It began on the day when Jedi Padawan Kate Misinjian decided to hate her Master. She would never have said she liked him before, but as she sat facing him she hated his white beard and crinkled skin and thin lips that never moved from their expression of serenity—
He could never understand!
"Calm down, Kate," he said kindly.
The rest of the class, Masters and Padawans perched on round seats in a shuttered room, were looking at her. They must have felt the turbulent emotions sliding insidiously through her, reinforcing the notion that she could not do this, couldn't become a Jedi with a perfect mind and shackled thoughts. They stared at her. She turned away, shifting the blonde hair that hung down her back and showing them the side of her face she had made up with black and aquamarine swirls. The pattern flowed neatly from her ear across her cheek and over her eye; she wore it as a badge of beauty, of individuality, of rebellion.
She looked her Master in the eye and said, "I don't understand." She had said it many times before; about philosophy, about nonattachment, about why other students defeated her in practice combat.
"What don't you understand?" he replied. "The meditation?"
"I was told to clear my mind. To erase myself. 'Free of opinions, thoughts, and concerns.' All meditation is about that." She caught the gaze of a human boy seated near her for a moment and turned away. She didn't know him, but thought his eyes too compelling. "But then, what's left? What's me without…feelings?" She continued in her mind. Without crying for no reason, without friendship and love, without purpose?
Her Master looked at her very seriously. "A Jedi."
Kate pushed away from her seat and stood up, talking loud enough that everyone in the room could hear her— because if she was going to make a scene, it would be a grand one, and she had to make it. "I don't understand! I feel every day of my life—curiosity, sadness, solace, want, hate! I love being here, I love my friends and fighting and the Force and, and sentient beings! Quieting that down goes against everything I know, not what I've been taught in meditation class but what I know, because I'm a teenage girl and feelings are everything for me! The chemicals in my brain are set up that way! Did you know that, Master K'tan? I have to live, not stifle myself with uniforms and mantras and old men!" She began to stomp away, livid, no destination in mind except the chamber door, and then she stopped.
Master Yoda was standing in the open doorway, leaning on his stick, staring up at her.
The defiant energy left her for a moment; suddenly she was calm again, calm and unnatural—then the anger, the real emotions, returned in force.
He said, "The last straw this is, Padawan Misinjian. Fortunate we are, that the Council is in session."
Kate had never stood in the Council room before. The starburst design at her feet pointed at each of the twelve Masters of the Order; Master Yoda, Master Windu, Master Koth…each one irritatingly serene.
Nine men, three women. Kate noticed because she was not all that happy about noticing that Masters Yoda and K'tan were talking about her as she stood between them. Counting Council members was easier. Noting the gender split was not, but it was something to do. It concreted the thought that had been nagging at her brain for a time, saying that Jedi discipline was easier for men, then disregarding the self-deprecating repercussions of that epiphany and wondering if the training methods had not been designed that way. Perhaps the Order was biased. The way she calculated it, there was no reason for the Force not to manifest in the same amount of females as males. However, there always seemed to be fewer girls succeeding, or fewer in her classes at all.
The Council was veritably asking Master K'tan to report about his apprentice in front of her, and to his credit he was ashamed. But he said, "She's mediocre in combat, decent with mechanics, very skilled with the Force, but…almost unaffected by the tenants of the Jedi Code. She has not taken it to heart. Her talent is still raw."
"There is no passion," Kate whispered, glaring at the floor. "There is serenity." She thought, the wrong Master chose me two years ago. What did he think he was getting?
"But loyal she is, and strong in the Force! Told me have you how her emotions control her." Yoda had never sat down at his place in the circle; now he urged forward his floating chair and came close enough to Kate that he could touch her if he wished. "Strong are they also, very strong…And that is why take her apart we can." He punctuated each word with a shake of his gnarled hand; then reached forward and touched her painted cheek, claws dull and cold against her skin. "Weakness, your attachments are. Wish to be strong, do you?"
His next words were going to be Show you your weakness I will, and she didn't want to hear them. Already she had run out of the meditation room. Running out of the Jedi Council Chamber was just the second step.
Yoda knew her next move too. So he changed his words. "Left to you, only darkness is, if these halls you forsake."
In that moment, her definition of darkness changed. No longer was it old armies of slaves, vague cloaked evils, or the Force-obscuring cloud some Masters talked about. She had learned about these things, but her answer came from what she knew.
She tried to move so fast that he wouldn't know her intention before she did. She slapped Yoda's hand away, screaming "At least it's real," and ran for the doors.
For some reason, she was able to slam them open, with her hands and with the Force.
The Council, she thought, did not care enough to lock her in.
That thought sustained her down the turbolift to ground level; the thought of her ignorant Master propelled her through that level, past wall hangings, arch-roofed hallways and other Jedi; the thought of the men of the Council propelled her out the double doors into the evening; her defeats at the hands of her classmates pushed her awareness away from how big Coruscant was; her raw frustration quickened her strides like whips at her back.
"It's this way. Hurry!"
Seventeen-year old Obi-Wan Kenobi sighed, but allowed the youngling pulling on his tunic sleeve to lead him along. "Where are we going, Asha?"
She tugged a bit more insistently, and Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. In the short time he'd known her, he'd quickly learned that, in Asha Scarci's case, 'surprise' usually meant that she didn't know where she was going either; she just wanted to take someone with her.
His thoughts wandered a bit as she lead him from the classroom hall, past the meditation chambers and the practice salles, through the Room of a Thousand Fountains, and finally into the entrance hall.
"Look!" she said, pointing upwards at the large windows and the lights outside them that indicated a busy skyway. "It's so pretty. Isn't it pretty, Obi-Wan?"
But Obi-Wan was not looking at the speeders. He was too busy focusing on the figure standing in the open doorway, staring out at the cityscape.
"Ciarán!" he called. "What are you looking at?"
The Zabrak turned to face him, his expression a mix of shock and confusion. "Kate's gone."
"Ciarán, she's probably just hiding somewhere. Have you checked--"
"I just saw her run out. I called after her, but she just kept running."
Obi-Wan blinked. "You mean… I know she's been threatening to, but… she really… left?"
Ciarán nodded solemnly.
Asha tugged on Obi-Wan's sleeve again. "Who's Kate?" she asked plainly, looking imploringly up at her companion.
"A friend of ours," he answered. "Look Asha, I think it's time you went back to the crèche--"
"No!" She pulled on his sleeve again, but this time he jerked it back out of her grasp. "I wanted to show you the--"
"Not now, Asha. I need to find her." He knelt down briefly so he could be at eye level with her, and told her, very seriously, "Stay here." Then he stood up and looked at Ciarán again. "Do you know which way she went?"
"I think so. Come on." And he jogged out into the streets, Obi-Wan a few steps behind him, leaving Asha in the entrance hall.
She thought about Obi-Wan's request. Then she ran after him anyway.
Three Padawans ran along a lightless thoroughfare; two Padawans stumbled after one to whom anger lent speed. Neon lights flashed across the bottomless street, and speeders flew past with their headlights on, but she had chosen shadows to run to.
Obi-Wan stopped at an intersection of two streets, breathing hard, looking around for what he knew he wouldn't see. He could sense her in the near distance, past the indistinct steps of a fire escape.
"Kate!" shouted Asha. Obi-Wan jumped a few inches into the air and turned around—the brown-haired youngling was standing innocently behind him, smiling.
"Wha—it's supposed to be hard to sneak up on Jedi, you know." Obi-Wan said. Ciaràn laughed softly.
"I was being pianissimo."
Like the other two and unseen Kate, Asha wore the brown and white robes typical of the Jedi. She lived as any of them did, and, when she came of age, would carry a lightsaber. However, she perceived the Force as music, as melodies or symphonies she could hear, and her powers manifested in some unusual ways.
Obi-Wan wondered what she heard right now.
Asha yelled, "Kate!"
"Shh," hissed Ciaràn. The red-skinned Zabrak's bronze eyes almost glowed as he warily scanned the alley.
"I don't think we have to worry," said Obi-Wan. "We're close to home; the alley's just dark because it's not the storefront side of the building." Another sidewalk could be seen above them, a black shelf against the dark and cloudy sky. A speeder whooshed by; the sound was nearly a constant outside on Corsucant, and the Padawans barely heard it as they moved forward after Obi-Wan. "Kate!" He called. "We want to help."
"Come here then!" Her voice came disembodied out of the dark.
They moved forward. Kate's presence hovered above Obi-Wan; he looked up to see her perched on the fire escape. She looked small against the metal, her arms around her knees, her thoughts pain-filled and angry. A thrill of fear shot through him when he remembered his own flight from the Jedi Order. "Take it from me, this is a bad idea. Leaving home? It's not that great."
"That's putting it mildly," said Ciaràn wryly.
Kate looked down at them; then her gaze slid to Asha. "What's that?"
"This is Asha." Obi-Wan placed a hand on the little girl's shoulder. "She, ah, tends to follow me.."
"How cute." Kate said.
"You know, if you were as good at Jedi calm as you are at sarcasm we wouldn't be having this conversation," said Ciaràn.
"Ha," Kate dropped down from the fire escape to directly in front of the Zabrak, but she retreated to the wall and leaned there, shadows hiding her painted face and pale green eyes.
She feels estranged, Obi-Wan sensed. Putting a barrier between us, even if we've been friends and Ciaràn and her are yearmates, illustrates what she thinks of home right now. "What happened?"
She felt sad now, almost resigned to both wanting and hating the Jedi. "I told them everything," she said quietly. "Master Yoda and Master K'tan called the Council on me. They know I can't calm down and that there are too many men in that Temple and I hate Master K'tan."
"I didn't know that last one, actually," said Obi-Wan.
"I'm not sure I did either. He's so…static. Okay, he's so old. I'm…The Council." Kate looked back and forth between her friends. "Master Yoda…wants to erase who I am. I can't go back. They'll do something to me—they're dangerous—"
"Master Yoda frightened you," said Ciaràn. Kate nodded. He continued, "He's not harmless. No Council member can be. I think they were being what you want to be, Kate; not soft, not like Master K'tan, who just wants to talk you through your problems. Tough."
"But I can't do it. I can't be calm like they want." She inhaled and the breath squeaked in her throat; Obi-Wan thought she was trying very hard not to cry.
Asha started to whistle through her fingers. Obi-Wan felt her power; the music enfolded the group and exuded calm and a quirky sort of happiness that relaxed Kate.
"Come home," said Ciaràn.
"I don't want to talk to the K'tan and the Council!"
"Maybe you won't have to," said Obi-Wan. Again he touched Asha on the shoulder, and she lowered her hands.
Kate said, "You can't stop them." She thought, You can't protect me.
"I can't. But maybe Master Jinn and Master Drallig can."
Kate looked at the three of them in the eyes again, and then she led the way back.