Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padawan to Master Qui-Gon Jinn of the Jedi, was living in the moment. He was supposed to be being mindful of the past but, since that had a direct correlation on why he was dreading the future, he had decided that his only hope lay in the now. And actually, when you came to think of it, there was something simple and elegant about the structure of a corner. The way the pieces fit together, the symmetry, the-
"Padawan, you are supposed to be thinking about the reasons why you are in that corner, not about the corner itself."
By the Sith, he thought irritably. That was one thing that they never told you at the Temple while they were preparing you to become an apprentice. About the total lack of mental privacy once you formed a training bond.
"I never pry, Padawan. The way you are broadcasting now, a Force-deaf Hutt could pick up your thoughts."
And another thing, he thought, frowning - the bond was like having an embedded tracking device. Allowing his master - who should have had more faith in his padawan - to track him down and haul him back to their rooms like an errant child. Instead of allowing that padawan to explain.
"You are not aiding your defense by indulging in a childish tantrum, Padawan."
Obi-Wan sighed and leaned his forehead against the wall.
"Straighten up, Obi-Wan. You are supposed to be meditating, not napping. Or perhaps you are ready to start our discussion?"
"No, Master." Obi-Wan straightened immediately. He knew what would follow the discussion and he wasn't in any hurry to get to that. He sighed and tried to concentrate on his errors but he seemed to have been standing in this corner forever. Without really noticing, he began bouncing on his toes, unable to control his hyperactivity.
A firm hand grasped his shoulder. "Enough, Obi-Wan. If you cannot stand still, perhaps we should begin our discussion."
"I'm still thinking, Master."
"Ten minutes, Padawan."
Qui-Gon's tone was stern and Obi-Wan decided that pushing the limits was not a good idea at this moment. He sighed and forced his thoughts back to the situation.
One week earlier, they had stood before the Council being briefed on the situation on Omiset. The Senate had become alarmed about the appearance of a new social drug called Optimal Clarity, one that was highly addictive and dangerous, and had tried to trace the manufacturer. The results of a lengthy and complicated investigation seemed to point to the Omiseti’s First Minister as being the head of the supply side of the drug operation. Loathe to accuse the First Minister without further proof, the Supreme Chancellor had requested a Jedi team to investigate. Since Qui-Gon had been an observer at the last election, it was decided that he and his apprentice would be sent to "observe" the upcoming elections while investigating the drug operation.
Obi-Wan stood silently and respectfully at his master's side, listening intently as Master Windu described the situation. Although he knew that the Council wouldn't call him on, he also knew that his master would question him afterward about the mission. Once he had made the mistake of letting his mind wander, bored by the political details, and then had been unable to answer Qui-Gon's questions afterward. He flushed slightly, remembering the stern lecture he had received - and the additional lessons Qui-Gon had given him. Before they reached their next assignment, Obi-Wan had known more about the political situation on that planet than most of its own government. He made sure that he never made that error again.
He was not mistaken. No sooner had they reached the hallway after leaving the Council Chamber when Qui-Gon gestured for Obi-Wan to walk beside him.
"So, Padawan, what are your thoughts on this matter?"
Obi-Wan frowned in thought as he kept pace with his master. "It doesn't seem like a very wise move on the part of the First Minister, Master. The risk is too great - how does he profit from this?"
"Some would say that gaining a great deal of wealth is profitable," Qui-Gon responded dryly.
Obi-Wan nodded although somewhat doubtfully. Jedi did not amass wealth or own property and, although the concept of greed as a motivating factor was covered in Temple lessons, it was something that Obi-Wan had trouble understanding.
"It still doesn't make sense, Master. Is it possible - " He hesitated, uncertain. After all, so many older and wiser beings had been studying the situation. Who was he, a fourteen-year-old apprentice, to second-guess them?
"Speak freely, Obi-Wan. I enjoy hearing your thoughts."
"Is it possible that someone else is behind this? Someone wishing to upset the current government or, perhaps, destroy the First Minister."
Qui-Gon smiled at his apprentice. "I had hoped that you would realize that, Padawan. Yes, it is highly unlikely that the First Minister would be involved, for both personal and political reasons. So someone is trying to make it appear that way."
"Hardly the actions of drug smugglers, Master."
"Indeed, Obi-Wan. I believe that there is more to this than meets the eye."
Arriving at their chambers, they parted to complete their usual tasks prior to a new mission, but his master's words echoed through Obi-Wan's mind.
The trip was short and uneventful and they took the opportunity to thoroughly study the data amassed by the Senate. Each fact was examined for weakness or evidence that it had been falsified. And, on closer inspection, it did appear that it was all carefully placed, tailored to implicate the First Minister, leaving a subtle trail that also pointed back to Omiset. By the end of the day, Obi-Wan was left with a disquieting feeling. He looked at his master, troubled.
"I have an odd feeling about this, Master."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes, seeking out the Force currents that had spoken to his young apprentice. "It is the future you sense, Padawan." He opened his eyes and studied his apprentice with troubled eyes. "It appears that you may have a gift for such things."
"Is something wrong with that, Master?" Obi-Wan asked, alarmed by Qui-Gon’s expression.
"It is an area that I am not gifted in, Obi-Wan, but that is of little concern. Others can be found to instruct you in this area - my own master, for example."
"Then something else troubles you, Master."
"Future-sense can be dangerous, Obi-Wan, especially in combat."
"But surely it could be helpful, Master. If one knew the outcome of a move - "
"Indeed, Padawan, but the future is always changing. I pick up this glass and set in motion a pattern for the future. And in that future I take a sip or I don't. And if I sip, do I take one sip or drink it all? If I drink it all, do I refill it or set it down? I sit here looking at this glass and I see all the possible futures stretching out before me, each possibility generating another set of possibilities and - "
"Stop, Master!" Obi-Wan said with a rueful laugh. "You are making my head hurt."
"Could you, seeing all those future possibilities laid before you, make a choice in an instant? What if the outcome was more important than the disposition of a glass of water? What if lives hung in the balance?"
Obi-Wan looked at his master with dawning understanding. "What must I do, Master?"
"Learn to concentrate on the moment. Remaining aware of the Living Force will keep you grounded and focused on what is happening now." Qui-Gon said, rising from the table and settling on the floor. "It is also an area that you are weakest in, one you must work to strengthen."
Obi-Wan groaned and sat down cross-legged across from his master. "More meditations, Master?"
Qui-Gon ruffled the youngster’s hair, humor glinting in his eyes. "More meditations, Padawan."
The reception on Omiset was cordial and the government officials were pleased to renew their acquaintance with Qui-Gon. Omiset’s current ruling party was strong and stable, facing two challenges in the upcoming elections. One of the opposing parties had been gaining in popularity in recent years and was expected to make a good showing, but the other one was new and still struggling to find its voice and was largely discounted for the elections that were a week away.
"It will be a peaceful election," the First Minister said placidly. "We don’t expect any trouble."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and only the mental thump from his master kept him from snorting out loud as he recalled the last time they had been involved in an election. It had been early in their master/padawan relationship, a time when their bond was still incomplete as neither of them had fully accepted it. They had each held back for a long while, wary of being hurt or rejected, until time and dangers shared had strengthened their trust and deepened their tentative link into a full training bond with deep affection on both sides.
Certainly the most recent development in their relationship couldn’t have occurred without either the love or trust, although Obi-Wan wasn’t certain if this was a good thing or not. It was good to know that Qui-Gon cared enough to make certain that Obi-Wan was accountable for all of his actions. Obi-Wan had seen other padawans whose masters didn't seem to notice or care about their behavior outside the training ring and classroom. Obi-Wan knew that Qui-Gon had high expectations of him in every aspect of his life and the young apprentice worked hard to live up to those expectations. On the other hand, the consequences for failure could be painful. Obi-Wan’s backside was still a little tender after the spanking he had received two days earlier for brawling and then attempting to deceive his master about it. He was determined that his master wouldn’t have reason to discipline him that way for a long, long time.
However, it seemed as if the Minister's words were true in this case. In fact, Obi-Wan thought as he followed along after Qui-Gon on yet another inspection of the polling places and the headquarters for each party, the election was so tame that Obi-Wan was suffering from terminal boredom. The Jedi had settled into their guest room and, under the guise of monitoring the elections, had looked into both of the major parties intensely. The Alpha party facilities had been nearly taken apart and had revealed no connection to the drug ring. The false clues appeared to lead to the Delta party, but nothing turned up there either. Obi-Wan was nearly ready to scream with the frustration of it all, wondering how his master had the patience to continue with the charade of the elections when their real mission was turning up nothing but dead ends.
And then on the day before the elections, all hell broke loose.
It started with a Vid broadcast on the local Information Service. Somehow, someone had gotten hold of the information about the suspected drug connection to the First Minister and the details, what little they had, were splashed over every channel. The Alpha party immediately denounced the report, declaring the information a fraudulent attempt to discredit the Minister and the Alpha party. No sooner had they issued their statement than another Vid was released, this one confirming that the Delta party had trumped up the story. The Delta party had retaliated with their own accusations that the Alpha party had invented the whole thing in an attempt to discredit the Deltas. It went downhill from there.
Qui-Gon spent most of the morning trying to minimize the damage and all of the afternoon working with the two parties, trying to mediate the increasingly ugly atmosphere. Obi-Wan was unable to do more than watch his master deal with them, marveling at the senior Jedi's patience when long ago he would have knocked their heads together. Kicking his heels on the sidelines, he had nothing better to do than to watch the faces of the other observers, noting the satisfied - almost gleeful - look on the Xeta party's candidate for Minister. Which was hardly surprising, he reflected. With all the bickering going on between the two major players, the Xeta party had to start looking good to those who were fed up with it all.
He straightened in his chair, thunderstruck by that thought. Of course - the only one that profited from this whole mess was the Xeta party. Why hadn't they seen that before? It had to be the Xetas behind it!
Obi-Wan glanced impatiently towards his master, irritated even more by the circus playing out before him. He needed to get his master alone, tell him what he had worked out. He sent that thought to his master and saw Qui-Gon briefly glance in his direction. A few minutes later, Qui-Gon called for a short dinner break and led the way to their guest room.
Once the door closed behind them, Qui-Gon turned towards his apprentice and raised an eyebrow. "Well, Padawan? What was so urgent that the talks needed to be interrupted?"
"I figured it out, Master!" Obi-Wan nearly bounced in excitement. "I figured out who is behind this. The Xeta party!"
Qui-Gon tilted his head, evaluating the thought. "It is possible, Obi-Wan, but we have no evidence."
"We can find it - we just have to check out their headquarters. I bet that we turn up something - " Obi-Wan broke off as his master shook his head. "Why not?"
"It's a good idea, Padawan, but we don't have time to look right now. These people are too close to exploding into violence for me to go chasing off on a possibility. Let me finish the talks and then tomorrow, after the voting, we can go check it out."
Obi-Wan growled in frustration. "By then it will be too late! They'll have destroyed the evidence. I can go check it out."
"No," Qui-Gon said firmly. "I don't want you to go off on your own."
"I've been involved in more dangerous missions. I can handle it."
"Obi-Wan, if they are involved in this, and if they are also involved in the drug ring, these people could be very dangerous. Too dangerous for you to face on your own." Obi-Wan opened his mouth and Qui-Gon said, "No, Obi-Wan. I expressly forbid you to leave these grounds without me. Am I understood?" Obi-Wan scowled, silent, and Qui-Gon said, sternly, "Obedience, Padawan."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes, Master," he said sullenly.
Qui-Gon sighed and resigned himself to dealing with a sulky teenager for the next few days. "And I think two hours meditation on the obedience a padawan owes to his master would be appropriate."
Obi-Wan carefully shielded his internal cursing; the man was capable of thinking of more unpleasant tasks and it was wiser not to push Master Qui-Gon. "Yes, Master."
Obi-Wan sat meditating - or trying to - after his master returned to the talks. The only thing he could think about was that every minute that they delayed was giving the conspirators time to destroy the evidence. By the time Qui-Gon finished meeting with the two groups and got the accusations sorted out, it would be too late.
Decisively, he rose and donned his outer robe before picking up his lightsaber. He moved swiftly and silently through empty corridors, crossing the darkened plaza to the party offices housed on the government grounds. The offices were silent and dark and Obi-Wan was able to easily slip the lock on the door. Recalling the layout from memory, he moved through the strangely-empty offices on silent feet toward the central office. The door yielded to his touch and he slipped inside. This room was more settled than the others, looking as if real work was done here. He quickly looked around, scanning for where information might be kept. A tray of data-pads caught his attention and he looked over them quickly but they appeared to be concerned with voting trends and strategies.
Obi-Wan looked around for other locations for hidden evidence. A quick search of the desk turned up nothing of importance. Then, as he was sliding the drawer back in, he noticed that it didn't quite go all the way in. He pulled the drawer out and looked at all sides and the bottom but there was nothing on the drawer itself. Then he reached into the opening, feeling around, and his fingers closed over a packet attached to the back wall. Carefully detaching it, he opened the envelope and found a datapad inside. Activating it, the first words he saw made him catch his breath: Off-world Corporation.
Xanatos. It began to make sense now. If Xanatos was the driving force behind the Xeta party, then he was no doubt behind the plot to discredit the Alpha and Delta parties. With both parties discredited, his party would legally gain control of the government, just as they had attempted to do on Gala. He scrolled down the index of files on the padd, opening a few to see detailed information on planned mining operations and exploitation of the natural resources. Then another file heading, Optimal Clarity, caught his attention. Opening it, his eyes widened. This detailed information on the local branch of the drug operation and might, with closer examination, lead to the manufacturers.
Obi-Wan turned off the padd and tucked it into his belt pouch, slipped another padd into the envelope and restored it, putting the drawer back. Carefully making sure that there was no evidence of his presence, he opened the door and slipped back into the hallway. It was time to get back and show Qui-Gon what he had found.
As he turned the corner, a strange feeling suddenly came over him, an awareness of something about to happen. A series of images slammed into his mind, making him dizzy as if he had been doing too many somersaults. He tried to grab onto the images, to bring them into focus, but they were moving too fast for him. He shook his head, trying to clear it, but it only made it worse. His master's words echoed in his head and he tried to center his thoughts on the moment but he was too distracted. He never heard the man come up behind him until it was too late, until arms like steel had wrapped around him, pinning his own arms to his side.
"Well, look what we have here. An unexpected guest."
A light shone in his face and he squinted against the sudden brightness as he heard another man swearing. "It's the Jedi kid. He must've been snooping round here. Check and see if the other one is here, too."
"He's not - this is the only one."
"Then we need to get rid of him - now."
"Kill a Jedi? Are you crazy?"
"We're not gonna kill him. I gotta better plan." Obi-Wan didn't like the smirk he heard in the man's voice. "Kids these days, trying all sortsa things. Such a shame that the boy took a double dose of Clarity."
"Yeah. If it don't kill him straight out, his brain'll be fried." Obi-Wan broke into a sweat and struggled harder, trying to call on the Force for assistance but his brain seemed to be wrapped in cotton. "Go get the stuff."
"Hold onto him tight - better yet, tie him up."
A quiet voice spoke from the doorway. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Obi-Wan knew that voice as well as the tingling sensation in the Force that signaled his master's presence. The pain and confusion in his head lessened and he reached out for the Force to steady himself, waiting for his master's signal.
"What's going on here?" came another voice behind Qui-Gon and the lights came on. Obi-Wan blinked hard before he could focus his eyes enough to see the First Minister and the other two candidates standing behind his master.
"We caught a little thief is all," said the man still holding Obi-Wan.
"The boy is not a thief," Qui-Gon said impassively. "He is my apprentice."
"Then what was he doing snooping round here?"
"Good question, Master Jinn," the First Minister said. "Is he here on your orders?"
His master's eyes met Obi-Wan's across the room and he could see the steel in them. He swallowed hard, knowing that he was in serious trouble. "Yes," Qui-Gon said firmly. "And I take full responsibility for his actions. Please release him."
The man holding Obi-Wan was reluctant but at the snapped order from the First Minister he let the apprentice go. Obi-Wan immediately moved across the room to the safety of his master's side. No matter how much trouble he was in with Qui-Gon, he knew that his master would protect him.
"Now, Master Jinn, if you would be so good as to explain," the First Minister asked. "First you call a meeting, then you run out in the middle of it as if the place was on fire. What is going on?"
Qui-Gon turned and fixed his eyes on his apprentice. "Obi-Wan, would you please tell the Minister what we learned."
Obi-Wan drew a deep breath. "Master Qui-Gon and I suspected that the evidence against the First Minister and its trail back to the Delta party was invented to discredit both parties. The only one who would profit from this was the Xeta party so while the discussion was taking place this evening, I came here to investigate. And I found this."
Obi-Wan pulled the data-padd out of his pouch and caught an abortive movement from the two men who had captured him. He handed it to Qui-Gon who looked at it with a raised eyebrow.
"What is it?" the Minister asked.
"Proof that Off-world Corporation was behind the attempt to discredit both the Alpha and Delta parties, and that they were manipulating the Xeta party," Qui-Gon said. "As well as their plans after winning the election."
"And proof that they were involved in the distribution of Optimal Clarity, if not the manufacturer," Obi-Wan added. "They were going to use the drug on me, too." At the sudden flare of Qui-Gon's nostrils, he realized that it had been a mistake to mention that.
The First Minister and the Delta party candidate exchanged looks. "We will need to see that information ourselves. But in the meantime, we will take your word for it, Master Jinn. Arrest these men."
"I believe a joint statement about these findings would resolve the matters and clear the way for the elections tomorrow. If you will excuse me for a moment, I will make certain that my apprentice is unharmed and join you shortly."
At their agreement, Qui-Gon silently bid his padawan to follow him and, in equal silence, they crossed the central plaza and followed the corridors to their room. Obi-Wan entered behind his master, watching him from the corner of his eye. He had a knot in his stomach, wondering if his master was going to punish him for his disobedience or forget about it because of the resolution to their mission.
"Padawan?" Qui-Gon's voice was gentle and the boy was surprised to suddenly find himself in a warm embrace. "I felt your fear and confusion - are you all right? Were you injured in any way?"
"No, Master," Obi-Wan said quietly, his voice muffled against his master's tunic, guilt filling him.
"Good." Qui-Gon exhaled in relief and released the boy. "Then I believe that we need to have a long talk."
Obi-Wan sighed. "The corner, Master?"
"The corner, Padawan. I want you to think about this evening's activities and what might have happened while I finish speaking with the two ministers." Slowly, Obi-Wan made his way towards the corner. "When I get back, we will discuss your disobedience."
So Obi-Wan found himself contemplating the corner, dreading the upcoming discussion. And, even more, what would follow the discussion.
"Time’s up, Padawan. Come over here and sit down."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes, Master." After all, there was still the faint hope that he would be able to talk his master out of punishment. He followed his master over to where the meditation mat had been set out and miserably sat down in a huddle. Qui-Gon settled more gracefully, folding his robes around himself.
"All right, Obi-Wan. Perhaps you will explain to me why you left this room - against my express orders. And why you felt it necessary to break into the X party headquarters."
Obi-Wan drew a deep breath, marshalling his arguments. "As I said, I thought that whoever was trying to implicate the other two parties would try to destroy any remaining evidence. We needed to move quickly to prevent that." It sounded logical, he thought. It made sense. He wondered if Qui-Gon would accept that explanation.
"There are times to take action and times to wait. This was a time to wait."
"But I found the proof, Master."
"Nearly at the cost of your life, Padawan. That is too high a price."
"Master, we risk our lives as Jedi."
"When necessary, yes. After weighing the risks."
Obi-Wan dropped his head at the stern tone in his master’s voice, sensing under the words the fear that Obi-Wan might have been killed. "Yes, Master."
"Then there is the matter of your disobeying my orders to remain here."
Obi-Wan’s head snapped up. "Your exact words were to remain on these grounds, Master."
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"And the Xeta Headquarters are on these grounds - on the government grounds just across the plaza. So, from a – a certain point of view, I did not disobey you."
Qui-Gon’s lip twitched. "From a certain point of view?"
"A fine line, Padawan. So fine as to be nearly invisible." He fixed his intense gaze on his apprentice. "Obi-Wan, did you know precisely what I meant by my words?"
"But – "
Obi-Wan sighed. "No, master. I knew what you meant."
"So – your point of view not withstanding – you disobeyed me by leaving our rooms."
"You broke into the building – alone – and, after locating the contraband, were captured by the smugglers and nearly killed."
"Do you have anything further to say in defense of your actions, Padawan?"
Obi-Wan sighed. "No, Master." He looked up hopefully at his master. "So - more lessons, Master? Meditations?" Qui-Gon looked at him sternly and Obi-Wan sighed. "I didn't think so. You're going to - to spank me, aren't you?"
"Disobedience warrants a spanking, does it not?"
Qui-Gon reached over to cup his apprentice's cheek reassuringly. "A hand spanking this time only, Padawan."
"Well, that's a comfort," Obi-Wan said sarcastically, then flushed and hung his head. "Sorry, Master."
"Shall we get this over with?" Qui-Gon rose and sat down on a straight-backed chair and Obi-Wan reluctantly moved to his side. He unfastened his pants and pushed them down to his knees, flushing with embarrassment as he bent over his master’s knees. Qui-Gon flipped up the long tunic and settled his apprentice more comfortably – for the moment.
"All right, Padawan. What is this spanking for?"
"Disobeying you by breaking into the Xeta headquarters on my own."
"Let’s break this down into smaller parts. What did you do first?"
"I left our rooms against your orders." He waited for the first swat, wincing as it fell.
"Despite your ‘point of view’ argument, you knew that I wanted you to remain here until we could check this out together."
Obi-Wan gasped as Qui-Gon’s large hand efficiently covered his ass with sharp blows. Somehow – impossible as it may have seemed – he had forgotten just how painful this was.
"I – I broke into the Xeta headquarters."
"And you were?"
"Alone, Master. Without you - knowing where I was." He winced at the heaviness of the blows that fell.
"We are a team, Padawan. We work best as a team. There are times when need or circumstances force us to work separately, but we are strongest together. Especially while you are still young and inexperienced."
"Y-yes, Master." Tears were running freely down Obi-Wan’s face now as his stern master continued to paddle his backside. He was certain that it must be bright red or even purple by now. "P-please, Master – no more. I’m – I’m s-sorry."
"I expect you are, Padawan." Qui-Gon evened out the redness in his apprentice’s backside. Finished, he rubbed the sobbing youngster’s back soothingly and said, gently, "All over, Obi-Wan."
"T-thank you, M-master."
Qui-Gon continued to silently rub the younger man’s back until he sensed that the exhausted youth was calmed enough to sleep. "All right, Padawan. Time for bed. You will need your rest for your next task."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said resignedly as he reassembled his clothing, wincing at the feel of cloth against his tender backside. Qui-Gon rarely used physical punishment alone and Obi-Wan expected additional lessons and meditations.
"I wish you to prepare the Field report to send to the Council."
Obi-Wan’s head jerked up, surprised. "Master?"
Qui-Gon smiled at him and ruffled his hair. "The solution was yours, Padawan, as was the discovery of the evidence. And it will be good experience for you to learn to concisely assemble information for the Council."
And it would be attached to his permanent Temple record, part of his annual review for Temple standings. To have an official Field report in his name at such a young age would be much to his advantage. It was almost worth having a paddled butt.
"And before you get any ideas, Padawan," Qui-Gon said, reading him easily through their link, "I would have asked you to prepare the report despite tonight’s little adventure since the solution was yours. However, I expect you would have been considerably more comfortable sitting at the console without a sore backside."
Obi-Wan acknowledged the truth of that with a rueful smile and suppressed a yawn, headed towards his room.
"I look forward to reading your explanation for this evening’s adventure as well," Qui-Gon said dryly. "Perhaps you could try that ‘certain point of view’ argument on the Council. I am certain that Master Yoda would appreciate it."
Obi-Wan looked back at his master with a smile and a hint of a twinkle in his eyes. "Who do you think I learned it from? Good-night, Master."
Qui-Gon laughed and bid his apprentice goodnight. And, as he headed towards his own bed, he resolved to have a long, long talk with his former master when he got back to Coruscant.