Deep in the Night
And in an instant the fear takes hold.
But deep in the storm, there’s a place that’s soft and still
Where a road waits to be taken, if you only will.
The voices inside you can lead you so astray
Believe in what you know, don’t turn away,
Don’t you turn away!
Reach for the light
You might touch the sky.
And see yourself fly.
Reach for the light
To capture a star,
Come out of the darkness
And find out who you are.
Somewhere in time, the truth shines through
And the spirit knows what it has to do.
Somewhere in you, there’s a power with no name
One that can rise to meet the moment, and burn like a flame.
And you can be stronger than anything you know.
Believe in what you dream, don’t let it go,
Don’t you let it go!
Reach for the light
You might touch the sky.
Stand on a mountaintop
And see yourself fly.
Reach for the light
To capture a star,
Come out of the darkness
And find out who you are...
Scrap and debris that had once been a ship called the Reliant floated past the window of the escape pod. Young Obi-Wan Kenobi stared out at it with a breaking heart. Somewhere, out there in that wreckage, was the body of the man he loved best in the universe.
“I’m Sorry Obi-Wan,” Jedi Master Vu Kaa laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Vu Kaa had deep black eyes and shoulder-length blond hair which he wore in a multitude of small braids. “But Qui-Gon is one with the Force now.”
“No,” Obi-Wan shook his head, his voice hoarse, his eyes barely concealing tears. “I would have known, I would have felt . . .”
“You were unconscious Obi-Wan, how could you have felt anything?” the other Jedi reasoned gently.
Obi-Wan did not answer; he did not know what to say. He had been Qui-Gon’s apprentice for little more than a year, but the connection between them was already so deep that Obi-Wan felt as if not even unconsciousness should have been able to separate them like that.
“I understand your feelings,” Vu Kaa comforted. “Two years ago I lost my Padawan in a similar incident. It was heart breaking, it was more than heart breaking, but language does not hold the words to express it properly.”
Obi-Wan knew exactly what he meant.
“Grieving for him is natural,” Vu Kaa assured, “But denying the truth is dangerous. He is gone, you must accept that and move on. The Council will appoint you a new Master to continue your training. You are still just a boy Obi-Wan, you will learn to forget.”
“NO!” Obi-Wan thought vehemently. “As long as I live, I shall NEVER forget Master Qui-Gon!” But all he said was: “Yes, sir.” He knew Vu Kaa was trying to help, but he also knew he was wrong. Normally he would have been ruffled at being called a boy, after all, he was 14! In his late 20’s – early 30’s, Vu Kaa was not that much older than he was. But right now, it hardly seemed to matter. More disturbing to him was the thought of being paired with a new Master. How could he imagine being taught by anyone other than Qui-Gon? Not too long ago he had been desperate to be accepted by any Master, but now, there was only one he desired, and that was one he could no longer have. He almost wished that Vu Kaa had not dragged him, unconscious, from the exploding ship. Almost wished he had left him to die with his Master.
“I would have saved you both if I could,” the older Jedi said, as if sensing the apprentice’s thoughts. “But he was already gone, and I could only carry one of you.”
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said numbly, because he knew he should.
“Why don’t you get some sleep? You look thoroughly exhausted. I’ll contact the Council and let them know what has happened.” Vu Kaa directed the boy to a small berth and made him lay down on it. He then crossed to the other side of the small pod, giving Obi-Wan at least the emotional, if not physical space and privacy he needed to bury his face in the pillow and soak it with his tears.
Obi-Wan knew it was childish, but he could not help himself. He had not realized how attached he had become to his Master, or how much he had come to depend on the sense of home he provided, the feeling of belonging. Now he felt so suddenly alone and adrift, just like the wreckage outside. He did not know what to do with the emotions inside him, so he took Vu Kaa’s permission to grieve and cried out the silent pain that coursed through him so deep he could not put it to words, even in his mind.
Curled up in a small lump of misery, worn out and hurting from the battled he had just fought, Obi-Wan fell asleep to the hum of the pod’s thrusters.
Once he was sure the boy was asleep, Vu Kaa switched on his comlink. When the familiar faces of the Jedi Council appeared before him, he bowed to their holographic visages, his multiple braids swishing. “I’m afraid I have terrible news . . .”
The Council looked grave, more grave than usual that is.
“Both you say? Lost together, they were?” Yoda’s ears twitched, betraying great dismay behind his calm demeanor. “A great loss, if true this is. Much promise those two held.”
Vu Kaa did not miss the way Yoda said: “If true this is,” Yoda, at least, still did not completely trust him.
“You are sure of your information?” Mace Windu queried, also reluctant to believe that both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were dead.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Vu Kaa nodded the affirmative. “I saw the ship blow, and I know they were both on board. Perhaps I should have done something, but I don’t know what. None of us had any idea anything like that would happen. The pirates were all too close to want to destroy the ship; it must have been a self-destruct. I’m so sorry, there was just nothing I could do.”
“Understand we do,” Yoda nodded once.
“A team shall be dispatched, they should arrive within a few days. They will see what can be recovered and make a full report,” Master Windu informed him.
Vu Kaa inclined his head. “I was on my way Daimaru when this occurred, will it be necessary for me to await the team’s arrival, or should I continue?”
“Your presence is not required. We will contact you if there is need.”
“As you say,” he hesitated, “I did not know them long, but...they were good men.”
“Indeed,” Yoda nodded.
“May the Force be with you,” Mace said, and the spectral images winked out.
Vu Kaa scowled and cut the transmission from his end as well. Still the same high-and-mighty dictators as ever. Still they watched him with wary eyes, disapproving of him. But he knew more than any of them, and he would pass his wisdom on, whether they allowed him to take a Padawan or not. After all, what gave them the right to play god over others anyway? He would show them what he could do, then they would understand.
Vu Kaa looked at Obi-Wan’s sleeping form. The boy was strong and full of untapped talent; any idiot could see that. Fate or destiny had laid this opportunity before him, and he would make the most of it. The Jedi’s black eyes seemed to regard the sleeping boy with an almost hungry look.
When Obi-Wan awoke, he found himself to be no longer on the pod, but on a ship. He sat upright immediately, unsure how in the world he had been moved without waking up.
“It’s all right,” Vu Kaa’s calm voice made him jump. “This is my ship. You were sleeping so soundly, I hated to wake you. You’ve been through a lot.”
“Are we heading back to Coruscant?” Obi-Wan asked, rubbing his aching eyes. He should not have cried so much, now his eyes were dry and itchy. New tears still pressed at him, stinging the backs of his eyes at the slightest provocation, but he did not allow them to come, not again. Qui-Gon would want him to be strong. Qui-Gon... Just thinking his name was a mistake at this point and his resolve nearly cracked. Then his stubbornness kicked in. He would not let Vu Kaa see him cry again, he would be strong!
“No,” Vu Kaa shook his head. “You are to accompany me to Syridan.”
Obi-Wan looked both shocked and stricken. “But – but,” he protested. “What about the Council? Shouldn’t I go before them to report what happened? And besides,” his voice dropped, “I must attend the Funeral.”
Vu Kaa sat down on the bed beside Obi-Wan. “I have already spoken to the Council and told them what happened, they see no point in subjecting you to the pain of going over it all again,” Vu Kaa paused, as if unwilling to bring up the other subject. “There cannot be a funeral without a body, you know that. I could find no trace of him with my scanners, but,” he added hopefully, “The Council is sending a team to scout the area. If they discover anything or if some other kind of arrangement is made, they will contact us and I promise we shall return to Coruscant immediately.”
Obi-Wan was still puzzled, and discontent. “But why not now?” He felt lost and alone and wished to be back where things were familiar to him, to talk to Yoda about his feelings and lose himself, and maybe his pain, in the quiet serenity of the Temple gardens.
“Obi-Wan,” Vu Kaa said gently, “This is difficult I know, and I feel the timing is bad, but we must accept the Council’s wisdom.”
“What do you mean?” Obi-Wan was confused and hurting and wished that the older Jedi would stop beating around the bush.
“I mean that they have decided that I shall be your new teacher.”
Obi-Wan was shocked that this could have happened so soon, and that they had not even seen him first, or told him in person. He almost could not believe it, but he had no reason to doubt Vu Kaa, no motive to think he was lying.
“Yes, I know it’s sudden, believe me, I’m surprised too!” Vu Kaa sighed. “The truth is,” he seemed embarrassed to admit it, “That I asked for you, but I never expected them to say yes on the spot. They seem to think that your training must not suffer setback because of this and that a mission would help to take your mind off your grief. As I said, I know the timing is bad. I myself would have thought it better that you return to Coruscant and have some time to yourself, but then, perhaps they are wiser after all. Perhaps they know that Coruscant would bring back too any memories right now, and we must not live in the past. Perhaps they know too, that since my last Padawan died I have had no wish to take another apprentice, until now, and perhaps they feel that we may help each other heal. I truly hope we shall.”
Obi-Wan was still unhappy, but he would not be so cruel as to reject Vu Kaa’s kind words. Besides, if it was what the Council had decided, then he would just have to trust that their wisdom was above his own right now. He knew that what one wants is not necessarily always what is best for one.
He hadn’t seen the wisdom in it when they sent him to Bandomeer, perhaps they themselves could not have foreseen the way that would change his life, but it had. It had brought he and Qui-Gon together and healed the void that Xanatos had created in Qui-Gon’s heart. “Always in motion is the future,” Yoda liked to say, and Obi-Wan knew he was right, but that didn’t mean it was always easy to accept.
“Very well then... Master,” it was most difficult for him to use that word right now. His throat seemed to constrict around it, threatening to choke him on the raw lump it created. “If you and the Council deem it best, I shall accompany you to Syridan.”
“That’s a good Padawan,” Vu Kaa patted his shoulder. “I know you will do your best.”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan nodded blankly. “Master,” he added when he felt Vu Kaa’s eyes on him.
Vu Kaa gave his shoulder another squeeze. “I think we’ll do very well together Obi-Wan Kenobi, very well.”
Consciousness came slowly, and with it came pain. A lot of pain. At first, Qui-Gon did not move; he was not sure he could.
“What happened?” His head throbbed like someone was working it with a hydraulic hammer. Slowly, memory came back to him. He remembered fighting the pirates, Obi-Wan was beside him... The captain of the Reliant had panicked and in the way of his people had sought destruction over capture. He keyed in the self-destruct code, setting off a deadly string of explosions. The pirates began fleeing back to their ships. There was an explosion right next to Qui-Gon which flung he and Obi-Wan opposite directions. The explosion knocked the Padawan out cold and dazed the Jedi Master. The next thing he was aware of he was being dragged out from under some wreckage by rough, urgent hands. Some of the pirates, mistaking the fallen Jedi for one of their own motley assortment of comrades, hauled him out of the rubble. Looking around desperately for his apprentice Qui-Gon caught sight of Vu Kaa’s back as he carried Obi-Wan out of the bay, towards the escape pods.
“Vu Kaa!” he called, and he was almost certain that the other Jedi had heard him, how could he have not? But Vu Kaa did not hesitate for even a moment. Before Qui-Gon could follow, he felt the hands of the pirates on his arms, tugging at him, urging him toward the air locks a mere few meters away. He struggled with them for a moment, then the lights went out. From the way his head ached he guessed that they had deemed clubbing what they thought was their bewildered fellow brigand a faster way to gain his compliance than arguing with him.
It was indeed an odd twist of fate that had saved his life, but where was he now? Surely the pirates had realized their mistake by this time, depending on what ‘this time’ was. Questions swirled in his mind. Where was Obi-Wan? Was he all right? Why had Vu Kaa left him to what could very probably have been (or still might be for that matter) his death? Reaching out with the Force, he searched for his Padawan, but could not find him. He did not think he was dead, it didn’t feel quite like that. They were simply too far apart for Qui-Gon to feel him, and for some reason, Obi-Wan was not reaching out to look for him.
Well, if he couldn’t get any questions answered that way he would have to open his eyes and see where he was. Even the thought of so small a motion seemed exhausting to the weary Jedi. At last he overcame his fatigue and forced his eyelids open. He found that he was lying flat on his back on what felt like a cold, hard table in a dimly lit room of indeterminate size. His shirt and tunic were gone, and he found that his wrist and ankles were strapped quite securely to the table he lay on. He could not move. So, they had discovered their mistake then.
“Ah, he’s waking up,” he heard an unpleasant voice on his right say.
“Good,” someone, also out of sight, on his left replied. “Trog will be pleased.”
Qui-Gon did not have to wait long to find out who Trog was. Not many minuets later, a huge Togorian entered his line of sight. It was true that to the untrained eye, many humanoids of the same race looked alike, but even so, this Togorian struck Qui-Gon as remotely familiar somehow, with his dark hair and flashing green eyes.
The Togorian pushed his face right into Qui-Gon’s, leering at him evilly.
“You don’t know me Jedi,” the pirate rasped, “But I know you. You killed my brother a year ago. Do you remember Jedi?!” Trog drew his arm back suddenly and punched down hard, socking his captive in the stomach. The force of it took Qui-Gon’s breath away. As he struggled to regain the air he needed, Trog grabbed a hand-full of his hair, and pulled his head up, off the table. “That worthless mining ship, the Monument, do you remember?!” the Togorian nearly screamed, slamming the Jedi’s head back against the table and bringing it up again.
Yes, Qui-Gon remembered very well, the whole, ill-fated trip. Not a thing had gone right from the beginning. Being attacked and boarded by pirates was merely one more incident amidst the chaos that that trip had become, albeit, one that very nearly got him killed. The particular Togorian that Qui-Gon felt sure Trog was referring to was the former captain of the crew that had attacked the Monument on its way to Bandomeer. The pirate captain had come very close to taking Qui-Gon’s life that day, and had wounded the Jedi badly with his vibro-axe. It would have been Qui-Gon who did not survive the encounter, had not a young woman named Clat’Ha stepped in and blown the pirate captain’s head off. In point of fact, it was she, not Qui-Gon who killed Trog’s brother. Whoever Trog had gotten his information from had obviously gotten the facts a trifle garbled, but Qui-Gon did not imagine that trying to explain that would do any good.
Trog slammed his captive’s head back once more, making bright flashes explode across Qui-Gon’s vision. “Not everyone died that day Jedi. Some lived to tell the tale, and when I heard what happened I swore a blood-oath that one day I would avenge his death. Now, fate has granted me that opportunity.” He grinned, showing Qui-Gon all his teeth.
“Padawan,” Vu Kaa halted Obi-Wan in the middle of his lightsaber drill. “This is no good.”
Obi-Wan extinguished his blade and wiped the perspiration from his brow. “I’m sorry Master. What did I do wrong?”
“It’s not that. You preformed the exercise satisfactorily. It’s us. We do not yet seem to have the proper kind of connection between us. If we cannot connect, my teaching and your efforts will both be in vain. Open your mind to me Obi-Wan, let us see if we cannot find the path to each other.” Vu Kaa wondered if he were pushing the boy too fast, it had only been three days since the decimation of the Reliant. Although Obi-Wan had greatly impressed the older Jedi with the focus and determination that he showed to continue his training, he was still grieving deeply and Vu Kaa could feel it. It seemed that hardly five minutes could pass without the boy’s thoughts returning to his former Master. This irritated Vu Kaa, but he tried to be patient, soon enough he would make the boy forget. The first step to that, or anything for that matter, was to be able to get inside Obi-Wan’s head. This he could not do unless the apprentice chose to let him.
“Come here Padawan,” he patted the space before him and Obi-Wan knelt obediently.
The apprentice’s heart still seemed to cry every time he heard a voice that was not Qui-Gon’s call him by that name. Obi-Wan felt strangely hesitant to open up to Vu Kaa. He chided himself for his reluctance and forced his mind to relax and remove its guard. This was his Master after all. If he could not trust him, whom could he trust? He felt Vu Kaa enter his mind, but it did not feel the same as when Qui-Gon would in past. Vu Kaa was looking, but not sharing much of himself in return. It was almost a one-way connection, with all the giving on the Padawan’s side.
“Of course it doesn’t feel the same,” Vu Kaa chided him in his head. “Do two people ever feel the same? You must stop comparing he and I; we are different, which is as should be. We are different, and we teach differently. You must learn to follow my style now. I know it is difficult to change midstream, but I think you are strong enough to make the shift.”
“Yes, sir,” Obi-Wan agreed mentally.
“Yes, what?” Vu Kaa demanded a trifle sharply.
“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan corrected quickly. Somehow, it was even harder to use that term in his mind than it was with his mouth.
“Oh Obi-Wan, I have so much to teach you, if only we can reach a connection...”
Obi-Wan hesitated, but Vu Kaa had almost invited the question. “Master? I can’t feel you.”
“That is because you’re not open enough. Show me the paths through your mind, take me through them.”
Obi-Wan balked uncertainly. Qui-Gon had never required such a thing of him; but then again, it had never been necessary. They had been connected since before they ever officially became Master and Padawan, even before Qui-Gon had wanted any kind of connection or attachment with him. Yet, he knew it did not always happen that way. Is this what Masters and Padawans usually needed to do to bond? He did not know.
“I told you to quit comparing us,” Vu Kaa snapped impatiently. “Don’t you trust me?” Now he sounded hurt. “And if you don’t, then what good is any of this? If you won’t trust me, than I cannot possibly begin to teach you.”
“Forgive me Master,” Obi-Wan apologized, sorry to have kindled such emotions in his mentor. He proceeded to show Vu Kaa all the doorways to his mind and the paths that lay beyond, yet as he did so, he felt strangely naked and exposed. He was revealing things very personal to him, things that made him vulnerable. After this, there would be nothing Vu Kaa did not know about him; no doorway that could remain closed to him. But then again, that was how it should be, shouldn’t it?
Several times, Obi-Wan hesitated, only to be urged, no, pushed on again by Vu Kaa’s silent will. When they were done, Obi-Wan felt exhausted.
“Now let me show you something,” Vu Kaa offered. He did not open his mind entirely, but he did allow Obi-Wan to see certain thoughts, knowledge and desires. Obi-Wan found him to be incredibly knowledgeable, perhaps more so than anyone he’d ever met before, but not all of what he saw made sense, and not all of it was comfortable.
Running especially thick throughout was strong desire. Desire for more knowledge and desire for more control. There was nothing wrong with that per se. Jedi were always seeking for more knowledge, and better control of oneself, and yet...
“There is usually more than one way to accomplish a goal,” Vu Kaa was saying.
Obi-Wan had heard this before.
“But sometimes there is more than one goal to be accomplished, don’t forget that.”
As suddenly as it had come, the rush of sharing ceased, leaving Obi-Wan more drained than before, and also confused. “I don’t understand Master,” he said aloud, raising his eyes to meet Vu Kaa’s.
“Don’t worry my young Padawan, you will, you will,” he assured. “But enough for now. Everything is right between us.”
Obi-Wan nodded, but he wasn’t so sure. If everything was right, then why did it feel so wrong?
“Disturbed over the findings you are,” Yoda interrupted Mace Windu’s thoughts.
“Yes,” the bald man responded slowly. “They found no remains of either of them, not their weapons, DNA particles, nothing. It’s as if they vanished, or... weren’t there.”
“Feel right this does not,” Yoda agreed. “Trust Vu Kaa, I do not.”
“What are we going to do?”
The elderly Jedi shook his head. “For now, wait we must. Patient we must be, lead us, the Force will.”
Dust swirled about the two figures as they stepped out of the ship and onto the parched landscape of Syridan. “There is a dispute over water rights and usage,” Vu Kaa briefed Obi-Wan as they made their way towards a large adobe building in the distance. “The resource in questions is claimed by both parties and neither is willing to share with the other.”
Syridan was only lightly populated, and mostly peaceful, but the people were a stubborn race and once they had an idea in their heads they were impossible to reason with. Obi-Wan soon found this out when they met with the representatives of the arguing factions. The calmly stubborn Syridians would never revert to anything so hostile as warfare, but they were perfectly prepared to sit there and stare each other down until everyone died of thirst. It was ridicules. Discussion seemed useless and futile. You just could not reason with these people. Obi-Wan wondered what Vu Kaa would do, and was surprised when he found out.
“Good people, there is no need for all this,” Vu Kaa said persuasively. Going into their minds he implanted a desire to listen to him, to do what he said. The contumacious Syridians immediately latched on to the suggestion, clinging to it just as surely as they had their argument before.
“There is plenty of water for everyone. You will be only too happy to share with each other. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, yes, of course it is,” they agreed readily.
“You will set up guidelines for how and when each division is to access the water.”
“Of course, it is well thought of.”
Obi-Wan watched in amazement. He did not know exactly what had turned the tide. He suspected Vu Kaa had used some kind of mental suggestion on them, but he had not been able to see or feel what kind. If Vu Kaa had used mind power on them, then it had been directed specifically at them, and the padawan could feel nothing. Would Vu Kaa use his strength to influence them in such a way he wondered? Was it right? Things moved quite well after that and the situation was wrapped up swiftly.
“Master?” Obi-Wan ventured on the way back to the ship.
“You wonder at the way the conflict was resolved,” Vu Kaa did not wait for Obi-Wan to voice his question, but spoke it for him.
Obi-Wan felt strangely ashamed for having questions at all and said nothing.
“Tell me Padawan, which is more wrong, to use the power one has to resolve a problem, or to have the power to do so and do nothing?” Vu Kaa fixed him with a steady gaze from his sharp black eyes.
Obi-Wan made no reply. The answer seemed obvious, but Qui-Gon had taught him that what seemed obvious was not always the best choice, and then there were all his Temple lessons about the strict rules that guarded the way a Jedi could use mind control.
Before the issue could become a point of contention, both of their attentions were diverted. The Force issued a sudden warning and they just managed to dodge as a large, cat-like creature with long teeth and razor sharp claws sprung at them from almost out of nowhere. Obi-Wan hit the earth rolling and sprang up like a coil, out of harms reach. From the reading he had done about Syridan on the way here, he recognized the beast as a Pir’dr, a vicious carnivore, native to the planet. Something else from what he had read popped into his head and he only just managed to duck away again as a second beast lunged for him. Pir’drs always hunted in packs.
He ignited his lightsaber. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Vu Kaa had already done the same. Six of the huge brutes were on the scene now, alternately circling and pouncing at their intended prey. Obi-Wan cut down one beast, stopping him in mid leap, but the dagger-like claws of another tore his shoulder from behind, sending a wave of pain through him that threw him off his center.
Vu Kaa’s white blade swung close by Obi-Wan’s head, dispatching one of the Pir’drs before he could sink his teeth into the apprentice’s neck. Without braking step Vu Kaa quickly whirled to fence off another that sought to come at him from behind.
The remaining Pir’drs gathered themselves for their next onslaught and so did the Jedi. As they stood, back to back, Obi-Wan opened himself to the Force to guide his actions. Another miscalculation could be fatal. He felt it flow through him strongly, pulsing through his veins... He was startled by the intensity of it. It was as if someone was channeling it directly to him, he had never felt so strong. His adrenaline surged as the remaining Pir’drs made their move. The massive beasts flung themselves simultaneously at the two Jedi. Obi-Wan’s lightsaber cut through the air, striking home again and again as he twisted and turned to an unheard rhythm.
Vu Kaa felt confidence radiating from the apprentice. That was good. He continued to direct a good deal of his power towards Obi-Wan, making the boy’s chemicals surge and his mind feel sure.
Obi-Wan’s lightsaber severed one of the Pir’drs in half and it’s blood stained his hands. A strange feeling of satisfaction that he had no control over washed over him.
“No, don’t stop to think! Let your emotions go!” Vu Kaa used the connection he had to Obi-Wan to control his body and pump up the feeling of aggression.
Obi-Wan fought viciously, unlike he ever had before, dispatching the remaining Pir’drs almost by himself. When it was all over he flicked his lightsaber off. Victory felt so good. Yet, a part of him was concerned. He expected Vu Kaa to remonstrate him for the ferocity of his attack, and for the way he had felt during the encounter. To his surprise however, Vu Kaa praised him.
“Well done my young apprentice,” he smiled at the boy. “You are becoming stronger by the day.”
Obi-Wan smiled. Vu Kaa’s pleasure with him felt good.
Vu Kaa turned. “Let us go back to the ship now. We have so much to do.”
“Slave!” Trog bellowed. “Slave! Get over here!” A tug on his chain brought Qui-Gon abruptly up to the Togorian’s side. Heavy chains ran between the manacles on the Jedi’s wrists and the collar about his neck, connecting into a long chain that Trog kept clipped to his belt at all times.
“Tell the dredge over there to fetch me a drink,” he ordered, shoving the Jedi Master towards the other slave in question. She was only on the other side of the room and Trog could very well have told her himself, but he liked ordering his newest ‘prize’ around. He was the only pirate that he knew of in the entire galaxy who owned a Jedi slave, and he could think of no better way to make this man pay for killing his brother than the slow torture and eventual death that comprised a slave’s life here.
Qui-Gon swallowed the temper that would have liked to rise in him and relayed the request. He needed to keep his mind clear and free of distractions like anger if he was going to find a way out of this. A jerk on the chain brought him quickly back to the pirate’s side, like a puppet on a string.
Trog backhanded Qui-Gon, nearly knocking him down. “You move too slow slave,” he sneered, taking hold of Qui-Gon’s bare arm and letting his claws dig into the human’s flesh.
“You would move much faster if you were wearing this much chain,” Qui-Gon bit back exactly the same kind of response he would have severely remonstrated his apprentice for giving. So much for Jedi Masters being perfect. He wondered where that fallacy ever got started anyway.
“Maybe you’d like another stay in the Dre’lb,” Trog taunted, running one claw over a nasty welt on the Jedi’s shoulder.
Qui-Gon had already spent some time in that room of horrors and was not anxious for a second visit, but he said nothing.
Trog kicked his feet out from under him, knocking the tall man to his knees. “You sure are a quiet one,” he accused. “In these past two weeks I don’t think I’ve heard five words out of you.” Trog kicked him in the ribs.
Qui-Gon resisted the urge to bite his lip. “Two weeks, three days, fourteen hours,” he mentally corrected. He had been counting.
Trog kicked him again. “Tell me, are you dumb as well as stupid?”
“Patience,” Qui-Gon told himself sternly. “I’ve got to be patient!” But it was not easy. He knew he could take Trog in a fight, but there were always too many other pirates present. Besides, and most importantly, he did not yet have a plan for how he could get off the pirate’s ship once he did escape, and attempting such a thing without a solid strategy would be worse than suicide.
Trog kept him by his side at all times, except when he slept, at which time Qui-Gon was locked in a guarded cell and given sedative shots to knock him out. Trog was taking no chances with Qui-Gon, he knew there was a reason no one kept Jedi slaves. He was willing to take the risk, but not without strong precautions. Even so, Qui-Gon was slowly learning the ways of the pirate vessel. He was gradually memorizing the corridors and bays and beginning to formulate a plan. It was too slow a process for his liking, but there was nothing he could do to speed it up. So, as he often told Obi-Wan, for the present all he could do was wait and be patient.
Obi-Wan... Where was he? Was he all right? “Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan,” he stretched out silently, trying to contact his Padawan for the hundredth time. This time however, he thought he felt a faint touch of Obi-Wan’s presence, but it was quickly cut off from him. That both disturbed and worried Qui-Gon. Their relationship was still so relatively new that he did not yet know what to consider normal. Was someone intentionally trying to keep them apart? Or was it simply the physical distance that separated them? He did not know, but he was filled with a new sense of urgency that he must escape the pirate ship, and soon.
Obi-Wan fumbled, his concentration broken. The lead balls he had been levitating crashed to the ground and he missed his step, rolling to his knees. “Master?” he called, reaching out, but he felt nothing. Had he imagined the momentary, familiar brush of Qui-Gon’s mind? It must be so, but it had felt so real!
Vu Kaa clenched his fists, quickly shutting the call away from them. So, Qui-Gon had not died then. Well, it did not matter; the boy was his now.
“I am your Master!” Obi-Wan heard Vu Kaa rebuke him sharply in his mind.
“Yes, Master, but what I just felt...”
“You should not have allowed your concentration to be so easily broken Padawan,” Vu Kaa remonstrated aloud. “Continue with the drill.”
“But-” Obi-Wan started to protest.
Without warning, Vu Kaa hauled off and slapped the young man across the face. “Don’t ever talk back to me.”
Obi-Wan stumbled back a step, stunned. Vu Kaa had accompanied the physical blow with a mental one; leaving both his cheek and mind smarting. “I-I’m sorry Master, I didn’t mean – I mean I-” Obi-Wan stammered, taken aback by Vu Kaa’s reaction. He really did not know what to say. Certainly everyone’s methods of instruction were different, he had learned under the guidance of enough different teachers during his years at the Temple to know that, but neither they, nor Qui-Gon had ever found the need to use physical discipline on him before.
Another stinging slap caught Obi-Wan off-guard, jerking his head to the side.
“You disobey me Padawan, I have told you more than once not to compare us.”
Obi-Wan wiped his bleeding mouth, he wished Vu Kaa would not listen in on his thoughts like that.
“You will kneel and you will make apology to me for your behavior,” Vu Kaa commanded sternly.
Part of Obi-Wan rebelled at making penance to the other Jedi when he could not truly understand what he had done wrong, but another part of him told him that he must obey his Master, or he would be guilty of a true transgression. Forcing himself to kneel at Vu Kaa’s feet, he bowed his head apologetically. “Forgive me Master. I am sorry I spoke back to you.”
“You are forgiven,” Vu Kaa placed his hand on the apprentice’s head, his voice becoming warm again. “Obi-Wan, it has been almost three weeks now, you must let go. I know this is difficult, but you must put him out of your mind all together.” The older Jedi seemed to be reaching some kind of decision. “I forbid you to think of him again,” he finished.
“Master?” Obi-Wan’s head jerked up in shock. This was impossible! This he could not do!
“It’s for your own good Padawan,” Vu Kaa said decidedly.
“But Master, I cannot!” Obi-Wan protested, forgetting that he had just gotten finished apologizing for talking back. “If I put him out of my mind and heart, I lose everything he taught me and I dishonor his memory!”
Obi-Wan grabbed his head as Vu Kaa’s disapproval shot through it with a stab of pain.
“You dishonor it now by your lack of control,” Vu Kaa condemned him calmly. “When some time has passed, and you have learned better control and obedience, then it will be safe for you to think of him again. Until then, you will obey me in this matter. Is that understood?” Vu Kaa sent another wave of pain through Obi-Wan’s mind when he did not answer.
Obi-Wan winced and grabbed his head again.
“I said is that understood?” he repeated quietly.
“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan whispered, barely audibly.
“Good,” Vu Kaa’s voice was calm, soothing. “I do not like to cause you pain, nor is it my wish to seem harsh. Someday you will understand. I am not a hard man Obi-Wan, I know this isn’t easy for you, but it is best for you,” he reasoned gently. “If you obey me, you will not find me a hard Master, Padawan. But I believe in discipline and I will punish disobedience,” he warned quietly. “I will punish it very sternly. But that won’t be necessary, will it? I think we understand each other, you and I. You may return to the exercise.”
Obi-Wan did, but inside he was confused, oh so very confused. He felt that his last link with Qui-Gon had been stripped away, and in so doing, he had lost a piece of himself. Perhaps Vu Kaa was right, but something did not feel right... yet every time he tried to think about his doubts a calm hush, like a lullaby seemed to come over his mind, making him want to trust Vu Kaa, want to please him.
“That’s it Padawan,” Vu Kaa encouraged. “Concentrate, concentrate.”
“Concentrate...” Qui-Gon told himself. Click. Click. Through the Force, he turned the locks of his chains, opening and closing them. That was not a problem. He looked over at Trog, who was busy showing copious amounts of attention to a Togorian female who was in turn flirting heavily with the pirate leader. She was admiring one of his more resent trophies, Qui-Gon’s lightsaber. Trog wore it on a chain about his neck, along with a Rodian scull, a braided Wookiee scalp and some other object that Qui-Gon did not recognize and whose origin he did not care to guess at. He could get the lightsaber too, when the time was right. But how he was going to get off the ship... that was still a puzzler. All the pirate’s smaller vessels and escape pods were tied into the mothership’s computer and could not be activated without permission from the bridge. Besides, none of them had hyperspace capabilities and without that, the bigger ship could simply blast him out of the sky.
“Captain Trog,” one of his subordinates interrupted the amorous mood of the pair.
“What?” Trog snapped, obviously displeased at the intrusion.
“The smuggler, Ralla is here to see you,” came the cowering reply.
“Ralla? Oh, yes,” Trog apparently recognized the name. “Very well, I’ll see you later pretty,” he crooned the last part at his former object of interest and she tittered appreciatively. Trog strode out of the room, the chain necessitating that Qui-Gon follow.
“Ha, come on dog,” Trog yanked the chain as if the Jedi were his personal pet on a leash.
Qui-Gon remained as impassive as ever on the outside, inside of course, it was another story. He chaffed bitterly at his captivity. His body ached everywhere from Trog’s constant abuse and his strong spirit revolted at the treatment. He was also aware that his time was running out. Once he was no longer a novelty item to the despicable pirate captain, his usefulness was over and he did not doubt that Trog would kill him.
The woman who had identified herself as Ralla, a semi-well known spice smuggler, waited for Trog. Her long brown hair was done up in a sweeping bun, pulled tight against her head and shiny gold Vanishan beauty streaks ran across both cheeks at opposing angles. She wore a blaster strapped to her thigh, yet she did not quite possess the hip tilt peculiar to sharpshooters.
“Hey there big guy, long time no see,” she purred smoothly when Trog’s massive form came through the door.
“Too long Ralla, too long,” he agreed with a canny wariness, which showed that he respected, if not necessarily trusted, the spice runner.
Ralla’s eyes flittered across the human man that followed Trog unwillingly into the room. He wore nothing from the waist up and his bare chest and back showed the signs of repeated cruelty. His long brown hair was tangled and his neck and wrists raw from the chains, but his face held a quiet strength that gave no quarter to defeat.
Outwardly, Ralla’s expression ever faltered, but inside she had to suppress a flicker of recognition.
At first glance, all Qui-Gon noticed was the smuggler’s garish front and the persona she was projecting, but then he caught her eyes; just for an instant, but it was enough.
“Depa?” he thought in surprise. “Depa Billaba?” Dolled up in smuggler’s garb Depa looked markedly different from the quiet girl who favored clean, plain lines and modest colors that he had known when she was Mace Windu’s padawan. He reminded himself that she was a padawan no longer, but a Knight, and soon to be a Master as her own padawan approached knighthood. Had the years flown by so fast? He could still remember the day Mace had rescued her from the Pirates that killed the rest of her family and brought her back, a six-month-old baby, to the Jedi Temple to be trained. He had been with Mace that day and had known that Mace would take her as padawan from the moment he held her in his arms... and look at her now. It almost made him feel old.
“What’s this Trog? A new trophy?” she glanced calmly in Qui-Gon’s direction, but Qui-Gon could tell that she remembered him as well.
“Indeed, do you like him? He’s a Jedi you know,” Trog laughed, flaunting the lightsaber about his neck.
“Really?” Depa raised her eyebrows. “They’re not easy to catch.” She circled around Qui-Gon, pretending to be looking him over. “Master Jinn, we thought you were dead!” she thought at him without losing her demeanor.
“Well I’m not,” Qui-Gon replied, also without outward change. “Yet.”
“Quite an interesting specimen,” Depa commented coolly to Trog. “I’ve never seen one up close before.”
“I’m glad you approve. Now, getting on to business, what is this I hear about a missing Glitterstim shipment?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say it was missing exactly Captain, it’s just waiting for the right person to find it,” she replied coyly, rubbing her thumb across her index finger suggestively.
“Ah,” Trog grinned. “Indeed.”
Obi-Wan sprawled on the floor, his ears ringing.
Vu Kaa stood over him, shaking his head. “You disappoint me Padawan,” he reprimanded softly. “This persistent rebellion is unworthy of you. You’re not even trying.”
It was true. Try as he might to convince himself he was wrong, Obi-Wan could not seem to put any real effort behind putting his former Master out of his mind. If that meant he was rebellious, well then he was. He made no apology for it.
Vu Kaa felt the boy’s defiance and frowned deeply. “Very well, I see this is a lesson you must learn in another fashion. Get up,” he ordered. Crossing the room he returned with a long, thin strip of flexi-steel ribbing. “Hold out your hands,” he commanded the boy, “Palms up.”
Obi-Wan reluctantly complied. He was not sure what Vu Kaa intended. Before he had a chance to figure it out, Vu Kaa raised the ribbing and let it fall sharply, cutting a painful red welt across Obi-Wan’s outstretched hands.
Obi-Wan yelped in surprise and pain, pulling his hands away quickly.
Vu Kaa’s face was immovably stern. “I said hold them out,” he commanded in a tone that left no room for argument. “Provoke me further and I will report your behavior to the Council.” Vu Kaa had struck home and he knew it. The last thing Obi-Wan wanted was for the Council to think that perhaps training him was a mistake. He had gotten off to such a rough start in the beginning, if Vu Kaa started telling them that he still could not control himself . . .
Obi-Wan bowed his head and held out his hands.
Vu Kaa laid into him without emotion, delivering the beating with perfunctory calmness.
Obi-Wan bit his lip against the pain. He tried to block it out, but felt Vu Kaa in his mind, not allowing him to do so. “No, Padawan,” he silently remonstrated. “You must not shut this off.”
Vu Kaa did not let up until his strokes drew blood. When he finally stopped, Obi-Wan pulled his hurting hands up close to him, trying to deal with the burning pain that was emanating from them.
Vu Kaa laid the ribbing aside, placing a hand on the boy’s hunched shoulder. “There,” he said sadly. “Now you think I’m a terrible man. But I’m not Obi-Wan,” he turned the Padawan around so that he could look in his eyes. “I’m not. I told you I would punish disobedience, please don’t make me do anything like this again,” vu Kaa let the Force carry his words into Obi-Wan’s mind, willing him to feel sincerity and warmth.
Obi-Wan felt ashamed that he had pushed Vu Kaa to these drastic measures. What was wrong with him?
“Let this act as a reminder,” Vu Kaa laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Every time you move your hands, you will remember the need for obedience and focus.”
Obi-Wan gingerly curled and uncurled his raw fingers. The motion set his already hurting hands on fire. Yes, it would certainly remind him.
“Here,” Vu Kaa handed him his lightsaber. The usually comforting feel of the handle in his grip was now an excruciating one.
Making him remove his shirt and tunic, Vu Kaa turned the cabin temperature down to nearly freezing and had him drill for several hours that way.
His body freezing, his hands on fire, Obi-Wan had no strength left to think of anything other than the moves, the Force, and Vu Kaa’s instructions, which was precisely what Vu Kaa wanted.
Trog and Depa were deep in negotiations when another pirate interrupted, tapping Trog on the shoulder and whispering in his ear.
“Oh ho!” he exclaimed in surprise, a wicked grin spreading across his face.
Qui-Gon had tried to hear what was said, but it had been whispered too soft. Yet he did not like the change he felt in the pirate captain.
Depa felt it too, but kept her calm. She had not maintained this charade for the past six months by being easily flustered. Her dislike of pirates was deep rooted and strong, so she had jumped at the chance to help bring down this group when it was offered.
“Well Ralla, or whatever your name really is, it’s a pity you’re not on the level, your plan has the markings of genius,” Trog said, pressing a button, which called half a dozen pirates into the room.
“Trog darling, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Do you want to make a deal or not? I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it’s unbecoming. If you’re interested say so, if not I won’t waste my time.” Depa rose out of her chair.
“Oh no, I don’t think you’re going anywhere spy! Except maybe the interrogation room!”
Three of Trog’s men went for her with their blaster’s drawn. In one quick movement Depa whipped her lightsaber from where it was hidden up her sleeve. The purple-blue blade quickly parried a volley of blaster bolts aimed at her.
More pirates came running, attempting to box Depa in the corner. Fighting the ones before her, she did not sense the one who crept up behind her until it was too late. Too late her senses screamed the warning, even as she knew she could never turn in time.
The pirate aimed his blaster squarely at her back and squeezed the trigger. The shot went wild as the surprised pirate found the weapon torn out of his hands by an invisible grip.
Qui-Gon sent the blaster skittering across the room. Unhooking his chain from Trog’s belt through the Force, he whirled it around, snapping it like a whip. Wrapping around ankles and scattering blasters, Qui-Gon used the chain as a highly effective weapon. Somersaulting through the air over Trog’s head, Qui-Gon used the Force to rip his lightsaber from around the pirate’s neck, calling it to his hand. Landing sure footed behind the pirate, he unlocked his chains and sent them snaking about the Captain’s neck and arms, brining him down.
“Depa, let’s go!” he called urgently, igniting his blade and backing towards the doorway. Twirling over the heads of the few pirates left standing, Depa joined him and together they ran down the hall in what Qui-Gon hoped was the direction of Depa’s ship.
Alarms wailed and all the doorways started vomiting brigands, choking the Jedi’s path. Leaping, twisting, turning, the two Jedi desperately fought to make their way through a raging sea of enemies.
Obi-Wan shivered. Even with three blankets, he couldn’t seem to get warm. The hours of bitter cold seemed to have drained his body of all it’s warmth, and yet there was more to it...
He tried to pull the blankets closer around him and his hands screamed at him. They hurt so much...
Loneliness like he had never known gnawed his heart and a darkness deeper than that of the night about him pressed at his soul. Had he been a normal boy, he might have wept for the sheer weight that hung over his heart, but he was a Jedi, he told himself, and he would not cry again. He was not sure he could have anyway. All his tears seemed to have frozen up, turning to an icy ball of pain, confusion and fear inside him.
The hall before them was completely impassable. No way they could make it that way. Depa felt Qui-Gon’s hand on her arm.
“Where is your ship?” he asked silently.
“In the hanger,” she replied, letting him see the image of the bay she referred to in her mind.
Without hesitation she followed him down a side passage.
Qui-Gon led her through a mind-boggling array of twists and turns, corkscrewing through a confusing tangle of halls and passages at top speed. He had not spent the past three weeks being dragged around this ship without memorizing its layout. Putting that knowledge to good use now, he brought them out of the dizzying maze and into the bay where Depa’s ship waited. The sleek little vessel was surrounded by pirates, but although the number of bodies at the bottom of the ramp spoke of their efforts, they had not yet been able to subdue the young Twi’Lek Jedi who held the entryway.
Qui-Gon recognized the girl as Mal’ah Rurr, Depa’s Padawan.
Charging the group from behind, Qui-Gon and Depa broke through them, charging up the ramp.
“I’ll hold them here, get this ship in the air!” Qui-Gon told them, taking a wide defense stance at the top of the entry ramp. The two women responded quickly as Qui-Gon fenced blaster bolts left and right.
Depa raced to the cockpit, flinging herself into the pilot’s seat. She punched in the take-off sequence, glad that Mal’ah had taken the precaution of keeping the engines warmed. If they had had to wait for the engines to be ready they never would have survived. As it was, the ship responded quickly to her touch, lifting off the floor of the larger ship’s hanger bay.
Mal’ah cycled the hatches, and the ship’s landing ramp pulled shut in front of Qui-Gon, the last several laser bolts impacting harmlessly on its resilient exterior.
“Come on,” Mal’ah called to him. “Master Depa needs a copilot and I’ve got to man the weapons.”
Qui-Gon joined Depa in the cockpit as they blasted their way out of the hanger. The bay doors were sliding shut, but Depa gunned the engine of the little ship, rocketing it through the tiny gap before it clicked shut.
Laser fire rocked the little ship violently. A warning-light flashed, showing that their aft shield was gone.
Sending the ship into a spin, Depa dodged the pirate ship’s cannons and Mal’ah sprayed strategic waves of laser blasts while Qui-Gon punched the hyperspace coordinates into the Navi-computer. As the brilliant white streaks of hyperspace exploded before them, all three Jedi breathed a long sigh of relief.
“Well, that could have gone worse,” Depa breathed, leaning back against her seat. “Thank you for your help,” she turned to Qui-Gon. “I almost didn’t make it back there.”
“My pleasure, I assure you,” Qui-Gon replied, smiling wryly. “I hope this hasn’t seriously set back your mission.”
“Not really,” Depa shrugged wiping the gold vanash off her cheeks with her sleeve. “Mal’ah, did you get that tracking device implanted before all the commotion broke out?” she asked her apprentice.
Mal’ah, who had just entered the cockpit, flopped down into the chair before the communications console. “Commotion, is that what you call it?” the Twi’Lek gave her head tentacles a shake. “Yes, Master, I did,” she got quickly back to business. “The Republic forces will now be able to follow them wherever they go. They will no doubt, lead them right to their base.” The pride in the young woman’s voice told that she had picked up her teacher’s loathing of pirates.
Qui-Gon smiled softly. Padawan’s picked up so much from the Masters. Padawans. Obi-Wan...
“Are you all right Master Jinn?” Mal’ah inquired a second later when she took a moment to actually look at him. She had to struggle to recall his name, she really knew him only by sight and reputation.
“Better now,” he assured, tossing Depa a mischievous grin. “Depa, I know it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, but I had no idea that you had... changed so much.” He could not resist teasing the girl he had known since she was a baby.
Depa threw him a withering glance. “You’ve looked better too.”
Qui-Gon had to admit that point.
“No offence Master Jinn,” Mal’ah broke in, her curiosity getting the best of her. “But what happened to you? We all thought you were dead.”
“So I heard,” Qui-Gon became serious again. “I suppose it was Vu Kaa who told you that?”
“No us directly,” Depa took slight exception. “He told the Council and we heard it through the grapevine.”
“I see,” Qui-Gon stroked his beard thoughtfully, still trying to figure out Vu Kaa’s motive in all this. “Well, I’m very much alive as you can see. What’s happened with Obi-Wan, seeing as how everyone thought that I was gone?” he asked the question that was foremost on his mind.
Depa looked sober, Mal’ah looked puzzled. “But – didn’t you, I mean-”
Depa interrupted her padawan quickly. “Qui-Gon, Vu Kaa told the Council that you were both dead.”
Qui-Gon was shocked.
“I’m sorry,” Depa started, misinterpreting Qui-Gon’s reaction.
“No,” Qui-Gon shook his head, calmly interrupting her. “You don’t understand. I know he is not. I’ve felt him, although I have been unable to make contact.” Besides, Qui-Gon had seen Vu Kaa carry the boy out, so if Vu Kaa had made it, Obi-Wan had. Vu Kaa was lying, but why? “Depa, I don’t wish to interfere with your mission, but I’ve got to get back to Coruscant right away.”
“No problem,” Depa agreed easily. “Same place we’re headed actually. What does all this mean?”
“I don’t know,” Qui-Gon’s brows creased in concern. “But I intend to find out. I feel something is very wrong and I fear Obi-Wan may be in some kind of danger.”
The dusty hills of Syridan undulated like gracefully humping waves before them. Obi-Wan idly wondered how long they would stay here. Vu Kaa had told him that the Council did not think he was ready for another mission just yet, and they should stay on Syridan for a while while they continued his training. They lived on the ship and Vu Kaa used the time alone to put Obi-Wan through the intensive and strictly disciplined training he felt he needed to begin un-learning the things he had been taught by Qui-Gon and others. It was a slow process and Vu Kaa was not pleased with Obi-Wan’s progress.
Obi-Wan shuffled his boots slightly on the dusty earth. He was sorry that the Council had such questions about him, and determined to prove to them that he was going to carry through all right. He looked around. They did not leave the ship very often and he wondered where they were going. He wondered if they would see any more Syridians. It was with a bit of surprise that he realized that with the exception of their meeting with the Syridian leaders when they first arrived, he had not seen or spoken to another sentient since Vu Kaa had saved him from the Reliant. Vu Kaa called the Council regularly, or so he told him, but never while Obi-Wan was present.
Obi-Wan felt a little... lonely. He wondered why Vu Kaa never let him call the Council, or Yoda, or... well, he didn’t know anyone else. Qui-Gon had always made it clear that if he ever wanted, or needed to-
Obi-Wan caught himself too late, instinctively trying to put up a guard around his thoughts so that Vu Kaa wouldn’t hear that. The Jedi Master had done a good job of making the apprentice afraid to cross him.
Obi-Wan succeeded in as far as that Vu Kaa did not hear the offending thought, but he was immediately aware that Obi-Wan was blocking him out of his thoughts.
Reaching into the boy’s mind he pulled the block down. Obi-Wan could not put up a wall between them that would stay because he had shown Vu Kaa his mind, enabling the older Jedi to easily move around any barriers he tried to create. Vu Kaa turned sharply.
Obi-Wan braced for the blow he knew was coming and rolled with it, managing to keep his footing on the steeply sloping hill.
“Don’t ever try to keep me out of your thoughts Padawan,” Vu Kaa warned. “It is neither necessary, nor respectful.”
By now, Obi-Wan was used to being slapped when he did something that Vu Kaa strongly disapproved of; it was the Master’s way. Anger was wrong, but Obi-Wan never felt anger in Vu Kaa when he would strike him, just sternness and disappointment. Obi-Wan rubbed his cheek; he did not like Vu Kaa’s methods, but could not say they were wrong. Vu Kaa was so persuasive, and spoke with such intelligence and reason that he actually had Obi-Wan convinced it was entirely his fault when he lashed out at him.
“I’m sorry Master,” he apologized. He did a lot of that lately. It seemed to Obi-Wan that he was forever asking Vu Kaa’s pardon. It was a great point of frustration for him that he seemed to do so many things wrong. “What’s the matter with me?” he wondered. “Why can’t I seem to do anything right?”
“What were you trying to hide?” Vu Kaa was not about to let him off the spot that easily.
“Nothing, Master,” Obi-Wan cringed inside. Now he was lying to his Master. That went against everything he’d been taught, but he was afraid to tell the truth. Afraid? Oh no, that wasn’t right! Now he was letting fear guide him? Vu Kaa was right, he needed much discipline.
“Don’t lie to me Obi-Wan,” Vu Kaa said quietly.
Obi-Wan had to resist flinching at the pain that exploded in his head. “I-I was just wondering if I might contact the Temple,” Obi-Wan told half the truth. “Half a lie, is still a lie,” Qui-Gon’s words came back to haunt him.
“Why?” Vu Kaa wanted to know.
Obi-Wan felt foolish. He didn’t have a reason really. He was lonely, but he couldn’t very well tell Vu Kaa that. He was confused, but what about?
“No reason, really,” he said, flushing. “I was just thinking about it.”
“I see, and is that all you were thinking about?”
Obi-Wan looked at the ground. Dare he lie again? What did that make him? Besides, he had a feeling Vu Kaa knew the truth anyway. “No, Master,” he admitted softly. “I thought of Master Qui-Gon again. I did not mean to, but I did.” Obi-Wan felt ashamed. Not only had he disobeyed, he had lied about it, which was worse. He deserved to be punished.
Vu Kaa sighed heavily. “What am I supposed to do with you Obi-Wan?”
“I don’t know Master, I’m sorry.” Obi-Wan unconsciously rubbed his blistered hands. He was not anxious to go through anything like that again, but figured he probably deserved it.
“No, Obi-Wan, I am not going to punish you this time,” Vu Kaa answered his unspoken thought. “You are learning. You stopped as soon as you caught yourself. So, this time, we shall overlook it. But don’t try to shut me out again. All right?”
“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan nodded. He was relieved that Vu Kaa would not beat him again, but he did not feel good. The wrong he had done was not excusable, even if Vu Kaa excused it. Vu Kaa said he was learning, but learning what? All he felt like he was learning was fear and deceit, but that could not possibly be what Vu Kaa wanted to teach him, so he simply must not be trying hard enough.
Vu Kaa started walking again and Obi-Wan fell back in step.
Qui-Gon was always telling Obi-Wan to have patience, but at the moment he was finding it difficult to have any himself.
Mal’ah pulled herself out from under the panel she had been working on for more than an hour. Tossing her tools aside in disgust she rubbed her stiff neck. She felt Qui-Gon’s eyes on her, seeming to ask, “Well?”
“Sorry,” she shook her head, sending her head-tails bobbing. “One of those hits we took getting out completely fried the communications circuits. There’s nothing I can do to fix it, they’re just gone.”
“If you can’t fix it, no one can,” Depa came up behind them.
Mal’ah glowed slightly at the praise. “They’ll have to pull the whole thing out and install a new one,” she agreed, her tone sobering once more.
“So there’s no way to contact Coruscant?” Qui-Gon asked the obvious, hoping against reason for a different answer.
“Not a chance, I’m very sorry Master Jinn,” Mal’ah repeated.
“Don’t worry,” Depa laid one slim, pale hand on his strong shoulder. “We’ll be there soon, and you can speak with the Council in person. I’m sure they’ll be able to help you get this all sorted out.”
Qui-Gon laid one of his large hands over hers. “I hope so Depa. I hope so.”
Obi-Wan placed the last rock on the pile, without touching it.
“Good,” Vu Kaa approved. He could sense Obi-Wan’s boredom. These were after all rudimentary things that he had been able to do since he was a little child. “It is so easy to maneuver inanimate objects, yet it is an important basis, a basis of control,” he explained. He had his reasons for what he was doing. “But what about animate ones? That of course, must be handled differently. I believe you know about this. Watch.” He drew Obi-Wan’s attention to a small, horned lizard basking on a rock. Suddenly, the lizard jumped up and began running in a circle. “You know of course, how this is done?”
Obi-Wan nodded. He knew about mental suggestion and mind control. He had used it himself on more than one occasion when it had been necessary. He knew that the Force could have a strong influence on people, especially the weak minded, but it’s use only as a last resort was always stressed and Obi-Wan had always been careful.
“Sometimes, we must do this to protect others from harm, such as dangerous animals, or to secure the help of creatures too mindless to reason with. And sometimes it is necessary to influence sentients to the actions we need them to take. Let’s see you do it.”
It felt like Vu Kaa was going somewhere with all this, but where? Something about it troubled Obi-Wan, but he tried to ignore the nagging in the back of his mind and concentrated on the lizard. After all, it was hardly the first time he’d done something like this, although he had never done it without great need. He felt Vu Kaa release the creature’s mind into his hands.
Obi-Wan touched the small mind gently. “It’s all right little friend,” he soothed the frightened, uncomprehending animal softly, petting it with his thoughts. “Would you do something for me?”
The lizard paused, then executed several flips in the air.
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan released it, allowing it to return peacefully to its rock.
Vu Kaa nodded approvingly. Obi-Wan’s mind was strong, just as he had felt. He was a prime candidate for what Vu Kaa wanted to teach him. “Very good, only you left it too much room to refuse, you must command, not ask.”
Obi-Wan almost said that that was not what he had been taught, but kept himself from doing so. That would accomplish nothing but to make Vu Kaa upset. “I am doing the teaching now,” he could just hear Vu Kaa scold.
Vu Kaa was looking intently at the Padawan. “I have so much to teach you Obi-Wan,” he said, as if sizing up the boy’s readiness.
Obi-Wan had heard him say this many times, but now, it seemed as if he meant something more by it.
“But I wonder if you are ready? Are you ready Obi-Wan?” he asked searchingly.
“For what Master?”
“For what I can teach you, for the next step. It’s not easy, but once learned, there will be nothing you can’t do. Are you ready to advance that far? I think you are, you are strong Padawan, you will do well.”
“If you think I am ready Master, then I am, and I will do my best,” Obi-Wan agreed, although he was not yet sure what exactly it was that Vu Kaa was going to teach him.
“Good, good.” Vu Kaa was pleased. “Come,” he crooked his finger at the young Jedi, leading him up to the crest of the hill. “Do you see down there?” he asked, pointing down into the valley. Below them some Syridian herdsmen watched over their flocks. “Sentients are harder to persuade. Most of the time, direct physical proximity and vocal input is required to direct actions. Perhaps you have done this?”
Obi-Wan nodded. He had.
“Good,” Vu Kaa seemed pleased. “Try doing it, the way you know, from here, without any of those things to aid you. See if you can get the reed player to change his tune.” Vu Kaa indicated one of the Syridians which half sat on a stone, playing a reed instrument with his long, limber fingers, his light green skin reflecting the sun.
Obi-Wan hesitated. To broach someone else’s mind for no reason...
“It’s not for no reason, it’s training. If you don’t practice something, you will never be able to do it when it is needed. It won’t hurt him. He’ll never even know, that’s the beauty of it, he’ll think it’s his thought.” Vu Kaa spoke excitedly.
Obi-Wan still was not sure, but it all sounded harmless, and surely Vu Kaa would not tell him to do anything that was wrong, so... Obi-Wan reached out, attempting to find the Syridian’s mind, to gently plant the suggestion of changing the song he played. He concentrated hard, perspiration caused by the sun, and his efforts rolled down his collar, but it did not work. He could feel the Syridian’s presence in the Force, but his mind was well ordered and not easily penetrated. The green-skinned herdsman played on, unchanged.
Obi-Wan gave up with a sigh. “I’m sorry Master, I can’t do it,” he admitted defeat.
Vu Kaa however, did not seem disturbed. “I know you can’t. You cannot do it that way, the way you have been taught. When a mind is strong, or the distance great it must be done... differently. I will show you.” Vu Kaa reached out, and this time, he was careful not to hide from Obi-Wan what he was doing as he sought out the reed player’s mind. Once he found it he wormed his way in a little and then gave a thrust, like using a can opener, he forced his way into the being’s mind.
Obi-Wan was shocked, but the herdsman did not even seem to notice the invasion that was taking over his mind. His tune changed suddenly and he hopped up, dancing about like one gone mad. Vu Kaa grinned; he enjoyed doing this.
It was a comical sight, but Obi-Wan was not laughing. How could Vu Kaa do this?!
The reed player spun into one of his companions who tried to catch him, wondering what in the world had possessed his friend. The reed player suddenly broke his instrument over the other herder’s head and punched his friend in the face. Vu Kaa grabbed hold of a few more of them and a fight broke out among the usually peaceful beings, beings that had been good friends only moments ago.
Vu Kaa smiled in amusement, losing himself in his enjoyment of controlling his living puppets.
Obi-Wan’s jaw dropped in horror.
“Now you try,” Vu Kaa broke himself away from his game and turned, only to find Obi-Wan staring at him, wide-eyed.
“No,” Obi-Wan refused, backing away without meaning to. He had influenced minds before, and had seen Qui-Gon and others do the same, but not like this. Vu Kaa forced his way into people’s minds, bending them to his will in a way Obi-Wan knew he dare not copy.
“No, that’s not right! Mind control is a last resort, only to be used in very great need. Never on a whim, and never to cause harm!” Obi-Wan knew he should not lecture his Master, but he could not believe what he had just seen! It went against everything he had ever been taught, in the Temple, by Yoda, by Qui-Gon, everything! “Those men were friends, you know the stubborn quality of these people. After this, they will probably never speak to one another again!” Obi-Wan’s heart hurt for the damage that had been done.
“You speak as you have been taught, but I am teacher now,” Vu Kaa reasoned sternly. “I will teach you new things, open your mind to new experiences, new knowledge, new power! Now do as I say!” He took hold of Obi-Wan’s shoulder, carrying his words into Obi-Wan’s mind, just as he had carried his command into the Syridian herdsman’s. But Obi-Wan’s eyes were opened now, and he could tell that that was what Vu Kaa was doing, what he had been doing all along.
“No!” Obi-Wan refused again, pulling out of Vu Kaa’s grip. “It is not right Master!” he implored Vu Kaa to understand. “To do this thing would violate my conscience, everything I believe in!”
“You dare to tell me what is right and what is wrong?” Vu Kaa’s voice rose dangerously. He would not tolerate the same condemnations from this boy that he had had to endure from his own peers and Masters. “You walk a dangerous line Padawan,” Vu Kaa warned.
“No, Master,” Obi-Wan corrected softly, but clearly. “You do.”
Vu Kaa struck him violently for that, knocking the apprentice to the ground. “I will not tolerate such behavior. I give you one last chance Kenobi, obey me right now, or you will be sorry,” he promised.
Obi-Wan’s mouth felt dry, but there was no option for him in this. He could not do what Vu Kaa required of him. Perhaps he was wrong, his mind was so confused he didn’t know, but he did know that if he went against what he believed, then he lost everything he was, everything that mattered.
Vu Kaa’s thoughts were so mixed with his that he could hardly tell them apart, that was the confusion that had been growing in him these past weeks, and now it kept him from being able to see clearly what Vu Kaa was.
What was part of him and what wasn’t? It was now almost impossible for Obi-Wan to say. Maybe he was wrong, but maybe that was Vu Kaa’s thoughts, he didn’t know and couldn’t find enough quiet, enough truth, to remember who he was, to separate himself.
“I cannot, Master, don’t ask me to!” Obi-Wan cried unhappily, rising to his feet, only to be sent back down to his knees as an intense wall of pain slammed into his mind, making thought nearly impossible.
“All right then Obi-Wan, it seems you must do everything the hard way,” Vu Kaa snapped. Grabbing Obi-Wan by the shoulder and arm he hauled him to his feet, nearly dragging him back the way they had come.
Obi-Wan stumbled along numbly, his mind reeling. He barely remembered a thing until Vu Kaa palmed open the ship’s hatch and shoved him roughly through the entry. Throwing him against the wall of the cabin, he struck the boy repeatedly in the side and stomach until Obi-Wan doubled over, the blows forcing him to his knees.
Obi-Wan had no will to fight what was being done to him, or even to see it as something he should fight. Too long Vu Kaa had been an unknown guest in his mind, too long implanting the subversive message that he deserved what he got.
Strangely, even as provoked and violent as Vu Kaa’s actions were, there was still no out-right anger behind them. Instead, he seemed distant, cold and contained.
Vu Kaa’s fist cut Obi-Wan’s lip, making the familiar taste of blood wash around the inside of his mouth. Obi-Wan was on his hands and knees on the floor, gasping for breath and still in a state of unreal shock and confusion.
Vu Kaa picked up the flexi-steel ribbing he had used on Obi-Wan before.
Obi-Wan looked up...
Qui-Gon’s eyes sprang open and he sat bolt upright, breathing heavily. The cry that had jerked him from his meditation still rang in his ears.
“We’re getting ready to put down now,” Depa came out of the cockpit to inform him. “It was a little difficult working the landing out without communications, but we...” her words trailed off. “Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
“Everything,” Qui-Gon said quietly. “I must see the Council at once.”
Obi-Wan reached out to the Force, clinging to it as the one last thing that gave him any comfort or that made sense. “Help me,” he pleaded silently to the cold darkness around him. “Help me.”
He hurt everywhere, mind, body and spirit. He was drowning in an ocean of despair and loneliness and he could not find the surface.
He did not know what was part of him and what was not. He could seem to strike upon no clear way to discern. No light to illumine his darkness.
“I am your Master, you will obey me! I am your Master!” Vu Kaa’s words pounded relentlessly through his brain. He leaned his aching head against the wall of the small storage closet that Vu Kaa had locked him in after he beat him. It would be a simple thing to undo the lock with the Force and get out, but why? Vu Kaa had commanded him to stay there, and he had no right to disobey, did he?
His heart rebelled inside him. It was Vu Kaa who had no right to do this to him! Or did he? Oh, if only he could be sure of anything! If only it would all make sense!
Obi-Wan curled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around and resting his forehead on them.
If only Qui-Gon had not died...
Qui-Gon was the first one off the ship. There had been an unexpected delay of nearly six hours because of some unforeseen difficulties in landing procedure.
“Qui-Gon, wait up, wait!” Depa called after him, but he wouldn’t wait, he had waited too long already.
Depa glanced at her Padawan. “That Mal’ah,” she said in mock exasperation, “Is Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Well, let’s catch up!”
Obi-Wan had no idea how much time had passed, but he could tell that Master Vu Kaa was asleep. Perhaps that was why he found it easier to think.
The situation as it was could not go on. Perhaps he was wrong and misguided, but if so, he needed to know that so he could correct himself. He needed to speak to someone, someone he respected and trusted. Yoda. He needed to talk to Yoda.
With a twinge of guilt, he used the Force to unlock the closet. Was he wrong? Was it a misuse of his powers to use them to disobey his Master? No matter what Vu Kaa did, or had done, he was his Master and deserved his respect and obedience. Obi-Wan knew that misuse of the Force led to the worst possible consequences.
He hesitated, but at last pushed the door open and slipped silently out. If he was wrong, then he was. If he was hopeless, then he needed to know that and he knew Yoda could tell him.
“Qui-Gon! It’s good to see you!” Mace Windu greeted his friend in surprise.
“Even if, unconventional your entrance is,” Yoda added, referring to the way Qui-Gon had burst in, completely unannounced into the middle of their meeting.
“I am sorry for that Masters,” he bowed respectfully. “But I could not seem to make the attendant understand that it was urgently important that I see you right away.”
Qui-Gon had interrupted the Council mid-session, but they did not seem too put out.
“You return to us from the dead Master Jinn,” Eeth Koth welcomed, his hairless eyebrows raising. “You must have quite a tale. We were told-”
“That I was dead, yes, I know,” Qui-Gon respectfully interrupted. “But I am not.” He was getting tired of having to explain that to people. “Neither is Obi-Wan, although I do not know where he is. My story can wait, it is imperative that I find Obi-Wan as soon as possible.”
“Slow down a little,” one of the Council members interjected gently.
“Act we will, but not without knowing the facts. Tell us what happened you must, not long will it take,” Yoda instructed.
“Yes, my Master,” Qui-Gon bowed his head, calming himself. It would do no good to get out of control. He did tell them, everything, and they in return told him all they knew, which, to Qui-Gon’s frustration, was not much.
“Vu Kaa lied to us,” Mace said gravely.
“Feared it I did, too near the edge was he,” Yoda shook his head as if he was sorry to be proven right.
“What do you mean Master Yoda?” Qui-Gon inquired.
Yoda sighed. “Problems he had since a student. Great mind has he, very strong, but always is he looking for more. More everything. Mind control he mastered to a fine art, but more he wanted. Dangerous was his desire, too near the Dark Side."
“We had him before the Council several months ago,” Mace picked up the narrative. “It was decided that he would be given another chance, under supervision.”
“Was that the last time you saw him?” Qui-Gon pondered. The pieces did not quite fit.
“No, he came before us just last month,” Mace admitted.
“Requested permission to take a padawan to train he did,” Yoda put in.
“We denied his request because we were not yet sure of his rehabilitation, although he is no longer required to perform frequent check-ins,” Mace continued. “He was supposedly traveling to Daimaru after the destruction of the Reliant. We shall check to see if he ever arrived.”
“Doubt it, I do,” Yoda shook his head.
Qui-Gon had the same feeling. A cold, hard knot was forming in his stomach and he had to struggle to remain calm. Obi-Wan was stuck somewhere that nobody knew with a paroled Jedi that nobody trusted and probably thought that Qui-Gon was dead. If Vu Kaa had lied to everyone else, it was a safe bet he had lied to Obi-Wan as well.
“That’s what he wants Obi-Wan for then? As an apprentice?” Qui-Gon shook his head. “Obi-Wan would not go along with him. He knows the feel of the Dark Side.”
“But that’s just it,” Mace shook his head. “Vu Kaa does not feel like one turned to the Dark Side. That is why we only put him on parole rather than barring him from the order. We had hoped he was merely young and over-eager. Now, it seems we may have been wrong.”
May have been! Qui-Gon repressed indignation. “Considering he has kidnapped a fourteen year old boy and held him for nearly a month with who knows what purpose, I would be forced to agree,” he said quietly.
“Understand you must Qui-Gon Jinn,” Yoda cautioned, Qui-Gon’s inner agitation not lost on him. “Not hasty did we wish to be.”
Qui-Gon nodded. Yes, he understood. “Of course, forgive me Masters.”
“Besides,” Mace pointed out. “We don’t actually know that he kidnapped Obi-Wan. We are not even certain that they are together at all. Yes, I know,” he hastened to add when Qui-Gon looked ready to argue. “The circumstantial evidence is great, but we must never judge without facts.”
The door opened and an aide entered, respectfully waiting for their attention.
“Forgive me for intruding, but master Yoda, you have a call. Normally I would not have bothered you while in session, but the transmission seems to be coming from a long way away and well, it sounded like it might be important."
Yoda nodded. “Take it here, I will.”
The aide nodded and left. A few moments later, the grainy blue holo-image of a teenage boy appeared in front of Yoda. All in the room could see him, but the transmission was fixed so that he could only see Yoda.
There was a silent gasp of recognition from all present.
“Master Yoda,” the familiar accent made Qui-Gon’s heart flip-flop strangely.
“Forgive me for interrupting you Master,” the boy apologized. “But I must talk to you. I must talk to someone.” Obi-Wan’s voice was plaintive and heavy. Even in the fuzzy holo-image the pain in his face was clear. Two ugly looking dark lines that must have been either welts or cuts, traced across his left cheek and his lower lip was three times its right size. He held his hands as if they hurt him.
“I don’t wish to question your wisdom, or Master Vu Kaa’s...” he shook his head sadly, although it was evident that the motion was painful.
“Obi-Wan! Glad to see you I am! Worried about you we have been! Where are you? What has happened?” Deep concern was written in Yoda’s wise eyes.
Confusion spread over Obi-Wan’s face. “But I thought, I mean, he told me that – ” the boy never got to finish his sentence. He seemed to hear, or sense something behind him, because he turned his head abruptly. The picture fuzzed out and a half-cry of either fear or pain was cut short as someone terminated the audio signal as well.
“Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan!” Qui-Gon cried, moving forward as if he could catch the image and make it stay. But the picture was gone, leaving Qui-Gon with only the pain of the haunted look he had seen in his Padawan’s normally bright eyes. It took several moments for him to calm himself; to rid his mind of the specter of Obi-Wan’s obviously abused countenance so he could think rationally again.
“See if you can trace that transmission!” he heard Mace calling urgently to the aide, who flew to obey.
“Well,” Qui-Gon said when at last he had control of his emotions once more. “I think we have our facts now.”
“Indeed,” Yoda nodded gravely, his wrinkled green face looking very sad. Qui-Gon knew that Yoda seemed to take special interest in his Padawan, he had championed his cause more than once when others thought him too full of fear and anger, including Qui-Gon. “Master Vu Kaa he calls him. Taken him as his apprentice against our orders, he has.” There was visible displeasure that almost bordered on anger in the revered Jedi Master’s voice.
“Yes, but it’s obvious Kenobi thought he had our permission,” Eeth Koth put in.
“A Master he is not, and has never been,” Qui-Gon’s old friend Plo Koon added. “He is but a Knight, and has never taken, much less trained a Padawan.”
“That makes another thing he lied to us about,” Qui-Gon noted mentally. “Indeed,” was all he said to the Council. “Before the Reliant incident he told both Obi-Wan and I quite clearly that he was a Jedi Master.”
“That is what he seeks to be, but for all the wrong reasons,” Yoda shook his head. “Right you are Qui-Gon Jinn, found the boy must be, immediately.”
“Let’s just hope he does not pay too dearly for contacting us,” Mace murmured under his breath, not wanting Qui-Gon to hear.
Obi-Wan struggled to breathe, struggled to speak, but Vu Kaa did not give him the opportunity to do either. Nailing him to the wall with one hand he punched the boy repeatedly, making Obi-Wan cry out. Obi-Wan couldn’t breathe and thought he would black out, but Vu Kaa did not let him.
“How dare you!” Vu Kaa was screaming. “How dare you disobey me like this! How dare you!” He flung Obi-Wan to the floor. “Take off your shirt Kenobi,” he ordered. “Take it off!” he screamed when Obi-Wan did not move. “I am your Master and you will do as I say!”
“No!” Obi-Wan pulled himself unsteadily to his feet, moving away from Vu Kaa. “No, you’re not! You’re not my Master!” Obi-Wan clung to this new piece of truth, using it as a light to examine all that confused him. He knew it was true, he could tell from his brief conversation with Yoda. The pieces were beginning to fit together.
“You lied to me! They never gave you permission to train me! All these weeks, you’ve been lying to me! You’re not my Master and you never will be!” Obi-Wan backed away slowly as he talked.
“You’re wrong Kenobi, and that will cost you a terrible price!” Vu Kaa threatened darkly, reaching for him.
“No! Stay away from me! You’ve got no right!” It was as if a veil had been pulled away from the young Jedi’s eyes and he saw beyond the calm, collected exterior that Vu Kaa presented to the world and saw the seething mass of emotions behind it. Anger, fear, contempt, desire... the intensity of it made the Padawan’s head swim.
Vu Kaa could tell the moment he was revealed to the boy. He saw all his hard work falling to pieces around him and it made him furious. With nothing more to hide and nothing left to lose he let his rage take over him at last.
He sent a powerful wave through the Force, throwing Obi-Wan across the cabin and slamming him against the wall. Grabbing the boy by the arm he nearly tore his tunic off.
Obi-Wan fought back, struggling both physically and mentally.
“Hold still!” Vu Kaa commanded him.
Obi-Wan felt the older Jedi forcing himself into his mind and tried to fight him, but he could not, Vu Kaa knew his mind too well. He could no longer fool the boy’s thoughts, but he could still control his body.
Vu Kaa held the Padawan still with an iron grip and laid into him with a fury that gave no quarter.
“Three days? So long?” Qui-Gon asked unhappily.
Depa, who had volunteered to play chauffeur for him again, nodded. “That’s who long it takes. The transmission was traced back to the Syrasece system, it is remote and only one planet, Syridan, is inhabited, so at least that narrows down where they are. Unfortunately, it is also quite far away.”
“But they could be anywhere in three days!” Qui-Gon protested. It was useless and he knew it, but it felt better to let his frustration out.
Depa put her hands on her hips. “What exactly do you want me to do about it?” She asked dryly.
Qui-Gon sighed. Of course there was nothing they could do about it. “I’m sorry Depa, You’ve been very patient with me. I appreciate your volunteering to help.”
“It’s quite all right,” Depa assured. “I understand how you must feel. I just keep thinking, what if the situation were reversed and that was Mal’ah out there...” she shuddered involuntarily. “We will find him Qui-Gon, no matter how long and how hard we have to search, we will find him.”
Obi-Wan was in a living nightmare, one that he could not awake from. He had no grasp on the passage of time. One moment blended into the next in a blur of pain and fear.
Having given up hope of persuading the boy to see things his way, Vu Kaa was now determined to break Obi-Wan, so that he could then remold him into what he wanted him to be. He thought it was a pity really, a broken spirit was never quite as strong as one who had never been broken, but it was the only way.
The ship dropped out of hyperspace. Vu Kaa knew he dare not stay on Syridan in case someone had traced Obi-Wan’s call. Before him, the speckled face of an asteroid belt drifted. The perfect place to hide until Kenobi was safely in his power.
The door scraped open and Obi-Wan unconsciously tried to press himself back into a corner, but there was nowhere to hide. His mind was in constant agony from the unceasing struggle between them and every so often, Vu Kaa would drag the apprentice out and beat him in an attempt to weaken and more quickly crush his resistance.
Obi-Wan wished Vu Kaa would kill him, or at least allow him unconsciousness. However, neither escape was permitted him. He knew what Vu Kaa was trying to do. The young Jedi could feel himself weakening under the sustained abuse, but he knew he would never, never give in to the darkness. He would die first.
Obi-Wan’s body screamed for an end to the pain, telling him he couldn’t take much more. He bit his lip hard, but nothing could keep him from crying out anymore, it just hurt too badly.
“You want me to stop? Make me!” Vu Kaa’s mind taunted him. “You have the power, all you have to do is use it, reach out to it...”
“No!” Obi-Wan cried aloud. “No, no, no, never!” he moaned. As much as his hurting body cried out for relief, he knew that that was too high a price to pay. To fight Vu Kaa with his own weapons was tempting, but Obi-Wan knew it would be to touch the Dark Side, and once touched, he could never pull away again.
Instead, he called upon the Light Side, trying to fill his mind with that. He could not keep Vu Kaa out of his mind, so he stopped trying to block, and reached into Vu Kaa’s mind with the Light Side instead.
“You have so much strength, but you use it in the wrong ways! You could do so much good with your power!” Obi-Wan reasoned, trying to reach the other Jedi. “Let me help you.”
For a brief instant, Vu Kaa actually paused, a yearning, haunted look coming over his face. But the darkness in him was strong, and he had given too much of himself over to it. He lashed out, throwing Obi-Wan backwards.
Obi-Wan fell against a sharp table corner, opening a long cut across the back of his bare shoulders, but the pain barely registered. He came to rest sprawled on his back on the deck.
Vu Kaa stepped on the young Jedi’s wrists, pinning the Padawan down and standing over him. “Don’t think you can change my mind!” he growled.
Obi-Wan clenched his eyes and grit his teeth.
They were still about a day’s travel from Syridan when it happened. Qui-Gon, Depa and Mal’ah were sharing a meal together, when Qui-Gon’s cup slid suddenly from his grasp, shattering on the deck.
“Master Jinn, what is it?” Depa asked in alarm. “You’re as pale as a wraith!”
Qui-Gon took his head in his hands as if it actually, physically pained him. “Obi-Wan is screaming,” he said hoarsely. His head popped up and he rose to his feet. “Stop the ship,” he commanded.
“But we’re not-” Mal’ah started to say.
“I don’t care! Stop the ship!” Qui-Gon repeated, leaving no room for questions.
Depa hurried to comply, followed more reluctantly by her Padawan.
“Is he always so-” Mal’ah began to ask once they were in the cockpit.
“Abrupt?” Depa finished for her. “No, which is why this must be important.” She pulled a lever back and they returned to normal space, the star-streaks resolving themselves into single points of light once more. Away to their left hung an asteroid belt.
Qui-Gon joined them. He could feel Obi-Wan’s presence very strongly here. “In there,” he pointed to the asteroid field. “Scan for-”
“Already on it,” Depa confirmed. “There’s a ship in there all right!” she reported, scanning the readouts.
Qui-Gon’s hand tightened on the back of her seat. “That’s the one we want. Let’s go!”
Once inside the belt, the asteroids interfered with their scanners, rendering them unable to pick up the ship anymore, but they already had the coordinates.
They found Vu Kaa’s vessel clinging to the side of a huge, moon-sized asteroid and put down just out of sight. Apparently, the belt was interfering with Vu Kaa’s instruments as well, because he seemed totally unaware of their presence.
The asteroid had a thin, unstable atmosphere. It was breathable, but just to be safe; Qui-Gon slipped a breath mask on over his mouth and nose as he prepared to cross the distance between the two ships on foot.
“I’ll go with you,” Depa volunteered.
Qui-Gon shook his head. “No, Depa, you and Mal’ah must stay with the ship. This asteroid is not stable,” as if to prove his point, a hailstorm of deadly meteors pulverized the surface not fifty meters away. “Or safe,” he added. “Stay here and be ready for action. Monitor the weather, I feel it is taking a turn for the worse. I’ll have my comlink on.” Qui-Gon could feel great danger building here. Not from Vu Kaa, but from the asteroid itself. The sooner they could leave the better.
Making his way down the ramp, he shielded his eyes from the whirling dust of the place with his hand.
When he reached it, he found the hatch of Vu Kaa’s vessel shut, but unlocked. Un-belting his lightsaber, he took a deep breath and palmed the door open.
Obi-Wan was almost unconscious, kept alert only because Vu Kaa refused to let him go. Yet even so, the young Jedi could feel himself slipping away as his will to live ebbed dangerously. Not even Vu Kaa could keep Obi-Wan from dying if the apprentice let go.
As Qui-Gon stepped cautiously through the hatch, he felt Obi-Wan’s presence flicker ominously.
“No!” he called out to him, hoping desperately to be able to reach his Padawan around whatever had been blocking them for so long. “No, Obi-Wan! Don’t let go! I’m coming, hold on!”
From somewhere in the haze that surrounded him, Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon’s mind touch his.
“I must be dying.” The thought brought no fear, only relief. He would join Qui-Gon, he would leave this pain and become one with the Force...
“No, Obi-Wan, don’t let go! I’m coming...”
Obi-Wan felt confused. Coming? That was not possible, but-
Vu Kaa felt Qui-Gon’s presence and realized too late that with all his energy focused on Obi-Wan he had been neglecting everything else. He pulled his lightsaber, leveling its colorless blade with Obi-Wan’s throat. “Choose now forever Kenobi. Follow me!” he threw all his strength behind a last effort.
“Never,” Obi-Wan refused resolutely.
Vu Kaa drew his blade up and brought it down in a sweeping arch, intending to take the boy’s head off.
Obi-Wan saw the blade descend towards him and knew he was powerless to move in time...
Suddenly, there was a flash of green fire and another blade caught Vu Kaa’s before it could deliver its intended blow. A powerful blast sent Vu Kaa flying back, away from Obi-Wan.
“Touch that boy again and so help me I’ll kill you!” Qui-Gon promised through clenched teeth.
Obi-Wan looked up to see Qui-Gon standing protectively over him. “Master!” he cried in surprise and joy.
Vu Kaa lunged Qui-Gon, but Qui-Gon had his blade up to meet the blow in an instant, turning it aside.
For several intense moments they battled back and forth. All at once, the duel was interrupted by a violent jolt. The ship jerked, throwing the fighting Jedi off-balance and bringing them down.
Qui-Gon’s lightsaber flew from his hand as the jolt knocked him against the wall with great force. For a moment, the blow left him dazed.
“Master!” he heard Obi-Wan cry warning and rolled quickly to the left as Vu Kaa’s blade burnt the deck where his head had been a moment ago.
Obi-Wan forced himself to his knees. He had to help!
Qui-Gon rolled away from another blow, springing back to his feet.
Vu Kaa swung at him and he jumped back, only narrowly staying clear of the glowing blade.
“Master, catch!” Obi-Wan had found Qui-Gon’s lightsaber and tossed it to him now. Qui-Gon caught it, igniting its green blade once more.
Vu Kaa snarled and sent a blast in Obi-Wan’s direction that sent the weakened young Jedi crumpling to the ground.
Qui-Gon looked to see if he was all right and Vu Kaa used the distraction to land a glancing stroke across the top of his opponent’s right arm.
Qui-Gon felt the fleeting touch of the lightsaber scorch the flesh near his shoulder. He pushed the pain away, once more taking the defensive.
The ship jerked again and this time a loud crunching sound was audible from somewhere outside. Another sudden jolt set the cabin listing sharply to the left. Objects and furniture that was not bolted down went skittering past the Jedi as they struggled to not become part of the pile.
“Master Jinn!” Mal’ah’s alarmed voice sounded form the comlink on his belt. “The meteor showers are intensifying at an alarming rate! And the weather outside is getting worse! If the current patterns continue, then the ship you’re on is directly in the path of an oncoming shower. You must get out of there at once! Do you copy Master Jinn? Master Jinn, do you copy?”
“I copy Mal’ah,” Qui-Gon took a brief moment to respond, jamming his thumb against the button without removing the unit from his belt and hoping she heard.
All that came across on Mal’ah’s end was a mangled burst of static.
“What was that? I can’t read you. Master Jinn? Come in Master Jinn!” she tried desperately to raise him, but Qui-Gon dare not take his attention off Vu Kaa again.
“Did you hear that Vu Kaa?” he had to raise his voice a little to be heard over the sound of the storm that was picking up outside. “We only have moments left here!”
There was a loud crash as a meteor crushed some part of the ship, opening it to the wind, which whistled in to tug at their hair and clothes and whirl about their ears. The sound of the storm rose with the added exposure, making shouting a must.
“This ship cannot take off in its current condition, come with us to our ship, we can help you!” Qui-Gon urged the Knight.
“I don’t need your help!” Vu Kaa shouted, louder than was necessary. “I have touched more power than you can even imagine! I have more control than a hundred Jedi put together! But I can see your heart Qui-Gon Jinn; you condemn me, just like all the others. You cannot, or will not, look at anything that does not fit with your narrow view of things.
But the galaxy is much bigger than you and I and there is so much out there that even the Jedi do not know! Surely you must realize this. Not all that we do not yet know or understand is evil, and not all that the Jedi have not yet discovered is of the Dark Side! If we are not willing to discover new things, then the order is doomed!
After all, how did the first Jedi start to learn about the Force? If they had stopped, content with where they were, afraid to look farther, to explore new ways and ideas, then where would we be now?” Vu Kaa argued convincingly.
Qui-Gon viewed the young man with more respect, if not more trust. He was capable of sounding so earnest, so innocent. It was no wonder the Council had been unable to bring themselves to discharge him. Qui-Gon marveled that Obi-Wan had been able to resist Vu Kaa’s wily persuasion skills for so long. However, Vu Kaa could not so quickly switch persona’s on him. Qui-Gon could see what he had done to Obi-Wan, and that alone was enough to dispel any doubt from his mind.
“You cannot go so quickly from trying to kill me to trying to enlist me Vu Kaa,” Qui-Gon almost laughed in spite of himself. “We are not closed to new ideas, they deserve careful consideration and exploration, just as the first Jedi did. Some are kept, some are tossed away,” Qui-Gon became serious again. “But there are things we knew to be wrong. Anger, fear, hatred, lust for power, disregard for others, cruelty, these things we know to be of the Dark Side, and all of those attributes have I seen in you.” Qui-Gon was blunt, but time was short and absolute truth the only answer to Vu Kaa’s twisted half-truths and lies.
The two Jedi had never taken their eyes off each other. They circled warily, blades extended before them while they talked.
Obi-Wan saw the whole exchange. He was conscious, but totally unable to move. Whether that was because of Vu Kaa’s abuse, or because of some lingering traces of him in his mind Obi-Wan could not tell.
It felt so good to hear the truth he knew come out of his teacher’s mouth, to see the lies repelled and the darkness unveiled.
The ship writhed and shook as it was pounded by the fringe of another meteor shower. The showers were getting closer; the ship would not withstand another assault like that.
“Times up,” Qui-Gon said softly, backing towards where Obi-Wan lay. “We’re leaving. Come with us!”
“No!” Vu Kaa leapt to put himself between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and the door. “I don’t think so. You’re not going anywhere!” He blocked the entryway, holding his lightsaber tightly.
“Vu Kaa! Are you insane?!” Qui-Gon shouted at him. The earthshaking thuds of the meteors were getting closer... “We’ll all die here if we stay!”
“Then we’ll die!” Vu Kaa laughed, his blond braids whipping about his head, his Jedi robes flailing. “If what you say is true, I’ve got nothing left to lose,” he said, his voice sinking softer.
“Master Jinn, Master Jinn!” Mal’ah called urgently from the comlink.
“Qui-Gon,” Depa’s voice broke in, no less concerned. “Can you hear us? The meteors... close... heading right for you... respond!” The transmission broke up, disrupted by the storm, which had worked itself up into a positive frenzy by now.
A moment later three or four meteors tore through the ship’s hull with a terrific tearing and crashing.
Qui-Gon jumped out of the way of one, hitting the slanted deck on one shoulder and rolling down the slope.
The wind howled into the ship, throwing debris and loose objects about like chaff.
Qui-Gon looked around, but did not see Vu Kaa. Fighting his way to his Padawan’s side, he took Obi-Wan’s hand. “Obi-Wan, can you stand? We have to get out of here.”
Obi-Wan nodded bravely. Rolling to his hands and knees he tried to force his legs under him, but it was no good. He was too drained; he could not make it to his feet. His arms would not even hold him and his elbows buckled. His chin hit the floor with a painful click, but in his state he hardly felt it. His lack of strength frustrated him, but he was too tired and too worked-over to even feel truly upset with himself.
Qui-Gon scooped Obi-Wan up in his strong arms like he was nothing.
“I’m sorry,” Obi-Wan murmured. “I’m so sorry.”
“Shh, it’s okay,” Qui-Gon squeezed him close, carefully picking his way towards where a meteor had punched the new nearest exit.
Without warning, something heavy dropped on Qui-Gon from behind. It was Vu Kaa. Qui-Gon fell forward, dropping Obi-Wan and hitting the debris strewn deck hard on his hands and knees.
Vu Kaa tried to catch Qui-Gon’s neck in a strangle hold. Qui-Gon pulled away, only to realize too late that that was what Vu Kaa wanted him to do and he had fallen for a feint. Vu Kaa caught him across the side of the head with something hard, stunning him. Vu Kaa’s lightsaber glowed in his hand. He laughed. “We all die now Master Jinn.” The rumble of a new wave of meteors sweeping towards them emphasized his point. “But maybe you first.”
Time seemed to stop and Obi-Wan saw the deadly white energy of Vu Kaa’s blade sweeping down, once more intent on a kill. Only this time it was his Master’s blood it sought.
Obi-Wan’s heart cried out, but his body refused to respond. Right now, not even tapping the Force could give him what he needed to break free of Vu Kaa’s hold on his body.
Yet somewhere, deep inside him, he felt another power, one that Vu Kaa did not understand and could not tamper with. It was warm and fierce, like a bright light. Obi-Wan let it fill him, because he knew it was not evil. It was good, and it was strong. It was the power that gives a mother the strength to lift a speeder when her children are trapped underneath, for a man to do what would normally be impossible in order to save a friend. It was a power born out of deep caring, out of love.
Groping next to him, Obi-Wan found a hard, fist-sized object. Flinging it at Vu Kaa and knocking his lightsaber aside, the apprentice threw himself after it. Catching Vu Kaa in the chest he propelled him back, off of Qui-Gon. They rolled over and over until an upturned table halted them, with Obi-Wan on the bottom.
Vu Kaa tried to get his hands around the boy’s neck. Obi-Wan could feel him in his mind, trying to paralyze him again, as he had before. It felt like a cold, wet blanket, attempting to suffocate him, but he refused to succumb.
The air filled with the sound of the impacting meteors and the earth shook as they got closer and closer.
Vu Kaa tried, but Obi-Wan was no longer operating the way Vu Kaa knew, the way he had been when Vu Kaa learned how to control him. Shock covered Vu Kaa’s face as he felt Obi-Wan’s mind slip out of his grasp.
Balling his legs, Obi-Wan kicked up hard; throwing Vu Kaa off just as the approaching shower reached them. There was a terrible crashing and rending as the meteors tore through the ship, pulverizing it like hail through rice paper.
For a moment, Obi-Wan saw Vu Kaa on his feet, howling with rage because Obi-Wan had been able to resist him. Then a meteor crashed through the hull directly above him and he disappeared under the wreckage. Obi-Wan clapped his hands over his ears as Vu Kaa’s last, dreadful cry rang in his mind and then, fell silent.
The roaring wind whipped around Obi-Wan, stealing his breath before he could breathe it, but he didn’t care. For the first time in weeks the voices in his head were silent. He was free. He knew who he was, and what he believed.
Obi-Wan looked up when he felt Qui-Gon’s hand on his shoulder. Qui-Gon said nothing, but he didn’t need to, his eyes said it all. How proud he was, how concerned he’d been, everything.
Pulling himself to his feet, Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon as they climbed out of the wreckage. Once outside, the winds slammed into them full force, buffeting them like rag dolls, blowing dust in their eyes and stealing their breath. Qui-Gon had lost the breathing mask he had brought somewhere during the fight.
Obi-Wan staggered drunkenly, throwing up his arms in an attempt to shield his eyes. He was no longer being paralyzed by Vu Kaa’s grip on his mind, but his body was still terribly weak from his ordeal. He had been denied food and water and beaten repeatedly for nearly three days and that took a heavy toll on his strength.
Qui-Gon’s comlink squealed with static. “Qui... there? Meteors... bad... can’t... in the path... must raise ship... hear me?... Gon!!” Depa’s urgent voice was broken by the static and the wind.
Qui-Gon yanked the comlink off his belt, thumbing it on to talk. “We’re coming Depa, we’re on our way. Wait for us. Can you hear me Depa?” he shouted into the comlink over the roar of the wind, but only static answered him. “Wait Depa, we’re coming!” he tried to send a mental message since a physical one could not be done. They were not especially connected and he could only hope she had heard him.
The pair topped the hill above the ship. A strong gust made Obi-Wan stumble. Losing his footing on the loose, rocky terrain, he fell, and ended up rolling down the hill. The tumble loosed a small avalanche and a good part of the hill came down with him. One of the larger stones struck him on the back of the head and everything went dark.
Qui-Gon half scrambled, half slid down the hill after his Padawan. Obi-Wan was not moving. “Obi-Wan!” he cried, shaking him by the shoulder, but the wind stole his words away. Obi-Wan was out cold and Qui-Gon did not have the time to rouse him. Pulling the boy from under the rocks, Qui-Gon once again picked him up. The wind whipped his hair about and the dust was so thick he could barely see the ship only fifty meters away.
The ground shook and above the scream of the wind another sound was heard. Looking over his shoulder Qui-Gon saw a wave of meteors sweeping straight towards them.
Depa stood at the top of the extended boarding ramp, buffeted by the wind. Hanging on to a strut to avoid being blown away, she strained to see through the billowing dust.
“That meteor wave is headed right for us Master!” Mal’ah’s concerned voice came over her comlink. “We must raise ship!”
“Have the engines ready, prepare for liftoff on my command,” Depa ordered, desperately scanning the opaque horizon. “We have to wait, just a few more moments.”
“Yes, Master,” Mal’ah’s uncertain voice replied.
“Come on Qui-Gon! Where are you?!” Depa knew very well that when they took off, that was it. They could not put down again in this kind of storm and if Qui-Gon and his apprentice were still alive out there, they would not be by the time the storm cleared enough for them to put down again. A sound like bombs dropping shook the air and earth together, getting closer.
“Master!” Mal’ah was far past being concerned, or even alarmed; now she was downright terrified.
Depa sighed inside. “All right Mal’ah, take us... wait! Wait! Belay that order!” she shouted quickly. Out in the swirling dust, something moved. The something tore itself out of the blinding curtain, revealing it to be a man, carrying a teenage boy in his arms and heading their way at a dead run.
“I see them! They’re coming!” Depa shouted. In the time it took her to do so, Qui-Gon closed the gap between them to a few yards. He saw Depa standing at the top of the ramp, hanging on and motioning wildly for them to hurry.
“We’ve got them! We’ve got them! Take off now!” Depa yelled as soon as Qui-Gon set foot on the bottom of the ramp, only two steps ahead of the approaching disaster.
Mal’ah did not need to be told twice. Jamming the lever all the way forward she rocketed the ship upward, just as a meteor half the size of the ship itself slammed down right were they had been.
Qui-Gon grabbed for a ramp strut, trying to get to the hatch as the ship gained altitude.
Depa grabbed his hand, pulling and helping him in. The hatch clicked shut behind them and Qui-Gon half collapsed, letting Obi-Wan sink to the deck.
“Are you all right?” Depa asked, tucking a stray lock of his wind-blown hair behind his ear and gently touching the bloody gash on his temple.
“Fine,” he said absently, all his attention on his Padawan. He took the young Jedi’s shoulders into his lap. “Obi-Wan,” he whispered softly, running a large, but gentle hand over the boy’s bruised and bloodied face.
“Master?” Obi-Wan opened his eyes slowly. Even his eyelids hurt.
“Yes, yes Padawan, it’s me,” Qui-Gon gently traced the cruel welts on the boy’s cheek, brushing over his split and swollen lips and settling his apprentices braid over his shoulder.
Obi-Wan actually saw tears in Qui-Gon’s weathered blue eyes.
Qui-Gon ran his hand over Obi-Wan’s closely cropped hair and took the Padawan’s blistered hands in his. The Jedi Master felt it better to initiate physical contact before mental. Indeed, he hesitated to touch Obi-Wan through the Force at all. The boy had suffered severe abuse through the Master-Padawan connection, how might he respond to being touched that way again?
Qui-Gon’s fears were alleviated a moment later when Obi-Wan reached out and found him through the Force. The connect was a little tentative, but Obi-Wan definitely wanted it; in fact, he actually seemed to ache for the contact. He had been so lonely for what seemed so long.
“Oh, Obi-Wan, I am so sorry this happened! You don’t have to be afraid,” he assured, taking Obi-Wan’s hesitancy to be an understandable reluctance to trust. “I promise I will never, never hurt you the way you have been hurt.” Qui-Gon held his eyes.
Obi-Wan’s response was warm, open and not at all fearful. “Oh, Master! I’m not afraid, not of you. You are my true Master and I know you would never hurt me.” Obi-Wan reached up; placing his hand on the side of Qui-Gon’s face, just to assure himself that he was really there. “It’s just...”
“You’ve been hurt, I know, it takes time...”
“No, no, you don’t understand. It’s not you Master, it’s me,” Obi-Wan admitted quietly. “When I was with Vu Kaa I felt things, I did things...” he couldn’t finish the thought, it hurt too much.
“You’re afraid that you’ve become tainted in some way that you don’t know,” Qui-Gon realized.
Obi-Wan nodded, a necessarily small motion because of the pain any movement caused him.
“Oh, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon smiled and shook his head. “Would you have fought so hard and endured so much to avoid the Dark Side if it already had its claws in you?” he set the boy’s mind at rest. Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan’s body relax in his arms as if a great weight had been removed.
Depa observed the silent conversation quietly. She could not hear what they said to each other through their private bond, but she could tell that they were more deeply connected than many teachers and pupils ever became. Perhaps even more than she and Mal’ah were.
Mal’ah entered and looked as if she were about to say something. Depa silenced her with a look. Taking her arm, she led her Padawan quietly back to the cockpit. “I think we should leave them alone for a little while,” she explained.
When Depa and Mal’ah came back in, an hour or so later, they found Obi-Wan reclining on the couch, propped into an almost sitting position by a heap of pillows.
Qui-Gon sat in a chair next to him. The worst of Obi-Wan’s injuries were dressed, as was Qui-Gon’s head and arm. They made quite a pair, all done up in bandages and Depa couldn’t help smiling when she saw them. She got the funny feeling that they had treated each other; Qui-Gon dressing Obi-Wan’s wounds and visa-versa.
Obi-Wan’s bandaged hands were cupped loosely around a glass of blue juice and the remains of a meal lay nearby. The pair was laughing softly at some private joke, but looked up when the other two Jedi entered.
“It’s good to see you feeling better Obi-Wan,” Depa greeted.
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan paused, waiting for a name to be supplied; the lady Jedi obviously had the edge on him on that one.
“Obi-Wan, this is Jedi Knight Depa Billaba and her Padawan Mal’ah Rurr,” Qui-Gon introduced. “I think both of you ladies already know, or at least know about, my Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Qui-Gon smiled, and, for the first time since Depa had run into him on the pirate ship, he looked like himself, like the man she used to know.
“Both Depa and Mal’ah have been very helpful and very patient with me,” Qui-Gon continued. “Thank you is not enough, but it is all I can offer,” he added, turning back to the two ladies.
“It was our pleasure,” Depa assured. Just looking in young Kenobi’s eyes was enough thanks for her. She had seen them in the holo-image in the Council room, haunted and full of pain. Now, they were full of life and light once more and a bright glow was returning to them.
Mal’ah laughed a little ruefully. “Yeah, it was great fun,” she teased. “You must let us know the next time you want to play chicken with an approaching meteor storm; I’d hate to miss it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Qui-Gon agreed, and for just a moment, Mal’ah wondered if he were serious. Then they all laughed.
Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon; he liked watching the big man laugh. He was so glad to be here where he felt safe, happy, and home. It would take time for his body to heal, and more time still before Vu Kaa’s presence ceased to haunt his darkest nightmares, but his spirit was unbroken and his light undimmed.
He and Qui-Gon were together again and they had all the time in the galaxy.