The voice was eager, almost trembling with hope.
Korto Vos turned to find the speaker.
He didn’t recognize the Padawan, but he recognized her type, and he really wasn’t in the mood to talk to another prim and proper member of the Order.
She wore traditional Jedi robes, shoulder-blade-length light brown hair pulled back and tightly bound except for the thin, perfect braid trailing down her right shoulder. Her expression was sober and controlled.
Very definitely human, somewhere between sixteen and seventeen years old, brown eyes, average height, slender build.
His tight impatience must have slipped through his expressionless mask, because she seemed to melt.
“I’m sorry. Never mind.” Turning, she strode rapidly down the broad hallway, head lowered, visibly deflated.
A strange jolt struck him in the Force, like the buzzing of angry insects, very definitely coming from the Padawan. What in blazes?
He sensed movement behind him and spun around, seeing a semi-familiar face, belonging to a Jedi he happened to know was looking for a Padawan. She might have the information he wanted.
“Master Leem,” he greeted.
The Gran smiled at him, all three eyes lit with an inner motherly glow. “Master Vos.”
“Who is that?” he asked, pointing at the retreating girl.
Maks Leem followed his finger with her gaze. “Ah. A sad case. Probably headed for the agricultural corps, though her greatest dream is becoming a knight. She just can’t seem to get a hold of her aggression.”
“She struggles with anger?” Korto clarified.
Maks shook her head. “No. Kindest personality you’ve ever met. Taunt her all day, and she won’t grow angry. Perfectly in control of her emotions—even better control than many considered the best in her age group.”
“She doesn’t have a master, then?”
“Not currently, and that’s why I made inquiries about her. She did have one, but he turned her away after several missions with her.”
Not many Padawans are taken only to be rejected. She must have seriously stepped in it… “Who?”
Well, that explained it.
Cahl was even more pompous than Kenobi.
Thank the Force he hadn’t been the Vos pounced upon to accompany Obi-Wan on a recent mission. His normally laid-back cousin looked ready to claw the walls when he’d gotten back.
Send Quin, and the two will bicker the whole way. Send me, and one of us isn’t coming home.
It hadn’t always been this bad. Kenobi hadn’t always been perfect.
No one in their youngling clan would be able to forget the trouble he used to get into. Hotheaded, angry, easily provoked—
After Qui-Gon Jinn had taken him as his apprentice, the young Kenobi had still been a bit of a show-off, but after Melida/Daan...
He’d become this.
The bonds of friendship had slowly unraveled over time. Kenobi and Quinlan could still tolerate one another if they had to... but something had gone very wrong for Korto.
Quin didn’t appreciate the distance that had come between them, and tried to ease the tension. To Kenobi’s unceasing criticisms he always sent back an unconcerned smile, instead of the vicious snarl Korto resorted to, and he’d pestered Korto seven... no... eight times so far to fix what was broken.
Korto had no use for such a disgustingly perfect Jedi.
No wonder Kenobi and Skywalker quarreled so often. What was more amazing was that in between quarrels they could get along at all . Vos liked Skywalker. He had spirit, and didn’t just do everything he was told. His cousin could stand to learn a little from the—
“—felt he couldn’t train her properly. She enjoyed fighting. Loved it. It wasn’t as though she chafed at the bit— she worked hard to find peaceful solutions to conflicts, but when battle was inevitable, the violence seemed to thrill her blood like a song. It’s a pity. But for that, she would have made a stellar Jedi. She’s self-sacrificing and dedicated.”
Vos made an effort to clear his head of Kenobi. The man wasn’t present at the moment, so he shouldn’t have to think about him either.
To let Maks know he had been listening… sort of… he grunted. “You’re not planning on taking her, then?”
“Oh, my, no,” Maks’ three dark eyes widened. “I don’t have what it takes to help her, the poor dear. I’m considering Whie Malreaux.”
Now that was a name he had heard.
Rising star, good pupil, a bit modern-Kenobi-ish…
But that made sense for Maks. She had a gentle nature, and it would take more than gentleness to rein in the violent types.
Just look at me, he thought with a grim form of humor.
He realized he’d been walking in the same direction as Maks, and couldn’t remember what had been so blasted important that he had been going to do a few minutes earlier.
Eh, it was probably irrelevant. This was interesting. A modern delinquent. Skywalker was no longer the problem Padawan, now that he’d been knighted. Become significantly less interesting.
“Are you thinking of taking her, Master Vos?”
His eyebrows shot up. “Me? No, no. I’m not looking for a Padawan at this point.”
“Are you sure? It’s been a while since you had one.”
She was just trying to be kind, but he really wanted to tell her mind her own business. After what happened with Aayla…
No. It was much better if he didn’t have a Padawan.
One wouldn’t fit in his current line of work anyway.
Quin’s temperament would work better.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
She turned to head into the large dining room. “I’m sure the Force will guide you, Korto.”
He gave her an absent nod in return, vaguely surprised she’d managed to use the right name, and kept going down the hall.
Wait. Leem never said the Padawan’s name.
He turned to back and ask, when he caught sight of a figure hiding behind a statue in a niche in the wall.
The face that peered out was young. Very young.
And there was a furtive look in the apparently-nonchalant eyes that Vos recognized instantly. When the kid saw he was caught, he whispered, “I can tell you more about the static girl.”
“Yeah. When she’s too close, you can’t hear the Force. Too much static. She makes you feel sick.”
Korto remembered the buzzing sensation. “Isn’t there some class you’re supposed to be in?”
Things may have changed since he was a youngling—most notably the you-must-have-a-master-by-age-thirteen cutoff, which had slid closer to fifteen or sixteen and grown more flexible— but he was confident he could spot a truant when he saw one.
“Maybe if I tell you about her, you won’t mention you saw me.”
Korto laughed in spite of himself. He couldn’t decide whether the kid more resembled himself at that age, or the great Negotiator.
Wouldn’t it annoy him if I said that, he thought.
Since it amused him, he figured he’d give the kid a lesson in real bargaining. “Why should I trade with you? I could just ask any other Jedi. They wouldn’t demand payment.”
“Because I know things others don’t.”
“Is that right.” Korto gave him a skeptical, hard look.
“Not good enough, kid. Need proof of your claim.” Korto made as if to walk away.
“No, wait! Here. I’ll give you this bit for free, as proof. If it’s as good as I say, then we deal, all right?”
I should keep an eye on this kid. By the time he reaches Padawan age he might actually be of use in underworld work… “Shoot.”
“She cries over her problem in secret. When she thinks she’s all by herself. She cries her eyes out.”
“And nobody else could tell me that?”
The cornered doer of misdeeds drew himself up. “I said, in secret. She’s good at hiding. I know because it’s my job to know these things.”
“Is it, now?”
“Absolutely. Need information? Kizzik’s your man. Nobody breathes in this place without me knowing.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Korto said, intrigued now. “I’m ready to deal. You tell me what I want to know, I don’t turn you in.”
“What’s her name?”
“Not quite seventeen.”
“What did her Clan Mother and youngling clan think about her… static?”
“Hated it. She’s not close to any of the members of her clan. Some younglings had to be transferred away from the clan because being near her made them sick.”
“True,” the boy stubbornly insisted.
“Come on. There has to be someone. If she doesn’t get along with the grownups, of course she has an accomplice in crime.” Too bad Quin is too busy these days. It had been too long since Korto himself had a solid accomplice.
“There isn’t anybody. And she doesn’t get in trouble.”
Korto arched an eyebrow. “Making other kids sick isn’t trouble making?”
“She can’t help it.”
“Is that what you think, or what the adults think?”
“It’s what I think. She and the adults all think if she works harder she can do it.”
“Just what exactly is ‘it’?”
“She’s messed up in the Force. It makes classes and cooperation exercises and sparing miserable for everybody involved. Makes me glad I’m not in her age group.”
“No, really good sport. It’s just with her static, it was unfair all the time.”
“You said she doesn’t get in trouble. That just means she doesn’t get caught.”
He shook his head vehemently. “In most cases, sure. In hers, nope. I thought what you did. That she’s just full-moon sneaky. Nope. She’s even better than that Whie everybody talks about.”
“How can she be good and messed up in the Force at the same time?”
Kizzik shrugged. “The grown-ups all think she’s bad. She thinks she’s bad. None of them know what they’re talking about. Big surprise.”
Quinlan wondered just where this kid was going to be a decade down the road.
“If I need more information, where can I find you, Kizzik?”
The kid shrugged. “Here—there—anywhere. Just mention you’re looking for me to one of the guys. I’ll find you.”
“One of the guys?”
“Yeah. Anybody who knows the handshake.”
So the kid had a network, did he? Or was it more of a gang?
“One more question. Where is Yoda?”
“His rooms. Meditating.”
Korto gave him a nod. “Keep a low profile, kid.”
The boy made an intricate gesture involving his fist, waving fingers and a sharp elbow jerk. “Don’t forget the sign. And I’m always happy to do business.”
Korto walked off, shaking his head in amazement to himself.
What if this little information-brokering syndicate had been in existence when he’d been a youngling? Would he have been one of the ones who’d let the boss know or would he have challenged Kizzik and made himself chief?
What he knew for sure was that if he’d had anything to do with how the organization was run, they’d do far more than just sell information.
Maybe I should’ve turned the kid in, he laughed to himself.
When he knocked on Yoda’s door, he heard the ancient Jedi call, “In you may come.”
At least that part of the kid’s information had been sound.
He let himself in and closed the door behind him.
Yoda was sitting on one of the round meditation seats, looking very relaxed and calm. He smiled when he saw Korto. “A question you have for me, hmm?”
“Thryn Sein.” Korto settled himself on another of the seats so he could face Yoda, and crossed his legs.
“Hmm,” Yoda said, cheerfulness turning very sober. “Remind me of you in your youngling years, she does. Eager in the path of right. Deep-set hunter-warrior instincts, you had. Conflicted, the two did.”
It had been… difficult.
“What’s going to happen to her?”
“One of the Corps, most likely, claim her will.”
“There’s no one willing to take her on, give her another chance?” Korto pushed. Yes, she’d been rejected by the well-respected Master Cahl, but Kenobi had left the Order, for the love of Tython, and look at what he’d turned out to be! Qui-Gon Jinn had taken him again, even after that colossal betrayal… but Qui-Gon was dead, and so wasn’t an option for Thryn. “Tholme, maybe, or Tonnal?”
“Tholme busy is. Unwilling to take on a Padawan at all right now. A special case, definitely not. Tonnal, the same.”
“Well, then… Aayla. Would Aayla possibly—”
“Ready to take on a Padawan like Thryn, Aayla Secura is not,” Yoda said firmly. “Obi-Wan Kenobi I had in mind, but willing to accept a Padawan right now he is not. Press him, I will not. Many Padawans in need of masters there are. Some who desire him to be their master, above all other desires.”
Korto scowled to himself, feeling slightly impatient.
Too bad Yoda doesn’t take on apprentices anymore…
If Tholme, Tonnal, Aayla, and Kenobi wouldn’t...
“Interested deeply in her, I am,” Yoda admitted with a heavy sigh. “A girl of much compassion and great dedication Padawan Sein is. Much potential. Skillful in strategy; also in battle. Spoken to you, has she?”
“Yes. No. That’s what interested me in the first place. She wanted to talk to me, but something stopped her.” Now, looking back, he thought she probably had been expecting another lecture. He half-wished he could go back and change his response. “And I felt something… really… strange. It made me curious.”
“Told her, I did, that born with a warrior’s nature you were. Watching you, she is. Hoping to see a possibility of success for herself. Losing hope, she has been.”
Why did he care? Why should he care? Why had this girl snagged his attention in such a powerful way? Kizzik hadn’t, and the little troublemaker was far more like him than this Thryn was.
Even if he was willing to risk taking on another Padawan, his line of work was no place for one.
I’ve already told myself that once this afternoon. Once should be enough.
Apparently it wasn’t.
Most of the time his work required him to not act like a Jedi at all. It was a crucial part of the war effort. Morally, however…
Quite possibly unjustifiable.
All Korto knew was that he was one of the very few capable of the job, and he could find out more than any Republic Intelligence agent. His work was saving lives—civilians’ and, even though he didn’t like or trust them, clones’. More than that, his work was crucial to the survival of the Republic. Freedom.
Once this war was over, the Jedi could get back to their real jobs. Clearing out the horrible conditions for the abject poor, putting an end to slavery, overthrowing the cartels and crime syndicates that held large areas under reigns of terror, rooting out corrupt politicians and taking care of the average, forgotten citizen of the Republic.
Then he might take on a Padawan.
But as long as he was walking in shadows, precariously close to the edge of the cliff dropping off into darkness, he did wrong things as often—and more often—than right. It was dangerous.
And there was no way he could or would drag a Padawan into that.
Why am I so annoyed with Tholme and Kenobi for refusing the waif when my response is the same?
He knew the answer almost before he was done formulating the question. Because I want her to succeed. That’s why. “She… hasn’t found Balance?”
“Balance? No. Balanced she is, Korto. In battle, never loses control of herself. Follows directions and no unnecessary risks does she take.”
“Not like me, then,” he muttered.
He still hadn’t found his own personal Balance. He dwelt on the slopes of the Force, never fully in the light of the peak of Balance.
There was a reason he would never be on the Council.
“If she’s found Balance, and she’s a good fighter and a well-behaved, intelligent student, why in blazes would you send her to the Corps, when her greatest dream is to become a knight? She sounds like a more stable, mature Padawan than ninety-nine percent of the kids out there! Who finds and maintains personal Balance before apprenticeship?”
“Enjoys fighting, she does. Takes great pleasure in it.”
Korto’s annoyance was swift turning towards Jedi rule and regulation. The endless nitpicking… “If she does it well—”
“No, Korto. Satisfaction in a job well done, this is not. Never happier, she is, than when fighting.”
Yeah, the Order could really get on his nerves at times. “Some just don’t like a quiet life of contemplation, Master,” he said, perhaps a bit too gruffly considering the position of the individual being spoken to, but Korto didn’t much care. “If she keeps it in check, I don’t see what the—”
“Expect you to see, Korto Vos, I do not. But trust you I do.”
Korto’s throat seized up, and he had to struggle to swallow. He hoped Yoda didn’t notice.
Oh, yes. He knew many in the Order not only avoided him, but distrusted him. Some of the younger ones actually feared him.
His deepest fear, the one he didn’t dare express even to himself, was that they might have good reason to.
The only way to block out that fear and ignore it was to tell himself that he simply walked in shadows. He wasn’t of the dark.
Then again, it seemed almost wrong to call himself of the light, either…
To keep from despair he told himself he didn’t care what the other Jedi thought. In a sense, it was true. But the fact that Yoda, knowing him the way only Yoda could, gave Korto his trust meant something.
And Korto felt he couldn’t afford to admit it.
He suddenly realized the moment of silence was stretching long. He felt uncomfortable.
Yoda, of course, didn’t.
His voice wasn’t near as rough or disrespectful as before when he spoke. “Master… don’t give up on her. She’s found Balance. That’s something I’ve never been able to accomplish. I’d say she’s far safer than I am.”
“Feed off the fear of your enemy as she does, you do not. Even artificial, droid fear. Gain strength through their pain and enjoyment from their deaths.”
“I don’t know. I’ll admit, there’ve been times when those—”
“Vos.” Yoda’s voice was calm, and its very warmth sent shivers down Korto’s spine. “Like this, you have not.”
“Why didn’t she insist on talking to me, if she thinks I can help her?” That’s absurd. If anything, she should be helping me. Balance and a thirst for blood. Since when?
It just didn’t work.
No wonder Yoda didn’t know what to do with her.
“Know the answer to that, I do not. Fear, perhaps. Maybe shame.”
“I’m not someone she should look up to.”
“Tell her to, I did not. Said I did, that with an aggressive nature you were born. Understand her struggle, you could.”
“But you just told me it’s not—”
“Not the same. But understand, you can.”
Maybe that wasn’t as contradictory as it had seemed on the surface. “Is there no master you would entrust her to?”
“The masters experienced enough to help her, either Padawans have, or unable at the moment are. To entrust her to a less experienced knight, disaster would be. Cause, it would, frustration and broken expectations. Much hurt. Understand her, her former master did not. Unintended wounds he left behind. Wonders, she does, if no place in the Jedi Order there is for her.”
Of course there’s a place. We just have to find it. And… it may just be in a more fringe area. Like mine. No wonder he doesn’t want to entrust her to most Jedi. Stang. I wish Tholme would ease up a bit. Or even Kenobi. He’s done his best for Skywalker, and I don’t think another master could have done better.
Not that he would ever admit that aloud, of course.
And the fact he’d thought it—
I’m taking that back now.
“And you’re sure about Aayla.” But even as he said it, he knew. He also knew Yoda knew he knew. “I suppose I could find her, talk to her a bit,” he mused, “but I don’t know what I’d say to her. Next to me, she’s a perfect Jedi.”
For a long second Yoda remained thoughtfully silent. “A favor, may I ask of you?”
Korto stared at him in shock. “Sure.” What could he possibly—
“Take Padawan Sein with you on a special mission, I would like you to. Understand, I do, a Padawan you do not seek. Accept that, I do. A short mission, this should be, leading a troop of clone reinforcements to Jezzo Luggar on Dafdar Prime. Besieged, she is, and help she needs. Break through the siege, deliver the troops, and return, you would. Willing to help me, are you?”
“I don’t know what you think I could do—”
“What she experiences in battle, try to sense. Perhaps insight you can give me, hmm? Advice, how to help her?”
Yoda was asking him for help.
Korto Vos couldn’t help feeling astounded… and then deeply humbled.
Who was he to give advice to Yoda? The wizened master was acting as though this would be a great favor.
“I’ll… do my best, Master Yoda, if you can convince the Council it’s a good idea.” Good luck with that.
A sparkle of mischief twinkled into Yoda’s eyes. “To me, leave that.”