"Now when I die," said Otom Pan, "bury me under the muja trees. I'm good fertilizer, you know."
"I don't want to think of you dying," X!tal said.
"Don't want to do all the work by yourself, you mean," the old Dresselian teased, making the moment easier.
It helped, and X!tal was able to tease back. "Of course not. I've already sent a message to Coruscant. A new Agricultural Corps worker should be here soon."
"Can't you even wait until I'm in my grave before you try to replace me?" Otom exclaimed, straightening a little in mock indignation.
"I always was impatient," X!tal reminded him.
"Yes, you were." Otom shut his eyes briefly, the eyelids all but disappearing in the mass of wrinkles that covered his face. "I remember when you first came here to Vucub-Hunahpu. Impatient, angry at the universe ..."
"I wanted to be a Jedi knight," X!tal remembered. "I felt cheated. I felt like the Temple was throwing me away, like they were banishing me for something that wasn't my fault."
"You used to sulk a lot," Otom recalled.
"I didn't think farming was honourable work. And I was scared of you."
"Scared? Of little old me?"
"You weren't so little or old back then. Actually, you put the fear of the Force into me. I really believed that you were as gruff as you made out."
Otom laughed silently.
"We've had some good times together," X!tal said quietly.
"Hmm," the Dresselian assented.
"You taught me a lot."
"Once you were willing to listen."
"Once I was willing to listen," X!tal repeated, nodding and nodding slightly in agreement.
"The arms and legs of the Jedi body are important," Otom began.
"But it's the stomach that gives them the strength," X!tal finished. "An army travels on its stomach and the Jedi Temple is no exception. Food and drink keep body and life-Force together."
They smiled at each other, the old Dresselian and the now middle-aged Chagrian, and then Otom said, "Well? What are you waiting for? Why aren't you out there digging my grave?"
"Because I've learned not to be impatient anymore?" X!tal spoke as though hazarding a guess.
Otom scowled, then sighed. "And I've learned not to be too proud to admit that I need some rest."
Placing his hand on Otom's shoulder for a quick, reassuring squeeze, X!tal stood up and left the room.
When he had finished filling in the grave near the orchard of muja trees, X!tal leaned on his shovel and looked out over the fields of sprouting grain. Vucub-Hunahpu was a hospitable planet, and grains grew well in this particular sector. He remembered he hadn't thought much of it when he had first arrived, thirty years ago. The pain of not having achieved his dream of becoming a Jedi knight had been sharp, negatively colouring his perception of his new assignment and the crotchety old being that he had been assigned to help.
It was only gradually that X!tal had learned to let go of that pain. At first, he had simply made the best of a bad situation, or so he'd considered it. Later, he had realized he really loved the work, and the planet, too. Otom hadn't turned out to be too bad, either. Eventually, they had worked together like any Jedi master and padawan; one teaching, the other learning, seeing themselves as a little family. At first, X!tal had thought he couldn't wait to get rid of the old Dresselian, but then he had discovered that Otom was not old at all, simply wrinkled in the way of his species. Now, the pain of having truly lost him was devastating.
"Just think of me as compost," Otom had often told him in the last year, when he had finally admitted that his physical body was wearing out. "My season as a growing plant is ending, soon I'll be part of the dirt to help other things grow. I won't be lost; I'll just be different."
X!tal remembered that Otom had already helped him to grow in many different ways, and although he logically realized that the old Dresselian had simply been "reassigned" to a different point in the cycle of life, he still mourned the loss. A single tear escaped his eye and ran down his cheek to land on one of his lethorn - the long, pointed lobes that emerged from either side of his head and curved downwards to his chest.
There wasn't much time to stand and cry, though. The ship would be landing soon; he needed to get over to the spaceport and see about the new arrival.
The ship had already landed by the time X!tal arrived, and he could see the young female human standing just outside the disembarking area, glancing around in dismay. She looked every bit the young Jedi in her brown robe, and X!tal strode over with a smile on his face. "Welcome to Vucub-Hunahpu. My name is X!tal."
The dismay vanished from the girl's face; it became smooth and featureless. She bowed slightly, then said, "My name is Tamini Chrior."
"Do you mind if I call you Tam?" X!tal asked, picking up the girl's pack and slinging it over his shoulder as he turned back towards the door of the port.
"Yes," the girl snapped from behind him.
Was I that prickly, too? X!tal wondered as they went outside to where the transporter was parked. When he opened the door for the girl to get in, she hesitated, and the dismayed expression came back to her face for a moment before she managed to smother it. X!tal took a second look at the transporter, reminded of the first time he'd seen it. He'd probably looked equally dismayed back then; he remembered what he'd secretly been wondering.
"Don't worry, it can still fly," he reassured her.
"Yes -" Tamini said, stopping as though she'd wanted to say something else.
"You can call me X!tal," he said.
"X-tal," she repeated, struggling with the unfamiliar tongue click.
"This whole planet is pretty much populated by the Agri-Corps," X!tal explained as he slipped into the pilot's seat and started the engines. "We all get together every so often, but you'll be staying with me."
"Yes, X-tal," Tamini replied.
"You don't have to be so formal, we're not in the Temple here." X!Tal guided the transporter off the ground and curved into the right direction.
"I know," Tamini said with a hint of a sob in her voice. Levelling out, X!tal risked a glance, and saw that she was biting her lip, probably trying not to cry.
"It's not the end of the galaxy," he said. "I know it seems that way now, but it really isn't."
Tamini looked away and didn't answer. They flew the rest of the way in silence while X!tal tried to think of something to say that wouldn't sound patronizing or trite. After they'd landed, he exited the transporter and looked back to see how she was taking her first glimpse of the house and the rolling fields around it. She swallowed once, but otherwise managed to keep her face neutral.
They went inside.
"This will be your room." X!tal set down the pack in the room that had been his until Otom had died. He'd moved over to the old Dresselian's room - it just hadn't seemed right to let anybody else stay there, and now he was even more glad that he had done so. It certainly didn't seem right to let this unhappy girl ruin the peaceful feeling that he always sensed there.
"Thank you," Tamini murmured.
X!tal sighed. "You feel cheated, I know. You feel like the Temple has just thrown you away, abandoned you to some kind of slave labour here on a planet that nobody's ever heard of. You're hurt and you're angry that you weren't chosen as a padawan and that you've been sent to Agri-Corps like some kind of failure."
To his surprise, Tamini nodded shortly. Keeping her teeth clenched together, she managed to choke out, "I'd like to meditate now, if I may."
"Go ahead," X!tal said, moving to exit the room. Then he paused as he recalled an old saying of Otom's that he'd often heard in his first year on the planet. "But if the galaxy consisted only of grain, there'd be no fruit. Consider that, while you meditate."
He shut the door behind him and almost instantly, a howl of misery was audible through it. X!tal's heart was wrenched with sympathy, and he moved away slowly. Patience, that's what he'd need. Grain didn't grow to harvest ripeness in a single day. It would take time for Tamini to forget the perceived pain, and even more to appreciate what she had here. X!tal thought back to his first days on the farm. There'd been plenty of work to keep him busy - so much that he'd thought he really had been sold into slavery. But one day, Otom had taken him into the fields and had helped him reach out to the Force, directing it to the growing plants. That had been the first time he'd caught a glimpse of his new calling. He'd have to try that with Tamini as soon as possible.
I'm good fertilizer, you know; Otom had said, and X!tal realized that it was true, both in the physical and the spiritual sense. Just as his body was now being absorbed into the earth, so had his teachings long since been absorbed into X!tal's life, and would be passed on to Tamini. Either way, he wouldn't be lost.
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