Not so long from now, in a place much like our own...
Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. Across thousands of inhabited planets, peaceful alliances are beginning to crumble as the endless debates of politics increasingly turn to violence.
But all Anakin sees when he looks up are stars.
"Ani! Ani, darling! Come inside! It's time for bed!"
His mother calls out to him from the back porch of their boxlike home. From his perch atop the local transmission tower that he has just learned to climb, Anakin Skywalker can see the roofs of nearly identical homes stretching out in every direction, interrupted only by the occassional stepped pyramids of the commerce malls and the unnaturally regular peaks of the terrain parks. Other towers such as this glitter more brilliant on the ground than any of the lights of the heavens. At the horizon, the spires of a great city glow like perpetual twilight, with space traffic funneling like stardust down into its heart.
Such a sight might be seen in any number of the suburbs of the city of Theed, capital city of the planet Naboo, itself a suburb of Coruscant, the capital planet of the Galactic Republic. But at the cusp of adolescence, despite all the spectacles he's seen on the network holos, it is nonetheless the most breathtaking view Ani has ever witnessed, and so he remains very still, hoping his mother won't think to look up.
She spends more time than he'd like looking around, her long peppered hair falling haphazardly from its bun around a face lined with worry, but finally she sighs and lets the screen door smack carelessly behind her as she retreats inside. His heart pangs a little; he really does love her, and he doesn't enjoy dodging her like this, but he nearly fell twice when climbing the rickety frame of this tower, and he wants to relish his accomplishment a bit longer.
He is so wrapped up in the beauty of it all that he doesn't notice the ship until it passes within a stone's throw of his head; the structure sways in its wake. Its lights are cut and it makes no other sound; Ani only figures out what it is when its thruster brakes kick in to settle it down in the middle of the road several blocks away. Steaming from its orbital entry, the hatch flies open, and two brown-robed figures leap from it, gasping for air.
Anakin shuts his eyes and concentrates. He learned a trick recently; if he relaxes his body and lets go of his thoughts, he can stretch his senses out farther than humans are able--even farther than his Toydarian stepfather--hearing and seeing and smelling things that no one else can. He's never stretched quite as far as this before, but excitement propels him forward, and suddenly their speech is so clear to him that he nearly breaks his trance from surprise.
"--enium gas! In a transport pod! We could've been killed!" says the younger of the two, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
"Exactly. That was no leak. Someone is trying to kill us." The elder of the two seems unflustered, looking at his surroundings rather than his companion. Anakin feels a tingle when the man looks his way, as if their eyes actually meet, but then the man turns again and the feeling passes.
The first of the two regains his composure. "Whoever did this has to know better than to get in the way of the Jedi."
Ani gasps. He's seen them on the holos and he should've recognized them by their distinctive garb--identical except for their hair, which falls in a great mane around the elder and is barely past the ears on the younger--but he wouldn't have believed it enough to even think it. These are Jedi Knights of the Republic, warriors so powerful and rare that they're living legends. To see even one on a trip to Coruscant itself would be considered lucky; so what are two of them doing on Naboo?
"Yes, but who did this?" frowns the elder. "Stay on guard, Master Obi-Wan." He pulls something from his pocket, and a moment later Anakin sees the pale blue flicker of a holographic figure standing on his palm. "This is Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, ambassador for the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic."
"Master Qui-Gon! Yesss!" wheezes an inhuman voice from the other end. "You are due to arrive. The meeting with the Viccceroy and the Queen hasss already begun."
Qui-Gon's voice is nearly serene. "We have been delayed. With all due respect to the Trade Federation, it appears they allowed a gas bomb to be placed in the landing shuttle they provided."
"Oh noessss! Noessss!" Through the slithering accent, Anakin can't tell if the figure's panic is sincere or not. "Is Jedi Knightsss harmed?"
"My partner and I are safe, but we demand that negotiations cease until we are present. We speak on behalf of the Republic here, and you should consider this an order from Chancellor Velorum himself."
"Of courssse! We will sssend a new ship to your coordinatesss immediately."
"No, that's alright." Master Qui-Gon looks to the shining city in the distance. "We will walk. Thank you."
"Walk! Negotiations will be delayed for daysss! I musst inssist that--" The transmission flicks out of existence.
Master Obi-Wan looks puzzled. "Master Qui-Gon, you don't really think the Trade Federation was responsible for this? They only stand to gain from our involvement in this dispute; Queen Amidala's people are stubborn, and will tolerate the Federation boycott indefinitely without Jedi moderation."
Master Qui-Gon looks to his partner. "That's what your Academy training tells you, but a Master in the field needs to be mindful of the living Force. What do your feelings tell you?"
Obi-Wan makes a face of concentration similar to Anakin's own. "I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this trade dispute."
Qui-Gon nods. "There's that. But there's something...elsewhere. Elusive." Master Qui-Gon's eyes shut in meditation, and his voice betrays a hint of sorrow. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Well, if somebody's hiding something here, it's our job to find out what it is. I don't think we can salvage any of our equipment from the ship without risking further contamination. Shall we do this one on sabers and wits?" Obi-Wan asks eagerly.
Qui-Gon sighs and opens his eyes. "Let's get on with it, then."
And nearly so fast that Anakin misses it, the Jedi are running, then leaping, then seemingly flying towards Theed, propelled a greater distance with each step, until Anakin loses sight of them in the night.
He clings to his perch, trying to process what just happened, when something grabs him by the back of his neck and lifts him from his spot.
"There you are!" bellows his stepfather. He is a large man, shirtless, and his blue gut bumps up against Ani as small webbed wings beat furiously to support both their weight. "You might be able to hide from your mother, boy, but lucky she's got a Toydarian to keep tabs on you, eh?" He twists Ani around to look him in the face, and Anakin recoils from his elephantine visage and rancid breath.
"Sorry, Watto," Anakin says through gritted teeth.
"Please, I've told you, call me Dad!" Watto chuckles maliciously, and drifts them down toward the back porch.
"Let go of me!" Anakin struggles from his grip, falling the small remaining distance and landing on his feet. "You're not my Dad!"
"Sure enough, sonny boy. You're too good for my money? I'll take my business connections elsewhere, and you and your mother can fend for yourselves. I'm sure there are plenty of people looking to take advantage of the skills..." His stubbly grin grows to its full yellow width, "...of a freak like you."
Anakin swallows rising bile and says nothing.
"Good, that's what I thought." Watto lands, then squats to look Anakin in the eye. "Now listen here. Mister Haako wants that communications disrupter done by second moonrise. He's coming by to pick it up himself. You gonna have that ready for me before bed?"
Anakin nearly spits as he speaks. "You wouldn't have any business at all if it weren't for me!"
Watto laughs. "Which is why I stick around. Now get in there, and do your job, before I send you off to the freak research lab myself."
Anakin bolts into the house, darting past his mother and up to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. His eyes scan the wires, tools and spare parts littering his floor, then over to the open husk of a utility droid sitting in the corner, and a plan forms in his mind. His heart still races at the thought of the ship just down the road, and deep in his gut, he knows this will not be the last he sees of the Jedi.