I saw a review from a fan who felt that I was just making excuses in the last chapter when I wrote out a few of the reasons why I chose this story over the HP/SW story. I will reiterate now that those reasons were only a few of the reasons behind my decision to go with this story, and indeed was not the primary one, the primary one was that I wanted to go with the majority vote, which was for Horse for the Force.
I know that HP has more fans, but very few actually PM'd me with reasons why that story was more interest than this one. To be sure, there were people who did, and who made their points clearly and intelligently. I would like to thank Starboomer, Lokarryn, Just Your Average Dropbear, Valdiusmacto, and Druc1fer for doing just that. All of them won points for Magic, but not enough to make up the difference between them when tallied against those who had reasons for Horse and the results of the simple poll.
Thanks go to Ultimaflare0 for his work in betaing this chapter, found several missing words, other small, irritating mistakes that took away from the chapter.
And now for the story!
Chapter 3: Little Green Imps and Overcompensating Towers
Yoda smiled internally as climbed to his feet looking at the youngling who Yoda had allowed to push him off the small bar where he, like the others of the class scattered around the room had been training in the game of push-and-pull. It was a game where two students balanced on polls laid out on the ground and pulled or pushed at one another. Students learned both balance body control and it was one of many exercises designed to teach the students how to predict the ebb and flow of battle via the Force. This was why the activity would stop every 10 minutes while the teacher walked them through meditation designed to teach younglings to open their mind to the Force.
As Grand Master of the Order Yoda of course was not a normal teacher in any sense of the word. But he routinely took part in the beginner's courses, getting a feel for the younglings, sometimes helping with a particularly recalcitrant young one, or helping others build their confidence as he had just now. He had taken part in practically every class for the past two days however because he had wanted to make certain that the younglings were getting back into a normal routine after the attack on the Temple several nights past. Young ones could bounce back from quite a bit, but it was always good to get them back into a routine after such a tragedy.
He nodded to the teacher of this class a human male named Master Kusai. Kusai nodded back before quickly reforming the class around him in a semi-circle to go through the next round of meditation. Yoda waited a few more moments, making certain the students were fully involved in the meditation, before turning and quietly leaving the classroom.
Making his slow way through the environs of the temple Yoda let his mind wander back to the events of the evening before: the Yinchorri attack on the temple and the reverberation in the Force that had followed closely on its heels. That echo in the Force had not been connected to the attack, but to something that had occurred elsewhere, and it had felt wonderful to the aged Master, despite how light a touch it had been in his mind.
Depressing it is to contemplate only felt the like before have I. Sad it is to think moments of joy, happiness, so few, so far between. For that was what it was, a feeling of joy through the Force as something changed. Something that had been practically sat in the stone of the future, a certainty had changed abruptly. In this case, a light which should've been snuffed out by death now continued to burn, but not just one, several. And Yoda somehow knew that not only did it have something to do with Master Windu's mission, but also his former apprentice and his new secret.
Only twice before have I felt the like in my life, changed an event long set in motion. The future was not always immutable, changing. There was no such thing as a destiny for everyone, but there were certain events that when you tried to peel back the skein of the future you learned were unchangeable for various reasons, momentum of prior events, size of the event in question, the reasons were numerous. But occasionally even those events could be changed, and this was what had happened, setting a small but noticeable, at least to Yoda, reverberation through the Force.
Yoda frowned as he continued to walk through the Temple, nodding at the Knights and Masters as he passed them by, rolling his eyes and harrumphing loudly as learners or Knights made to bow to him. Respect of course was one thing, veneration was another. Too often youngsters these days saw him as some kind of infallible oracle, the repository of all knowledge of Jedi life rather than simply the most learned among many. Old am I, too old, yet in these Dark times, my burden share with another I cannot. Dark times we are in, Darker they may yet become.
That was true, far truer than most of Yoda's fellow Jedi could sense. Indeed, until that reverberation of Light through the force, even Yoda had been unaware of it. Now he was, but even with nearly a thousand years of skill behind him, Yoda could only discern the what, not the why: The Dark Side of the Force was rising, a miasma occluding everything it touched. And it was powerful, so powerful!
Worse was Yoda couldn't discern any reason behind it. It was as if the Force itself was slowly changing from Light to Dark, as if it was simply the sign of a natural cycle of some kind. But the Yinchorri attack on the temple was a clue that something else might be going on.
He stopped walking suddenly, turning around and making for the temple's gardens. Not the ones where the temple grew its own food, but the gardens designed for meditation. There were several dozen varieites of such, ranging from carefully cultivated beauty spots to rock gardens while others were designed to look like wild forests or the plains of various planets. Right now, Yoda had a wish to meditate in an area like that, the better to allow the Living Force of the plants to calm him.
Surprisingly the garden he had chosen was already in use. Yoda stopped his walk, smiling faintly as he looked at the Togrutan female sitting there. Young knight Shaak Ti, expected this I should have. Here all the time she is, these days like the temple entire she does not. Shaking his head Yoda made for a patch of grass a few feet in front of the Togrutan, knowing what she was meditating on and wondering if she would benefit from some advice.
Shaak Ti had risen to knighthood at a younger age than most, but she was well deserving of it. Yoda had been one of those who had actually pushed for her to take the test early feeling she was ready, and in the months since Shaak Ti had proven that assumption correct. She was humble, not a false humility but true humbleness, with a level of empathy that was among the greatest in the temple at present. She was also thoughtful, insightful, well learned, an excellent duelist for her age and experience, as well as being a halfway decent pilot.
She had proven all these points on over a dozen missions alone and with her previous master in the past few months. Two times Shaak Ti had aided diplomatic missions to come to a successful conclusion, and five times she had brought in wanted criminals, alive and with no one else having been injured or killed in her pursuit of them, while at other times she had protected senators from assassination attempts. All in all Shaak Ti was one of the best well-rounded knights currently here in the Temple, but that very nature was undoubtedly what Shaak Ti was currently meditating on.
After several moments of silently meditating, the ancient Grand Master of the order spoke his voice soft and somehow blending into the peace of the garden rather than shattering it. "Troubled are you, worried about which order calls to you. Not reached a conclusion yet have you."
Shaak Ti had of course felt his arrival and had not come out of her meditation, knowing Yoda was somewhat disdainful of over-zealous shows of respect, and cutting off her meditation would have fallen under that heading. Now she opened her eyes, and shook her head, trying to match his tone. "I have not Master Yoda. I thought at first that the Consular Order was the obvious choice. But… I feel the universe is changing, and, if it does not sound too prideful, I feel we may need more Guardians among our ranks in the future."
"Alone in this thought you are not, prideful your comment was not." Yoda said heavily, opening his eyes to look at her. "Violent outbreaks, more there have been in the past six months than 60 years prior. The order in its current form, not ready for this upswing we are."
Shaak Ti nodded, having heard that before but she sensed something in the ancient Master that she had not before. Regret perhaps, or could that even be worry? Before she could probe deeper Yoda stood up, with some difficulty given his advanced age even for his people, and leaning on his cane began to make his way out of the garden. "Time you have, time to think. Make decision you will, but base it not on desires or thoughts of what need the Order has, but what you are. Decision, shape your life from now on it will. Make the right one you must."
For a moment Shaak Ti wanted to reach out, to ask the ancient Grand Master what burden had brought him down here to mediate. But knowing how junior she was to him she refrained for a brief second. Then the ancient Master was gone, slipping away as quietly as he had come. Shaking her head Shaak Ti sighed before closing her eyes and slipping into meditation again.
Ranma leaned against a wall as he watched Mace and the others questioning the leader of the Yinchorri closely. There was something going on that he hadn't been told about the Devaronian prisoner which the Jedi hadn't shared with him which bothered the Jedi. But they weren't apparently getting any leads from their questioning judging by the frowns on their faces.
Eventually Mace and the Zabrak, the one Ranma simply could not think of as anything more than a jackass given his 'face your fears' crack about Ranma's fear of being raped in his female form, came away moving over to talk to Dooku, who had been talking to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. "Our prisoner was a mercenary," Mace said bluntly as he walked up to them. "He apparently made a fortune selling weapons to the Yinchorri at first before they could build their own, then even more aiding them in planning out some of their attacks in some fashion. Why he came to them is still unknown but the why of it seems clear."
Dooku frowned. "I do not believe money alone could be behind this. We know about the attack on the Temple, which could point to this entire conflict, not just the Devaronian's involvement, being something more than it first appears. There is no advantage for the Yinchorri to attack the Temple as they did, none that I can see at any rate. Could this have been an attempt to bleed the Jedi Order? Cost us a few of our members for some reason?"
"We don't have enough evidence to support that, nor could any group be manipulating things like this behind the scene without us knowing about it. No if this conflict was the start of something bigger it was possibly some kind of power grab in the Senate perhaps or something similar to the Stark Hyperspace War, nothing that was directly set against us. We must focus our efforts on figuring out who would gain from Yinchorri expansion, that is the key here." Master Gallia said, frowning.
"The attack on the Temple was most likely a feint," said Koth, agreeing with Gallia. "Or perhaps a target of opportunity. I have no doubt that when we get back to Coruscant we will find that there were other attacks that night."
"The moment you think you know everything is the moment you prove you know nothing," said Ranma smirking as he interrupted the conversation. All of the Jedi turned to look at him in surprise at that comment and he shrugged. "Sun Tzu said that I think, but whatever. You're too certain you know enough to dismiss Dooku's concerns. The more you convince yourself of how infallible you are, the worse you're making it for yourselves."
"My friend's words are harsh but true I think. I cannot describe it better, but I think this and others such flare ups point to something larger, something unseen. It is not a mere power grab, but something aimed at us." Dooku said frowning thoughtfully.
The others frowned as well, but before they could argue back Ranma interrupted again. "You lot keep debating. I'm going to go scavenge."
"Scavenge, whatever for?" said Obi-Wan, frowning censoriously. He had not gotten over his initial bad impression yet, and the idea of someone scavenging the battlefield seemed to only add to it.
"Heh, you'll see eventually." Ranma said, waving the slightly older but still young man off. Damn, guy can't be more than 25 or so, but he acts like he's thirty something. I mean he's nice and all, at least from what little I've seen, but the dude needs to lighten the bleep up.
"And there goes an even larger mystery," said Master Koth shaking his head and frowning at Ranma's retreating back. "Where did you find him Dooku? His attitude is worrisome, and though I haven't felt anything Dark from him, his insolence and his emotions tell me he could all too easily slip into it."
"As I've said before, that is a conversation I will have with Master Yoda and the rest of the Council all at once." Dooku said serenely, though his eyes flashed at the other Master's tone. "And I will remind you once again, just because he is different does not mean he is dark. Or have we Jedi become so insular that we must see everything different as an enemy?"
"None of that," said Master Giiett, shaking his head with a faint smile. "Master Dooku is right, as is Master Koth. He does espouse views which would put him at odds with the Jedi Order, or at least the majority of it. But we as an Order do not jump to conclusions based simply on differences of opinion." He laughed suddenly. "We would be very poor diplomats if we did."
Somewhat chastened Master Koth nodded his head slightly while Dooku did the same. Giiett went on. "As for our young ally, I will see why you place so much faith in him for myself Master Dooku."
"And how are you going to do that?" Dooku asked calmly, one wintry eyebrow raised.
"He is a combative young man, and I think that area is the best place for such a discussion." With that Giiett waved his hand at them all, and walked off in the same direction Ranma had gone.
It took him some time to find the youth, Ranma having covered quite a bit of distance, and when Master Giiett did find him he stopped abruptly. Ranma was standing in an area that looked like an industrial holding area, with several machines scattered around them and hundreds of heavy crates stacked everywhere.
In one hand he was holding up one of the Yinchorri in an easy grip on his belt buckle as the Yinchorri frantically pointed at one of the crates. Ranma reached forward and touched it, then looked up at the warrior who nodded his head frantically. In reply Ranma tossed him aside casually before reaching over to rip open the crate. Reaching in his arms came out with a piece of metallic ore around four times as thick as his arm and just as long.
Shaking his head at the youth's interrogation Giiett made to step forward only to stop and stare as the giant piece of ore suddenly disappeared, seemingly up the youth's sleeve. Good grief, I'm beginning to understand why Dooku thinks young Ranma is such a find, above and beyond his skills in combat.
He paused a second then moved forward anyway, smiling as the youth turned to him. "The other Masters are a bit busy, they tend to handle the diplomacy and strategy side of things, while I handled the technical. As such I find myself at a bit of a loose end of the moment. I was wondering if you would be up to a spar."
Ranma smirked. "Always, man."
The two of them made their way back towards the observation deck where their ship had first crashed. There they found several of the other Masters. Now that the questioning of the prisoners was over, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had joined the others, while Dooku, Gallia, Windu and Koth began to talk to the admirals of the occupation fleets.
The apprentices all looked up, as did Lilit and Giiett smiled affably at them, before pulling off his Jedi robe and setting it aside, pulling out his two lightsabers, both of which were of the short bladed variety called shoto. He activated them on the low setting saying that aloud and then getting into a ready stance taken from Jar'kai, a lightsaber form based entirely around twin swords, of which he was the acknowledged master within the Order. "Whenever you're ready?"
No sooner had he said that then Ranma was on him, hands and feet flashing out. For a moment Giiett frowned, parrying with his blades, watching as Ranma conjured up some kind of Force-based shield around his limbs batting his lightsabers aside. "Interesting technique, though I have to ask, why didn't you use it in the battle on the planet against the Yinchorri?"
"Had to come up with something, those lightsabers of yours can overcome even my body's durability, which is why I didn't use it in the battle. Regular blasters can't overcome my durability, but I'd've lost limbs to Dooku if I haven't figured this trick out."
"And how long did that take you?" asked Giiett, calmly making conversation even as his shotos and Ranma's hands flared back and forth. Good grief this lad is fast, still, he seems more at home in the air given how he stayed airborne for so long during the battle. If I can keep him on the ground I might be able to give him a bit of a fight despite the differences in our strength and speed thanks to my battle precognition.
Giiett knew himself too well to have any illusions as to who would win a real battle between the two of them, but at the moment in a spar he might have a chance of winning this. Especially since the youth isn't moving faster than I can match, however difficult it might be. Interesting, and a good training tool, but I wonder if it is ingrained from his own training to not overwhelm his opponents, or an actual decision on his part?
"About 5 seconds or so, tryin' to recreate it later under non-combat conditions was much harder." Ranma replied dryly. "I'm much better at improvising in battle than I am at figuring out how I do it later on."
"Interesting, it shows a certain flexibility of mind that must serve you well. But how much actual combat have you seen?"
"Depends on what you mean by combat. Lots and lots of one-on-one sparrin' and fights and that kind of thing, a lot of group combat, but..." Ranma frowned shaking his head and moving back in the face of a sudden offense from Giiett, lifting up his leg slightly to allow one of his lightsabers to pass before snap kicking out catching the short and almost rotund Jedi Master in the chest slightly, even though the Jedi had already moved to dodge the blow coming around high with his other shoto slashing towards Ranma's face.
Ranma dodged in turn, muttering. "But if you mean real life or death combat, only a few times before Dooku and I arrived here."
Giiett paused at that, staring into Ranma's face for any sign of deception. There was none, as Giiett somehow knew there wouldn't. While Ranma could be guileful in combat, the youth wore his emotions on his sleeve in a way that Giiett had never seen in any other Jedi beyond the youngest younglings. "Then I am doubly sorry. Sorry you had to face that, and sorry for I doubt your mind will ever be the same again. Taking life like that, it marks you."
"I know." Ranma said quietly, before smirking and launching into a new attack that nearly caught Giiett by surprise. "But my Code always had a position there for fighting like that, fer, for taking life. I'll deal with it."
"Your Code, your code of honor I suppose? Tell me more about that, and who trained you? Not to inflate your ego too much, but your hand-to-hand skills are incredible."
"They should be I sacrificed a lot of other stuff in my life to get as good as I am. My old man, my father trained me for the most part, mostly on a training trip. We also stopped at various dojos, I suppose you'd call them different schools where specific styles were taught. We…"
From there the conversation continued as the two warriors moved back and forth across the open area and even out over the overlooking hanger for a time when Ranma tricked them into the air. For a time Giiett was hard pressed, his Force telekinesis against Ranma's mid-air ability, before he brought them both back down to the ground of the observation deck.
Giiett asked about Ranma's family and about how many styles he knew, becoming astonished at the total before Ranma explained that all of that went to simply adding new techniques or specific moves into a single style which he called Anything Goes. That was a particularly interesting name, filled with very odd connotations in Giiett mind.
But for the most part Giiett asked about other things, family as has been mentioned, friends, loved ones, the society Ranma was a part of, what his home planet was like, and other things. Anything and everything he could ask to get a better feel for the young man's personality. Giiett came away with an appreciation for the youth's father as a trainer, yet also a sharp desire to stab him at least once somewhere not immediately fatal for some of the training techniques he apparently used.
It was obvious Genma had never been satisfied with human limitations and because of that he pushed Ranma well beyond the norm. What should have broken Ranma however had only made him stronger, stronger than any human should have been in terms of speed and power. But in Giiett's mind, the training itself was a perfect example of the end not justifying the means.
Giiett was not the only Jedi Master thinking about Ranma, studying him as the spar continued. Plo Koon and Tiin were both watching, their thoughts going along very different lines. Plo's were following an old line, wondering if the youth's skills were hidden among the forbidden knowledge kept sequestered in the Jedi library, or if they were actually entirely new, an astonishing thought given how long Jedi had been using the Force. He was also smiling behind his mask, seeing that his initial impression had been correct.
His fellow council member Tiin was wondering something far more specific: whether or not he could learn to control his body's Living Force as the youth obviously did. The implications to a person's combat ability was obvious to a Guardian like him.
Qui-Gon was watching the spar thoughtfully, his eyes narrowed despite not being able to overhear their conversation. Such a strange youth so wild and uncontrolled, this one could never be a Jedi. In fact I doubt he would have become a Jedi even if we had found him when he was young enough to be taken in. Yet his odd connection to the Force, the amount of the Living Force within him he is so massive! But does that mean that he is the Chosen One, or a simple anomaly?
After a moment he shook his head, feeling or so he thought the rightness of his decision through the Force. No, he is not the chosen one, the one who would restore balance to the Force. That person, male or female, is still out there regardless of Ranma's sudden appearance. And I will be the one to find him! Still, since that is the case, for what reason was Ranma brought here by the Force?
For just a moment Qui-Gon felt what might have been an answer, a stranger mix of a light going off in a dark room and a faint, distant laugh. Then it was gone, and he was left with his own thoughts none the wiser.
While this was going on Mace and the others were conferencing via com with the two admirals, hammering out the details of the occupation force. This hadn't been done previously as no one had any way of knowing what was going on in the Yinchorri system before they arrived, how large a force would be needed and many other contributing factors such as the industrial capacity that would need to be dismantled and other things of that nature.
It was decided that Sluisi would leave a semi-permanent occupation garrison based off of the asteroid fortress that had previously hidden the Yinchorri's rulers. It wouldn't be a heavy one, but it would be large enough to make certain that the Yinchorri did not go back to their warlike, expansionistic ways, as well as defending the system from exterior incursion.
This second consideration was a bigger one than Dooku or the Jedi had thought it would be. Always mercantile minded, the Sluisi and the Mon Calamari fleets had both sent several corvettes out into the systems large asteroid belt to survey it. They had found several deposits of high-end metals there, as well as trace elements that were needed in spaceship drives, which were rare enough to be worth emplacing a permanent mining industry into the system.
The Sluisi, being the closer of the two powers could more easily emplace such an industry and guard it. But Admiral Sitoris was forced to concede that they would share the profits of the endeavor for twelve local years with the Mon Calamari due to their part in the occupation. The Mon Calamari would in turn try to rehabilitate the Yinchorri, something they had attempted, with some success with the Quarren after their war with them centuries ago.
There would of course be no occupation of the planets themselves, which would've been impossible given the size of the Yinchorri population. However the Yinchorri were still under the control of their intelligentsia caste even when that caste had been captured. As long as the aliens kept out of sight, the population on the planets would remain under control. So the Mon Calamari would use this caste system against them. They would take the children of the intelligentsia caste and teach them different ways of learning and living, as they had the Quarren.
Writing up a formal agreement with the two admirals' lawyers took the Jedi masters several hours, but after that they rounded up the rest of the Jedi and Ranma on the Consular class ship they hadn't used to crash land in the asteroid base, that one not being space-worthy anymore. They did however leave behind Master Choi and his padawan to help the two admirals for a time in keeping order and to deal with any inter-fleet issues that arose. Master Windu shared a final farewell with his fellow master, and then the ship jumped to hyperspace, leaving behind the two fleets and a system in turmoil.
The use of hyperspace lanes allowed for far faster travel than was possible in normal hyperspace, hence why control of them was so important in terms of commerce and defense. With the aid of the Perliman Trade route the trip from the Yinchorri system to Coruscant only took six days, with two of those days taken getting to the Trade Route in the first place.
During this trip Ranma's time was taken up with training with the padawans and getting to know them, working on his skill in standard. By the time they reached Coruscant his ability to speak it like a native had grown exponentially, he only had problems leaving the first words off of sentences occasionally, and a few issues with vocabulary. He still sounded like a Corellian though.
He also spent time learning the basics of piloting from Masters Tiin and Koon. Both pilots felt this was a good way to repay the young man's aid, and they had both come to like him in their own ways. While he had no technical experience to call upon, Ranma's instincts for midair combat served him well in the tests they set up for him, though it would take some time before he was anywhere near actually piloting a ship on his own.
For the most part, Koth, Gallia, and Windu left Ranma alone, letting him to the other masters and padawans, who had befriended him though in very different manners. Windu found himself among these not because of anything Ranma had done or said but because, for the first time since becoming a master, Mace had embarrassed himself badly thanks to the youth:
Not having seen the curse before, Windu had been astonished when Ranma had changed into his female form in front of him due to the water squirting practice sphere nailing him after he had thought it had been turned off. While the other masters seemed to take it in stride, Mace, astonished beyond anytime he could remember, strode up to the redhead, and poked her in one of her breasts. "Those cannot be… what in the name of the Force, where, how…"
At that point his musings, each word having been accompanied by a poke to a breast, was interrupted. Ranma laid him out with a single punch to the jaw, sending the Jedi Blade Master into blissful unconsciousness. After he woke up Ranma explained his curse and that he did not like being poked or prodded, and Windu, embarrassed for the first time ever, apologized profusely but found himself unable to come to terms with the sheer oddness of the transformation, or the accompanying feeling in the Force.
Beyond that however, only two instances stood out to the others as examples of Ranma's inherent otherness in comparison to Jedi:
"I understand from Giiett some of the training you have gone through, yet I still don't understand how you're strong enough to rip apart tanks with your bare hands as you did." Master Tiin asked, sitting across from Ranma as Koth took his turn in the cockpit. "How did that come about? Obviously it's a Force trick, the Force Warriors learned many ways to enhance their physical bodies, many of which all Jedi routinely learn today. But, I've never read of anything in the holocrons that said they could do so to the extent you showed. Wouldn't the Force in your muscles rip them apart before you could use them to such an extent?"
"I was trained to go beyond the human norm. Trained to be stronger, faster from a young age. What you think of as normal limit, can be broken through with enough training. As to how it works, I've got some theories, but not any certainties. I will say though that it ain't a 'Force trick'. I don't use my ki," Ranma stopped watching as Tiin tried to not scowl and laughed in reply.
"You lot can see 'the Force' the way ya want to, and in some ways I can see your point given what I've felt a time or two in the Chi of this universe. But I'll still call my internal energy the name I was taught to use it. Now, are you going to keep sneering at my terminate, or are you going to listen."
"That's terminology, I think, and I'll listen. It's not my place to try and correct your impression of the Force, I'll leave that to older and more patient heads than mine." That Ranma would need such was something Tiin assumed, whatever his little tricks and oddities the Jedi Order of course would know better than this young man, or at least would know how such things worked here in their own dimension, wherever Ranma had come from.
Ranma didn't hear that in Tiin's tone however, since the demonic-looking alien's tone was always even, gravely and deep, with little inflection. So he simply nodded and went back to the original topic. "I don't use my ki to heighten my strength all the time, I have to will my ki to backup either my strength or my speed beyond the norm. My base strength is simply way beyond anything you lot can do."
"I don't believe you." Tiin said bluntly. "Jedi are routinely stronger and faster than normal people of similar build, but we could not do what you did, not even the old Force Warrior Sect could have done that. No, you might not be aware of it, but the Living Force within you must be automatically adding to your natural strength somehow."
"Perhaps an example is in order," Dooku said smiling faintly as he looked up from yet another game of holochess with Qui-Gon while his opponent did the same. "Would you like to show us an example Ranma? A few of us can watch and see if we can sense any movement in your reserves of Living Force that could back up your strength." For his part Dooku knew Ranma was telling the truth, and had his own idea on how the young man was so strong.
"Aboard ship there's nothing big enough to matter!" Ranma laughed then he smirked, placing his forearm on the table between him and Tiin, flexing his hand. "Unless you all want to try your luck at once?"
"All of us?" Asked K'kruhk from nearby, shaking his head. "I think your letting your ego do your talking for you Ranma. You might have been able to rip apart those tanks using the Force, but surely you don't really think…"
"Not think, I know. I don't use the Force to enhance my strength normally, I'm just that strong. Try me."
Not able to turn down the challenge Tiin reached forward and began to grapple with Ranma's arm, trying to push it down to the table with no success. At a nod from his master K'kruhk moved over and began to aid Tiin, with no success. Obi-Wan joined in then, as did Qui-Gon, Koth and Giiett.
Mace, Gallia, and Dooku remained watching but they didn't detect even a hint of movement in Ranma's massive reservoir of Living Force power. After a few moments of grunting and straining from their fellows they looked at one another, and Gallia asked, "I don't see any change, do you?"
Dooku shook his head with a smile, while the others replied similarly. "No, not at all. The Living Force inside him might still be aiding him, but if it is, it's something as normal as breathing to him by this point, and I can't tell one way or another." Mace replied aloud.
After a moment Ranma laughed, and before the straining Jedi could set themselves, threw his hand to the right, throwing them all to the floor and pinning Tiin's hands between his own and the table. He stood up, moving to help the others to their feet. "Believe me now?"
The other example of Ranma's weirdness came about when they were almost ready to drop out of hyperspace into the Coruscant system Ranma's showing off his speed and teaching the two padawans some dodging skills when they couldn't concentrate enough to use the Force to protect themselves in various way.
This segued into a debate on which style was better, lightsaber and Force powers or simply dodging which Ranma interrupted by showing his Katchu Tenshin Amiguriken technique. This astonished all the watchers save Dooku, and there were many interested murmurs from Mace and Koth who could immediately see the utility of such a technique in lightsaber combat.
But then Obi-Wan, both in an attempt to prove that Force telekinesis was better and to make a joke having been the butt of many from Ranma, moved behind Ranma toward a small water decanter, which he promptly splashed toward Ranma before he could react.
"You're so fast, yet you can't dodge water?" Obi-wan laughed, shaking his head with a smile until he felt two toothpicks slam into his forehead with enough power to actually flip him head over heels, yet oddly not enough to penetrate his skin. "Oww, why?! Master Gallia and Master Twoseas have both done that kind of thing, why do you only attack me!?"
Ranma smirked, kneeling down next to the young man, reaching forward and grabbing Obi-Wan's head, turning his face to look at Ranma. "Do ya want me ta kiss it and make it all better?"
"Gah, um uh…." Obi-Wan stammered, completely floored, yet blushing, his self-control gone under this new and very strange assault. He never even saw the fist coming which smashed into his stomach, knocking all the air out of his lungs.
"That's why, pervert," Ranma muttered, turning away "Just remember whatever I look like I'm a guy underneath it, and I was born a guy. Keep that in mind when yer next blinded by my bits."
"The answer to your original question is simple padawan." said Master Twoseas, patting the downed apprentice on his shoulder. "The two of us are women, we were doing it in the interest of science and, it must be admitted, personal interest. You are male and did it for a joke. And whenever Ranma's been in his female form you've stared at his chest before getting control of yourself."
Obi-wan blushed looking away, still trying to get his breath back. He had hoped that no one had noticed his lack of control there, but should have known better and in fact now that it was pointed out by both Ranma and Master Twoseas felt somewhat embarrassed about his lack of control. And disgusted, there was that in there too given Ranma's reminder of his underlying gender.
But still, Obi-Wan could easily remember several missions where he had seen far more scantily dressed women, and they hadn't affected him this way. It's simply that first time I saw her, him, her gah, Ranma in his female form, it was, not overtly sexual but still alluring in some fashion. I must get control of this strange new interest.
Centering himself, Obi-Wan stood and bowed towards the diminutive Twoseas. "You are right master, I, I let my desire to make a joke and, um, my own base interests push me into an action that is beneath a Jedi. I will meditate on this."
"I am not the one you should apologize to padawan." Lilit said with a faint smile. "Although I will admit that the curse and the feeling of it in the Force is something I'm nowhere near used to either."
"Excuse me, experience? Weird word choice for something you're watching." Ranma said, looking over at Lillit, then at Dooku.
Adi Gallia looked at him curiously then over at Dooku. "You didn't tell him?"
"Tell me what?"
Dooku smiled at him blandly. "Oh nothing important, just the feel of your change through our Force-based perceptions."
"Why do I think I'm not going to like this? What exactly does my curse feel like?"
"Like the universe is laughing at the greatest joke it's ever heard." said Lilit, smirking up at the taller (by a full 2 inches) and younger woman. Gallia glanced at her questioningly but Lillit ignored the other master's gaze, it wasn't like she was irritable because the redhead was taller than her, Jedi were above such things. Oh, who am I kidding, look at her face, hah, that will teach you to make fun of others!
A few hours after that incident the ship came out of hyperspace, and after talking to Coruscant's Space Control they were allowed into its airspace and down toward the temple. Ranma had moved up with Dooku to join the two pilots in the cockpit, and as the planet came into view, he stared through the forward canopy at the planet in shock and growing horror. "Blessed Amaterasu, it really is all just one giant city! That's so, so wrong! You guys go on and on about balance, about the two sides of the Force, where's the balance here?"
"The balance between Light and Dark is always in flux and I think you are confusing that kind of balance with the balance between nature and industry." said Master Koth shaking his head, "Still, there at least I will agree that too much of one thing is never a good idea."
Master Gallia nodded. "You have no idea how much money it takes to bring in enough food for the masses of people who live on Coruscant. It only grows about .029% of its own food, and can only store enough food for the most part for a few days. It doesn't really produce much of anything, and most of what it does produce it uses itself. Corsucant's only real export is government."
"I'm really disturbed now." Ranma said shaking his head.
Ranma had never really liked cities anyway, being very much a country boy at heart. Oh sure he liked to have access to cities, but actually living in them no. Nerima had been sort of a gray area there, a suburb that wasn't actually named that and which had rather old fashioned architecture and lots of wide open places. But Ranma much preferred to be out and about moving over the land. This place bothered him, deeply. Worse, was yet to come however.
The closer they got to landing the more Ranma's initial impression was shown to be accurate. Miles upon miles of concrete and steel buildings piled upon buildings. As the ship circled in to land there were places where Ranma could look down until the light of the sun disappeared and still see only more buildings in the darkness below. I'm all for depths and heights, but this is ridiculous!
Soon enough they landed on the temple's private landing pad. Outside the ship's ramp waited several of the Council's members including Yoda. He had convinced the Chancellor to let them debrief with their fellow Jedi before letting them speak to the senate and public. That would occur later that day; such things could not be postponed for long without accusations of interference growing. But they had to speak alone first.
Trying hard to ignore what his sixth sense was telling him Ranma followed the others out. No matter how much he tried to clamp down on it though his sixth sense, that danger/environment sense which Genma had trained into him he couldn't do it.
So many people, so many thousands and millions of people without so much as a single tree in sight! Ranma didn't think it in the terms of Light and Dark sides. He thought in terms of ki and chi, about nature versus man and he couldn't see how this planet had any chi worth mentioning. It was so out of balance it was disturbing as all hell to him.
Yoda looked up at Master Windu and Master Dooku smiling slightly. "Speak we must."
"Yes," said both of them as one, bowing formally. Yoda nodded, and turned to the redhead who had followed the others out and was now looking around her as if waiting for an enemy to jump out at her. "This young redhead, your secret she is, hrhrm?"
For a moment, just a moment looking at the redhead the Living Force of the young human burned like a pillar in his senses, blasting away the encroaching Veil of the Dark. Interesting.
Hearing someone talk about her broke Ranma out of his paralysis temporarily, and he turned around only to stare in shock. "What's up with the Imp? Man I want to check to see if there's any wires! I know aliens can come in all shapes and sizes but come on!"
But his looks and size weren't the only problem Ranma had with Yoda. After all, he had met two garden gnomes before in the persons of Cologne and Happosai. It was the second comparison which made Ranma automatically wary of the green-skinned imp. And despite the amount of growth Ranma had gone through since coming here, he still had an issue with speaking before thinking.
While the other Masters, even a few who had arrived with Dooku and generally come to like Ranma responded with frowns at his disrespect Yoda merely chuckled. He had dealt with people outside the Order who had responded to him in similar manners many times, and such names mattered not at all to him. "Spirited young one you are, amused I am. Yoda I am, Jedi Grand Master."
Needless to say hearing the imp call himself grand master did nothing for the comparison Ranma's brain had begun to make. "Great, so does mean you're also pervert? Only your size and that title's making me have flashbacks, and I gotta say Baldy and Obi ain't exactly givin' me a…OWWW!"
The 'OWW' was caused by Yoda smacking his walking stick into Ranma's shin, having covered the distance between them in a bare blink of the eye. "Spirited, hrhrm, only excuse disrespect so far it can." Yoda replied, before looking over at Obi-Wan and Mace. The younger man winced and bowed his head in apology while Mace rubbed his jaw, remembering how Ranma had laid him out with decidedly mixed feelings.
"Why you!" Ranma growled, and ignoring Qui-Gon and Master Koth's attempt to stop her, Ranma swung at Yoda, only to watch the little green bastard dodge to one side with far more alacrity than his wrinkled form would suggest. Narrowing her eyes Ranma got more serious, moving in to a full on assault on Yoda.
Yoda responded with seeming ease using his diminutive size and Force precognition to dodge her punches and kicks. But whatever it looked like it was not easy, Yoda in fact was astonished at how hard it was, the redhead's punches coming in at him faster with every passing second.
The other masters made to grab their lightsabers and defend the Grand Master save Dooku, who was watching this with an amused smile on his face. Before anyone had even finished grabbing their lightsabers however, Yoda's voice lashed out like a whip. "Think you I need defenders? Grand Master I have been for many decades, protection I need not."
With that he raced forward, leaping up and dodging a kick from Ranma to smack her upside the head with his staff. His ancient eyes widened in shock when instead of trying to dodge Ranma reared back slightly and then drove his head forward, shattering his staff.
Yoda blinked, staring at the end of his broken staff. "On the other hand, most helpful a new staff would be."
In midair Yoda tried to dodge again only for Ranma, who was shaking her head groggily at the same time, to nearly grab him by his robes and toss him, her attempt just a bit too slow thanks to her disorientation. In response Yoda arrested his momentum, almost clinging to Ranma's hand then leaping up over his head. To Yoda's surprise, Ranma was able to turn around before Yoda finished his leap, and Yoda was forced to block a snap kick that sent him backward, but he had used the Force to pull himself backwards enough to avoid any injury.
The ancient Grand master blinked at the amount of Force he'd had to use for it and landed well out of Ranma's range, staring at the redhead thoughtfully. "Hrhrm, interesting this has been, but end games must. More serious things, we must talk about."
Ranma continued to glare at him for a moment before subsiding. "Just tell me ya ain't a pervert and I'll call it quits for now." Then she smiled widely. "Though a full on spar with ya might be interesting green guy."
"Pervert?" Yoda asked chuckling. "Word nothing means to my race, reproduce through intercourse we do not, personal choice gender is, made when young. Disturbed and rather appalled are we by humans and others such infatuation with oddities like that."
To one side Yaddle nodded in agreement, though she did not turn her eyes away from the pillar of Living Force that was encapsulated by the young redhead, having never seen or dreamed of anything like it. Check the Holocron archives I must, fascinating this is!
Ranma translated this in her head then added it to Yoda's position as well as the responses he/she had gotten from the majority of the Jedi. Despite his teasing, Ranma knew Mace hadn't seen her as a girl, only responding in shock to his change while Obi-Wan was young and frankly his self-control was incredible whatever Ranma had insinuated a time or two. Hmm… okay so maybe there are more reasons than just following stupid ass oaths that the Jedi have slowly begun to become sociopaths. Not good, but it might be easier to turn them around anyway.
Out loud he said, "Okay, yeah I guess that goes with the whole warrior monk theme, but pushin' that kind of thing aside ain't exactly healthy for humans and I guess a lot of other races to do ya know."
Yoda looked over at Micah Giiett, who smiled in a way as if to imply butter would not melt in his mouth. "Heard this before from others we have, not the time for such a discussion again this is."
Looking back at Ranma Yoda frowned slightly. Now that their brief spat was over, the young woman was looking around tensely, her hands clenching and unclenching. "Nervous you need not be. Within our walls enemy you will not find."
Right I'll believe that when I see it, Ranma thought to himself, wondering what the council would determine about him. He didn't really think Dooku and the others who had met him already would be a party to any attempt to get rid of him as some kind of anomaly. But what he had seen and read about the Jedi Order as a whole did not make him very happy about trying to predict how they, as a group, would react to someone like him, or even the idea that maybe they didn't know anything about 'the Force'.
Still, that had nothing to do with his nervousness now, "It isn't like that, it's this planet. I mean, there are so many people here, and I've never really been a fan of cities and there's no plant life or anything. It's bothering me."
Yoda nodded, relaxing slightly in turn. He was tempted to reach out through the Force and try a calming trick on the young man, but decided that doing so without his permission might not be welcomed, certainly it wouldn't be to another Jedi. "Many people, problems have with Coruscant, overwhelming it can be. Within the temple you will find, easier to ignore it is."
"Temple, riiiggght." Ranma said smirking slightly now, shaking his head as he stared up, and up, and up some more at the mass of the Jedi Temple. Sheltered monk types, and they've got a central temple that huge? Someone is overcompensating. "Well lead the way then Imp."
Yoda moved to smack the haft of his shoto, which he had not used in their recent altercation, on Ranma's leg causing her to jump backwards. "Yoda I am, respect you will." The diminutive master said, chuckling. It had been many decades since he'd dealt with a young being like this, but some things were just like riding a hover capsule, and just as amusing. "Respect one way or respect another."
Scowling, Ranma glared at the little dwarf. "All right, Yoda, lead the way."
Yoda waved his hand, and the newcomers and the members of the council who had come out with Yoda began to move towards the temple's entrance, shaking their heads and glaring at Ranma for his treatment of Yoda. Yoda however moved over to Dooku, murmuring. "Found you have a fascinating young secret my old padawan. Interesting attitude, even more interesting impact on the Force, the young woman has."
"Man." Dooku replied blandly. "I realize this might sound odd right now, but Ranma insists he is a man, whatever he looks like at any given moment. Or even acts like at times." Dooku had honestly hoped for more fireworks between his new acquaintance and his former master, but Yoda had responded to Ranma's attitude far better than Dooku would have believed. Maybe his curse will give me the reaction I want?
"Man? Like the rest of me, old my eyes may be but blind I am not, nor senile." Yoda said staring at Dooku as if he thought his old apprentice was trying to make a joke. Which he was, or rather trying to set up a little play for his own amusement.
"Trust us Master Yoda," said Master Gallia from nearby, shaking her head. "You won't believe it if you don't see it for yourself. It's one of many things we have to talk about."
From his hidden throne room Sidious watched Mace and the other Jedi who had dealt with the Yinchorri Uprising arrive, alone at present. Maul was too disruptive an influence and besides, Sidious knew he would be called upon to join the delegation of senators thanking the Jedi for their recent actions. Thus Maul's time was better spent training in their main base than here.
Odd, that young woman radiates in the Living Force, and her presence is the same as the chaotic vortex that has plagued my attempts to read the future around Dooku of late. Worse, that effect was spreading, not far just yet, but it was worrisome. Yet all of my perception up to this point said that individual was male.
Though there was that strange report from one of my agents, some young woman who out arm-wrestled not only a Wookie but a fully enhanced cyborg? Sidious had initially taken that report with a grain of salt, and indeed had made plans to liquidate that agent if it turned out that he had been lying or making things up. Sidious demanded loyalty and competence in his followers, even those second-hand agents he employed. But now he realized there might indeed be some truth to those rumors.
Hmm… until I get to the bottom of this, I will assume the redhead is some kind of disguise and that he is a he underneath. That Ranma could be a woman impersonating a man did not occur to Sidious, since besides being a fascist, he was also a misogynist. Or perhaps he is a shape-changer, like the bounty hunterWesell. They are rare, but not unknown.
Sidious had not felt the laughing ripple in the Force that signified Ranma's recent change from male to female, and indeed could not discern it. He was a true sociopath. He could not feel happiness, he could not feel joy, he could not feel love. All Sidious felt was hate and a lust for power, a great vaunted ambition which drowned out everything else. Any other emotion was simply like a mask he could put on as easy as his clothes.
Still for all of that, I was able to influence his mind somewhat. Not much, I had to be subtle about it given the Jedi around him, but that was not very difficult. Heh, even Yoda, that senile old fool, only has the vaguest idea of how much their senses have begun to be blinded by the Veil of the Dark. Truly it is Plagueis' crowning achievement, whatever he thinks of his little experiments.
Still, the Living Force in the youth's body also acted as a defense, I could barely find any way into his mind. But I was able to instill a bit of dislike, even loathing for Coruscant. That will make him edgy, and that may make him more controllable down the line.
Actually Sidious had initially attempted to read the youth's mind, only to be thwarted by his mental defenses, something he was not happy about. The feeling of unease he had instilled in Ranma was the best he could do, and it was very much below what he had wanted to do.
Still, his sheer presence is very different, and the Jedi do not react to that which is different very well these days. I wonder… Leaning back in his throne Sidious thought hard about how the Jedi would react to such a strange individual who radiated such power. After some time spent on the problem, going through his mental list of the masters on the council and others who were important in terms of policy, Sidious decided they would react in one of four ways. And the Council in particular Yoda and Windu would be the deciding factor.
One, they might come up with a way to keep the youth locked away in the Temple. Unlikely, the Order is not that reactionary, not yet. But if they attempt it I might be able to later aid his escape and thus put the youth in my debt.
Two, they could decide he's too dangerous to live and simply kill him. Sidious knew at least a few of the more hidebound Jedi Masters might see that as a solution, but only two of them were on the Council itself. Still, if it proved necessary a quiet word in one or two receptive ears could set all such reactionaries against the youth. And then there were other Jedi who had exploitable weaknesses which could be directed at the youth just in case.
Best to wait on that for now though. He is chaotic and unpredictable, yet useful especially if this recent agreement between Dooku and his two catspaws can be made to serve our purposes as I believe it can. If it can, the next round of escalating violence will come far quicker, and the war beyond that even faster. I have to admit that in some ways it would be even more satisfying to use such a cause to rise to power, even more so than the original plan. But as to the youth himself, he could be a good distraction from our own activities, and more besides.
Shaking those thoughts off Sidious turned his mind back to what the Jedi could possibly do.
Three, and by far the least likely, they will find some way to induct the youth into the Order. That would fly in the face of all of their rules and traditions, and because the youth himself would have to be willing to do so. Given his rather amusing interaction with Yoda, and his age, I would estimate that is even less likely than the Council quietly making him disappear.
Fourth and most likely, they will find some way to tie him to the Order. Overt or covert surveillance, overt or covert fiscal ties, ties of friendship perhaps, worthless though they are. Would they be ruthless enough to use a honey trap on him? Given his youth and the fact he is a male that would possibly be the best idea, though I don't think any of them would be willing to do so at least not purposefully. Hmmm, though I might wish to think about something along those lines myself. Setting it up would be difficult to mesh with my need to keep the hint of Sith involvement hidden, but it might be possible…
Shaking his head Sidious set aside the problem of the young man and his odd impact on the Force for now, glancing up at the clock and only now realizing more than two hours had passed. He had to be at the reception within another hour and he needed to get ready. He sent out a few orders to some of his secondhand agents to watch the Jedi Temple for anything unusual going on. Then he contacted a few slicers he knew.
He wanted to know more about the agreement between the Jedi and the two admirals Sitoris and Baraka in terms of the Yinchorri system, and the agreement Dooku had reached with their governments. Sidious wanted to know the wording of the initial agreement, as well as anything about the actual military presence that would remain in the Yinchorri system. All of that would be fuel for his own plans later on.
Information is power that at least the Jedi know all too well, but they ignore the caveat: that too much 'knowledge' can blind you to your own ignorance about what is really important, and that knowledge itself isn't worth anything unless you know how to use it.
Ten minutes later he walked out of his quarters in his senatorial dress, nodding slightly at the two men waiting for him dressed as the Senators guards. They weren't of course, they were his men who he had molded since their birth to serve him in all things, practically mindless pawns, but still good enough at their job.
Then he moved forward moving down the corridor toward several other senators greeting the crowd with a smile of genuine delight. "Gentlemen, are we all readyto welcome back our conquering heroes?"
Leaving Ranma outside the council room for the moment in a plush, comfortable chair and watched by Obi-Wan and K'kruhk, Yoda and the other councilmen entered before ushering Dooku, Lilit, Qui-Gon and Koth inside. Once all of the Council had sat in their chairs or cushions in the circle around the room and Dooku and the other witnesses who weren't part of the Council had taken their own chairs Yoda began. "Before we discuss the young chaotic fulcrum get the political and military discussion out of the way now we should, limited time we have at present."
"The what?" said one of the Masters looking at him in shock while others murmured, many in horror at the connotation of that name. Chaos of course was never a good thing. Yaddle however was humming thoughtfully, and Ranicisiswas also nodding from side to side in the manner of his people.
"A label it is for one whose actions, cause great ripples they will. Several there have been in Jedi history, many named in the Holocrons, the label not known save to most learned." Yoda looked around, and feeling somewhat mischievous decided to drop a minor thermal detonator into the council. "Most famous perhaps, Revan would be."
For a moment there was shocked silence at his using that particular name, a dark spot on the Jedi Order's history, their brightest light who had become one of their most implacable enemies. "In that case we should stop him now," said Master Tiin, though he did not sound as sure of himself as he would normally. He liked the youth and his aggressive, independent nature.
"Agreed," said Piell much more firmly than his fellow. "A threat of such magnitude needs to be contained immediately!" Several others agreed, indeed all the masters who hadn't gone on the mission against the Yinchorri did.
"Threat I did not say he was." Yoda said, his voice still serene but something in it causing the other Masters' mouths to shut abruptly. "Chaotic he is, chaotic his effect on the Force. Chaos dangerous at times true, but change good or bad can be. Both most likely."
"Thus far it has proven good." said Lilit, touching her stomach gingerly where she had thought she would be stabbed before Ranma intervened.
"You are not the only one." said Masters Giiett quietly, causing all eyes turned to him where he sat among the rest of the council. "I knew I would die on this mission, though not when. My clairvoyance has never been that good. But I knew I would die, the future beyond this mission was simply blank for me. Until young Ranma and Master Dooku arrived." He went on into the silence, nodding to the tall saturnine Jedi Master who nodded back gravely, while Plo reached out a tendril of the Force to give his friend a squeeze on one shoulder. "Now my future is wide open, though as I said I cannot see all of it."
"Set this aside for now we will," said Yoda seriously, staring at them all. "Talk now we must of politics and impressions I will have from you of this latest conflict."
"Agreed." said Master Gallia. "We have to talk about the political ramifications of what Dooku has promised to get the Sluisi and Mon Calamari's backing. Surely something cheaper would've been better."
"Which is cheaper: Jedi lives or political capital?" Dooku asked coldly. "In terms of lives this mission could have cost us at least three dead if Ranma and I did not intervene. As for the combined fleets, they lost twenty dead spread out over their ships, mostly fighter pilots, and without them we would have faced far greater opposition. They have upheld their end of the agreement, now it is time for us to uphold ours."
"While I am pleased with your personal aid Master Dooku this is not as easy as you seem to think." Master Gallia said firmly. "I work with the Senate closely as you all know, I know the factions there. And when we try to extend the Arming Rights Lawswe will run into severe opposition. In particular…"
That discussion went on for some time, with many of the other masters speaking up against the agreement Dooku had forged for various reasons. One that many believed was that this would be seen as an escalation in tensions, and a slap in the face of the Senate as a whole, implying the Republic navy was unable to protect the merchant ships of its constituent species.
Koth felt it would lead to an arms race as different sectors felt threatened by ships from other sectors moving through their space armed. Master Yaddle felt the Trade Federation would respond with its normal strong arm tactics, resulting in outright war between the Trade Federation and the armed ships of the groups who were also included in the new amendment.
This conversation ended more than an hour later when Dooku laid down the law. "I understand your arguments masters, moreover I respect your expertize in this area. I fully understand that this will be difficult, but understand this. I gave my personal word I would see to it that the Sluisi and Mon Calamari would be able to guard their own ships outside their sectors. If the Jedi Council decides not to aid me in this endeavor, I will go it alone! I gave my word, and that is the end of it as far as I am concerned."
"Enough." said Oppo Ranicisis, who had been silent up to this point, halting any response Gallia, Koth or the others could have made. "I personally agree with Master Dooku, you all know I've never been happy with the idea of the Trade Federation being the only merchant power to be allowed to arm its vessels. I should not have to point out why we all should be unhappy about that."
That was putting it mildly, and more than one Jedi Master frowned at the reminder that they had lost one of their own to Trade Federation duplicity, with no one being punished for it. Master Koon in particular shook his head at the mention of Tyvokka, his own master, who had sat on this council before being killed by attack droids guarding Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, who he had just defended in a gunfight against Iaco Stark.
"I also agree. Dooku is correct, without their aid we might still have lost many of our brothers during this mission." Mace said firmly, speaking up at least having sat out the political discussion. But he felt firmly on this issue, and rather guilty at the same time, since it had been his leadership that could have led to those deaths.
With Mace's backing the discussion ended with the council now agreeing to back Dooku's plan, and Oppo turned to the tall Blade Master. "As for you Master Dooku, I recall a conversation I had with you as a padawan about misplaced arrogance. Your word of honor is important, but do not fall into the trap of putting it and your own personal beliefs ahead of the Jedi Order as a whole."
His old rheumy eyes held Dooku's for a time until the Blade Master nodded his head contritely. The older master nodded in return, and then went on briskly. "We must think more on the ramifications of this conflict in particular the direct attack against us."
That conversation too went on for some time, as one after another of the Jedi Masters who had gone to the Yinchorri system first described the mission then put forth ideas as to why the Yinchorri had attacked the Temple, what they had thought to gain from it, and indeed who else could gain anything from it. But they reached no conclusions. It could be anything from a political agenda to a personal vendetta, and there were far too many suspects and far too little clues to point them in any direction.
Because of the lack of information, this discussion went on for only a few minutes before it was decided that several Sentinels would be tasked the job of hunting down the Devaronian on the other end of the communication their prisoner had been having when Master Choi had interrupted him. This task would be given to Master Tholme and his former padawan, knight Quinlan Vos.
They were two of the best the Jedi had in terms of understanding and being able to navigate the criminal element, and Quinlan was in the temple presently recovering from injuries taken in a recent mission he had undertaken with his own padawan. That padawan had also been sent on a solo mission since his injury, which left him free for a moment to take on this new task with his former master.
"And now finally we come to what Master Yoda called the chaotic fulcrum, Ranma, is that his name?" asked Master Piell. "What have you found out about him Dooku?"
Dooku looked at the other Master coldly for a moment, until the other Master added "Master Dooku" rather grudgingly. He was one of those who believed that being on the council accorded him slightly above equal status though he would never come out and say it. Worse he had disliked Dooku since Dooku had started to speak out against what he called the 'stasis' of the Jedi Order.
Putting his irritation aside with the ease of long practice Dooku described how he had met Ranma. He described what he had seen of Ranma's abilities, something many of the masters on the Yinchorri mission could corroborate and did so. But when Dooku got to what he knew of Ranma's origins he was greeted with what in any other group would have been called shock.
"That's insane!" scoffed Mace, shaking his head, not having heard that tale before this. "The lad is obviously depraved."
"Yet he can change forms, a Force phenomenon well outside anything the Jedi Order has ever seen before." said Master Koon, shrugging his shoulders, smiling inside his mask as Mace twitched slightly remembering his response to said, while the other masters tried and failed to hide their own skepticism, unwilling to call their fellow masters liars, but unable to truly believe in such a thing either.
Micah chimed in quickly. "That's true, and we have seen no evidence to eliminate the idea that Ranma comes from another dimension. We might think of it as bizarre, but we must also admit it could be true. It is a wide, vast galaxy after all."
"How powerful is he?" said one of the other Masters frowning thoughtfully, not having tested the youth's Force power with his own earlier and now regretting that fact. "Have you tested his Midi-Chlorian level?"
"No I have not, I don't think it would be worth it frankly." Dooku replied honestly. "The device would either break, unable to handle how powerful he is or simply not work at all. It's one of the other, I doubt there would be any middle ground there."
The Midi-Chlorian scale was not, as many outsiders or even younglings thought, how someone could determine how strong a Jedi was, that would be rather foolish. Jedi in and of themselves were rarely powerful in the manner Ranma was. Rather, Jedi acted as conduits for the Force, like stones in a stream changing the nature of the stream around them just slightly. The level they could do so varied wildly, but the base level for that could be discerned through a scale the ancient Jed'ai had come up with long before the Jedi Order came into being.
"How dangerous is he in terms of combat?" asked Piell leaning forward intently. "How dangerous could he be if he goes rogue?"
"In the strictest sense he's already rogue. He's… not… part… of… the… Order," Dooku said coolly, enunciating each word carefully. "Yes he uses the Force, but I've never seen him use anything I could point to as coming from the Dark Side. As Master Koth stated he feels anger and other emotions, but they do not affect his abilities, and indeed even there he forced me to acknowledge a valuable piece of insight that I had not thought of previously." Indeed, despite all the abilities he hoped to learn from Ranma, Dooku felt that it would be in the realm of other areas, in ways of thinking and his attitude that made Ranma a real find.
"You're dodging the question, how dangerous is he in terms of combat?"
Dooku and Giiett exchanged a glance, and Micah shrugged his shoulders gesturing at Dooku to reply. "I doubt I could take Ranma on if he went all out," Dooku said bluntly shaking his head. "He was merely playing with Master Yoda earlier, trust me, I've seen some of his Force enhanced skills, and they are beyond what any master could handle unless they knew of them before hand, and even then keeping up with some of them is incredibly difficult, his base strength and speed are beyond anything you can imagine."
It galled Dooku a little to realize that, but he was willing to call a sarlaac a sarlaac as it were. "Luckily Ranma doesn't seem to go all out often, he seems to use the minimum amount of skill needed to defeat his opponent rather than use everything he can. I think it's a holdover from his own training, but it makes Ranma even more dangerous simply because you're never certain if you've seen all his tricks."
"Ranma can be dangerous yes but not to us unless we make ourselves his enemy." Said Giiett firmly. "And I for one would argue against anything I think could do that." From there Giiett and the others shared what they had seen of Ranma's combat abilities in the battle against the Yinchorri in further detail, causing many of the other masters to frown or shake their heads, unable to believe yet unwilling to disbelieve their fellow council members.
"He is opinionated and closed to the Unifying Force." Master Koth said, shaking his head. "I'll admit his skills are incredible, but his attitude is disruptive and arrogant. I do not think trying to emulate his abilities would be worth the effect he would have among our ranks, no matter how we try to ease them in. And worse, he bluntly told you Master Dooku that he wouldn't teach anyone he personally didn't think was honorable. We would have to follow his decisions on that, and who is to say we would approve of his choices?"
"And you master Giiett cannot be trusted on this, nor can you master Koon. Your thoughts on emotions and teaching control rather than abstaining from them and the Order's relationship with the Senate are well known." Added Piell.
Several of the other masters nodded at that, causing both masters to stiffen, but Koth spoke again. "His emotions, his lack of control, his apparent desire to form attachments, all of this point to an individual who is dangerously unstable, without any of the training we Jedi must go through to not fall to the Dark Side. I will admit that his emotions don't seem to impact the Living Force inside of him, but what if that changes? What might happen if his anger gets out of control and effects the Force within him, what then?"
He waited a moment to let that sink in, and saw Gallia nodding faintly, understanding how dangerous Ranma could be if he fell to the allure of the Dark Side. "It is my opinion that Ranma must be contained, kept away from the majority of the Order, and indeed the universe until he learns the proper way to control the Force within him."
Throughout all this discussion Yoda had sat silent since his initial pronunciation of Ranma as the chaotic fulcrum. Dooku was now watching him whenever he wasn't speaking to one of the others that very silence drawing attention to the ancient Grand Master. Eventually his curiosity got the better of him, and Dooku reached out with his own senses, sending tendrils of Force sense towards his former master.
He quickly realized that Yoda was delving into the Force, the skein of the future and the present, feeling out the Force around him and out beyond. He was doing it deeper and more powerfully than anyone else could even dream of doing, calling on his centuries of experience to try and understand the mystery that was Ranma, trying to pierce the Veil of the Dark that was slowly growing in strength, for all that few masters were willing to face that fact head on.
Yet even so Dooku felt that Yoda did not find what he was searching for before he came back to his own merely mortal senses. Indeed, Yoda had found nothing conclusive, the Veil of the Dark Side was too deep for him to see anything clearly. But whatever else Ranma certainly wasn't of the Dark, which was enough for now. Everything else he could answer later, because other portions of the future had come through clearly in type if not in specifics.
So when he did come out of his trance, Yoda's words were crisp and clear. "Plans we must make for the Order, above and beyond deciding about what to do with young Ranma. Start a discussion on this now we will."
"Could he be a plant?" said one of the Masters, unwilling to change the subject just yet. "Someone to get close to us, yet not be part of the Order itself?"
Giiett barked a laugh at the very idea. "Ranma wears his emotions on his sleeve, he could never be a spy like that, trust me, there's no disassembly in him outside of combat. What were these plans you wished us to consider Master Yoda?"
"Not consider" said Yoda firmly. "Do this we will."
All of the council members even Windu started at that, staring at him in shock. Yoda rarely invoked his status as Grand Master, indeed he routinely allowed discussions to be dominated by Mace or one of the others, feeling that consensus was vastly more important than him simply laying down the law.
But now he was doing just that, and he spoke swiftly. "Too many conflicts there have been, coincidence it might be, sign of corruption it might be. Regardless, admit it we must and plan for further occurrences, seen many such in the future I have, if not enough to know where they would come from."
At that every Master stiffened, nodding their heads in agreement. If Yoda had seen that, as little as it was, they had to act on it. The ability to see the future had faded in the past several years to nearly nothing, so seeing anything like that was a sign that could not be ignored.
Yoda went on. "Too many there are Knights and Masters both who have neglected their martial training. Stop this will for all orders, refreshers there will be for those already in the temple. Slowly recalled others will be to be re-taught in turn."
"Dangerous missions, set aside they will be save for Sentinels and Guardians, assigned to them no Consulars beyond those who have proven ability with the lightsaber will be. Teams of three or four on those missions there will be if arranged it can be. Single only Jedi will be sent on diplomatic missions, and then only rarely. Push for more upcoming padawans to join the Sentinels and Guardians we will amongst upcoming padawans."
"That's easy to say but very hard to do." said Mace frowning and wondering the specifics of Yoda had sensed as he meditated. "There are scant numbers of us as there are for the number of missions the Senate sends our way, and you know that many Jedi's missions are issues we simply stumble across as the Force guides us. How are we going to be able to divvy out missions like that?"
Master Plo Koon nodded, his voice coming through his mask clearly. "I agree with the necessity of bringing the Sentinels and Guardians back to equal pairing with the Consulars master Yoda. Indeed, I would take it a step further and say we might benefit from reactivating the Jedi Shadows."
There were some raised eyebrows at that, but after a moment's thought many of the councilors realized it might indeed be a good idea. Plo went on. "But it will not be easy. Our training has changed over the decades, with many teachers subtly influencing the younglings towards the Consular order. Look at the makeup of this very council as an example, only two Guardians and a single Sentinel, and it is even worse on the other four councils."
"Impossible it might be, but strength in numbers there are, trust the Jedi in turn we will to deal with any such surprises." Yoda replied to Mace, before turning to Plo Koon. "Idea on the Shadows, merit it has, will need to think on who to put in charge of them we will. And hard it might be, to reverse the trend of a millennia, but necessary."
Yoda took a deep breath staring around at the Masters, all of whom looked a little confused and, though they would never admit it, worried. "Darker times are coming, dark times already here there are. Must be ready, whatever happens." Visions unclear they are, on all but that. The Dark Side is rising.
"That's all very well and good, and I even agree that it is necessary, given how many of our brothers and sisters have died on missions in the past three years." Dooku stiffened, irritated at the reminder of the Mandalore Debacle, but Piell went on not noticing how his words had been taken. "But what are we to do about the chaotic fulcrum?"
"Question Ranma I will. About his dreams, his hopes, what he wants in turn. After all, agreement only for Dooku it was." Yoda looked at them all, his eyes hard and filled with a power he rarely let out these days. "But understand this you will. Judges we are not. Executioners, blindly lashing out against that which is different, we will never be so long as I am Grand Master. If a threat he proves himself, dealt with he will be. But not before."
At that point the discussion was interrupted by an outside source.
Outside the council chamber Ranma had waited for about five minutes before shaking her head, jumping to her feet. "I'm gonna go and look around a bit, see if I can find some food or something interesting." Something to take my mind off this planet's effect on my mind, being inside like this does make it a little easier to deal with, but not that much easier.
K'kruhk smiled slightly, his small fangs gleaming in the light of the waiting area. "I believe I know the source of your nerves my friend. Given everything else the council needs to talk about I think they won't miss you for a while, so why don't you avail yourself of some of the natural meditation rooms? Many of them have trees and other plants as part of their designs."
To one side Obi-Wan nodded, though his thoughts weren't nearly as charitable as his fellow padawan's. No, Obi-Wan was afraid what a nervous, bored Ranma would take it in his mind to do if they tried to keep him here. Yes, best to get him-heh-her away from us right now. Being remonstrated by the council for allowing such is a much softer option than dealing with it myself, as non-Jedi a thought that might be.
After following some precise directions Ranma found himself moving through the overcompensating temple descending several levels in relative quiet. There were some people around, but never many in the actual corridors as he passed. Those she did pass looked at her strangely, her odd garb marking him out as a non-Jedi.
What is with those robes of theirs anyway? Is it just some kind of monk thing, disdaining all material wealth and all that rot? I've seen the clothing that Dooku and the others wear underneath them, good quality and probably more durable than the robes, so again, what's with that, that non-fashion statement? Is it one of those one size fits all things, like not allowing their members to grow attached to other people, or just a way to set them apart from normal people?
Yet despite Ranma obviously not being a Jedi not even a single one of them tried to stop her, which was amusing. These guys are a little too trusting, though I guess I did spot a few of them on watch outside the temple, so there's that.
With no one looking at her suspiciously Ranma felt safe enough to stop occasionally to stand in doorways and watch some of the lessons going on, smiling at some and frowning thoughtfully at others trying to discern their purpose given what he knew about Jedi training. Some of it was nonsensical, breaking up one-on-one training sessions for rounds of meditation was one, andone where they sat and stared at pebbles of various sizes was another.
Until she remembered something Dooku had told him once: that all Jedi were trained to reach out to the Force. Of course, it comes back to how we see ki and chi! Hell, I think he said they get their powers from being able to become 'conduits' for the Force. But my ki is internal, I only needed ta start meditating after I'd built up enough ki to be able to use it consciously.
Ranma shuddered a little, that idea adding to the anxiety she was feeling and hastening her steps. He (she at present) was still coming to terms with the idea that the belief in the Jedi's Unifying Force might have some reality to it, rather than be the silly quasi-religious teaching he had thought it might be at first. He'd known there some kind of energy out there, crackling and filling the ether with its potential from the very beginning. But even knowing that and coming to feel it might have, have some kind of presence to it, was a far cry from believing it was directing anyone's actions, or that such a thing was a good idea.
She certainly wasn't looking forward to trying to open his/herself up to the Force as Dooku put it. Ranma had felt his emotions affecting the chi around him before when he was trying to regain control of his emotions after first arriving in this universe. That had been scary, and Ranma wasn't willing to experiment with it further, at least not unless she desperately needed to.
Especially given what I'm feeling now, no way should this planet's balance, at least my idea of balance, being out of whack be making me so damn nervous! That's gotta be coming at me from the Force somehow, need to get a handle on it. That this was some kind of mental attack which had gotten past his/her defenses did not occur to Ranma.
Still following K'kruhk's directions Ranma eventually found a garden which seemed to take up a goodly portion of the next level of the temple. She moved into it, smiling faintly as she felt the rays of the sun through the glass at the end of the room, and kicked off her shoes, luxuriating in the feel of the grass underneath her feet, already feeling somewhat calmer. This place is great, gotta find out if it's based off an actual planet or someone's idea of one. But that's not important right now, right now I need to center myself and get over whatever the hell is affecting me.
With that thought Ranma sat down in front of a large tree, one that looked like a cross between a baobab tree and a redwood. Closing her eyes, she began to meditate, sending her thoughts inward, cleansing her spirit in a way. As he did, the irrational anxiety he had felt left him and he sighed faintly, not opening his eyes. Ahh, much better.
With the swift success of that bit of mental judo Ranma felt emboldened enough to experiment slightly, if very carefully. Reaching out with his senses, he touched the chi, or the Living Force, of the tree in front of him.
It was like touching a string of electrical current among thousands. What Dooku called the Unifying Force roared and crackled around the Living Force of the tree, the same power but a different color to his sense, though Ranma knew that was his mind trying to make sense of input it wasn't really designed for. Nonetheless Ranma smiled slightly at the feel of it, shaking his head as he thought about how Gallia and the others had described the way the splash of his curse felt to them
So, you think my curse is funny huh? Well I suppose I'm used to it by now, and I bet you don't have much to laugh at most of the time anyway. The Jedi sound a little too emotionally stunted as a group to be funny, and don't get me started on the Sith, angst and rage filled berserkers the lot of them. As he thought that Ranma felt something at the edge of his senses, like faint laughter on the wind, but he couldn't be sure.
Feeling strangely drained yet upbeat from the experience Ranma cut her connection to the Force off for now. Chuckling she stood up and began to move into one of his martial arts techniques, closing his eyes as he did so. She had no idea how long she moved through her katas one after another before someone clapping interrupted her semi-trance, causing her to turn coming out of her last kata quickly and opening her eyes.
Shaak Ti disliked Coruscant at the best of times, and while as a Torgrutan she was naturally a social individual, she also sometimes tired of being around other people at all, even her fellow Jedi. At those times she would retreat to either her room to meditate or the gardens. There Shaak Ti would talk with her master or her friends and practice her lightsaber forms. Or simply sit with her eyes closed, the atmosphere controller of the room set with the wind on high, allowing it to blow over her skin as it would on her home planet, giving her a sense of serenity that she often would have trouble achieving without more effort.
Today Shaak Ti had come here determined to meditate on her recent decision to buck her master's suggestion of the Consular Order and her entrance into the Guardian Order. For her master and the other masters to keep on harping that she could wait was one thing, but she was getting a little anxious here on Coruscant. Helping around the temple with the younglings was fine, and she enjoyed teaching for the most part. But it wasn't her real calling. Shaak Ti wanted to be out and about protecting people, not stuck here like this.
Coming upon her favorite spot in the gardens Shaak Ti was surprised and at first dismayed to find it occupied, and further by someone she had never seen before. The redheaded human female looked about 19 or so if she had to guess, certainly more than a few years younger than Shaak Ti herself. I wonder who she is, I haven't seen her around the temple. Is she a youngling from one of the training ships here to find a master, or is she a padawan who has returned with her master from a long term mission?
But what really took Shaak Ti aback were the martial arts moves the young woman was performing. It was a unarmed style which was odd enough, but it was also definitely not the style that Jedi learned prior to being allowed to build their own lightsabers, and very few Jedi kept up their hand-to-hand skills afterward.
That had always struck Shaak Ti as rather silly. Despite being a Consular her own master had made certain that Shaak Ti would never be solely dependent on her lightsaber, emphasizing her Force abilities, footwork and even a little hand to hand skills. But she couldn't say she was a master at it.
After a few moments she shook her head. Not like this young lady. The mastery of it was obvious, the speed and skill on display was like watching master Windu or Yoda with their lightsabers, something she had only seen a few times. Masters at that level had gone beyond the forms, mixing them into a synergistic whole which only vaguely recognized the original, personalized to their own styles, their own abilities.
Indeed, for something that was practice for combat the exercises the young woman was doing were rather beautiful to watch. Shaak Ti didn't know for how long she simply stood there watching, then she shook herself, and as one of the choreographed moves came to an end she began to clap slowly.
This startled the other woman, who turned to her quickly. "Ah, my apologizes for interrupting you. I am Shaak Ti, greetings. I'm sorry for interrupting, but that was magnificent. Where were you trained like that? And what's your name?"
Ranma looked at the alien woman who had spoken, given what she was wearing it was pretty damn obvious she was a woman and an alien, and Ranma felt her face slowly flushing as she took in the entire image before her. First of all, Shaak Ti had no visible hair, instead she had these large horn things covering her head almost like a hat sticking upwards slightly, which merged into larger growths hanging down from the side of her face downwards, like a Twi'lek's lekkus, and possibly behind her head too. She had some kind of thin wireframe headdress that hung between and around the growths on her head to rest on her forehead which featured what looked like teeth and a small central stone.
At first Ranma thought the horns were solid, but looking at the ends of the portion hanging down they moved slightly as Ranma watched. They didn't look as mobile as lekku, but those ends were obviously not bone or something similar. Whatever they were they framed a face marked by what Ranma first took to be some kind of odd tattoo covering her eyes, which were slightly sunken into her face, and the forehead area directly above them, with what looked like white paint. But then Ranma realized that wasn't a tattoo at all, simply the natural coloring of the woman's body.
And further, that the face that marking was on was as pretty as Twila's had been, only slightly younger perhaps, and far less… worldly, if that was the right word? There was a sort of innocence there that Twila hadn't had. Black colored eyes looked at Ranma from inside those white markings over a mouth with purple lips, though it was again obvious this was her natural coloration rather than lipstick. Her skin was a deep, vibrant red, though there were marks on one of her lower thighs and right below her elbow that resembled those on her face, only slightly lighter in color for some reason.
Ranma could see those clearly because she was wearing what Ranma could only describe as a bra and a very short skirt with a slit on both outer thighs. These were plain brown, the underwear equivalent of a Jedi's normal robes perhaps, but that didn't take anything away from their sparsity. They also framed a magnificently sculpted body. The alien woman's chest looked firm and perky and rather larger than Ranma would have expected given how extremely fit she was, with a tight toned stomach as well as powerfully muscled arms like that of a swordswoman, as should be expected from a Jedi.
The whole package caused Ranma to blush heavily, shaking her head and looking away quickly. "Why are you dressed like that?! I know you Jedi are supposed to be all non-feeling robots and all, but that's going too far!"
Shaak Ti cocked her head and quizzically. "While I have met Jedi who think like that, I can assure you I am not one of them. But why should this bother you, we're both women after all. I would have covered myself up if you were male of course, even among us Jedi such a thing is common courtesy, but we're not. And I came here to feel the wind on my face and body I see no reason to cover up."
Her black eyes widened slightly. "Oh, do you come from a planet where this type of clothing is taboo? If so I apologize, though you should probably get used to such modes of dress now. But you still haven't introduced herself, or told me where you were trained. And 'you Jedi', that is an interesting phrase. If you are no Jedi, then what are you, and what are you doing here?"
"I'm a guy!" Ranma protested, still looking away. She gestured down to her own body. "This body is just a, a Force curse. Underneath it, in my mind I'm still a guy, so please cover up!"
"You must've had a sheltered upbringing." Shaak Ti said shaking her head. Ranma gaped at her, and was about to shout something about the kettle calling the pot black.
Shaak Ti went on. "I hate to tell you this, but you are not a man, human males don't have breasts like these." Shaak Ti said reaching forward and poking the redhead's chest, not noticing that her finger had almost flicked Ranma's pebble hard nipple, Ranma's female body reacting to the rush of attraction she felt after seeing Shaak Ti's body. "Now could you answer my questions?"
Ranma shook her head and stared back at the woman shrugging his/her shoulders internally as she allowed her eyes to rake down the other woman's body again. Well if she's not bothered by me looking, I might as well look for all it's worth! Ranma shivered suddenly, knowing that thought was going to come back and haunt her/him in the future, but right now Ranma just hoped that Shaak Ti wouldn't notice her body's reaction. Thank god I'm not in my male body though!
Yet after a moment's silence Ranma was able to get over the sheer visual impact of the other woman and answered her questions. "Er, the name's Ranma. I've been trained in a lot of places, since I was around four or so, and I'm not a Jedi. Master Dooku found me, and he and I basically have an agreement going on at the moment, he lets me study the Jedi some and in return I let him study some of my, I guess you would call them Force techniques after we come to an understanding."
At the name of Dooku, Shaak Ti blinked in surprise. Then she shrugged. "Well if Master Dooku vouches for you that explains why you were allowed into the temple, and I guess you're not being a Jedi tells me why I've never seen you before."
Ranma cocked her head. "You're not going to jump down my throat about the Jedi knowing everything, or my techniques being too unusual or anything?"
"I haven't seen your techniques yet, only your strange exercise meditation. Nor am I such an unreasoning reactionary as that, though again I have met some masters and more knights who would fall under that category." Shaak Ti replied calmly.
"Good to know." Ranma said dryly. "But can I ask some questions now? I've never seen an alien like you." Ranma frowned. "Gah, I really don't like how that sounds, calling you an alien sounds almost racist or egotistical. I mean with the sheer number of aliens out there, ain't we all aliens to one another?"
Shaak Ti laughed shaking her head, causing her whatever-they-were to sway slightly where they hung down her chest. The sound was enchanting to Ranma and she gulped, but didn't look away. "It does, you could've said a being of your species perhaps, though many of the alternatives to simply saying 'alien' are rather wordy. Do not worry, humans are not the only ones that use such all-encompassing terms, and in terms of ego they're not even in the top five."
"The Gran of Malastare and I read about a species called the Hutts?"
"Yes those two are up there but there are also the Falleen who think because their pheromones allow them to dominate the minds of other species and a few others who believe because of one physical attribute or other that their race is superior to all others." Shaak Ti sighed. "Such thoughts are all too common."
She brightened then, moving over to sit with her back against a tree motioning the young woman to sit beside her. "As to my race, we are called the Togruta. We come from Shili, a place of high mountains, massive grasslands, forests and rolling valleys. This garden was designed as a mix of those three places."
She paused, one finger tapping her lips in an effort to hide a smile as she saw the young redhead's face contort as if she was trying to fight to keep a question from popping out. "You're thinking of asking one of two questions. One, what are the white markings on my face and body, or two what are my horns?"
"Am I that apparent?" Ranma asked, then frowned "err, transparent?"
"Common is not your first language?" Ranma nodded and Shaak Ti nodded in turn. "The second one was correct. How long have you been learning? But no, you weren't transparent at least in terms of my being able to read your facial expressions that accurately. Or you're mind, if you think Jedi can do that, we can read surface thoughts at best, and I've never been very comfortable with reading even those save in combat situations." Or when I'm haggling or at a diplomatic function, but that is technically combat by another name.
"Those questions are just the most common ones other races have for those of mine." She smiled, reaching up a finger to gently trace down the banded blue and white tentacle that hung from the side of her face down to its tip, which twitched ever so slightly. "These are montrals and lekku. The horns are called montrals, and the tentacles lekku. The montrals give my race a form of echolocation in a limited area. As for my markings, they are natural, like freckles or spots would be on a human."
As Ranma nodded in understanding Shaak Ti smiled, all thoughts of her initial reasons for coming into the gardens having left her mind at the sight of this new mystery. "Now that I have answered your questions, would you mind going back to some of mine and answering them in greater detail? Your training, and these Force techniques that Master Dooku is interested in, are there any you could share with me?"
Ranma frowned thoughtfully, pushing the thought of getting all sweaty with Shaak Ti out of her mind with difficulty. "I could, but I don't know if you're Council has decided whether or not it wants me to yet. I'd like to start with a single student my own age or close like you before trying to teach the oldsters, but just don't know if I'd get you in trouble if I tried to start that now."
This didn't even mention how leery Ranma was of giving any Jedi access to his/her abilities. While Shaak Ti's first impression had been good, Ranma wasn't about to make a decision like that quickly. Especially not when he knew he might be making it with, as one of his books on relationships called it, his 'lower head'.
"Why would you want a younger student instead of an older one? Master Dooku is one of the best lightsaber duelists in the order, surely he is well up to any challenge your training could involve."
"It's not just physical training, it's mental too, and the older a person gets, the more set in their ways he is. That's just fact, at least for humans, not certain if it carries over to other species."
She frowned thoughtfully. "I've met many older Masters and even people outside of the Order who are set in their ways, yet I've met just as many younger people who are the same way, and older Masters or Knights that are extremely flexible mentally. But that's just my opinion. Could you teach me some of that hand-to-hand combat you were using?"
"That I can do to a certain extent." Ranma said with a nod before smirking. "But what's in it for me?"
Shaak Ti frowned thoughtfully, wondering what piece of knowledge she could trade. "What exactly are you interested in?"
Ranma's libido supplied several options, the cleanest of which was a kiss, but she blushed and pushed all those thoughts aside, grateful that Shaak Ti didn't seem to read her body language very well, or she would've noticed that Ranma was still having trouble looking at her directly. Maybe her race doesn't look at one another's faces when they talk, some kind of social thing?
Instead Ranma was staring at the woman's forehead, trying desperately not to let her eyes wander down past her neck. And she was having a very difficult time of it. But damn is she naive, just because I'm a woman she's not going to cover up despite my not being a Jedi? I know from Dooku and the others the Jedi are sort of cloistered, celibate and all that, but that's a little much!
Back on task Ranma, think of what you want in return. "How about for now I teach you for 20 minutes and then we spar for 20, I'd still like more experience against lightsabers. That'd make it a straight up trade of training."
"Have you sparred with Master Dooku?" Shaak Ti asked, tapping the silver cylinder that hung from her belt. "And won't you get burned from the lightsaber? Even at its lowest setting it will sting badly."
Ranma chuckled, and held up a hand and forearm that was suddenly covered in the Force! Shaak Ti gaped, open mouthed and Ranma's chuckle turned into a laugh. "I think I'll manage."
Shaak Ti gaped for another few seconds then laughed, the sound once again sending a shiver down Ranma's spine. And, Ranma noticed despite him/herself, that it also caused parts of Shaak Ti to twitch slightly. Not jiggle like Ranma knew her own chest sometimes did when she laughed though. It was obvious that despite her chest size Shaak Ti's chest were quite firm. Must be because she's an alien, weird but oddly intriguing no, stop that Ranma!
Shaak Ti cocked her head, wondering why Ranma had blushed and looked away her hand over her nose for a moment. Was she going to sneeze? "I can see why Master Dooku is so interested in learning from you. Alright, let's start now."
"Are you going to exercise like that?" Ranma said her voice rather higher than it had been and still looking away, one hand over her nose.
"Yes, I routinely do so, though if you prefer I suppose I can wear my robe. Of course I do that as well when I exercise, but as I said I came down here to feel the wind on my body."
"Why not at least wear clothing like I do?" Ranma asked, getting herself under control and turning back to stare into Shaak Ti's amber eyes. Even so Ranma noticed the face those eyes were set in, how good-looking it was once again. Dammit! Need something else to concentrate on, I didn't act like this when around Lilith or Gallia. On the other hand both of them were old enough to be my mom, and Gallia didn't like me much. Ugh, might have to apologize for teasing Obi-wan damn it.
"I sometimes do of course." Shaak Ti laughed again. "You should see my young friend Aayla. She routinely wears even less than this." Shaak Ti then frowned, shaking her head.
I wish I could find out what mission Aayla was sent on, she's so young, only 16, and I don't think she's ready to be sent on a solo mission, but all any of the masters will say was she was 'uniquely suited' for the mission in question, and given how Quinlan Vos is in the hospital thanks to that accident on their last mission I suppose it makes sense, still I'm worried about her.
"Um, well if you're comfortable like that, just remember I warned ya that I'm really a guy whatever I might look like." Okay Ranma you can do this, it's just a self-control exercise think of it that way, don't react! Thank Amaterasu I'm in my female form!
"Yes, so you said, now, can we begin?" Shaak Ti replied, rolling her eyes, but as a courtesy pulling on her robe from where she had lain it on the ground nearby. Hopefully Mistress Gathera or one of the other mental healers will be able to break her of that delusion, or is she trying to make a joke at my expense?
"Okay, what hand-to-hand do you already know?" Ranma asked, moving to stand opposite the Togrutan female, much more comfortable now. "And I ain't interested in your Force abilities, just your hand to hand ones."
The exercises continued for about 5 minutes before Ranma had a feeling for the other woman's skills, which were practically nonexistent. She knew how to throw a punch and kick, had very, very good balance and body control, yet telegraphed her moves way too much, and didn't seem to understand how to move or shift from one attack to another.
"Stop," Ranma said, and Shaak Ti immediately stopped mid-swing, moving back and placing her hands together bowing slightly which Ranma returned, happy that mark of respect seemed to cross species or even the dimensions in her case. Ranma cocked her head thoughtfully staring at Shaak Ti. "What style of lightsaber do you use?"
"I'm trying to figure out what style hand-to-hand to teach you."
"You know multiple styles?"
"Hundreds, but the differences between some of them are slight. Other styles are designed to be used in specific situations or locations." Ranma said with a shrug. "But sometimes it isn't, sometimes it's pretty big and has just as much to do with how you view combat as how you go about actually fighting."
"That sounds remarkably like our own Lightsaber forms". Shaak Ti said enthusiastically, smiling. This was possibly the most fascinating conversation she'd had in weeks, and the upshot of getting to know this young redhead seemed obvious to her. "I use Ataru mainly. It's an aggressive style and a very mobile one as well, designed to face one opponent at a time. I'm also beginning to incorporate Makashi into my combat as well, though ."
"Interesting," Ranma said with a nod. "So something like judo or some other aggressive style..." Ranma frowned thoughtfully thinking. "What I'd like is to teach you some kind of form that you could incorporate seamlessly into your lightsaber form. Hmm… maybe Pencak Silat, that's devoted to being able to fight on odd surfaces, perfect balance and using the entire body as a weapon."
"Many Masters incorporate Force techniques into their lightsaber combat. I do a bit of that myself, though I am not experienced enough to match Masters such as Dooku or Yoda in that area. I've never heard of any that incorporate more than an odd kick or two into their styles though. " Shaak Ti replied.
For the next few moments Ranma walked Shaak Ti through several different Katas, getting her used to moving through the forms then going straight into different types of strikes from Silat and Judo, allowing Shaak Ti to try and practice them on her. She hadn't made much headway, but Ranma had been right when she noticed the Jedi Knight had extremely good body control and balance. The Katas of Pencak Silat, particularly the Javanese variant, one of many Ranma knew, were perfect for her. It would take a lot of time, but the woman had all the physical tools to master it.
After twenty minutes though, Ranma stood back, smiling. "Now it's time for your part of this little deal, yes? Do you think you could find a staff for me?"
Shaak Ti stopped, letting her leg fall from a pendang, or kick from Pencak Silat, pulling her body upright from where it had been bent to one side away from where he kick had been aimed. "Yes, I can do that, though I would like to come back to these exercises, they are very interesting and I can see why you would incorporate them into your meditation."
That caused Ranma to smile and nod, though it also made him wonder. Wonder what the Jedi Council would decide about him, wonder about what he wanted to be to the Jedi, and if he really would share some of his ki techniques.
A few moments later Shaak Ti came back with a metal staff for Ranma. The two of them stood up cross from one another, and Shaak Ti activated her lightsaber, a bright green blade. She powered itdown to its lowest setting, and nodded at Ranma. A second later she was forced to step back as Ranma came in quickly, thrusting hard before spinning away into a low slash with the end of her staff, before coming up and around house move that nearly caught Shaak Ti in the side.
Fast! It was only her Force precognition that had allowed her to guess what Ranma was doing, but already in under a minute of combat the difference between their speed was apparent.
Shaak Ti parried, parried, blocked, dodged, jumped up using a Force push off the ground. In midair she tried to wrench the staff out of Ranma's hand with a Force Pull only to fail, faced a kick which she dodged, bringing her sword around in a swift arc only to have it blocked by the end of Ranma's staff.
Then suddenly the other send of the staff was pointing in Shaak Ti's face. "Dead," she said calmly.
"I don't think your staff is quite that long Ranma." Shaak Ti said smiling faintly, but Ranma simply shook her head trying to ignore what could have been an innuendo but which obviously wasn't coming from the rather innocent Jedi Knight. But she didn't pull away the staff, simply keeping it facing her head.
For a moment Shaak Ti didn't get it, then her eyes widened as she looked at the end of the staff. "Some kind of spear supposedly?"
"Something like that. Even with just a vibro knife stuck on the other hand it could become a deadly weapon after all."
"Makes sense." Shaak Ti said with a nod frowning internally at her performance. I'm too used to fighting blasters or other knights with lightsabers. I need to work on fighting more unusual weapons apparently.
With that in mind Shaak Ti grimly moved back to where she had been standing, tossing off her Jedi robe causing Ranma to blush hotly and look away. She shook her head with a laugh. "I don't understand how my body can bother you, we're both women after all."
"That's obvious, and what part about I'm a guy don't you understand?!" Ranma said with a shake of her head.
"Everything," Shaak Ti replied with a laugh. "Still, that was but the first round, and it's obvious I have a lot to learn here, so shall we get back to it."
Ranma looked back at her, her blush gone now a faint smile on her face. "A little eager?"
"When you face the reality of life or death on every mission, you would be interested in any skills you can add to your repertoire as well."
"Point taken." Ranma said, sobering slightly. She moved over taking up a set stance that had one end of the staff above her head facing backwards and the other end facing down towards the ground in a diagonal. Her hands were further apart than they had been a moment ago, and were loose where they held the staff, waiting to move along its length. "Ready?"
Shaak Ti charged, chuckling even as her lightsaber slashed forward in a lightning quick stroke. "What real enemy would actually let me have time to ready myself!?"
"Good to know you take your training seriously!" Ranma said, bringing up her staff to block her lightsaber blade quickly.
This time Shaak Ti did indeed take the spar much more seriously, using all of her tricks from all the lightsaber styles she knew as well as Force techniques of course. She moved her body reinforcing her speed and strength with the Force as quickly as she could which was quite limited in comparison to what Ranma was used to, but still respectable for a Jedi Knight of her experience. Even so she couldn't keep up with Ranma's speed, and after the first time her staff locked with Shaak Ti's and threw her back into the air she knew she couldn't handle her strength either.
This required Shaak Ti to open herself to the Force to a level she had never done before, not even in a real battle, her montrals giving her no advantage save a little more warning of Ranma's attacks than a human would have. With the aid of her mastery in Makashi she moved wildly, never stopping, always trying to look for a way to attack or disarm Ranma lashing out with Force Grabs, pushes, trips, anything and everything.
Even so, it was obvious that Ranma was handling her with kid gloves, something she wasn't used to from even most Masters. Is this what it would be like to face Masters Dooku, Windu or those of their caliber? I have so far to go!
Whereas many people would have been put off by that, chagrined, or even somewhat ashamed Shaak Ti was a Jedi, and an ambitious one. She took it as a challenge, and simply smiled, her purple lips quirking into a smirk as she tried to match Ranma blow for blow.
Occasionally Ranma would call out little instructions, telling her how to improve her footwork or to watch for repeated stylistic changes in her attack, but for the most part they simply sparred, with Ranma forcing Shaak Ti to up her game to match her. The time limit they'd decided on for their sparring went past with neither of them noticing and the simply kept going.
It ended when Ranma was able to knock Shaak Ti's lightsaber out of her hand, and before she could pull it back to her with the Force tripped the Togrutan to the ground. Not giving up Shaak Ti changed the angle of her Force Pull. Her lightsaber came flashing back towards Ranma's head, but she ducked, kneeling over her and thrusting down before she could roll away.
Not even looking up Ranma reached out, her hand suddenly glowing with Force and grabbing her lightsaber out of the air just as it was about to impact with the back of her head. Ranma's other hand still held her staff thrusting it down towards Shaak Ti's chest.
"I win," She said simply, before dropping the lightsaber, the Force shield around her hand disappearing. "That last little trick with your lightsaber though, that was pretty impressive."
"I couldn't keep up with your speed with my Force perception or my echolocation." Shaak Ti said, gasping, her chest heaving with her exertion, not even noticing that Ranma looked down at said heaving chest blushing hotly before focusing on her eyes with all his willpower. "My Force perception was telling me you could go with one of five choices for that last attack, and the one with the least probability was you're trying to trip me like that. It was a desperation move."
"Interesting," Ranma mused. "When I've sparred with Dooku he says he sees all the possibilities, then looks for that one moment where he can stop the most of them."
"Master Dooku is a blade master, I'm just a knight," Shaak Ti said with a shrug. "I might eventually be able to grow my perception of the Force to that level, but I'm nowhere near that yet."
"Don't sell yourself short." Ranma said with a laugh, standing up and reaching down with her free hand to pull Shaak Ti to her feet. "Your endurance is pretty darn good, and your learning curve too."
"Jedi have meditation techniques which heighten our ability to learn dramatically, well beyond the normal levels for our various species. It isn't anything impressive, not like that Force shield of yours. I'm beginning to see why Master Dooku is so interested in you." Shaak Ti said shaking her head.
She wiped her brow, coming away with a sweat streaked hand, which she knew matched the rest of her body and shook her head. "I think I'm done for today. Let's hit the showers."
Ranma protested shaking her head. "I'm not that sweaty, and besides, I told you I'm a guy!"
Shaak Ti frowned, clipping her lightsaber to her belt and reaching down to grab her robe in one hand while grabbing Ranma's wrist. "That joke was funny at first, but it's getting old now." Shaak Ti at first thought that Ranma really did believe she was a man, but Ranma was so mentally solid otherwise she had come to think it was some kind of joke on her or that the redhead was simply body conscious.
And the best way to deal with something like that was to face it head on. Or at least Shaak Ti thought so, since it would have worked that way for a Togrutan. Not so much for a human, and the idea Ranma might have been telling the truth about his curse didn't occur to her. "Come now, you have nothing to be ashamed about believe me. I know several human senators or wives of said that would commit murder to have your curves and that waistline."
Momentarily derailed from her protests Ranma cocked her head, allowing Shaak Ti to pull her along. "I thought Jedi were all about abstaining the flesh, disdaining the body and not caring about looks and all that."
"We do, but we still have ears. I've done several guard details on various female senators or senatorial families." She frowned. "All of whom for one reason or another were very antagonistic towards me when we were alone. Though I will say the wives were worse than the senators."
"Jealous of your looks?" Ranma quipped.
"Yes," Shaak Ti replied simply. "For one reason or another, I'm never been certain why people are so conscious about it."
Ranma looked at her, staring agog. How could anyone be that naïve!? I don't think even I was that naïve in Nerima!
Before Ranma knew it Shaak Ti had dragged them into what was obviously a changing area with several shower stalls, moving over quickly to one of them. She pulled off her breast band then let her shorts drop. Reaching out for a nozzle she pulled it off its stand before turning the water on, letting the water cascade over her head for a moment, sighing faintly as the hot water hit her bruised skin.
She did all this so quickly that Ranma had barely turned to rush out of the room by the time she was finished undressing. And when she did, Ranma's desire to run fled on its own, leaving the rest of his/her psyche to combat his/her hormones to the death. She simply stood there, staring.
Like Ranma had expected Shaak Ti's skin color was red everywhere save for some random white marks here and there. What looked like claw marks on one thigh, was the largest such, but there were others, which Ranma wondered was normal for her species rather than personal coloration given where they were.
One of them was her white nipples and areolae. They were both chalk white and the areolae were the size of a 500 yen coin around somewhat larger nipples than Ranma's female form. The other was her pussy lips, which were also chalk white from top to bottom. Nowhere on her body was a single hair to be seen, her pubic area looked as smooth looking as the rest of her. Ranma thought that made sense considering she didn't have any hair up on her head.
This coloration however made her breasts and lower area stand out even more than they would have otherwise and the overall appearance of Shaak Ti right now, as the water cascaded down her body, was easily the most erotic thing that Ranma had ever seen. Ranma couldn't stop him/herself at this point, and he just stared at first her nipples and then downwards Ranma. As she did she was hit by the erroneous thought, well her lover sure as hell wouldn't have any trouble finding her, what did that book call them, erogenous zones? in the dark!
As Ranma continued to stare and was trying to fight the urge either to reach out and touch or salivate, Ranma wasn't certain at that point, her/his brain was basically on overload from overstimulation, Shaak Ti turned, one almond eye opening under the cascade of the water. Her purple lips quirked into a smile, and she reached out grabbing Ranma quickly. "You're not going to get clean just standing there, you know." With that she pulled the shorter girl into the cascade of water coming from the showerhead.
While the water was hot, this maneuver and the touch of the water on her skin had about as much effect on Ranma's psyche as being dipped into liquid nitrogen. Oh shit! She's going to kill me! Ranma thought, as she/he felt the change begin.
Shaak Ti had closed her eyes as he stepped backwards into the rushing water pulling Ranma with her, but she opened them after a moment, staring at Ranma with a faint smile which dropped from her face her almond eyes widening in shock in their white marks as she watched the change occur. One moment the redhead was there, standing a few inches shorter than her, the next there was a young man with black hair standing there, looking her directly in the eye.
She felt it in the Force as well, a laughing sort of chuckling wave cascading over her she couldn't explain it better than that. But right now her physical senses were much more important than her Jedi senses. "What, what just…"
"I told you!" Ranma said, waving his hands in the air and moving back slightly, averting his eyes now, his hormones having died quickly under his fear. "In my defense, I told you several dozen times that I was a guy! I even described my curse! You thought it was a joke!"
"I did," Shaak Ti said with a nod, still staring at him, then slowly down to her own body, before moving backwards, covering her body with her hands as a feeling of embarrassment and something like fear rising within her. "I did. And later I might in fact apologize, but for now I'm sorry!" With that word what little self-control Shaak Ti had as a Jedi fled, her female side taking over and she screamed lashing out quickly with the Force.
For his part Ranma didn't even try to fight it, he knew that Shaak Ti would have a Female Freak Out Moment™, and was perfectly willing to take his lumps. Her using the Force and the power of her strike took him by surprise, however. It smashed Ranma back into and through the outer wall of the shower area which itself was on the outside of the temple, hurling Ranma out into the open air around the Temple.
"Well shit," he said calmly before he began to plummet downwards. He left behind a shaking, embarrassed and rather shocked Shaak Ti as she stared through the whole Ranma had made then down at her body before quickly turning around rushing towards the pile of her clothing.
Up in the Council chamber all of the Masters sat up abruptly as they stared at one another. "That felt like Jedi Knight Shaak Ti," said Master Plo Koon. "I wonder what embarrassed her so to break through her self-control and make her lash out like that."
"I said when she was promoted that she was too young, this little outburst should prove it." Said Piell.
"I think we owe it to her not to jump to conclusions like that." said Gallia softly but seriously. Several of the others nodded. While as a padawan Shaak Ti had completed several dozen difficult diplomatic missions, and even more combat related missions with her master, master Saibot, and had only added to that series of successes in the months since. Her levelheaded nature, gentleness, and, it had to be said, good humor had won her many friends and acquaintances even among her seniors.
"I think that Ranma will be behind it somehow," Dooku said smiling faintly. "Or have none of you realized that he left almost as soon as we entered the Council chamber?"
Some of the Masters jolted, extending their senses only to realize with chagrin that Dooku was telling the truth. "Hmmf, disrespectful of him to run off like that, only more reason to be wary and keep him at arm's length, whatever you all might think he can teach us," said Master Poof.
Yoda however chuckled. "Rambunctious he is, disrespectful too, but not the first such. Come, far more easily than our current weighty thoughts solve this minor mystery we can."
As one the Council stood. With Yoda in the lead they exited the council chamber, heading down towards where the disturbance had occurred only to stop as they came to the women's shower.
"I begin to figure out what happened here." Dooku said with a laugh, a full belly laugh that earned him several bemused and wary looks from his fellow masters save those who had been and seen Ranma's transformation for themselves. Mace in particular was frowning as he kneaded his eyes.
"Makes sense, if Shaak Ti dragged her in there for any reason only to find out a second later that she is a he, well I certainly wouldn't react favorably to a surprise like that," Lilit said laughing quietly.
A few seconds later Shaak Ti herself came out, dressed in her robe and shaking out wet non-lekku. She stopped at the sight of the council in front of her, then pointed a finger back into the shower area. "M-masters, I, I apologize for my outburst, but, but that, what was that!?"
"That was a young man with a very odd…let's call it a Force related disease." Dooku said thoughtfully. "He says it's a magical one, but I think that is simply his worlds way of explaining it away. At the very least it is a sign of something unusual not certain what. Can we ask what happened young knight?" Master Dooku had not met Shaak Ti before this, though he had gathered she was a bit of a favorite for several council members.
Once Shaak Ti had stuttered out what had occurred Yoda joined Dooku in laughing, though his were little chuckle wheezes in contrast to Dooku's loud guffaws. He hadn't truly believed the curse was real before this, but Yoda could no longer ignore all the witnesses' statements about it. Fascinating feeling it was, if too short and drowned out by young Shaak Ti's panicky assault.
Shaak Ti stared at them appalled. "Masters, I do not see anything funny about this! I, I might have killed him, he's no Jedi, surely…"
"Do not worry yourself about it Knight Ti." Plo Koon said, answering the younger Jedi's concerns. "Dooku and Yoda are not being callous, believe me. Despite not being a Jedi Ranma is at home in the air, trust me, he'll be able to look after himself."
As Shaak Ti calmed down she noticed that not everyone seemed to see the humor in the situation. Shaking his head, Koth spoke up for them. "This is a sign of what I was saying. He is too chaotic and brings out the emotions of others too easily. He is a threat to the Jedi way. As for you young Ti, I think you need to work on your self-control more."
"And as I have said repeatedly." Dooku said turning on the Zabrak male, his eyes flashing, while all four of the female masters present allowed scowls to appear on their faces at his lack of empathy. "Ranma has never wanted to be a Jedi, only allied with us. And as an ally not a Jedi, our rules certainly would not bind him."
"He uses the Force, he must be a Jedi, or a threat to us. In the public's eye only Jedi can be trusted with the secrets of the Force, a fact that has served us well in the past." Said one of the other masters
"In circles we are going, Master Yoda still was speaking when felt this disturbance we did." said Yaddle, shaking her head while Shaak Ti moved forward with Gallia into the shower area. The two of them raised their hands, slowly pulling the pieces of the wall together with the Force as much as possible, closing the hole Ranma's body had left for now. A repair droid would have to be brought in to fix the wall permanently.
"Decision in ignorance cannot be made." Yoda said, his chuckles slowly abating. "Knowledge Dooku seeks, knowledge hunger blinding him to possible repercussions. Own concerns and thoughts Koon and Giiett see in this young man. Concern and worry speaking through Masters Piell and Koth. All have spoken, thoughts have been heard."
All five masters nodded, even Dooku subsiding at Yoda's tone, understanding the Grandmaster had indeed heard all their points of view and would take them into account. Mace and the other council members also nodded, though one or two were still looking dubious about Ranma.
Yoda went on. "Spoken we have for a long time, meetings, greetings with the Senate you have now."
The masters who had been sent on the Yinchorri mission all quickly checked the time, realizing Yoda was right, they'd talked for a solid three hours already. The Chancellor was no doubt expecting them to arrive shortly for the little fete he had prepared to welcome back them back after successfully stopping the Yinchorri.
"Dooku too should go, to being laying groundwork for the addition to the Arming Rights Law."Dooku managed to suppress a wince with difficulty, but nodded, and Yoda went on, returning to the subject of Ranma. "Search for him I will, make my own assessment of Ranma I will."
The other Masters looked at Yoda in surprise, but one after another nodded their heads. Yoda's ability to see to the heart of the matter was well known, as was his ability to read people.
That the Council would abide by Yoda's recommendation didn't have to be stated aloud. Only two of them had the standing to even argue with him, masters Windu and Yaddle. And neither would, having been strictly neutral up to this point on the issue of Ranma and his future in relation to the Order. Mace was still guilt-ridden about the deaths that Ranma and Dooku's intervention had stopped, while Yaddle found him a fascinating subject for further research among the holocrons she so enjoyed.
The diminutive Grandmaster nodded at them all then turned to poke Shaak Ti in the leg with a cane which another knight had delivered to him during the debate on the political ramifications of Dooku's agreement with the Sluisi and Mon Calamari. "Knight Shaak Ti help me in this to apologize for her overreaction she will. Told you male he was, should have listened rather than assumed you knew better."
That thought sent a reverberating clangor through Yoda's mind, the Force trying to tell him something and he looked away from them all as he sent his sense out into the Force, trying to figure out what it was trying to tell him. After a few minutes he nodded imperceptivity. Open I must be to being proven wrong, assumptions we have made, discard them we must. His lips quirked imperceptibly. Only wish do I, knew which assumptions were wrong. Will think on this further later.
Shaak Ti frowned, then remembered all of the clues that Ranma had given of it is true gender, as well as the fact he kept on saying it nodded. "Yes master, I'd already realized that I was overreacting, it's just I could not stop my body reacting first."
"The mind rule the body it should, not the body the mind." Yoda said shaking his head. "Still, physical reactions surprise can be brought out. Now, come. Chaotic fulcrum we must find."
The knight followed the grand master through the corridors of the temple silently for a few minutes, then asked, "Master Yoda, what do you mean when you say chaotic fulcrum?"
Ranma continued to fall through the air of Coruscant leaving the upper levels where the Temple resided well behind, his hands spread out to either side, his eyes closed as he felt the rush of the wind all around him, luxuriating in it. Dooku had been correct, Ranma was as at home in the air as anyone else could've been on the ground, a master of midair combat, moving through the air as easily as a fish through water. He bounced off several suspended traffic lights, hopped off a honking airbus, and kept going, rolling over one air car to fling himself up off the back of it, flying down through the traffic towards what looked like a large kilometer wide stone roadway of some kind.
Looking at it he did some mental calculations in his head, thoughts moving as fast as lightning. Can't get over there unless one of those air cars swerved in this collection, nothing to push off, though I guess I could use a Moko Takabashi to push myself along. No, best keep that as a reserve, I've only used it once so far, and I doubt any of the Jedi were in a position to wonder how I did it, they certainly didn't question me about it yet, and I'd like to keep it that way. Faced with no alternative Ranma kept falling for a time, as more and more of the sunlight was occluded by the giant, monstrously huge complexes all around him.
Ranma noticed there was more traffic down here, a lot more, and it included several starships, small ones admittedly, moving up and out as he watched. There were also more pedestrian dominated cross-paths all around, and eventually Ranma was able to smack himself off of one car, startling a young couple of some kind and fling himself toward one, grabbing onto the side and flipping himself upwards onto the side of the road.
Only to have to immediately kick back out into it the air to dodge an oncoming truck skimming along the path's concrete, its horn blaring angrily at him. "Fucking Hong Kong driver!"
With that Ranma continued his fall, though this one lasted far less time, and he bounced off a few cars before digging into one cars roof with his fingers and then peering over the side. "Don't suppose you'd mind dropping me off somewhere would you?"
The driver, a rather disreputable looking fellow of a species Ranma hadn't seen before shrieked, and hit the brakes trying to throw Ranma off but it didn't work thanks to Ranma's having dug his fingers into the metal of the roof. "Nevermind then!" he shouted, and leapt off to the side, grabbing the underside of a passing car and hanging on as it continued on its way.
He hung there for several moments until they passed what looked like a small landing pad, where he dropped down onto it, quickly moving to enter the building as he noticed several partitions along the edge of the pad opening up. Two androids of some kind stood there, their heads cocked to one side as he passed them by. "Sorry, wrong ride," he said blithely as he passed them, and quickly entering the building before either android could figure out what to do about him.
This building was some kind of living area, the corridor Ranma entered line with interior garages, then a wide staircase leading up and down. Ranma headed down, figuring what he wanted would be further down as he pulled out a communicator he had scavenged along with the cortosis metal in his ki space. "Tune? Can you hear me?"
From the other end of the com his droid replied quickly, it's sounds indicating an affirmative. "I seriously need to figure out how to understand you better." Ranma muttered shaking his head. "Don't suppose you could tell me where I am now?"
The low irritable sound that Tune replied with was definitely not an affirmative, and Ranma shrugged. "Nevermind, figured that'd be impossible. Remind me to go shopping with you later to get one of those wrist pads that translate your noises into speech. In person I can figure out what you're talking about, but over this communicator, no chance."
Tune replied in the affirmative, sounding almost enthusiastic about the idea causing Ranma to smile. "Anyway, if any of the Masters ask you where I am, they might not they don't seem to think critically like that, just tell them I've gone to look for some fun."
That caused Tune's tones to become discordant, irritable and worried. Despite not having been with Ranma for long, Tune had a very good idea about what his new owner thought was 'fun'. Ranma however merely laughed and told him not to worry before closing the connection.
A few minutes later Ranma exited the building, which was indeed an apartment complex of some kind, middle-to-low for what was called Senatorial City, which made it pretty ritzy in comparison to the rest of the planet, but not nearly as much as the best housing, which was always near the surface. On Coruscant that was the rule, the closer you were to the top of the planet (the word 'surface' really had no meaning on Coruscant in this context) the more important and rich you were.
Ranma of course didn't know anything about that, he thought what he was seeing was pretty opulent all on its own. The sheer size of the apartments, the fact they had interior parking areas, the cleanliness of the interior of the building all pointed to this being a decent high-rise, and would have anywhere else but Coruscant.
The area was remarkably clean outside despite being so far down into the bowels of Coruscant he couldn't see the sun any longer. Okay, maybe I didn't fall far enough? And why the hell am I not feeling anxious anymore? Weird. Still, I ain't about to complain.
He continued to walk through the streets for a time, noting that down here the only aircars seemed to be heading upwards or side to side far away from the walkways, where the traffic was minor but near constant. There were a few traffic lights hovering in the air here and there directing those aircars, reminding Ranma of a sci-fi movie he'd once seen, something about a runaway air-taxi being chased by cop cars? He couldn't remember the movie it was, but that chase scene had amused him a lot.
Ranma continued walking, heading downwards whenever he could noticing with each passing level that the ground began to get grimier the denizens around him seedier looking. Good, now if I were a gang how long would it take me ta jump on a lost tourist or rube?
About an hour later Ranma was finally jumped by a gang of toughs, having smacked into one of their shoulders as he passed. Having surrounded Ranma before the impact the others tried to grab Ranma and pull him into an alleyway nearby, only to fail miserably as Ranma simply lifted two of them up into the air slamming them together while kicking out, catching one of them in the chest throwing him several dozen yards away down the dimly lit corridor.
The fourth, the one who had been behind Ranma tried to run, but he turned quickly, reaching out to grab him by the scruff of his neck pulling him back. "Now I could hurt you like I did your friends, but I instead I'm gonna give ya the opportunity to answer some questions first. Sound good?"
The alien was a smelly little creature from a species Ranma hadn't seen before, with wrinkly skin and wide eyes in a face that looked deformed almost. He squealed and stuttered, trying desperately to get away, but found Ranma's grip on the back of his neck was like a clamp. Ranma held him there, and eventually the being got himself under control. He answered, "W-what do ya want ya scriver! Y, you're not with the Bloods are you, this is Dawn Dagger turf, ya don't know who yer messin' with!"
Eesh, Bloods, and Dawn Dagger's? Gangs, they remove your imagination when you join. And that accent, yeah, I'm seriously gonna try to get rid of any hint of my old one, Corellian is fine, country bumpkin Corellian not so much.
"No I'm not with you the Dawn Dagger's or the Bloods, and honestly I wouldn't be proud of that name if I were you. I'm not here to muscle in on your turf or whatever. No, I'm wondering where I should go to find some games of chance, dice, cards or something like that. In particular where I could find some rigged gambling games."
The little alien looked up at him in surprise. "Rigged, ya mean ziggered? Why'd'ya want ta know where der ziggered games're? Most'd want ta comp where the better games are. Heh, fer that'n yer 'bout 30 levels b'low where yas should be."
"Rigged," Rama replied firmly then he smirked. "The more rigged the better. And if it's also a place where they have some underground fights that's even better." After all, if I'm going to rip someone off better make it the right sort.
After a moment his captive turned his head from staring up at Ranma's face to stare at its three fellows, who were all lying were Ranma had put them, then back up at Ranma and began to smile. "I's knows just da place. Though it's a bit of a stutter, and we'll pass through some lands, ya comp?"
"Not at all, but you just lead the way man, and maybe I'll let ya bet on me when it comes time, you comp?" Ranma said, with a faint smile.
With his new 'friend' leading him Ranma made his way through what amounted to the middle of Coruscant's currently living sectors, those areas of the planet which were used and lived in by sentient people, the sections in other words which had power for lights and everything else. His guide told Ranma that below that zone were areas no one sane went, deep caverns of ancient buildings crushed below the weight of those built atop them, burying them and the ones below as if they were layers of the planet's crust.
They were attacked four more times on their route, three times by other gangs and one time by what Ranma thought was a druggy looking for some money for his next hit. His guide said something about the man being a 'srived out spicer' and Ranma didn't inquire further. Every time Ranma dealt with them quickly.
After dealing with the attacks, Ranma would go through their pockets, stealing anything of value, credit chips and weapons, then tied them up using their own clothing, before leaving them hanging by the nearest lights bare-assed naked. At one point this meant hurling them over to a traffic control light, but Ranma felt that was simply a little humiliation added to the pile.
Eventually they came out from the smaller walkways into a wider area or at least wider than most areas this far down, and without any air traffic in it either. The lights in this area were better than most of the ones in the area which Ranma had just made his way through, but they were overshadowed by the blazing neon sign over a large gateway, some name or other in common Ranma guessed. He still couldn't read the local language. Speaking one took him a far shorter amount of time than learning how to read and write it.
"Zat's Fireball. It sells itself as da best gambling in 50 sectors, but it's a kriffin' hole in da ferro-crete compared ta the stuff sunward. It's also run by Fuego the Knife, so ya'd better believe the games're ziggered." The rat-like alien muttered.
He looked at Ranma, shaking his head, having lost some of his courage since it had been quite a while since the last time they'd been attacked. "Yer maxed out, but he's got well, rumors say Fuego's got some animals in dere that could tear yas apart. If yas play it straight as ya can, let the house keep its creds and only skin other marks, you'll get out alive though. Fuego knows not to make too many meatbags disappear, even down here, what with the big J right sunward. At least I hope so…" At the end he trailed off a little, looking even more worried.
Ranma shrugged. "We'll see."
It took about two hours for Shaak Ti and Yoda to find out where Ranma had finally landed, the depth of which astonished Shaak Ti. Amazing, he not only survived that fall, but he controlled it for that long. A Jedi could've done the same of course, but even so, that is extremely impressive. From there they made their way down through the building, and out into the city trailing after Ranma, with Yoda now using his Force sense to home in on him, allowing them to close the distance somewhat.
Not forty minutes after that they found Ranma's second victims. They still hung where Ranma had left them, causing Shaak Ti to frown and Yoda astonishingly to chuckle. "That is not an image I needed." Shaak Ti said shaking her head and looking away pointedly from the three naked aliens. Yuck.
Yoda however merely moved up to one and slapped his face until he woke up. Staring into the ancient face of Yoda he stilled then collapsed to the side and Yoda smiled. "Simmering on his mind's surface thoughts of young Ranma were, shock, pain, and humiliation he felt. Unable to fight back he was, one moment all is well the next as you see. Interesting."
They kept on moving, finding Rama's other victims, as well as the reasons for their conditions. Throughout this trek Yoda stayed silent aside from a chuckle here and there. Finally Shaak Ti's curiosity got the better of her and she asked, "Master Yoda might I ask what you find so funny about this? I realize these sentients were breaking the law and further started the fights, but even so, surely leaving them like this, is beyond the pale."
Yoda smiled, stopping for a moment to look up at the far taller Jedi Knight. "Well you did to keep your curiosity inside for so long, a sign of control it is, good. To the gangs fates, better this than kill them yes? All too easily Ranma could have done that. Instead worst they feel, humiliation is. Humiliation as teacher, hrrhm, a valuable tool. Learn from this, they might."
He turned away, chuckling as he made his way down the street. "Interesting youngster, this one. A mystery, a challenge, a conundrum. The Force around him, around its master like a young animal romping. Facing an unknown like this, makes me feel young I do."
Shaak Ti stood there for a moment, looking after Yoda then shook her head with a smile, following him quickly.
Eventually they came to the same den of iniquity that Ranma had. Pulling their heads further into their hoods, the two of them entered, blending in easily through their clothing and the use of subtle Force tricks to hide their presence and in Yoda's case appearance. "Low profile we will keep," Yoda ordered. "Wish to watch Ranma in action I do."
"You could simply challenge into a spar master, from what I could discern he'd be open to such."
"Not his skill I am questioning, know well that do I." Yoda replied with a faint chuckle remembering their brief set-to outside the temple, as well as what Dooku and the others had shared of what they had seen. "His sense of honor, of right and wrong, that is unknown to me, his so-called Code must see for myself I do."
Shaak Ti frowned, thinking about what Ranma had said of his Code, and setting it against what he had done to the would-be muggers, before nodding. "I see."
Yoda was an old man, and had been an old man for centuries. He knew that the Jedi Orders path was not everyone's, and that there were other paths to honor out there, other types of honor that were just as viable for those who held to them as the Jedi Code was for them.
It was the fact that Ranma was clearly a master of the Living Force that threw him and the other older, more worldly Masters. That and the fact that he denigrated the order and their oaths and challenged their perception of the Force was a dangerous combination.
Challenge he is, yet threat by word or dead he is not. Yoda reminded himself with some difficulty. Chaotic fulcrum he is, evil that does not make him. Change itself evil is not. Yoda shivered for a moment staring blankly forward as they entered the gambling den, the Force once again trying to tell him something. Change in some ways the Order must, to face the changing times, realized this already I have, but, but more needed will be. Need to think on this I must.
Shaking that thought off for now, Yoda followed Shaak Ti deeper into the gambling den.
With his ability to calculate angles and hand-eye control, Ranma found somewhat easy to make a killing at dice, darts or anything involving him tossing anything, like this universe's version of craps. Even with the tables built so that there were places where the dice wouldn't bounce true Ranma was able to control them to a certain extent, and kept on winning. Not enough to look like he cheated to anyone watching, but enough to be noticeable.
This caused a problem for several of the other patrons of course. The first issue came about when he won against several other betters which included an elderly looking alien who looked rather like a daddy long legs with lank gray hair covering its body and long eyestalks that came up to Ranma's shoulders. The being began to chitter to itself, pulling in its limbs and eyestalks before rocking back and forth in place, setting up a keening wail. Ranma looked at the dealer, an alien with horns like Master Tiin, cocking his head to one side. "What's wrong with him?"
"I ain't 'xactly fluent, but I think he just lost the stake he's been using. Something about the deed to some shop or other a few sectors over."
Ranma frowned. "How long's he been using that as a stake?"
"Months!" The dealer replied promptly. "He's come close a time or two to losing it before then pulling even. He's pretty decent with the dice, but not as good as you. He should've known to stop playing a few hands ago, the dumbass longhair."
Staring down at the alien who he assumed was now quietly weeping to itself Ranma asked, "Do I have enough cash to cover his stake? I don't want his shop, not unless it sells starships."
The dealer guffawed loudly at that while the spider alien seemed to perk up, lifting one of its eyestalks to stare at Ranma. Ranma smirked a little. "Actually what kind of shop is it?"
The being touched a pouch on its abdomen, pulling out a small personal computer. Pushing a button on it the name "Zrrrxxx's: for all your robotic needs flashed," before moving into what looked like a brochure depicting pictures of products which varied widely both in scope and condition.
Ranma spotted a few of the weapons Tune had mentioned he could be fitted with, and smiled, coming up with a plan. "I'm gonna take back half of your stake, the other half you'll keep, until I get over and look at what you've got. If you're shop doesn't have anything I want, I might find another local who will by my half of it. Until then though your playin' days are over, okay?"
The alien, presumably Zrrrxxx, seemed to consider it, but having no real option other than becoming both homeless and jobless eventually bobbed its head in agreement. Then it followed Ranma over to the cash register and filled out all the paperwork (very little down here, but enough to transfer ownership), before leaving quietly while Ranma headed over to the darts game.
He quickly built up the amount of money he had previously using darts andcraps. But several games later four of the other guests at the table to turn to him, raising their blasters. "You damn cheat!"
Ranma's reached out quickly, though not as quickly as he could have, pushing the barrels of the two closest gamblers towards one another rather than him. Their blasters went off taking one another out while Ranma ducked, rolling under the table as the other two shot at his former position. Careful, can't seem too dangerous or else I'll put off the mark, just enough to be interesting, not enough to be a threat.
With that in mind he kicked out, catching one of his remaining attackers on the knee before he could pull away from the table. That man went down with a scream while Ranma rolled the other way, grabbing and pulling his fourth attacker down to the floor. There Ranma smashed his head against the floor twice knocking him out. With that done Ranma jumped to his feet and rounding the table, fists cocked to finish off the attacker he'd crippled a second ago.
A blue stun bolt zipped from one side, knocking the man out before he could get to him however. "What's all this then?" Said a loud voice.
Turning Ranma saw a rather corpulent looking alien, humanoid but with smallish horns, and long lank hair of what looked like a permanently gray color. Behind him were two cheap ass looking droids, their rifles raised, and five seedy looking aliens of various species. The leader glared at Ranma, then around at the others as the dealer quickly filled him in.
"You lot." The being ordered, pointing at the downed gamblers. "You're banned!"
Three of the living guards moved forward, grabbing the downed gamblers and dragging them towards the door. With that done the corpulent alien turned to Ranma, staring at him thoughtfully. "I'm Fuego the Knife human, and I run this hall. I won't have any rough stuff here, that kriff is bad for business."
He stared at Ranma, then towards the gamblers being dragged away, and then at the huge pile of gambling chips that Ranma was gathering up. A smirk appeared on his face, and his voice changed to what he probably thought was comradely conspiratorial, though to Ranma he sounded about as trustworthy as his old man on his worst days. "You're pretty good with your fists for a human, and you're obviously a good gambler. Tell me, do you have the stones to combine the two?"
"Depends on what you have in mind," Ranma said with a shrug. "And what the stakes are?"
Looking at the chips Ranma was gathering up, Fuego calculated quickly. "You've got around 13,000 credits so far, that'll do as a stake. As to what it is, well, this establishment has more… esoteric facilities for the discerning gambler. I trust I don't have to be more specific." At Ranma's nod, he went on. "And if you win, well, how about I guarantee you double that stake each time?"
"Yeah sure, sign me up."
"That's what I like to see! But just so as we're clear here, it's your life on the line human." The alien said warningly. "I don't want to see you whining out there if the fights go against you, that kind of kriff is bad for business."
"Meh, ya only live twice, might as well live it big." Ranma said with a shrug smirking inside as the man fell for one of the best tricks Genma had ever taught him outside of the martial arts. Several times he and his old man had entered underground fights to win some cash, always tricking the people running the matches that one or the other was normal right up until the matches started. Since most of the people they had tricked and fought were criminals, Ranma had never felt even the slightest bit of guilt tricking them or beating them up.
After the yakuza cottoned on to them that went by the wayside, but for a while it had been an easy way of making money, and it was good to know it would work in this universe too. Besides, I want at least a million credits, enough to buy a ship and customize it, this little bit ain't gonna do it.
The alien smiled widely, then waved his hand grandly towards the back of the gambling den. "Then follow me human, and lets find out how tough you really are."
Behind the two of them hidden among the crowd of gamblers Shaak Ti frowned. "Do you think Ranma's getting in over his head master Yoda?"
"Hrrm, no. Tricked, the proprietor has been, easily could Ranma have taken his attackers out." Yoda said thoughtfully. "Reason he must have for playing down his skills. Interested in what happens next I am, follow we will."
At the back of the gambling den was a small, heavy metal door guarded by two more cheap guard droids in small sconces behind heavy metal shields. Yoda took a moment to stare at them, frowning thoughtfully as he recognized them as coming from the Trade Federation. Bad sign it is, that such as they show up here. Inform Master Ranicisis of this I will, have him lead an investigation.
Behind that door was a hallway which split into three. Fuego gestured Ranma down one side of the hall with one of his guards while he and the others went straight, entering another door which was as heavily armed as the first. From the third direction came shouts and the sound of cheering, and, slightly more distant, a low, pain filled moan. Yoda gestured, and he and Shaak Ti made their way in that direction.
After a bit of a walk they came out into a many-tiered balcony. It was full of people of various species and, judging from their clothing, means, ranging from one individual Yoda recognized as an aid to a Senator from the Corporate Sector overlooking a small circular arena filled with sand to someone who looked even seedier than the normal denizens of this sector. The balcony was situated around a large pit with a sandy floor, which could be accessed by two small doors and a third, far larger gate. A mesh cage further separated the watchers from the arena below.
As they made their way through the crowd, Shaak Ti saw a sentient, a powerfully built individual of a race she hadn't seen before, standing and drinking in the adulation from the crowd while his opponent, a Trandoshan was being carted out of the Arena by two Gammoreans.
Shaak Ti shook her head in disgust. "I would never have thoughts to find something like this on Coruscant. It looks like something that would be more at home in Nar Shadda, not the heart of the Republic."
"Deep underneath the sunward levels of Coruscant we are, laws there are here but not those of the government. Laws of survival, laws of crime, rarely do even Jedi come this far, hrhrhm." Yoda replied.
"But surely the government needs to know about this kind of place. A crack police squad could clean up this sector in a few days with our assistance."
"Know undoubtedly some senators and the zone governor does, a cut they no doubt get." Yoda said, his tone becoming weary. "More money and time it would take to get rid of crime then look the other way, and lives too. Bigger and greater things the government has its head mind on, even just the government of Coruscant not the Senate."
"That's remarkably cynical of you master Yoda." Said Shaak Ti reproachfully.
"Hrmrhm, cynical I am old I am. Comes with the territory cynicism does." Yoda chuckled dryly. "Besides, think you it would be easy? Rarely give it up those in power do. Fight back the criminals would, the citizens down here too. In the first place reasons there might be for their living down here. Lives needlessly lost there would be. Stay under the radar they do, commit no large scale crimes, left alone they will be, even by us."
However, the droids and senator's aide, made a note of those I have. Could lead to bigger things they could. Already proving interesting this investigation of young Ranma has, if in a different way.
"That is rather sad." Shaak Ti said with a sigh.
"Jedi cannot be everywhere, solve every problem we cannot, merely mortal we are." Yoda said with an answering sigh. "Now quiet. Watch Ranma you should, do the same I will be."
Shaak Ti subsided, and Yoda leaned back in the chair he had commandeered from a gambler right in front of the fence separating the watchers from the arena. But he wasn't watching the contestants as Ranma was introduced and began to fight other gladiators. His eyes were actually closed as he concentrated on his other senses, reaching out with the Force. Handle on Ranma's sense of ethics I have now, now must try again to discern of his impact on the order and the future I must.
That was what Yoda had been trying, and failing to do in the council chamber as his fellow councilors debated. He had been trying to see the actual effect of Ranma's presence, only to fail. It was simpler here near Ranma to see his effect on the Force, whereas before even separated by a mere few floors the Veil of the Dark had obscured it. Yet even here, Yoda's vision of the future was almost entirely blocked.
But a Force Vision came through, not a clear one, some kind of metaphor, but its clarity was such Yoda could not question it's providence, whatever it meant. Yoda saw little lights, thousands of them scattered as if they were the very stars gleaming in a calm nighttime sky.
But the vision changed quickly, the sky becoming violent as the Dark Side rose, trying to snuff them out. One after another they faded, leaving nothing but a few bare embers behind to smolder over time before they became a weak fire, throwing back the Dark Side and growing strong once more. Yoda tried, he tried desperately to get more of a sense of what the Dark meant, what was behind it, but could not gain even a hint, as if the Force itself could not show him, as if the Veil of the Dark Side was too powerful to overcome.
He began to despair then, but the vision changed abruptly going back to the beginning image of the little lights. But as the Dark Side rose up again, it and the little lights were all swept up into a maelstrom, Light and Dark mixing chaotically. Some of the lights went out. Some of them grew brighter. Others burned brighter still, but flared out like candles, only to be replaced by more.
The Dark Side, violence, anger, hate, fear, WAR pressed in, growing strong itself, but the Light matched it, fighting back as it could. And then, the vision ended, and Yoda found himself once more in his body, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps as his old heart pounded in his chest.
`Yoda opened his eyes to see Ranma helping his previous opponent out of the ring to cheers and sneers from the crowd. His chivalry was highly unusual down here, but a few of the onlookers appreciated his sense of fair play, while others roared for blood like so many mad animals. To his side Shaak Ti was looking around, shaking her head sadly. One of the most well-travelled young knights, Shaak Ti had dealt with the seedier side of the universe many times. But this place, situated right below the Senatorial sector was shaking her somewhat.
Yet Yoda knew she would be able to deal with it and whatever trial was to come here, he had more important things to think about than her or Ranma's fights. Judging from the strength of the youth had shown previously, any representative of any sentient race would find itself overmatched. So instead of speaking to his young companion or watching Ranma, Yoda focused his thoughts on the vision.
The vision I have seen, a warning it is, but of what. Change the maelstrom does whatever it touches, represents Ranma it must. Yet embrace these changes the Jedi should? The vision, shows it does the future certain, or just one path?
Yet even as his staid mind tried to convince Yoda that what he saw was simply one possible future, he knew it wasn't. That first vision had shown him the future, as set in stone as the deaths which Ranma and Dooku's intervention had diverted a bare week ago. The deaths of those little lights, somehow Yoda knew they signified the Jedi themselves.
And even though he still could not discern where the threat was coming from, or even if there was one threat and not simply thousands of small conflicts feeding the Dark Side with the inevitable emotions they fostered, he knew the Jedi would be the ones to pay the price to try and combat it. And fail we would, if we do not change. Yet can we even do so?
That was an even more difficult question. Set in our ways are we, both the order and I.Change difficult will be yet… if change we do not, ride the maelstrom we cannot, vision makes that plain. Yet change for change's sake, Ranma's thoughts on the order, dangerous they are. Strike at the very root of what the order is, what has kept us on our members from turning into the Dark Side. Showed the vision did, if embrace change we do, fracture the Order could.
A sigh escaped Yoda and he unnoticed by any he slumped in his chair, feeling every year of his nearly thousand year old life. Would that this had come after my time, a reward of quiet solitude in my old age have I not earned? After a moment however Yoda straightened up, his purpose clear if not the means to go about achieving it. Face this change I must, no one else shoulder this burden can.
Ranma never a Jedi will be but an ally he can become. Learn from him we can, yet keep some of his thoughts feelings away. Too much change too quickly, a schism could cause. Must think on this further, but an alliance with Ranma, that must be certain.
Yoda had no way of knowing how much time had elapsed while he wrestled whit his thoughts, but Ranma come and gone several times, each time winning against not only other aliens, but then various wild beasts, including some that Shaak Ti had never seen before save in animal taxonomy texts. The most interesting fight had been against a wampa.
The speed of the alpha predator of Hoth seemed to have taken Ranma by surprise, but Ranma had at last beaten it, though he had taken several painful slashes from the maddened beast's claws first. And it had been the first time Ranma had put his opponent down permanently, ending the beasts crazed existence by breaking its neck.
Shaak Ti frowned throughout it all, wondering why Ranma wasn't fighting to his best, she knew first hand he was faster than he was displaying here. It was only after she turned her senses to overhearing the bettors that it became clear: he was keeping the betting close and furious, the better to make more money. He couldn't simply overwhelm his opponents, the odds would shift to favor him then, and he wouldn't make as much. Yet even so, the odds of his winning slowly began to even out, then go in his favor.
After a few more fights Shaak Ti stopped watching the action entirely. Instead she watched the crowd and Fuego the Knife. He was ensconced in a small box separated by a wall from the rest of the audience directly above the massive gate which had been used to let out the various beasts Ranma had faced so far. After each fight now he seemed to frown more heavily, then smile before moving onto the next. She reached out with the Force trying to discern his intentions towards Ranma, only to frown as she couldn't discern them through the mental noise of the surrounding crowd.
"Master Yoda, the crowd is getting restless, many of them have lost quite a lot of money, and so has Fuego." She murmured. "They never expected a human to do so well. I'm afraid the house might be planning something precipitous."
Yoda frowned, reaching out towards Fuego's mind through the Force, his senses making their way across the crowd with the ease of long practice. After a moment he sighed pulling his senses back. "Angry he is, heavily on the last monster he did gamble, will face a loss now if cannot recoup it quickly. But the crowd now betting on Ranma they are, will continue to lose money the house will, cannot cover them all. A plan he has to recoup his losses however."
Suddenly Yoda smiled. "Money do you have on you?"
Blinking in shock Shaak Ti shook her head. "No master, I didn't leave the Temple with any." The Jedi were given a stipend from the main coffers of the order. Those coffers were filled by the Senate's funding, as well as the money they made from the farming communities the Order ran scattered across the Republic, which were worked by Jedi too old for active service and those younglings who had, for one reason or another, never made it to padawan.
"Pity. Could have bet on Ranma. Should be interesting the next fight."
Shaak Ti was about to question the ancient grandmaster further when Fuego stood up, waving his hands grandly at the crowd then down at Ranma who after his last contest was still standing in the center of the arena. At his feet lay a Nek, unconscious from a precise blow behind one ear.
"Congratulations! Amazing, stupendous! Who would have thought a human could survive against a Nek in hand to hand, let alone defeat it! But there is more to come ladies and gentlemen! Let it never be said that Fuego's doesn't deliver excitement! I have one more animal Ranma can face, one more mystery animal! Place your bets now, they will be two to one in favor of the mystery beast! Who will take that final plunge! Who will be brave enough to back the magnificent Ranma against the mystery monster?"
For a moment the crowd roiled, muttering to itself. It was unheard of after all to not know who you were betting on, how could you calculate odds if you didn't know half of the equation? But then Ranma held up a hand. "I'll put all of my own money on me!" He said with a laugh.
That seemed to break the rest of the crowd out of its monetary stasis. Dozens of beings who had won thus far rushed towards the bookkeepers, while others, who really had lost too much already searched their person for credits or anything else they could use as collateral.
Watching all this Fuego smiled grimly. Down here, strength was power, fear was power, and money was power. You could only truly command respect at his level if you had all three. The day hadn't gone as Fuego had hoped of course, and he'd lost quite a bit of money. But he could make up that loss, and instill even more fear in the locals if his next little pet won, and showing that little pet would prove his strength beyond all doubt.
He waited five more minutes than as his bookkeepers nodded one after another to him he held up his hands. "That's enough ladies and gentlemen, the betting is over!" He nodded over to a guard standing above the gate that the monsters had all used to enter the ring before this.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in the one corner we have our new and unforeseen champion of the evening Ranma Saotome!"
There were cheers from the crowd, most of them now betting on Ranma, despite not knowing who he was about to face. The odds were just too good, as was Ranma's track record up to this point. All of them had been caught up in a frenzy of greed, not realizing that Fuego must have some kind of plan. Watching them Yoda and Shaak Ti could only shake their heads at the power greed had over individuals.
"And opposing him, from the depths of space! At home in practically any environment, and top predator in most! Brought here personally by myself and several of my men, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the rancor!"
The massive gates boomed open on the last word, and the rancor emerged, roaring angrily. Up to this point those gates had seemed overlarge, dwarfing both beasts and gladiators alike. But they were barely enough to allow the creature, the rancor, to enter the arena. It stood at least two stories tall and was almost too wide to fit through the door, with massive bulging muscles showing everywhere under gray skin that looked almost like scales but not quite. Its eyes glared out at the world from under a monstrous brow set into a sunken face, on a head that stood even with stooping shoulders which would have put any American football player to shame.
There was loud screams of shock from the crowd and more than one person cursed, throwing down his betting chit in fury. Yet there was more fear too, because as Fuego had expected, a lot of the crowd were wondering where and how he had gotten his hands on a rancor, one of the most dangerous animals in known space. Any Rancor was dangerous, and owning one like this no matter how you came by it spoke of power and influence in one form or another.
Still others, like the senatorial aide Yoda had first spotted, didn't care about how Fuego had acquired the thing. They only wanted to see some blood. Ranma had been careful not to kill his opponents save the wampa, and while he hadn't been gentle he hadn't done enough to feed their bloodlust.
Yoda felt this and frowned, making a note of the individuals who were cheering and at times screaming for blood. They all would need further investigation regardless of their station.
Next to Yoda, Shaak Ti scowled, stroking her lekku worriedly. "I think Ranma just met his match master, should we intercede?" While it came out as a question, her tone made it clear that she felt they should. Indeed she was showing slightly more worry than a Jedi rightly should have given how they were supposed to control their emotions or how she had only known Ranma for a bare few hours.
However Yoda simply shook his head. "No, intervene we will, but not yet. Underestimating Ranma you still are."
For his part Ranma simply stood and stared at the monster as it tramped its way onto the arena's sand. Once fully out onto the floor of the arena it stopped, roaring at the crowd which for it was at near eye level through the cage. "RGGAAHHHH!" It raised its massive fists lashing out at the cage above the wall surrounding the arena.
There were several fearful screams from the audience, but they needn't have worried. The cage was both electrified and reinforced. The beast's punch bent the metal, but caused it to be electrocuted with enough current to send it backwards, bellowing in pain as the smell of burning skin monetarily filled the air.
Then another jolt went through it from the collar it wore. "EEEEEEERRRGEAAAH!" The thing shrieked and clawed at its neck, it's eyes going even redder than they had been as it did so, falling back from its assault on the cage to jeers and shouts from the audience.
At that point the rancor spotted Ranma at last. Thinking him an easier target it snarled, charging towards him over the short space separating them, its arms reaching out to grab and rend. Still Ranma stood his ground calmly, knowing now was the time to show his real ability. He's bigger than even Pantyhose Taro, but you know what they say, the bigger they are the harder they fall.
Ranma raced forward as well, dodging to one side as the thing brought around a hand that was almost as large as he was tall, wincing as the smell of the thing hit him. Clapping one hand over his nose Ranma leaped up over another attempt to grab him, landing on the rancor's arm. "Damn man! When the hell did you last have a bath!?"
This drew a round of laughter from the watchers, even Shaak Ti surprised herself by laughing aloud, stifling it quickly. But there were many who didn't laugh, instead staring in shock at the speed Ranma had moved with, a level of speed he had not shown yet. Still, everyone there were still certain he'd lose. After all, it would only take just one punch or slap to end the human's life, however good he was at dodging.
The rancor lunged forward with its upper body, its mouth open to bite Ranma but he pushed off the limb quickly. Landing Ranma dodged to one side in midair, watching as the beast's fist plowed into the ground, kicking up a ton of dust before it smashed into the wall of the arena. The wall itself wasn't energized like the cage above it, and the impact shattered the ferocrete there in an area about fifteen feet to a side.
Even so it was nothing that Ranma hadn't seen before. The thing was fast for its size but not fast enough, and while strong, that hardly mattered. Not against a martial artist of Ranma's level, who could bring almost as much strength to bear on a much smaller target.
Ranma rolled again, forward this time, and as a thing tried to kick him, grabbed its foot, helping it along its trajectory with a heave. The rancor stumbled falling forward, then bellowed in pain as a kick from Ranma caught the beast on the side of the knee.
While the rancor of course would be unable to describe what had happened, to Yoda it looked as if Ranma's fist had hit with all the impact of an air-car concentrated into his merely human fist. While if the impact had been spread out like from another rancor or an aircar the beast might not have taken much punishment Ranma's strength easily overcame the rancor's durability in the area his fist hit, blowing the knee out, shattering the kneecap and sending the pieces of it out through the other side in a welter of blood and gore.
"GUAUGHHAHAU!" The beast howled falling on its side. The watching audience shouted and bellowed questions at one another, wondering what had happened as Fuego gaped, standing up from his chair and staring in astonishment.
Below them the rancor was still game, pushing itself somewhat upright with one arm, lashing out with its other hand. But Ranma leaned backwards quickly, allowing the blow to pass him then thrusting out his fist into the rancor's wrist.
Again there was a scream of agony and the sound of ruptured bones. Ranma leaped away, watching to see what the thing with you. "Come on retreat beastie, I don't want to have to kill you."
Frankly Ranma felt sorry for the thing. Just like with the other animals he'd fought before this he didn't know what rancors were like in the wild, but he didn't like killing animals like this for other people's amusement. He'd do it in a heartbeat if it was to feed his stomach, but to do so to sate other people's bloodlust, hell no.
Unfortunately the rancor wasn't willing to give up. It roared again its hand flopping uselessly as it tried to spin around, bringing his other arm around in a slash at its tormentor. Ranma shook his head with a sigh and ducking inside its reach, slammed an open palm into the rancor's chest right above where the heart would have been in a human, his fist momentarily disappearing to normal human and alien senses while a sound like a machine gun sounded through the arena.
Just like his previous blows the area his fist damaged seemed small. But the bones right underneath his blow shattered before flying backwards into the deep cavern of its body, puncturing its heart. "The least I can do is give you a quick end."
As the beast crashed backwards onto the sands of the arena the audience fell silent for a moment staring in shock as if they couldn't believe their eyes. Then they cheered, hooting and hollering, shouting and stampeding towards the bookkeepers.
The bookkeepers panicked, pulling away from their stations and trying to desperately signaled the guards nearby, armorplas sliding down automatically to defend their small booths. The Gammoreans and other guards responded, raising their weapons against the crowd, many of whom pulled out their own weapons in reply. Quickly blaster fire began to crisscross the underground stadium, with people screaming, running and firing all at once while the Gammoreans bellowed and waded into the crowd swiftly.
Fuego was no help. He had turned to a communicator stuck on his arm, and was shouting into it, glaring down at Ranma angrily. "Open them! Open all the cages, and activate all the combat droids! I don't care how good he is, there's no way he's tough enough to survive blaster fire! He has to die! No one can challenge me like this and live! As for the betters, ki…"
Fuego paused, staring. The first of the wild animals had come out of their cages save for those too injured to move still, and made their way towards the arena where previous training told them a meal might be waiting. But before they could reach the arena they paused, calming down, many of them falling asleep where they were while others turned back to enter their cages. "What the…?"
For his part Ranma too had been surprised, first at all the animals being released at once, understanding Fuego was trying to get out of paying him and realizing he'd need to deal with the animals before going after their keepers, then at how the animals had simply stopped. Frowning he extended his senses slightly into the Force, like a swimmer dipping his toe in unwilling to take the final plunge. Yet even that was enough, and he turned, staring upwards into the gallery.
There Shaak Ti and Yoda both stood, with Shaak Ti moving rapidly towards the guards. Seeing her activate her lightsaber they all turned their blasters on her. Some in the audience did the same thing while others stopped running, laying down where they were in an effort to get out of the crossfire and trusting the Jedi to handle it. Still others began to run away.
Shaak Ti jumped, spun and ducked, her lightsaber flashing, using her montrals to great effect along with her Force Perception to pay attention to everything that was going on around her. Each time a blaster would head toward Shaak Ti or one of the people who had laid on the ground her lightsaber was there with Force-driven speed and precognition, blocking the bolts and sending them back directly using the Soresu, the form designed to be used against blasters. Several guards died from blasts from their own weapons, and still more guards and bettors crumpled to the ground wounded.
For his part Yoda first concentrated on the minds of the animals below. Once they were suitably calmed he turned, sending out a strong Force mind impulse towards the senatorial aide he had been watching, causing the man, who had been trying to force his way through the crowd toward the now closed exit, to collapse into unconsciousness.
With that done, Yoda joined Shaak Ti in assaulting the guards and those among the audience still fighting trying to make his way towards Fuego. But he turned, stumbling as he felt a surge in the pillar of Living Force in Ranma.
Back in the arena Ranma had moved to the dead rancor, and closing his eyes for a moment gathered his ki, pouring it into his muscles. With that aid, Ranma grunted, lifting the rancor, who must have weighed at least seven tons or so of muscle and bone. His eyes flared for a moment, but he lifted the thing up over his head, and turning, throwing it up against the electric cage right in front of where Fuego was.
Fuego had turned his attention away from Ranma to the Jedi, and was now scrambling at a small emergency exit behind his throne. But the door hadn't been used in so long it was rusted badly, and that slowed him down somewhat. He stared over his shoulder fearfully at the Jedi, only to stare.
To stare at the form of the dead rancor's body slamming into the cage, shorting it out in an instant as the smell of cooked meat permeated the arena. The nearby bettors and guards screamed too, backing away hurriedly.
After getting over his momentary shock Fuego desperately turned from staring at the rancor's face from a bare yard away to try and wrench the door open again. But he suddenly felt himself lifted off the ground and slammed back into the wall behind him.
Ranma had leaped up after his projectile and now stood on the back of the rancor's head. "Let's not try to welch on a bet with the guy who can bench-press a rancor, mmkay!?" He shouted at the top of his lungs over the ongoing battle, before using his free hand to throw a piece of the cage towards the nearest armorplas protected bookkeeper with enough force to shatter said armorplas.
The man squealed and ducked under his chair. After seeing this the battle shuddered to a halt as the guards saw their boss captured, and the bettors realized that they didn't want to get on Ranma's bad side.
Watching this Shaak Ti shook her head laughing aloud at Ranma's sense of humor. "I believe your priorities are rather skewed Ranma!"
Yoda nodded, but glared at the bookkeeper who no longer had any defense between him and the crowd. "Gather young Ranma's winnings you should. The rest of the money, frozen for now it will be." He looked around at the crowd, many of whom, now that the adrenaline was wearing off realized who this particular Jedi was, and paled even further. "Get their money, these good beings should, so long as prove they can that their stakes were legally gained."
Quickly the bookkeeper gathered up the credits Ranma was owed. Ranma entered his booth, making the man turn around for a moment before kneeling down and doing something with the money, which none of the sullen crowd of gangsters and bettors could see. Ranma didn't want to advertise all his tricks, and one such trick was his ki space. Let them wonder how he was carrying it, rather than having even the slightest actual clue.
While Yoda opened a communicator and called in some police down to this level, Ranma exited the booth before leaping over the heads of the crowd toward Shaak Ti. Landing in front of her he smirked. "How long have you been following me?"
"For several hours now," Shaak Ti said honestly looking over at Yoda who smiled and waved at her indicating she should be the one to talk while Yoda turned, watching the crowd carefully as he continued to speak into his communicator.
With that Shaak Ti turned back, her purple lips twitching between a smirk and a scowl. "Your method of dealing with would-be muggers was interesting, and may scar my mind for years to come."
"Sorry ta hear that, they weren't exactly a pretty bunch were they?" Ranma said with a laugh. "As an apology though, for that and for… well…" Ranma blushed looking away, his treacherous mind all too happy to remind him of what Shaak Ti looked like under that robe. "And for what happened in your temple, do, um do you want to head out for some food?"
His stomach rumbled, louder than the rancor had been, causing several dozen of the crowd to turn from trying to work out who was owed what with the bookkeepers and Yoda to stare at him. But Ranma ignored them looking at Shaak Ti, feeling strangely vulnerable. While this in no way counted as a date, this was in fact the first time Ranma had asked a girl out without any ulterior motives other than spending time with her, and it left him feeling very nervous.
"You don't owe me an apology for what happened in the Temple Ranma." said Shaak Ti, frowning faintly and trying to keep her face from blushing at the memory. "If anything I overreacted. You told me about your curse several times, it was my fault that I didn't believe you."
"So consider it a peace offering then?" Ranma pressed, shrugging his shoulders as he tried to calm his nerves. Man, talking to girls is harder than fighting that rancor thing. "And I have no idea where to go for food around here. Something tells me no place on this level will have anything I'll want to eat, and I'm in the mood for steak myself."
Shaak Ti was about to say no again saying that he had no need of a peace offering, but stopped when Ranma said the word 'steak'. Her race were carnivores for preference, having become omnivores relatively recently in their evolutionary history, and a bloody steak was something that she could rarely have. At the temple all the Jedi were fed a balanced, yet simple diet, which did not include steaks or other delicacies. And while on missions Shaak TI had to watch how she spent her money. The only times she had good steaks were on protection details for Senators, and she hadn't been on many of those. "Well I am rather hungry…"
She looked over at master Yoda who chuckled, waving one hand at her. "Go on. Young will have fun, while the old man will handle this hrhrhm?"
Watching the two young people go Yoda smiled. While Ranma was a good individual, he was simply too chaotic. He caused change whether he was trying to or not. No, he couldn't be let out without a minder, but that didn't need to be hardship duty either for him or said minder. A volunteer I have just found I think.
At that point the crowd around the bookkeepers began to become surly, and dozens of them reached for the weapons they had dropped earlier. At the same time Fuego reached behind him quickly, pulling out an emergency communicator and slamming his hand down on the button. At this touch aperture along one wall opened revealing several attack droids like the ones who had been left out in the main gambling area to keep order.
But before they could activate, all of the androids crumpled backwards against the walls, their heads shattering under the impact of an unseen force. The next instant Fuego found himself in midair again, only held there by the Force this time instead of Ranma. He was swiftly joined by every weapons in the place pulled out of their owners hands or taken from the ground to hover in the air. Fuego and every other person still conscious turned to stare at the diminutive grandmaster of the Jedi Order.
"Apologies I must give," Yoda said, his voice soft yet carrying to every individual there. "Watching young Ranma, feel old I do. Must show off I feel. Best I feel if quiet you will all be."
The agent who followed Ranma down after his rather strange exit from the temple will have to be given some kind of raise. That kind of independent action should be rewarded, so long as it keeps getting results like this. Sidious thought, leaning back and closing the communication to the agent as that agent turned away from watching Yoda.
Yoda's show of power, while interesting was nothing Sidious hadn't seen before. He had long known that despite being old Yoda was still the most powerful Jedi alive. No, what interested him had been what came before.
I will have to get a Force sensitive close to Ranma. Close enough to study him and what he does. He must be using the Force to heighten his strength in some fashion, and if I can find out how, the Sith can figure out how to match it. And that last scene, where did the money go? He wasn't carrying it when he spoke to that alien female. Interesting, very interesting.
But not Maul, he's too much of a blunt instrument for a task like this. No, I will need to think about this further. Perhaps my idea of a honey trap could be merged with this, a way to bring Ranma himself to our side? But do I really have anyone I could trust with such a task yet?
Shaking his head from that train of thought Sidious made certain he had a copy of the events down in the gambling den on his system, then sent a brief code out to his agent, ordering him to destroy his recorder and go to ground for a time. He would be sent instructions on how to reconnect with Sidious' middle man, in this case a semi-legit information broker who worked both sides of the law, later on.
Right now, Sidious had some plans for the Senate he needed to prep. The Jedi and their allies would find it very hard to get their way on the arming agreement they wanted, and not in precisely the way they might be expecting either. He had already lain the ground work for that task, but it would take time to come to fruition.
It took Shaak Ti and Ranma several hours to make their way sunward from the gambling den, by which time both of them were starving, or starving even more in Ranma's case. Shaak Ti hid it well thanks to her training, but Ranma's stomach was growling like a wild beast by the time they found the restaurant Shaak Ti was directing them towards. It was an upscale restaurant, but not so upscale that it demanded a certain level of clothing, and the two of them were quickly ushered in, the robe and the lightsaber informing the workers here that at least one of their guests was a Jedi, meaning important.
Throughout their walk the two of them had talked, with Shaak Ti apologizing for her reaction to Ranma's curse being reversed, and Ranma explaining his curse in further detail. He even told her about the others who were cursed, and some of the adventures he'd gone on with them. Some of the styles of combat he mentioned were utterly bizarre to Shaak Ti, but they also had been hilarious, causing her to laugh more often than she had since she had become a Knight.
The two of them sat down and quickly ordered a steak each along with a salad and a light fizzy drink Shaak Ti recommended to go with it. As the waiter walked off, Shaak Ti asked, "So was there a purpose behind your using a staff against me during our spar? Or was that simply your way of checking my own training against an unusual weapon? I will admit it certainly had that effect."
"Master Dooku and I have talked about various lightsaber types." Ranma said with a shrug. "The only one that I liked the sound of was the light-glaive."
Shaak Ti actually had to pause for a moment searching her memory for the term. "That is an extremely ancient lightsaber weapon. I can't recall off the top of my head any Jedi using it for several thousand years. And using a lightsaber is dangerous, you could…" Her voice trailed off at the look Ranma was giving her and she shook her head ruefully. "Nevermind."
"I know the weapon design's old fashioned but lightsaber-based weapons were way more varied than they are today." Ranma said with a shake of his head. "It's kind of sad, given how many old-style lightsaber weapons there are, that all of you use the same type generally speaking. But I want a light-glaive because it gives me a choice."
Shaak Ti cocked her head to one side, her lekku falling loosely to one side of her chest as she stroked them gently, and then nodded slowly. "Yes, given how you tried to let the rancor, those other animals and the other gladiators live I can see that. Too many Jedi don't realize it, but lightsabers allow us to kill all too easily. We know we will have to kill in pursuit of what we are doing at any given moment, but killing too easily can also lead to callousness towards our fellow sentients. Too many see it as simply another task, but I feel we must live with that choice each time we take a life."
Hence why I went out of my way during our little set-to down below to not kill the guards firing on me, yet I could not save them all. Saying it was them or me, or that I don't have enough skill to face those numbers and take them all prisoner is a mere excuse. It does not absolve me of ending their lives. I will have to meditate to come to terms with that tonight.
Ranma nodded, looking at her respectfully. "That's exactly how I feel. Even in a full-scale battle, I'd go out of my way to not kill. I know that if the battle was serious I'd have no choice, but until that comes, I won't kill unless I have to." He shook his head then changed the subject quickly. "You said once that your race, the Togruta? That you come from Shili.. Have you ever been there? Is that why you set the wind so high in that garden we met in?"
"Yes," Shaak Ti said with a smile of memory. "I went there with my master at one point to solve an issue between the planetary government and one of the banking clans, and to take the right of adulthood. It was a fantastic experience, and yet strange at the same time."
"Can never go home again sort of thing?" Ranma guessed.
"Exactly. You must understand, we Togruta are very much a communal race, community, family, clan those are the center of our lives. As a Jedi, I was of course honored. I was one of them yet not part of the community, even my family, welcomed but yet not part of them. Because I had joined a smaller yet more varied group, the Jedi. My home is no longer on the planet, but among the stars."
Ranma smiled sipping at his drink, finding it like a mix of guava juice and sparkling fruit punch. "I thought I had a home once, but I was only sort of borrowing it for a time." He briefly explained about the Tendo dojo and how he had come to stay there as well as the problems that he had brought with him and those which had already been there. "I don't think I ever really belonged there, not really, I was just, just fooling myself."
For a moment the two of them were silent, then Shaak Ti asked, "So are you, happy I think, or pleased that the Force event you were part of set you here? Or if you had it all to do over, would you not use that Force artifact as you did? Shaak Ti refused to use the term magic, that was simply too bizarre.
Ranma smirked at her, but didn't rise to the invitation to dare her to figure out a way to explain how he'd arrive here in the first place via 'the Force' as she knew it. "Yeah I have to say I am. Exploring the galaxy is going to be fun as all get out! Especially once I have my own ship."
"Is that why you wanted all that money? I had thought as much, but how much exactly did you take away? And where did it all go?"
"That'd be telling, though maybe I'll show you how eventually," Ranma laughed. As for how much I don't know yet, haven't counted it out, at least over three-hundred thousand I think."
"Let's start at the other end then, what kind of ship do you want? And is exploring the galaxy your only goal?"
"Well, what are your goals?" Ranma asked her.
Shaak Ti blinked, and then smiled. It had been a long time since anyone but her own master had asked her that question. "I wish to become a Jedi Master of course, but more than that I wish to sit on the council."
She leaned forward staring into Ranma's eyes intently. "This isn't just a personal ambition, it's a means to an end. I want to convince the Jedi to go to war against the slave trade."
Ranma looked at her in shock and she smiled grimly. "My people are peaceful for the most part, and we are prized as slaves almost as the Twi'lek are, more so in fact since we are a rarer 'commodity'. Several times in the past forty years have our colonies or even our home planet been raided by slavers."
She sighed faintly. "I know we're not supposed to form attachments, but I still see myself as a Togrutan. Further, I have a young friend, a padawan by the name of Aayla. She is a Twi'lek, and both of us feel that the Jedi should be doing more to stop the slave trade, and not just in Republic space."
"Heh, now that's an idea I can get behind." Ranma then went on to explain how he and Dooku had first met, how he had helped a ship full of slave escape their would-be owners. "gotta say as much as I think there's a lot of stuff in this universe that is just cool, the fact there are slaves, and that it's allowed even if under the table by the government, is just flat-out wrong."
While Shaak Ti nodded firm agreement, Ranma smirked. "Hell, once I buy a ship, I might just go on a one man crusade to do somethin' about it. Heh, sounds like a fun way of checkin' out all the skills I hope ta add ta my own set."
"You'd make yourself an enemy for every slaver, crime lord and corrupt slave owner out there, to say nothing about their gangs." Shaak Ti replied, shaking her head. "They'd set the Bounty Hunter's guild on you in a blink, and you'd never have a moment's peace."
"So?" Ranma said, smirking. "Let'em come, it'd be interesting ta face so many people with different combat skills."
Shaak Ti rolled her eyes at this, but was smiling as she did.
The rest of the meal passed quickly, with the two of them going over a list of different ship types, classifications, speeds and other design specifications. Ranma admitted to not being able to pilot just yet, but he had Tune and the Astromech droid could do most of the piloting by itself, save in combat. That was good enough for now, but it also limited the size of the ship. Astromech droids like that would need further mechanical or human aid in driving anything above a small freighter.
Shaak Ti pressed some key is on the machine they were currently using this came through different pictures, and pointed one, a YT freighter. "This style of ship might be the best, or at least this size of ship, for your needs right now. It's a little smaller than a Consular class ship, if you need more of a reference."
"All right is it just me or is that ship just damn ugly?" Ranma asked pointing at the picture of the short stumpy and rather ungainly looking freighter.
Shaak Ti laughed. "It might look horrible, but is actually a favorite out in the Outer Rim since it is so easy to repair, swap in parts and otherwise customize or keep running. It's a question of whether or not you want something that can be repaired easily which won't have very good starting specs, or something that has high states, but will need custom parts and thereby will be very hard to repair."
"I'd rather have something that won't get damaged in the first place" Ranma replied, smirking little. "I've got a… trick… I want to see if I can get to work. If I can, the outer armor of the ship is going to be a lot tougher than you might think, but even so I was looking at some of these." Ranma took control of the machine, heading up to one of the designs he had seen in action in the Yinchorri system.
"A Mon Calamari cruiser? Their ships are routinely tougher and far more durable than most would believe, something about the way they design their shields I think." Shaak Ti mused, shaking her head. "I'm not an expert of course. But do you want something that large?"
"No, something way smaller. I'm not interested in transporting cargo after all. Durability though, that's important."
From there the conversation segued into whether or not Ranma would live on the ship and whether or not he expected to have to fight inside the ship, which Ranma rather ruefully admitted he did. "I'm not exactly the most diplomatic sort, and I don't think I even know how to back down from a fight anyway. Eventually something is going to happen while I'm still in space."
Shaak Ti smiled, her purple lips quirking upwards. "I can well believe it. Still, if that's the case we might want to look at weapons specifications."
Eventually they narrowed down the choices to two different Mon Calamari ships, a starfighter type and a small freighter/luxury linger type, both of which were listed at prices that made Shaak Ti wince. But Ranma simply laughed, shaking his head. "Trust me, I think I've got more than enough to pay for it from an our little outing down town."
"Again, I think I believe you." Shaak Ti said with a chuckle. At that point the waiter came by with their check, and Ranma paid for their meal. The two of them quietly left the restaurant, heading back to the temple.
Halfway there they were met by a human Jedi knight. Seeing him Shaak Ti fought down a faint smile, and nodded at him formally. "Knight Rosen, were you looking for me?"
The man held up a hand in formal greeting, shaking his head. "Not specifically for you Knight Shaak Ti, but your companion. Master Yoda returned several hours ago, and has been in conclave with the rest of the Council ever since. He sent me to find you, which I did as soon as possible. If you would follow me, the Jedi Council demands your presence."
Shaak Ti shook her head resignedly the other knight's attitude, but beside her Ranma smirked, causing Shaak Ti to send him a warning glare which he ignored. Good grief what a stuffed shirt. "Well, lead on man let's see what that group of oldies want with me." Rosen winced and seemed about to say something but a shake of the head from Shaak Ti caused him to subside. He nodded, and gestured for them both to follow him, moving off in stiff silence, stifling any further conversation with his mere presence.
They made it back to the temple in about another five minutes' walk. They found its halls silent now, since it was a few hours past sundown. Ranma ignored the looks he was getting from the guards, grateful to note that the Jedi at least had some understanding of security since there were several more guards out now than there had been during the day.
The three of them stayed together for a time as they ascended the temple, but eventually Shaak Ti paused. "This floor is where my assigned room is so I think I will leave you here Ranma. It was nice meeting you, and interesting as well."
Ranma smirked at her, reaching forward to shake her hand. "Nice meeting you, too." Shaak Ti smiled in reply, turning away without another word, but Ranma stayed put watching her go before quickly turning to follow Rosen who had already moved off.
A few more moments walking brought Rosen and Ranma to the Council, where Rosen bowed him inside. "Masters, I have brought Mr. Saotome."
"Mr. Saotome?" Ranma asked looking after him as he exited the room at a wave from one of the seated masters. "Really?"
Yoda grumbled shaking his head, and Yaddle chuckled. "Overly given to titles and appearances is young knight Rosen, hoped some extra work and close contact would remove that affectation from him we did. Early yet it is."
"Good luck with that one." Ranma said with a laugh. "Maybe a few good pranks could get knock that chip off his shoulder instead. I can give you some ideas in that direction?"
"We are Jedi, we do not do pranks," said one of the Masters repressively. "Ranma Saotome, you are here to answer some questions, and we expect your full compliance."
Ranma smirked, the same smirk that drove his rivals in same back in Nerima. "Really," he said moving forward to stand in the center of the room. "And how exactly are you going to enforce that compliance? Remember, I'm not one of your little followers. Hell, I'm not even from around here and last time I looked, even joining up with the Jedi was supposed to be choice, wasn't it? Or do you not give your youngsters that choice?"
"How dare you!" Piell barked.
"Enough." Dooku she said, standing up quickly and moving between Piell and Ranma. "We are not here to compare the size of our egos. Ranma is right, he is not a Jedi and therefore need not show any deference to this council. Nor, Ranma is this a place to show how, how you you can be, please at least try to be less confrontational."
While Ranma nodded somewhat abashed at how he had responded, while Yoda nodded. "Out of line you are master Piell, neither a prisoner nor a supplicant is Ranma, nor an enemy."
"That last remains to be seen." Said another master, an alien with a long neck and small head that Ranma hadn't seen before. "He certainly is no Jedi, but just look at how even talking about his abilities have divided us. He might not be an enemy, but if not what is he?""
"To decide this, why he was called for." Yoda answered serenely.
"He also doesn't like to be talked about as if he ain't here." Ranma said cracking his knuckles. "Getting a little irritated here people, get to the point."
The masters frowned, but seeing that there had been no flicker in the pillar of Living Force inside the young man they subsided, some of them in shock at how there hadn't been. Whatever the youth was, there really didn't seem to be any kind of close connection between his emotions and the Force. Moreover, the Living Force inside him didn't seem to let those emotions connect to the Unifying Force outside his body, which made him intrinsically unique.
"Spoken have we, with Masters Windu, Dooku and others you have interacted with. Their testimonies we have." Yoda said nodding over to Mace and the others, who nodded back, while master Giiett smiled towards Ranma as his friend Plo nodded his head.
At this Ranma calmed down noticeably as Giiett knew he would. Knowing he wasn't entirely ringed by people who would rather judge him then get to know him worked wonders on Ranma's defensiveness, as it would anyone.
"Heard also we have about Master Dooku's discussions with you, your opinions, your thoughts, your origins, and your proven abilities." Yoda put a slight emphasis on the word proven, showing Ranma he knew that there were still more tricks he hadn't shown yet. "Have heard about your agreement with Master Dooku. Now from your own mouth wish to learn what you wish to do. Not with your powers, but yourself in its entirety. What do you wish to be to the Jedi?"
Ranma turned from looking at the Masters one after another to stare at Yoda then at the strange snake alien who sat next to him then at Mace. Despite the council sitting in a circle Ranma could sense it was these three that were the center of the room.
He sighed, looking at first one then the other scratching at his ponytail. "You're speaking in generalities, I notice you Jedi like to do that, it's a particularly human trait. Humans always seem to want to speak about generalities, when they really should be speaking about people instead.
"That's sort of the point really. I've now met several Jedi, and I liked some of them, as individuals. I still have a major problem with your Order, it's Oaths, and how you go about trying to do good in the galaxy while having your hands tied by the senate." Gallia and several other Jedi frowned at that, but Ranma went on. "What do I want to be to the Jedi Order as a whole? I don't want to be your enemy, but I'm not going to be your slave either."
Before he could go on one of the Masters broke in sharply. "The Jedi do not have slaves!"
"No you just allow the practice." Ranma answered with a faint sneer waving that master to silence not even looking away from the three central figures. "Now let's get down to specifics. Let's get one thing straight, we all have things the other person wants. Dooku here are didn't exactly do a good job at hiding his interest in my skills."
"In my defense, I wasn't trying to hide it. I felt that such duplicity would have been gotten us off on the wrong foot." Dooku said with a faint smile
"Too damn right!" Ranma said with a laugh nodding his head at Dooku. "Play straight with me and I'll always play straight with you. You can set that in stone."
"As I said, I don't think there is a lying bone in his body." Giiett murmured.
"Played card games or other games of chance you did not," Yoda said, speaking up before any of the other Masters could. "Reasoning?"
"That's kind of off tangent, but the reason is, well I can bluff in battle, but outside it? No chance." Ranma laughed remembering how he and Ukyo had faced off against the gambling king, and how he'd been forced to cover his face with bandages to keep from giving anything away.
"And that laugh means there is a tale there." Dooku murmured.
"I just can't control my face that's all." Ranma laughed. "So I had to cover it up this one time I…"
"We are getting off topic". Said Ranicisis, smiling faintly. He now understood what Yoda had been talking about in their earlier meeting. Irreverent this youngster might be, but being around him, it makes you feel younger somehow, he somehow draws you in and makes you respond on his level. A very odd sort of charisma, but it's definitely there.
"While I'm certain your stories are fascinating, we should get on with this conversation. Dooku as you said informed you what we would want from you. Have you made a decision there, and what would you want in return? Are you willing to teach at all?"
Ranma frowned faintly. "Whether or not I'm willing to teach, that will be on a case-by-case basis. Like I said, I think that the Jedi Order, as a whole and as individuals try to do good, but as I've made no bones about hidin' I've got issues with how you lot run the Order, your oath, how emotions are treated, how you don't really have ties to the lives of those you protect, just the, the scaffold of the Republic rather than its actual people."
More than one of the masters joined Gallia in frowning at this, despite having heard this before from Dooku and the others involved in the Yinchorri campaign. Gallia, Piell, Koth, and the long-necked Jedi looked particularly wary. Ranma's thoughts on those points attacked the every root of what they felt had allowed the Order to become the bastion of good they felt it was.
"Furthermore, my skills are dangerous." All of the Masters had to nod at that. Yoda's description of Ranma's fighting in the arena, and the others during the battles against the Yinchorri had made that obvious to all of them. "I'm not going to teach anyone if I don't think that they'll be able to handle it honorably, and I don't mean handle the extra responsibility. I mean be human about it, I know that sounds racist, but there's no other way of putting it."
The Masters all looked around at one another. A little over half of them still looked concerned, but it was obvious that Yoda and the more senior members were in accord here. And really after Yoda had shared his vision with them their decisions was a foregone conclusion, so one after another they all nodded.
Seeing this Yoda spoke up once more. "Aide you will have to start your journey, connection we will maintain for now, first student we will send with you. to look at your concerns we cannot promise, but will agree to listen to concerns of Master Giiett about the mental impact of our Oaths at present. Old Jedi Oath, there is, far more open than current one, much closer to what you seem to think is the ideal. Revived, it might be. But for now, short term goal, you have?"
"I want to head to Dac, to purchase a ship there." Ranma replied promptly, then laughed. "I've got enough money for it now."
There were some murmurings about that, and Yoda chuckled. "Coincidence this is. Sending two knights to Dac we were going to soon. Reports we have of trouble there involving former Alderaan Rangers."
Ranma's eyes narrowed, but one of the other Masters picked up the tale before he could speak. "The Alderaan Rangers are made up of younglings, mostly younglings anyway, who do not meet the… call it the power requirements to be trained as full Jedi. They retain their connection to the order though are not bound by its laws, and often aid Jedi in our missions."
Plo Koon took up the tale from there. "Two Mon Calamari rangers retired several years ago to marry, and their child and they have not responded to contact in over two months. We fear foul play, especially since both have been proponents of Dac fully joining the Republic, which is not a popular view on Dac, though Master Dooku's political maneuvering might change that."
"Switch out Knight Teshvar with Knight Shaak Ti we will." Yoda said. "Good impression she has already made on Ranma, diplomatic and investigative skills she has, whereas Knight Fisto, a Guardian he is through and through. Work well together they will on this assignment, and Knight Ti, first student of Ranma will be."
"I… can go along with that I think. She's ain't as unemotional as I'd feared was the norm among you Jedi, and she seems solid mentally, at least so far. But you know I'm gonna force her ta look hard at that oath of yours, see what she thinks about it before making any final decision." Ranma said thoughtfully, pulling at his pigtail as he thought before looking over at Dooku, ignoring the affronted looks his blunt speaking engendered. "Are you alright with that?"
"Watching your techniques in action have given me enough to think about for now Ranma. I've come close to figuring out your speed technique, and I have ideas about your strength as well. That is enough for now, though I hope you will extend your training to include me in the future." Dooku said with equanimity, hoping the Jedi and Ranma would continue to get along in the future.
Right now, they had made more progress than he had dared hope thanks to Yoda's unexpected backing. Now he was willing to get Ranma away from the council for a time, let them deal with the changes Yoda had proposed and the reality of Ranma's existence first before pushing harder for the Order to start changing its belief system.
Ranma nodded. "In that case, when do we leave, and who's Knight Fisto?"
Again, this chapter was a little longer than I expected, but I wanted the irritating Council crap out of the way, and I felt Ranma needed a bit of an adventure on Coruscant. Frankly, I'm uncertain they came off as I hoped. As individuals the Jedi are good people, it's just that as a group they have become too big picture to really act as they should. Going forward I'd like to have a beta with knowledge of the SW world, and who is willing to call me out on any OOC moments. If you think you're up to it, send me a PM please!
Ranma will have a bit of an adventure on Dac, spend some time there with Shaak Ti and Kit Fisto, build up his knowledge base more, piloting skills, and get a ship, then I hope to send him directly into a Phantom Menace. Hehe…
Poll has been updated for this next month, ATP will be updated next month, but check my page for more info on that story if you want.