"Poor kid. He will be heart-broken."
Shaking her head in resignation, Vant stared out into the deserted garden and tried not to sigh.
She loved this green place. It was so full of quiet serenity with its bronzium sculptures and gently-curving rock pathways, the soothing arrangement of emerald-dark plants from a thousand worlds and the soft, artificial breeze whispering through the foliage. All were designed for restful seclusion and to ease the troubled spirit. Even the plop-plop-plop sound of heavy dew trickled peace. She often came to the gardens when she was upset and today was no exception.
"I suppose it is for the best. The Masters must know what they are doing."
She didn't expect a reply, of course. After all, she was sitting there alone, looking down at the datapad in her hand, muttering to herself, and thinking rather dark thoughts about the Jedi, the Order, and the whole blasted training infrastructure that they had codified into stone millennia ago.
She may be a mere Docent of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant but that did not mean she didn't have an opinion. She did indeed have one or two but she had very little power to change the system even if she could and she knew it.
She had worked for the Jedi Order for many years, helping guide pudgy fingers to roam free in the dirt, keeping little ones safe as they explored their tiny world of cr?che and Temple. She was no one special in the wider universe, not Force-sensitive enough to teach. But even a Master of Training or a Healer was no more loved by the children of the Jedi than she.
Growing up, she knew that the Jedi did things a little differently than other organizations in the Galaxy. Everyone knew the reality of it. Taking babies to be raised as Knights seemed cruel to some and there had been protests now and again but it actually worked for the most part. The children were trained to wield their great powers and become the guardians of peace and justice in the Republic. Treated with affection as younglings, those worthy enough went on to become Padawan Learners and finally Knights of the Jedi Order.
Ah, but that was the rub. Not all were deemed worthy and the question was what to do with those who had failed to find a Master. And sometimes, the answer wasn't welcome - like now.
Pensive and unsettled, Vant sat there and stared down at the datapad in her hand. Blinking back at her in stark green and black was the name of the latest failure - almost-thirteen year-old Obi-Wan Kenobi. She had heard that the boy had recently fought in the arena without success. No Master had come forth to claim him and he was now off to the Service Corps.
It was a shame. The youngling was fiery but earnest in his desire to help others and he was very strong in the Force. Kenobi was clearly Knight material and she would have bet credits that he would have been chosen early. She was not often wrong. But this time...
This time, the datapad said that he would never be a Knight; he was going to join the Engineering group, a sub-division of the Exploration Corps.
She supposed that was to be expected. The Jedi Order was not so cruel as to toss their young ones aside. As they grew up at the Temple, the Force-sensitive children went through a battery of tests to determine their strengths in all forms of service. She had administered some of them herself. And when some of the younglings failed to be chosen as Padawans, the Council tried to make the right decisions about placement; a child, well-trained and content, became a valuable part of the Order when they grew up. There were more than just Knights among the Jedi. There were cr?che Masters and healers and engineers and guardians and even farmers.
She knew that Obi-Wan was highly proficient in repairing mechanical devices and it was a good fit. It would be better for him to go into engineering than to the Agricultural Corps.
She almost laughed at that idea. Young Kenobi tending plants...ridiculous.
He had nearly killed off an entire year's crop of fellusroot all by himself when he was being tested for potential Agri-Corps classification three years ago. Trying to speed up the fertilization process by mixing several chemicals together, Obi-Wan had created an explosive brew that had destroyed the soil, the crops and several of the solar mirrors in the lower Garden. He had ended up in the Healer's ward along with Master Heo'th, the Agri-Corps representative. The Zabrek Master had said that the boy was a menace to growing things everywhere and that he would not be allowed near any Agri-Corps station, not under his watch. So there was no farming in the boy's future. She was thankful for that, at least. He would not have been happy there.
Yes, it was a good fit. Obi-Wan would do well in engineering. And yet, she was still concerned for the boy.
Looking up, Vant realized that the dusk had begun to thicken. As a slight breeze shook the greenery and dew pattered loud onto the stony walkway, she almost missed the quiet tap-tap-tap of a stick against mossy rock.
A gentle, rasping voice came from behind her. "Docent Vant, looking for you, I was."
She yelped in surprise and twisted around quickly, looking for the speaker. The diminutive Head of the Jedi Council stared up at her. Holding one hand to her chest, she gulped at the air, trying to slow down her breathing and calm herself. She had not realized he was there and it had quite unnerved her.
"Master Yoda, you startled me."
Huge sage-green eyes stared back at her and he did look repentant but she could see just a touch of mischief glowing deep within. "Meant to do that, I did not. You were meditating, perhaps?"
She moved over and gestured for him to join her there. "No, Master Yoda, just thinking about younglings and how fast they grow up."
He nodded once and, then huffing slightly, he hopped up onto the bench. A single cluster of wide, dark leaves seemed to brush at his head but he pushed the foliage aside with his gimer stick and settled in comfortably beside her. "That is the way of all things."
"Yes, Master. But it seems that the younglings grow up faster every year. Perhaps it is just that I'm getting older." She laid down the datapad and turned to face the ancient Jedi, folding her hands on her lap, waiting patiently for him to tell her why he was there.
Yoda just chuckled, "Youngling, you are."
"Yes, Master." She nodded and then came straight to the point. She knew that Master Yoda could be very cryptic at times but he would usually answer a straight question. Usually. "How can I help you?"
"Have orders for young Kenobi, you do."
She picked up the datapad and turned it toward the old Jedi so that he could see the screen easily. "Yes, Master. He's assigned to the Exploration Corps. He's to go to the training center on Alderaan to help with the River Project at Aldera tomorrow."
He sent her an unreadable stare, his ears flattening down. That meant that he was unhappy about something; she just hoped it wasn't that he was upset with her. His displeasure could be quite formidable at times. He was the Head of the Jedi Order, after all, and she was merely a Docent.
"Know you this?"
In the soft twilight, glows were now coming on, spilling radiance onto the pathway and casting deep shadows in the bushes. The pad screen blinked brightly against the falling dark. She tapped it with one finger, emphasizing her point. "Yes, Master. It's right here on the datapad. I'm about to go tell him now. His ship leaves first thing tomorrow." She sighed gently, "At least, it will give him enough time to say goodbye to his friends tonight and gather what belongings he has for transport in the morning."
One tiny hand came out, palm up, waiting. "Give me the datapad, you will. There has been a mistake."
"A mistake? But Master, he will do well there. His aptitude is quite high in the mechanical arts." Despite her words, she gave him the pad quickly. She had no reason to refuse and besides he was the wisest of the Jedi. Of course, if he said there was a mistake, then there was.
Perhaps there was more joyous news. "Unless...has he been chosen?"
If she didn't know better, she would have said he wasn't happy with her questions, that he was more than a little exasperated with the situation. "Chosen he is not. But the Force has other work for him."
A few soft claw-clicks against duraplast and the old Master turned the datapad back to her. Looking down, frowning in the dark as she read the stark green words, she was astonished to see that Yoda had changed young Kenobi's assignment - radically. He was sending the boy to the last place in the galaxy he should go. This had to be a mistake.
She almost exploded in disbelief. "Master, you can't be serious. The Agri-Corps?! He blew up..."
If anything, Yoda's ears flattened even further and he frowned up at her. His face sharp with disapproval, his voice hard as stone, he snapped, "Remember it, I do. Nevertheless, to the Agri-Corps center on Bandomeer, he will go."
She knew she had to tread carefully. Angering the Head of the Jedi Council was not wise but she could not allow this travesty to happen. But she also knew that arguing with Master Yoda would not change his mind; only a plea from the heart had any chance. Softening her tone, she implored him, "Master, please, you don't know him like I do. He'll hate it there. The Engineering group is a much better match."
Staring at her for a moment, his huge green eyes were full of hidden depths and unguessed agendas. Humphing loudly, he seemed to be teetering between exasperation and a kind of weary patience. "Question the will of the Force, do you?"
She wasn't sure if she had annoyed him or if it had been someone else, another Jedi or politician perhaps. He had always been fair with her, even when she had voiced objections. "No, but..."
"To Bandomeer, young Obi-Wan will go. Foreseen it, I have."
Vant just shook her head. She could not argue with the will of the Force; it guided the lives of the Jedi in ways that she didn't understand even after all these years. But why would they think that sending a child into a miserable life would be a good thing? It didn't make sense, even for Yoda. "To what end, Master? He's as likely to kill the plants as grow them and the discontent of being a farmer will poison his heart."
"Master Jinn also goes to Bandomeer. Same transport, it is."
She was sure that she was sitting there open-mouthed like some great mott, too astonished for a few heartbeats to do anything more than gasp for air. Master Yoda couldn't be serious.
Jinn had lost his last apprentice to the Dark; rumor had it that it was Jinn's own actions that had driven the Padawan away. The few times she had met him, Jinn had been harsh and bitter and very solitary. The idea that he and young Obi-Wan would be partnered was absurd. The boy was better off in the Service Corps.
Wavering with shock, her voice betrayed her unease. "Master... Qui-Gon Jinn? That can't be right. He's notorious. He swore after his last Padawan turned that he would never take another. And he's kept that oath all these years."
"He cannot ignore the will of the Force." Master Yoda sounded as if he had already had a few discussions with the rogue and was not happy with the outcome.
She surged up, standing over the ancient Master, and folded her arms across her chest as if trying to ward off the very idea of a Jinn/Kenobi association. "Oh, yes, he can ignore it. The man is stubborn, willful and a loner. And afraid of making a mistake. He may be a great Jedi Knight but he'll never choose another Padawan. Nor should he."
Master Yoda frowned up at her. "So certain are you?"
She glared down at him, her jaw set tight with indignation. "Yes, in this case, yes. Have you seen Master Jinn lately? He is fierce as a boar-wolf and twice as obstinate. Better for Obi-Wan to go into the engineering group. At least there, he could do some good and be content."
"Contentment is not the path of a Jedi."
To emphasize his displeasure, Master Yoda brought his gimer stick down sharply on the bench. The resounding thunk was loud in the quiet garden, and echoes of the noise startled flitterbies into unexpected flight, wheeling away from the disturbance. A few feet beyond, tiny fur-sparlets chittered their displeasure.
Vant would have laughed at the noise; it was almost comical to hear the garden's semi-wild creatures chastising Master Yoda. But it was really no laughing matter. He was making a very large mistake.
Before she could say anything else, the old one seemed to read her very thoughts and, waving one clawed digit at her, snapped out, "Good for each other, they will be. Strong in the Force is Qui-Gon Jinn and teach young Obi-Wan to walk in the Light, he will. Appearances can deceive, Docent Vant. Know this you should."
She bowed her head in acknowledgement. She had been wrong before and perhaps the diminutive Master was right. He could always see into the hearts of others, more than she had ever been able to do.
But she was quite sure about Qui-Gon Jinn - rogue, thorn in the sides of the Jedi Council, stubborn to the point of foolishness, unhappy and alone. No, he was not going to teach another child, not after the last fiasco. On that, she would bet her last credit. "Sorry, Master Yoda. But even if that were true, Master Jinn will not take the boy as his Padawan. He has sworn an oath. Everyone knows about it. He'll never renounce it, not him."
Clutching his gimer stick with both claws as he stared off into the misty darkness, Yoda seemed almost lost in memory, a disturbing mixture of annoyance, regret and sadness stumbling across his face. But his murmured reply was gentle. "In guilt he swore it, when guilt was not his. He will be a Master again. Promise you this, I do."
"And if not, young Obi-Wan will be blowing up whole planets with his inept farming techniques."
Her tart reply must have amused him because he pulled back from the long-ago, brightening up, his large eyes staring straight at her in wry humor, his ears perking up in amusement. Chuckling at the thought, he jested, "Hummph, useful that could be."
"This is not funny. His life will be ruined." She would have laughed under other circumstances but they were talking about a boy's very happiness here. She had to make him see that his decision was wrong, that it was all wrong.
He chided her gently, "Young one..."
"Master Yoda, I know that you can see things that I cannot and I know you follow the Force in all things. But... I can't stand by and let a child be lost just because you think Master Jinn will see reason. Because he won't."
Vant did not know what else to do. She sank back onto the bench and, twisting to meet Master Yoda's steady gaze, she clasped her hands together and bent down toward him, pleading, "Please Master, don't ruin Obi-Wan's life this way. Promise me, promise me, please, that if the boy does not become a Padawan, you will change his placement back to the Exploration Corps. It is where he belongs."
Patting her hands with a smooth, firm touch, he leaned forward, looking up into her eyes, his wisdom and concern clear in his wizened old face. "A big heart, you have. Good for the younglings, it is. Be at ease. The boy will return and apprenticed to Master Jinn." He gave her fingers one final pat and then said with all the solemnity of a vow, "Promise you, I will. If not, to the Exploration Corps Obi-Wan will go."
"Thank you, Master Yoda." Vant's relief was palpable in the hush of the deserted garden. She shot the Councilor a brilliant smile and bowed her relief.
The ancient one gave her an amused hummph and then hopped down onto the stone pathway. "Now, go I must. A foolish Master must I persuade. May the Force be with you, youngling."
Vant inclined her head and, as he began to hobble away, whispered after him, "May the Force be with you, Master Yoda," but she was sure he had not heard her.
She watched as he brushed past the green-black foliage and disappeared into the darkness but, above the night-soaked noises, she could still hear him muttering to himself and snickering with glee. "Stubborn he is but more stubborn am I..."
Laughing silently to herself, she just shook her head at the whole confusing encounter. She couldn't help but feel that the ancient Jedi was losing his grip on reality. He was over eight hundred years old after all and senility seemed to have finally caught up with him.
It was a good thing she had gotten his promise about changing the assignment if Obi-Wan was not chosen. She would have to make sure that Master Yoda kept his word. Besides, she knew that his manipulation of Master Jinn wouldn't work. That Knight was stubborn enough to hold the entire Jedi Order at bay if he thought it necessary.
One last look at the datapad and she clicked it off and began to head toward the Initiate quarters. Time to tell young Obi-Wan of his assignment and all the emotional problems that would entail. But, at least, she knew that eventually he would be placed where he belonged - in the Exploration Corps.
She snickered softly. The idea that Jinn would take on a new Padawan... where did Master Yoda get these absurd notions? He was obviously losing his mind.
Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi would never be Master and Padawan. Not in this lifetime.
Of that, she was very sure.
Original cover by Diane Kovalcin. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.