Disclaimer: Star Wars owned by George Lucas, Farscape owned by Henson & Co.
Thanks to: Andraste, for beta-reading; Fay Jay, for suggesting the title
Timeline: Between trilogies, for Star Wars; pre-show, for Farscape, with spoilers for the third season episode Incubator.
Author's note: Written for the Multiverse 2004 challenge. The request was for an encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Scorpius.
Ghost in the Machine
Obi-Wan Kenobi had not visited Mos Espa for years. If he needed supplies that weren't available from any of the local farmers, he usually went to Mos Eisley, which was closer. But after Owen had taken the unusual step of visiting him to ask for his absence in Mos Eisley on the day the Lars planned to go there with Luke, there really wasn't much choice. He didn't want to antagonize Owen more than necessary; it would make dealing with the boy later that much more difficult.
He did not attract any attention in Mos Espa, not even as Ben, that crazy hermit, which was something of a relief. His purchases went smoothly, and he tried not to listen to any of the gossip. No matter whether it would be official propaganda or rumours of yet another massacre, it would only increase the sickness he felt rotting his heart away. His exile was supposed to be a preparation for one last attempt to restore balance to the galaxy. It was supposed to bring him peace. So far, nothing of the sort had been forthcoming.
On his way out of Mos Espa, he noticed a group of farmers surrounding a youngster whose race he could not identify, and Obi-Wan was familiar with most of the people in the galaxy. The boy's skin was of a stark white, which would serve him ill on Tatooine, and his face aside, most of his body was covered in bandages, which gave him a certain resemblance to the Tuskens. But his hands were too large for that, and at any rate, a Tusken would never leave their face uncovered.
Unfortunately, the farmers seemed to have other ideas. "Never thought one of them murderers would dare to come here!" was the mildest phrase hurled at the boy. They were asking him what he was doing in Mos Espa, and his quiet, soft-spoken reply drowned in the angry chorus of their voices. It was clear that the situation was going to turn ugly soon.
For a moment, Obi-Wan was tempted to go away. He could easily handle some Tatooine farmers, but it might attract the wrong kind of attention. Then he realized what he was rationalizing and felt deeply ashamed. Hidden or not, he was still a Jedi Knight, and it was unworthy of a Jedi to let the helpless be preyed upon when he could stop it.
Unless the council decrees otherwise, Anakin's furious voice said in his head, and he pushed the thought of the past aside as best he could while stepping into the middle of the group which was quickly growing larger.
"There you are," he exclaimed with a bright smile directed towards the youngster. "I've been looking everywhere for you!"
The farmers stared at him. The boy, who obviously wasn't slow, didn't miss a beat and decided to play along.
"I got lost in the market place," he said, in a voice with an accent Obi-Wan couldn't place, and a speech rhythm which showed the youngster obviously was used to another kind of idiom.
"Good people," Obi-Wan continued, addressing the farmers, "will you let us pass? Young... Jinn and I were on our way back to Mos Eisley."
"He looks like a Tusken to me," one of the group insisted. "My son was killed by Tuskens last year," added another. "I say it's time we make them pay."
"He's not a Tusken," Obi-Wan replied, using the Force as subtly as he could for emphasis. "He's a Winon, and you will let him go. His father works for Jabba the Hutt and would be rather displeased if his son wasn't back at sunset."
That did it. They still muttered among each other, but they retreated. Obi-Wan put his right arm around the shoulder of the boy he had just lent Qui-Gon's name to, and noticed how the young man flinched almost imperceptibly.
"Let us go," he suggested. "We mustn't keep your father waiting."
He could feel the eyes following them as they walked towards the desert.
Originally, he hadn't planned to keep the newly christened Jinn with him for longer than it took them to safely leave Mos Espa behind. But when the boy collapsed into unconsciousness, Obi-Wan quickly ran out of other choices. He packed him into the old vehicle he kept for longer expeditions and took him back to his hut. By then, the night had fallen, but aside from very brief intervals, Jinn had not regained consciousness. He appeared to be in some kind of delirium.
His physiology was something of a mystery to Obi-Wan, but judging by the way he reacted to the cooler temperatures of night time, heat was something of a problem. So was any kind of exposure of what was obviously quite sensitive skin. Body armour such as the Imperial Troops and some of the bounty hunters wore, with regulation of the temperature according to one's needs, would have been ideal, but there was no such thing available, so Obi-Wan improvised with wet bandages and a lot of soup, which he proceeded to serve once he could be sure Jinn was aware enough to swallow it. The boy's eyes, which were of a startling blue that didn't seem to fit with the rest of his body, watched him in silence for a while.
"Why did you help me?" he finally asked. "I'm not... Sebacean."
Obi-Wan had no idea what a Sebacean was, so he shrugged.
"You needed help," he said simply. "Would you mind telling me what your name is?"
"I haven't decided yet," the boy said, not stubborn or rebellious, just matter-of-factly. "Jinn will do for now." Carefully, he sat up. "You used some kind of mind-control on those primitives," he stated. "Interesting. I thought only Scarrans could do this."
This was something of a shock. Obi-Wan had never assumed that the boy would be able to recognise the use of the Force. He didn't appear to be weak-minded, and so telling him to forget what he saw would probably not have any effect. But if he told anyone... Anakin might have gone beyond redemption, but the machine who lived in his place would have no trouble adding two and two if rumours of a Jedi on Tatooine reached him.
"I only used the powers of persuasion," Obi-Wan said mildly, while his thoughts raced. "Sometimes, they even work."
The boy shook his head. "You're lying," he said, sounding slightly disappointed. "I can tell. Are you going to kill me now?"
"I'm not in the habit of murdering people I just rescued," Obi-Wan replied, still trying to figure out a solution but also somewhat appalled. This was how people now lived in the Empire, then; assuming there was nothing but a kill or be killed mentality.
Is that what you wanted, Anakin? Are you happy now?
It didn't matter. Anakin was dead.
"And you're still alive?" the boy asked sceptically. For a moment, Obi-Wan was thrown; then he realized Jinn had spoken in reply so his earlier statement.
"I've never understood," he said, "why longevity and ethics should be mutually exclusive. Of course, following a certain code might also get you killed, but then again, if you don't have things worth dying for, if you have no purpose, you do not live at all. You exist."
The boy thought about this. Then he declared:
"I do have a purpose."
"Which is?" Obi-Wan asked, genuinely curious.
It was at this moment that Obi-Wan decided the universe either was playing another malicious trick on him, or had sent him this visitor for a reason. If there ever was someone in clear need of teaching, it was Jinn. Obi-Wan might have failed once as a teacher, but he would not fail again.
Despite his ability to recognise a truth from a lie and to spot the use of the Force, Jinn turned out to be not force-sensitive in the slightest. It took Obi-Wan a while, but he finally realised Jinn was able to read energy signatures.
Meditation, on the other hand, was something Jinn took to easily. He had a keen mind, and usually grasped concepts after just one explanation. The physical exercises were somewhat more difficult, as he couldn't really stay out in the desert for too long, no matter how many bandages he wore. Obi-Wan decided to risk it and purchase some body armour from the Jawas, but his financial resources had not been restocked after Mos Espa, and so he had to approach Owen Lars for a loan.
To say Owen didn't take kindly to his visit was to put it mildly.
"I told you not to come here," he hissed, and dragged Obi-Wan to the water supplier, away from the house. "You're lucky that Luke is helping Beru inside."
"He's hardly going to turn into a Jedi overnight because of a single glimpse of me," Obi-Wan returned, with greater sarcasm than he had intended. There was something aggravating about Owen which tried his patience every time they met.
"He's a bright boy," Owen said, "and he might be asking questions. Besides, I don't trust you. You're up to something, but whatever it is, it's not going to happen at my watch. You messed up with Anakin because his mother bought into that mumbo-jumbo about how wonderful the Jedi were. You're not going to get the chance to mess up with Luke."
"You hardly knew Anakin, and you know nothing about the Jedi," Obi-Wan replied before a lifetime of discipline caught up with him again. He was not, he told himself, about enter into a futile argument with Owen Lars. Besides, he needed the man's help.
"Too damn right," Owen shot back. "I hardly knew him. But I did know his mother. She raised me for almost a decade. Notice where we are, Kenobi, or is your head too far in the clouds?"
Obi-Wan was about to retort that they were standing behind the water tower, when something registered with him. Not too far away was a burial place. He could identify five tombs.
"My father, my little brother, my mother and Shmi," Owen said, following his gaze. "She was a good woman. My father loved her, and so did I. And we saw her waiting for years and years to hear news about her son. If he had given her any trouble aside from flying pod races, we never heard about it, not from her or anyone else who had known the two of them. She had him for nine years. You had him for the rest. So tell me, Jedi, whose fault is it that there's now a monster around?"
"Blame me if it makes you feel better," Obi-Wan said coldly, while everything inside of him raged and fed the guilt and resentment that might have started burning when Qui-Gon died but only became a devouring flame when he saw Anakin falling, falling in fury and pain and despair neverending. When he felt the other Jedi dying, each death a horrible, black hole in what was once a shimmering net of the Force connecting them all. When he saw the ruins of the Republic they had tried so hard to save being remade into an unforgiving black and white, cold and harsh as the boots now at the throat of every single citizen.
Owen had no idea what he was talking about.
"Now," Obi-Wan continued tonelessly, "can we talk about the reason for my visit?"
Owen, for all his faults, was not parsimonious. Or maybe he just wanted Obi-Wan to leave. He provided the money.
With the body armour, improvised as it was, Jinn could move outside for longer periods of time, and his physique strengthened. Obi-Wan thought it was time for some ethical lessons. After he had spent a day pointing out the rare planets in the desert, and the beauty of them if one had the patience and the will to seek them out and see them, he added:
"And yet, when I came here, I disliked this planet. I thought there would be never anything worth my time here, and stuck to my ship, so impatient was I to get away again. So we can wilfully blind ourselves if we see nothing but our objective."
"Oh, I see there are beautiful things around, especially in this part of the galaxy," Jinn said, somewhat amused. "But that makes it only more important to get my revenge. If I don't, there might not be any beauty left anywhere. Scarrans are really thorough, too, you know."
Obi-Wan sighed. Then he said: "Tell me about them."
The tale of Jinn's life was a horrible one, made all the more repellent due to the fact Jinn still took much of the constant abuse for granted and apparently objected only to the harshest examples. In a way, it was a miracle that he was still coherent.
"I can understand how you feel," Obi-Wan said finally, after a period of silence, "but allowing the hate and fear of them to dominate your life makes you their slave still. You'll never be free. If you allow that hate to consume you, there will be nothing left of you."
Jinn, looking like a strange painting of black with a rare white spot in his new body armour, inclined his head.
"Are you free?" he asked.
Obi-Wan thought of the Empire. He thought of living on a desert planet, waiting for a boy to grow up, again, while the universe continued to cry out to him in pain. He thought of the fact that Jinn could read energy signatures, and abandoned the reply a teacher would have given otherwise.
"No," he said. "But the ties which hold me are of a different nature."
"Then you don't hate anyone?" Jinn asked, wonder and scepticism mixing in his voice.
"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the Dark Side," Obi-Wan recited, and found some comfort in the familiar mantra.
"That doesn't answer my question," Jinn pointed out.
"When my teacher was killed... I felt fear, anger and hate then, and it galvanized me into defeating his killer. Still, I did let go of these emotions. It was not easy. But you have to trust me. It can be done."
"I meant whether you hate anyone now. Anyone alive. Your teacher's killer is dead, isn't he?"
Yes, a clever and relentlessly logical mind. Master Yoda would have enjoyed debating with him, but not as much as Qui-Gon.
"There are people I object to, because they damage others in addition to themselves. But no, I do not hate them."
Jinn stared at him, the hooded blue eyes wide open.
"You're telling the truth," he said slowly. Obi-Wan wondered why there was a part of him that felt relief at hearing this confirmation.
"I try," he replied with a faint smile. "From a certain point of view, at least."
"I still don't think you're very effective," Jinn said, "but I... I do like learning from you."
That night was the first in years to leave Obi-Wan without any nightmares.
Knowing Jinn's backstory, it occurred to him that an operation and some permanent cybernetic implants might solve the problem, but something like this was definitely beyond the capacity of anyone residing on Tatooine. Perhaps, at a later point, he could risk sending Jinn to Bail Organa on Alderaan. But not now.
He hadn't realized how lonely he had been. Living as a hermit was so very different from everything Obi-Wan had been used to before. Maybe other Jedi would have dealt with it better, because they would have spent some time on their own after having passed their trials. But as it was, Obi-Wan had gone from the crèche in the Temple to being Qui-Gon's padawan, and from Qui-Gon's padawan directly to being Anakin's teacher. He was used to living with another person, and it was easy, so very easy, to do it again.
At one point, he decided to teach Jinn how to cook, which the boy obviously had no idea about. Neither, for that matter, did Jinn have any idea what kind of food he liked. They experimented for a quite a while, and when he saw Jinn wolfing down a breakfast made of dried tiburi fruits mixed with the tea Obi-Wan had been able to produce out of the leaflets of desert plants, he grinned.
"Not so quickly, my very young padawan," he said, realized what he had said, and froze. Unfortunately, Jinn noticed it at once.
"Who was your padawan" he asked. Not "what is a padawan", as almost anyone else would have done in his position. Yes, Jinn was too quick for his own good.
"It is simply a term for student," Obi-Wan said, replying to what Jinn should have asked. Jinn refused to take the hint.
"Was it Anakin?" he asked.
Obi-Wan grew very cold. "How," he said, trying as hard as he could to keep his voice even, "do you know that name?"
"Sometimes, you talk when you have nightmares," Jinn said simply. "Is that normal for your species?"
It should not be normal for a Jedi, Obi-Wan thought. Especially one who finally had found some peace. Who knew what else he had said? He could have endangered both Luke and Leia, and the entire Organa family.
"Yes, Anakin was a former student of mine," he answered. "He died some years ago, under very bad circumstances."
Jinn shook his head. "You lie," he said, confused. "Why? There is no reason. We are allies now. I wouldn't betray you, even if you had killed him."
All of Owen's angry words were not as cruel as that well-meant sentence. Obi-Wan turned away. When he was reasonably sure he had regained some balance, he said:
"I did not kill him. He betrayed everything he had once believed in, and we fought. He fell... and what survived isn't Anakin any longer. It is more machine than man, kept alive in that black suit of his, a completely unnatural thing that lives only to destroy, and should be destroyed."
"A monster," Jinn said, looking down, at his own body, now encased in a black suit, then looking at Obi-Wan again. "Like me."
"No," Obi-Wan said, but Jinn didn't listen any longer.
"That is why you took me in," he said. "I should have known. Well, don't worry. I will not burden your conscience any longer. I think I am well enough to leave now, don't you?"
"I won't betray your secrets," Jinn said in his soft, precise voice, every syllable pronounced perfectly clear, if in a slightly strange fashion. "In fact, I will leave this sector of space altogether. It is time for me to return to the Unchartered Territories. Thank you for the lessons, Master Obi-Wan. I shall not forget them."
When the suns set, Jinn was gone. Having run out of arguments, Obi-Wan did not attempt to follow him. He waited outside his hut until the last glimpse of the slight, dark figure had disappeared. The desert was very quiet that night; not even the usual noises the wind made when driving the sand in all directions could be heard. In his mind, he went over the last days and wondered whether there was anything he could have done differently. He was worried that Jinn might be going to his own doom; he was worried that Jinn would not keep his word and would bring disaster on all their heads. Both worries shamed him.
Fear led to anger. Anger led to Hate. Hate led to the Dark Side. And whatever he might have done wrong or right, Jinn had to make his own choices. Just as Anakin had done, and just as Luke would do. Perhaps the hardest lesson any teacher had to learn was that he could only point the way, not ensure it.
Having settled this in his mind, Obi-Wan returned to his hut. It was only then that he noticed his fingers had clenched into fists, and the rough, uncut nails had shed blood in his palms.