Qui-Gon sat cross-legged on the floor of the small recreational area, his thick brown cloak removed, his graying hair loose and flowing around his shoulders. He could feel the engines of the older ship humming underneath him, vibrating slightly through his limbs as he remained in light meditation. It was a cramped, battered vessel and Qui-Gon had doubts about its maneuverability. However, other Jedi spacecraft were already in use and there was no reason while the ship would not be able to make the trip to Duro.
Qui-Gon inhaled softly, attempting to calm the tension that had circulated through his body since their departure from Coruscant hours ago. He reached for the soothing power of the Living Force, wrapping it around his mind, releasing his concerns regarding the new mission into nothingness. Analyze your perceptions, dismiss what you cannot change, accept only truth. The mantra was often repeated by Jedi instructors when leading students into meditation and even after decades of service as a Jedi knight Qui-Gon could still hear Master Ridov, the master who had instructed him when he was a child, reciting those ancient words as he circled the meditation rooms.
A presence wavered on the edge of Qui-Gon’s Force sense and he slipped gradually out of meditation, opening his eyes to regard Sy’la-ki Virmu standing in the archway of the recreation room. Master Virmu frowned slightly at him, her gold eyes narrowed in the dimmed lights.
“I did not mean to disturb your meditation, Master Jinn.”
She spoke with quiet authority, stepping into the room as Qui-Gon rose gracefully from the floor. He gestured in invitation to the chairs surrounding a small table, and she dipped her head in thanks. She was of average height and build, but appeared small, almost delicate, next to his tall broad-shouldered frame. Appearances were deceiving, however, for Qui-Gon knew her species were renowned for their endurance in battle.
The dim lights that ran along the edges of the ship’s pitted ceiling gleamed over them, shadowing Qui-Gon’s pale complexion and darkening Virmu’s furrowed pinkish-gray skin. Qui-Gon was unsure of Master Virmu’s exact age, only that she was in her elder years, her stern face lined with more than just the numerous visible veins Grelians were born with. She had taken four padawans so far, her first had been the formidable Jorus C’baoth, who had finished the last of his training with her, her second had been a few years younger than Qui-Gon, a Twi’lek he vaguely remembered seeing at the temple. Qui-Gon had not had the opportunity to meet her last two padawans.
They sat across from each other, the ridges on Master Virmu’s hairless scalp catching the faint light as she bent her head in thought, her yellow eyes still narrowed. Qui-Gon waited for her to speak, interlocking his large fingers and enduring her sharp observation of him calmly. She had been briefed longer on the mission than he had and had worked with the Duros before, her insight would be valuable.
Though he preferred solo missions, Qui-Gon was not displeased that the council had assigned Master Virmu and her apprentice to the Durian mission as well. On all accounts the mission would be no more than simple investigation work of one of the orbital Duro Starshipwright Shipyards. An unknown criminal outfit had recently stolen three ships from the Duros, all without being caught or leaving incriminating evidence. Though peaceful, the Duros were extremely protective over their ships and to steal one was a grave crime within their culture. Duroian investigations had yielded little evidence, but popular opinion seemed to place the blame on Corellia, which Qui-Gon had to agree made sense. Corellia was known for its enterprising smugglers and Duro resided within the Corellian Trade Spine. Less than reputable Corellians often landed at the twenty cities and various spaceports orbiting the inhabitable world of Duro and the Duros usually turned a blind eye, as long as the Corellians did not cause trouble during their brief stays.
Still, Qui-Gon could sense uneasiness from Master Virmu, the same uneasiness that he had felt when the mission had been suggested. Master Virmu frowned again, meeting his eyes.
“The council does not foresee complications with our mission perimeters,” she stated, perhaps sensing the focus of his thoughts, or perhaps to reassure both of their uncertainty.
Qui-Gon lifted his shoulder in a slight shrug.
“That may be, but things rarely go as planned,” he remarked, returning Master Virmu’s calculating look.
He knew that she regarded him as a maverick and was skeptical of his unorthodox behavior. No doubt she had heard rumors of how exactly Qui-Gon’s missions did not go as planned.
Qui-Gon rubbed a hand over his scruffy beard, turning the subject to a more neutral one.
“What does your apprentice think of the mission?”
Master Virmu frowned, causing her stern face to appear almost harsh.
“Obi-Wan is piloting the ship.”
Qui-Gon tilted his head at the vague, clipped response. It was not his place to offer advice on the affinity between master and padawan. Yet he could not prevent another stirring of unease with how dismissive Master Virmu was, in regards to her apprentice. He had known a Grelian in his youth, and could recognize the almost imperceptible sharpened nuance to the swift response, the slight turning of the head that conveyed disregard. Grelians could be difficult to please, but they were not often judgmental of their students or friends.
Qui-Gon tried to recall what little he knew of the woman’s padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. A human male, one who had been selected at age eleven, a young age for being chosen, the padawan was now in his early twenties. Qui-Gon did not have a visual image attached to the scant information. The temple was simply too large to memorize every member of the Jedi order.
“He must be near the trials,” Qui-Gon stated, to fill the quiet that echoed in the dusty room, watching as Virmu stiffened slightly.
She crossed her arms, the black bindings there stark against the dark brown of her Jedi tunics.
“I do not discuss my apprentice’s training.”
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow but refrained from continuing the conversation. Master Virmu’s aloof behavior was unusual, but not unfounded. It was not customary for other masters to speak of the Jedi trials, as it was, only the council would know for sure when a padawan was ready.
Master Virmu stood, bowing and Qui-Gon got to his feet, returning the gesture. He could sense her emotions only faintly and with great concentration, her shielding skills impressive enough to mute her mind almost completely to his. The Force flowed from them, but did not connect in the casual way that Jedi often allowed when they interacted with other Jedi. She held herself rigidly away from him and Qui-Gon wondered if she was telepathically sensitive to strong thoughts or emotions, though it was not a problem he had encountered with other Grelians.
The dim lights in the room suddenly flickered, then died. Qui-Gon looked upwards at the low ceiling, frowning as the smooth rumble of the ship’s engines stuttered. Something impacted the left side of the ship and the emergency alert lights powered on, their red glow illuminating patches of darkness. The floor lurched hard beneath their feet and Qui-Gon flung out a hand, summoning the Force to maintain his equilibrium. Master Virmu stumbled, her body tense, a hiss escaping her sharp teeth. The ship jolted again and Qui-Gon heard the beep of the main intercom being flipped on over the ship’s speakers. A voice came over the line, speaking rapidly.
“Master we are under attack by an unidentified ship, I have contacted them to cease-fire but they have not responded. We’re not equipped with the firepower to retaliate. Permission to lower ship’s gravity to boost shield power?”
The low voice was still calm, slightly accented, but Qui-Gon could hear the tension underneath the level tone.
A sudden flare along the edges of his awareness caught the controlled emotions emitting from the cockpit where Master Virmu’s apprentice was. Irritation, worry, resilience.
Alarms began to ring throughout the ship as another hit was taken to the side, spinning the vessel. When it righted again Qui-Gon strode towards the ship’s main computer, bracing himself as they swung in tight maneuvers, the pilot struggling to evade another impact. Though Virmu’s padawan was a talented pilot, the ship was too old and cumbersome to move efficiently. They didn’t have much time before they would inevitably suffer a potentially fatal hit. Qui-Gon increased his speed into a run, using the Force to keep himself steady as the ship bucked beneath his feet.
The ship’s computer was located in the main corridor, he slid to an abrupt halt in front of it, rapidly typing in emergency access, hoping that his Jedi security codes would be strong enough to override the system. The ship’s output system was damaged in the southeast corner of the engine room, affecting the functioning of the computer. The blue holoscreen wavered in front of him, shorting out before reforming. Qui-Gon clenched his teeth as the ship swerved, the lights flickering bright red around him as he struggled to recalculate the gravity controls into the ship’s computer before the entire system crashed.
The smell of burning metal and overheated machinery permeated the air, smoke drifting ghostlike in the crimson-tinged darkness. Qui-Gon ignored the alarms blaring near him, riding out another impact against the ship’s hull as he hacked into the controls. The ship jolted and Qui-Gon grabbed unto the dented wall with one hand, pressing the ship’s comlink button only to be met with the buzzing of a disconnected intercom.
Bracing his large body against another sharp twist of the ship, Qui-Gon typed faster, his head bent over the main computer, the tip of his crooked nose almost touching the holo screen. He fed what power he could to the main com. It cut in and Qui-Gon directed his signal to the cockpit.
“I’ve overridden the ship’s automatic defense system, you’re on manual now,” he informed Virmu’s padawan shortly.
The pilot’s only response was the sudden lift of the ship, Qui-Gon’s legs bracing, then suddenly floating as the gravity was cut lose, the ship’s engines whining under the pressure as Obi-Wan fed all extra energy to the shields.
Qui-Gon felt the ship lean hard to avoid another hit, the wall becoming the floor. He gripped what was once the ceiling, threading his way along the side of the corridor, grateful that the next hit impacted on raised shields. Objects, mostly the ship’s furnishings, slid into the hall from open rooms, whatever wasn’t bolted down now thrown into the weightless dark as the ship spun again.
Virmu was suddenly in the corridor, her alien body better suited to the low gravity. The red lights gleamed off her jedi robes as she moved towards him in the smoke-filled darkness. Clinging to the tilted wall with a clawed hand, she used the other to yank her comlink off her belt,
“Obi-Wan, you must relay central power to the ship’s engines,” she ordered rapidly into the comlink.
The ship shuddered and tilted again and Qui-Gon pushed off the wall as a chair spiraled towards his head, debris still spilling from other parts of the ship and slamming into the bulkheads before floating around them.
“We can’t relay the power, it will take too much energy from the ship’s shields.” He called to Virmu over the screeching of the ship’s overheated engines.
She ignored him, continuing to snap into her comlink, becoming agitated when Obi-Wan did not follow her orders.
Reaching through the Force, Qui-Gon was able to evade the worst of the objects whirling around them. He pulled himself towards the cockpit, needing to assist Virmu’s padawan. The entire ship shook, as if grabbed by a giant hand. A powerful jolt spun them though the air. Qui-Gon struggling to find a handhold, his other arm shielding his face from the ship’s debris knocking into them.
“Find the emergency release!” Virmu yelled into the comlink, her clawed hands flailing slightly as she twisted, propelling her floating body away from a small spinning side table.
Obi-Wan’s response was impossible to hear over the screaming alarms. The Force surged with sudden power, anther explosion ripped though the ship, hurling them backwards, gravity returning as the ship’s shields crumbled. Qui-Gon was flung into a wall, his limbs tumbling, struggling to right himself, even as another jarring explosion came, pulling them into the air as if they were once again weightless. Something sharp struck the side of his head and complete and utter darkness crashed into him.