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higher ground

Chapter Text

From a distance it was a serene image: the star skiff made a wide arc in the air, its chromium flank winking against the thick black of space and reflecting the sore, dusty surface of Tatooine below. The sleek craft angled itself and began its nosedive towards the planet––almost effortless in the silence of the stars.

Up close, however, matters were quite different. Inside the cruiser, sirens screamed and emergency lighting flooded the interior with an anxious red glare. The remnants of the crew that had managed to board in time had been helpless to prevent the damage the starship sustained as it fled Naboo with Separatist bombers in hot pursuit. Being a diplomatic vessel, the craft lacked the arsenal that might have defended it from the onslaught of enemy fire that chased it from the system. As it was, the now-refugees of the once peaceful planet had been forced to watch as the beautiful ship––a culmination of some of their planet’s engineers’ greatest work––was burnt and shattered, and finally beaten into the very corner of space.

Captain Typho peered out of the cockpit viewport at the rapidly approaching Tattooine atmosphere. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“It’s not ideal, I agree.” Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped up beside him to watch the descent. “But with the amount of damage our hyperdrive sustained we’re fortunate to find ourselves near an inhabited world at all.”

Typho narrowed his eyes as he spared the Jedi a quick glance, and Obi-Wan suspected the captain’s definition of fortunate varied greatly from his own. Inhabited didn’t necessarily mean civilised, after all, and he doubted Typho had had much experience outside of the opulent throne rooms and elegant hallways of Theed.

Obi-Wan sighed and retreated to the doorway. “I had better make sure the others are prepared for landing.” To the rag-tag navigational crew he said, as confidently as he could muster: “Do try to bring her down gently.”

Emerging into the corridor he almost collided with his padawan. Ahsoka Tano leaped back, her hands balled into tiny fists, and stood poised looking particularly fierce in the terrible red light, until she realised by whom she had been startled.

“Master!” she said, raising her voice to be heard above the sirens. “You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that, I could have hurt you.”

Obi-Wan allowed himself a brief smile. “I don’t doubt it, young one. But what are you doing up here? Get back down to the lower deck and strap yourself in for landing.”

“Landing? On this dust pile?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“But master, we’ve got a senator on board, we’ve got to be able to do better than this.”

“Now’s not the time for arguing, Ahsoka. We’re coming in fast, get to your station.”

The little togruta made a face, but nevertheless skittered back along the corridor towards the deck lift. Obi-Wan watched until she was out of sight, and then skirted around the cockpit and made a dash for the senator’s cabin.

“My lady, you’ve pre-empted me,” he said, bowing slightly as he entered.

Padme Amidala and her handmaids were already strapped in and braced for landing. “It may surprise you to learn, Master Jedi,” she said, wryly, “that this is not my first galactic skirmish.”

The ship lurched suddenly to one side, and Obi-Wan found himself tossed roughly against the wall. Before he could regain his balance, he had to twist to get out of the path of an ornamental vase that toppled from its stand on the opposite side of the room, slid across the floor and shattered in the very spot he had occupied moments before.

With no time to get back down to the crew’s quarters, Obi-Wan took his place beside the senator as the cruiser rattled and clanked, spiralling its way through the atmosphere of Tattooine. This was why he hated flying. The safety straps dug hard into his shoulders every time the cabin rocked. As the ship hit the ground––hit something, at least––and then ricocheted back up into the air momentarily, the Jedi felt as though he’d left his stomach behind. Padme barely flinched as, outside, the craft dived headlong into a sandbank, rotating and churning up the dust with its huge sweeping wings as it did so, knocking everything out of place that wasn’t strapped down, and eventually coming to rest on its side with the nose buried deep in a dune.

There was an audible sigh of relief ship-wide. The violent landing had killed the sirens and the emergency lights, and now a tranquil hum reigned as the ship’s usual systems booted back up. A pale light from the overheads in the senator’s quarters threw into relief the chaos of upset furniture and clothes flung from hastily packed suitcases. Padme’s unflappable aides unstrapped themselves and immediately began attending to the damage.

Obi-Wan pushed his hair from his eyes and glanced at the senator. Despite an assassination attempt this morning, followed by a narrow escape from enemy droid ships, and now a crash landing on an unfamiliar planet, she looked about as troubled as if she’d just realised there was an irritating insect buzzing in the corner of the room.

The Jedi Knight clapped her lightly on the shoulder as he stood up. “Another happy landing, my lady.”

“Indeed, Kenobi,” she replied. “Never a dull moment with you Jedi around. Speaking of which, what happened to the rest of you? Is everyone all right?”

A good question. Ahsoka, he hoped, was safely below, but he hadn’t seen Qui-Gon since well before they began the landing cycle.

“I shall see to that at once, my lady.” Obi-Wan performed another, more elegant bow, an illustration of his improved mood. “That is, if you’ll not be needing me here.”

“No, thank you, Kenobi,” she said. “But please inform me when you’re preparing to disembark.”

“Of course, my lady.”

With that he returned to the corridor, now bathed in a cool white light, and made his way this time to the lift. On reaching the lower deck he found a similar scene of disruption––canisters overturned, hand-combat weapons scattered across the floor, and (perhaps more worryingly) a choked beeping coming from the engineering room.

Ahsoka was there to greet him outside the crew’s quarters. The crash hadn’t been enough to wipe the smile off her face, he noted gladly, although now he himself was beginning to feel a little queasy. It wasn’t like his old master to disappear in a crisis.

“Where’s Qui-Gon?” he asked. “He wasn’t with the senator.”

Ahsoka rolled her eyes, still grinning. “Master Jinn’s still in his cabin.”

“Don’t tell me he managed to meditate through all that.” But even as he spoke he knew that if anyone were capable of keeping a clear head through the landing they’d just had, it would be Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan followed Ahsoka as she picked her way through the clutter of the crash to a closed steel door. Behind it, the young Jedi could sense his former master, still deep in contemplation.

Ahsoka seemed to feel it too. “Perhaps we should come back later?”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Senator Amidala is eager to make plans, and I for one agree with her. These Outer Rim planets can be perilous. We would do well to locate the nearest settlement so we can begin making repairs to the ship.”

Ahsoka raised her hand to knock, but before she could do so the door whooshed open, and Qui-Gon Jinn stood before them, utterly dishevelled, but with an expression of contentment settling into familiar creases in his face.

“Obi-Wan,” he said, “I thought I told you to put the ship down gently.”

“Well I could have done with a little help."

“I was busy,” Qui-Gon replied. “I was right, the Force had much to tell me. It was imperative that I listen.”

“What did the Force say to you?” Ahsoka piped up.

For a moment Qui-Gon shut his eyes and smiled. Obi-Wan knew that face from his padawan days: That’s for me to know and for you to find out. Well, they could worry about Qui-Gon’s riddles later. For now they had more pressing business.

The Jedi reconvened in the senator’s cabin––now mostly restored to its pre-crash serenity––along with Captain Typho and his remaining Naboo security guards. Padme voiced her wish, not dissimilar to Obi-Wan’s own, to make contact with the nearest township and to set in motion their exit from the planet as soon as possible.

“I will go,” said Qui-Gon, in a voice that his old apprentice thought surprisingly eager.

“Even for you, Master Jinn, I think it unsafe to travel alone.” Padme gestured to her head of security. “Will you at least take Captain Typho with you?”

Qui-Gon shook his head. “I will take Obi-Wan Kenobi with me, if you please, my lady. Padawan Tano and Captain Typho will be more than enough defence should any possible danger arise here.” When Padme shot him a puzzled look he added: “The Force is with me, my lady. I believe that what lies ahead on this planet is Jedi business.”

As perplexed as Obi-Wan was by Qui-Gon’s response, it seemed to satisfy the young senator, who simply nodded her acceptance. “Take that R2 unit with you though, Master Jinn,” she said, before the impromptu meeting concluded. “He has a read out of the parts we require, and a much better range than com-links. I want to be able to maintain clear communications with you at all times.”

“Very wise, my lady,” Obi-Wan replied, before Qui-Gon could protest.

 

* * *

 

Ahsoka hadn’t appreciated being left behind. Obi-Wan could hardly blame her. He didn’t suppose he would have enjoyed it much at that age, knowing there was adventure to be had on a strange new world instead.

And what a world.

The desert stretched uninterrupted in every direction to far off shimmering horizons. No plants grew here. No visible life stirred. It was only heaped golden dunes for mile after mile. A plume of white smoke rising from the wreckage was still visible, even as they dipped behind another sand dune. The Jedi explorers and their astromech companion were watched by two swollen suns, perched high in the vast, otherwise empty sky above them. Obi-Wan could feel the warmth of the sand through his boots as he walked, and there was no breeze to push away the smothering heat. Sweat plastered his hair to his forehead and the back of his neck. His robes became uncomfortably damp as the journey went on, and when they crested yet another dune and saw no sign of civilisation on the horizon, Obi-Wan gave in and stripped down to his waist. Qui-Gon, he noted, seemed untroubled by the heat.

At last––at last––the Jedi, clambering to the top of a particularly large bank, were greeted with the sight of domes and craters of a little town that pockmarked the landscape in the distance. Obi-Wan was so relieved he could have sank to his knees, but a somewhat childish longing to appear stoic in front of his old teacher kept him unhappily upright.

“There it is,” said Qui-Gon, almost reverently. “The Force has led us here, Obi-Wan. Our destiny lies this way.”

The Force? Obi-Wan blinked hard against the harsh desert light. He supposed he ought to know Qui-Gon well enough by now to be assured that he wouldn’t go wandering in the wilderness without direction, but still––them coming upon this township, couldn’t it just have been...?

“In my experience there’s no such thing as luck,” Qui-Gon interjected, casting a knowing smile at his former padawan.

Obi-Wan found he couldn’t help but smile back. “Quite right. But Master––I sense you’re looking to find something more here than parts for the ship.”

“Your instincts serve you well, Obi-Wan.”

Qui-Gon began edging his way down the other side of the dune. R2-D2 shuffled forward, but eventually resorted to sliding the rest of the way down, issuing a string of shrill beeps as he went. Obi-Wan hurried to catch up with them, stumbling as he did so, and leaving great gashes in the sand. Now whenever he moved he could feel the grit rubbing against his skin under his clothes.

“Master,” he pressed, as they strode out across the plain towards the settlement, “what did the Force tell you, back on the ship?”

Qui-Gon chuckled. “You sound like your padawan.”

“Well she has to learn it from somewhere. But––Master?” And, despite his best efforts, he felt like the apprentice once again, not wishing to overstep his mark, and yet so desperate to find answers to his questions.

Even as he walked, Qui-Gon closed his eyes again and that familiar, distant smile returned to his face. “The Force told me there is someone here that we must find. Someone who will change everything.”

And although Obi-Wan probed, he would say nothing more. They walked on towards uncertainty; the wind picked up and set about erasing their scumbled footprints in the sand behind them, the only trace that they had ever been there at all.