Year of the Republic 26,981, First Day, Festival of Stars
I've decided there should be some sort of record of the existence of what I've come to think of as the New Temple, on the off chance it will survive us to be seen by future generations. It's my own vanity as much as anything that prompts me to write this, for I would not have it be said that we were merely schismatics, or a group of the Lost. That does most of this group of self-sacrificing souls a deep disservice, though perhaps that is true of some among us.
Most of all, I would leave some sort of explanation for my Obi-Wan, who has not followed me here, as I knew he could not. I don't know what he will think of me, when he finds me gone, but I hope that someday he will understand what I have done, and forgive me, if he cannot continue to love me.
So I have my own reasons, personal reasons, for leaving an account of this endeavor. What follows will most likely be a somewhat idiosyncratic and personal record of my own observations and knowledge, not an official history. That I leave for those who come after us.
As I write this, we are outbound from Coruscant in two old, very crowded passenger liners refitted as colony ships, purchased through my own sources and all crewed by my own people. The flight plans were personally programmed and encrypted by me—with some help from Isa Kassir, who has come out with us as our information specialist—so only I know our destination. The ships will be sold for scrap far from here, the crews dispersing afterwards with the proceeds, and large incentives to forget we exist. Many of them are Dex's friends, or were personally vetted by him, and though they are the typical sort of ruffians he knows, they are honorable ruffians. Most of all, they are ordinary working crewmen, nondescript enough to be nearly invisible to anyone wishing to trace our path.
Our ships carry nearly twice as many colonists as I had planned for. Our numbers were initially chosen very carefully for willingness and skills—since we will be not only isolated but self-sustaining—but nearly doubled at the final moment, something I fear will strain our resources for the first year or so. I had not expected to have others read our cover story as a genuine revolt against the Council, and yet they did. As a consequence, I have almost seven hundred "followers," where I had expected a little more than half that number. The added influx is not only surprising but deeply shocking. I don't think even the Council was aware of the amount of discontent within the Order. It makes what we're doing here all the more poignant and necessary.
I find that being charged with the welfare and trust of so many of my peers is both daunting and humbling. Those chosen to serve with me on this mission had already agreed to place themselves under my leadership, but those who came along at the last moment have done so as well, with no prompting by the Council. I don't plan to stay in sole charge for long, but I must choose my new fellow councilors carefully, and from the original group, at least for the time being. That I dare not trust even my fellow Jedi is disturbing.
The New Temple had been in the making for nearly four years before our group left Coruscant. Although it was planned and executed under my direction, I have acted at the Council's behest. I was offered this mission just before Obi-Wan's knighting, as I was recovering on Naboo from the fight with the Sith's apprentice. Though I was reluctant to take it, understanding that it would separate me not only from Obi-Wan but from my fellow Jedi, I could not see my way clear to declining it. But whether it was the Force speaking to me, or my own arrogance, only time will prove. Since accepting this mission, I have felt such a yearning, an urgency, to be gone as I've not felt before, even though it separates me from the person I love most and from the only true home I have ever known. I can only think this is the Force's will. I should also add that I have acted entirely as a free agent, reporting to no one. As with any mission, whatever mistakes I have made and will make are my own.
Though I was told there were others being considered to lead this mission, I doubt this now, unless they were among those who have come out with me, most of whom know only that we are establishing a new, secret temple, not why. I also doubt I would have been left behind in any case. I think it would have been impossible for such a large number of us to slip away unobtrusively, so at least my reputation as something of a rogue who has been at odds with the Council throughout his life made our leaving seem more believable. A pity, though, to tar others with the same brush that tars me. At least I have been able to spare Obi-Wan that.
Anakin is with me, having on the surface precipitated my so-called defection. Someday I will explain to him, or make sure he comes to know, that this was not his fault, though it was done in part for his sake. But he should know that providing a sanctuary for his training is not the only reason the New Temple is being formed. The Council—indeed all of us who were chosen for this mission—hope also to be able to preserve a fraction of the Order, or some semblance of it, from the coming firestorm so many of us have sensed in the wind. And if in accomplishing these two goals, we should also build a new way of life for future generations of Jedi, I would not be sorry. There was more than a grain of truth in the manifesto with which I proclaimed our liberty. And though it seems like exile on the surface, some part of me feels truly free and at peace for the first time in many years. If only I could share it with Obi-Wan.
They were two days out when Qui-Gon felt the flare of shock through the bond. He was lying on his bunk in the cramped quarters of their lead colony ship, drowsily winding down after a long day of meetings with his lieutenants, Depa, Eeth, Stass, and Ichi-Tan, two Council members, a senior healer, and a newish Knight who'd not just volunteered for this mission, but done so happily. Qui-Gon had revealed nothing, even to them, of the place they were going to until they were all aboard the ships and headed for Ruhiri. The trip, he knew, would be long enough, with its diversionary doglegs and laying of false trails, that they would have plenty of briefing time. Still, only Depa and Eeth knew the true nature of their mission; the others knew they were setting up a new Temple in exile, but did not know why. Qui-Gon was still amazed that so many more had followed them out knowing there was no return.
He was half-meditating on what it might mean when the torrent of shock roared through the bond and was quickly shielded. Obi-Wan had discovered he was gone.
Wide awake now, Qui-Gon sat up. He imagined Obi-Wan being met at the landing pad by Bruck or Reeft or Bant and being told about the Conclave. Would he have hurried to their quarters to see for himself, or continued on to the Council to give his report, Qui-Gon wondered? The former, probably, unless the mission had gone badly wrong. It had seemed fairly routine and Obi-Wan would have already submitted a report on the way back, negating the need for an in-person one. Walking into their rooms would have provoked that shock, too; Qui-Gon had stripped them nearly bare, finding himself far more sentimental about the gifts he'd been given, especially those from Obi-Wan, than he had ever imagined. The result had horrified even him, when he was done packing.
He'd hesitated over changing the sheets, having left them on while he was home, but wanting Obi-Wan to come back to the courtesy of clean ones. He had always changed the sheets before his knight had come home, but he wondered now if Obi-Wan would want something of them left on the bed, as he himself always did. In the end, he stripped it, but left the used sheets with what remained of his own dirty laundry.
Though the bond was still muted, he could feel Obi-Wan's confusion and sadness through it, and then a flash of anger and incredulity. He had probably found the copy of their manifesto that Qui-Gon had written out. He had left the original copy along with an explanatory letter, in the middle of their bed, wanting Obi-Wan to see that document for what it was: a diversionary ruse, something for both the Senate and the Chancellor to chew on. Let them think the Jedi were divided, weakened, vulnerable. Would Obi-Wan understand that? Qui-Gon could only hope.
He was dozing again by the time a great wave of love washed against the light shields he had left in place. He was suddenly more grateful for this bond that defied time and distance than he had ever thought he would be. In relief, Qui-Gon let the shields fall completely, sending back his own love in an equal flood.
It was almost like a meditation, and just as soothing, though underneath was a sense of sorrow that Qui-Gon suspected would ambush Obi-Wan later. Qui-Gon was already feeling it, knowing that this was as close as they were likely to be to each other, perhaps ever again. Almost, he could feel Obi-Wan's hand in his own, the soft hair at Obi-Wan’s temple against his lips. Almost. It was not enough.
Eventually, they parted reluctantly, Obi-Wan to his new life as his own man, Qui-Gon back to sleep, feeling melancholy yet reassured.
He was sitting over morning tea in the galley when the scent of the sheets he had left in the laundry filled his head and Obi-Wan's deep sorrow filled his heart, choking him. Obi-Wan had let himself feel it at last, and either forgotten or not wanted to shield it. Qui-Gon thought it was no more than he deserved, no less than he felt himself.
"Oh, kosai," he whispered without knowing it, immersed in the grief Obi-Wan was finally acknowledging, glad there was no anger in it, but feeling his own guilt at causing it. He was startled out of his self-absorption by a hand on his own, and looked up to see Depa offering him a clean handkerchief, only now aware of the tears coursing down his cheeks. Whether they were all his own or partially Obi-Wan's was hard to say.
"I know you miss him," Depa said.
"We all have people we miss," Qui-Gon replied, pulling himself together and wiping his face.
"It's all right to feel that for the man you love, Qui-Gon," she said gently, squeezing his hand. "We've asked much of you—more than we've asked of most—and heard no complaint." Depa smiled at him.
He'd never known her very well, even when she was Mace's padawan, but he was beginning to find she had a wide streak of compassion as well as an air of calm assurance that comes with being deeply grounded in the Force. He found her empathy comforting.
He also suspected she was Mace's way of keeping an eye on them, though perhaps that was unfair to her. At any rate, he was glad for her company, and for the genuine sympathy. He'd need that in the days to come. He was just beginning to realize how painful this was going to be.
Three tens later, having arrived by a tortuously circuitous route, Qui-Gon and his new padawan, Depa, Eeth, Stass, and Ichi-Tan shuttled down to Ruhiri to plan for the orderly arrival of their charges waiting in orbit. Ton-Bai met them hand-in-hand with Hizme at the edge of the concrete apron of the small landing pad that had been constructed since Qui-Gon was last here.
Seeing Ton-Bai, Qui-Gon suddenly felt immensely relieved, though he couldn't have said why. "Old friend," he said with genuine warmth as he and Ton-Bai embraced each other. "And new," he added, doing the same with Hizme. "Should I be congratulating you both?"
"Oh, we've just moved in together, Qui-Gon, nothing formal," Hizme said with a grin. "This is your organizational team, I take it?"
"Master Depa Billaba, Master Eeth Koth, Healer Master Stass Allie, Knight Ichi-Tan Micado," he said, indicating each in turn, "this is our architect and engineer, Master Hizme Ghazal, and our land manager, Ton-Bai Nikano, without whose efforts none of this would have been possible. Ton-Bai once managed my family's holdings on Dannora, but has decided to stay here with us. And this is my Padawan, Anakin Skywalker."
Anakin seemed surprised at being included in the introductions, but managed a sketchy bow despite that. "Master Ghazal, Master Nikano," he said.
Hizme and Ton-Bai both returned the bow. "It's a pleasure to meet you all," Hizme added. "We've been looking forward to your arrival. It's been like living in a ghost town."
Qui-Gon gave her an ironic smile. "I can guarantee that won't be the case when we've all debarked. We have something of a situation," he began, explaining the expansion of their expected numbers.
"We can double up easily," Hizme replied, unruffled, "but it won't be terribly comfortable. The good thing is that there's plenty of room for expansion. We'll just have to start building again." She nudged Ton-Bai and grinned, seeming to enjoy the prospect. For Hizme, having worked in dozens of refugee camps during her career, this did not even figure as a minor disaster, just an inconvenience.
Ton-Bai, lacking that experience, was more concerned. "We'll have to double production, too. How are your food stocks?"
"Let's find somewhere comfortable to discuss the particulars," Hizme broke in. “We do have a conference room. No need to stand around out here."
The conference room, like most everything else in the New Temple compound, was sunny and pleasant, but spartan even by Jedi standards, lacking the touches of habitation to warm it. The round table and dozen chairs, however, were highly polished, gracefully curved wood, works of art in themselves and sturdy enough to be utilitarian. Even Anakin was impressed. "Wow," he murmured, gliding a hand along the satiny curved back of one chair, "these are beautiful."
"Thank you," Hizme said, reddening slightly and looking down. Ton-Bai smiled and stroked her short cap of white hair affectionately. The gesture squeezed Qui-Gon’s heart.
"I am amazed at what she can do with things I would consider scrap," Ton-Bai said with a trace of wonder and a great deal of pride. "This is just one example."
She shrugged. "Jedi practicality."
"And the eye of an artist," Qui-Gon added.
"You'll find pieces of her work in all the residences," Ton-Bai informed them.
"The winters are pretty long here," Hizme explained. "I made furniture while Ton-Bai made machinery. Beats knitting."
By late afternoon, the logistics of arrival and disposition had been worked out, with some of the outbuildings being pressed into use as temporary shelters and even Master Jinn and his Padawan being assigned a roommate—in their case, Depa—in their small cottage. Ton-Bai had taken on the task of arranging for more food supplies and marked out the locations of new fields. Building materials were either already on hand, or could be found locally. "And we have plenty of seed stock," he confirmed, which was a relief to hear. "And a good start in the greenhouse. But it's going to be hard work clearing the fields and planting."
"I'll have the AgriCorps contingent come down first, along with our healers and supplies," Qui-Gon added before Stass could request it. "Those are probably the most important things to start with. We can keep everyone else on board until we're ready for them. If worse comes to worst, we can leave them in orbit for a time and pay the crew extra. "
"I don't think that will be necessary," Hizme put in. "This isn't like a refugee camp where the overcrowding can become chaotic and dangerous. It's finite, for one thing, and if we're careful and stick to some stringent rules, our infrastructure should be able to handle the influx until we can expand it. Since we're dealing with Jedi, I'm not much worried about the rule-following part. Things might be a bit inconvenient and somewhat primitive for the first year, but I'm not particularly worried. We'll just be expanding faster than I planned for. Even then, we'll have plenty of expansion capacity when we're done."
"We'll need one more outbuilding," Qui-Gon added. "One I didn't mention before because I was uncertain I'd be able to procure what's going into it. I hope never to have to make use of the building for anything but storage, but it will have some special requirements, including its own power source."
"What's going into it?" Hizme inquired.
"An ion cannon."
Year of the Republic 26,981, Sixth day, Seventh Month (Day 11 at the New Temple)
There has been no time before this to write anything here. Our first days in our new home have been hectic, to say the least. Ton-Bai and our architect/engineer, Hizme, have done a truly remarkable job, but it has not been enough with our increased numbers. Had we our original numbers, all would be well. With double that, we are scrambling—for room, supplies, facilities—and straining our carefully planned infrastructure. Our settlement resembles a refugee camp more than a proto-temple. But because we are Jedi, we are, at least, pathologically organized and uncomplaining about it, and far from helpless.
We are modifying some outbuildings for temporary shelter and working hard to clear and plant enough land to sustain us over the coming winter. At least our move was planned for early in this planet's growing season. We should have just enough time to get adequate crops in, thanks to our AgriCorps contingent and equipment, and Ton-Bai's excellent land management skills and knowledge. But it means rationing what we have now against the coming harvest, and putting by a great deal of what we harvest. I'm grateful that Jedi are a hardy, mostly stoic lot, because the growing season itself will be grim. Anakin says nothing, but I see both fear and resignation in his eyes. Unlike most of us, he has known hunger as a way of life rather than temporary hardship and, having experienced the plentitude of Coruscant, fears returning to those conditions he knew as a youngling. We are doing our best to see none of us experience much want, but we are working so hard that hunger pinches on even normally adequate rations. Our non-human members have it somewhat easier, since their food requirements are somewhat different. Our two MonCals have proven excellent fishers, and we've all taken a turn at hunting. We don't want for protein, but most of us are already tired of ration bars and supplements, and would like some greens with our fare.
Ton-Bai earlier decided on his own to stay with us, and I'm grateful too for that, in more ways than one: for both the retention of his management skills and for the fact that I do not have to tamper with his memory before letting him go. It would have been a hard thing to do to someone who has become such a good friend once more. I'm glad it was unnecessary with Hizme, who is one of our own, and that our labor pool has been completely on-planet. We have had a few curious visitors from the nearby settlement, but mostly have been left to ourselves.
And now I must sleep. More work at dawn.
Having toed off his mud-caked boots, Anakin flung himself down on the floor with a groan while Master Qui-Gon and Master Depa removed their boots at the doorway.
"I haven't worked this hard since I was a slave," Anakin muttered. "In fact, I don't think I worked this hard when I was a slave."
"You were also much smaller then," Qui-Gon quipped. "We can get more work out of you now."
Anakin threw him the exasperated look common to teenagers, but Qui-Gon’s long experience made him impervious to it.
"I think we should build a mudroom onto each of the cabins," Depa said woefully, looking at the mess all three of them had tracked in from the fields.
"As soon as we have the leisure," Qui-Gon agreed. "Perhaps we should start taking them off on the porch for now."
Depa laughed. "You know, we'd know these kinds of things if any of us had ever gone down to AgriCorps. I'll bet they all leave their boots outside."
"Or if any of us had any sense," Anakin added. Qui-Gon snorted his amused agreement.
"Come to think of it, Ton-Bai already does leave his outside. But that's part of the Dannoran culture. A good lesson."
"Can we get some food going here?" Anakin pleaded, getting to his feet and padding off to look for the broom, grumbling about needing a mouse droid to do this kind of thing.
"Ah, yes," Depa agreed. "I believe it's my turn to cook, isn't it?"
The three of them had settled into an easy existence together, though the cabin had originally been made for two. Some extra work had finished the loft and given Anakin a cozy sleeping space with a small window, which allowed Depa to take the smaller Padawan bedroom temporarily. Depa and Anakin shared cooking duties, Qui-Gon happily cleaned up after them, and they divided the remainder of household chores between them.
Depa had turned out to be good company, and had taken Anakin under her wing as well. She was openly affectionate though a strict disciplinarian, but never unkind about it. Qui-Gon could see his padawan was quickly coming to adore her, and was glad of it. The boy still dreamed of his own mother often and Qui-Gon knew he still harbored hopes of freeing her from Watto's clutches. It was something he would have to come to terms with eventually. Depa's presence might make that easier.
In addition to her influence on Anakin, though, Qui-Gon found Depa both interesting and soothing. She had a sharp, probing intelligence that made for excellent conversation. Her presence in the Force had a serenity usually only found in much older masters, and she possessed an innate understanding of it that bordered on the adept. She did not just use the Force, or let it use her; she was truly grounded, almost embedded, in it. As he got to know her better, Qui-Gon felt she had much to teach him.
"I'm curious, Qui-Gon," she said as they sat over a dinner of omelets. Eggs were plentiful currently where other sources of protein were not quite yet. Depa and Anakin had been vying in creative ways to use them. Qui-Gon was glad to see a pot of beans soaking on the counter though. He'd had enough of hen fruit for a while. "What made you choose this world?"
Qui-Gon gave her his lop-sided smile. "I have a personal connection to it, though one that would be hard to trace. Many centuries ago, my family acquired it in a bankruptcy settlement from another Dannoran Merchant House and used it as a hunting preserve for a time. It had been abandoned by the time I was born, and it was settled on me as part of my compensation for signing over my rights as heir when I came of age, after my knighting." That was the short version, but there was no need to go into the long one and its history of his relations with his family.
Anakin's eyes widened. "Whoa! So you *own* this planet? The whole thing?" By the time he'd finished the last sentence, his voice had risen into a painful squeak.
Qui-Gon, eyes dancing with mischief, took a bite of his dinner. "I did, until I signed it over to the corporate entity that now constitutes the New Temple trust. Now I'm only one of the trustees, like Master Depa," he explained after he'd swallowed. "I'd stopped here for repairs many years ago and explored a bit while they were being made. It seemed like a logical choice when this situation presented itself."
"What about the people who’re already here?" Anakin said. "At the port, and that village down the river?"
"Descendants of the original House retainers. As far as I'm concerned, and I think as far as the other trustees are too—though we should probably formalize that agreement somehow—they own whatever they've already claimed by right of occupation. If they want to expand, that can be worked out later. I doubt we're going to need the whole planet."
"I just wondered if you had any other reasons," Depa added, giving him a significant look.
"Not at first," Qui-Gon replied blandly. Depa matched his mysterious smile.
Anakin looked between them with narrowed, suspicious eyes. "What are you two talking about?"
"I'll show you after dinner, Padawan," Qui-Gon replied.
After cleaning up, Qui-Gon led both Depa and his Padawan out of what he'd come to think of already as the Temple Grounds and up a narrow, barely visible path toward the top of the hill that marked the end of the floodplain. The path seemed hardly more than an animal track, yet was lined here and there with rough-cut handrails and laid with fieldstones or roughly shaped steps in places. It wasn't an unpleasant climb, though it was steep in places, and jinked around several natural features or spots where the soil was loose. They came out at last to a flat meadow with a small copse of trees. Depa gave a small sigh of pleasure and Anakin said, "Wow." Qui-Gon felt absurdly pleased.
"This is Ton-Bai's work, I presume?" Depa asked.
"And some of Hizme's," Qui-Gon confirmed. "The landscaping is Ton-Bai all over, and I think the teahouse design is his. We discussed it the last time I was here. That's when he said he wanted to stay."
The meadow was a riot of wildflowers in white and yellow, red and purple and blue. A small brook trickled through it, plashing lightly down the side of the hill through a shallow, stone-lined gully that might have been artfully enhanced to cut the erosion. The path, now a little wider and set with flat stepping stones, followed it to the copse, which was shady and filled with low, feathery plants that brushed their knees.
Deep inside the copse was a small clearing with a structure that looked like no more than a shed. The brook widened there into a small, stone-lined pool that spilled in a tiny fall over the stones blocking one end of it. The pond was fed by a persistent spring that bubbled up into and spilled over from another rock-lined depression, next to which hung a long-handled wooden dipper. Rocks and more of the feathery plants overhung the pond at one end, and in it swam a few lazy, colorful fish. Through the crystalline water, Qui-Gon watched some kind of crustacean scramble over the stones at the bottom on delicate legs. A bench clearly made by Hizme sat beside the pond, and a carved stump formed another seat close and low enough to allow the occupant to paddle one’s feet in the pool. The hut that stood beside the pond had clearly been constructed from scrap lumber, but in such a way that it looked rustic rather than shoddy.
Beside him, Depa shivered.
"It's amazing, isn't it?” Qui-Gon agreed. “Like the Wellspring. I take it you'd already found this spot."
"Yes, just a few days ago."
"What is that?" Anakin said in a dazed voice, looking around him as though it were something he could see.
"What do you think it is, Padawan?"
Anakin looked up at him, puzzled. "Is that—I—I've never felt the Force so strong in a place before."
"That's because you haven't yet done your Vigil," Depa told him. "The original Temple on Coruscant was built around a wellspring like this, a place where the Force is very strong, like this artesian spring."
Anakin sank to his knees without realizing it. Qui-Gon and Depa joined him, smiling over his head. Anakin looked as though he were drugged, his pupils blown and features slack.
"Close your eyes, Padawan," Qui-Gon told him in a quiet voice as he and Depa both followed the same directions. "Concentrate on your breath. Relax. Watch where it goes. Notice what you hear and smell and let it go." In a low murmur, Qui-Gon guided them all into the beginnings of a light meditation, and their breathing settled in a regular, nearly synchronized pattern. "Now, reach out and feel the Force. Let it fill you." Following his own advice, Qui-Gon opened himself to the Force in this place and let it fill him like water pouring into a glass.
And like a glass, he felt light and transparent with the energy that rushed into him. All around him, life sang to him, the plants, the insects, the small creatures that hid or scuttled or slithered or swam or flew, the young trees reaching skyward beneath their gigantic elders, the old ones drowsing in the last of the evening sunlight, the soil borers and burrowers, even the microscopic life he could not see. This world was so alive that Qui-Gon felt he might burst with its exuberance. It was almost like being in the throes of orgasm but a more gentle and prolonged ecstasy. And somewhere within it, he felt Obi-Wan stir in his sleep and reach for him across the sheets. *I'm here, kosai,* he said, or thought he did, and felt Obi-Wan smile and nestle against his back. He let himself drift with the sensation, content to be one with this world and with his lover, parsecs away, through this gift of the Force, until there was nothing else.
Eventually, he became aware that someone was calling him. Not just someone, but some two: Depa aloud and Anakin through their bond, both with some urgency and one with a little panic. Reluctantly, he slipped away from Obi-Wan and the riot of life around him and opened his eyes. Dusk had turned to night and the sky above was thickly spattered with stars. A soft blue moonlight filled the grove.
Both Depa and Anakin were kneeling in front of him wearing curious and awed looks, respectively, and he blinked at them rather stupidly, like some nocturnal creature woken in daylight.
"Are you all right?" Depa asked him.
"Never better," he replied, and realized as he said it that it was more than just a stock answer. He felt renewed and energetic in a way he seldom did after even the deepest of meditations. Then he noticed the light on his companions' faces and the shadows spread along the ground behind them.
"It's just that, well—" Depa began hesitantly.
"You're glowing, Master!" Anakin blurted, looking more alarmed than Depa.
"I'm what?" Confused, Qui-Gon held out his hands in front of himself and found them and his arms encased in a soft blue luminescence that died down even as he observed it, leaving the grove lit only by starlight. His companions' shadows softened and vanished. Ruhiri, he remembered, had no moon.
"That was so wizard, Master!" Anakin enthused. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
"I'm . . . not certain, Anakin. I don't know precisely what I was doing. What was it like from out here?"
"I had one of the deepest and best meditations I've ever had," Depa said thoughtfully. "When I came out of it, I looked over and there you were: glowing like a beacon with this intensely serene expression. And I suspect you were levitating a little. You looked almost beatific. What did it feel like?"
"One of the best meditations I've ever had, too," Qui-Gon echoed. "I've seldom felt so deeply immersed in the Living Force. I felt as though I were aware of all the life on this planet. I could sense each one of us here quite clearly." He would have mentioned his connection with Obi-Wan but held back for some reason. That felt like a private moment he didn't need to share.
"Hmm," Depa responded noncommittally, as though sensing he was not revealing everything.
Qui-Gon began to reply and stopped. There had been something else, something besides his sense of Obi-Wan. He remembered the lesson Yoda taught all the young ones early in their training: *Things you will see in the Force. The past. The present. Even the future you will see. Those long gone. Distant places. Never far are we from anyone or anywhere in the Force.* Never before had that lesson seemed so real to him as it had this night. He felt as if a door had opened to him, one that led into paths he did not yet know how to travel.
Depa tilted her head and examined him. "I don't think it's an accident that you chose this place, Qui-Gon," she observed.
"I wonder," Qui-Gon half agreed.
Year of the Republic 26,981, Day 46 at the New Temple
A breather at last.
We have begun building new permanent quarters, though we are somewhat impeded by having to process our own lumber. In this, Ton-Bai and Hizme again have been invaluable, having had much experience with this sort of ground-up construction with local materials, and with the organization of various sorts of mills to process those materials. Ton-Bai has an astonishing number of skills long lost to highly technological civilizations, from metal smithing to rope-making and more. Anakin and several of the other young ones, including Isa, have been learning those skills under his tutelage, and Ton-Bai has been teaching several of our number, including myself, to work the forge. So I am learning new skills too. Obi-Wan would appreciate the musculature I've developed as the result of banging pieces of hot metal with a heavy hammer. Ton-Bai tells me I have an aptitude for it, though I don't think he quite realizes that half of my facility in shaping and turning metal is the Force.
We have little heavy equipment and what we have is for agriculture. The other work that needs to be done, heavy or light, is done by hand. If it were not for the Force, the labor would be back-breaking. As it is, Ton-Bai is quite impressed with both our methods and our progress. We should have permanent shelter for all of us by early fall, even if it's less elegant than Hizme's original designs. Thanks to her and Ton-Bai, it will be sturdy and snug and serviceable against the winter weather. Time and our individual quirks will eventually make it beautiful.
Anakin has pitched in cheerfully side by side with our other young ones, who are mostly of Anakin's age—talented but unchosen initiates on the verge of being sent down to the corps. Here, I think many of them feel they have a second chance and are working hard to prove themselves worthy of it. And Anakin is in his element. His understanding of things mechanical has kept our tools in good working order, and led to the (re)invention of several new ones. Under Ton-Bai's watchful eye, he is developing plans for a mill that will both supply us with backup power as well as grind our grains. The two of them have taken to each other like toast and jam.
The rest of the young ones prepare food for us, under the quartermaster's supervision, fetch and carry, run errands, and have been responsible for much of the unloading and set-up, while our knights and masters have been occupied with the new construction and planting. Already, I feel we have a strong, cooperative team. Our extra members will be a good addition to the population if we can manage to keep each other alive through our first year.
We have been working on short rations and I fear it is beginning to tell, in pinched faces and fatigue. Yet we must get the permanent structures in place and the crops in before the season is too far along. Fortunately, our new home has been a temperate and welcoming host so far. The weather is clement, the crops growing well, and we may actually have a surplus if we're spared any unforeseen catastrophes.
Our neighbors, the distant descendants of the caretakers and retainers to House Jinn-Qi, have been more than generous, after losing their initial fear of us. We were, at first, so large and unexpected a number that I suspect they feared an invasion, with incipient government, taxes, and other disruptions of their way of life, in which none of us have the least interest. I've been careful to ask them for nothing, but grateful for any help they've offered. We were several weeks into our building scheme when a large contingent appeared one day, carrying tools and supplies, to help us raise one of our structures. More appeared at midday, bearing the first fresh and unrationed food we'd seen since arriving. By the end of the day, the building's exterior was completed and we were a merry and well-fed group for the first time since our arrival.
It was a fruitful gathering in more ways than one. Our young ones, our group as a whole, have made new friends and learned more new skills, as well as more about the land we're now dependent upon. I made arrangements for us to share the harvest work of both groups and for the purchase of some of their surplus food until the harvest. I also made the offer of medical help whenever it was needed, and let it be known that we had very competent healers among us. The clinic Hizme built us has been well-equipped, and the villagers have been lacking good medical care for quite some time. Their "mayor," for want of a better word—though the office is not an elected one and all of the adults take a turn at the job at least once in their life—was glad to accept that offer and promised to see how the rest of them could help out in the meanwhile.
Since then, anywhere from ten to twenty of their young men and women arrive each morning to help us out or bring dishes for midmeal. In return, our healers have established regular clinic days in the village to see to injuries and illnesses and pregnancies—and vaccinate. As new colonists, we've brought a host of new germs to this biosystem and the healers have been diligent about vaccinating the villagers against anything we might be carrying. The last thing we want is to start an epidemic here.
Qui-Gon signed his name to the documents in both Basic and Danjii, adding his inked thumbprint for good measure. The negotiation had been a simple one, much to the relief of both parties. Qui-Gon, having produced the documents of planetary ownership, had readily agreed to the autonomy of the original colony and that they were no longer obligated in any way to House Jinn-Qi, in return for reciprocal recognition of the New Temple's independence. Neither would interfere in the governance of the other, or demand services or taxes or any other kind of levy, and they agreed upon carefully defined boundaries only sketched out on one of Qui-Gon's earlier visits. They would, however, come to one another's mutual aid for defense or in the case of disaster. Any further expansion beyond the original boundaries by either party would be renegotiated as necessary. Though ownership of the planet resided in the New Temple's hands, right of colonization and habitation was bestowed upon the current residents and their descendants in perpetuity, as long as those rights did not infringe upon the autonomy of the New Temple or its residents.
Across the table, Miko Asaru rose and bowed. "I hope this is the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship for both our people, Master Jinn," she said formally. Miko was an older woman in her seventh decade, small in stature and a little stout, with work-hardened hands and the weathered features of someone who'd spent her life outdoors. Like the rest of the villagers, she wore the rough equivalent of what would still pass for peasant garb on Dannora: wide flowing pants and a loose tunic dyed in shades of blue, with wooden-soled leather clogs. For the formal occasion, she had added a bright sash at the waist and a matching headband. Her long grey hair, like Ton-Bai's and Qui-Gon's own, now, was tied back in tight braid that fell a long way down her back. Though she had a merry smile, it hid a keen intelligence and shrewdness worthy of the best negotiators Qui-Gon had worked with, despite her bluntness. Appointed by her fellows to negotiate this treaty with the new neighbors, she'd come prepared to drive a hard bargain and found the new settlers, at least Jinn and his advisors, reasonable and amenable.
Qui-Gon rose and returned her bow. "I hope so too, Miko-sen. At a later date, when we are more settled, perhaps we should have a discussion about access to our library and shared schooling for our young ones. We're more than happy to share our information resources as we have the medical ones. We also have some excellent teachers."
"I'll raise that at the next town council meeting," she said. "In the meantime, we’ve got some young folks we can spare to help you all get the rest of your, uh, temple built. I have to tell you, Master Jinn, we all feel a little—"
"Uncomfortable? Living next to a bunch of Jedi?" Qui-Gon finished for her with a sympathetic smile. "And I think you should call me Qui-Gon now that the formalities are over."
"No offense, Qui-Gon," she added amiably.
"None taken. You're not the first to find us uncomfortable neighbors. People know little about us, and most of what they do know is rumor and legend. I've found that, in general, what people don't understand, they fear."
"That's about the way of it," she nodded. "Best thing we can do to get over that is get to know each other."
"I couldn't agree more," Qui-Gon said. "That was one reason I suggested the shared schooling. Children are much better at accepting each other the way they are than adults."
"That's about right, too. So the grown-ups need to mingle, too. I was thinking: We have a midsummer celebration every year, and the next one is coming up soon. Nothing special, just music and dance and food and games. We'd be glad to have you and yours join us. Unless your people don't believe in that sort of thing."
"What—fun?" Qui-Gon said, laughing. "We get far less of that than we’d prefer, Miko. I'm happy to accept your invitation. What can we contribute?"
"Well, I know you all are short on food, so we'll take care of that. Bring whatever songs you know, and maybe you all can show us some new dances, teach us a little about yourselves at the same time, if you take my meaning."
"I do," Qui-Gon replied. "We might be able to contribute a few surprises, too."
"That would be grand, Qui-Gon. We'll look forward to seeing you all in a few turns."
The first work contingent, consisting of eight young men and four young women, showed up the next morning with both tools and food to share. At the head of the delegation was a tall, muscular dark-haired young man of about twenty, who reminded Qui-Gon a bit of Garen Muln, at least in appearance, if not demeanor. Palms together, he gave Qui-Gon a deep and respectful bow as Idrik, their Lannik gatekeeper, watched with barely hidden amusement. Despite his size, the young man seemed overawed and would not meet Qui-Gon's gaze.
"Master Jinn, I am Tani Toshiso and my friends and I are here to offer our help in your building work. What would you like us to do?"
"Thank you, Tani. Would you introduce me to your friends first?"
The young man looked startled. "Oh! Oh yes, of course," he said, flushing.
The remainder were mostly not so shy, but were still wary—all but one, a young man who reminded him painfully of teenaged Obi-Wan—or who Obi-Wan might have been if he had not been a Jedi. This young man was built like Obi-Wan, compact and wiry, and was similarly fair-skinned though not freckled, and deeply tanned from working outdoors. His hair was sun bleached white-blond, rather than Obi-Wan's golden red. Tani introduced him as Yinjian He, and he stepped up to Qui-Gon with a wide smile and bowed. "A pleasure to meet you, Master Jinn. I've always wanted to meet a Jedi."
"And now you have," Qui-Gon replied with a smile. "Do I live up to your expectations?"
"I'm not sure yet, to be honest. We've only just met," the young man said, giving him a cheeky grin.
"Well, I'll seek your opinion at day's end, then, Yinjian-sen," Qui-Gon replied solemnly, though he couldn't keep his mouth from quirking upward.
Qui-Gon sent them off to Hizme and Ton-Bai to see which of them needed help the most, while he himself headed off to the forge to bang out more roofing braces. By midday meal, their guests were well on their way to making friends with their hosts and by the end of the day, there were promises of visits and meals and further help. Qui-Gon banked the fire and was in the midst of cleaning up the work area when Yinjian appeared.
“Master Jinn, I’ve come to report on my experiences today,” he said with a strange solemnity that seemed out of place on a face that had been so merry and full of mischief that morning.
“You seem troubled by them,” Qui-Gon replied, wiping his hands and giving the young man his full attention.
“Not . . . troubled . . . exactly,” he answered hesitantly. His brow furrowed and he looked away. “I just, I’d never known what to believe about Jedi. I thought the stories were fairy tales.”
“Most of them are,” Qui-Gon agreed.
“But I’ve seen things today—” The young man stopped.
“Tell me what you saw,” Qui-Gon said gently.
“I think, I think I saw someone . . . lift a whole—a whole framed wall . . . without, without touching it.” The young man looked up at Qui-Gon with an expression that said Tell me I’m not crazy.
“For a Jedi, that’s not impossible,” Qui-Gon affirmed.
“Can you do that?”
“If it were necessary. We try to only use the Force when there are no other options, not simply to make our lives easier. Or to satisfy other’s curiosity,” he added with a smile. “We’ve been shorthanded, so—”
“Necessity,” the boy finished, thoughtful now, rather than solemn. “What else can Jedi do?”
“It’s not what Jedi can do, Yinjian-sen—”
“Ji. My friends call me Ji,” he said, finding the broom in the corner and beginning to sweep up the detritus of Qui-Gon’s work.
“And mine call me Qui-Gon,” he answered with a slight bow, and returned to his own clean-up chores. “As I was saying,” he continued, “it’s not what Jedi can do, it’s what the Force helps us to do. The Force works through us, gives us extra strength when we need it, faster reflexes, and the ability to manipulate it to do things like lift large objects. But our abilities as individuals vary as with any other talent. Some of us are better at one skill than another.”
“What’s your talent, Qui-Gon?”
“Getting people to do what I want them to, some would say,” Qui-Gon replied with a twist of a smile. “I’m a negotiator and I have what you might call an affinity for living things of all sorts: people, plants, animals.”
“What’s that mean—an affinity?”
“Many things: empathy, compassion, patience, understanding. The ability to see more than one side of a situation. To put others’ needs first, when appropriate. I’ve been told I’m a good teacher, and I enjoy doing it.”
Ji nodded thoughtfully. “I can see that. But those don’t seem like extraordinary abilities. So which one of the stories are true?”
“You’d have to be more specific; there are so many,” Qui-Gon laughed.
“That you fight with energy swords?”
“Yes. That one’s true. We call them lightsabers.”
Ji’s eyes lit up. “Do you have one with you?”
“Not at this moment. We don’t wear them except on missions, or when heading to the sparring salles.” The lad looked crestfallen. “You’re welcome to come watch us spar. We’ve not done much of it since coming here, and we’re all out of practice. When we get on our feet, we’ll reinstitute a regular program of it.” Qui-Gon’s words perked Ji right up again.
“Thank you! I’d like that.”
They talked more as they cleaned up, Qui-Gon answering Ji’s questions about Jedi and the Force. He found himself giving something more than just the pat answers usually given to civilians, and wondered why.
“So not just anyone can do this?” Ji asked, putting the broom away.
“No, only people with a high enough midi-chlorian count, and even then only after some training. Some talents, like telekinesis, manifest themselves when children are quite young. We’re usually asked to test them, when that happens.”
Ji looked preoccupied as they closed up the smithy and walked in the early dusk toward the gatehouse. The rest of his peers had already gone back to the village.
“You can find your way home all right?” Qui-Gon asked him.
“Sure. It’s not far, just over the fields. There’s a path now.”
“Is there?” Qui-Gon said, surprised.
“We’ve all been back and forth here a lot before you folks even got here,” Ji reminded him.
“I suppose you have, doing the building with Ton-Bai and Hizme. I hadn’t thought of that. Have you got a light with you? It will be dark soon.”
“Oh, I never need a light,” Ji replied airily.
“You must have extraordinary night vision, then. When it’s cloudy, like tonight, you can’t see your hand in front of your face outside.”
He shrugged. “I don’t need to see. I just know the way home.”
Qui-Gon cocked an eyebrow at him. “Is that so? How?”
“I just do. I can see it in my head. Like I know what weather’s coming.”
The Force nudged Qui-Gon then, hard. “Ji, is this why you’ve been curious about the Jedi? Why you’ve been asking me about what we can do?” The lad looked up, wincing in apparent embarrassment, rubbed the back of his neck, looked back down, kicked his toe into the dirt. “Is there something else you want to ask me, Ji?” Qui-Gon said gently.
Ji shrugged again, looking uncomfortable. “I . . . uh, I was hoping you might be able to explain why I’ve always felt so different. From everybody else. I mean, nobody else I know can tell you what the weather’s really going to be like half a year from now, or when a storm is going to get nasty enough to make us take shelter.”
“Or find your way through the woods in the dark?”
“Yeah,” the boy admitted almost soundlessly, looking down at his feet as though ashamed.
Qui-Gon expelled a quiet breath. It was no surprise, really, that there should be a native Force sensitive here. It was common enough on Dannora; why not in the gene pool of people from there?
“Are your parents expecting you home right away, Ji?” Qui-Gon asked.
“Not especially. They’re used to me wandering off. I like to explore,” the boy said, grinning. “Why?”
“This might take some time. Come with me.”
“Eleven thousand fifteen,” Stass announced, but without much pleasure.
Ji looked back and forth between the dark-skinned woman in her odd headdress—or whatever it was—and Master Jinn, who’d brought him to the clinic and summoned the Temple Healer. Qui-Gon could easily have performed a midi-chlorian field test himself, and had done so many times before, as he had for Anakin, but he wanted irrefutable evidence for the lad. He’d waited a long time for it.
“What’s that mean?” Ji asked.
Qui-Gon opened his mouth to reply, but Stass beat him to it.
“It means, Yinjian He, that you should have been trained as a Jedi Knight.”
Ji’s face lit as though a sun had gone nova inside him. “I knew it!” he shouted, jumping up from his seat and bouncing around the room with glee. “I knew it! Ha-ha! Woo-hooooo!”
Qui-Gon looked on with a suppressed, mirthful smile that wouldn’t stay suppressed until Ji’s happy dance wound down. Even Stass found it difficult not to smile. The lad’s excitement was infectious, to say the least.
“How old are you, Ji?” Qui-Gon asked him, when he’d settled down a bit.
“Sixteen. Why? Does that matter?” he said, still grinning maniacally.
Qui-Gon and Stass exchanged looks with each other again, but this one was cryptic, even to themselves.
“Initiates are usually brought to the Temple at a very young age, two or three,” Qui-Gon said, “and if they are not chosen as apprentices by the age of thirteen, their opportunity to be trained as a Jedi is lost.”
Just as quickly as the light had gone on in Ji, it went out, snuffed like a candle. It hurt Qui-Gon’s heart to see it. The lad’s shoulders slumped and he sank back onto the seat he’d vacated, eyes glittering. “It’s too late for me then, isn’t it?”
Qui-Gon squatted on his heels so he and the boy were eye to eye. “May I try something, Ji? I’d like to see if I can sense your potential. It might…startle you somewhat.”
His expression miserable, Ji nodded, the motion loosing the tears from his eyes. He swiped at them, not with anger, but a sense of resignation. “Why not? What can it hurt?”
“Good lad,” Qui-Gon said gently, squeezing his knee.
Stass watched with her arms crossed as Ji and Qui-Gon stood facing each other within arm’s reach. “Just relax, Ji. This won’t hurt you.” As Ji watched curiously, Qui-Gon closed his eyes and reached inside Ji’s head to touch the shields around his mind, for shields there were, and strong ones—and suddenly Qui-Gon was knocked off his feet, sliding across the room on his arse as he was shoved violently away by invisible hands, stopping only when he slammed into the cabinetry.
“Hey!” Ji shouted, startled. “What—what was that?”
Smiling, Qui-Gon got to his feet and returned across the few meters Ji’s shields had thrown him and placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “That, my lad, was what happens when one Force user probes the mental shields of another. I sense quite a bit of power and potential in there.”
“Yeah, but what good is it if I don’t ever know how to use it?” Ji muttered, pulling himself away from the Qui-Gon’s touch and getting up to go.
“Ji, wait,” Qui-Gon called after him. “That… rule I told you about—that hasn’t always been the case.”
Ji turned back again, suspiciously. “What does that mean?”
“It means you should not lose hope.”
“Qui-Gon, what are you—”
“Healer Allie, we’ll discuss this later,” Qui-Gon said in a quiet but no-nonsense tone.
Stass looked startled by Qui-Gon’s sudden formality, but it passed quickly, replaced by a tight-lipped obedience. After a nearly microscopic hesitation, she bowed and said, “Yes, Master Jinn.”
Qui-Gon acknowledged it and turned back to Ji. “This is something we should discuss with your parents. Let’s take you home.”
The lad could indeed find his way in the pitch dark without a light. Qui-Gon had to feel his way with the Force, with Ji nearly invisible in front of him. He’d brought a light to find his own way back, but he’d wanted to see Ji’s talent in action, and admitted to himself that it was impressive. The boy was sure-footed and as confident as though he were walking the path in noon sunlight, and warned of obstructions he could not have possibly seen because Qui-Gon couldn’t either.
Ji’s parents and siblings had already finished eating their evening meal by the time their wayward son and the Jedi Master arrived, but they invited Qui-Gon to eat with their boy and he felt he could not refuse. The discussion after their meal was fraught with familiar emotions: shock, curiosity, a little fear both of Ji’s abilities and for his future. Qui-Gon had had any number of these conversations in his life. Young Force sensitives were everywhere and each Jedi was duty bound to bring them to the Temple for training. But Ji’s situation was different.
“You said he is past the age when Jedi are trained, Master Jinn,” Ji’s father, Bo-Qin, said. “Why tell us about his abilities now?”
“Because this has not always been the way with Jedi, and it need not be so for your son. Yinjian is very talented and has a great deal of potential. I believe it would be a great waste of those talents to not train him. I ask your permission to find him a teacher, a master to whom he can become an apprentice, what we call a Padawan Learner. I cannot guarantee that I will find one, but I promise to try.”
“Why can’t you be my teacher, Master Jinn?” Ji asked. His father shushed him sternly for his forwardness.
“No, it’s a fair question, He-sen,” Qui-Gon assured Ji’s father, then turned to the boy himself. “Because you would be starting so late, you need a master who can devote time to you exclusively. I already have a Padawan Learner. I would still be your teacher for some things, but not the person to whom you would apprentice yourself. But you’re not unlike my own apprentice, Anakin. He was brought to Temple at the age of nine and had a great deal of catching up to do as well.”
“What would this mean for our family, Master Jinn? We cannot pay you—”
“The Jedi don’t ask for payment, He-sen. But if Yinjian is to learn the ways of the Force, he would be spending most of his time with us.”
As had every mother Qui-Gon had ever seen in this position, Ji’s mother, E-Sya, looked stricken. “At your Temple here, or off-world?”
“Here, He-san. So Ji would be a short walk away.”
“I had heard that Jedi were child-stealers,” she said stiffly, her eyes glittering.
Qui-Gon let a wry smile curve his lips. “In a way, that’s true. We have trained our younglings from very early ages for a long time. Force-sensitive children can be very difficult to raise for parents who are not themselves Force users. I imagine Ji has been an interesting handful at times.”
Ji’s parents looked at one another and chuckled, his mother wiping her eyes. “That’s true,” she acknowledged. “We always knew he was different somehow. And sometimes he was so different—”
Ji looked embarrassed. “Ma, no stories,” he pleaded.
She cupped his cheek. “No. No stories,” she promised. “We love you just as much as your sister and brothers.”
“There’s no need to decide this right away,” Qui-Gon told them gently. “I need to discuss it with the others and see if I can find Ji a teacher. Think about it yourselves, and we’ll make a decision later.” He thanked them for the dinner and left them to discuss Ji’s fate.
The walk home, uncharacteristically, seemed longer without Ji’s sure guidance, but Qui-Gon felt oddly ebullient despite the odd tree root tripping him up. He felt new possibilities opening up before him in the Force and something that, while not exactly a shatterpoint, nonetheless spoke of change and, perhaps, even renewal. Halfway home, he closed his eyes and let the Force guide him to the gatehouse. It was a far smoother trip than with the torch.
Stass cornered him as he came through the gate again, despite the late hour. Clearly she was like her cousin Adi: once she got something in her head, she pursued it until the matter was settled, and his remarks to Ji were clearly much in her mind.
“Master Jinn,” she began formally with a bow. “May I speak with you?”
Qui-Gon, feeling mischievous, returned it and one-upped her. “Of course, Master Healer Allie. In the conference room, please. Would you mind gathering Master Ghazal and Master Koth as well? I’ll fetch Master Billaba. This is something we should discuss together.”
Now that he’d summoned the people he thought of as his fellow Councilors, Qui-Gon knew that he had to present the subject with care. What he was proposing went against everything they had been taught since their own time in the crèche, and changing the practice bordered on heresy, though the idea had been with him for some time. He wondered sometimes if Yoda—and even Mace—had not chosen him for this mission precisely because of his ideas. Force knew the Order had used his waywardness to its own advantage in the past.
Very shortly, the five of them were gathered around Hizme’s beautiful table, waiting expectantly for Qui-Gon to begin. He looked around the table, drew a deep but quiet breath to center himself, and spoke to the core of his new Council.
“Thank you for coming here on such short notice, my friends. I know everyone is tired and would like to get some sleep, so I’ll make this short, and ask only that you consider what I’m about to say for a time before coming to a decision about it.” Qui-Gon explained Ji’s abilities and midi-chlorian count, and his desire to be trained. “The catch, so to speak, is that Ji is sixteen—three years beyond when any apprentice is normally chosen, and completely untrained. We all know, however little we like to acknowledge it, that if it were not possible for an adult to learn the requisite skills and discipline, there would never have been any Jedi to begin with. I’m asking you to consider less a new way of training Force users, than a new flexibility in doing so. I believe Ji should be given the opportunity to make full use of his talents, whether that is as a Jedi, or something different. It would be a shame to waste his talents, even if he never leaves this world.
“We started this new temple for many reasons. I’m asking you to consider those reasons, and any of your own in the next few days, before we meet again and come to a decision.”
Silence followed Qui-Gon’s words for many moments before Eeth Koth looked up at Qui-Gon with a mild amusement in his eyes. “I suppose it was only a matter of time before something like this came up,” he remarked, with a wry expression. “I hadn’t expected to have to start thinking about such weighty matters just yet, though.”
“Nor I,” Qui-Gon agreed. “I’d hoped to get us all sheltered and fed, first.”
“We are, Qui-Gon,” Depa said quietly. “Our needs are met. None are in extremis. I’m sure we have time to consider the matter while pulling weeds and pounding nails and digging ditches. It’s an important change but, as you said, that is why many of us joined you here.”
“Master Depa’s right,” Hizme added. “We’ve worked hard since you all arrived, but we’re ahead of schedule with the building, and Ton-Bai tells me everything is growing well. This is no different than any other growing season. Just a bit more crowded. This is what we’re here for: to make a new temple and maybe some new ways.”
Heads nodded around the table, all but one. “Stass?” Qui-Gon asked. “Anything to add?”
“Just that I had not realized I was joining a band of—”
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at her and she swallowed whatever she was going to say. Even so, Qui-Gon was certain he hadn’t heard the last of her opinion.
Year of the Republic 26,981, Day 54 at the New Temple
Our first tragedy—near tragedy. Tani, one of the young villagers, fell from a roof he was helping to tile.
Qui-Gon knelt in the dirt next to young man’s body, the pair of Jedi who’d been working on the building looking on solemnly. It was clear the lad was dead, his limbs slack in that utterly boneless way that not even sleep affords, his head at an angle that was just—horrifyingly wrong. There was still a trace of surprise and fear on his features that filled Qui-Gon with grief.
He heard whispering, the scuff of feet, murmured words. Stass arrived at a run with Ton-Bai and Ji at her heels and knelt across from him, scanner in hand. “Tani! Gods!” Ji cried, horrorstruck, and would have gone to him if one of the others hadn’t held him back. The readouts on Stass’s scanner only confirmed what they already knew. She met Qui-Gon’s gaze and shook her head mournfully. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“How did it happen?” Ton-Bai demanded in a voice full of fury.
“This is my fault, Master Jinn. He wouldn’t wear the safety harness, and I should never have let him up there without it. He slipped on a loose roof tile,” Knight Vyri Niedra, the roofing overseer, said in anguish. “I take full responsibility.”
“Trying to keep up with foolish Jedi who won’t wear them either,” Qui-Gon murmured. “I’ll have to tell his people.” He reached out to smooth a lock of dark brown hair from the boy’s face, skin ashen now beneath the summer tan, and felt a tingle in his fingertips. He’d meant to close Tani’s eyes but some pang of tenderness made him cradle the lad’s head in his hands. The tingle grew stronger, almost painful, and Qui-Gon nearly started away when a soft blue glow enveloped his hands and spread to the boy’s body. There was a sudden warmth, a feel of something rushing out of him, a sense of dislocation and a blur of motion, and then he felt a tremor run through Tani’s body. Qui-Gon watched in wonder as the lad’s chest rose in a deep breath and his eyes filled with awareness again and focused on Qui-Gon’s face.
“What happened?” Tani mumbled, looking less groggy than bewildered. Qui-Gon’s hands fell away in shock. Ji and others gasped as the young man propped himself up on his elbows and looked in confusion at the people around him.
Stass tried to ease him back down but he wouldn’t go, sitting up instead as her gaze darted unbelievingly between him and the scanner. Finally, she put it down and just put her hands on his shoulders. “Sit there,” she said sternly. “Don’t move until I tell you.” Her hands followed the same path Qui-Gon’s had, touching his forehead, gently cupping the young man’s neck and sending tendrils of the Force questing into what had been the fracture of vertebrae and severing of spinal cord. “It’s gone,” she muttered. “That’s the fastest Force healing I’ve ever seen, Qui-Gon. I didn’t know you had that ability.”
Qui-Gon sat back on his heels. “I didn’t either,” he said in a faint voice, utterly shocked.
“And it doesn’t explain—”
He quickly motioned her to silence and met her harsh gaze. After a moment she nodded and turned her attention back to Tani.
“May I get up now? I’m fine. Really,” the young man insisted politely.
“Apparently,” Stass reluctantly agreed, “but you’re coming with me to the clinic, just to make sure.”
Qui-Gon and Stass helped him to his feet and walked him to the clinic, while behind them whispers and murmurs rose from the shocked silence. Ji followed them silently, unwilling to let Tani out of his sight. Inside, Tani hopped up on the exam pallet with an air of mild amusement. “Really, I’m fine. I just slipped—”
“—and bro—took a bad fall,” Stass snapped. “Sit still. I want to make sure you’re all right.”
“If you insist,” Tani acquiesced reluctantly.
Stass’s examination was thorough and revealed exactly nothing. “You are, indeed, absolutely fine, as far as I can tell,” she confirmed, her voice more gentle. “How do you feel?”
“Fine, I guess. Fine. Really. May I go? We need to finish that roof today.”
At Stass’s nod, Tani slid off the table and, still somewhat bewildered, bowed shyly and headed out.
“Wear a harness next time, young man!” Stass called after him, then growled, “Gods damn it. He broke his neck,” and took a deep breath to calm herself. “I know he did.”
“Then why did he—he should be—he’s not—but—” Ji whispered and looked up at Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon hardly knew how to answer him, and so, said nothing. The two of them looked at one another for a long moment, until Qui-Gon found he couldn’t meet Ji’s eyes, and looked away. He’d never felt so unsure of himself before, not since he’d been Dooku’s Padawan.
“You . . . did something, didn’t you?” Ji guessed.
“Yes,” Qui-Gon agreed. “The Force did something, through me.”
“But he was, Tani was dead?”
“And you—You didn’t tell me Jedi could do this.” It was almost an accusation and the lad’s fear was evident in it. Qui-Gon could hardly blame him.
“I didn’t know myself,” he admitted.
It was clear from the look Ji gave him that Qui-Gon’s reply not only failed to pass for truth, but frightened the boy even more. He looked around the room wildly. “I have to go,” he said. “I have to go,” and bolted out the door.
Ji ran like he was escaping captivity and Qui-Gon sadly watched him go, feeling he’d lost something, or someone, important. Stass took the opportunity to turn her attention to Qui-Gon, who closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Stass leaned against the examination pallet and crossed her arms, turning a laser-like gaze on him that he could actually feel. “What happened out there?” she asked in a crisp but quiet voice.
Qui-Gon dropped his hand and looked over at her. “I wish I knew.”
Stass gave a quiet snort. “I wish I could say I believe you.”
Qui-Gon looked up then, surprised. This, he hadn’t expected from her.
“What are you saying, Stass? That I did this on purpose?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you, Qui-Gon Jinn,” she asserted. “You know what your reputation is.”
“Then why are you here?” he asked curiously. “I know you were among the original group picked for this mission.”
“Because I do what I’m told,” she snapped. “Unlike some people.”
Qui-Gon laughed, and once he started, couldn’t stop, so he didn’t try. Instead, he let it run its course, clearing the uncertainty and fear and tension from himself and the room, until he heard Stass begin chuckling. He wiped his eyes as it wound down and looked up at her.
“All right,” Stass conceded. “That was as pompous as Mace on his best days. But I didn’t expect this—” she waved her hand, “—this—”
“Band of heretics?” Qui-Gon finished for her, with a smile.
“Mystics,” she corrected.
“Mystics, hmmm,” Qui-Gon repeated, remembering his experience at the tea house garden. “Perhaps that’s what every new temple needs.”
“Maybe it is,” Stass sighed. “Tell me about what just happened. Describe what it felt like, what the process was like.”
Qui-Gon did, finishing with: “I’ve never had a talent for healing, Stass.”
“I don’t know why not; you’re one of the most empathetic people I know,” she replied. “Or is that part of the problem?”
“Quite likely,” Qui-Gon agreed. “I’m too afraid of pain, of others’ pain. I can bear my own, but to do even what Obi-Wan did for me on Naboo, to act as a conduit for another’s pain, seems too awful to me. I don’t know that I could bring myself to do it.”
Stass looked surprised. “Is that what he did? I hadn’t known. That’s a rare talent itself. But not as rare as what you displayed out there just now.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone—” Qui-Gon stopped and gestured helplessly. It was still too unbelievable.
“Reviving the dead? That’s what you did. And it’s not unheard of.” Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at her. “It’s not talked about outside the Circle, and it’s very rare. I’ve never heard of a non-healer having the talent. But you have such a strong connection to the Living Force…”
“I thought it was the Unifying Force healers used,” Qui-Gon replied, his mouth quirking in a sardonic smile, one that Stass returned.
“For crystal healing, maybe. But I’ve always thought that Unifying-slash-Living Force distinction was nonsense anyway.”
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. “Now who’s the heretic?” Stass, at least, had the grace to look embarrassed. “What a blasphemous lot we are here,” Qui-Gon muttered rubbing his forehead as though he had a headache. “So. It’s not unheard of, you say.”
“No, but—” Her voice trailed off.
“But?” Qui-Gon prompted when she failed to finish her thought.
The healer shifted uncomfortably and looked up at Qui-Gon with her features set in a carefully neutral expression. “It’s rather frowned upon.”
“Don’t drag it out, please, Stass.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t keep secrets from the head of the Order, should I?” she said with a sigh. “I’m not quite sure how to explain this, though. There are no real theories about how it’s done, only speculation. Let me describe what I saw on the scanner, and when I examined Tani: There wasn’t a trace of that fracture, or of the spinal cord ever being severed. It was almost as though you’d turned back time—as though he’d never landed on his head. As though one of us had caught him before he hit the ground.”
Qui-Gon was silent, processing Stass’s words. Or trying to. His relationship with the Force had always seemed so clear and simple. Now, suddenly, it wasn’t. He exhaled heavily. “Stass, don’t mention this, if you please. I don’t know how many people realize what happened, but let’s not advertise it. I can’t explain it and I’d rather not have it talked about. It might give our neighbors odd ideas.”
Stass nodded. “I agree. What about the rest of us, though? I know what I saw, and I wasn’t the only Jedi in the crowd. And there’s Ji, too.”
“If people are curious, send them to me. I’ll deal with it. I can’t stop their discussion and speculation, but there’s no need for you to be forced to reveal anything.”
“What will you tell them?” Stass asked.
Qui-Gon smiled ruefully. “I’ll have to wait and see what I’m asked.”
Year of the Republic 26,981, Day 136 at the New Temple
There have been no more miracles, except the everyday ones of life and growth, and for that I’m immensely grateful. Strangely, the incident seems to have died down without discussion. Even Ton-Bai, who was right there when Tani sat up again, large as life, has said nothing. Perhaps he’s talked it out with Hizme, as the others seem to have done between themselves. What Ji makes of it, I don’t know. I’ve not seen him again, and that saddens me. The rest of the villagers act as though nothing has happened, so perhaps Tani does not realize what happened and Ji has chosen not to speak of it.
As the midsummer festivities approached, Qui-Gon found himself looking forward to the break in the desperate schedule they had been keeping, and knew that his people needed it as much as he. Even with the generous rations and help the villagers offered them, they were underfed and overworked, nearing a dangerous level of exhaustion, with the work of harvest yet to come.
The days before Midsummer were cool and gray, but the day itself dawned bright and clear, with the promise of warmth. Already in the early morning, a large tent had gone up under the shade of a huge tree in the middle of a fallow field filled with wildflowers. The field ran gradually into the forest lining the river, which would throw a wide swath of shade in the afternoon. Qui-Gon, having done his morning meditation and gulped down a cup of tea, walked down to the field with a pocketful of small early fruit, scattering the stones of it as he went.
Once there, he found villagers setting up plank tables under and around the tent, and digging a truly gigantic firepit they were clearly planning to line with stones. His hands already heavily callused from working the forge, Qui-Gon picked up a shovel and set about helping them. Once they were done lining the pit, an enormous log was placed in it with kindling. “Let me do this,” Qui-Gon offered, and with a bit of Force manipulation, set the kindling burning with a good flame to surprise, cheers, and applause.
By the time the log had caught and was burning fiercely, others from the New Temple had begun to arrive and helped complete the table construction. Long, brightly colored cloths were set out to cover them. Village and Temple younglings picked handfuls of flowers to place in jars on each table. Paper lanterns, still unlit, were strung from the eaves of the tent and hung on poles around the field.
When the log was reduced to coals, Qui-Gon’s workmates set up a massive and complicated mechanical spit holding slabs and joints of a huge butchered livestock carcass, and genially argued over the best way to cook them. Various bits were slathered with sauces, or rubbed with salt and aromatic herbs which were also inserted beneath the skin or deep in the musculature. Turning the spit became a contest of strength and endurance for villagers and Jedi alike. Smaller grills were constructed of stones and iron pans and cooking went on there as well. Cold dishes were set up on a long buffet along with kegs of beer and ale and, Qui-Gon was delighted to see, bottles of wine. Water and juices and other cold confections were kept on ice in metal tubs under a thick copse of trees.
By early afternoon, the field was full of people in groups large and small, coming and going with plates and bottles and cups. Races, skits, and other entertainment—puppetry, singing, juggling, one or two different bands, and various kinds of games—were being organized and scheduled. The air was filled with laughter, shouts, singing, the clink of utensils, and mouthwatering aromas. The tables beneath the tent were sagging with the weight of food, and more of it kept coming. He was offered, out of courtesy, a taste from each of the different joints on the spit, all of which were delicious. At one table beneath the tent, freshly caught fish were cleaned, gutted and sliced into bite-sized morsels as delicate as anything he’d ever eaten.
Anyone who had been a field Jedi for as long as Qui-Gon had had seen dozens of such celebrations on many different worlds, organized by many different cultures and sentient species, and they were all much the same. Usually, on missions, Jedi participated in them only a little or not at all, but this one was different. They were not honored guests here, or observers, but neighbors who had been extended hospitality. Small mixed groups of both Jedi and villagers stood or sat or lay sprawled around the field, getting to know each other: talking, eating, napping, or watching the entertainment as their younglings roamed in their own groups. With his own stoneware cup of quite decent if rough wine, Qui-Gon mirrored them, wandering through what had quickly become a fairground. He found more Jedi and was happy to see so many of his own people participating with the skills or talents they had, with or without the Force.
Here was one Master not so much juggling for a large crowd as making a wildly, hilariously disparate group of objects dance in intricate patterns as individuals from his audience threw them into the air. “Another!” he shouted. “Another!” to much laughter in the crowd. Here was a young Knight teaching an already proficient acrobat moves from various katas and developing an impromptu routine together as others heckled good-naturedly and cheered them on. Here were two more demonstrating hand-to-hand moves and “helping” the little ones to fling them over their hips or shoulders to great delight. Here was a duo, Master and Padawan, with instruments playing music from across the galaxy and their own native worlds to an enraptured audience. Here was Isa Kassir with a holo projector, presiding over the funhouse she had programmed in a frenzy of late night effort. She looked tired, but ecstatic with the popularity of her offering, which boasted a long line outside its ramshackle entrance. She and several other Knights had been hard at work setting it up not long after Qui-Gon had arrived this morning.
Anakin had made a brief appearance around the same time and then disappeared after Qui-Gon had given him the day to himself. He reappeared now, face alight with happiness, in a gaggle of boys and girls around his own age from both the Temple and the village.
“Master!” he yelled, waving, when he was still meters away. “We’re going swimming. In the river!”
A novelty. Not like the still indoor pool in which he’d learned after coming to Coruscant. Qui-Gon crooked a finger at him and Anakin briefly broke away from the pack.
“Yes, Master?” the boy said, barely controlling his urge to look after his friends.
“Just a word of advice: don’t strip down to your skin unless everyone else does. Our customs at the Temple are a little different. You don’t want to offend.”
Anakin rolled his eyes, which was becoming a frequent response. “Sheesh, I knew that, Master.”
“Go on, then,” Qui-Gon replied indulgently, making a shooing motion. “And watch the current.”
He had half a mind to join them, but knew that would spoil their fun. A cool drink and a nap, however, sounded like a rather good idea. Qui-Gon refilled his cup with water and found a place in the forest shade, near enough to hear the river, to stretch out in the deep grass. Full of excellent food, good wine, and the happiness that comes with a well-earned vacation’s shucked responsibilities, Qui-Gon dozed off with the sounds of the river and the crowd in his ears, thinking with a sleepy pang, *Obi-Wan and Jicky would love this.*
When he woke some time later, something furry had curled up in the crook between his neck and shoulder and a wee, dark-haired girl of about four was looking down at him in wonder. Qui-Gon slowly touched a finger to his lips and when the girl nodded, wide-eyed, he reached carefully over and stroked the soft fur next to his cheek, wondering what it was. Something small, with what might be an extravagant tail. He scooped it up gently and sat up, the little girl kneeling down next to him. The creature squirmed a bit in his hand but didn’t seem distressed. Qui-Gon opened his hand but curled his fingers up to form a cup, and the critter looked out over the top at her, its tiny heart beating fast. The creature did have an extravagant tail, but seemed to be a juvenile.
“A rizu,” she breathed. “He likes you.”
“Most likely, he was looking for a warm place to sleep tonight,” Qui-Gon told her with a smile, noting that the sun was quite low in the sky. “We’ll let him go find another.” Qui-Gon lowered his hand to the ground and the little beast leaped off, waved its tail insouciantly, and scampered away. “What about you?” Qui-Gon asked the little girl. “What manner of creature are you?”
She giggled, suddenly shy. “I’m Qing-Zhiao. Who’re you?”
“I’m Qui-Gon,” he told her, noting yet another variant of his House name in hers.
She looked at him in puzzlement. “You’re not from home. But you gotta name sorta like mine.”
“I do. My ancestors and yours knew each other, a long, long time ago. I’m one of the new people at the Temple.”
Qing-Zhiao’s eyes got wide. “You’re one of the wizards!”
“Oh, not so much a wizard. Not really. We’re Jedi Knights. Do you know what those are?”
Qing-Zhiao nodded. “Wizards!” she said.
Qui-Gon laughed and got to his feet. “All right, little one. If you say so. Shall we go find your parents?” he said, holding out his hand.
That proved to be something of a challenge. Qing-Zhiao did not know where she had last seen them, and no one seemed to be looking for her, at least not yet. Qui-Gon felt sure someone would be soon; she was too young to be wandering on her own. Qui-Gon hoisted her onto his shoulder and waded into the crowd, but there were too many people, none of whom looked like they were searching for anyone, none of whom Qing-Zhiao recognized. “Do you like being up high like this?” Qui-Gon asked her, scanning for any frantic person with both eyes and Force sense.
“Yes! I can see ever’thing!” she laughed. “I wanna go higher!”
And that gave him an idea. Qui-Gon picked her up and flung her into the air, then held her, hovering, with the Force. “I can fly!” she squealed. And she could. Qui-Gon swooped her through the air like a kite, attracting all kinds of attention, including a crowd of children who wanted to be next. It wasn’t long before Qing-Zhiao’s parents, looking slightly worried, arrived. Qui-Gon set her down gently and she ran to them crowing, “I flew! I flew! The wizard made me fly!”
“We couldn’t find you,” Qui-Gon explained. “And I thought you might be worried about her if we didn’t return soon. This seemed the quickest way to let you know where we were. My apologies if I frightened you.” Qui-Gon gave a deep, respectful bow to her parents, who were equal parts apologetic for causing so much trouble and grateful to recover their daughter unharmed.
“She was supposed to be with her brother,” her mother said severely. “Thank you for taking care of her—”
“Qui-Gon,” he added, repeating the bow. “Qui-Gon Jinn.” Their eyes widened and they bowed even deeper than he had, obviously knowing who he was.
“Me next! Me next!” a chorus of voices around Qui-Gon shouted as they moved away with their daughter in tow, waving. Qui-Gon picked a small lad out of the crowd and flung him in the air too, receiving a delighted squeal in return. It was like training initiates not to be afraid of heights, he thought, as he launched successive children into the air as he had Qing-Zhiao. He kept it up until it was dark and then sent them on their way, having made numerous new friends.
As Qui-Gon headed back toward the tent for another plate of food and perhaps a bit more wine, the paper lanterns around the field suddenly lit all at once. A soft gasp ran through the crowd, followed by clapping, and he knew that one of his people had done the deed. It made him smile.
He took his victuals and wine and joined a small group sitting near a fire with instruments. Asking to join them, he was welcomed profusely by an old woman who looked to be eighty if she was a day, yet was sitting on the ground with the young ones as though she were sixty years younger. Qui-Gon joined her as the musicians tuned up, then listened appreciatively to the music they made, some instrumental, some with vocals. Between songs, Huin Quiyu told him stories from the days when her family had been House Jinn-Qi’s retainers. She had not only stories, but documents she offered to let him see.
“I would be honored if you would share them with me,” he told her.
When the music stopped for good, it was quite late, and villager and Jedi drifted home in small groups with much singing and laughter on the way. Clean-up, he was informed by one of the men he’d dug the roasting pit with, could damn well wait until tomorrow.
Qui-Gon was surprised to find he was one of the first there, the next morning, and the only one, even among the Jedi, not nursing a hangover. Clean-up was a leisurely affair which involved sampling more of the food that had been wrapped up and brought back for lunch and for the Jedi to take back with them, which Qui-Gon thought a very generous gift, and said so to Miko, when she offered it.
“We were well entertained yesterday, Qui-Gon. You and your folks did more than your share, even if we provided the food. This is the best Midsummer we’ve had that I can remember.”
“I’m glad, Miko. And I thank you again for inviting us. I know my people really enjoyed themselves. It was just the break we needed. And I think this went a long way toward easing some tensions that were growing between us.”
“Yes, I think it did. I think we’ll all be seeing more of each other in the future. And I suspect we’ll be taking advantage of the offer to share your schooling with you, too.”
Qui-Gon nodded, pleased. “I look forward to it.”
But the best result of the gathering appeared the next morning with the work detail from the village. Qui-Gon was already at the forge when Ji appeared in the door, and waited until Qui-Gon had quenched the piece he was working on before speaking.
“Master Jinn,” he began, “I apologize for, for the way I acted last time. And for staying away without saying anything to you. I’ve been rude.”
Qui-Gon bowed. “Apology accepted, Yinjian-sen. It’s good to see you again. I imagine you had some thinking to do.”
“I did,” the lad agreed. “What happened with Tani—that scared me. I’m not sure I can say why.”
“I’m not surprised, Ji,” Qui-Gon admitted. “I still don’t know what to make of it myself. It was a gift, though, and I tend not to worry too much about those.”
Ji nodded. “Can’t do much about them, I guess.”
“Precisely,” Qui-Gon said.
Ji hesitated for a moment, then took a deep breath and plunged on. “My parents and I have talked over what you said. Becoming an apprentice, I mean. Is that—?”
“Still a possibility? We haven’t made a formal decision yet, but I suspect when we do the answer will be yes. And then we’ll try to find you a teacher, if you’d like.”
“I would, please.”
Qui-Gon nodded. “Then we’ll see what we can do.”
Year of the Republic 26,981, Day 152 at the New Temple
A short break in harvest work, and I have a few moments before dinner to catch up here. We've done well—better than I had hoped—for our first growing season here, thanks to our Agricorps members. So much so that our neighbors want to know how we achieved our results, knowledge that we'll be happy to share. Our barns and larders are nearly bursting, or will be soon. Of course, we're more than happy to share our surplus, too, as the settlers have shared so generously with us in both supplies and labor over the growing season. Since midsummer it's been one crop after another coming in to be threshed, milled, processed, and stored, sun-up to sundown, and alongside it, equipment to be repaired, meals to be cooked, clothing to be mended and cleaned. I can't remember ever working this hard in my life except at natural disaster rescue missions. But this is far happier work. There's something deeply satisfying in seeing the literal fruits of one's labor: grains, fruits and vegetables, livestock. Anakin is in heaven with the latter, and I must say there are some of our creatures of whom I've grown rather too fond. Obi-Wan, you would shake your head at me and chide my soft spot for what I've heard you call "pathetic lifeforms."
"What have you got there, Anakin?" Qui-Gon called across the yard, seeing his apprentice walking quickly away from the gatehouse bearing a large closed box with several round holes in it. Little black noses stuck out of them, sniffing the air.
Anakin started and looked oddly trapped. Even more curious now, Qui-Gon came down off the porch and walked over to his apprentice, who was already putting the box on the ground with a resigned air. It rocked hard enough that he had to hold it down with both hands to keep the lid on. Scratching noises came from within, along with high-pitched, clearly annoyed protests. "I was told not to let you see these, but I guess it's kinda late for that now. Ton-Bai'll have my head."
Qui-Gon squatted and cautiously lifted the box's lid. Five pairs of eyes—two sets of gold, one set of green, one set of blue, and one that split the difference with a single blue and a single green—peered up at him from five little, fuzzy, bewhiskered, felid faces. None of the creatures were much bigger than Qui-Gon's hand and all wore extravagantly striped orange and black fur coats. Little black triangular ears swiveled about alertly as they watched Qui-Gon and Anakin's every move. "Well, well," Qui-Gon chuckled. "Onekodora kits. I suppose it's not surprising that our neighbors’ ancestors would have brought these along from Dannora. I take it that's where they've come from, the village?" Anakin nodded. Qui-Gon, unable to resist, reached into the box slowly and carefully with one hand, then withdrew it with all due speed at the sudden hissing and snarling that greeted the attempt.
"Ton-Bai says they're half wild and meant for the barn. That's why he didn't want you to see them."
Qui-Gon cocked an eyebrow at his apprentice. "I'm not following."
Anakin rolled his eyes. "Come on. You know you want to take them all home, Master. They're small and cute and furry. You're a sucker for that. Even Ton Bai knows that. You've even got sympathy for the pests in the cottage."
"You're not the first apprentice to tell me that, you know," Qui-Gon replied, standing up again. The sudden movement offended the smallest of the kits, the one with the parti-colored eyes, and it launched itself from the box, snarling, intent on crawling up Qui-Gon's trouser leg to give him what for. Before it could do so, its weight pulled the cloth downward, leaving the kit dangling foolishly just above Qui-Gon's boot. Scrabbling for better purchase on the leather with its back legs, it mewed frantically until Qui-Gon gently wrapped the kit in one hand and carefully disengaged the claws—not so discreetly hitching up his trousers again, to Anakin's amusement. He folded the kit's front paws gently but firmly between his fingers and tucked it against his chest to keep the back legs still. Then he scratched its head and ears with one finger. The sound of a very tiny, sputtery motor came from it as its eyes closed into slits and it nestled down against Qui-Gon. Within moments, it was hypnotized with pleasure. Like Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon thought, his heart lurching.
Anakin sighed. "I suppose four is enough for the barn. What are you going to name it, Master?"
"I think Akisu would be a good name for this ferocious little one," Qui-Gon replied, ignoring Anakin's aggrieved air. The kit snuggled its way inside the folds of his tunic and was settling down to sleep. "It means 'night hunter' in Danjii. Go take the rest to the barn, Anakin. I'll tell Ton-Bai this wasn't your fault and find some food and a litter box for our savage little predator. We'll want to keep him indoors until he's a bit bigger and used to people."
Anakin shut the box's lid and stood up with it, accompanied by a chorus of squeaky complaints. "Do we really want one of these in the house? Ton-Bai said they get to be about ten kilos."
"They do, usually, and they grow quickly. They're excellent hunters as well. I'm sure our vermin problem will fall off precipitously in a few tens. This one," Qui-Gon cradled the lump in his shirt with obvious affection, already smitten, "seems to be the runt, though, so there's no telling how large he or she will get. But if they grow up with people, they make quite good companions. They're affectionate and protective. And there won't be any more pests in the cottage. Contrary to your opinion, I'm not all that fond of those."
"You're the only one who traps them live and puts them out in the woods, Master," Anakin pointed out.
"I'm not that fond of them in the house. Outside where they belong is a different matter. They're only filling their niche in the ecosystem. I'd just prefer they not fill it with our food. And they do spread disease, so they don't cohabit very well. But with a few onekodora around, my feelings about them will soon be moot. Leave it to Ton-Bai to find a good natural solution to the problem."
Anakin's face split into a wide grin. "Yeah, Ton-Bai's great. He knows everything!"
"Unlike your mushy old master, eh?" Qui-Gon laughed, ruffling his hair. "Go make your delivery, Anakin, before they gnaw their way out of the box and start on you."
Year of the Republic 26,981, Day 154 at the New Temple
So we have a new housemate, Obi-Wan. After some initial skepticism, Anakin has warmed up to Akisu, though the kit seems most attached to me for the moment. When he's not chasing vermin in the night, Akisu climbs the bedpost, since he's still too small to make the leap onto my bed, and sleeps with me. It won't be long before the preferred manner of conquest will be the pounce. Already, though he weighs much less than a kilo, he takes up as much of the bed as you ever did and I wake up relegated to the edge by a much smaller body than yours.
Force, but I miss you, kosai. This is the hardest thing I have ever done.