Yoda takes her to Ryloth, first.
She wants to say, I thought we were going to be searching for the Sith spy, I thought we were going to be stopping them from doing harm.
She can hear the reply in her own voice and in Yoda’s; Patience, she would tell Ani if he’d said it. We learn nothing by focusing so hard on the task at hand that we don’t see the shape of the overall work.
So she takes a breath and focuses on the overall shape – part of which is her education.
“Do or do not,” Yoda says. “There is no try.”
“Of course there’s a try,” Shmi says. “I try something, and I do my best; and if my best is good enough, I succeed. But if my best is not good enough, it isn’t because I have decided to do not.”
“And yet certain, a Jedi must be, in their convictions, in their abilities,” Yoda says.
“I will be certain,” Shmi says. “I will know my own capabilities – and I will know my own limits. And I will keep pushing those limits, and it won’t always work. But I will try, at the very least.”
Yoda is silent for a moment, then chuckles to himself. “Different discussions, we are having,” he says. “Saying, I am, that present itself, the option of failure must not, or an option it becomes in truth.”
“And I’m saying that we, as sentients, cannot always be certain of outcomes,” Shmi says. “If I’m a diplomatic Jedi and my negotiations fail, it’s not always because I did nothing. Sometimes, trying is the only option you have.” She cocks her head to the side. “I suppose that while you’re saying that you can’t present failure as an option, I’m saying that sometimes you have to try to present success as an option.”
“Hmmm.” Yoda nods slowly. “And… in truth, teaches, failure does. Learn from failure we may.” He glances over to the side. “What think you, younglings?”
The small horde of twi’lek children are wide-eyed at their debate. The blue girl who’s been translating for the ones who don’t speak Basic sighs dramatically. “’M not young,” she insists.
“Young, you are, when compared to me,” Yoda says mischeviously. “Approaching nine hundred years, I am.”
The children all gasp. (Well, the ones who speak Basic do. The ones who only know Ryl have to wait for their friends to translate.)
“But back to our lesson, we must turn,” Yoda says, and looks back at her, a mischevious glint in his eye. “Valid, your point is; yet lift this brick, you still must.”
Shmi isn’t nine years old, so she doesn’t make a face. But… fluids moving through the air makes sense. Solids don’t float. They fall.
But Shmi had just said that success had to be an option; so she is going to try to lift a brick.
“Like to say, mathematicians do, that with a lever and a place to stand, move planets, we may,” Yoda says. “The lever, your mind is; your willpower, your place to stand.”
Do or do not, Shmi thinks, and can start to understand what it’s trying to say. It’s not about effort, or strength, or concentration.
It’s just about… moving.
“Good,” Yoda says, and Shmi opens her eyes. She’s picked up the brick; it hovers about half a foot above the ground.
The younglings are silent with awe.
Shmi thinks that this would be the place where the brick would fall, in a story or a tale; but she is calm and steady. She doesn’t need to move from this spot; she has her lever and her place to stand, and they are both rock-solid.
“Very good,” Yoda says. “Now, something bigger.”
And there’s where Shmi’s concentration is broken. She thinks, can I lift something that big–
The brick falls.
I see what you mean about doubts, Shmi says silently to her teacher.
Sayings, we have, for a reason, Yoda says. Though a good lesson it is, that universal they are not.
Shmi looks out at the twi’leki village. I can lift something bigger, she thinks to herself. But… not one of the bigger pieces of rubble. I’ll work my way up.
Then Yoda tenses. She feels it in the force, imperceptibly small.
A second later, she feels the incoming earthquake herself.
“Children,” she says, standing and projecting calm. “There’s another quake coming.”
The saddest thing, really, is that the children are used to this. The older ones pick up the younger ones; with only a few shrieks and whimpers, they move to the shelter on the edge of the village, as far away from both the cliffs and the trees as possible.
The adults of the village come as the quake hits, some at a run, worried for their children, others more sedate, used to the ground shaking beneath them.
“This is the fifth one this week,” Silaisko’mad, one of the village’s hunters, grumbles. “When will they stop?”
Sek’uhan, the girl in training to be the village’s next leader, glares at him. “They’ll stop when they stop,” she snaps. “Will you go moaning about the sun, next?”
“The sun doesn’t flatten houses,” he says.
Yoda looks over at Shmi. Trouble, this is, he says.
The dissent, or the earthquakes? Shmi asks.
Both, impudent padawan of mine, he says.
Shmi watches Seku argue with Silais. We can do something about one of those problems, she says.
Indeed, Yoda replies, as the shaking finally rumbles to a stop. A trial for Sek’uhan, this conflict is. The source of these earthquakes, we will find.
One of the younglings tugs at her leg – Xi’aanamersu, Shmi remembers.
“Quake’s over,” the girl says, the thumb in her mouth muffling her words a bit. “C’n we go play with rocks some more?”
Shmi rests her hand on Xiaan’s head. “Maybe later, little one,” she says. “Master Yoda and I have Jedi work to do.”
Ryloth is like Tatooine, and yet so unlike it; the heat, the dryness, the taste of the desert in the air, these are all the same. But Ryloth less sand and more dry earth, and green plants make their way up out of the dirt.
And, of course, its weather is far more variable than ‘sandstorm’ or ‘no sandstorm.’ Ryloth gets earthquakes, and tornadoes, and thunderstorms, and maybe more types of natural disaster that Shmi doesn’t even know exist yet.
“The cause of the earthquakes, do you know?” Yoda asks her as they walk a winding path through the hills, Yoda leading her… somewhere.
Shmi thinks. “There could be… some sort of mining operation, digging too deep,” she says slowly. “Or… something else destabilizing the rock, I suppose.”
Yoda nods slowly. “And if neither of those, it is?”
Shmi stares off into the trees. What can cause an earthquake?
“Said, you did,” Yoda says. “That often true, the most simple explanation is.”
What can cause an earthquake… “A volcano,” Shmi says.
Yoda nods cheerfully. “The most likely explanation, that is,” he says. “Know this, the villagers do.”
“What can we do about the volcano?” Shmi asks.
“Nothing,” Yoda tells her.
If we can do nothing about the volcano, then why are we here, Shmi thinks. She realizes a moment later that she’s said it in her mind for Yoda to hear, not just herself.
“Do nothing, can we?” Yoda asks. “Said that, did I?”
“We can’t do anything about the volcano, but we can help the villagers,” Shmi says, understanding what Yoda is pushing her towards.
“Debate, there is, among the villagers,” he says. “Dangerous, a volcano is; yet also dangerous, is moving the village to a safer place. Doubt that a volcano exists, some do.”
“We bring back evidence of the volcano,” Shmi says. “Somehow. Then we help them move the village.”
“Good lifting practice, it will be,” Yoda says.
Shmi is old enough to keep her sigh to herself.
They climb a hill – no, a mountain, twisting and turning. There’s no path here, but Yoda is light and agile and Shmi is determined to keep up. She watches Yoda jump up on rocks and crags, sees him jumping further with the aid of the force.
I can do that, Shmi thinks, and jumps.
(It takes her a few tries; it’s not like lifting something up, exactly. It’s like adding a push, putting mental springs on her feet, launching herself further. But as they climb the mountain, Shmi learns how to force-jump; and Yoda looks at her with pride in his eyes.)
It’s hotter than it should be, high up on the mountain’s side; that’s the first clue that something is wrong. Or maybe that something is right, given that they’re actively looking for the volcano. At first, Shmi almost thinks that she’s just exhausted from the climb – but though she is tired, this heat is coming from the ground.
“Here, we are,” Yoda says, and leads her to the rim.
A sea of fire boils below them, melting and bubbling. It’s as hot or maybe even hotter than the suns at noon; these are the kinds of temperatures that can melt rock.
They sit at the volcano’s rim. Yoda pulls out two fruits and tosses one to her.
Shmi eats it thankfully; she’s still too used to missing meals, but she’s trying to make up the lack.
“A force of nature, the volcano is,” Yoda says. “If erupts, it does, stop it, we cannot. Divert the flow of lava, we can. Help people evacuate, we can. But stop the eruption? Fight the forces of the center of a planet? We cannot. That way lies destruction.”
“Like a sandstorm,” Shmi says quietly.
“Yes,” Yoda says. “Know much of volcanoes, do you?”
Shmi shakes her head.
“Ash, they spew into the atmosphere,” he says. “Flows of lava, down the mountain run. Burn away vegetation, rock, everything, they do.”
“But you wouldn’t be saying this unless there was more,” Shmi says.
Yoda chuckles. “True, that is.” He looks out away from the lava; Shmi follows his gaze and sees Ryloth – the stony desert and the dry forest, a smudge that might be the village they’re staying at. “Nutrients, the ash has,” he says. “Replenish the earth, fill the soil, it will. Die, many things will; grow, many things will.”
“So not only can we not stop the volcano, we shouldn’t stop the volcano,” Shmi says.
“Always consequences for our actions, there are,” Yoda says. “Balance the weight of destruction we may prevent, and lives we may save, against the weight of new growth and learning, we must. And, too, balance it against resources, we must. If save a village on Ryloth, we do, be there for a town on Bothawui, we cannot be; and yet, decide we must.”
Shmi looks out across the landscape, and thinks that this discussion isn’t about volcanoes.
“Go warn the village, we must,” Yoda says. “But our only goal, that is not.” There’s a glint in his eye. “Easier, manipulating fluids is for you, hmm?”
When Shmi walks into the village later, carefully balancing a roiling twist of lava in the air between her hands, Yoda just looks smug.