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In the launching bay, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker kept his eyes on the mechno-chair, while R2-D2 and TC-16 kept their photoreceptors on Anakin. Now that the analysts had run their diagnostic routines, the technicians were preparing to pack the device for safe shipment to Coruscant. Just as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi had said, they resented the fact that Anakin had tampered with the chair, despite the fact that, had he not, the chair would have blown itself to pieces, taking with it the holoimage of Sith Lord Darth Sidious and whatever other communications memories it might contain.



Maybe Qui-Gon should have left you at Watto's junk shop.



Obi-Wan's little joke. But the words had stung, for some reason. Probably because of Anakin's own musings about what might have become of him had the Jedi not been forced to land on Tatooine to find a replacement part for Padme Amidala's starship. It wasn't hard to imagine himself stuck in Mos Espa. With his mom, Shmi; with C-3PO, without the bright shell he now wore--



No.



At nine years of age, he had been an expert Podracer; by twenty-one, he would have been a galactic champion. With or without Qui-Gon Jinn's or Watto's help, he would eventually have won the Boonta Eve race, and his reputation would have been made. He would have bought freedom for himself, his mother, all the slaves in Mos Espa, gone on to win the Grand Races on Malastare, been hailed in the gambling casinos on Ord Mantell and Coruscant. He wouldn't have become a Jedi--he would have been too old to train--would never have learned to wield a lightsaber. But he would have been able to fly rings around the finest of Jedi pilots, including Saesee Tiin.



And he still would have been stronger in the Force than any of them.



He might never have met Padme...



He had thought of her as an Angel, arrived on Tatooine from the Moons of Iego. A playful remark on his part, but not as entirely innocent as it had sounded. Even so, to her he was just a funny little boy. Padme didn't know then that his precocity wasn't limited to a skill for building and fixing things. He had an uncanny sense for knowing what was going to happen; a certainty that he would become celebrated. He was different--chosen long before the Jedi Order had bestowed the title. Mythical beings came to him--Angels and Jedi--and he excelled in contests in which humans weren't even meant to participate. And yet, even with an Angel and Jedi for guests in his home, he hadn't divined the sudden departure from Tatooine, the Jedi training, his marriage.



He was no longer the funny little boy. But Padme remained his Angel--



A vision of her broke his reverie.



Something...something had changed. His heart filled with longing for her. Even through the Force, he couldn't clarify what he was feeling. He simply knew that he should be with her. That he should be there to protect her...



He flexed his artificial hand.



Remain in the living Force, he told himself. A Jedi didn't dwell in the past. A Jedi surrendered attachment to persons and things that passed out of his or her life. A Jedi didn't fantasize, or think: What if--

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