"Go away, Xan. You're going to get us into trouble." Frowning, his brown eyes flashing with irritation, Mace Windu glared back at his oh-so-devious friend. "Again."
After all, he may have been only nine years old and still in the cr?che, but he knew when doom was staring him in the face. And Xanatos duCrion was doom with a capital D.
But the other boy merely spread his hands wide, trying to look astonished at the accusation. Black hair swung into his eyes and he pushed it away impatiently, but it gave Xan enough time to smooth out the scowl and put on a look of complete innocence.
"It's not my fault we keep getting caught."
But Mace refused to get suckered into that black hole again. Xan might be only a few months older, but he was very inventive when it came to mischief. When they were inevitably caught, more often than not, Mace was the one that bore the brunt of the fallout. "Maybe if you stopped doing things that you know the Masters wouldn't approve of..."
Xan just snickered, a lop-sided grin lighting up his face. "Sometimes, stuffy old Jedi don't know how to have a good time."
Glaring back at the older boy, Mace knew that he was remembering their last adventure together. The hoverchair race had been fun, especially gliding down the back tower stairs, and Mace would have won this time if they hadn't run into Master Poof. He had to admit that the startled look on Poofy's face had been priceless, if a little scary, and he had never seen a neck do that before - go all wobbly. The old Master had turned positively green afterwards.
They would have gotten away with it, too, if Master Yoda hadn't arrived just then. But one wave of the All-knowing Gimer Stick and Mace had gone flying. Even with the Force, he'd come down hard and the bruises that followed had lasted a week or more.
He had to admit, though, that it had been a lot of fun - well, except for the week of cleaning the 'freshers in the nursery and the look of disappointment on Master Yoda's face. The smell of poodoo had lingered long afterwards but it didn't matter. It was that look on Yoda's face that stopped Mace from doing it again. He'd avoided Xan since then. But now the trouble-maker was up to his old tricks and he wanted an accomplice, Mace Windu.
Xan just wouldn't take no for an answer. "Come on, Mace, it's a perfect day for it."
"During the games? Are you insane? I'm not doing it." Mace stood back, scowling, his arms crossed as if to keep his friend from getting any more wacky ideas. "No, not today, no."
The older boy just rolled his eyes and snapped back, "Mace, look, do you want Master Yoda to notice you or not?"
Trouble was that he did want Master Yoda to notice him, but the right way - not as a trouble-maker but as?. as? a Padawan. He wanted that more than anything.
Shaking his head, Mace slumped forward, feeling thoroughly miserable. Over the past few months, his cr?che had been filled with the sounds of celebration as one by one, the members of his clan left to become Padawans, knights-in-training. He, on the other hand, had been left behind to watch his dream crumbling into dust. He knew that he should not be so desperate. After all, he would not be thirteen for another four years and there was plenty of time. Or so his Cr?che Master had said. But he knew better. The time of his choosing was closing fast and, if he didn't act soon, it would be too late. But he was not yet desperate enough to go along with Xanatos and his wild schemes. Not yet...
Mace growled back, "Yes, I do want him to notice me. But if it doesn't work, my only chance to be chosen will be gone."
The snort that followed was loud enough to be heard across the Temple. "That's stupid and you know it. Just think. No one has ever used it in the games before. We'll be the first!" Xan grinned and nudged Mace, one callused hand shaking him with rough friendship. "Besides, you are almost as good as I am at Force manipulation."
"As good." Mace sent a tentative smile back at Xan. He knew that his friend was just trying to help, even if that help usually ended up with him on punishment detail.
"Sure you are. Come on, you know you can do it." Grinning back, the black-haired mischief-maker looked thoroughly smug, as if he knew his friend was beginning to crack. "You're just being a baby."
Ah, that got Mace's attention. The barb had struck a nerve and he jerked away from the older kid. "I am not."
Xanatos laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "Sure you are. But you want to be a Padawan, don't you? Yoda's Padawan? I guarantee it will work."
"It better." Mace just sighed in resignation. He didn't know why he had argued. He needed a Master and soon. Besides, Xan's plans did work... sometimes.
"Trust me. It will be perfect." The sapphire eyes were full of play, eager to begin. The older boy was almost shaking with anticipation.
"I'm going to regret this."
Another wide grin and Xan grabbed him by the arm and started tugging him towards the kitchens. "Come on. We've got to get started or it will never be ready in time. Let's go."
It was a disaster, a complete, one hundred-percent, galaxy-exploding disaster.
Oh, it had started out just fine. By the time they got to the kitchens, it was already pretty late. But with a bit of wheedling and Xan's winning smile, the docent had let them into the student cooking area, warning them to clean up afterwards and to 'please not break anything', and then had hurried off to start breakfast.
The Force, it would seem, was with them. Left completely alone, they had managed to find a couple of large bowls and within a few minutes began to make the best dessert known in the entire Galaxy. Made of flavored gelatine, sweetgumm and air, Gellitt was slippery, squishy, wobbly, and delicious. It also was also notoriously hard to keep from turning into mush if not prepared properly, but Mace wasn't going to worry about that now.
Xan was in his element, chattering excitedly about what they were going to do at the games, hopping here and there to get food coloring and utensils and fixings for the jiggley dessert. He even suggested that they color it with bright oranges and reds to give the gelatine a festive look.
Mace tried to talk him out of all the extra fuss. Worried about how well this latest idea of Xan's would play out, he dragged his feet a bit but finally agreed that dyeing the clear gelatine might make it easier to see. But when Xan started to put in large pieces of fruit, Mace put his foot down. He might be just a kid, but he wasn't crazy. If this turned out wrong, it would create a heck of a mess and it was likely that they would have to clean it up. The older boy grumbled a bit but he finally agreed.
After waiting impatiently for what seemed like hours, checking over and over again to make sure they wouldn't be late to the games, the dessert had set.
Well, Xan's dessert had set. Mace's container of colorful gelatine blobs was still a little liquidy. But his eager friend assured him that the Gellitt would be just fine once they got to the games.
Mace didn't have time to argue. The match had already begun and, if they were late, the Cr?che Master would have his hide. Both boys grabbed their dessert bowls and started to run.
Then things got worse, much worse...
By the time they got to the salle, it was the typical organized pandemonium. Initiates were wandering back and forth, staring at the Masters in attendance or else huddled in small groups, arguing furiously. In one far-off corner, a few small ones were even crying. Mace could see Master La-Allne trying to comfort them.
Just by being there, the Masters were creating their own chaos - walking slowly amongst the younglings like waterships gliding through the oceans of MonCalamari or else lounging on the sidelines, talking with their peers. There were tall humans cloaked in brown or Twi'leks in leather or even a Zabrek or two, all of them trying to appear casual as they studied the little ones, and failing miserably. Besides, everyone knew why the Masters were there - to look at potential Padawan material.
Mace had a very, very bad feeling about this.
From across the salle, he spotted Master Yoda talking energetically with a tall human. When the man turned around, Mace could see that Master Jinn was here after all. He knew Xan would be pleased but he just felt sick. This was not going to work.
But then Xan was pulling him along, jostling his elbow and pointing to the crowd where the other initiates of his age-group were hovering. With a heavy sigh, he slowly walked toward the younglings, stopping for a moment to put down his wobbling Gellitt on the bench before joining them. He waited for the questions to begin and it didn't take long.
Belana was the first to ask, "What are you doing with that stuff? Is it a bribe for the Masters? Or are you trying to get into the Cooking Corps?" Then Aletem piped up, "Are you and Xan doing something together? Aren't you going to be in the games?"
Before you could say 'dark side', Mace and Xan were surrounded by kids asking what the Gellitt was for and why didn't they have their game stuff with them and weren't they going to try for a Master. And when Xan smiled and told them the reason they had made gelatine, there was stunned silence for a moment before the crowd's burst of laughter filled the salle.
Mace's face burned with embarrassment, but Xan just pushed his hair off his face and smirked. "We'll see who is laughing when the day is over. Just you watch and see. We're going to blow this wide open." Then he grabbed the younger boy's tunic and dragged him off, "Come on, Mace. We have to get ready."
But he wasn't having it. Once away from the gaggle of snickering kids, Mace said, "This isn't going to work."
Rolling his eyes, Xan said, "You worry too much. If it's any help, I'm going to go first. Just follow my lead and Yoda will be your Master before you can say Coruscant."
A growl of disgust and Mace was shaking his head, "I'm doomed."
Xan just trotted away, his brilliantly-colored dessert jiggling as he moved past, "It will be great. You'll see."
And, for the most part, it was. Until the last game....
Mace was breathing heavily when he finally finished up his lightsaber demonstration. Kids his age didn't really spar much, but like all the younglings at the games today, he was required to show what he had learned in the past few months. He wasn't supposed to be proud of his accomplishments, that wasn't the Jedi way but... Master Yoda had nodded to him earlier, after his kata. Master Yoda, the wisest of the Council, and supposedly looking for a new Padawan, had actually shown some interest in him, even after all the trouble he had caused. Mace almost wiggled in delight.
He knew he had done well, not just in the lightsaber drills and katas but also in the other games - the balancing beam, the high-jumps, the questions about Jedi history, and even solving the hyperspace math question. There was just one more game left.
Force manipulation. The hardest and most challenging of all. It was then that Mace started to panic.
The game called for control of the Force - holding up something in the air for as long as possible. That was hard enough, but it was up to each youngling to decide what they would use in the game. It was whispered that the choice was as important as the length of time it remained in the air, that the item picked said something about the child's personality and willingness to see beyond the everyday.
Mace had chosen Gellitt.
Oh, he was dead... He knew he was dead but now it was too late to change his mind.
But as he looked around, trying to think how he could get out of this without looking like a complete idiot, he saw Xan off to the side, talking excitedly with Master Jinn. He held his breath as Xan lifted up his bowl and scooped out some of the brightly-colored gelatine. Even from here, Mace could see that the tall Master was intrigued and trying not to show it. But Xan, ever the bold one, handed the dish back to Master Jinn and stepping back, gathered the Force about him like a cloak and pushed it outward toward the red concoction in his hand.
For just a moment, nothing happened. Then, before you could say hawkbat, the wobbling mass was floating serenely just above Xan's head, hovering there - a crimson cloud of translucent color bouncing slightly in the air currents. It was beautiful.
And Master Jinn was smiling down at Xan.
Oh, this was good; this was very, very good. Maybe, just maybe Mace wasn't so dead after all.
It was with renewed hope that he turned back to his age-mates and looked around at the competition. Most of the kids had done the obvious and brought playthings from the cr?che, items that wouldn't be a problem if their Force talents weren't the best. Big, light-weight items were fairly easy to keep aloft and, if a few wobbled and fell, the Masters were still around to catch them before they hurt anything. However, Belana had brought a fairly substantial rock, Aletem was holding a large, berry-heavy cluster of quelt-fruit, and Mace had his Gellitt.
As the Cr?che Master told everyone to begin, Mace could see that Master Yoda was off to one side, watching him. Almost shivering with terror and delight, he put down his bowl on the bench, scooped up the garish yellowy-orange dessert and carefully, with the Force as his guide, lifted the gelatine to float above his head.
A slight giggle distracted him for a second and the Gellitt began to dip perilously downward but he was able to focus quickly and bring it back up. There it stayed, floating in the air currents.
Mace was ecstatic. It was better than he had hoped and, although he couldn't see Master Yoda, he could feel him there in the Force, like a soft acceptance. Yoda was watching him and then that he knew he could do more, do even better than Xan if he just....
Without looking down, he leaned over and scooped up a second handful of Gellitt and pushed it, with a sharp upward tug of the Force, into the air. The colorful stuff bobbed a bit then shot up, hovering around the first mass, both large globules floating in tandem, and they began to dance around each other above Mace's head. Almost giddy in triumph, he added a third blob of gelatine to the growing halo of color drifting joyously in the air.
Mace knew he was showing off. But he had never felt so strong before, so in control and it could have gone on forever except for one little thing.
The gelatine began to melt.
The first thing Mace noticed was a tiny drop of sweet-tasting liquid hitting his nose and dribbling into his mouth. Then there was a second drop and a third.
His control began to waver and, while some of the Gellitt remained afloat, one of the globules slid wildly toward Belana - who was having her own problems keeping her rock up. With a groan, his mind edged sharply towards averting the disaster but it was as if he no longer had any control over his brightly-colored dessert.
The Gellitt splatted right into Belana's rock, the orange goo exploding into an ever-expanding ball of food dye and liquid. She yelped, losing her concentration, and the stone began to plummet towards her. She stood there frozen, unable to move, facing a doom of smashed skull and gelatine. Mace tried desperately to help, sending a Force push toward her, jerking her out of the way. At the same instant, Master Yoda thrust out his fingers, stopping the rock millimeters above where the girl had stood just moments before.
But the damage was already done. With a horrified stare, Mace watched helplessly as one by one, the youngling's toys and games and quelt-fruit began to tumble, wildly gyrating as if the inanimate objects were panicking, trying to get away. And they bumped and collided and ricocheted outward toward the watching crowd - a deck of sabaac cards collapsing into chaos.
As his own control disintegrated, the spinning Gellitt began to break apart, orangey-yellow blobs flying this way and that, covering everything close-by in brilliant color, bright spheroids splatting on tunics and faces and floor. On Mace and, Force help him, on Master Yoda.
Mace was numb with shock. From out of the one eye not covered in dessert, he stared at the bright orange blob that sat dead center on Master Yoda's forehead and watched as it slithered slowly down the flattened nose and dripped off onto the ruin of the old Master's tunic.
Oh, kriff. It was a disaster after all.
With a low cry of despair and shame, Mace Windu bolted from the room.
Mace cowered in the foliage, pulling his legs in so that no one could find him, and buried his head in his hands. He was sure that they would be talking about this day for years to come. Of course, he thought bitterly, Xan came out of the whole fiasco with nothing but praise and probably a Master to boot. But his fate would be different. He was sure of it. When it was all said and done and they finally found him, he would be shipped off to the Agri-Corps. Immediately.
He whispered into the fading light, "Why did I listen to him?"
Mace hadn't expected a reply so he almost jumped out of his skin when he heard, "Listen to whom, young one?"
He couldn't believe his ears. It was Master Yoda.
"Oh, Master, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean..." And then Mace couldn't say any more. It was just too hard.
"Sorry, are you? For what, youngling?" The wise green eyes seemed to peer through the branches and stare straight into Mace's tear-streaked face.
He just huddled further back into the shrubbery, thorns catching at his orange-stained tunic, and mumbled, "I didn't... I mean I didn't.... sorry for getting you all dirty, Master. I should never have used it for the games." Mace looked away, miserable.
But the old Master just brushed aside the branches and sat down right in front of him. The remains of the gelatine experiment had smeared onto one cheek and the brown robes were blotchy with dried food. "Wished you do, to cover me in orange goo?"
"No, Master. Never... I didn't?" Startled, Mace glanced quickly at the ancient one before lowering his head in shame once more. He wished that Master Yoda would just get it over with and send him away.
The head of the Jedi Council asked gently, "Deliberate, was it?"
"No, I would never..." Mace shook his head and held back fresh tears. He knew he was too old to cry and besides, he was a Jedi at least for a little while longer. Jedi didn't cry, either. But he wasn't sure how much longer he could stand this. Was this his punishment? Surely, being sent away to the Agri-Corps would be punishment enough.
But Master Yoda kept pushing, "Then why sorry are you?"
"It was an accident." He whispered it, his wobbling voice as soft as the Gellitt he had made this morning.
"Mistake it was, youngling. And harmed no one."
Mace just shook his head, "I don't... Master Yoda, I shouldn't have brought it."
He was feeling too miserable to notice the touch of humor winding through the Master's reply. "Think that using dessert for Force training is wrong, do you? Hummm?"
Mace's face tightened in disgrace, but he answered anyway. It couldn't get any worse. "What else could it be? It was my fault that Belana lost her balance with the rock and then everything just fell apart. And you got? ummm? covered in orange goop."
Yoda leaned forward, his hands resting on his gimer stick, his green eyes glowing with something yet unsaid, "Learned anything from this, have you?"
"Don't make Gellitt again?" He knew his answer sounded flippant but he didn't understand why Master Yoda wasn't hustling him away to the spaceport. Maybe he wanted him to clean the salle up first before shuttling him off-planet. He certainly couldn't think of any other reason why the old one had sought him out.
The gimer stick rapped once on the hard ground. "No. Mistake that was not. What caused it to fall?"
"The gelatine to fall? Master, I don't think... oh, because I put too much up." Miserable as he felt, Mace realized that he should at least make reparations, and accept his faults. Besides, it was clear that the old Jedi was going to make him live through the whole episode, right here, right now.
Master Yoda leaned forward, staring at him intently, his ears wide and high. "Why did you that?"
For a moment, Mace just sat there, thinking. Ever since Master Yoda had arrived, he'd been dancing around the questions. He knew that he had made some really bad decisions; from the making of the Gellitt to the pride he had felt when the globules had circled his head. And he hadn't really wanted to admit it. But now it was the time for truth.
He had made a huge mistake and trying to ignore it would not change anything. Besides, telling the truth couldn't make it any worse and it might make him feel better. He straightened up, throwing his shoulders back, and, in a clear voice, he said, "I was showing off, Master. I wanted you..... I wanted a Master to notice me. I wanted to be a Padawan so badly and I messed it up."
The happiness that suddenly appeared on the Master's face was startling to say the least. "The first step to enlightenment is knowing the right path to take. Your insight, well it serves you, Mace Windu."
"But I got you covered in slimy stuff and Belana almost got killed." Mace was babbling in bewilderment.
Master Yoda's eyes began to glitter with delight as he nodded toward the confused child. "Saved her, you did. Unselfish it was. Worthy you are, young one."
"I am? You must be mistaken, Master." Now, he was completely perplexed. How could he be worthy when he'd almost killed someone by showing off? But Mace was even more startled when the ancient Jedi spoke again.
"Taking a new student am I. Time for passing on knowledge it is but only to one willing to learn. Strong in the Force he must be. One who learns from his mistakes, I think." The Jedi Master was looking straight at him, and smiling. Master Yoda was smiling at him!
Mace's voice was failing, astonished and ragged as he said, "Master?"
"Fond am I of gelatine and those who make it." Master Yoda's eyes gleamed bright and then he leaned forward and gently touched Mace's shoulder, "Do me the honor of becoming my Padawan, Mace Windu. Learn from each other we will."
Sunfire joy, relief and wholesale astonishment jangled in his throat and Mace did not think there was enough glorious emotion in the universe to explain how he felt at this moment.
The Force swirled around him in a giddy dance of extraordinary delight as he grinned, "I would.... I would be honored, Master."
Oh, just wait til he told Xan. The older boy was right. Dessert had been the perfect choice, after all.
Original cover design by Typo. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.