé nodded and, with the muzzle of her blaster, directed him towards the other end of the compound. Anakin felt anxiousness shift within him. The tactics of the clone's war efforts he knew, but the tactics of completely new soldiers would be difficult to predict.
They touched down on Dagobah's mucky surface just as the sun was beginning to peak through the thick canopy above.
Anakin was seated in the pilot seat of a large cargo ship. In the hold behind him, he could hear the feint chatter of the liberated clones. It normally only took a few minutes to convince the clones to join the Jedi after their chips had been removed, and this time was no exception. The gloomy darkness of the Dagobah jungle was all they could see through the viewport.
In a matter of moments, Anakin, Padmé and Obi-Wan were herding the troopers out of the ship and into the waiting arms of hundreds of other clones. Their whoops and cheers filled the forest air as they reunited with their brothers. There were many ships scattered all across the thick, dewy foliage on the ground. There were Jedi bustling about their makeshift hangar, loading packages on an off ships as well as docking and taking off. Huge trees stretched high above them, blocking out the green sky above them. A misty haze drifted around their feet and long, swinging vines hand from the moss covered trees. The ground was bumpy and riding because of the roots that wound and snaked over them. The humid air ran its wet tongue over his skin. Sweat beaded his forehead. The noise of distant bellows and twittering birds filled the thick air.
Anakin was standing by the bottom of the ramp, surveying as the last of the clones dribbled out of the ship. Obi-Wan followed close behind them and Padmé stood on the opposite side of the ramp. Their eyes met for a moment, and she sent him a warm smile. They didn't need to be connected for him to know what that meant. With a wary glance at Obi-Wan, who wasn't looking, he sent one back. The way her eyes twinkled with delight made his heart swell.