It had been a year now. Today was the anniversary of his arrival – if it could even be called that.
Obi-Wan looked over the landscape he'd been working on for most of that time, not entirely sure how he felt about it. The change was obvious, that much was certain. What had been barren, rocky landscape had slowly begun to bloom. Well, not quite bloom – but they'd managed to ease lot of the original plants back into growing. First the grasses and the mosses, then the little shrubs and bushes. Now, here and there, one could even slowly see the beginnings of young trees, cautiously reaching upwards and towards the sun. Slowly, warily, greenery crept along the edges of old mining ravines and up the cliffs created by centuries of ruthless excavation.
Bandomeer would never be the land of gently rolling hills and peaceful fields, maybe. But it would be a land of greenery. Eventually. The plans set by the Jedi AgriCorps were already working and already the Meerians were celebrating the success of the platform fields, created along the old mining routes.
One day the place would be beautiful, Obi-Wan could almost see it. Whether it would ever become the great farming industry it had once been was still left to be seen – there was so much work still left to be done. But once those tracks and cliffs and holes would be filled with greenery, the visual would be stunning. There'd be gardens on top of artificial hills, there'd be farm lands on the old excavation sites – there's be artificial ponds in the equally artificial gorges that now tore the land, and would feed the gardens in the future.
He thought that maybe one day he could take pride in being part of that work.
Right now, though…
It was the anniversary of the day when Qui-Gon Jinn had rejected him one last time at the Governor's house in Bandor. His final chance of becoming a Jedi Knight had died there, and Obi-Wan could still hear the echo of Qui-Gon's footsteps when the Master had walked away from him. All of it rang with cruel finality, as did the words. "Bandomeer will teach you many things – things you need to learn more than you need to become a Jedi Knight."
Whatever that meant.
Obi-Wan had learned many things on Bandomeer, though – not all of them nice. He'd learned about greed and destruction and malice. He'd learned the power of corporations and how they could devour entire worlds in their thirst for profit. He'd also learned of disappointment and misery and loneliness – those lessons were ongoing though, and he wasn't sure he'd ever finish learning them.
And he'd learned how to call on the Living Force and how to channel it through himself and through his hands into a feeble little plant and enhance its growth. He was good at it, too – his instructor of the art of growing things had been very proud of him when he'd eased a seed into a seedling and from there into a sapling. He was also good at easing the Living Force into the ground, to soften and gentle it – to sweeten it for plant life. Everything on Bandomeer was so tough now, the ground and soil hardened by centuries of disuse and pollution. Every bit of it had to be eased back to life.
"It will get easier, once we manage to get a good population and variety of plants going," his instructor, SelTa, a Meerian Jedi of the AgriCorps for whom the restoration of Bandomeer was a very personal quest, said. "The Living Force will strengthen here and aid the growth of other things and our task will ease. It will not take long, now. Bandomeer was very strong in the Living Force before."
Before it was torn up and smashed into a hardened ruin. It will not take long was a very relative statement, though. Long in comparison to the year they'd been at the task, or long in comparison to the centuries of mining that preceded their task? Or to the eons and eons before that, when Bandomeer was known as the Garden of the Outer Rim?
Obi-Wan had almost learned better than to ask. Almost.
"Why?" SelTa asked, gently, kindly, cruelly. "Do you have some place to be?"
No. He didn't.
Obi-Wan had his own house on Bandomeer. It was even a somewhat impressive house – the sort Jedi just didn't have. It was an old mining outpost, long since abandoned when the nearby mines had run dry. A six story building of metal, with no less than fourteen adjacent storage houses big enough to store hundreds and hundreds of tons of ore. It stood near what the Meerians called the Gorge of Nothing – one of the most impressive scars left behind by centuries of mining.
The area had been extremely rich in Azurite, some three hundred years ago. A thick half a kilometre vein had been discovered, and it had been mined in a very traditional way – by boring an enormous, spiral hole into the ground, going down level by level and unearthing the entire vein bit by bit until nothing remained. Now there was an enormous artificial crater there, with a spiralling road leading downwards into its centre, surrounded by mounds of rocks unearthed from it – the Gorge of Nothing. It was almost a kilometre across, in its entirety, and a quarter of a kilometre deep.
Obi-Wan had a prime view of it from the floor he'd picked as his residence in the mining outpost. And from the rest of the windows he saw the rest of the landscape. It was a miserable place. The whole scenery was pockmarked by similar holes as far as the eye could see, though none of them as big as the Gorge. There were mining tunnels that had once been the source of riches and now were nothing but deadly traps, full of local animals that had taken residence in them. There were ravines, like gigantic scars scraped into the surface of Bandomeer, where yet more ore had once been mined. And there was next to no greenery.
Obi-Wan was stationed there. There were only four other Jedi on Bandomeer – SelTa, a Wookiee Embracca, another Human named Eni-on, and a Togruta named Hahsona. Obi-Wan was the youngest but that didn't much matter now – as soon as his training in the skills required in the AgriCorps had been finished, he'd been assigned his task. With so few Jedi around and so much to do, they were scattered around the planet and assigned sectors which they were meant to work on. The Gorge of Nothing and its surrounding lands were Obi-Wan's sector.
It had a certain potential to it. For centuries and centuries the rain water in the area had been filling the maze of mining tunnels below the surface, flooding them one by one. Now it seemed that the tunnels had finally filled up because that year, the rain water had started collecting at the bottom of the Gorge of Nothing. And, with the level of rainwater the area got… it would start filling up with rain water very soon.
And among many other things it was Obi-Wan's task to make sure that the resulting lake would be pure and clean and capable of supplying the area with usable water for the future.
It was a task he knew would take him years to finish.
Maybe one day he'd learn to enjoy the fruits of his labour. He knew the other AgriCorps members had learned to enjoy it – learned to have pride in their accomplishments. The few times he met with the others – once a month, to report results and exchange news and tips on how to work with this or that sort of problem – he could hear their quiet, uncomplicated contentment. Being able to make things grow where they hadn't for centuries made them glad.
He didn't share in that, though he really wished he did. It would've made the work easier – would've made it feel like it was worth it. So far… it didn't.
The work was hard. Even with modern tools and the Force as his ally, it was hard, backbreaking work. Lots of the plants had to be planted by hand, and the purification of the Gorge of Nothing was a never ending task made infinitely harder by the fact that the poisons of mining had seeped so deep into the rock. The little pond at the heart of the Gorge was a soup of toxins and waste. And the local animals were using it and the other the ponds forming in the bottoms of similar mining craters for drinking – and then they died in those gorges, befouling them further.
And they ate almost all the plants he managed to make take seed in the hard soil.
It was a thankless task.
"You will learn to appreciate it," Hahsona said once, patting his shoulder. "In time you will see the joy in it. Try and meditate on the importance of your task and its effects. Try and feel how it changes the Force around you. You will see the consequence it has."
Obi-Wan thought gloomily of his dreams – of being a Jedi Knight or even a Padawan learner, of travelling the galaxy and solving greater, more important problems. Of learning to fight properly with a lightsaber and of bringing peace to those troubled, warring corners of the galaxy.
He'd gotten a taste of it on Bandomeer upon his arrival, and true enough, it had been a bitter taste, a painful mixture of hope, hopelessness and eventually disappointment. But it had been enough to make him thirsty for more. He still longed for it, for that dream that he now knew would never come to pass and yet… yet he couldn't shake it.
Still a part of him screamed that he was meant for something greater than this.
And yet another part scoffed at that, calling him childish and arrogant and greedy.
"I'll try," he said, and he would too. He would try.
He just didn't think he'd succeed.
Meditation. It was one of the few things Obi-Wan had learned to appreciate on Bandomeer.
It was an important part of the AgriCorps’ skills – it required near constant meditation and close contact with the Living Force to channel it into plants. The Jedi of the AgriCorps used Force very differently from any other sort of Jedi, Obi-Wan knew – they used it without restraint and without caution. Jedi Knights always had to be aware of their surroundings and often times they had to keep their guard up, keep one eye open looking out for dangers and threats. Not AgriCorps Jedi though.
They could throw themselves into the flow of the Force and let it fly freely through them. It was even required and Obi-Wan was constantly being encouraged to do more, to channel more, to let more of it flow. A truly skilled Jedi Agriculturist could stand in the heart of a recently sown field and make it bear fruit just by channelling the Living Force into it. That was what made the Jedi AgriCorps so sought after and so important – and so successful.
Obi-Wan wasn't there yet, he wasn't anywhere near that point, but he had to admit it was one of the few things about life of a Jedi Agriculturist he did look forward to. It wasn't mastery of a lightsaber, maybe, but it was something.
So he meditated. He meditated every morning before he went out to maintain the machinery and to tend to the seeds and saplings. He meditated at the heart of the Gorge of Nothing, trying to aid the constantly running filtration systems with his own use of the Force. He meditated over the saplings as he grew them and as he planted them. And he meditated before going to bed at night, going over all he'd done and all he had yet left to do.
He meditated on the slowly blooming threads of the Living Force, gently flowing from those things he'd managed to get to take seed and grow and live, and he took comfort in it. It was the only comforting thing he had in that desolate place.
He was meditating when he felt the approach of another Jedi – and not one he knew either.
A man stood at the edge of the Gorge of Nothing, watching the steady bubbling of the filtration systems that tried to purify the infantile pond of its poisons. Obi-Wan watched him warily from the distance, taking in the hooded cloak and the stature and, when a wind tugged at the cloak, the ligthsaber hanging from the side of the man's utility belt. A Jedi Knight at least, if not a Master.
The man's Force presence was strong and steady and almost overwhelmingly powerful. Obi-Wan hadn't felt anything like that since Qui-Gon had walked away from him in Bandor.
Once – a year ago – Obi-Wan could've let himself hope. Maybe the Temple had realised their mistake, maybe another Master had heard about his exile to Bandomeer, maybe they'd… come to get him. A year ago he might've managed to fool himself into thinking that. But a year on Bandomeer had taught him better than to do something as foolish as to hope. Whatever the Knight was here for, it wasn't him.
Except maybe to fetch him from this assignment and to take him to another, more pressing one on some other planet that demanded the touch of a Jedi Agriculturist. Bandomeer was in need of help, yes, but the AgriCorps plans were taking effect – the Meerians and other inhabitants of the planet could've easily worked at them themselves. The Jedi Agriculturists were still needed, but not desperately. The planet could've done without them.
It surprised Obi-Wan how his heart rebelled against the idea of being shifted from this world to another. He had no love for Bandomeer – but he was finally getting used to it, used to the quiet, desolate life he was living on it. To have to start again on another world, one probably even worse off than Bandomeer…?
Squeezing his hands into fists, Obi-Wan stepped forward and towards the hooded figure. The filtration system echoed hollowly in the Gorge and the wind howled between the storage buildings, but it wasn't enough to smother his steps. They alerted the stranger to his presence immediately – even if his own Force Presence hadn't – and the stranger turned.
A man maybe in his thirties, with an auburn beard and handsome face gently lined by lines of stress and laughter. He looked familiar, somehow. And he looked weary.
"There you are," the man said, his voice soothing, his accent pure Coruscanti. Obi-Wan almost physically ached at how familiar it sounded.
"Here I am," Obi-Wan answered warily, feeling somehow out of place. He'd stopped wearing a robe a while ago, and his tunics were dirty and somewhat worn by the harsh work – his trousers were stained and his boots had long since lost their polish. He hadn't cut his hair in months – and hadn't brushed it in days. He felt scruffy and probably looked like it too.
It made no sense to feel out of place – he looked like the work he did, he belonged here with all of his dirt and scruffiness. It was this polished, clean stranger that was out of place. A Jedi Master did not belong on Bandomeer.
"What can I do for you?" Obi-Wan asked, swallowing and holding his chin up, refusing to feel sheepish or embarrassed. He probably had oil and dirt stains somewhere on his face and he had nothing to be ashamed about. He wasn't the intruder here.
The stranger stared at him, the weariness on his face smoothing into surprise and then deepening into something that looked like sympathy. "I had hoped to find you in… different circumstances," the man said and sighed. "Qui-Gon did not accept you as his Padawan, I see."
Somehow, despite all rational reason, that was the last thing Obi-Wan had expected.
As much as Obi-Wan wanted to get the stranger off what was sort of his land, he didn't say so. Instead he – awkwardly, stiffly, uncomfortably – offered for the stranger to come inside, to have tea with him in his so called house. The stranger acquiesced with a gentle nod and followed him inside, his footsteps near silent while Obi-Wan's sounded loudly, each footstep grinding against the loose rock of the still raw and barren ground.
Swallowing the feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy, Obi-Wan showed the stranger inside and to the fourth floor where he'd made his residence. It was, like everything else about the place, mostly barren. Still, the fourth floor had a kitchen – a cafeteria, actually – so that was where Obi-Wan lived. And that was where, while the stranger sat by the counter which had once fed hundreds of miners, Obi-Wan made them tea.
"An old mining facility?" the stranger asked quietly.
"One of the thousands scattered all across Bandomeer," Obi-Wan agreed, pouring the tea. It wasn't the sort of rich blend you could have on Coruscant, the sort he'd once drunk with Grand Master Yoda when the old Jedi Master had thought giving him advice would be worth his while. This tea was weak and bland and tasted artificial. But it was all Obi-Wan could afford and he served it with a hint of defiance to the Jedi Master who was most likely accustomed to much finer fare.
The stranger eased his hood down now and with something like dismay Obi-Wan watched him handle the cheap cast-plast cup like it was finest hand wrought ceramic. Even the man's manners were polished and beautiful.
"Thank you," the man said, taking a sip – and if he found the tea bad, it didn't show in his face. The man considered him over the cup and Obi-Wan considered him right back.
"You know Qui-Gon Jinn?" Obi-Wan finally asked, unable to help himself.
"I did," the man agreed.
"And you thought…"
"I did," the stranger said again, turning his gaze down to the cup. "I don't know why he didn't."
"He said I was too hateful, that training me would be a waste of time because I'd just end up turning," Obi-Wan said, his voice cutting. The man frowned and Obi-Wan folded his arms, refusing to… what, refusing to feel bad? Qui-Gon hadn't been nice to him so there was no reason for him to be nice about it either. "Said that I'd learn to be a better man by being a farmer."
"Hmm," the stranger said. "He was always so very quick to judge."
Obi-Wan opened his mouth and then closed with a snap when he realised what the man said. "Was?" he said, his voice full of shock. "Is he… was he…?"
"Ah, no," the stranger said and flashed him an awkward smile. "At least I don't think so – no Master Jinn is most likely quite fine. It's… been some time since I last saw him, that is all."
Obi-Wan harrumphed and pulled a chair to sit across from the man, the long service counter between them. He checked the counter casually and with a hint of relief found it to be clean. "So what?" he asked. "He didn't take me as a Padawan and I ended up here. What does that matter to you? Who are you anyway?"
The stranger hesitated, sipping his cheap tea and thinking quietly for a moment before looking up. "It does matter. And my name is Ben," he said and smiled wryly. "Ben Kenobi."
Obi-Wan remembered some things about his family. Not very much, but he'd been a late arrival to the Temple and so had some recollections. He remembered scattered fleeting things like the fact that he had a younger brother – Owen – and that at some point, he'd ran barefoot over grass. He remembered a father – who had a beard, he remembered the feel of it – and a mother – who used to sing him to sleep.
Ben was old to be his brother and he couldn't be Obi-Wan's father. An uncle maybe? Cousin? Or… well, if his parents had had an older child, one that had also gone to the JediTemple, then he wouldn't be in Obi-Wan's memories, would he? He would've already been a senior Padawan at least by the time Obi-Wan was born.
The Jedi Master watched him calmly, not saying anything and just waiting for Obi-Wan to finish digesting the information.
"I thought Jedi weren't allowed to have… family ties," Obi-Wan finally said.
Ben cracked a smile at that. "That's not quite true, is it?" he said. "There are plenty of Jedi with family ties – some Jedi who even have children, due to the needs of their species. Cereans, for example."
"Children…" Obi-Wan repeated, narrowing his eyes. "You're not my –"
The man chuckled. "No, I'm not your father," he said, and sipped his tea. "It's a close relation though," he added with a smile, looking at the cup in his hand and lowering it. His smile faded a little. "I really thought you'd be a Padawan by now."
"Well, I'm not. Whatever you have, it obviously doesn't run in the family," Obi-Wan grunted, though despite the irritation he couldn't deny the curiosity. It explained the strange familiarly. Maybe they shared facial features. The man had eyes pretty much the same colour as his own. A lighter shade maybe – Ben's eyes were almost blue.
Ben laughed softly at that. "Oh but it does – in this case it very much does," he said and smiled at Obi-Wan. "Everything I am, you have the potential to become," he said, with strange certainty in his voice. "And I don't know how Qui-Gon failed to see it. I really don't."
Obi-Wan squeezed his hands into fists on the counter and took a breath, letting it out slowly. "Well," he said. "Doesn't seem to matter now," he said and practically stamped the beginnings of desperate hope in his chest. He would not hope, he would not, he would not. Even if this man was related to him somehow, it didn't mean that Obi-Wan was anything but a farmer now.
Ben watched him, looking at his hands and his posture and then looking down at his cup again. "Well," he said, in echo of Obi-Wan. "I guess it doesn't."
Relative or not, Obi-Wan had his duties. He talked with Ben as long as his sense of duty allowed him – then he had to get to work. And, of course, Ben followed curiously, watching over him as he tended to the filter system and emptied the caches, when he tended to the seeds and seedlings, checking on the rows of planted saplings and repairing some of the damage done to them during the night by the local wild life.
As Obi-Wan worked, Ben asked a few curious questions about his work, and the man seemed honestly impressed when Obi-Wan showed him how to grow a seed into a plant. It wasn't precisely the same as impressing a Master with his saber skills or his knowledge, but for the first time Obi-Wan almost felt proud of how far he'd come with his abilities in the last year.
"It seems like hard work," Ben commented.
"It is," Obi-Wan agreed. "I haven't been here that long though – we tended to the lands around Bandor first, healing the land there, growing out the fields and gardens. Did you… see it?"
"Yes, I did," Ben said, looking impressed. "I saw the fields, they looked very well."
"I was taught to do this stuff on those fields," Obi-Wan said, proud and sheepish all at once. "I'm not as good as the others yet – they would've already had this place blooming. But… I'm figuring it out."
"Hmm," Ben answered, a strange look about his face. He followed Obi-Wan to the other craters and ravines where Obi-Wan checked the growths he'd planted and rejuvenated them and encouraged their growth. What the Jedi Master thought of his liberal, nearly careless, use of the Force, Obi-Wan didn't know, but he could feel the man sensing it out, his presence in the Force watchful and curious.
"They say I'll be a powerful Agriculturist, in a few years," Obi-Wan said, watching the Jedi Master closely as he did, trying to gauge the man's reaction. "I'm a lot more powerful in the Force than most in the Service Corps."
Mainly because most younglings as strong as him didn't become part of the Service Corps – they became Knights. He didn't say that one aloud, but the implication was there.
Ben nodded thoughtfully and didn't say anything.
Obi-Wan didn't have another sleeping pallet in the mining outpost – it had been completely barren of anything useful when he'd arrived, and he'd only brought with him as much as he needed. And Ben hadn't brought much with him – he, it seemed, followed the old precepts. The only things he had with him were his clothes, his lightsaber, and enough credits to manage for a little while.
They shared Obi-Wan pallet that night, Obi-Wan a little awkward and uneasy, and Ben perfectly at ease – obviously not troubled by sharing his personal space with another. While Obi-Wan tried to find a comfortable position on the suddenly cramped pallet, Ben was still and calm, and didn't even seen troubled by the elbow Obi-Wan accidentally hit him with.
"Are you…" Obi-Wan started, and shook his head. "You probably have duties," he said. "What are you doing on Bandomeer?"
"I came to find you," Ben answered calmly.
"Well… yeah, but…" but that didn't seem like something the Council would permit. Ben was Jedi through and through, but what he was doing here – that wasn't something Jedi did. It was attachment, plain and simple. Ben couldn't have come just to find him, not just like that. Could he?
But then… Jedi did have attachment. Qui-Gon had had one – with Xanatos, his previous Padawan. And that was why Xanatos had gone bad, hadn't he? Still, it had been sort of allowed when Xanatos had still been a Jedi, been Qui-Gon's student. Obi-Wan hadn't thought about it in a while – had avoided thinking about it. But it came to him now.
He was Ben's relative – a younger relative. There was attachment there. And yet…
"The Council doesn't know you're here, does it?" he asked slowly.
The elder Kenobi chuckled softly at that. "The Council doesn't even know I exist," he said with some amusement.
And Obi-Wan's blood suddenly ran cold.