|A Brief Detour
Author: ruth baulding PM
There's nothing like a little R&R...especially when Qui Gon Jinn is planning the excursion.Rated: Fiction K - English - Friendship/Humor - Obi-Wan K. & Qui-Gon J. - Words: 5,346 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 19 - Published: 11-12-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7546146
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Brief Detour
The Republic diplomatic shuttle pilot cleared her throat nervously. Standing poised in the narrow doorway which divided the ship's cramped passageway from the passenger berths, she stared into the darkened compartment and wondered what might be the proper protocol for interrupting a Jedi Master at his meditations.
The laboring shuttle shuddered slightly under her feet – a symptom of the fuel uptake clogging which the diagnostics had predicted – and the grey eyes of the tall man kneeling on the compartment's floor snapped open.
"Captain," he said, in his deep mellifluous voice, "The engines are damaged." He made the observation as calmly as though remarking upon an anomaly in the weather.
"Yes sir," the captain agreed, perplexed that he seemed already to know the news which she had come to tell him. "The diagnostic indicates solids in the fuel uptake. I'm very sorry, but standard safety procedure requires us to land for assessment and repair as soon as possible."
The Jedi rose to his feet in one fluid motion. "Understood," he said simply – in his voice there was neither irritation at the delay in his intended journey, nor any encouraging note of approval, of optimism.
Blinking a little, she returned to the cockpit, where Jinn's apprentice grappled with the less than perfectly responsive helm. His left hand strayed over the nav computer's interface screen, while his right held the manual yoke. The vessel shuddered again, and his back and shoulders tensed as he held their course steady. Sensing their presence, he flicked a brief glance over one shoulder.
"You'll be pleased, master. We're in for a detour."
"Life is a detour between birth and death, Obi Wan," the older Jedi responded levelly. There was a note of flippancy in his voice – a kind of restrained dark humor which the Captain did not particularly relish. Even after ten years in the service, she still didn't quite have a feel for Jedi culture.
The Captain seated herself in the copilot's chair – with the ship lurching and creating turbulence pockets with its own ion drives, there was little point in risking a shift of pilots. Besides, the Padawan was more than competent. Instead she consulted the comm. display, scanning for instructions. The service network was directing them to a system less than a half-parsec away, promising a repair team would meet them within one standard rotation.
She tapped the coordinates in and adjusted course. The shuttle hiccupped and bumped its way into the next vector, and then settled into a smooth steady flight pattern marred only by the grating sound of the engines running with non-optimum internal pressure. 'It's the new Icthyian fuels," she complained. "They're absolutely unreliable. Ever since the Senate foisted the latest Trade pact on us, we've been burning out regulators left and right. My apologies, master Jedi."
Qui Gon leaned on the back of the pilot's seat , studying the diagnostic computer in the central console "You are not to be blamed," he asserted, laying a warning hand on his Padawan's shoulder before the young man could open his mouth to make an acerbic comment about politicians.
Soon enough the jostling ride gave way to a teeth-chattering gallop on sub-lights as they approached the nearest inhabitable system. A green-blue planet wrapped in goldish clouds loomed ahead, and the limping shuttle made it inelegant way down to the harbor of the nearest major continent.
"Another break-down on a sub-developed world," Obi Wan Kenobi remarked, surveying the grounded shuttle from a stone's throw away. Access panels had been opened and the ship's innards spilled out on the ground below. The fuel intakes were already de-sheilded and cooling, letting a thick black coil of doubtlessly toxic vapor rise slowly in the morning air. "I'm beginning to think I should write a video-doc for the holonet."
"Your talent would be wasted on a popular audience," the older Jedi told him, turning to gaze instead at the breathtaking view they had so fortunately stumbled upon. This part of the planet was host to no permanent settlements, and the data archives aboard the ship had indicated sub-technological inhabitants only. Hence the need to send a repair crew from a remote location. But what the world lacked in amenities, it made up for in beauty. Lovely domed volcanic mountains formed swelling terraces blanketed in luxuriant jungle growth. Beyond this soft mantle, the sparkle of a turquoise sea stretched fathomless to the horizon. Golden clouds, and wispy white vapor, scudded across the extraordinarily deep, vibrant sky. The rising sun was tiny, and white, a gem set on the rim of a crown. An idea presented itself to his mind, and he smiled.
"How long do you suppose it will take the Republic ship to arrive, master?"
Qui Gon suppressed a chuckle at the petulant undercurrent in his student's voice. "Just long enough for us to enjoy a bit of exploration. Since the Captain has declined our offer of assistance, let us seize the moment." He swept a hand through the air, to encompass the whole vista. When Obi Wan's expression remained completely impassive, he added, "We'll use the survival gear from the ship. I'll inform the Captain while you fetch the shelter and some provisions. We'll hike in."
He tried not to laugh aloud until the young man was out of earshot, but a sharp glance backward and a raised eyebrow told him that his Padawan sensed the affectionate taunt through their Force bond. Ah well, Qui Gon reflected serenely. Someday you'll learn to accept these little detours, young one. And perhaps even enjoy them as much as I do. This is as close to a vacation as the Jedi's life ever comes.
It was better than a vacation. That is to say, better than the holo-advertisements and descriptions of vacations which Qui Gon had heard over the years. Raised in the Jedi Temple since infancy, he of course had never personally been on what other beings would recognize as a holiday. Now, contentedly tramping deeper and deeper into the lush, gently sloping wilds of this planet, he felt as though the unexpected layover were actually an answer to his unuttered prayers. He needed refreshment after the last mission, something to buoy his spirits through the mandatory debriefings and reports to be endured on Coruscant. The living Force was resonant among the green hills; he sensed the deep thrum of life above, around, even below him. It was like swimming in a gentle, ecstatic sea.
When the first stars appeared in the dusking, purple evening sky, they halted on a crest sheltered from the by a stand of tall, thin trees. Feathered creatures flocked to the treetops in droves, chattering and singing exotic wordless lullabies to their nestlings.
"Here," Qui Gon decided, and they made camp with the swift efficiency of long habit. The shelter was up and the fire started within minutes. The only thing lacking for perfect comfort was….
"Proper food," Obi Wan said aloud, examining the unappetizing dehydrated emergency rations which had been stored in the ship's survival pack. He tossed the silver pouches back into the pack with a sigh of disgust.
"The Force will provide," Qui Gon told him serenely, his long legs stretched out before the fire, his face turned upward to view the three luminous moons visible behind the veils of thin evening fog.
His apprentice leaned down to pluck something dark and wriggling from the ground. "You're quite right, master. It has." He flicked the crawler at his mentor. The many-legged creature scuttled across Qui Gon's lap, its dozens of jointed legs carrying its segmented body away again as fast as it could. The Jedi master watched it go, impassively.
The younger Jedi settled himself near the fire. "You've allowed our Force-provided supper to escape," he chided, barely suppressing a smirk.
Qui Gon turned a stern eye on him. "Padawan," he reprimanded. "Some things are not a fit subject for your wit."
"Forgive me, master. I spoke without thought."
"On the other hand," the older Jedi added, relenting a little, "I also thank you for the lesson: we should not be ungrateful for that which is given us." Quick as lightning he shot out a hand and snatched up the unfortunate millipede again. He turned the creature over once or twice, examining its exoskelton in the gleaming light of the fire. Then, with a sudden motion, he snapped its back and deftly skewered the inert form on a stick.
"Master, you aren't going to eat that!"
Qui Gon chuckled with delight. It took a rarified skill to elicit such an unguarded exclamation from his apprentice, but the sight of childish revulsion on ObiWan's face was well worth the effort. "Why not? I learned a deep appreciation of this delicacy from the native inhabitants of Teleucria, decades ago." He roasted the millipede over the open flames, carefully rotating its crisping and blackening shell. When he was satisfied, and the smoking and curled "delicacy" had cooled, he gently snapped it in half and proferred the larger piece to his student.
Obi Wan accepted the offering without complaint, unwilling to risk his master's disapproval again. They ate in silence, the Padawan chewing and swallowing deliberately with no apparent pleasure, Qui Gon licking his fingers when he had finished. There was a moment of silence during which the Jedi master kept his eyes steadily locked on those of his apprentice, eyebrows slightly raised.
"Ah," Obi Wan coughed, rising. "I'll see to dinner."
"Are there more?" Qui Gon asked innocently.
"No," his Padawan answered, stalking back over to the package of abandoned emergency rations.
The dawn came early. As it always does, Obi Wan Kenobi thought dryly, stretching his cramped muscles in a one-armed hand stand. And Qui Gon had risen even earlier. As he always does, Obi Wan added mentally, flipping back onto his feet and surveying the immediate area. The tall Jedi was just coming in to view, returning from his habitual morning walk. In one hand he held a large, brown sphere; his other hand was just in the act of replacing his comlink in its belt-pouch.
"Good news," he announced, brandishing the hard, fibrous fruit shell. "Breakfast is served, and the repair crew's mechanics expect a considerable delay. Likely we will not be able to leave until this evening."
The Padawan's forehead creased gently. "Good news?" he repeated. "A delay cannot mean anything positive for the ship's engines, master."
Qui Gon placed the heavy round object in his hands. "Your focus determines your reality, Padawan. The Captain, with whom I have just spoken, has adopted your perspective. However, seen from another angle, the engineering difficulties mean that we have more time for recreation."
That brought an eager smile to his student's face. . "Sparring," he suggested.
"What a bloodthirsty fellow you are, Obi Wan. Before I indulge your shameful desire to be thoroughly walloped, I should like some breakfast. Open that thing, would you?" Qui Gon pointed at the brown globe, and then reached out a strong hand to lightly tap his apprentice's saber hilt. "Not with this," he qualified.
"We haven't a knife strong enough to penetrate the fiber," the Padawan protested, watching Qui Gon 's back as the latter placidly set about deconstructing the shelter.
"You are focusing on the negative," Qui Gon's amused voice retorted, from inside the flimsy walls of the tent. "Concentrate instead on what we do have – in glorious abundance here."
Obi Wan sighed. Mosquito bites? He thought, with a touch of sarcasm. But of course, Qui Gon meant the Living Force. Resigned to his task, he knelt down upon the hard earth and placed the dratted nut-fruit on the ground before him, fingers of one hand lightly splayed over its rough surface. It took a few deep breaths to quiet his mind and gather the threads of invisible power around the simple object…
Minutes passed. Nothing happened.
"Don't try to break it with sheer power," Qui Gon advised, now standing over his Padawan. "Seek the natural flaws, the tiny weak spots. Push from within, not without."
Another minute passed….and the nut cracked open into two uneven halves with a satisfying snap, revealing a thick crust protecting a softer, white interior. In the center of each upened, concave dome sloshed a tiny puddle of filmy white juice. Qui Gon lifted the impromptu cup to his lips and drank, and then proceeded to scrape out the soft white inner fiber with his fingers.
Obi Wan followed suit, pleasantly surprised by the sweetness of the liquid, and purposefully squelching his natural fastidious disdain at the prospect of scraping out the fruit's innards with his fingers, like some uncouth pod-race spectator…
"You've never seen a pod-race or its crowd," Qui Gon snorted, addressing the unspoken thought directly.
"Yet I feel I would be at ease among them," the Padawan observed, his perfect dead-pan delivery marred slightly by a tell tale glimmering of humor in the Force.
Qui Gon raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Indeed?"
Obi Wan made an elegant show of scooping out the last mouthful before wiping his fingers in the accepted Core-world banquet style upon his robe's hem and primly setting the emptied shell down upon the ground. "Yes, master. Due to all your training."
"Very well, my insolent Padawan. Your thorough walloping has just been upgraded to a savage and merciless beating, worthy of the most barbaric and ill-bred arena audience in the galaxy."
Of course, the morning's sparring match did not end in nearly so dramatic a style. In fact, it ended with more of a whimper than a bang, both participants wringing with sweat and considerably annoyed by the swarms of gigantic insects which the sabers' glowing blades seemed to attract.
"It's too blasted hot for this," Obi Wan grumbled, deactivating his weapon and drawing an already damp sleeve across his face.
Qui Gon squinted into the blazing sky and reluctantly agreed. "The climate here does seem given to extremes," he remarked. There had been traces of frost upon the ground in the morning; now the temperature must rival that of the Rim's worst desert-worlds. "However – if we head back to the ship by a roundabout path, we can possibly enjoy a swim in the ocean this afternoon."
Such an inviting prospect was not to be turned down. The Jedi set off again, looping back along another ridge of the volcanic formations, weaving through the jungle slopes toward the shore of the nearby sea. The oppressive heat increased with each passing hour, along with the jungle cacophony. Bugs shrilled and chirruped; countless birds chattered and screamed and squawked in the branches overhead, and other deeper roars and grunts and bellows echoed through the teeming, humid atmosphere. Qui Gon strolled along in blissful silence, immersed in the living Force. His apprentice tramped doggedly behind him, carrying the survival pack and pushing physical discomfort to a far corner of his mind.
Several hours into the journey, when the afternoon sun was at its absolute zenith, they stopped to rest in a grove of yanabi trees. Obi Wan sprawled full-length upon the soft, leaf-littered ground, while Qui Gon sank down with his back against one of the smooth trunks. The persistent hum of animal noise wove a soporofic rhythm in the hot, thick air. Sleep was swift to claim them.
Qui Gon awoke to a repeated, gentle tugging on the short hairs of his beard. Opening one cautious eye, he found himself face to face with two luminous yellow orbs bordered by extravagant black lashes. The eyes were set in a round disc of white fur, above a tiny black snub nose and a wide thin mouth lined in black. The creature's miniature, nimble fingers were examining his beard and hair with great interest, sorting through the strands as though looking for insects or other nuisances, occasionally discovering and casting aside a bothersome bit of leaf or dust which had tangled itself among them.
The Jedi master laughed gently, realizing that he was being lovingly groomed by an infant monkibi. He slowly lifted the tiny creature from his shoulder and smiled down on it. The face was so strikingly like that of a sentient, he thought, though he could sense the animal's dim presence in the Force.
Beside him, Obi Wan stirred and sat up, downing an entire bottle of water from the supply pack. He cast a wary eye upon his mentor's new friend. "Another pathetic life form," he muttered.
"Hm," Qui Gon replied, as the baby monkibi clambered across his back and stood upright on his head, staring with wide accusing eyes at the disapproving younger Jedi. "I was just mulling whether to take him as a second Padawan learner."
"It's against the Code, master," Obi Wan answered, slinging the pack onto his shoulders and standing up. " …Although –"
His next remark was cut off by an ear-splitting shriek. A full grown female monkibi crouched by the next tree, her forearms lifted in the air in an expression of outrage, her huge mouth gaping to reveal long, pointed teeth. Her shrill cry of alarm was like a claxon. Immediately hundreds of other monkibi cries answered it, swelling the air with painful sound. Panicked by the screams of its family,the baby dashed back to its mother, which clamped it protectively against her chest.
"Master….." Obi Wan warned. But too late. The monkibis unleashed their hereditary defense mechanism upon the suspected kidnappers, flinging half-eaten food, hard nuts and seeds, and handfuls of their own excrement down upon the Jedi's heads.
There was no question of deflecting the filthy barrage with a lightsaber blade, so they ran, pursued for a while by the infuriated tribe of animals. At the edge of the trees the jungle fell sharply away to reveal steep tumbling cliffs of black rock. Below stretched an azure ocean, edges rippling with white surf. The Jedi gladly leapt for the relative safety of the first enormous rocks, and picked their way down the uneven tumble to the sands below.
The water was ice-cold, in accord with the law of extremes which prevailed on the strange planet. But it felt refreshing, and it certainly helped cleanse away the pervasive stench of monkibi poodoo. Soiled and sticky boots, cloaks, tunics, and equipment had been abandoned on the beach a cautious distance above the tide line. Stripped to their leggings, with only their saber hilts tucked securely into the waistbands, the two Jedi stretched themselves on the slippery stones of a natural outcropping several hundred meters from shore, regaining their breaths after the bracing swim. The waves lapped and hissed around the tiny island's base, spattering its occupants with freezing, salt-laden droplets.
"Those monkibis reminded me of the Sullustan delegation at the peace talks on Anithyst," Obi Wan observed lazily. "Do you remember, master?"
Qui Gon chuckled softly. "The monkibis were far more civil," he objected.
The sun beat down, quickly drying their skin and hair, glinting off the waves with painful intensity, bathing the shore in a brilliant, white-gold light.
"Look," Qui Gon said. He pointed across the water to the shore. A cleft in the tumbled rocks appeared just above the pounding surf – a natural cave opening which would only be visible from this angle. "What do you say to a bit of spelunking, Padawan?"
Obi Wan's eyes slid suspiciously from the dark crevice back to his teacher. Qui Gon loved caves. He loved mysteries and plunging headfirst into the unknown. But nonetheless… "I have a bad feeling about it, master."
Qui Gon laid a hand on his shoulder. "If I had a credit for every time you've said that, I would by now be a rich man," he smiled.
"You would also have fewer scars."
The older man raised an eyebrow. "True, but irrelevant. Come." And with that he dived headfirst back into the ocean, striking out in a straight line for the cave opening in the shoreline.
The young Jedi sighed in resignation before following – taking care that his dive included a double backtwist and was just a little higher than Qui Gon's.
The cave opening was not easy to enter. A powerful cross current of exiting tide and new breakers churned the water around the gap into a flurry of battling peaks and troughs. Twice they were seized and sucked under, then spat out again into the restless ocean's fury. Once the sudden appearance of a rogue wave threatened to smash them flat against the cave's ragged edges. At last, they surmounted the moving barrier and stroked powerfully into the black interior. Here the waters stilled somewhat, ebbing and surging with the tide, and in some places swirling in dangerous whirlpools amid sharp rocks. The Jedi clambered, dripping, onto a narrow ledge at one side and clung to the slippery surface of the cave's walls.
Qui Gon ignited his saber, and in the radiance of its green light, they gasped.
The cave was glittering with splendor. Crystals hung from mighty stalactites; columns like jewels rose from the ever-moving waters like palaces amid raging seas. The dome of the roof was fretted with stars; rivulets of moisture traced an intricate pattern, each refracting the green blade's light into a thousand shards. And the ocean's roar was echoed and muted, becoming a ceaseless breath of awe.
Qui Gon nodded to the far end of the cave. Another gap promised further miracles beyond, and they crawled along the ledge, approaching the opening slowly, noting the jagged pillars and stones beneath the surface of the restless pools. The opening was tight; Obi Wan slipped through first, being significantly narrower through the shoulders, and pulled Qui Gon's larger frame through from the opposite side. Here the darkness was more complete, the tide's thunder more quiet, the rise and fall of the ice-cold water steadier, less frantic. And when they again held up a saber for illumination, they saw that the artistry was – if possible – even more breathtaking.
But there was more – yet another crack appeared beyond this chamber. Eyes gleaming like those of an excited boy, Qui Gon made directly for it, wading waist deep through the flooded cave. Obi Wan hesitated. "I don't think we should go further," he cautioned. Something was niggling at the edge of his awareness. A carpet of green. A terrible roaring.
Qui Gon half turned, questioning. "I feel nothing out of place."
"It's not that, master…" the Padawan frowned. "I can't quite…"He pressed his mouth shut as the tide surged, driving the dark water up to their armpits. "And the tide is coming in," he pointed out, in lieu of proper explanation.
"We shall be quick," Qui Gon decided, pressing forward. "The Force favors the bold."
This opening was far easier to enter, being much wider than the last. But the quickly rising water level meant that they were forced to plunge beneath the surface to swim though the arching gap. Coming up for breath on the other side, and wiping the stinging moisture form their eyes, they saw a vast dome stretched overhead. Light, pale and filtered, dribbled down through a vine-covered opening in the dome's distant apex. The undulating chamber's walls were carved into fantastic shapes and coated in a glittering panoply of crystals. The faint light painted them a thousand colors, and dappled the foam on the water's surface.
"Now tell me this wasn't worth the effort," Qui Gon challenged, turning a slow circle. They had to tread water; the bottom of the cave was much to deep for their feet to reach.
"It is magnificent, master," the young Jedi agreed. And then something soft brushed against his bare foot. He startled, the Force sending a warning shudder down his spine.
A green carpet. With tentacles In a heartbeat, his saber's blade was spitting out of its hilt and sweeping to strike off the approaching arm of suckered tentacle, leaving a dark stain in the water and kicking up a choking cloud of hot steam as the plasma blade hit the water, instantly boiling it. "Ahh!" he yelped, the scalding liquid stinging his chest and face.
"Easy, Padawan," Qui Gon barked, seizing his sword arm below the wrist. "We don't need to be boiled in the pot like two lobba-fish. Stop thrashing so much. It hunts by motion."
Cautious now, propelling themselves forward on the surface of the foamy pool with minimal movement of arm and leg, they swam to the very center of the space, where the light's rays filtered down most strongly. The roof above must have a hole or shaft leading to the outside world. Several meters of thick vines and tree roots formed a matrix of crossing lines, a piece of fretwork as delicate as any designed by any galactic artisan.
They gazed upward, entranced.
And then the roaring began.
Without warning – without explanation – the surging waters rose, their murky depths stirred to violent motion by the influx. The sound filled the cavern, drowning all other sound, filling not only the space but their very minds. Furiously, the sea churned and spun, sucking the two swimmers apart and sending them perilously close to the hard walls. Higher and higher the cold deluge swelled, driven by a maelstrom of noise and power.
Soon the water would flood to the roof, and there would be no escape.
"The vines!" Qui Gon shouted, vainly trying to make himself heard over the thunder of the tide waters. He found himself hurled violently upward on a crest, and his hands brushed the lowest bars of the fretted shaft – now it seemed not so much a work of art as a prison door, the knotted roots like bars across a cell door.
Another slight drop and then a mighty heave upward as the waters rose yet further. He was smashed against the tangled roots, and the water covered his head, spurting up the shaft. There was no room between the water and the roof. He felt something seize his ankle, and reached down one hand to seize his Padawan's arm as the tides sucked away again, threatening to pull both Jedi with them.
Obi Wan gasped in a lungful of air as the water receded a half-meter form the cave's ceiling, and clung to the slimy roots alongside his teacher. Their only escape route was upward.
Qui Gon hefted his saber hilt and activated the blade, slashing his way through the first of the branches and roots which blocked their exit. The waters rose again, angrily, so torrential that they smashed both Jedi upward into the tunnel of roots and rock, pressing them against the upper tangle for two long minutes before they subsided, hissing, into the cave below, barely a handsbreadth from the ceiling.
The two men breathed again, exchanging a look of determination. Qui Gon boosted his Padawan upward, and closed his eyes as a cascade of burning vine and wood fell upon him. The waters slammed them up again – meeting Obi Wan's blade and spitting horribly as they touched its white hot edge. Steam and bubbles streaked past them, burning their skin, blinding them, as the water mercilessly held them pinned against the last barriers.
At last it subsided, a little. Obi Wan slashed the last of the roots away, and hauled himself over the lip of the hole's opening, nothing more than a treacherous pit in the rocky surface of a hill overlooking the sea. Qui Gon followed - and then the waters, spurting out of the tiny aperture with the force of a volcano, spraying a geyser of white foam and splattering icy water over the rocks and trees around.
Panting, releasing instinctual fear into giddy relief, they scrambled and slithered away from the hillside, back to the cover of the jungle's edge. From its shelter they turned to survey the ocean lying just over the crest of black rock.
"The tide!" Obi Wan exclaimed.
The tide had not just come in – it had risen an impossible height, as though a tsunami were overwhelming the coast. Its breakers now clamored against the tumbled rocks, and there was no sign of the island on which they had rested, nor the beach they had walked upon earlier. Both must be many meters beneath the surface. Like the temperatures on this world of extremes, the tidal patterns knew nothing of moderation or boundary. The sun sank on the far horizon, seeming to wink humorously at their naivete.
"Well," Qui Gon said, wringing out his long tangle of hair. "I think that constitutes enough adventure for one day." He looked wryly at his sopping Padawan and down at his own disheveled figure. "Enough recreation."
"I did tell you so, master."
The Republic shuttle's Captain thanked the repair crew for their excellent work and short response time, and consulted her chrono. The Jedi master had promised to return by nineteen hundred hours, standard time, and that deadline had passed. It was, she knew, an ominous sign when a Jedi did not keep his rendezvous. Yet what trouble could possibly have occurred here, in an uninhabited wilderness? Uneasily, she re-checked all the vessel's systems and made sure they were on standby for a quick departure. The delay would throw a hydrospanner in her piloting schedule for the next three standard days. She was anxious to be off.
Another hour passed, and her repeated attempts to reach Master Jinn or his apprentice via comlink were met only with the terse robotic message that the Jedi's devices were "unavailable or malfunctioning." Just as she was considering sending a short-burst transmission through to Coruscant, however, she caught a flicker of motion on the dark horizon, where the clearing gave way to dense trees. Peering through the forward viewport, she was relieved to see the two Jedi finally reappearing.
Relieved, and a little puzzled.
"We are ready to depart when you are, Master Jinn," she addressed the tall, imposing man when he reached the foot of the boarding ramp. Jinn's apprentice stood to his left and a pace behind, as was customary. "The mechanics have cleared up the problem admirably."
"That is excellent news, Captain," the Jedi master replied, as serenely as ever. "We should depart without delay."
"Very good," she answered absently, trying hard not to stare.
Qui Gon's eyes narrowed. He looked down his long, aquiline nose at her. "Is there a problem, Captain?" he inquired in a tone which admitted only one kind of answer – crisp, professional denial.
"No, no, not at all, master Jedi," she hastened to assure him, and watched in silence as they ascended the ramp before her. Cloakless, shoeless, bare-chested, without any packs or equipment besides their sabers. Trousers rolled up to the knee, torn and filthy at the edges. Hair stiff with recently dried moisture. Bearing upright and completely self-assured.
Burning with the question she would never ask, the Captain stepped past them to take up her position at the helm. Over her shoulder she heard the younger Jedi murmur to his teacher, "I've just remembered something, master."
"Master Yoda was going to meet us at the landing platform."
The shared outburst of laughter which this provoked left the Captain with even more questions. But understanding the Jedi was – thankfully – not part of her job. With steady hands, she readied the engines and lifted them up into the waiting field of stars.