Prologue

Circa 3800 years before the rise of the Empire.

It is a time of peace, all is well with the galaxy; darkness is all but forgotten. The machine of the Republic continues its eternal workings, its countless billions of lives driving it ever onwards, its numberless worlds continuing their dance through the cosmos, even to its most remote ends.

A flicker of light disturbs the blackness as a vessel re-enters real space, a rare occurrence indeed in this forgotten place. The vessel is small, larger than a fighter and with enough room for a limited crew, but small and sleek, clearly built for speed. Its design is old but it appears impeccably maintained as it gracefully enters orbit around the lonely planet it has come to visit.

Through the view-port the planet grows, its red-ochre desert glow casting a gentle light over the two women in the cockpit.

One of the women is old; brushing her long silver hair behind an ear as she deftly begins a final approach to the surface. The other woman is not old, she is ancient, although her hair retains just a glimpse of the auburn it once was.

They glance at each other as the vessel gently touches down, a warm smile spreads across their faces and there is an air of serenity between them. Their is strength there too, it is unmistakeable in their eyes, eyes which have born witness to many great and many terrible things, eyes that are a mirror image of each other.

"Do not be sad," the ancient woman speaks, "My journey is only just beginning."

"I am not sad," her younger companion replies, "All things pass, it is how it should be, and I am prepared to let go when I must."

The ancient woman stands and makes her way to the egress hatch, her grace and lightness of foot defying her great age, it is clear she was once beautiful. At the base of the ramp the younger woman hands her a small carved wooden box. "You'll be needing this," she says. The ancient woman smiles. "I am very proud of you my daughter, now go with my love, and may the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with you." Mother and daughter embrace. "It will be – forever, as will I be with you." With that she turns, moving towards what remains of a small abandoned settlement, just an empty shell now. She enters without watching the vessel leave. She is alone.

Kneeling on the bare floor of the empty room she opens the box she has brought so that she might hold the objects within one more time. The familiar cool metal hand-grip that has remained unused for half a century and the fragile crystal lattice that has been her focus for that same time. "I am here my love," she says aloud. "It was you who started me on my journey and I have seen many things in that time. I have been part of great events, I have made mistakes, and I have even loved others. But you I loved first and to you I come now."

She places the box in a small hidden compartment in the floor of the room, then kneels once more and closes her eyes. "Andur my love, I am ready." With that Nomi Sunrider, greatest Jedi of her age begins her journey anew.

____________________

Every journey begins with a first step. It is only on looking back that we can tell when that step was.

Chapter 1

Planet Tatooine, ten years after the formation of the Empire.

The twin suns had almost reached their zenith, the hottest part of the day, and on a desert world that meant hot. In the case of this planet, with two fiery balls of gas radiating heat nearby, that meant unbearably hot. This part of the desert was mainly comprised of rocky formations rather than rolling dunes, which at least offered some shaded areas, such as those were.

A small caravan of travellers was parading as best they could through this harsh landscape. Mainly vehicles of various shapes and sizes interspersed with pack animals at several points. One such animal was a little way out to the front of the procession, it and its rider being followed by the rest.

Given the choice of travel methods between a machine and a living creature Obi-Wan Kenobi could decide in a heartbeat. There was something just correct and much more civilised about a living, breathing mount. Even if it meant getting past the noise and the smell, and the flies, and the smell, and the bumpy ride, oh, and the smell. Once you got past that, it was far superior in every way. It certainly was in Obi-Wan's opinion anyway. Perhaps I'm just a traditionalist, he mused. I'm quite sure I should have been born in another time and place altogether. Journeys such as this one, which had lasted several hours so far, offered ideal opportunities for such pondering. The gentle rhythm and sway of his Eopee allowing the mind to follow all sorts of curious paths and arrive at equally curious destinations.

Obi-Wan was suddenly roused from his thoughts by a very unhealthy sounding clunking noise accompanied shortly by an equally unhealthy black cloud of smoke that had quickly overtaken him and his mount. "That reminds me my young friend," Obi-Wan said wearily to the beast." "Living transportation does not break down either." The Eopee honked an affirmative.

Obi-Wan dismounted and headed back to ascertain the situation. It was as bad as he had first thought. The largest and oldest transport, the one with most of the gear on board, had suffered total repulsor failure, and was going to take hours to repair. Fortunately they were almost at the area to which Obi-Wan had been leading the convoy, and once he had made the relevant people aware of this, a makeshift camp quickly began to spring up.

Obi-Wan located his small shelter, supplied by the Mos Ore Conglomerate, a very glamorous sounding, but equally unglamorous in reality, mining company funding this expedition. Removing the small plasteel cases from his Eopee he set about locating food and water for the beast, before finding a safe spot to tether it. There were plenty of hours left in the day and Obi-Wan had no desire to stretch this out any longer than he had to. No time like the present, he thought, and set to work.

Finding a spot about one hundred paces from the camp Obi-Wan unpacked and set up his limited equipment. The plasteel cases contained a tripod mounted range finder, a magnetic field detector connected to a flat receiver that lay on the ground. These both fed into a control unit with a data readout. It was a collection of lights, wires, displays, sensors and complicated sounding noises. It looked very impressive, and Obi-Wan needed absolutely none of it. He chuckled to himself, "If Yoda could see me now," although deep down he knew his old mentor probably could. I'm sure he would approve, he thought. "To all situations a Jedi must be prepared to adapt," Obi-Wan said aloud in his best Yoda voice.

He had certainly had to adapt to this new life. A little over a decade ago Obi-Wan had arrived on Tatooine with the most important thing he had ever had in his field of responsibility, which is quite a statement for a Jedi Master and veteran of many military campaigns. Put plainly his mission was the protection of a tiny, most important, life; Anakin's son.

Having found a safe place for the child, one far away from prying eyes but one he could monitor as necessary, Obi-Wan then had to take care of himself and settle in for the long haul. But just what does an out of work Jedi do to earn a living in the back of beyond, especially as it was soon apparent his former profession was now highly illegal. He could hardly broadcast his abilities, imagine:

NEED SOMETHING MOVING?

NO JOB TOO BIG – we have telekinesis!

JUST CALL 555 OBI

Or:

NEED PROTECTION FROM LOW LIFE SCUM?

KENOBI'S YOUR MAN

Ps – I specialise in Sith Lords!

No, there had to be a way he could get by without drawing much attention to himself and ideally leaving him time to focus on his real mission.

As it turned out Obi-Wan should have known better; the Force showed him the way. After briefly renting accommodation in Mos Eisley using rapidly dwindling resources he had in various emergency accounts, the time came to look for a permanent base. This turned out to be a simple, isolated, run-down structure just beyond the edge of the Dune Sea. It was cheap, unwanted and Obi-Wan would enjoy fixing it up, more over it was close to the child's location.

Obi-Wan began renovations, the first and most important of which on a desert world would be a water supply. The structure had its own disused vaporator that became project number one. Frustratingly project number one stayed just that despite Obi-Wan's best efforts. He just wasn't mechanically inclined enough. Anakin would have loved this, he thought, he could fix anything. Deciding on one last attempt Obi-Wan began to meditate, allowing the Force to guide him to the appropriate course of action. He was focussed on water and was suddenly acutely aware of water, lots of water, nearby. Impossible, the planet was dry; the only moisture available had to be sucked drop by drop from the atmosphere by complex machines. The Force however was telling him a different story, and it was drawing his focus down. "By the stars, of course," Obi-Wan blurted. "Ground water." Even on this world there had to be some sources, they were just notoriously difficult to locate. There were even legends that told of them as part of the local traditions. Water was, after all, in a desert climate, treasure indeed. Obi-Wan just happened to have one such source on his doorstep, one which should be relatively easy to access, and so it transpired.

With his new found knowledge of what to look for Obi-Wan began one or two cursory investigations and sure enough from time to time he would locate a small water source buried deep in the bedrock. An idea had begun to blossom. Introducing himself to the local population of moisture farmers under the pretence of upgrading their vaporators, he slowly spun the idea of locating accessible water sources through the process of dousing, an archaic method he had once read about in the Jedi Archives. At first most scoffed at him, but it only took one or two successes before he was a hit. Obi-Wan certainly did not seek recognition, so was careful to work with only a select few groups of farmers. However, he did come to the attention of one larger producer, who hired him exclusively as a prospector.

During this period he had adopted his new identity of Ben, and working with one smallish company kept him off the radar, although he had acquired a somewhat mystical reputation among the locals, who if not afraid of him, were wary of his strange methods. This suited Obi-Wan just fine, allowing him to maintain his distance.

Although he was secure now, with a steady, reasonable income and a safe base of operations, Obi-Wan was still troubled on two fronts. Firstly, having an employer meant time restrictions which often interfered with his primary objective of safeguarding the child. This was unacceptable! Fortunately the Force once again provided the answer.

Whilst out prospecting Obi-Wan sensed something different in the bedrock. This turned out to be a small mineral seem, nothing major, but it was something he became able to recognise as a unique pattern in the Force. A career change quickly followed, and Obi-Wan was now an independent geological surveyor, working for whom he chose, but more important, as and when he chose. Most of the time he would inform local mining companies, selling his information to the highest bidder. After a while they tried to copy the machinery he used, but to no effect, and they would always come back to him. The deposits he located were never large, Tatooine had been all but exhausted of mineral wealth over the millennia, but they were large enough to attract local business, without attracting mega-credit off-world interests. Again, this suited Obi-Wan just fine.

The second troublesome area was more one of ethics. Obi-Wan had been a Jedi his whole life, a life dedicated to the service of others, he knew no other way. Yet here he was using his abilities for profit and personal gain. Although his possessions were still limited, he was now a fairly wealthy individual, and somehow it just felt wrong. Using the Force for personal gain led to the dark side, how many times had he heard that? How many times had he said that? Eventually after much soul searching and meditation, and in order to preserve his sanity, Obi-Wan reached a conclusion. He was now a Jedi only in the context of his personal values. The title was meaningless, there were no rules or codes to follow, only his own will and that of the Force. Obi-Wan chastised himself for his attachment, he had to let his old life go, and so, just like that, he did.

He now had but one purpose clear in his mind, he knew what his destiny must be, and he must do all in his power, save harming others, to ensure that destiny. Obi-Wan Kenobi was the pivot point that would allow the continuation of the ways of the light side of the Force, and its battle against the dark side. If he failed, evil would triumph. Simple really! No pressure there then, Obi-Wan thought.

The approach of one of the mining executives roused him from his reminiscences. Back to work, he thought, preparing to slip back into his Ben character. "I sure hope this goddam trek into the middle of nowhere was worth it," said the short, balding mining exec'. He clearly wanted to be here just as much as Obi-Wan. "Have I ever been wrong yet Kerrell?" Obi-Wan retorted whilst playing with some readouts just for effect. "No, and I hope I'm not the one payin' for it when you are!" Obi-Wan's machine beeped. "Well, well, what could that possibly mean?" he said with a sarcastic grin. "Let's take a look shall we?" Whilst pretending to look at his display Obi-Wan allowed the Force to guide him to the now familiar patterns created by the mineral seems beneath the surface, in this case some carbon deposits interspersed with some small pockets of various metal ores. He relayed this information to Kerrell, along with coordinates and depth measurements, and then switched off his box of tricks. Offering his hand to the shorter man, he informed him that he would be leaving at first light. There was someone he hadn't spoken to in a while, and it was about time they caught up.

_______________________

A journey takes us from one place to another. But we do not travel without reason; there is always a destination.

Chapter 2

Life was tough if you lived on Tatooine. The desert community literally survived day to day, and that produced hardy people, but people who helped each other all the same. In small settlements such as this one everybody knew everybody else and there was always a peaceful status quo. Not today!

Angry shouts, the whine of strained repulsors and a cloud of dust kicked up by a speeding vehicle had disturbed the rustic tranquillity. To a casual observer it might have looked like a robbery, and from a certain point of view it was just that. The speeding vehicle was a new landspeeder removed from its resting place without permission. The shouts were emanating from an angry parent upon their discovery of this, and the criminals were a fourteen year old boy with his ten year old accomplice.

The fugitives blazed a trail out into the desert, heading for local canyons where they could test the vehicles performance more thoroughly. The older boy behind the controls looked determined; his younger companion was wide eyed with excitement. Neither of them registered the approaching darkness rapidly filling the horizon to the east, nor the threatening colour of the sky. To any local, even a child, these two signs meant one thing, imminent danger! You must seek shelter right away. The trouble was before you were able to react, you had to first be paying attention, and that wasn't high upon the list of skills associated with these two boys in particular.

Within minutes the sandstorm had begun to catch the speeder. As soon as the occupants registered the danger, they swerved suddenly, attempting to take a shorter route to some rocky formations. Cover was minutes away, but that was still too far. The weight of the storm enveloped them and everything went black.

This is the peril of the sandstorm, it is so fast. Winds whip up dust and grit that blind you, and can flay the skin from exposed parts of your body. If you find shelter you can sit it out, providing you have the right supplies, as storms can last for hours or even days. If you're caught out you're in a world of trouble. Stay still and you might be buried by sand, try to run and you will get lost in the constantly moving storm. Both scenarios will eventually end in disaster, unless you are very, very lucky.

"Slow down, you can't see anything," screamed the younger boy. "We don't have time, we've got to get to that crevasse," his older companion shouted back assuredly. The youngsters' eyes were shut against the maelstrom but his terror was palpable, he could contain himself no longer. Reaching across he grabbed the other boys' arms, forcing the vehicle to swerve suddenly. The violence of the turn forced one of the rear engines to burrow into the sand. This slowed their trajectory, but also caused the speeder to flip once, landing upside down on a cushion of drift sand. Nothing stirred from the crash; nothing stirred for miles around, the world had closed down to ride out the storm. There would be no help soon. Nothing moved, only the impenetrable wall of dust hurled furiously by the howling wind.

______________________

Obi-Wan Kenobi yawned, the gentle plodding of his Eopee having almost sent him to sleep. This will never do, he thought, there was a time when I could stay awake and ready for action for days straight. That time had long gone, and that Obi-Wan Kenobi with it. The previous night in his small shelter at the mining camp had not been a peaceful one. The wind had moaned all night long, whipping up sand that had battered the sides of his shelter, sounding like a rainstorm. Not ideal conditions for sleeping. At first light Obi-Wan had set off for home, intending only to make a short stop for supplies at one of the small local settlements. It quickly became apparent that the wind of the previous night had been the periphery of a sandstorm passing through the area, and Obi-Wan was able to observe the subtle changes that had taken place in the landscape. A new dune here, a new valley there, and several now exposed rock formations that had previously been buried. There was even one small feature that appeared to be waving at him.

Obi-Wan squinted against the sun and was able to make out two small figures in the shade of a rock cliff. Even as his eyes processed this information, his Force senses began to overwhelm him with an unmistakeable presence. There was no doubt who one of the boys was – it was him!

Obi-Wan dismounted and led his Eopee the last thirty or forty meters. The boys, it appeared, were in the process of excavating a small vehicle of some sort from a sand drift that had formed against the rock face. "Hello there my young friends," Obi-Wan offered a greeting. "It appears you have somewhat of a problem." The boys stopped digging. "Figure that out on your own did you?" said the older boy sarcastically. He was lean with dark hair and Obi-Wan recognised him as one of the Darklighter family, whom he had often worked with in the past. "That ain't the half of it," said his younger companion, "I'm in so much trouble, my uncle's gonna ground me for the rest of my life!" Obi-Wan looked at the child, and despite himself his breath caught in his throat and a long buried pain knotted his stomach. He may as well have been addressing another boy he had known long ago. This was the first time he had actually spoken to the child he was sworn to protect, in the entire decade he had been here. He had seen him from a distance and had listened to many conversations about him, but had not once been close enough to see the blonde hair and blue eyes of his unmistakeable parentage. "Well then," said Obi-Wan, shaking loose the memories. "Let's see if we can prevent that from happening by getting you out of your predicament."

All three of them cleared away sand from around the speeder until Obi-Wan, being the tallest was able to reach up and guide the craft back into an upright position, using some of the piled sand as a makeshift ramp. One engine had been ripped away, and Obi-Wan had no idea where that was, but the other two still appeared to be functional, well they would be once several hundred pounds of sand had been removed from them. "You don't appear to be in too bad a shape," Obi-Wan smiled, trying to make the two of them feel better. "That's mainly thanks to him," said the older boy. "Really, how so?" inquired Obi-Wan. "When the storm hit we were blind," he continued. "I was goin' full throttle for shelter, when Luke made me swerve and we ended up here," holding his arms out for effect. "I don't know how he knew, but if he hadn't done that we'd have hit the cliff face flat out and," he trailed off, "well, you know." Obi-Wan smiled knowingly at the younger boy. "Well done Luke, it seems you're quite the hero."

"Not really," said the boy matter of factly, "it just felt like the right thing to do." Obi-Wan couldn't help but smile once more.

"Well now boys, let's see if we can't get you back to civilisation," Obi-Wan changed the subject. "No need," said Luke deflated, "we're rumbled," pointing over Obi-Wan's shoulder as he spoke. He turned to see a small group of people heading towards them. At the front was a man Obi-Wan knew instantly, even though it had been many years since he had seen him this close up. Owen Lars was even sterner than Obi-Wan remembered; he was certainly more weather-worn as well. "You two get that speeder on the trailer," said Lars without so much as a glance in Obi-Wan's direction. "You have no idea just how lucky you are, but you will be by the time I'm through with you." The statement from Lars left no room for doubt what he meant. "I do not believe luck had much to do with their survival," Obi-Wan tried to sound positive for the boys' sake. Owen Lars finally glanced in his direction, he did not look pleased to see Obi-Wan. "The wizard man helped us dig the speeder out," said the Darklighter boy, feeling the tension. "Kenobi," Lars nodded, and then turned to head back the way he had come. The others followed. After several seconds he turned to face Obi-Wan again. "If you're heading into town, you should check the holonet, there have been developments that might concern you," he said.

______________________

The nearest settlement consisted of a few farmsteads within easy reach of each other, centred around a small supply store, a communications station, a mechanics workshop and a small cantina. Obi-Wan gathered the supplies he needed, and then headed for the comm.' station and the holonet receiver.

The place was empty save for the centre manager, who took absolutely no notice of Obi-Wan, and carried on at his computer terminal. The holonet receiver was projecting continually in one corner of the room. Obi-Wan checked the news channels. All off-world news was blanket Empire coverage, clear propaganda and obviously centrally controlled, so Obi-Wan found a local channel instead. "….continues to expand its control of more outlying systems," Obi-Wan had tuned in during the middle of the announcers report. "Imperial presence is being felt more directly," he continued, "as Galactic Senators are increasingly coming under the jurisdiction of Regional Governors, regions which now include large sways of the Outer Rim Territories." It was a huge task to monitor and control such a vast and unruly sector of space, Obi-Wan observed, even the Republic had never truly managed to bring most of it into the fold. How was the Empire going to manage it? He had the answer almost immediately before his eyes; he should have known better – brute force was how! The holonet announcer was now talking about a structure being quickly erected in the background of his camera shot. Hundreds of white armoured soldiers were engaged in the work. An imperial garrison! The Empire had come to Tatooine, and the cold shiver that ran up Obi-Wan's spine came with it.

________________________

The remainder of his journey home had been fairly swift, but by no means as restful as his usual travels. Obi-Wan had a lot of issues to contemplate, but could not come to any conclusions. He was worried, certainly not afraid, but definitely concerned, and he didn't like that, not one little bit. In the past Obi-Wan was practically unflappable, he was always able to approach any difficult situation with unerring calm and decisiveness. ­­­­­ The difference was, back then he had always been able to seek council from those wiser and more experienced than himself. Now he was the wise and experienced one, and he was alone. "Melancholy fool," Obi-Wan said to himself, "you know damn well you're not alone." There was someone he could talk to, that someone with whom he had been meaning to do exactly that.

There was one thing he felt he needed to do before anything else however. It wasn't always possible, not without the risk of drawing attention to himself, and he would have to be cautious. But it was, under the circumstances, worth the risk Obi-Wan decided, as it would allow him to focus on the Force in preparation for his meditations. Entering his dwelling Obi-Wan headed straight for his storage chest. He returned to the cooling evening air having removed his upper garments and carrying one small item. Following a trail towards the cliffs nearby, Obi-Wan headed out into the desert once more. After several minutes walk he arrived at a fairly large overhang in the cliff face, almost a cave really, and somewhere that would hide him from any casual observers. Obi-Wan relaxed his breathing then took a comfortable stance. The object he had brought with him at once came to life in a burst of graceful blue fury, with an unmistakeable snap-hiss, and the cave became bathed in light.

Despite his age, Obi-Wan began a series of lithe and precise movements, the blade of his lightsaber spinning about him in a blur, causing the air in its path to sizzle. He had learned these sequences as a child, and the basic principles of block, parry, riposte, always formed the opening of any practice session, even now. Obi-Wan opened himself to the Force, allowing his movements to flow seamlessly from one to the other. He was not elaborate to look at, fast to be sure, and extremely precise, but without any of the twists or jumps one would normally expect of a Jedi. Time was always irrelevant for Obi-Wan when he opened to the Force, and that was the key to his lightsaber prowess. When his practice suddenly ceased, he had not even broken sweat, despite the fact that his chrono told him he had worked for a standard hour without a single pause. If necessary, he could engage in combat almost without end, his style had become so efficient. As he returned home he was now fully centred in the Force and ready to seek the council of an old friend.

________________________

In the main living area of his dwelling, Obi-Wan dimmed the lights and seated himself on the floor. He closed his eyes, then systematically concentrated on shutting off all other external stimuli, until he was aware of himself only. At this point he allowed the Force to flood in and flow through him. It was an extraordinary sensation, but such a familiar one too, and despite that, Obi-Wan would never tire of experiencing it. It was like being in the presence of an old friend, or returning home to a warm and secure place after a long journey.

Even though he had shut off his normal senses, Obi-Wan was aware of everything, he was everything, and everything was him. He could feel every particle of sand moving outside, could see through the eyes of flying creatures circling the skies nearby, could locate the star ship passing by ten thousand klicks into space, and even sense the pulsing of stars on the other side of the galaxy. He didn't require all this input however and simply withdrew his focus back to himself.

"It is good to hear from you again old friend," Obi-Wan said aloud, "I have missed you." A reply came. "You know better than to grow too attached to things my young apprentice," said the disembodied voice of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan's former master. "Not so young anymore it would appear," Obi-Wan replied dryly. "Your sense of humour remains undiminished," Qui-Gon chuckled, "despite the tangled web of thoughts I sense clouding your mind. Perhaps I can help old friend."

"Yes please," responded Obi-Wan, almost like a child being offered a special gift.

"What troubles you Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked. Obi-Wan paused, gathering his thoughts into a cohesive response. "I feel," he began, "that I can no longer carry on my mission in its current state. Events are beginning to overtake me and I am unprepared, I don't know what to do next, I do not know how to take the next step," he finished in a somewhat flustered manner. "Events are moving, how so?" asked Qui Gon. "The boy," replied Obi-Wan. "His attunement to the Force is growing rapidly; therefore his presence within it must also be growing. Soon it will be easily detectable to anyone looking."

"But who would look here, in this remote place," Qui Gon soothed. "No one I believed, until today that is. The Empire is here!" Obi-Wan paused to allow this information to sink in. "It's not much, but enough to prompt me out of my slumbering," he continued pointedly. Qui-Gon did not respond immediately and there was somewhat of an uneasy pause. Eventually he said. "You fear it will not be long before the darkness uncovers our plan, and the boy is not ready?"

"Precisely," replied Obi-Wan. "He is just a child."

"Do you fear he will ever be ready?" Qui-Gon asked somewhat curtly. "How do you mean?" Obi-Wan was curious. "Do you fear he will ever be ready," Qui-Gon repeated. "If it is down to you to make him so!" Obi-Wan was stunned. "I….I….," was all he could stutter before his old master interrupted. "Come now Obi-Wan, you do not fool me. Will you really allow your personal feelings to get in the way?"

"I would never!" protested Obi-Wan, but Qui-Gon cut him off once more. "You blame yourself for Anakin's failure, and you are afraid it will happen again with his son. Is it not so?" Qui-Gon baited him. "Did he not fail?" Obi-Wan blasted. "Was it not me? Was it not my training that left him flawed?" Obi-Wan let it out. Was I not so arrogant that I believed I could guide the chosen one in your place? Yoda even warned me that the failure would be in his training, but I chose not to listen, Obi-Wan the wise always knew best." The silence that followed was even louder than Obi-Wan's ranting, and he felt ashamed at his emotions. "Let it go Master Jedi," Qui Gon said so quietly Obi-Wan barely heard. "Your fear prevents you from seeing the truth, and you must let it go." The use of the title Master Jedi, and the word fear aimed at him, cleared Obi-Wan's mind. Qui-Gon continued. "The ancient prophecy told only that the chosen one would restore balance to the Force. It did not say how or when, only that it would be so. Is this balance restored yet old friend? No, it is not. Anakin's fall is surely then a part of his destiny, a destiny he has still not arrived at. You my friend, still have a part to play in ensuring that he does."

Obi-Wan sighed. "I still have so much to learn master, how I wish you were here to teach me always." "I am Obi-Wan Kenobi," replied Qui-Gon, "I am. Perhaps your approach to Anakin was sometimes too inflexible, perhaps even too harsh, but the failure was not yours. Do not be afraid to guide another Obi-Wan."

His mind cleared, Obi-Wan thought for a while about his next step. Soon he knew what he must pursue. "Master," he said. "How was it that you came back to us?" Qui-Gon responded immediately. "I do not truly know. I am sure however, that I am not the first to have succeeded in this journey. The ancients knew how."

"But that's impossible," countered Obi-Wan. "Would not tales of such astounding feats have been in the archives? Surely Yoda would have been aware of them!"

"Not all knowledge was to be found in the archives," Qui-Gon said sagely. "And much has been lost to us. Many events have taken place over the millennia that have scattered such treasures far and wide, particularly that which is most ancient in its origin."

"Do you know of such a treasure?" Obi-Wan asked playfully. "I'm afraid not," replied Qui-Gon. An idea was forming in Obi-Wan's mind. "If I am to succeed in guiding Anakin to his destiny, and the boy to his," Obi-Wan mused. "The ability to keep in touch even in the event of my own demise would prove extremely useful." The return of his sense of humour was a good sign. "Can you teach me master?" he asked. "Alas, I know not how," Qui-Gon said sadly. "Then I must find out how," stated Obi-Wan. "But where to begin?"

"The archives still exist," offered Qui-Gon. "And any information about the ancients might be a good starting point."

"I'm sure they still exist, but under the Emperor's highest security," Obi-Wan countered. "There are ways around security Obi-Wan, and I know of an old acquaintance who could help you with just that.

_______________________

Finding the right path can be difficult, but there are always those wiser than ourselves to guide us.

Chapter 3

Obi-Wan could not believe he was actually going through with this plan. It was bordering on insanity! Firstly, he would have to abandon his primary objective; the child. Realistically Obi-Wan knew the boy was secure at the farmstead, and the Empire was hardly likely to have its attention drawn by a ten year old, but he still didn't like it. Secondly, and he really couldn't believe Qui-Gon's plan for this bit, his travel destination was about the last place in the galaxy he really should be visiting – Coruscant. Finally, and most disturbing of all, he was going to have to don a disguise, starting by dying his hair. And I thought you were my friend Jinn, he thought.

Having had to replace his usual Jedi robes with something less recognisable, Obi-Wan had chosen a simple tan coloured flight suit and utility belt. He had even attached a blaster to the belt, mainly for authenticity, as no-one in this part of the Outer Rim travelled unarmed. His real weapon was concealed in a small pocket in his flight suit.

Staring at himself in the mirror, Obi-Wan paused. He was in a grubby refresher station at the main terminal for inter-galactic travel at Mos Eisley, Tatooine's main space port. He was not travelling direct to Coruscant, it was too risky. He dare not leave a trail back to the boy if he was discovered. No, his journey would be by a round-about route, stopping in at least twelve systems, and involving several transfers. That was also the reason he was using unregistered transport, so there would be no link to him and no flight logs that could be traced.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and swallowed. He began mentally counting to fifty, enough time for the follicle stimulant he had just ingested to take effect. When he felt brave enough one eye slowly opened. Staring back at him was something out of a holo-drama about outlaws and gunslingers. His hair was jet-black, as was the moustache he had been growing in place of his usual beard, and what a moustache! He traced it with his thumb and forefinger from his nose, down both sides of his mouth, terminating just below the level of his chin. To finish the overall look he inserted a lens over his left eye. This gave the eye a milky-white appearance, as though he had lost the sight in it. This was the look of someone you would want to avoid, and that was exactly what Obi-Wan wanted, at least in this part of the galaxy anyway.

Leaving the refresher station, Obi-Wan headed straight for his departure point. He intended to be just in time for his shuttle, which would finish boarding in a matter of moments. The space port was no place to hang around, even in a public area such as this, where most of the denizens were honest travellers, Mos Eisley was still a very dangerous place. The vast unruly nature of the Outer Rim made planets such a Tatooine ideal haunts for those not wishing to be found, 'Ironically,' Obi-Wan had often thought. However, that usually meant outlaws and hardened criminals, the sort of beings who would prey on the unprepared. Obi-Wan was far from what one would call unprepared, but all the same.

He arrived at the shuttle just as they were preparing to seal the hatch, not bothering to apologise, attempting to stay in character. The shuttle was crowded and the air inside was already beginning to heat up. This, combined with the various aromas given off by the multitude of different species aboard, made for quite a heady cocktail, and Obi-Wan had the impression this was going to be a long, uncomfortable flight. Finding an available seat Obi-Wan strapped in and tried to settle down. Repulsors had already kicked in and the vessel gently shook as it prepared to lift off. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, and then frustratingly had to open them almost immediately to find the source of the tapping sensation that had begun against his right arm. Staring up at him was the passenger to his right hand side, a Chadra-Fan, small and ever so rodent like. "Greetings fellow traveller, I am Snit Gennin," it said, nose twitching as it did so. Obi-Wan gave a curt nod in a vain effort to dissuade the creature from further conversation, but to no avail. "My, my, it is hot in here is it not? But I suppose that's to be expected on a desert world, wouldn't you say? Are you travelling far? Myself, I am going home to visit relatives, and Tatooine was just a stopping point." Obi-Wan slid down his seat, this was going to be a very long, very uncomfortable flight. In the back of his mind he was sure he could hear Qui-Gon laughing.

________________________

Fifteen standard days later Obi-Wan arrived at Coruscant main terminus. The normal journey from Tatooine should have only taken five days, and considering the flight had damn near been the worst experience of his life; wars and Sith Lords included, Obi-Wan was wondering if the extra caution had actually been worth it. Of course it was, you poor excuse for a Jedi, he reminded himself.

Having no baggage to collect, he made his way directly to immigration and security control. A human about the size of a small wookie and wearing a black uniform checked Obi-Wan through a narrow gateway, passing some sort of scanner over and about his person. "Papers please," said the half-wookie, half-human, looking Obi-Wan up and down. By now he was much less conspicuous, having removed the eye lens, and added a technicians cap the same colour as his fight suit. Obi-Wan handed over a small document folder containing several flimsies. This had better be worth it, he thought, remembering the ridiculous price tag the folder had had back in Mos Eisley, not to mention the case of pre-clone war Corellian brandy he'd had to throw in as a sweetener. Pirates and fraudsters always had exquisite taste, he mused, part disparagingly, part admiration.

After a few moments the guard let him pass and Obi-Wan was a free Coruscanti traveller. Since touch down his whole experience had taken less than ten standard minutes, and that nagged at something in his subconscious. Then it struck him! There were thousands of beings queuing throughout the terminal, and yet he had not had to. There were hundreds of security personnel, including many imperial troops, and all were seriously engaged in security measures, and yet his checks had taken moments. What was apparent from this was that all those in queues, all those being scrutinised, were non-humans. Tolerance did not appear to be part of the Empire's agenda and Obi-Wan was not surprised in the least.

The brevity of his brush with security could have been a far less pleasant experience however, had someone glanced upwards some fifty feet towards the ceiling. Maybe an eagle-eyed guard, a holocam or a sensor, might just might have spotted a small metallic cylinder floating slowly through the air, hugging the space next to an energy conduit along its journey. Maybe! But they hadn't. Obi-Wan smiled as his lightsaber slowly returned to his grasp once more, it was amazing, he thought, how the trick of smuggling things into his dorm at the Jedi Temple when he was a boy, right under the noses of his Masters, still came in useful.

____________________

Outside the terminal, Obi-Wan flagged an air-taxi that was eagerly scouting for business in the port plaza. Air-taxi was the only real means of travelling through the cityscape relatively unhindered as they did not have to stick to the recognised traffic lanes, and they still seemed to be functioning normally, even under Imperial control. "Corellian Sector," Obi-Wan told the Dug pilot. He wasn't exactly sure of his destination and did not want to be too specific anyway, in case he endangered his contact, but he knew the rough area he needed to head towards.

As the taxi moved through the sky-lanes and megaliths of the planet city Obi-Wan was amazed at how normal everything seemed. Life just got on with it, no matter who was running things, but maybe that was just in this place however. The web of life that was Coruscant, which had taken untold millennia to weave, was oblivious to such trivial matters, and would never stop. It always had been and always would be a reassuring constant in a turbulent galaxy.

Despite his observations of the city, Obi-Wan could not bring himself to scan the horizon in one particular direction. He knew there would be a gap; something missing that had also once seemed a reassuring constant, almost as old as the city itself, but no more – the Jedi Temple. Some things could even penetrate the emotional barrier of a Jedi, and Obi-Wan knew that would be one of them.

The taxi ride took about two standard hours and eventually left Obi-Wan in an unusually spacious locale, spacious for Coruscant anyway. There were wide boulevard style walkways linking many small squares, each square containing an area of lush greenery. Being mid-way down the vertical levels of the city also allowed for a fair amount of sunlight to penetrate, adding to the pleasant nature of the surroundings. It was quiet too, for which Obi-Wan was glad as he set off on foot.

This would be the most difficult part of his journey so far, as Obi-Wan would have to allow the Force to guide him the rest of the way, which would put him at risk of exposure to anyone sensitive enough to feel his presence. It wouldn't be too dangerous, Obi-Wan supposed, as he would be passively engaged with the Force, allowing it to flow through him, rather than actively bending it to his will. His lightsaber trick earlier had been much riskier, but necessary and besides, Obi-Wan was containing his Force presence almost down to his person. Tuning out most external stimuli, he allowed his legs to lead him where they would. For block after block, and turn after turn after turn, he travelled, until, eventually he arrived at one of the many squares that linked several walkways, and he knew that this was where he needed to be.

The Force was taking him to a small shop, a flower shop to be precise, one specialising in exotic blooms from across the galaxy, if the widow displays were anything to judge by. Obi-Wan entered and had to smile at the quaint noise made by a bell jingling as he opened the door. "I'll be with you shortly," said the proprietor. She had her back to the door and was arranging flowers behind a small counter. An elderly woman, whom Obi-Wan recognised immediately, bringing warm memories shining in his heart. "I would be most grateful for your assistance," Obi-Wan replied, allowing his Force presence to expand and fill the room. The old woman stood bolt upright, dropping her flowers in the process then gracefully spun on her heels to face him. "In my dreams alone did I hope to feel such a presence again. You are a beacon of light indeed in the darkness that surrounds us Master Kenobi." Obi-Wan smiled. "As are you Master Nu, perhaps you might be able to assist me in casting some of that darkness back?"

Madam Jocasta Nu, long retired Jedi, came towards Obi-Wan and despite herself, hugged him long and hard. "Whatever assistance an old nuisance like me can offer, I will do so willingly." She closed the shop door, rotating a sign in the window. "Let's go somewhere we can talk."

Obi-Wan found himself sitting in a comfortable chair, with a steaming hot cup of café, in the back room of the flower shop. He began to share his story with Master Nu. "I am in search of references, any references really, to records from or concerning the ancient Jedi Order." Jocasta Nu snorted. "That's quite a lot of reference material, could you be more specific?" Obi-Wan thought for a moment. "Not really. I have no names for sure, or dates." He paused again. "I suppose I'm really looking for records regarding training methods the ancients used." Jocasta Nu looked puzzled. "Training for what exactly?" she asked. "The archives had millions of such records, most of which were incorporated into existing Jedi instruction over the millennia." Obi-Wan looked pensive. "What I need may have been knowledge that has been lost or forgotten." Jocasta Nu waited patiently, she could see Obi-Wan was uncomfortable about his request. "Knowledge regarding what in particular?" she asked. Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "That the ancient Jedi were able to become one with the Force. That they could continue to have an active influence, even after death." He waited for the rebuke, but none came. "If I recall, there were rare references to legends regarding such feats. But they were just that – legends, and they were beyond ancient in their origins to say the least. It would seem that what you seek probably did not truly exist." Obi-Wan countered. "Oh it exists alright, a good friend of mine reliably informs me." Jocasta Nu raised an eyebrow. "Really, which friend is that?" She asked. Obi-Wan smiled. "An old friend of yours – Qui-Gon Jinn!" Jocasta Nu's mouth opened for speech, but nothing came out. "How do you think I found out about you?" Obi-Wan continued. He then proceeded to explain how he had been able to communicate with Qui-Gon for the past decade. "He cannot interact with the living world, and I am unable to see him. Only during meditation is it possible for us to talk, but he has found a way back, and he is sure he is not the first."

Jocasta Nu nodded thoughtfully. "If knowledge of such ability were to have existed, it would have only been kept in one place." Obi-Wan nodded in reply. "Holocrons!" he said. Jocasta Nu continued. "All remaining holocrons were stored in the Archives, but I know that they contained no such knowledge." Obi-Wan posed a question. "These were not the only holocrons to have existed though?" "Absolutely not," Jocasta Nu replied. "There were hundreds created through the ages. There was even a record in the Archives listing each one, its creator, and even its eventual fate. A list that went back to the earliest times." Obi-Wan looked up. "That list would be as good a place as any to start my investigations. But as I feared, it would mean gaining access through the Emperor's highest security." Jocasta Nu grinned. "Yes it would, unless there just so happened to be a back door. That I just so happened to have the key to."

_________________________

Jocasta Nu slowly rolled away the rug that had covered most of the floor of the room, resting it up against one wall. Despite her age; Obi-Wan was guessing, but she must have hit three figures by now, she was still nimble and strong with it. Revealed beneath the rug was a small access panel, which proceeded to hiss open as Jocasta Nu keyed in a code on a wall mounted data pad. "Be my guest," she said, inviting Obi-Wan down a small flight of steps and into a very confined room, almost like a bunker. "What is this place?" Obi-Wan asked. "My safe house," Jocasta Nu replied. "Rare seedlings, some of which are extinct except for in this room," she said, indicating a row of shelves that housed scores of small plasteel sliding compartments. "My personal treasures," she continued, pointing to more shelves opposite. Obi-Wan could make out the shape of a lightsaber concealed beneath a soft cloth on one of them. "And my guilty secret," she finished, pointing at a small computer terminal. "When I was responsible for the archives, I made it my task, with the consent of the council of course, to back up and hold secure as much data as possible. This data was then hidden at several different secure points known only to a few individuals, just in case the archives were ever taken over for inappropriate use. Not a moment too soon as it transpired! Now I am the only one left who knows of this back up." Obi-Wan was incredulous. "Is the whole database here?" he asked. "No," she replied. "That would have taken many lifetimes to accomplish. We only have most textual components, records, journals, reports, factual information, galactic coordinates, museum data, historical accounts etc. And somewhere amongst it all, the list we require."

"Then shall we begin?" Obi-Wan urged.

Jocasta Nu began tapping the data pad, and before too long had accessed a file entitled 'Holocron – Accounts of.' There were four hundred and fifty entries, which meant four hundred and fifty holocrons had been in existence at some point. If Obi-Wan recalled there were only three in the archives. That meant an awful lot of missing knowledge. Upon closer inspection however that turned out not really to be the case. All but six of the recorded holocrons had been accounted for as destroyed at some point in history. Taking into account the three that Obi-Wan knew still existed, that left three missing. Obi-Wan checked each one of the three in more detail, there wasn't much! The first record indicated an ancient holocron, listed as twelve thousand standard years old. That would be fascinating, Obi-Wan thought. Unfortunately the record also indicated that it had disappeared not long after its creation. "Highly unlikely it would turn up now," Jocasta Nu commented. "Surely a thousand generations of Jedi would have discovered it at some point." Obi-Wan had to agree.

The third record indicated a recent holocron, in fact it appeared to chronologically be the last one recorded, and was only some three hundred and fifty standard years old. The author was listed as Master Shiino Jae. Yoda must remember him, Obi-Wan thought. I must ask him if I ever get the chance. "Too recent," Jocasta Nu observed. "Any knowledge that Master possessed would have been known to us, bearing in mind that Master Yoda would have been alive at the time." Obi-Wan smiled. "You read my mind," he said.

The second entry was the most promising, but also the vaguest. All it listed was a date of some four thousand years ago, and the author's name – Master Nomi Sunrider. "I have some recollection of that name," Jocasta Nu revealed. "Unfortunately I do not remember the specifics." As if pre-empting Obi-Wan's response, she typed in the name. Two entries appeared. One offered little, simply reading – Great Sith War, with the same date as that of the holocron. The other entry was more useful. It read; Academy at Ossus, Great Sith War, both dated to the same four thousand years ago, and Great Jedi Convocation – Exis Station, dated slightly later.

"It would seem there are two possible locations you might look to," Jocasta Nu offered. "I am sure I can provide you with the coordinates, and maybe some additional information before you continue your journey." Obi-Wan felt saddened as he realised his time here had to come to an end. This was almost certainly the last time he would see the old girl. "Master Nu, it has been an honour to have served the light with you as an ally," he said. "Even now that service remains invaluable. May the Force be with you." Jocasta Nu looked Obi-Wan direct in the eye. "You have brought peace to an old woman. I know now that the future is secure so long as it is in your hands. May the Force be with you Master Kenobi."

________________________

Raynor DeFey did not deserve this, not from his point of view anyway. He had worked hard at the academy, always finishing in the top ten percent of his class. He had deserved the recognition he had been given by his instructors in their selection of him to graduate to military intelligence training. He had deserved the quick promotions he had been given as rewards for his aptitude, but he definitely didn't deserve this. Five years ago DeFey had been on board a star destroyer, his job involving monitoring and analysing illegal arms shipments in various corners of the galaxy. It was great work, just what he was born to do. Monitoring communications channels, recognising the anomalies, infiltrating those lines of communication, gaining the trust of those involved, then springing the trap shut. It allowed him the best of both worlds, data crunching and field work.

It still bemused him then why he had taken that last promotion. Credits of course he had reminded himself, and the chance to work at the pinnacle of his chosen field, or so it seemed. He had received a communicae, inviting him to take up a post as an analyst with the Imperial Centre Intelligence Agency. Basically that meant working almost directly for the Emperor himself, right in the heart of the Empire – the renamed city planet of Coruscant. Raynor had jumped at the chance, as any young ambitious officer would, so here he was, staring at a group of data readouts and monitors in a small windowless room. The same readouts and monitors he had been staring at, in the same room, surrounded by the same people for the last five bloody years! It was tough at the top.

He checked his chrono. There were only forty five standard minutes left until his shift ended. At least he could grab a drink or two before he went home, the shift pattern he was currently working fitted in quite nicely with the cycle of Imperial Centre night life.

A flashing from one of the monitors, accompanied by a persistent beeping noise roused him from his reminiscences. Raynor slid his chair across, killing the alarm as he did so. The flashing on his screen, to his amazement, indicated a 'red flag'. He actually had a red flag situation! Imperial Centre Intel' had been set up approximately eight standard years ago, to be the eyes and ears of the Emperor. Their job was to monitor all aspects of the lives of all the citizens of the Empire, especially those on Imperial Centre. This sounded like an impossible task, but was in fact relatively simple. Every citizen had his or her entire life mapped out by data; records of birth, death, civil union, employment, finance, credit, criminal records, you name it, virtually any information about anyone could be kept track of. Communications across the galaxy could also be monitored, including the holonet and any data accessed from virtually any point. All this could be considered highly illegal of course, and a breach of civil rights, but it was necessary for the Emperor to maintain his tight control over all aspects of his organisation. This was also the reason why Imperial Centre Intel' was highly top secret.

Raynor's job as an analyst was to spot anomalies in all this data, so he and his fellow operatives had set up a system that allowed them to do just that in three ways. Blue flags indicated minor discrepancies, such as variations in financial details or last minute changes to travel plans. Even if someone was absent from work without reason. There were about thirty thousand blue flags a day, ninety nine point nine percent of which were ignored.

Yellow flags indicated more suspicious occurrences. For example; certain known individuals communicating with other known associates, specific, unusual purchases made, arrivals of pre-identified individuals, even specific data requests on the net or at a library. These yellow flags were linked to a database of keywords and key names. There were about two hundred yellow flags per day, nearly all turning out to be nothing.

Red flags on the other hand always meant there was a problem. In the five years he had been here Raynor could recall one hundred or so previous red flag incidents. They worked from the same data base as yellow flags, only their keywords and key names were given higher priority.

Raynor checked the readout, which indicated that an unregistered comm. point had flagged a keyword or phrase during an info search. Because the comm. point was unregistered Raynor couldn't i.d. it, but he could pinpoint its location. Even stand alone systems had a digital trail when they communicated with other data sources.

Raynor checked the keyword that had been flagged, and was not surprised by the alert. Someone had been searching for info on the Jedi, and the Emperor considered that high on his list of suspicious occurrences. Technically he was supposed to pass this on to a senior analyst immediately, but so few actual situations occurred anymore, he wasn't going to let the chance to do a little real investigating first pass him by. This was what he was born to do after all!

________________________

Obi-Wan left the shop and headed off on foot, deliberately not moving as fast as he would like, so not to draw attention to himself. Eventually, when he was sure he was far enough from Jocasta Nu's place, he would flag an air taxi, leaving no direct link between there and him. His destination would be off world departures and the earliest possible shuttle.

After settling on the two possible starting points for his investigation – Exis Station and Ossus, he and Master Nu had done a little info gathering before he left. Ossus had only revealed coordinates, but Exis Station had provided some surprising results. Obi-Wan smiled as he thought about where he was on his way to, after all the pressure of returning to Coruscant, he might actually be able to relax a little, and maybe even have some fun.

__________________________

Raynor made a snap decision, his old field reflexes kicking in instantly. He homed in on the data access point that had red flagged, which brought up a wire framed schematic of a large sector of the cityscape. This gradually cycled down until individual walkways and buildings could be determined, one small square structure in particular. From this view he was unable to tell what the building was, but he would know soon.

Tapping his keypad he called up several holocam views of this particular area, then settled on one which presented the best angle. He reeled the recording back to the time of the red flag alert, but the image showed nothing unusual. Reeling back still further, he stopped when a flicker of movement occurred on the screen. Played at normal speed, this turned out to be a man in coveralls entering the building, which Raynor could now determine was a flower shop. He hit fast forward until the same figure could be seen leaving the building. The red flag had occurred during that time, and no-one else had entered or left. Raynor's instincts told him it was this figure who needed investigation, although he would send a team to check out the flower shop as soon as he had established some facts. "Gotcha!" he congratulated himself.

Returning to the view of the man leaving, Raynor proceeded to follow his path, changing holocam views and picking him up as he came into shot each time. Eventually the man got into an air taxi, so Raynor changed tactics. Calling up data logs for all air taxi journeys that day, he quickly pinpointed the time and place of pick up, and more importantly the destination of that particular taxi – off world shuttle departures.

Raynor changed tactics again, calling up holocam views of all the main shuttle terminals, and programming his comm.' to identify anyone matching the man's description in any of the recordings. Within minutes he had him again! His quarry had checked in thirty standard minutes ago, and his shuttle was due to leave any moment now. There was no hurry however, Raynor now had everything he needed, even the man's name – Ben Jinn. He knew the shuttle's flight number, arrival time and docking port, but it was the destination that surprised him. Maybe he was going on vacation, he thought. No matter, all Raynor had to do now was clear some field time with his superiors, which was pretty standard practice for an analyst. Then grab an Imp' Cent' Intel' fast transport from the hangar, and arrive at the destination before Ben Jinn did.

________________________

There comes a point in every journey when the path diverges. We must choose, risking all on that decision.

Chapter 4

Obi-Wan's transport shuddered as it dropped out of hyperspace. For a moment he was disorientated, he had actually allowed himself to sleep on the ten standard hour flight from Coruscant, or Imperial Centre as it was now officially known. The thought of his destination had actually allowed Obi-Wan to relax a little. You can take it easy until tomorrow, he reminded himself, although he actually had no such intentions, tonight he was going to enjoy himself.

Researching Exis Station with Jocasta Nu had turned up some unexpected results. In its' original role the station had been an Ion mining facility, skimming off radiation given off by solar activity. It had travelled between star systems under its' own hyperdrive power, in order to best make use of a galaxy of available resources. It had survived in this capacity for the best part of a millennia, before its' technology had become obsolete. Since then the station had been bought and sold numerous times, fulfilling various roles such as docking port, warehouse, solar shield, even refugee living quarters. The fabric of the actual structure of the place had changed considerably over the eons, so Obi-Wan realised it was almost a waste of time coming here, but needed to be thorough just in case. He seriously doubted there would be any link between the place as it was now and the Jedi Convocation that had occurred there nearly four thousand standard years before.

Unsure as to what Convocations actually were, Obi-Wan had also done some research with Jocasta Nu. Apparently they took place roughly once a decade, or in times of crisis, when all the Jedi spread throughout the galaxy would be called together to discuss important matters. Such an event had not occurred for eleven centuries according to the archive records.

It was definitely necessary to check this place out Obi-Wan reminded himself again as he gazed out the shuttle view port, just to be thorough, he chuckled. Who was he kidding? The facility formally known as Exis Station, to which Obi-Wan was headed, was now part of Stellar Astris – the largest leisure complex and number one tourist destination in the galaxy. He couldn't help but chuckle to himself once more.

________________________

The shuttle banked to starboard, allowing its passengers to appreciate the scene before them. Space was alive with activity, hundreds of vessels, ranging from passenger transports, personal speeders and private shuttles, right up to luxury yachts, all entering and leaving the vicinity. Stellar Astris itself was vast, incorporating a main facility, dozens of smaller nearby ones, even the planet around which it all orbited, a planet that went by the same name. It was an incredible set up and Obi-Wan was genuinely impressed. He had heard about this place, but never visited, Jedi didn't get much vacation time, even so he was aware of all the delights that could be experienced. The planet of Stellar Astris was a holiday resort offering every excursion you could imagine. Relaxing in warm climes by the sea, water sports, mountain trekking, jungle trekking, cold weather activities or picturesque countryside retreats.

The orbiting facilities offered luxury hotels, bars, restaurants, theatres, opera, holovids, sports to take part in, or high level sports to watch, and there was gambling, lots of gambling. Virtually anything you could place a stake on was available here, somewhere.

There were also theme worlds aplenty, one of which, if Obi-Wan remembered correctly, offered tourists the chance to become a Jedi Knight for the day, although it was doubtful the place was still open for business. Shame, Obi-Wan chuckled to himself. That might have been amusing.

The shuttle had now vectored in towards one of the main docking facilities where visitors could disembark before transferring by smaller vessel to their chosen accommodation. Obi- Wan had decided to stay for the evening close to one of the luxury gaming centres. Even as a Jedi Master, he was still a human being, and as such still had vices, two to be precise; a good drink, and a spot of gaming. He had never really had much opportunity to indulge either throughout his adult life, as it was seen as unbecoming behaviour for a Jedi, or because he was stuck on some desert planet in the middle of nowhere. Tonight though, for one night only, he intended to make up for lost time.

________________________

Raynor de Fay took in the scene before him, eyeing the best vantage point from which to he could watch the evening's proceedings. He had arrived several hours previous, electing to stay aboard his vessel, which was small enough for a berth in the main Stellar Astris facility, rather than rent accommodation. Mainly so he could make a quick exit whenever necessary.

Currently he was sitting at one end of a bar in the main luxury gaming centre, trying desperately to drink his beverage slowly. This was the kind of place where you had to pay your way, either at the tables or at the bars, and Raynor was concerned that his constitution, which was certainly not steelcrete by any means, would not last the duration, if he had to monitor his quarry all evening.

He still wasn't sure why the Jedi researcher Ben Jinn had made this place, the hottest tourist spot in the galaxy, his first port of call, but he intended to find out if he could.

Checking his personal data pad again Raynor re-affirmed that Jinn had arrived two standard hours ago, and had checked into accommodation nearby. He had also arranged for gaming credit, which was why Raynor was waiting for him in this place.

Raynor analysed the scene once again. Directly ahead and down a level reached by one of four staircases, was the main gaming area. There were about forty tables, each offering various forms of gambling. Raynor was not a big gambler, but he knew enough to recognise some of the games, Dejarrick and Sabaac in particular. Around the perimeter of the main gaming area were located hundreds of gaming machines, each offering punters big payouts, for low stakes, at huge odds. The bright lights and lively noises easily attracting willing participants.

Around the same level Raynor was currently at where located the refreshment and dining areas, as well as the only access points to the gaming area. A good security measure Raynor observed astutely, as well as making it much easier to identify someone entering or leaving.

It was early evening now, by the facility time, and the gaming area was already beginning to fill up even so Raynor was still able to recognise the man he sought. His face was clearly the same as that on the holostill Raynor had enlarged back at Imp' Cent' Intel', even if his hair was now silver, and his moustache a little shorter. He had also changed from his tan flight suit into something black and slightly less comfortable by the looks of it. Raynor was quite pleased with himself that his old instincts and observation skills had not let him down, despite the fact that Ben Jinn clearly did not want to be recognised. Raynor relaxed a little, he was always most comfortable when on stakeout

________________________

Obi-Wan tugged at his collar with two fingers, trying in vain to loosen the stiff material. It had been so long since he had worn anything formal he had forgotten how uncomfortable it was. To make matters worse Obi-Wan had purchased this outfit on station that very evening, so it wasn't exactly a tailored fit.

Attempting to ignore the mild annoyance Obi-Wan took in the scene, refreshments on this level, gaming in the central lower level. Quickly scanning the gaming area Obi-Wan identified the particular set of tables he was interested in, but that would come soon enough, first things first, he needed a drink.

There were several places from which one could acquire a beverage, some of which should be avoided judging by the garish coloured drinks being served, Obi-Wan thought. As it transpired, the nearest bar seemed the most promising, so Obi-Wan ventured the short distance and took a seat right next to the serving area. "Yes sir?" said the near human tender, Obi-Wan couldn't quite place his species. "How about a decent brandy?" Obi-Wan enquired. "Absolutely sir, we have Coruscanti, Chandrillian, Alderaanian," the tender began his list. "Anything Corellian?" Obi-Wan interrupted. "Ah a connoisseur!" the tender said with an appreciative smile. "We do have one bottle, not quite pre-clone wars, but at least twelve standard years old," he continued knowledgably. "Sounds perfect," Obi-Wan replied. "It is a little on the expensive side," the tender informed Obi-Wan. "I certainly hope so," he said. "Room LG 11882."

Old fashioned tumbler in hand Obi-Wan savoured both the aroma and the smooth warm sensation of his drink. He would need to move quite soon, as the gaming tables were beginning to fill up, and he didn't want to miss out on a place. But first he made some enquiries. "Talk me through the room," Obi-Wan said, signalling the tender again. "What are you playing for exactly?" the tender asked. "Sabaac," Obi-Wan said casually. "Not big creds' mind, but not bantha crumbs either."

"Far end of the room, behind the roped off area," the tender pointed. "That's for high rollers. It's by invitation only usually, since you could damn near win ownership of a planet most nights." He continued, pointing towards two tables near the gaming machines. "Those are minimum stakes, but the rest, in the section with the blue carpet are all reasonable table stakes." He topped up Obi-Wan's drink without asking, not that he minded. "Much appreciated friend," Obi-Wan said, raising his tumbler. "If it were me," the tender added after a moment. "I'd hit table eighteen. The cardsharp dealing machine there sometimes forgets the table limit, if you get my meaning." Obi-Wan grinned. "Have some of the good stuff on me," he said before making his way to the gaming floor.

_________________________

There were two places left at table eighteen as Obi-Wan arrived. He punched his room number into the data pad in front of him, calling up his gaming account. All bets would be digital, no physical chips needed. "Good evening," Obi-Wan said, offering polite nods to the other players, seven in all, eight including himself. Some returned polite acknowledgements, others remained silent, game faces already in place. Tough crowd, Obi-Wan thought.

Evaluating his opposition, Obi-Wan looked around the table. To his immediate left was a male Duros, a common sight in most space stations and space port cantinas, since Duros were renowned space farers. His large eyes and nose less, expressionless face made him practically unreadable. Next to him was a male human, slightly older than Obi-Wan himself, and with an expression that told a thousand stories. He had the confident air of an experienced player, and may as well have had the word smuggler stamped across his forehead. Next came a Sullustan, small in stature, with huge ears. It was rare to find one of this sub-terrainean species off planet, but judging by his expensive attire, this Sullustan appeared well travelled. Probably a mining exec' of some kind, Obi-Wan mused.

To his immediate right, and smiling seductively as Obi-Wan turned to look at her, was a pale coloured Twi'lek. Typical of her species, she was stunning to look at and wearing very little. Trying to pick up a big winner, Obi-Wan chuckled to himself. Next to her was a human woman wearing a very masculine looking suit. Her face was cold and stern, as if she meant real business. Professional, Obi-Wan thought. Alongside her was an over dressed young human male, grinning inanely and fidgeting with nervous excitement. He definitely had money to burn. Sent on vacation by his rich father, Obi-Wan smiled to himself. Finally, directly opposite was a Cerean, and a real concern to Obi-Wan. This species were notoriously intelligent with huge craniums packed with neurons. Another professional out to clean up unsuspecting tourists, Obi-Wan thought.

To make things easier to remember, and for his own amusement, Obi-Wan decided to give all the players a nick name. The Duros would be 'Slim', the old spacer would be 'Pirate', the Sullustan would be 'Ears', the young Human male would be 'Silly Boy', the Human woman, 'Business', the Twi'lek, 'Party Girl', and the Cerean would be 'Brains'.

The card sharp dealing machine came online with a short electronic fanfare about Stellar Astris. "Good evening gentle beings, welcome to gaming quarter. This particular Sabaac table will be complying with Bespin standard rules. The table is now full, good luck to you all," it recited. It had been a while but Obi-Wan was pretty sure Bespin standard rules referred to both the rules of game play and the rules governing betting. If he recalled correctly he must either bet or fold each hand, discarding, redrawing or fixing the value of his cards each time, which could be done by placing them into the interference field. The idea was to get the value of your cards as close to twenty-three or negative twenty-three as possible without going over. If you did you had to pay a penalty. The beauty of this game was that every now and then the card sharp would engage a randomizer that would suddenly change the value of all the cards, except those that had been locked in the interference field, making the game particularly challenging. A smart player would keep winning small hands or folding until there was a chance of a perfect twenty-three, or pure Sabaac, in which case you would win the Sabaac pot, into which all the penalty creds' had been paid. The longer the Sabaac pot was left to build up, the bigger the payout, so it was usually left until the end of the game, were the two remaining players would compete for it.

As the card sharp dealt the first hand Obi-Wan began to assess his opponents, using both his own powers of perception, and by opening himself to the Force. Quite simply, Obi-Wan was going to cheat! In the past an action such as this would have made him question his morality, but not anymore. Not since he had reconciled himself to do everything necessary to safeguard the boy's future. He was going to win this game because he had to. He needed credits, enough credits to buy a ship.

When Obi-Wan left Coruscant his purpose in coming to Stellar Astris was really a stepping stone to his next, and more important destination; Ossus. The planet was so forgotten about that it was not even mentioned on most galactic charts, and there were absolutely no means of travel there, unless you owned your own vessel. Obi-Wan did have his own funds back on Tatooine, and could probably have afforded a small ship, but it would have emptied his accounts. Coming here provided a simple and entertaining means to an end.

Besides, Obi- Wan had thought to himself, he wouldn't really be cheating as he had no way of seeing anyone else's cards. All he would be doing would be gauging the emotions of the other players and judging their hands accordingly, allowing him to decide when to play and when to fold. It still required judgement on his part. His only real advantage would come from the tremor in the Force he would feel as the electronic randomizer prepared to kick in, allowing him to lock the value of a card if needed.

Obi-Wan looked at his cards. Not great, he thought, electing to redraw one of them. This improved matters a little, allowing him to stay in the hand and to test the waters. "I'm in," he announced when it was his turn, thumbing the activation plate set into the table just in front of him, to place his bet. Predictably all the other players were in too, this being the first hand, allowing Obi-Wan a chance to read them if he could.

Brains gave nothing away, Pirate radiated arrogance, Ears was frustrated, and Slim something that felt like guilt and Business was confident. He didn't even need the Force to read Party Girl and Silly Boy, since the Twi'lek was giggling with joy at her good hand, whilst the young man openly cursed his poor one.

After two more bets the hand was over, with Party Girl taking the creds'. Obi-Wan continued like this for two or three hands until he was pretty sure he knew what to look for. Party Girl and Silly boy were obvious and would not last long. Ears was open emotion, either pleased or annoyed. Pirate was either relaxed when he had a good hand or arrogant when he didn't. Business was either confidence exonerated with a good hand or cold, hard calculation with a bad one. Slim was harder to read, but what felt like guilt turned out to mean bad, whereas good felt more like amusement. Brains, however was impossible to read, just total concentration and focus, very little emotion. "And you thought this was going to be easy," Obi-Wan muttered under his breath.

After one standard hour of play Silly Boy got a fluke pure Sabaac, emptying the small Sabaac pot in naïve over enthusiasm, but his luck did not last, and he busted out so many times in a row his game was soon over. Party Girl followed not long after, but hung around the table. Waiting for the winner no doubt, Obi-Wan chuckled. Ears and Slim lasted into the second hour, but the other players were just too good, eventually cleaning both out.

By hour three Business was nearly out and both Pirate and Obi-Wan had roughly equal shares, with Brains well out in front. This was the frustrating part, not being able to read the Cerean. The only thing that was keeping Obi-Wan going was winning creds' off the other two, and not losing the when the randomizer kicked in.

As the next hand was dealt by the card sharp all four players entered the betting. Pirate had that arrogant feeling, which meant a bad hand, so Obi-Wan tempted him with a significant raise. To his surprise Pirate matched the raise, obviously trying to psyche Obi-Wan out with his bluff, but to no avail. Obi-Wan raised again and again until Pirate had to bet his whole cred account just to stay in. Brains and Business had folded, electing to stay out of the suicidal exchange, but Obi-Wan knew better, especially as Pirates' arrogance had turned to downright panic. When cards were shown, Pirate was cleaned out. That left Obi-Wan and Brains roughly equal, with Business clinging on by her fingernails. Within two more hands she was gone too, and by hour five it was Obi-Wan versus Brains, with twenty-thousand creds' in the Sabaac pot.

The next few hands did not go well for Obi-Wan, losing ever increasing amounts, even if he never allowed it to be big creds'. He could carry on like this all night, but eventually Brains would clean him out. No, he needed to end this soon, he had to find a way to read the Cerean, and maybe, just maybe, there was a way. For many years Obi-Wan had been the Jedi Council's first choice in delicate matters of diplomacy. He had often been told this was because of his straight talking manner underlined by unassuming authority, as well as his very dry sense of humour. What Obi-Wan had learned from all this political negotiation was how to find a way into a person's way of thinking, allowing you to find out what pushed their buttons. A simple strategy was often to engage in meaningless small talk until you hit upon something that raised an emotion one way or another, then you could either provoke or avoid upset in the future by choosing particular topics of conversation. If you really needed to you could even unbalance a person's emotions, just by knowing what points to make. It was this strategy Obi-Wan was going to try on the Cerean.

"I don't know about you friend, but I need a drink," Obi-Wan said. "How about a short break?" Brains looked up. "If you insist," he replied, the first words he had actually spoken all evening. Obi-Wan signalled a serving droid nearby. "Corellian brandy," he ordered. "Can I interest you in a glass?" he offered his opponent. "No thank you, I do not allow myself intoxicants," the Cerean said seriously. "That must be tough for someone who clearly spends a lot of time at the tables," Obi-Wan prodded. The Cerean said nothing in reply, and frustratingly just as little through the Force. As Obi-Wan's drink arrived he raised his glass at his opponent. "I must congratulate you on your performance, you're an excellent player," Obi-Wan tried flattery. "Mind you, with all that space in your head, your kind aught to be good at something," he continued, trying an insult as well. Both approaches got no response through the Force, although Brains did exhale impatiently through his nose. "Can we resume the game now?" was all he said. "Sure," Obi-Wan replied, deciding to delay just a little longer. "I knew a Cerean once," he went on, pretending to be a little more intoxicated, just for effect. "He was a good player too, always working things out in that big brain of his, always trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else. You want to know what happened to him?" he asked. "No, but I'm sure you're still going to tell me," Brains replied. At last, there it was, the tiniest flicker of frustration. "He was murdered," Obi-Wan blurted out. "By people he thought were his friends. Ha! Didn't see that coming did he?" he finished. At this the Cerean allowed a little surprise to leak out into the Force in reaction to the story. Obi-Wan now had two emotional cues to look for, and even though they were almost imperceptible, it would be enough.

Over the next several hands Obi-Wan began to take more and more from the Cerean, only occasionally losing a hand or two. Eventually he was well up and safe enough to stay in a hand long enough to try for the Sabaac pot and take the game. "I'm in," he said, placing his bet. "Yes," the Cerean nodded, doing the same. They raised each other stake for stake for several minutes, until Brains was nearly out of creds'. Obviously he had a good hand, or he wouldn't risk being cleaned out, but Obi-Wan couldn't read him right at this moment. Just then a small tremor in the Force tickled the back of Obi-Wan's neck – the randomizer. Without even looking he locked two of his cards totalling a value of twenty in the interference field. The Cerean did nothing, until the warning lights flashed and his face paled as his good hand went horribly wrong. At that instant Obi-Wan knew, the card he had allowed to change had just acquired the value of three, giving him pure Sabaac, and more importantly, the creds' he needed. He certainly was glad he had been thorough in checking out Stellar Astris after all.

________________________

Raynor de Fay eased himself from his seat and gingerly made his way to the railing overlooking the gaming floor. His movements were slow both because the stakeout had lasted several hours, leaving his joints stiff, and because keeping up his bar bill had left his legs a little unsteady. Even so, his mind was still clear enough for him to observe the mild commotion below.

His quarry, Ben Jinn had just won a healthy prize fund at a Sabaac table, and was currently being congratulated warmly by many onlookers, a little too warmly it seemed by a pale coloured Twi'lek female in particular.

Who was this guy? Raynor thought, it made no sense. For no apparent reason he appears on Imperial Centre, goes to great lengths to research for forbidden information, leaves just a quickly, then travels to the hottest tourist spot in the galaxy, again for no apparent reason, except to play Sabaac, which he just so happens to clean up at. This guy was a mystery, one that Raynor needed to clear up quickly.

Ben Jinn had by now managed to disengage himself from all the well wishers, and was making his way from the gaming floor, up a flight of stairs to a bar on Raynor's level. There he purchased a bottle, leaving a smiling bar-tend with a nice tip, before exiting the gaming area. Raynor followed, easily mixing in with the crowds still milling about. Eventually Jinn entered his accommodation, leaving Raynor no option but to return to his ship.

Once onboard he accessed his mainframe, which was constantly linked to the one back at Imp' Cent' Intel'. From there he could hack into the Stella Astris mainframe, just as he had done so on arrival. There were two tasks Raynor intended to complete. The first involved calling up the holovid feed of the corridor outside Ben Jinn's room and setting up an alert inside the cockpit if anyone entered or left that room. The second task was to pull data from Jinn's gaming account, in particular the information that allowed access to it – his thumbprint. Raynor then fed this data back into his mainframe in order to run a cross-check. This would take several hours, Raynor knew, programming the computer to alert him when it found anything. Satisfied, Raynor eased his boots off, slumped back into his form chair, and closed his eyes.

_______________________

If our guide is truly wise and we have learned our lessons well, we will make the choices that allow our journey to continue.

Chapter 5

Raynor de Fay started, roused by the persistent high pitched beeping filling the cockpit. For several seconds he frantically glanced around until his brain eventually registered where he was and exactly what he was doing there. The alarm Raynor had put in place hours before had been triggered by movement on the holovid feed outside Ben Jinn's room; his quarry was on the move.

Leaning forward towards the monitor, Raynor allowed his fingers to dance over the data pad connected to it, feeding instructions into his mainframe, which in return relayed them into Stellar Astris control. He would track Jinn using the station's security holovid network, without even having to leave his vessel, or put his boots back on. Raynor allowed himself a self satisfied grin at his commendable efficiency.

The familiar figure onscreen made his way along several corridors and across several public atria, eventually taking a turbo lift down levels to the shuttle bay. Raynor wasn't alarmed to see Jinn making for transportation as the shuttle service provided by Stellar Astris was internal, and would only allow movement to another part of the complex. It was still easy to track. Sure enough, once Ben Jinn had boarded a shuttle, Raynor simply followed its' data signature in the flight control database, identifying its' destination, then switching to the security holovid at that particular shuttle dock. Within minutes Ben Jinn appeared onscreen once again, this time in the commercial quarter that made up an entire adjoining orbital facility, close to the main Stellar Astris station.

It appeared he was off to spend some of last nights winnings, and Raynor was certainly curious as to what his next move would be, bearing in mind the mystery surrounding this character. This reminded him - the thumbprint check he'd been running. Glancing at the other data readout close by Raynor frowned, still nothing, even after nearly twelve standard hours. This Ben Jinn was a mystery to even Imp' Cent' Intel' and its all encompassing database.

________________________

Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped from the turbolift, trying not to appear rushed, but keen to get moving all the same. He felt much more comfortable this morning, having changed back into his utilitarian flight suit and boots. Entering a large atria Obi-Wan scanned his surroundings. The building was vast, with interconnecting boulevards branching off in all directions, each branch comprising many different levels. The construction was all intricate steelcrete framework, holding transparisteel sheets in between, onto which were projected images of blue sky and lush greenery, making it appear you were located on some verdant world rather than in space. Adding to the effect were hundreds of plants and trees placed throughout and water features providing pleasant sounds and helping to cool the air. There was also the bright lighting and clean, white stonework of the floor, as well as the quaint, relaxing music you could just about hear. All in all it made for a very pleasant surrounding, one you could happily spend many hours in, and that was exactly the idea. The commercial quarter of Stellar Astris kept its' consumers happy and relaxed, relieving them of their credits smoothly and with a smile.

Obi-Wan made his way over to an info' board so he might locate the particular branch he required. Finding it, he headed off in the necessary direction. The boulevards were packed with consumers, but it did not take him long to reach the star ship dealerships he was after. They were all here too; Incom, Kuat, CEC, even Sienar, the latter being mainly a military contractor. In fact most manufacturers had both military and civilian products, but the one Obi-Wan was interested in; Sorosub, was more focussed at the civilian end. Spotting the dealership sign, he made his way over.

The place was just a simple office, well furnished with form chairs for customers and a sales desk, behind which sat a human female. "Good morning sir," she said. "You certainly have made an excellent choice. We can offer you a vast range of vessels, from speeders to cruisers, and all from one of the most eminent companies in the galaxy. Did you have something particular in mind? Our digital checker can easily find the best product suitable for your needs. Would you like me to run you through it? Absolutely no obligation!" Obi-Wan smiled at the sales patter she had delivered without pausing for breath. "Why not," he said. "That's why I'm here after all."

"Excellent sir," she beamed, and Obi-Wan took a seat. The young woman ran him through a series of questions, each intended to match the requirements of the customer to the specifications on a myriad of vessels. By the end of the questionnaire the computer had come up with a best fit, and at the touch of a button a quarter scale holorepresentation of a ship appeared before them.

The craft was roughly wedge shaped, with three control surfaces, two short wings and a dorsal. Access would be through a central ramp that extended from the underbelly, with the craft being extended on stilt-like landing struts. All in all she wasn't much to look at, but style was not Obi-Wan's primary concern. This vessel was equipped with a state of the art navicomp , essential for the visit to Ossus. Most navigational computers relied on an extensive database of galactic coordinates, with set locations and routes that pilots stuck to. More advanced systems allowed the pilot to pinpoint exact positions in three dimensional space, using known points as references. Ossus was not a well known reference point, hence the choice of this system. The vessel also had basic shielding and even a chin mounted short range blaster cannon for simple defence. Apparently this model was often used as a small freighter, making it a target for pirates in some systems.

"If I were to choose this model," Obi-Wan enquired. "When would it be ready?" he questioned. "Actually sir we have several in stock right here," the sales rep' smiled. "So you could take one today." Obi-Wan stood. "Excellent," he said. "That settles it then."

The young woman began entering data into her computer. "There is a basic colour choice sir, but for a small fee and a little more time we could custom…." Obi-Wan interrupted. "White will be fine," he smiled. "Very well sir," she continued unperturbed. "Your purchase will be available for collection in the SoroSub docking bay on level 821, from 0300 station time today," she paused for breath. "That just remains for you to fix your transponder signal sir, what will you be naming your vessel?" she asked. Obi-Wan hadn't thought about that, and he wasn't the most imaginative at such things, but a moment's intuition brought a smile to his face. "I think Knights Quest would be most appropriate," he said.

________________________

Raynor had to move quickly. He would lose Jinn if he was not able to secure the long range tracking device he carried to the vessel Jinn had purchased this morning. He still had about one standard hour before SoroSub handed over the new ship, but Raynor still had a fair way to travel in order to reach level 821 in the commercial quarter, including a brief shuttle ride. Even there, he would still have to identify the actual vessel then physically place the tracker. This was going to be close. "Bloody SoroSub!" he cursed aloud as he entered a turbolift. For the past four hours he had been hacking his way into their system for details of Jinn's purchase, a system that had some of the best security he had ever encountered, but eventually he had gotten through. As a result however, he was now short on time.

Exiting the turbolift, he had to sprint to make the next shuttle for the commercial quarter, just making it before the hatch slid shut. "Bloody SoroSub," he cursed aloud again, this time gasping for breath as well. Bloody Ben Jinn, he thought to himself at the same time. This guy was slippery. Why had he come to Stellar Astris just to buy a ship? How did he know he'd win at Sabaac? Did he already have the credits? Then why use commercial transport? And what did researching the Jedi have to do with any of it? It made no sense at all, and left Raynor even more determined to find out some answers.

Twenty minutes later and extremely short of breath now, Raynor entered the SoroSub docking facility. There were about fifty vessels in the hangar, some of which were identical to others. Raynor turned on his personal data pad then plugged in the transponder scanner he had also brought with him. Almost instantly this identified a gleaming white, wedge shaped vessel off to his left. This was Jinn's ship, the newly christened Knights Quest. Raynor exhaled a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. All he had to do now was attach the tracker, which was a simple matter, then get back to his own ship before Jinn left. This would be more difficult, and Raynor was pretty sure he'd end up tracking Jinn's hyperspace vector rather than his actual ship. But no matter, he'd be back on his tail soon enough.

________________________

Obi-Wan eased the Knights Quest on its' repulsors and our through the hangar bay doors. The controls were simple enough, even for someone who hadn't flown for well over a decade, and someone who didn't particularly enjoy flying anyway.

"Knights Quest," came a voice over the comm.'. "You have a clear vector to leave Stellar Astris space. "We hope you enjoyed your stay, and look forward to seeing you again soon." Obi-Wan responded to the flight controller. "Many thanks control, Knights Quest out." He hit the sub-lights, thrusting the vessel away from Stellar Astris to a safe jump point out of the planet's gravity well.

Flicking on the navicomp, Obi-Wan fed in the coordinates he had retrieved with Jocasta Nu for the planet Ossus. Unsurprisingly the computer registered this as an unknown destination, but did come up with a simple, well known route – the Perlemian.

Many thousands of years ago, the Republic had expanded from the Core Worlds into the rest of the galaxy as a result of hyperdrive technology. Hyperspace travel was very dangerous. At such speeds you could fly right into hazards such as stars and planets without even knowing they were in your way. To overcome this, safe routes had been mapped out by fearless hyperspace pioneers, the oldest of which routes were the Corellian Run, the Hydian Way and the Perlemian Trade Route, the oldest of all. Every major political civilisation stretching back over the eons could be found somewhere along one of these routes, including apparently, Ossus. That did make some sense to Obi-Wan, as he was aware there had been some sort of Jedi Academy there in the past. But why was it so forgotten about now? Why did such an important place barely even register anymore? There was only one way to find out. Obi-Wan engaged the hyperdrive. Stars became starlines through the view port as his journey took its' next step.

________________________

The proximity warning alarm roused Obi-Wan from his task. The chrono on the navicomp indicated that the Knights Quest needed to drop out of hyperspace in one standard minute. He had arrived at Ossus. Quickly replacing the equipment container he had been working through, Obi-Wan slid into the pilot seat, then as the countdown hit zero he disengaged the hyperdrive. The mottled colours swirling outside the view port reverted to starlines, which in turn became fixed points of light, and the Knights Quest re-entered real-space. Dead ahead was a planet, Ossus apparently, a forgotten world, and Obi-Wan could see why! It was a barren place, even more so than Tatooine, in fact one could go so far as to call it a dead planet. Something terrible had happened here, Obi-Wan could feel it.

The navicomp began to display details of surrounding space, planet names, hyperspace routes, navigational hazards; even calculating emergency jumps if they were needed. Obi-Wan nodded appreciatively, the credits were worth it. One piece of information on display in particular caught his attention, the close proximity of the Cron Drift. From memory Obi-Wan knew this to be a particularly nasty region of space that travellers should avoid, as it contained unstable gases, and pockets of fluctuating gravity distortions. These anomalies had been caused by a group of stars in the region going nova sometime in the ancient past. "Hutt spittle!" he blurted. "Of course," he went on, tapping the side of his head at his ignorance. No wonder the planet was dead, its' surface must have been stripped bare by the blast wave from the supernova. It was a wonder the planet itself had even survived, so unsurprising then that it had never regained its' prominent place in galactic society.

Putting these thoughts to the back of his mind, Obi-Wan called up a topographical map of the surface, looking for somewhere to land. He still had a job to do, even if he wasn't quite sure what exactly that job was yet, and a safe landing spot would allow him a little time to meditate on just what he was going to do next.

_______________________

Bringing the Knights Quest down gently on its' repulsors, Obi-Wan extended the landing struts, then with a gentle shudder and a cloud of dust, the vessel touched down. Obi-Wan began powering down the main systems, not turning them off, just to a state of immediate readiness if needed quickly. The choice of landing site had been easy, one of thousands, since the planet's surface seemed to be made up of deep canyons interspersed by wide plateaus. Obi-Wan had simply chosen the first appropriate level surface.

When the ship had settled, Obi-Wan began his meditation, following the familiar routines the allowed him to open himself fully to the Force. Almost instantaneously he had to withdraw again, his senses almost overwhelmed. "What was that?" he shook his head; he'd never experienced anything like that before. More cautiously this time he tried again, mental shields firmly up, just in case. What he could feel was incredible! So much information, on so many different levels was trying to enter his conscious, and it would overwhelm him if he let it. But Obi-Wan was too wise and too strong for that. He simply filtered each bit of information one at a time, until he could make some sense of it all. The Force was all encompassing here, in every stone and rock the planet over. So much of it was residual memory from the presence of so many Jedi throughout the ages. Some of it was the Living Force however. There were definitely life forms here, and they had strong Force presences, although they seemed raw and unshaped. There was something else as well, almost hidden or dormant, like an immense Force presence lying somewhere, just beneath the surface. Almost like seeing something in the corner of your eye, you know it's there, but when you try to look directly at it, you can't bring it into focus.

There was huge pain also, from the planet itself. Pain at its' destruction, as if Ossus had been letting out a scream for all those millennia. It actually made Obi-Wan feel quite sick, and he had to force the sensation deep down, as well as blank the pain out.

Focussing hard, Obi-Wan searched until he found what he was looking for, a presence that was hard to feel amidst the turmoil, despite its' power and familiarity. "Hello again old friend," he said aloud to Qui-Gon Jinn. "I find myself needing your advice once again."

"Your quest progresses well I see Obi-Wan." Came the disembodied response. "The Force is truly with us in this place."

"Can you feel it?" asked Obi-Wan. "The intensity is almost unbearable." "Yes I feel it," replied Qui-Gon. "But without the emotional gravity that you feel. And for that I commend you on your control Obi-Wan, it must be challenging indeed," he observed admiringly. Obi-Wan smiled, he still felt like a pupil in Qui-Gon's presence and it was nice not to feel like the responsible one for a bit. "What is it I'm feeling here?" he asked. "It is difficult to make sense of!"

"Your own assumptions are correct," Qui-Gon began in reply. "For thousands of years the Jedi used this planet as a place of learning. Countless Force sensitive beings have left their imprint on the very essence of the world. It must have been a glorious time to have been a servant of the light," he surmised. "And the pain," Obi-Wan questioned. "Is that because of the destruction of the Cron Cluster?"

"The physical destruction, yes!" Qui-Gon answered. "But I think the pain comes from the knowledge that it was a deliberate act carried out in the service of evil," he continued. "The Sith?" Obi-Wan half questioned, half stated. "One would assume so, as, if I recall, the destruction took place during the Great Sith War," Qui-Gon concluded. "That's interesting." Obi-Wan changed the subject slightly. "The reason I'm here is because of information I found regarding a Jedi Master who was influential at that very time. I believe she studied at the academy here."

"This Masters name was?" Qui-Gon asked. "Nomi Sunrider," Obi-Wan answered. "Have you heard of her?" he asked in return. "No, but the surname is somehow familiar," Qui-Gon seemed lost in thought. "Apparently, she created a holocron, one that might still be out there," Obi-Wan added, somewhat tentatively. "And you have no doubt come here to begin your search for her?" Qui-Gon questioned. "Yes, and that is where I need your help. I have no idea where to go, or what to look for," Obi-Wan said. There was a moment's pause. "The academy on this planet was vast," Qui-Gon began. "Almost city like and covering many different parts of the surface. Much of it, perhaps, underground, like any other city. Despite the destruction it endured, there are many ruins still here."

"You think hidden parts of the complex might have survived. Storerooms, records?" Obi-Wan asked almost excitedly. "Ancient texts even?" "Doubtful," Qui-Gon said moderately. "The planet would have almost certainly been evacuated, along with its' precious resources, most of which would have ended up in the archives," he paused again. "But what about more day to day information," he offered. "Data logs, names, schedules, supply information, that sort of thing. That might still be buried somewhere in the old infrastructure."

"You really think so," Obi-Wan sounded doubtful. "Even after four thousand years."

"Why not," Qui-Gon reposted. "Have not computer systems turned up on Coruscant's lower levels that are ten thousand years old, some that have been functioning for that entire time?" he offered. Obi-Wan thought about it. It was possible. "All you would need is an access point and a power source," Qui-Gon stated. "A happy coincidence indeed then that I just so happened to have brought one," Obi-Wan sounded smug. "Now all I need is a way in."

_________________________

Raynor de Fay scrutinised the scene before him. He had just reverted to real space, and like any good intelligence agent, his information gathering instincts had taken over immediately. First impressions; locale: unknown, somewhere just off the Perlemian Trade Route. Planet: geologically stable, breathable atmosphere, no cities or technology, some life form readings. Regional space: according to the navicomp, nearest known world was Anzat, other points of interest included the nearby Cron Drift.

Raynor was once again mystified by Ben Jinn's move. Why come here? There was nothing to come here for. It could only be a jump point where Jinn would change hyperspace headings. Raynor rechecked the vector Jinn's ship had followed. All calculations showed that the Knights Quest was on a direct heading for this point. Frustratingly Raynor couldn't be certain as the tracker he had placed only indicated direction of travel, rather than actual position like a homing beacon would. What was certain was that if Jinn's ship had not dropped out of hyperspace here, he would have flown right into the planet, so here had to be the destination. For confirmation Raynor scanned another series of instrument readings, checking for vapour trails. Every vessel in existence had a unique exhaust gas signature. Even identical engines produced different signatures when analysed on a molecular level. It was like a vessel's fingerprint. Sure enough the readings showed a vapour signature matching that of the Knights Quest entering this region of space. All Raynor had to do now was find the same reading leaving the place, plot its' trajectory, then follow its' vector again. He set up a scan – nothing! He tried again – still nothing! The Knights Quest had not jumped again, its' vapour signature ended here. Ben Jinn must have landed, but why? On this apparently lonely, dead world.

Raynor opened his direct link to Imp' Cent' Intel'. He already had one link in place, which was still running the thumb print check. There was still no result from that, and experience told him that if it took that long, the person you were searching for did not officially exist. He would have to run alternative searches soon, using high level access he wasn't supposed to have.

With his new link, Raynor keyed in his current coordinates. Within minutes Imp' Cent' Intel's database responded with what should have been a red flag, had it not been him running the search. The planet's name was Ossus, he'd never heard of it, but it did exist on some very old galactic charts. Intriguingly, it had been the home of a Jedi training facility several thousand years ago, hence the red flag. Ben Jinn was back on the Jedi trail again, which at least made some sense to Raynor. As now did Jinn's purchase of a vessel, which he'd needed to travel to Ossus, there was no other way of getting here.

Ben Jinn was on the surface somewhere, Raynor was certain. But there was no way of locating him without doing a visual search, and that would take forever. No, Raynor would wait for him to reappear, which his instincts told him would happen at some point. In the meantime he would get to work finding out just exactly who this Ben Jinn was. It had better be worth it, Raynor thought. What he was about to do could cost him his career.

________________________

Obi-Wan set the Knights Quest down on level ground in front of the entrance to an imposing canyon. He had travelled about forty klicks from his initial landing point. During his meditation contact with Qui-Gon, he had been guided by his former Master to what, he was reassured, was some kind of processional way leading to the main administrative section of the ancient academy here. It did just look like a natural rock formation, but Qui-Gon had told him how huge portions of the planet's surface had been covered by buildings, walkways, plazas and even several spaceports, so Obi-Wan was unconcerned about initial appearances.

Exiting the pilot seat, Obi-Wan activated the repulsor sled that would transport the equipment he needed. It was this equipment he had smugly referred to with Qui-Gon earlier. Back when he had purchased the Knights Quest, Obi-Wan had requested additional equipment be included in the ship's repair bay. He had no idea why he had done so, but had complete trust in his instincts, and the Force was clearly guiding him. Sure enough, here he was towing a portable power generator and data splicing reader on a repulsor sled down the landing ramp of the Knights Quest. Without hesitation, he headed straight into the darkness of the canyon ahead.

Once his eyes had adjusted to the gloom, Obi-Wan was able to make out man made shapes on the canyon walls. Sharp edges and angles had been smoothed down by eons of erosion, but they were still visible. There were also wall carvings and murals, a lot of them; in fact they almost covered all of what remained of the ancient surfaces. They were still readable too, even if most were in a language Obi-Wan did not understand, although some of the symbols he had seen before in documents from the archives. From what he could make out, large sections seemed to be telling tales of great events, although it was difficult to pick out any details.

Progress through the canyon was relatively easy, and more light was able to penetrate as the passage gradually widened. Obi-Wan had been walking for about a klick now, and he was beginning to make out openings in the canyon walls that might have been ancient entrances to buildings. Suddenly the canyon opened into a huge square plaza, and the remains of pillars and steps and raised platforms could clearly be seen. Obi-Wan opened himself to the Force, tentatively, still acutely aware of the emotional turmoil he could feel through it. Focussing hard he felt compelled to a central set of eroded steps just ahead. This in turn led to a platform on top of which was a large pile of masonry that had been worn down until it resembled a fossilised sand dune. There were cracks in this sand dune however, and lighting a glow rod, Obi-Wan slipped his way into one of them.

The floor immediately began sloping downwards, until Obi-Wan could actually stand up in what appeared to be a square chamber several meters wide. Leading off from the chamber were a dozen or so doorways, it was hard to tell as several had collapsed and were partially blocked with rubble. Looking to his right Obi-Wan selected one doorway in particular, the one with the collapsed lintel blocking most of the way. It just felt right! Upon closer inspection it appeared there was enough room for him to squeeze through and pull the repulsor sled with him. Inside was another room, much smaller than the previous one, an office of some sort perhaps. Scattered around were recognisable pieces of administrative furniture. Storage units, tables, chairs etc, in varying states of decay. Obi-Wan's attention however was drawn to what used to be a computer terminal. Although it was four thousand year old technology, he still recognised a data pad when he saw one. The system itself was smashed beyond use, but the hardwearing data feed cables that ran from it were still there. It was a long shot, but Obi-Wan intended to splice his way into those connectors, apply some power to them, then see if there was any electronic data still held in the old mainframe. If his hunch was correct, he wouldn't have to trawl through thousands of years worth of information either, as references to Nomi Sunrider, if there were any, would be some of the last, the academy having been wiped out not long after she would have been here.

Obi-Wan set to work, cutting his way into the hard lines and attaching both his data splicer and power generator. After about thirty minutes he was ready. With data reader in hand he activated the generator, which began to hum gently. Initially nothing seemed to happen, but soon smoke began to seep from the old computer lines, accompanied by the odd spark, and eventually binary code began to dance across the data reader. There was something left in the system. "Unbelievable!" he said to himself.

After several more minutes, the data reader had translated the binary into readable basic, and it turned out to be a contents menu of about fifty or so headings. Obi-Wan scanned the list. There were flight logs, supply inventories, security timetables, delivery schedules, basically all the necessary administrative records held by any large organisation. There was even a heading marked 'Registrar' that immediately piqued Obi-Wan's interest. Accessing this new data, he couldn't believe his good fortune. There was actually a record of yearly admissions to the academy, providing the names and dates for new Jedi initiates as they arrived.

Obi-Wan scrolled through the lists of names from the immediate years before the catastrophe, then suddenly, there she was, Nomi Sunrider. Obi-Wan couldn't help but smile. The date of her arrival was listed, as were two other pieces of information. Firstly, Nomi had arrived with her daughter, Vima. Secondly, a flight log listed the coordinates of her journey to Ossus, starting with her previous location, the planet Ambria. Obi-Wan was astonished, and he had to admit, a little excited. He now had a trail to follow once more, one that might actually lead him to something tangible.

________________________

Stakeouts were always the same in Raynor's experience, hours of boredom, followed by moments of frantic effort. This one was no different! He had been in orbit around Ossus for the best part of a Galactic Standard day, occupying his time with delicate investigations into the mysterious Ben Jinn, whilst waiting for the self-same character to re-emerge from the planet's surface.

All of a sudden proximity alarms began to sound, indicating the presence of another vessel nearby. Raynor checked the readouts and sure enough, the Knights Quest had broken atmosphere and was making for a jump point. Raynor moved quickly in order to make calculations to follow its' jump vector. He had just about done that when another alarm began to sound in the cockpit, this time from the searches he had been running on Ben Jinn. Raynor had a choice to make, and quickly. If he accessed the search results now, he would not be able to follow the Knights Quest, but if he didn't access them now, he would have to wait hours for the results, as they could not be transmitted through hyperspace. He may even lose them altogether, meaning he would have to risk another search.

At that moment the Knights Quest flickered then disappeared. Raynor acted, the search results would have to wait. Activating his navicomp to track the vector the departing vessel had followed, he quickly had a destination – Ambria. Raynor engaged the hyperdrive; he was back in the game. The chase was on once more.

Along the way there will be many barriers, or those who try to stop us. If we really want to reach our destination, we must overcome these.

Chapter 6

The journey from Ossus to Ambria was a short one, just a few hours back along the Perlemian Trade Route into the Stenness System. Obi-Wan was pleased about that as it meant he could continue his quest without too much delay. Even for someone with boundless patience, he still could not shake off the excitement he felt in the pit of his stomach.

Emerging from hyperspace Obi-Wan observed the rapidly growing world that lay ahead. He had seen the planet before, most people had, in holo-documentaries anyway. The Stenness System was quite well travelled, being not too far from galactic centre, although the only real reason for visiting this part of the system was to capture an image of the planet Ambria. It was a striking place, vivid orange in colour, with glorious violet rings, hence its frequent appearance in a variety of sources, from scientific texts to holo-dramas. Aside from its outward appearance the planet itself was pretty insignificant, and Obi-Wan knew it to be a little settled, barren world, almost in the same category as Ossus. "Why did you come here Nomi?" he asked aloud, airing his thoughts. Maybe this place had been important too, long ago, he thought. Perhaps it suffered similarly to Ossus? Checking the navi comp showed no hazards in the vicinity that could have caused such destruction, and the planet itself was within geologic norms. "You came here for a purpose, I am sure of that," he said aloud again. It was strange but Obi-Wan was becoming increasingly fond of Nomi Sunrider, as if she were an old acquaintance, rather than someone separated from him by four millennia. He would dearly liked to have met her. "Sentimental old fool," he rebuked himself back to concentration, he could still allow himself to slip back into attachment every now and then.

Entering the planet's atmosphere Obi-Wan decided to perform an aerial orbit first, allowing the ship's scanners and his own feelings to pinpoint anything interesting. As he expected, the electronic results showed very little, just barren desert interspersed with small bodies of water and very limited population centres. The results of his own scans however, were totally different, chillingly so. In complete contrast to Ossus, there was almost no Force presence here, it was almost complete silence, almost! One spot on the surface stood out, but it was not the presence of a Jedi Master, or anything to do with one. It was that familiar, empty, cold, dread sensation that crept up the back of your neck, filled you with doubt and made you want to turn and run. The Dark Side was here!

Obi-Wan had felt the sensation before, and knew how to push it down, not allowing it to prevent him from further investigation. Besides, he was quite sure the sensation was a lingering malevolence rather than the presence of a direct, living threat. Never the less, he would proceed with caution and land just close enough to the black spot to give it the once over.

Skimming through the atmosphere Obi-Wan brought the Knights Quest down on a plateau that overlooked a rift valley many hundreds of miles wide. The sheer cliffs allowed an impressive view of the lakes that had formed at the valley bottom and from where the cold dread he felt was emanating. Obi-Wan strode down the egress ramp, the soil crunching loudly under his boots as he took the several strides that brought him to the cliff edge. Squatting down he picked up a handful of orange soil, allowing it to fall through his grasp. From space this was what gave Ambria its striking colour, but from here it was dry and dull and lifeless. Even Tatooine seemed like the centre of the galaxy compared to here, the place was so desolate. Obi-Wan could feel nothing, not even the wind. Just the foreboding presence surrounding the black lake he overlooked. There was total silence too, apart from the unnatural sound his boots made, almost as if life had given up in this place a long time ago.

There was nothing here, he was sure of that now. Nomi Sunrider had had purpose in being here, but whatever that was had long been made good or else forgotten about. Obi-Wan stood, turned and made for his ship. He was glad to leave this place behind, although the impressions it made would take a lot longer to leave him.

________________________

Raynor eased his ship into secure orbit around the vibrant orange world before him. This location could not have been more perfect for his needs, the planet rings providing ample cover for him to drift behind while he tracked Ben Jinn. He had arrived at Ambria mere moments behind his quarry, and had been able to watch Jinn descend through the atmosphere and land on the surface. Raynor knew exactly where he was and would not be taken by surprise if he were to leave quickly. Everything was about as good s it got during field investigation.

Switching his attention for the moment, Raynor reopened the secure contact with Imp' Cent' Intel' he had received back at Ossus. He was sincerely hoping he could pick up the signal again, avoiding the need to conduct his high risk investigations once more. And they were high risk indeed!

In the intelligence community, knowledge was power. A good agent knew how to access information he wasn't supposed to, whether that be dirt on colleagues he might be able to use to his advantage, or high level access codes only for use by superior agents. Raynor considered himself well above the status of a good agent, and as such his armoury of knowledge comprised information from both said categories and much more. His most significant acquisition however had arrived by chance, in the form of an over promoted, over estimated imperial officer who had been sent to Imp' Cent' Intel' on several inspection visits. The man was about as incompetent as it got, but had somehow still risen to the rank of Moff, probably due to government connections, this being more of a political position rather than a military one. Never the less, this still gave the buffoon access to all sorts of info'.

On one of his visits, the Moff was overseeing some minor operations, and actually left his access codes entered into Raynor's data terminal, which Raynor subsequently 'acquired'. The best part of it was, this man was so incompetent that these codes still worked three years later, even though they should have been changed at least a hundred times by now.

Using the codes should have been easy enough, and it was. But risk became an issue when you realised what you could access with them. It was basically a licence to the Emperor's inner circle, and all the top secret comings and goings that went on there. The kind of stuff that would get you killed quick if you were discovered. It was this that Raynor was exposing himself to every time he performed a high level data search, so ideally he kept them down to an absolute minimum.

Several tense minutes passed, during which the data terminal was silent, then amazingly the signal kicked in again, the message was still there. Raynor exhaled a relieved breath, then accessed the transmission. It read: Data match found. Clearance code required to proceed. Raynor entered the necessary code, which brought up a new file. This was marked as 'Priority Level Alpha', and titled 'Order Sixty-Six'. Raynor knew there was no higher level data than 'Alpha', so this was important stuff. The file 'Order Sixty-Six' had forty-two entries, ranked in order of priority. The actual file Raynor had accessed was number two on that list. Suddenly Raynor was very nervous, what had he gotten himself into? He was about to read a file that the Emperor himself considered second most important on his to do list, and knowledge of that kind could either be very rewarding, or very lethal.

Raynor stood on the edge of the abyss. Did he stop now and leave this well alone, or did he jump? The investigator in him took over, curiosity finally getting the better of common sense. Raynor opened the file, then instantly wished he hadn't.

________________________

An image of a man appeared onscreen. He was approximately forty years of age, with a neatly trimmed beard and slightly greying hair. Raynor knew the face instantly, it was Ben Jinn. Only he wasn't called Ben Jinn in this data file, he was called something straight out of legend, straight out of myth. Ben Jinn was none other than Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi! Raynor knew the name as if it were his own, most people his age did. Obi-Wan Kenobi was one of the heroes of his childhood, his exploits in the clone wars were the stuff of wonder to children and adults alike. But that was then, over a decade ago at least, the galaxy was a changed place now.

Raynor was unsure of the details, but had heard the stories. At the time of the Jedi insurrection at the end of the wars, not all the Jedi were apprehended. It seemed forty-two in all, according to the secret files. Obi-Wan Kenobi was amongst them, apparently after not only surviving an assassination attempt, but also having fought past the Emperor's enforcer, Darth Vader. These were the stories anyway! Supposedly, Vader wore his black armour because of the injuries Kenobi had inflicted upon him. Raynor had never seen Vader, but knew him by reputation to be terrifying in the extreme. If Kenobi had done that to him he must be a formidable opponent indeed. Since then Kenobi had disappeared, but was still considered the Emperor's second most wanted foe, understandably so in Raynor's opinion.

Raynor wiped the perspiration from his brow and loosened his collar, it was suddenly difficult to breathe, even though the atmosphere in the cockpit was perfectly regulated. He had been following Obi-Wan Kenobi, missing Jedi Master. It was unbelievable! Taking a deep calming breath, he leaned back in his pilot's seat, attempting to make sense of it all in his mind. At least the search for Jedi information Jinn, no Kenobi, had been performing now made sense, as did his uncanny Sabaac win. Raynor pondered his next move.

He should call this in; in fact he should have done that hours ago, although that wouldn't really be an issue when his superiors heard his report. The thought of handing it over nagged at Raynor though, because he knew what would happen, he knew how the agency worked. Someone superior to him would take all the credit, and the rewards that went with it, stepping all over Raynor along the way. No, Raynor's ambition would not allow that to happen!

So he would play this alone for now. But how? He could try to apprehend Kenobi himself and bring him in, but Raynor was not stupid, realising that was one way to a rapid demise. He'd need help with the actual capture and so would have to contact someone at some point. If he were to avoid losing the credit, that meant going straight to the top, and where the Jedi were concerned, that meant the Emperor's Jedi destroyer in chief, the aforementioned Darth Vader.

Vader was notoriously difficult to get an audience with, most matters were considered beneath his attention Raynor knew, but he was sure he would be able to pull a few strings when necessary. Vader was even more notoriously difficult to please, something else that could lead to a rapid demise if you got it wrong. So Raynor knew he would have to gift wrap Kenobi for Vader, providing his whereabouts that were absolutely certain. At present this was not the case, Kenobi was moving much too often for a certain fix on his position. Raynor would have to continue following him, until he had coordinates he knew Kenobi would be at for a reasonable amount of time. Only then would he make the call, the call that would set him up for the rest of his life.

______________________

Leaving the atmosphere of Ambria behind, Obi-wan reached deep into the Force, allowing it to cleanse his being. With a simple exhaling of breath he let go of the sensation the dark energy had created within him.

Focussing once again on his task he plotted the next set of coordinates he had retrieved from Ossus into the navicomp. After several moments the computer indicated an unknown destination, but one that intersected the Hydian Way at the specified point. At least, Obi-Wan thought. We're still in a well travelled part of the galaxy, and not too far away at that! Engaging the hyperdrive Obi-Wan continued his quest once more.

_______________________

Raynor was ready, and as he had expected Kenobi did not hang around, barely having been on Ambria a matter of hours. This time there was no panic, and Raynor had the Knights Quest's vector plotted and ready to go in seconds. He smiled as the name of the vessel actually registered in his conscious. It appeared Obi-Wan Kenobi had a sense of humour. With a flicker of light through the view port Kenobi's ship disappeared. Time to resume the game!

_______________________

Obi-Wan had that excited feeling back, but this time he let it linger a little while. He was sure now the Force was guiding him with purpose, and equally sure one step in his journey would be the decisive one, perhaps this one.

His destination for this jump was just coming into view, several thousand klicks distant, and it was certainly not a planet. In fact there were no systems for millions of light years. It was a particularly remote region of the galaxy. Visible now was a structure floating in the blackness, although it was only just visible, made so by its size, and by the silhouette it created against the star-field behind it. A space station of some kind by all accounts, but one certainly not in use anymore, judging by the lack of running lights.

Obi-Wan had an idea what this place was though, and was not perturbed by its apparent desolation, although something was nagging at the back of his mind that he couldn't quite place. Ignoring the sensation he cleared his thoughts once more. This place, he was almost certain, was a hyperspace marker station. There were hundreds of such markers all over the galaxy, a relic from a time long since past. When the hyperspace pioneers had plotted their safe routes through the galaxy, they had set up safe points along the way, to make it easier for travellers to follow. Over the years communities had formed around these markers, flourishing on the trade that came through them. But eventually the need for such places had eroded with the advancement of galactic navigation, and the bustling communities had eroded with it, leaving behind the husks of their former glory, husks such as the one floating before him.

Nomi must have used this as a safe jump point along her journey to Ambria, Obi-Wan thought. In fact the Ossus data still showed the travel log having additional coordinates remaining. "One more step to go," he said with a patient sigh, and prepared to plot his new course, but suddenly stopped. There was that nagging sensation again! Obi-Wan dropped his hand from the navicomp and took hold of the control yoke. Something was wrong, he just didn't know what. He was preparing to engage the sub-lights when suddenly the sensation he was feeling became a full blown warning. Tractor beam, the Force cried in his thoughts. Obi-Wan reacted with impossible speed, but even that was not fast enough. An invisible fist grasped the Knights Quest in a grip that would have held a Dreadnought. Obi-Wan pulled back on the thrusters, he was trapped, and he knew it.

_______________________

Almost the instant Raynor dropped out of Hyperspace, warning alarms began to sound all around him. Proximity sensors, weapons system detectors, you name it, it was flashing. Instincts immediately took over and Raynor u-turned away from whatever had triggered the warnings. After several minutes travel the alarms cut out, indicating he was a safe distance from any danger. At that point he rolled back to get a fix on what the hell was going on. Visually he could see a large complex of some description floating in space about seven hundred klicks away. The complex appeared partially operational, with only a portion of its running lights on. There were also pin-pricks of light buzzing around its' perimeter, ships presumably.

His scanners told a more telling tale however. One of the pricks of light was the Knights Quest, and it was being hauled into the complex by a tractor beam. The other objects buzzing around were a motley crew of different fighters, seven in all. Raynor cursed aloud. "Stinking pirates." It appeared Kenobi had been ambushed by a group of low lifes occupying the space station. Even a Jedi Master could not have pre-empted that, not in such a remote region. Raynor cursed aloud again. What did he do now? Was this the end of his grand scheme? After a moments frustrated thought he let logic take over. He couldn't help Kenobi, not on his own, and he wasn't calling for back up, not yet. Besides he was sure Kenobi wouldn't need help anyway. He'd get out of this mess soon, and all Raynor had to do would be sit and wait until he did. The only trouble was; he wasn't entirely sure just how long the Jedi Master would take.

_________________________

Obi-Wan was a decision making machine. Without the slightest hesitation he had slipped back into the persona he had been during the wars, clear, calm and decisive.

First things first, it had become obvious he'd been caught by pirates of some description. The more he thought about it, the more obvious it was, since this abandoned station was a perfect location to ambush unsuspecting travellers along the Hydian way, of which there were countless numbers trading in and out of the Corporate Sector. Just how good this particular group were was as yet unclear, but the set up they had, plus the power of the tractor beam they were using, was an indication of their success.

Second thing, how did he play it? Did he come quietly? Hiding his identity as a Jedi, or did he come out lightsaber swinging? It didn't really matter he supposed. Once they found out he carried no cargo, they would dispense with him straight away, so he'd have to defend himself. Besides, rumours of rogue Jedi appearing here and there had often cropped up throughout the past decade. Another story would not raise many eyebrows, especially not one from a bunch of pirates, if any of them lived to tell the tale that was. Obi-Wan grinned, fight it was then!

________________________

The Knights Quest eventually settled in the centre of a large hangar. There should have been room for twenty to thirty other ships, but most of the perimeter of the space was taken up with shipping containers and packing crates of various shapes and sizes. Perfect defences behind which to hide, which was exactly what all seemed to be doing, not a single being moved, and all that could be heard was the ticking and groaning of metal cooling.

Without warning, two figures appeared, moving rapidly towards the vessel. With equal speed they performed electronic surgery on the access hatch to the ship, forcing it to hiss open. They had disappeared again before the ramp even hit touched the deck. Again there was silence, which seemed to last several long minutes. Eventually this was broken by a whistled command, followed by two sets of boot heels hitting deck plate. Men armed with blaster rifles marched straight into the Knights Quest without pause. Subsequent sounds became muffled, shouts, blaster fire, impacts and the scraping noise of two unconscious forms sliding back down the ramp. Then the silence resumed once more.

Another whistle! Accompanied this time by many sets of boots, all of whom settled into solid firing positions, blasters trained steadily on the entrance to the small wedge shaped vessel. Someone fired, for what appeared to be no reason. Others looked at him with distain, but he was only reacting to a flicker of movement he thought he'd seen. Then another fired, and another, again apparently at nothing. But something was moving, so fast it was almost impossible to see, impossible that was until one blaster bolt returned whence it came. As if hitting a mirror, the ricochet caused its firer to slump forward. All of a sudden a figure was visible, right in the centre of the crossfire. An unremarkable figure in a hooded brown robe. Unremarkable except for the exquisite beam of pure blue energy he carried with him.

_________________________

It had been a long time since Obi-Wan had experienced the sensation he currently felt. There was something unique about combat and the Forces' place as part of it. Ideally it should never be used as an aid to fighting, and yet it lent itself seamlessly to such tasks. It was another one of those moral issues Jedi had always faced, made more difficult because of the need to immerse ones self fully in the Force. You were defending your life after all! Obi-Wan felt no such moral dilemma anymore, he was the Force and the Force was him.

He closed his eyes in concentration, but still could clearly see all around him. There were thirty five attackers in the hangar, some hidden, some not so, some confident, some afraid. Time seemed to slow around him, but his movements remained quick and agile, making it easy to deflect blaster bolts that came too close, whilst ignoring those that would miss. It was almost unfair on his assailants, not only did he have time to react to their attacks; he could read their intentions before they even decided upon an action. This should not take long!

Obi-Wan pushed forward, dropping two, three, four, five attackers with their own fire. Expanding his Force awareness outwards he became aware of more threats coming closer and began to gather a picture of the layout of the complex. This would be useful later when he needed to disable the tractor beam as part of his escape. Two more assailants fell to their own fire and Obi-Wan pressed on.

Then suddenly something felt wrong! As if he was being watched. But that was crazy, of course he was being watched, there were hostile beings everywhere following his every move. Only this felt different, as if he were being truly analysed from afar, as if someone was peering into his very being. For a microsecond the sensation made him feel vulnerable, but that distraction was enough. Five or six blaster bolts homed in on him, he blocked all but one. A searing pain bit into his left shoulder and kinetic energy spun him to the ground. Instantly he was back on his feet, ignoring the pain, but it was too late, and there were too many of them. An impact like being hit with a hammer drove the strength from his right thigh, dropping him to one knee, yet still he remained in a defensive stance. Another impact hammered at his back and Obi-Wan felt consciousness slipping away. He just had time to raise his head and see one assailant pump another stun bolt into his chest before everything went black.

________________________

There were voices, many of them. Some were familiar, but not all. "Concentrate on the living Force my young Padawan, it will help you focus on what you must do," said Qui-Gon Jinn. "Afraid you must not be, the future, dependant on you it is," Yoda chided. The twin suns of Tatooine warmed his face, sand moving between his toes as he stood barefoot. "Master," said another voice, causing him to turn. "Please help me to find the right path." It was Anakin, or could have been. The blond hair and blue eyes were the same. At that point Obi-Wan knew he was dreaming, but he still did not wake up. "Who are you?" he said to the figure, but the man did not respond. Instead he faded into the background as the Tatooine atmosphere around him turned black. An image of two eyes began to fill the sky in his place, watching him as he had no place to hide.

At that point Obi-Wan Kenobi woke up, the feeling of being watched awakening his senses to what he had felt prior to losing consciousness. As his brain gradually rebooted itself, information began to filter through. He was in a windowless cell, judging by the size of the room, lit by an overhead glow panel, with one door straight ahead. He was tied with binders of some kind to the chair he currently occupied, which in turn was bolted to the floor. His robes and boots had been removed, leaving him with bare torso and bare feet. More importantly his utility belt and lightsaber were also missing.

By now pain receptors had also come back on line, providing clear indication of injuries recently sustained. His back and thigh felt particularly sore and weak, and he could clearly see the large purple bruise in the centre of his chest, all caused by stun bolts. More severely his left shoulder radiated both heat and intense pain, although there was a rudimentary dressing over the injury and it didn't smell infected. Someone had patched him up, but without the use of bacta or synthflesh, it would take a long time to heal. "One more scar to the collection," he said ruefully to himself.

At that moment the door to the cell opened, swinging on hinges, indicating how archaic this facility was. A large man dressed in a black flight suit and animal hide fight jacket lowered himself into a seat a few paces away from Obi-Wan. The man was about ten years younger than himself, and despite his greying stubble, presented a distinctly military presence. "How do you feel?" said the man. "I find myself quite amazed you have regained consciousness so soon, we did have to stun you three times after all," he went on with what appeared genuine admiration. "I'll live," Obi-Wan replied. "Pain is an excellent reminder that you're still alive!" he added sarcastically. The man actually laughed in response. "I am glad my suffering amuses you. Do you treat all innocent travellers who pass by here in this manner?" he enquired. "Since you ask," the man began. "No we don't. Ordinarily you would be dead by now, considering your worthless cargo. However my friend, you yourself are different are you not? And you are certainly far from innocent," he ended with a huge grin on his face. Obi-Wan remained silent. "Believe it or not, I have not always earned a living redistributing trading goods in this sector," the man began again. "You mean as a pirate," Obi-Wan offered. "I was a soldier once," the man continued unperturbed. "Serving long years in the wars, fighting that unnatural army of yours," he went on. "What do you mean army of mine?" Obi-Wan asked as innocently as he could. The man snorted a laugh. "In the many actions I was involved in for the Separtists, I never saw a Jedi, but I know they were there. I also know exactly what they are capable of and you my friend are unmistakably one of them."

"Hence the reason you haven't pushed me out of an airlock."

"Precisely," the man nodded. "You are worth a lot of money to the right people and fortunately for us, we happen to know just who those people are." He went on. "What would be useful to know however, is exactly which missing Jedi you are. Knowing that would help us set the appropriate price you see," he said in a business like manner. Obi-Wan smiled. "In that case, I'm Master Yoda himself," he said. The man's grin disappeared from his face. "Even I know you do not have green skin and pointed ears and I figured you would not be forthcoming, but no matter," he paused. "I have managed to make contact with an old ally of mine from the wars, a Colonel no less. He will be able to tell me exactly who you are. So if you will be good enough to just sit tight until he gets here I would be most grateful." With that he stood up and left, leaving Obi-Wan alone once more.

Perfect, Obi-Wan thought. He had to move fast. There was no way he could still be here when this Colonel arrived. If someone recognised him, his quest was over, and hope with it!

Obi-Wan cleared his thoughts, allowing the Force to spread calm through his mind. He did not know how much time he had until this Colonel got here, hours probably, so he needed to be efficient as possible in his escape. He needed a plan!

First thing; remove the restraints. Second; get out of the cell. That should be easy enough, although doing it without attracting too much attention might be trickier. Next, get his lightsaber back. If his other equipment was there too, fantastic, but his saber was the priority. He could fight and fly barefoot if he had to. Finally, find and disable the tractor beam that held the Knights Quest, after that it was a simple matter of getting back to the ship, taking off and flying away, easy! Obi-Wan chuckled to himself, making his ribs hurt both front and back. "I'm getting too old for this," he said.

Concentrating his focus on the binders that held his hands behind his back, Obi-Wan set his plan in motion. His wrists were secured with a wire cable, rather than electronic cuffs, which would have been easy to disable. Grimacing, Obi-Wan exerted his Force strength against the wire, this was going to hurt, but what was one more injury to his existing catalogue? It took several seconds, but the cable finally frayed apart, one strand at a time. Obi-Wan sucked in oxygen in deep breaths and looked at his wrists, which were now bleeding. That had taken entirely too much effort! Standing, gingerly at first, due to the pain in his thigh, he approached the door. Calling on the Force once more, he allowed it to both dull his pain and expand his awareness beyond the room. There was only one guard, excellent! Turning his attention to the simple locking mechanism of the door, he gave a little nudge through the Force and the latch moved free. Obi-Wan slowly opened the door, which fortunately did not creak on its hinges, revealing a burly man's back less than two feet away. "You wouldn't happen to be room service would you?" Obi-Wan said. Startled, the guard spun and was about to raise his blaster rifle, but was unprepared for Obi-Wan's speed. In one powerful motion, Obi-Wan covered the distance between them and smashed his forehead into the man's chin. This had always been a favoured brawling move of Obi-Wan's, due to its ferocity and unexpectedness, one he had often employed during the trials of his youth. Youth however was no longer on his side anymore and he winced as he felt the lump swelling just above his eyes. "What on Coruscant did you do that for? You old fool," he grimaced. So far things were going great! He'd managed to add two new injuries to his collection in the first five minutes. At this rate, there would be nothing left of him to escape!

Reaching out through the Force once more, Obi-Wan searched for his lightsaber. It was such a part of him in the Force that its location shone like a beacon. Moving silently on bare feet he followed the corridor, taking several left and right turns in the process, eventually arriving at a door marked; security. Behind it Obi-Wan could feel ten presences, all of whom seemed fairly determined and all with an air of hostility, towards anything! There was only one approach he could really take – all out attack, using surprise and speed as his allies. Stealth would have to go out of the view port for now.

Immersing himself fully in the Force, he closed his eyes. They would be of little use anyway, the speed of his attack blurring his vision. Gathering energy within him he approached the heavy metal door. When he was ready, he pushed. The door came off its hinges and accelerated into the room beyond. Three presences winked out in the Force as they were crushed by the flying metal. Obi-Wan somersaulted through the open doorway, catching one man on the temple with his bare heel, causing his legs to buckle under him in a slump to the floor. Four down, six left! Landing gracefully, Obi-Wan rolled, grabbing a chair in his upwards motion. Without aiming he hurled this like a missile straight into the face of an approaching bad guy, who dropped like a stone. On his feet now, Obi-Wan twisted and turned, ducked and pivoted, evading the blaster fire which had now erupted from the other five bad guys. Reaching out with an open hand, Obi-Wan called through the Force and was answered by the slap of cold metal in his palm. With a snap-hiss, the room became bathed in blue light. Blaster bolts ricocheted against walls and into flesh and then there was silence, save for the humming of an energy blade. If somebody had been timing the battle their chrono would have stopped at nine seconds.

Obi-Wan shut off his saber and looked around, spotting the rest of his gear. Without pausing he grabbed it and moved on. In years past, he would have thought nothing of the fete he had just accomplished, but such a use of the Force had thoroughly exhausted him this time. He truly was getting too old for all of this!

________________________

The sound of rushing boot heels and shouted obscenities had been persistent now for almost twenty standard minutes. Obi-Wan was not feeling in the best shape, especially as he was cramped into an engineering crawl-space above a corridor. That last battle had taken a lot out of him, and he had decided to return to a more stealthy means of escape. Unfortunately, an energy conduit now blocked his path, meaning he would have to drop back down to deck level, as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

Fully dressed now, Obi-Wan dropped as gracefully as he could into the corridor. Trying to land quietly caused his thigh and back to scream a pained protest, almost causing him to stumble. He opened up to the Force once more, but even that effort was beginning to take its toll and its energising and pain suppressing effects were diminishing each time. Forcing himself to concentrate he created a mental picture of the complex from the bits and pieces of information he had gathered since his arrival. He knew where the Knights Quest was held and the energy field holding it there felt like it originated in the same area. That was fortunate indeed, meaning he would only have to travel in one direction, rather than make a detour.

Pressing on as swiftly as his tiring body would allow, Obi-Wan reached an intersection in the corridor. Left and ahead were clear, but right was occupied by several heavily armed bad guys, and right was where he needed to go, his destination being visible some forty meters beyond. Calling on dwindling Force reserves, Obi-Wan projected his voice, as if it had come from the corridor to his left. "Anyone on this level, we got him pinned in section twenty, we need back up, so move it." Six of the bad guys immediately moved off at a trot in the direction of the voice, leaving just one guard. Unfortunately for Obi-Wan, they may as well have left three regular beings, rather than the monster who still barred his way. The man was huge, nearly filling the corridor and Obi-Wan didn't want to use his lightsaber, since he was unsure how many others were nearby to provide backup. He would have to do this as quietly as possible. "Hopefully my breaking bones won't make too much noise," he whispered ruefully to himself as he turned right and approached the man. Caught by surprise, the enormous guard reacted instantly, bringing his blaster rifle to bare, but even as he did so an invisible hand pulled it from his grasp, although the weapon did not travel far. Taking advantage of the distraction, Obi-Wan charged, sliding the last few feet and putting all his weight and momentum into a boot heel that snapped the man's knee back causing him to drop, but not completely. Unfortunately for Obi-Wan, the giant was as strong as he looked and even though his knee was mangled, he did not show any pain, instead he just steadied himself and unleashed a punch aimed at Obi-Wan's midriff, even as he was still rising from his slide. Taking evasive action, Obi-Wan pivoted with the blow, causing it to glance rather than impact. Even so he still felt the sharp snap as one of his ribs gave way. Continuing his motion, Obi-Wan tried to slip past the disabled giant, but the man's reach caught hold of his cloak and yanked him back into a choke hold that may as well have been from a wookie. Instantly Obi-Wan's peripheral vision began to grey as blood was cut off from his brain. He had seconds to react or he would be unconscious for the second time that day. Reaching over his shoulder he took a handful of hair for leverage, extended his thumb and pushed with what energy he had left, right into the man's eye socket. Instantly the guard released him, and Obi-Wan ended the bout by driving his elbow hard into the man's temple. "Next time just use your bloody lightsaber," he said to himself as he continued toward the hangar bay.

Deactivating the tractor beam was a simple matter, as were the two guards posted by the Knights Quest. Taking his own advice, Obi-Wan's lightsaber made short work of all three. Moments later the small wedge shaped vessel blasted into space, but even as he did so, Obi-Wan realised he had just swapped one battle for another.

______________________

The instant Obi-Wan hit vacuum, seven blips appeared on his scanners and they were all homing in on his position. Evidently the blips would be the seven fighters who had escorted the Knights Quest inbound. Obi-Wan had only a few seconds to make up his mind, fight or flight. Neither option was particularly appealing since the Knights Quest was designed neither for combat or speed. But Obi-Wan did have one trump card to play – himself!

These pirates would not want him dead, he was too valuable, and so they would try to disable his vessel. If he just tried to run, that task would be all the more simple for them. No! Better to make himself harder to hit by doing the unexpected - head on assault.

Strapping himself in Obi-Wan accelerated towards the oncoming ships, choosing one in particular to head straight at. The ship, a Y-Wing, veered sharply off at the last possible moment, causing the formation it had been flying in to break. His two wing mates immediately rolled to settle on Obi-Wan's six-o'clock and began firing at the limits of their range. Obi-Wan fed power into his tiny aft shield, which absorbed several impacts before failing. At that same moment Obi-Wan reversed thrusters and spiralled back and over the two fighters, accelerating away as he levelled out. He still had power in his forward shield, so needed to be head on to his attackers. During the brief respite Obi-Wan flicked on his navicomp. "Time to repay all those credits my friend," he said to the machine. His strategy was simple; evade the fighters, don't take too much damage, obtain an emergency jump point from the navicomp, get to that jump point and get the hell out of there! At the present time evade actually meant attack, but no matter!

An impact lit up the view port as it bounced off the shield. Obi-Wan grimaced and yanked the control yoke hard over, pulling serious g's in a tight turn. He hated flying! Even if, when required, he was a damned fine pilot, he would still rather be anywhere else. Two more impacts rocked the ship and his remaining shield winked out. Bare skin to the vacuum Obi-Wan continued evasives; twisting, spiralling, rolling, everything he could think of, but the other pilots were good and their numbers gave them a serious advantage. Not only that, some of the craft they flew were state of the art and incredibly manoeuvrable. Obi-Wan couldn't quite place the design, but the two solar arrays configuration with a central control hub was certainly new to him.

His first possible jump point was only seconds away now and Obi-Wan prepared to leave, when suddenly disaster struck. One of the fighters in pursuit caught him a sucker punch with one laser round. The Knights Quest began to buck and shimmy in protest at the damage one of its control surfaces had sustained. His ability to manoeuvre now severely hampered, Obi-Wan was a sitting Womprat. Multiple impacts soon followed, resulting in the loss of several ship systems, including damage to the hyperdive. Bathed in the red glow of emergency lights, Obi-wan made a snap decision. He was close enough to one of the other emergency jump points the navicomp had calculated, that he could make use of it. Trouble was it was a long jump, and he was unsure whether the hyperdrive would sustain it, if it even worked at all! Now or never, he thought and gambled. The battered vessel shuddered unhealthily but still managed to jump, leaving its frustrated pursuers in its wake.

_______________________

Raynor was impressed! He had nearly been caught unawares once again, expecting Kenobi to take much longer to escape. It had been less than ten standard hours since his capture, the man truly was formidable.

Hiding in cold space with all systems save those keeping him alive powered down, Raynor had watched the escape unfold. It was clear that Kenobi's ship had sustained considerable damage and would require extensive repairs. That would mean he'd be stuck wherever he made it to for some time, time in which Raynor could call this in with a guaranteed location – perfect!

Suddenly Kenobi's ship winked out into hyperspace and within seconds Raynor had his vector. He hit the thrusters and prepared to follow the Jedi Master for what should be the last time.

There will come a point in our journey when we are closer to our destination than we are to home. This is the point of no return. We cannot turn back now, no matter what.

Chapter 7

As hyperspace jumps went, this one was not as peaceful as most. Usually hours, even days trapped in a trans-dimensional reality presented perfect opportunities to relax. There was often nothing to do, which was great when you had company. On your own however meant tedium of the highest order, but not on this trip!

Obi-Wan had been travelling for approximately three standard hours. During that time, about every two minutes or so to be precise, an alarming shudder would run through the ship, a new serious sounding noise would occur, or a different warning light would flash on the control panel. All of it indicating that this jump could end at any moment, even though there were still several hours travel to reach Bastion, the emergency jumps calculated destination; and civilisation.

In order to take his mind off worry, Obi-Wan had been in partial meditation, focussing on any guidance the Force could offer. Unfortunately the Force was insistent on revisiting only one thing, something that was just as disconcerting as his current travel problems; the sensation that he was being watched! During his escape from the pirate hideout Obi-Wan had almost forgotten about that initial discovery, but the persistence of the feeling through the Force was beginning to leave him in no doubt that there was a very real issue that needed to be addressed. But just what that was he wasn't quite sure.

The sensation was definitely one of being watched and that could only mean one of two things. Either another Force user had sensed his presence and was reaching out to locate him or, he was being followed. Obi-Wan was certain there were no other Force presences around, the last one he had felt was Master Nu's back on Coruscant, which meant it could only be that someone was on his tail. Worryingly, the sensation had been there since before he had been ambushed by those pirates, which in turn meant it could not be one of them following him. Somehow the one thing he'd been trying to avoid the whole time had happened. He didn't know how he'd been discovered or by whom, but he intended to find out and fast.

Just then the problems with his ship went from worryingly possible to terminal, announced by a violent deceleration and an ear splitting whine. The hyperdrive had finally had enough! Obi-Wan scanned the controls as the Knights Quest reverted unceremoniously to real space. The sublights were still functioning as were most of the other essential systems, which from a certain point of view was fortunate indeed. However none of that would matter if he had dropped out of hyperspace in a remote region of interstellar space, since normal propulsion speeds would take only about several thousand or so years to get him to the nearest planet. Not that would be a problem now he thought about it; he'd suffocate, dehydrate or starve first. "Not a pleasant way to go, but definitely better than dying of boredom," he said to himself. The navicomp was still functioning as well Obi-Wan was pleased to see, even more so when it revealed his current location. The Force still appeared to have use for him yet, as it transpired he was not too far from civilisation at all. He even had a limited choice of destinations! Taking note of the information provided by the navicomp and his serious need for repairs, Obi-Wan elected to head for a small system of moons close to the main Dubrillion system. One moon in particular had shipyard facilities both on the surface and in orbit and it was only about fifteen days travel. That would be cutting his water reserves a little fine, but should be doable. If the boredom doesn't kill me first, he thought ironically.

________________________

Raynor was becoming increasingly nervous. His mission was reaching its climax and pretty soon events would begin to overtake him. He would have so much to do, in a very short time window. Thinking about the possible outcomes and of course his own future, actually made his stomach churn like an excited youth. This excitement in turn was propelling him flat out to Bastion, which was where, by his calculations, Kenobi was headed. Caught up in this wishful thought Raynor almost missed the readout from one of his active sensor arrays. No alarm had been triggered, but the gravity distortion display had registered an anomaly along his flight-path. Calculated hyperspace jumps avoided anything in space that affected gravity, since this could actually distort hyperspace itself. So when a gravitic anomaly registered in your way this often meant a hazard, such as an uncharted asteroid that had wandered into your path. And that would set off just about every alarm you had! In this case no such alarms had sounded, as the gravity distortion was much more subtle, meaning it could only have been caused by another vessel, one entering or leaving hyperspace at that particular point, to be exact.

Instinctively Raynor killed the hyperdrive, terminating his calculated jump. He had discovered through experience that when he just reacted rather than thought about something, his decisions usually proved correct; they had in the past anyway! Sure enough, as soon as he entered real space, sensors picked up the exhaust signature of the Knights Quest. Hyperdrive must have failed, he thought. Luck was certainly with Kenobi, another couple of hours travel and he'd have been stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Raynor studied the information his navicomp was providing about his location. "Where have you gone now?" he asked, thinking aloud. Put yourself in his position. What would you do? After a few seconds thought, the answer became apparent. There was only one real option for a ship badly in need of repairs to head for. This was perfect for Raynor! Kenobi would have to travel at sub-light speeds, meaning Raynor could jump ahead of him and arrive first. He could set things up in advance, meaning when the time came, he could close his trap with just one call. "Dubrillion here we come," he said.

________________________

Although this region was not really Dubrillion, it was still registered as part of the system. The actual planet was millions of klicks away. The main planet in the sector, which was now filling Raynor's view port, was an obscure place; a gaseous mass without even a name, just an identity number. Its moons, of which there were several, were only slightly more interesting, again not named, only having numeric designations. Moon three was the only one with a sustainable atmosphere, hence its growth as an industrial facility. There were shipyards in orbit around the moon and additional repair centres on the surface. This was not a ship production centre however, like Kuat or Bilbringi. It was more a service and repair facility, catering mainly to the multitude of vessels trading in and out of the Corporate Sector.

Raynor scanned the information scrolling across his data readout. The orbital facilities dealt only with capital ships by the looks of it, so Kenobi would have to land on the surface. Fortunately all the repair centres were bunched together in one place, almost like an industrial city complex, which again would limit Kenobi's choice of landing site. Even better still, the Empire had a strong presence here, emphasised by the old, but still intimidating Star Destroyer overseeing the shipyards and the small Imperial garrison towards the eastern end of the surface complex.

That would make things much easier for Raynor. He could play the Imperial role and ask direct questions of the workers down there, rather than snoop around and hack into their systems for information. He would simply march in wearing his intimidating black uniform and demand to be informed as soon as the Knights Quest arrived. And woe-betide anyone who alerted the pilot of that vessel that he was under investigation! The locals would be used to the way the Empire ran things and they would know what he meant when he used the term, 'consequences.'

Following standard procedure, Raynor hailed the Star Destroyer. "Imperial Destroyer Vanguard, this is Intel Eighty Eight Delta," Raynor commed the vessel. "Go ahead Eighty Eight Delta."

"Code signature is zero, zero, one, zero, zero, one, clearance green."

"You are cleared to proceed."

"Thank you Vanguard. I will be tracking a small vessel to the surface and I would appreciate being allowed to continue without drawing any attention," Raynor said, hoping the comms' officer would take his meaning. "Understood Eighty Eight Delta, perhaps we could be of assistance by alerting you when this vessel arrives in system?"

"Thank you Vanguard, that would be most appreciated. I'll send you the details. Eighty Eight Delta out."

Raynor relayed the transponder details of the Knights Quest to the Vanguard, before heading to the moon's surface. All he had to do now was intimidate a few locals and bribe one or two others to provide him with Kenobi's whereabouts when he landed. By which time he would have set up the two communication relays he would need. One back to Imp' Cent' Intel' and one straight through to Lord Vader, hopefully! Time to call in a favour, he thought.

________________________

Raynor settled his ship into a high level docking bay which had been cleared, no questions asked, for him by the orbiting Vanguard. No sooner had his repulsors powered down, then he was at the comms station. "This is Intel Eighty Eight Delta requesting contact with the Devastator, come in please."

"Intel Eighty Eight Delta," came the reply. "Transmit your code clearance."

"Clearance, green." There was a moments silence as the response was cleared. "Thank you, how may we be of assistance?"

"I need to contact Commander Grax, I believe he is currently aboard," Raynor half questioned, half stated. "Patching you through to his comm. station now."

"Grax here," came a clipped Chandrillian accent. "Hello Tor," Raynor said with a slightly superior sounding tone. "I need that favour!"

Tor Grax and Raynor had trained together at the academy and had both been in the team of operatives infiltrating weapons shipments several years ago. During one particular investigation Grax had missed vital data that allowed a rebel cell to gain access to some considerable firepower. Their superiors had wanted a head to roll, but Raynor had somehow managed to doctor the evidence pointing to Grax, pinning it instead on another agent who everyone disliked. As it turned out, actually saving Grax from a dishonourable discharge. He had since owed Raynor considerable payback.

"DeFay," Grax said, somewhat deflated. "I'd like to say it's good to hear from you, but somehow I get the feeling this is going to hurt."

"Are we on a secure line?" There was a static click. "We are now. What do you need?"

"Is your boss on board?" Raynor asked. "Tion? Of course, he's always here," Grax replied. "No!" said Raynor with over-emphasised patience. "Your real boss!" There was a long silence, broken only by Grax slowly exhaling the deep breath he'd taken. "Yes he's here," he said at last. "I need to speak to him directly and I want you to set it up for me."

The Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator was a new vessel, practically just out of the shipyards. A brand new toy and one that was, from time to time, played with by Lord Vader, who commandeered it as his flagship when required. Grax had recently been appointed as its' Intel' officer.

"You know how difficult that can be Raynor?" Grax said. "Yes," Raynor replied matter of factly. "You also know that if I succeed in your request but he is even mildly irritated by whatever it is you have to tell him, he will not only swat you like the proverbial sand fly, but me as well for wasting his time!"

"Don't worry! Once he hears what I have to say, there might even be rewards in it for you," Raynor pacified him. "If I do this Raynor, we're even. I don't want to hear from you again and if nothing comes of it I'll be doing everything I can to distance myself from you!"

"Understood Grax. Just be ready for me the next time I call. If you don't hear from me within the next twenty standard days, forget it."

"It will be best if you contact me direct. I will put you through from here. This is my direct access."

"Thank you Grax. Consider us even!"

Raynor terminated the transmission then headed to the small bunk station to the rear of the cockpit. He dressed in his black uniform, including his officers' side-arm to complete the intimidating effect he would need. The ship repair complex was huge, so Raynor needed a base at which he could be contacted as soon as Kenobi arrived. He had his personal comm. with him so the Vanguard could alert him, but he would need a holoprojector to talk to Vader, as well as another transmitter to inform Imp' Cent' Intel'.

Opening the egress ramp to leave his ship a chill blast of wind blew across his face. Sealing the vessel behind him he made his way out into the main street of the complex. The sky on the horizon was beginning to darken. It looked like rain!

________________________

A ship in need of repairs was not an unusual sight in a vessel repair facility. From the looks of it however, the small wedge shaped vessel limping towards the third moon of the unnamed gas planet in this sector, should have tried the scrap dealers first. In places its white paintwork was gleaming, almost as if the vessel was brand new, but for the most part its surface was covered in scorch marks and stains from various fluid leaks. It was also listing at a curious angle, probably caused by the loss of a large section of one of its control surfaces, plus the effect of a burned out engine nacelle in the same region as the rest of the damage. It almost looked as if it had frozen part way through a rolling manoeuvre.

Obi-Wan Kenobi had spent the last standard hour in communication with an array of different repair centres. After fifteen days of excruciatingly slow travel, even his Jedi trained patience was hanging by a thread. All but one place had brushed him off with some excuse or another about parts or over-booking or something, but at least there was one place willing to accommodate him. "Docking bay 242629," Obi-Wan repeated into the comm. "Thank you, I can be there in thirty minutes." Turning to an approach vector Obi-Wan noticed the swirling clouds of the moon's atmosphere. "This just keeps getting better," he said to himself. He'd been doing that a lot lately – talking to himself. Mind you, he had just spent fifteen days all by himself! Come to think of it, he'd almost spent ten years by himself! "So I've gone a little strange," he said aloud again. "You really must stop doing that, now concentrate," he ended his one sided conversation. Focussing on the task at hand, Obi-Wan prepared to enter the atmosphere, which appeared to be in the throes of a storm. This would be difficult! Damaged control surfaces were not too much of a problem in the vacuum of space, but as soon as they encountered air resistance…. Well it would be like riding a wild bantha with only a piece of string for reigns!

Looking ahead through the view port the scene before him turned from black to intense white as the atmosphere enveloped the Knights Quest. Obi-Wan's world suddenly turned upside down! The small vessel was whipped into a wild spin as soon as winds took hold of it, winds which according to the external sensors were reaching speeds the planet Vortex would have been proud of. Instinct told Obi-Wan his own reflexes would not be enough here, even though he was a skilled pilot, so he immediately immersed himself in the Force. As ever, just like in meditation back on Tatooine, he was instantly aware of everything, he knew everything in intimate detail. He could count the star ships in orbit around the planet, could feel every living presence on the surface. He could sense the enormous power that burned at the planet's core; and most important of all, he could feel the storm. He was the storm!

The weather system was huge, covering most of the northern hemisphere of the moon, feeding incessantly on the oceans that made up most of the surface. Focussing solely on the wind and his vessels place in it, Obi-Wan imagined the two as completely joined. When the wind pushed one way, the ship automatically went with it, compensating for the movement. The Force translated this through Obi-Wan to the control yoke, guiding his hands in reaction to, and in advance of the swirling currents. To any experienced pilot watching, some of the manoeuvres Obi-Wan employed would have seemed ridiculous, then again no normal pilot would have stood a chance in these conditions.

Suddenly the whiteout through the view port disappeared and the winds dropped to a manageable level. The Knights Quest had punched through the upper atmosphere and was now beneath the cloud layer. Instead of wind, the transparisteel was now being battered by intense rainfall and the cockpit was lit up by occasional flashes of lightening streaking across the darkened horizon.

Obi-Wan keyed in his landing coordinates, still having to fight the controls a little, but at least able to multitask now. Up ahead a circle of lights went from white to green, indicating his docking bay and with a few more awkward adjustments to pitch and yaw, Obi-Wan was finally able to engage the repulsors and bring the vessel down safely.

Initial discussions with the repair centre manager took about an hour, but eventually Obi-Wan was satisfied. Best case scenario meant he was stuck here for at least seventy two standard hours. All he could do now was find a place to stay and wait; but first some food and a stiff drink. Pulling his hooded robe about him, Obi-Wan headed out onto the storm.

________________________

Raynor finalised the details of his transmission, then locked his terminal on standby, ready to be activated at the touch of a button. An intense flash lit up the small room through the window, causing Raynor to stir from his concentration. He hadn't realised how long he'd been working, nor how dark it had become. The call he'd been waiting for had arrived approximately three hours previously from the Vanguard, which had registered the Knights Quest entering the system. Raynor had at that point retreated to his temporary base of operations; a small holonet café just off the main street, but just far enough away from the busy cantinas and eateries. He had easily been able to procure the establishment from its owner with a little bit of Imperial muscle sweetened with a few credits. Since then he'd had to wait, for what felt like forever, until word came through that Kenobi had landed in one of the more obscure, small scale repair enterprises towards the outskirts of town. Raynor also knew that Kenobi had gone to one of the less down market cantinas on the main strip within the last few minutes. Raynor was on his way there now, where he would tail Kenobi to wherever he was staying, at which point he would make the call whilst Kenobi slept.

Everything was in place; time to go! Raynor pulled on his black Imperial issue overcoat and officers hat, checked his side-arm then headed out into the squall. The rain had been incessant for the last two weeks, to the point that Raynor no longer heard the constant drumming noise it made. Apparently, huge storms were frequent on this moon, occurring about once every lunar cycle. Fortunately the locals were so used to them, that the urban layout was designed to cope. All buildings were relatively low level, avoiding the wind and storm drains and channels connected at regular intervals easily coping with the deluge when it came.

Raynor turned onto the well lit main street, along which most of the local businesses had based themselves. There were few beings about in this area, but as he progressed along the three hundred meters or so to his destination, the density of passers by steadily increased. Finally he hit the centre of town which, even well into the night phase of the moon, was bustling, most of the establishments being over-populated with spacers and traders in varying states of intoxication. It all seemed fairly good natured however, helped by the Imperial enforced rules regarding weapons, which were not allowed to leave the owners vessel at any time. If you wanted a drink, you came unarmed!

A little further along the strip the revelry was slightly less vocal and the establishments a little more upmarket. It was here that Kenobi had been seen entering an eating establishment not long before. Raynor spotted the particular place and casually made his way in, taking a seat at the small bar and ordering an equally small beverage! There were other Imperial officers around which made him feel more comfortable and less conspicuous. Raynor scanned the many faces present, which was quite difficult in the diffuse lighting, but not impossible. Eventually his gaze stopped on a booth in a corner close to the front window. There, relaxing with a tumbler in one hand and an empty plate on the table in front of him was a familiar figure. His beard had begun to grow back by now and darker grey strands were appearing at the roots of his hair. He certainly looked like the memory Raynor had of his childhood hero, even more so by the fact that he was wearing what appeared to be the old simple brown Jedi robe. Raynor laughed quietly to himself. Obi-Wan Kenobi still made an impression on him; the man seemed the epitome of self-assuredness. Raynor pushed the feeling down – he had a job to do.

The moment was suddenly broken, as a nervous chill went down his spine. Kenobi had looked right into his eyes, just for a split second, but enough to make Raynor almost lose his cool. Did he know he was being watched? No, it wasn't possible. Kenobi had not been here long enough to be suspicious of anyone and none of the locals knew that Raynor would be tailing him himself. As if to reassure him at that moment, Kenobi got up and left without giving Raynor another glance. Leaving the rest of his drink Raynor followed him out and along the main street, allowing his old tracking skills to cover him amongst the crowds. After a short distance Kenobi entered a small hostelry. Raynor watched his room light come on then took a seat in a diner on the opposite side of the street. Ordering a stimcafe, he sat and watched for nearly one standard hour. Finally, when he was sure Kenobi was not going to move again, he left and headed back to make the call.

_________________________

Obi-Wan had spent much time in places such as this. Spaceports were all pretty much of a muchness, they were all always busy at all times, they all had plenty of places to eat, drink and sleep and they were all a heady mixture of cultures from all over the galaxy. The one difference between them, from Obi-Wan's point of view anyway, was the chances of getting yourself killed in one. That varied greatly, from zero on Mon Calamari for example, to better than even in places like Nar Shadaa and Mos Eisley. This particular spaceport seemed to come quite low on that scale, largely helped by the fact that only the Imperial personnel seemed to be carrying weapons.

Obi-Wan should have felt fairly relaxed then, and yet he was anything but. He was almost jumping at shadows and everyone seemed to be watching him. The weather didn't help, casting a mysterious atmosphere over everything, although Obi-Wan was rather enjoying the rain, after a decade in the desert. It was his Force awareness that was the problem really and that was what was putting him on edge. Sometimes rather than being an ally it could make you hypersensitive, like having constant pins and needles.

Heading into the centre of the complex, Obi-Wan found lodgings fairly easily, choosing a simple but comfortable room not too far from the repair centre he had just left. Once that was taken care of, priority number one became to clear his head with that stiff drink.

The sounds and smells grew more intense the further along the main street Obi-Wan moved, neither the weather, nor the late local time spoiling the revelry. One smell in particular drew Obi-Wan to a particular establishment. It had been a long time since he had partaken of a good Nerf steak and the thought actually made his stomach growl.

Thirty or so minutes later Obi-Wan felt like he could actually relax a little. His injuries had healed well during meditation on his fifteen day flight to this place. Now his stomach was full and he had a decent glass of brandy as well. The currents swirling in the Force had also dropped to a seemingly background level. Or so he thought! All at once he realised he could not have been more wrong. The Force practically kicked him in the face with a warning – you're being followed! And whoever it is, is right here in this place. Obi-Wan forced himself to stay relaxed, easing back in his seat, whilst scanning the room. He looked from face to face, panning from left to right and then as he reached the bar area, the Force stopped him dead in his tracks. A man in black Imperial fatigues was looking right at him, if only for the briefest second, but it was enough. Obi-Wan did not recognise him, he'd certainly never seen him before, but the Force was in no doubt, this was his tracker. The sensations emanating from him seemed to back this up as well. He had the confidence of a professional, but tinged with the nervousness and excitement that went with the chase.

Obi-Wan decided to leave, purposefully without giving the man another glance. He could feel his presence clearly now and sure enough the man followed him at a discreet distance, all the way to his lodgings. Once inside Obi-Wan sat down and waited, pondering his next move. The man waited too it seemed, eventually drifting away after about an hour. Obi-Wan could not run, he was stuck here, so that was not an option. Besides, this guy whoever he was appeared to be extremely effective at tracking him. That left only one choice; he was going to have to confront him.

_________________________

The storm had increased in intensity as the moon's night cycle progressed. Flashes of lightning accompanied by dramatic thunder claps occurred once or twice every minute or so.

Raynor was out of breath, he'd been running to avoid the pummelling downpour, but also propelled on by adrenaline. Turning off the main street towards the holonet café he was using as a temporary base Raynor noticed just how dark it had become. The street lighting was much less numerous the further out into the complex you travelled. Arriving at the entrance to his building he keyed the access code, immediately crossing the room to the comm. terminals he had left waiting. He hadn't even turned the lights on such was his desire to send his transmissions. Raynor reached for the controls. "I would really rather you didn't do that," came a voice from the doorway. Raynor froze. He'd apparently forgotten to close the door as well as the lights in his haste. Turning slowly, his vision was filled by a hooded figure, silhouetted in the doorway by a flash of lightning. The figure moved, closing the door behind it, then sitting down on the edge of the nearest table. "May I offer you my congratulations, you really are very good at what you do," said a refined Coruscanti accent. "It is a great shame you have chosen to work for a tyrant."

At that moment the lights came on and Obi-Wan Kenobi lowered his hood; intense gaze meeting Raynor's from no more that seven feet. Raynor did not even register that the lights had come on all by themselves, he was struck dumb with shock!

"You are obviously a professional," Kenobi went on. "And as such it would appear you know exactly who I am. Am I not correct?" The question roused Raynor to his senses and his training began to take over, refocusing him. "Yes, I know who you are Master Kenobi, and I have a duty to bring you in."

"A deluded sense of duty perhaps. Do you have any idea what is a stake in these dark times?"

"You are a criminal Kenobi! You turned against the legitimate government and many people died as a result of your actions. You must be brought to justice."

"Whose justice? Your Emperor's? Do you know who your Emperor is? Do you know what your Emperor is?" Obi-Wan sounded slightly exasperated. "He is the legitimate ruler of the galaxy and the one man who is up to the task of controlling the petty bureaucracy and selfish politicians who would bring about its downfall," Raynor stood his ground. "And therein lies your delusion," Obi-Wan sighed. "Palpatine has led you to believe that is the case, when in fact his rule is one of fear, fear, subjugation and murder! In short a rule of evil and one that must be stopped."

"And you intend to do that don't you?" Raynor spat out the question. "Yes, because it has fallen to me to do so," Obi-Wan replied. "That is why I have to stop you," Raynor countered. "For all I know you are raising an army now. Then you and those rebels will cause another civil war!"

At that moment Raynor rushed for the comm. station, but he never got there. An invisible barrier grabbed him and pushed him across the room, causing him to fall into several tables and chairs. Obi-Wan rose and positioned himself between Raynor and the comm. station. "How did you find me?" Obi-Wan asked, changing the subject. His calm, friendly manner unbalanced Raynor somewhat, having just been hurled some ten feet by him. So he just answered. "I picked up your search for Jedi information on Imperial Centre, and I've been following you ever since. I got your id from your thumb print on Stellar Astris."

Obi-Wan cursed his carelessness silently, instantly thinking of the danger he had placed Master Nu in. "And you came all this way on your own? Without backup? That was a little foolish don't you think?"

"It would appear so now! I was about to call for some, but I've been a little sidetracked!" Obi-Wan relaxed a little, no one else knew about him, or Master Nu. "It would appear you have me in a predicament then. I am trapped here until my ship is repaired. Your bringing in reinforcements would be uncomfortable for me to say the least. I cannot let you do that."

"So how do you intend to stop me? Even I know that a Jedi will not kill in cold blood!"

"Yes," Obi-Wan sighed regretfully. "So it was, and so it must be again!"

Obi-Wan's mind had begun to reel. The young man was correct. A Jedi only uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack. That premise was as familiar to him as his own name. But I am defending something, he thought. I'm defending the future. He had to stop this man, no matter what!

Raynor made another move for the comm., but Obi-Wan intercepted him, physically pushing him back. He would try to do this non-lethally if he could, even if he wasn't quite sure how yet. Raynor threw a right hook that actually caught Obi-Wan on the cheek, his thoughts distracting him momentarily. Obi-Wan responded in kind with two punches of his own, both of which landed, then finished his combination with a straight boot heel to the chest. Raynor stumbled backwards, toppling over chairs and tables, eventually righting himself and wiping the blood away from his mouth. He charged again, with unexpected ferocity this time, aiming low with his shoulder in an attempt to tackle Obi-Wan to the floor. He saw it coming in time, bringing his knee sharply up into the man's face, then smashing his elbow down hard against the back of his neck. Raynor went down, clearly stunned, but he did not stay there. A combination of wits, training and instinct kicked out a leg aimed at Obi-Wan's midriff' who wasn't expecting it. The blow almost doubled him up, sending the familiar ache from a blow to the groin through his stomach and causing him to stumble backwards. Both men looked at one another, Raynor from his knees, Obi-Wan bent over with his hands on his. Neither was going to back down!

Raynor, only partially recovered, charged again, this time leaping at Obi-Wan with a raised boot. Obi-Wan caught his foot and spun him to the floor. Raynor kicked out at Obi-Wan's shins then rolled away as he leapt over the attack. Deciding on a new approach Raynor began hurling chairs at Obi-Wan, each of which he deflected with a little Force shove. It was clear the man was becoming desperate. A deflected chair rebounded cleanly back into Raynor's chest and Obi-Wan definitely heard the sound of ribs cracking.

The young man was tenacious and Obi-Wan respected that, but it was also his main concern – he was not going to give up. Obi-Wan was running out of options. He could try and rip the man's memory away with the Force, but he'd never had any success with that before, only ever really being able to plant suggestions in, and even then, only on the weak minded. This man was certainly not one of those.

Just then, the point of no return arrived – Raynor pulled his blaster. Obi-Wan was almost caught off guard again and had to duck and roll to avoid the shot rather that ripping the weapon from his grasp. Momentum took him into the man and they collided, heavily falling to the floor in a grapple. At this close quarters the Force had little advantage, it was a question of brute strength and Obi-Wan's opponent was a good quarter century younger than him. Raynor gradually managed to manoeuvre his blaster towards Obi-Wan's chest. He could see it coming, could feel it approaching and at that moment, his mind stopped reeling. The future is in your hands. If you fail, darkness will prevail. He clearly heard the words as if they had been spoken to him. It could have been Qui-Gon's voice, or Yoda's, or Mace Windu's, it didn't matter. In fact through the Force it felt like the voice of every Jedi from ages past who had fought the same fight as him. He knew what he must do!

Holding off the man's approaching weapon hand, Obi-Wan reached for his lightsaber. He could not free it fully, but it was enough. As Raynor gave one final push to line up a shot against his chest, Obi-Wan flicked the activation plate. "I'm sorry," was all he could say.

Many people have made sacrifices for the greater good. In that small room, lashed by rain and storm, the sacrifice was twofold; a young man's life, and an old man's conscience.

________________________

Finally our destination is just over the horizon,

Unfortunately there is usually one more mountain in the

Way.

Chapter 8

Nothing stirred, all was still. Even the swirling currents of previous days had ebbed, leaving nothing in their wake save a painful numbness. This truly was the quiet after the storm, but not the storm of a turbulent atmosphere. This was the mind of a Jedi Master, one who had just lost another little piece of himself. And amongst all those pieces he had left behind somewhere in the galaxy, only a few had scarred. This was one of them!

Obi-Wan Kenobi had left the third moon of the unnamed gas planet at the first opportunity. Immediately after the events of that stormy night he had still been thinking clearly, removing as many traces as he could of what had unfolded. He'd even thought enough to leave the moon by its dark side, hidden from the orbiting star destroyer, on the pretext it had almost certainly been on contact with the Imperial agent he had…..encountered.

Since then he had just drifted in the shadow of the gas planet, gradually floating further into space. All the time he had just been staring out of the view port, seemingly lost! The Force was still with him though, it always was! Its bright point in his darkness providing him with something to cling onto. As a Jedi he knew not to let emotions get in the way of judgement. He knew how to let go of things he had allowed to become dear to him. And yet in all his experiences, through all the turmoil and loss he had suffered; things that would have crushed lesser mortals. In all that time he had clung onto one thing! In all the wars he had fought and all in the beings he had killed, all of it had been done with a clear conscience! Even his failures had been done with the best of intentions. But now even that had gone. Now he was, for all intents and purposes, a murderer! Defender, not murderer! One life for the lives of many, the Force told him. Remember the future. On you it all depends!

Obi-Wan blinked; his eyes stinging from the air dryness of staring for too long. "Let it go," he told himself. You have a job to do and your way is clear now. So with a deep cleansing breath he released his thoughts from his conscious mind, although there would always be a hidden sadness, just under the surface, for the rest of his days.

________________________

Dropping out of hyperspace Obi-Wan took in the scene before him. This was it; this was where he needed to be. The navicomp told him nothing; no names, no planets or stars. This was a particularly empty region of the galaxy, the visible stars merely faint pricks of light on the otherwise black curtain of space. There were other inhabited systems to be found not too far away on wider investigation, two or three days travel at light speeds. But those aside, all that remained was one lonely planet in orbit around its small sun.

Obi-Wan had plotted the final set of coordinates he had gained on Ossus into the navicomp then calculated his next jump point from the coordinates of the old hyperspace marker. He had absolutely no intention of returning there to continue his journey. It had all led him to here, a small barren world, red-ochre in colour and perhaps the onetime home of an ancient Jedi Master – Nomi Sunrider.

Preliminary scans of the planets surface showed no urban development at all. No cities, no spaceports. Life form readings were high though and indications seemed to point to thousands of small settlements scattered across the surface. Despite its barren appearance this was not a desert world. The soil mixed with scrub-like vegetation gave the planet its colour, but there were also grasslands, mountain ranges and inland seas fed and emptied by many rivers. Indeed it seemed quite the unspoiled sanctuary!

Obi-Wan smiled, feeling relaxed now. He was confident of his next move, absolutely certain that the Force would point him directly to where he needed to go. The presence of a great Jedi Master, even an ancient one, would surely leave a marker of some sort. Sitting back in his pilots chair he opened himself to the Force then reached out to the planet. He was instantly enveloped in the familiar sensation of life, from sentient beings to the multitudes of wild creatures. He felt them all….and that was it! No X marks the spot, no bright shining light, just the normality of everyday life!

Despite himself Obi-Wan began to laugh. "You're not going to make this easy for me are you Master Sunrider? You are here though; something beyond what I'm feeling is telling me that!" After a moments decision making, Obi-Wan selected the nearest settlement to head for. In his experience on worlds such as this, the locals were often invaluable sources of knowledge, guiding you, unexpectedly sometimes, to exactly where you wanted to go. Only trouble was however, would he be considered friend or foe? Time to introduce himself!

________________________

Talk about drawing attention to yourself, Obi-Wan thought as the Knights Quest touched down leaving a fifty or so feet high dust cloud in its wake. It might work in his favour however as the local population would be well aware of the new arrival, rather than caught by surprise, which could often provoke a negative reaction.

Exiting his vessel Obi-Wan found himself in pleasant morning sunshine, the temperature perfect. He took in a good lung-full of air which was fresh and clean, then began to walk. The settlement was not far and seemed fairly substantial, maybe two-hundred buildings or so, all of which were constructed of local materials by the looks of it; some stone, some mud-brick. Most of the dwellings had smoke rising from flues in their upper storeys, indicating low level technology and this was reinforced by the animal pens and cultivated areas Obi-Wan had begun to identify. These people were farmers, leading a way of life that had probably not changed for millennia. If it were possible for him Obi-Wan would have felt envy, but instead he was merely happy, something he had not truly felt for as long as he could reasonably remember.

Reaching the outskirts of the settlement Obi-Wan caught his first glimpse of the inhabitants; they were children, human children, who had come to view the new arrival. They were not dressed as Obi-Wan would have imagined. He'd expected simple, coarse garments, rather than the modern coveralls they actually wore. The children pursued him at a distance, giggling and whispering to each other as Obi-Wan made his way between buildings and along a formed gravel track, until his way was eventually blocked by a group of adults. Obi-Wan stopped; this would be the moment of truth.

One of the group stepped forward, approaching Obi-Wan slowly, but assuredly as well. He appeared to be an elder or senior figure of some kind, much to Obi-Wan's dismay, as he was about his own age. In fact, with greying hair and beard, they looked very similar indeed. More reassuring was the man's presence in the Force, which was one of complete neutrality; in fact there seemed no hostility anywhere!

Obi-Wan tipped his head as a gesture of humility and the man smiled. "Greetings traveller," he said. It was heavily accented, but it was Basic; another surprise to Obi-Wan and once again, a pleasant one! "It is a long journey to our humble sanctuary, so you must be weary indeed! I sense you are here for a purpose as you would not have found us by chance. Whatever that is, perhaps we may be of assistance. But first, please accept our hospitality!" The man held out an arm, gesturing Obi-Wan to follow. "It is as you say, I am weary of my travels," said Obi-Wan. "But your welcome has already begun to refresh me, as has your beautiful home!" The man smiled. "It is that! I am Vilst, patriarch of our village."

"I am Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"A pleasure indeed Jedi Kenobi."

________________________

Obi-Wan tried not to appear surprised, not breaking stride or changing his facial expression. "I am curious as to why you would address me as Jedi. Am I not just a humble traveller, the same as any who might stumble across your world?"

"Come now Jedi Kenobi! Our people are not as humble as we would first appear. We still venture out quite frequently to trade with other planets, as we have done for thousands of years. Just because we have chosen to live our lives in harmony with our world, rather than exploiting it does not mean we are unaware of events that go on around us. We merely prefer to, how would you say? Stay off the radar of other worlds." Obi-Wan nodded in acknowledgement. That at least would explain the way the locals were dressed! "That still does not indicate why you would believe I am a Jedi," Obi-Wan persisted. "I have given no such indication."

"True, you have not," said Vilst with a knowing smile. "And yet the fact remains does it not?" Obi-Wan smiled back but said nothing.

"Many times throughout the ages Jedi have visited our world, almost as if they have been drawn here. Some have even stayed, would you believe?" Obi-Wan was a little taken aback by this but continued to listen. "Our people have an affinity with them, you might say," Vilst went on. "They have certainly had an influence on us!" The credit chip suddenly dropped! "You're Force sensitive aren't you?" Obi-Wan asked. "All of you!"

"Not all and nor to any extent. But we are all in tune with the currents of life." It made sense now to Obi-Wan why he felt at such peace here. It also made sense not to keep up the pretence. "I feel I must reintroduce myself then. I am Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," he said with a bow. Vilst laughed heartily and slapped Obi-Wan on the back.

They continued to walk into the settlement, a comfortable silence between them. Eventually Obi-Wan asked; "I take it that you are aware of the events that have taken place across the galaxy and to the Order in particular?"

"Yes," Vilst said. "We make concerted efforts these days to keep ourselves truly to ourselves."

"Do any Jedi continue to live here?" Obi-Wan asked. "If so I must speak with them!" Vilst shook his head. "Alas, no. We are descended from Jedi, but only once in an eon does one of come along with the atunement necessary."

They stopped outside a mud hut structure. "Please, you will rest here tonight," Vilst said. "You will find everything you require inside. Tomorrow is an important day for our people. We would be honoured if you would join us in our celebrations."

"It would be my Honour," Obi-Wan said.

________________________

The warmth of a sun-beam across his face roused Obi-Wan. It had been a long time since he had slept so peacefully. After visiting the hut's surprisingly modern refresher, he dressed and ventured out into the early morning sun.

The village was already a hive of activity and everyone appeared to be heading in the same direction. "Good morning Jedi Kenobi." Obi-Wan turned to see Vilst, who handed him a steaming cup of café, one slightly perfumed by local spices. "We should begin. Our journey will take until mid-morning."

"Where are we going?" Obi-Wan enquired. "To meet with several other communities and the same will be happening for thousands of kilometres around," Vilst said, waving his arms about for effect. "Why?" Obi-Wan was curious. "The season is about to change. Soon the days will grow cold and short. Our livestock have roamed free in the fields for most of the year, but now they must be gathered in both for their safety and for our prosperity. It is an important time for our people. It has always been so!

They continued walking, the gathering of people increasing in number steadily along the way. During this time Vilst explained a little about the animals they farmed. Slightly bigger than a Nerf but about as docile. In native dialect they were called T'nikka, which meant 'life source' and they provided food, milk, hide and other produce that could be harvested and traded. Vilst also explained how the annual herding had become a traditional festival. One in which the men would attempt to prove their worth by physically taking down as many beasts as they could. These animals would then be bound together and used to guide the others to safer grazing areas. Younger boys would also help in the herding by riding T'ysstas at the fringes of the gathered animals. T'ysstas were swift four legged creatures that could be saddled.

Eventually the throng of people arrived on a wide empty plain, penned in on both flanks by hills. At one end the plain sloped gently upwards and Obi-Wan could just make out several T'nikka, he presumed, at its apex. The lower plain itself had been transformed into a makeshift village, with tents and stalls having been set up by the women, children and elders. The men were gathered a little further away, all with bare torso and warming up with stretches and gentle exercise. Vilst gestured in their direction. "We would be honoured," he said, indicating the men. Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, suddenly realising just what he had gotten himself into. "Am I not a little old?" he asked Vilst. "Nonsense!" he said. "We are about the same age and I will still take part." Obi-Wan sighed and removed his upper robes. "Let's see if I can't beat you at your own game then!" Vilst laughed heartily.

As he and Vilst approached the group of men, others in the gathered crowds began to cheer and applaud him. The men too began to point and confer with each other. Apparently Vilst had informed them exactly who he was and they obviously had high expectations of their Jedi visitor.

At that moment there came the sound of horns in the distance and the gathered men cheered in response. It seemed the ceremony had begun! Slowly at first T'nikka in two's and three's began to appear on the slope. This quickly became scores, then hundreds as they were driven onto the plain by the adolescents riding T'ysstas. The natural arena reverberated to the sounds made by the beasts and the very ground vibrated through Obi-Wan's boots. He quickly formulated a plan. The locals would be expecting a show, so he would give them one! But first he actually wished to prove himself on an equal footing by taking down an animal with just guts and muscle; if he could!

Joining the crowd Obi-Wan began to jog towards the stampede. Gradually the melee spread out into a V-shape, with the faster runners at point. Within seconds his world became embroiled in dust, howls, bellows, sweat, saliva and the thunder of thousands of hooves. Adjusting to the chaos as much as possible, Obi-Wan selected a target; an animal that had slowed and broken to his left. Giving chase, he approached from its right flank. The idea was to stop the beast without harming it too much, or else it might die needlessly. Running along side it, this T'nikka was about shoulder height but easily three times his own body weight. It should just be a simple matter of using its own mass and momentum to over-balance it, he thought. Without getting crushed in the process! Reaching out, he wrapped his right arm over the animal's neck then had to quickly grab an ear with his left hand just to keep hold. The animal bucked and kicked and swerved in panicked reaction to his assault; it was incredibly powerful and Obi-Wan knew he could not hold on for long. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a handful of cheek, forcing the beast's head to turn. At the same time he hooked his leg around one of its forelegs, causing it to trip and fall. The impact threw him several feet, but that did not matter. As soon as the T'nikka was downed other men pounced on it with securing ropes.

Adrenaline bounced him back to his feet! He felt alive and was keen to get back into the fray. Time for that show! Summoning the Force he reached out to the nearest T'nikka, rendering it motionless whilst it was bound. He repeated this action for the next two captures, before deciding on something a little more elaborate. Seizing another animal in an invisible grasp he lifted it into the air then propelled it, gently, but with enough force to knock over another beast. At the end tally Obi-Wan had taken down one T'nikka single handed and twenty-four others in more 'artistic' fashion. Not a bad day for a novice!

________________________

The night air was just beginning to chill as the last vestiges of the local warm weather gave way to the cold season. Fortunately large campfires did a fine job of keeping the cold at bay. The village communities would camp on the plain tonight, concluding their festival with feasting and drinking, songs, dance and storytelling; before returning home with their tethered herds.

Obi-Wan felt thoroughly satisfied; a belly full of T'nikka stew, a head full of strong local ale and a large audience spellbound by his tales of the Jedi. Vilst sat to his left, one arm slung up to his shoulder and one eye swollen shut, but still managing his hearty laughs. Eventually the audience dispersed; its younger members heading for sleep, leaving about twenty or so elders remaining. "You have honoured us with your efforts today Jedi Kenobi." Vilst said. The others made noises of agreement, raising their mugs of ale. Obi-Wan said nothing; he had never taken praise well. "I think therefore it is time we gave you our assistance. You have not yet revealed your purpose in coming to our world. Perhaps we might help!" Obi-Wan looked long into the flames before he spoke. "I came in search of a great Jedi." No one responded, they just continued to listen. "She was a Jedi Master who lived thousands of years ago and who fought and conquered great evils across the galaxy. My research has led me to understand that she came from this planet." Vilst laughed. "Then you can only be referring to Y'femisuna," he said. "She is the great lady of the sun. A tale that has been told for countless generations, of a lowly mother who is thrust into great events against her will, but who finds the strength within herself to become a great leader of men. According to those tales she is one of the Jedi our people produce once in an eon." Vilst chuckled and shook his head. "I'm afraid you have come all this way for nothing more than myth and legend my friend."

"Oh I can assure you the Jedi I seek did truly exist," Obi-Wan retorted. "Do not be disheartened by Vilst," said another of the elders. "He is an old cynic. The tales he refers to almost certainly have truth in them. The t'rptaz bear witness to them!"

"What are T'rptaz?" Obi-Wan asked. "The indigenous species of this planet. We are but colonists! T'rptaz are reptilian by appearance and by nature, although they are peaceful creatures who prefer solitude."

"I thought they had all gone by now," Vilst interrupted. "They almost have my friend," the man said somewhat sadly. "How have the T'rptaz born witness to your ancient tales?" Obi-Wan asked, his enthusiasm beginning to bubble. "Because they were there!" the man answered simply. "They measure their lives in thousands of years, or so the stories go."

"Do you know where I could find one of these beings to help me?"

"To help you? I doubt it! But I do know of one."

_______________________

Obi-Wan left the village later the next day, taking the Knights Quest across the continent to where the plains became the foothills of a great mountain range. The village elder from the previous evening had pointed him to this area based on what had been told to him by his grandfather, who was still the patriarch of a community living on the high ground.

The reports of a T'rptaz living in this region were old and only rumours at that, but it was all Obi-Wan had to go on. He wasn't even sure of an exact location but decided to camp in a small forest clearing at the base of a gently sloping hill. Leaving his ship within easy reach he set up his camp and prepared to wait. Just what he was waiting for he had no idea, but considering this strategy was the only one he had open to him, he went along with it.

A ripple in the Force prised one eye lid slowly open. Several long hours had passed and it was now dark. Only the camp fire provided any light, casting an eerie orange glow over the small clearing and tricking the mind by making the shadows dance. The light did not penetrate far into the wooded area beyond, which was in total darkness and from where the ripple in the Force had emanated.

Obi-Wan reached out with the Force. There! Amongst the usual array of life presences, there was something else, something very, very wary. Reassuringly there was no malice in this presence, nor the cold intent of a predator, as of course it could have been a wild animal sizing him up for its evening menu. Suddenly the wariness turned to overwhelming fear and the presence disappeared. Obi-Wan remained awake for several hours afterwards but it did not return.

Stirring pleasantly from his slumber with a yawn and a stretch, Obi-Wan immediately thought about checking out his surroundings for any clues whoever or whatever might have left from the previous evening. He did not have to look far! The unmistakeable cold feeling of a vibroblade pressed itself against his neck before he could even sit up. A hooded figure stood over him, assertively brandishing its weapon of choice. Obi-Wan's mind was instantly a mix of escape plans, questions and downright shock as to how this creature had caught him unawares. What he did not allow himself to do was feel any panic, nor did he contemplate using the Force to throw the being clear. He simply waited.

"Cssk ast yek t'da vesht!" the creature hissed at him. He could not see any features under the hood, but the voice was distinctly reptilian. "I am sorry for my intrusion and I mean you no harm. I understand if you wish me to leave and I will do so as soon as possible. Unfortunately I do not understand what you're saying."

"I said, I thought I told you're kind to leave me in peace," the creature said in flawless Basic, but without any loss of its reptilian edge. At the same instant it removed the blade from Obi-Wan's throat, turning sharply away and taking up a more neutral stance about ten feet away. "It has been a century or more since I have spoken with an outlander," the creature continued. "The last one wanted my head for a trophy! He did not succeed!"

"I can assure you I have no such intentions," Obi-Wan said as he sat up. "I actually need your help."

"Why does a Jedi require the help of a lowly creature such as myself?" Obi-Wan was not surprised this time. Everything on this planet had a place in the Force. "Is that why I did not detect you? Because you can conceal your presence in the Force!"

"A necessary survival skill my kind has learned over many generations. Being hunted by those attuned to the currents of life is somewhat challenging!" The creature lowered his hood revealing almost human features, save for scales instead of skin and intense yellow eyes. "What do you seek Jedi?"

"A legend," Obi-Wan said.

________________________

Obi-Wan explained the details of his quest and the misgivings Vilst had expressed regarding its reality. The creature listened, then remained silent awhile before speaking. "The stories you speak of are as much a part of the heritage of my people, just as much as they are for those other inhabitants of this world. Maybe more so in fact and I assure you the great lady you refer to was no myth!"

"I know she existed," Obi-Wan offered. "And I know she came from this world, but that is all. If there was something left of her here. Somewhere she lived perhaps, maybe I could uncover the next step of my journey."

"I will be honest with you Jedi. The facts you seek are not known to me, but I will tell you what I do know. The great lady of folklore was indeed the Jedi you seek. I know this because my father's father held council with her Jedi daughter." Obi-Wan was astounded. "But that was four thousand years ago!"

"Our lives are long," he said matter of factly. "She did indeed come from this world, somewhere in the mountain foothills, but I do not know exactly where," he went on. "However, I do know where traces of ancient settlements still exist. This is all the help I can be!"

"Will you show them to me?" Obi-Wan asked. "I will point you the way on the condition that you will seek me out no more, nor reveal my whereabouts to others."

"Agreed," Obi-Wan said.

_______________________

The Knights Quest swooped low, just above the tree line. Gradually those trees began to give way to more scrubland, which in turn began sloping upwards at increasingly severe inclines. Eventually the slopes became rocky formations and Obi-Wan was into the lower mountain region proper. He had already visited two ancient sites so far, but all he had discovered were stone walls marking the remnants of buildings and field boundaries. The T'rptaz had only offered him four possibilities in total, but he still kept his faith that the Force would reveal something to him.

Suddenly the view through the transparisteel matched the features he was looking for. A wide ledge backing straight onto a hillside and overlooking a cliff edge. There was room enough to land his ship on the ledge, so Obi-Wan did just that. Stepping down onto the exposed outcrop, the warmth of the sun was met by a gentle breeze, making the late afternoon conditions particularly pleasant. Despite the barren nature of the place and its remoteness, Obi-Wan felt…. well, he couldn't think of another word to describe it other than comfortable! This place was right! He felt at peace here. Then it struck him. Of course! You've been looking for the wrong signs all along!

It had been so long since he had been in the presence of a truly great Jedi Master that even he had forgotten what it felt like. Most beings would be under the misconception that such a great warrior would present as a powerful presence like a storm or volcano, or even a bright shining light. But it wasn't like that at all! Truly great Masters had passed beyond all that, and when one was in their presence you felt overwhelming serenity, as if all was right with the galaxy. That was exactly what Obi-Wan was feeling here!

Looking around, the most obvious place for a dwelling would be against the hillside, although the surface itself appeared natural and weather-worn. Never-the-less, Obi-Wan took some digging implements from the equipment bay of the Knights Quest and made his way to the hill face. The more he thought about it, the more here made sense. He could even make out the pattern of what could have been a low stone wall leading towards the hill.

Following nothing more than gut-feeling, he began to dig. The soil was alluvial in its make up; the same kind that made up much of the local building material, and it crumbled easily. After only a short while he broke through into some kind of void. Shining a glow-rod into the hole, Obi-Wan peered into the blackness. It was a room; one carved straight into the hillside. In fact the more he took in, the more he realised there were actually several interconnected rooms. Finding it hard to contain his excitement Obi-Wan quickly enlarged his initial breakthrough, until he could easily pass through. Then he entered!

The collection of rooms was small and tight and they were all completely empty, all bar one. The smallest room of all, the one furthest into the hillside, had an article in the centre of its floor. Whatever it was appeared the same colour as the surrounding soil, but it was only when Obi-Wan got close enough, that he realised it was a garment of some kind. He reached out to touch it, beginning to appreciate the fine weave of what had once been a shimmering white robe, but as soon as he made contact, it turned to dust, signifying its antiquity. Beneath was revealed a metal plate! Obi-Wan brushed the dust away, until it was clear to its edges. There was no handle or latch, just bare metal, so Obi-Wan took a small blade from his utility belt and prised one edge free from its holding. A little air escaped as the plate moved, revealing an alcove about half a meter deep. Obi-Wan shone his glow-rod into the hole, its beam reflecting off the angular surface of a box!

The box appeared to be wooden and decorated with intricate carvings, so it was incredible that it had survived for so long. Probably due to the air tight seal protecting it Obi-Wan surmised. Lifting the box from the alcove, Obi-Wan knew this was what he had come for; the Force was almost singing in his very being! Carefully lifting the lid, his eyes widened at the sight, a delicate blue glow reflected within them.

________________________

The final barrier in our way is the most challenging. This is where most travellers give up; just within sight of their goal. Only the most determined are prepared to sacrifice all in order to gain the rewards.

Chapter 9

Obi-Wan stared in amazement at the objects in the box. He had seen such things before; some of even greater antiquity. But the thought of being the first person to see them in four thousand years, and that the last to do so was their creator, made him feel privileged indeed.

More remarkable still was the completion of his seemingly impossible quest and the new questions that now raised. Would the answers he sought be available to him? Would he be worth enough? His head reeled! On a more personal note, he was as nervous as a Padawan at the prospect of meeting a truly great Jedi; one to whom he had become increasingly attached. At that moment however, he did not care if that made him foolish or not!

Gently placing the ancient box on the floor, Obi-Wan reverently removed the lightsaber. It was truly a work of art; not like his own, which had been constructed hastily in the throes of war. This utilised the finest materials and was intricately carved with patterns and symbols. The blade emitter was shrouded by an elaborate claw like construction and the grip was slender, designed to fit a more graceful hand. It was perfectly balanced as well, but so light it would have been like wielding almost nothing but your own fist. Flicking the activation plate Obi-Wan was a little disappointed, but not surprised to find it not working. The power cell would almost certainly be dead after having been unused for four millennia. He would have to remedy that that later he thought.

Gently replacing the elegant weapon Obi-Wan turned his attention to the other item in the box. Still giving off a warm blue glow, it shimmered; emitting gentle sparks of light every so often that danced across its surface. It obviously still worked then!

Studying the holocron without touching it, Obi-Wan compared it by memory to those he had seen in the archives. This one was much smaller and a perfect cube shape. It was made of a pure white material, not transparent like the others he had seen and the carvings on its surface acted like channels through which its blue radiance glowed.

Obi-Wan knew it was glowing in reaction to his Force presence; he also knew what would happen when he touched it. The instant he lifted it from the box and placed it on the floor, hundreds of tiny servos activated, moving delicate crystal segments into different arrangements. Wonderful blue light spilled from the cracks that opened, bathing the small room in an enchanting dance of shadows. This went on for a number of seconds until the light show coalesced into an image about one standard meter high; an image of a beautiful woman.

She appeared about the same age as Obi-Wan was now, with delicate sculptured features and greying auburn hair that was styled in such a manner as to have shaved patches above her forehead. She was wearing simple white robes and gazed out in a way that enraptured him. Even in this holo-representation her eyes showed unmistakeable wisdom; wisdom and boundless power.

"Greetings Master Jedi," she said. "I am Jedi Master Nomi Sunrider. To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"

"My name is Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"Salutations Master Kenobi, you are most welcome. How may I be of assistance?" Obi-Wan stopped short. He really had no idea what to say, struck dumb by events! "I….I…." he stuttered. "I apologize Master Sunrider. My journey to this point has been a long and arduous one." Obi-Wan realised he was referring to his entire life, not just the trials of the previous weeks. "Just to hold conversation with a great Jedi such as yourself would suffice for now."

"Please Master Kenobi, do not flatter me. I am with an equal here. The Force is in no doubts of that!" Obi-Wan felt himself blush. "And yet, despite your great strength," she went on. "I find you troubled indeed. What could make a great Jedi despair so?" Obi-Wan sighed heavily. "I will tell you," he said.

Pausing to gather his thoughts; he began. "Master Sunrider, I am from a time four thousand years after your own. You are but myth and legend to us now! During that time the Sith have risen on two occasions against the light. One thousand years ago they were defeated by a great Jedi army. It was a victory that nearly cost us everything. But we survived and rebuilt stronger than before. Unfortunately the Sith rebuilt also, but in a different manner. They became secretive and powerful, containing that power in only two vessels; a Master and an apprentice. Without warning in my lifetime they reappeared with devastating results. They brought about war; war in which the Jedi were called to lead. It was then that their masterful treachery was revealed. The Dark Lord has made himself the legitimate ruler of the galaxy, and in one moment he had his forces turn on their Jedi allies. Thousands were murdered in an instant. The order has been destroyed! There are but a few of us left now, scattered across the galaxy, of which I am one."

Nomi Sunrider raised her head as if looking to the sky. "They are dark times indeed Master Kenobi and yet you should still not despair. Even the smallest light shines brightest when surrounded by darkness! You yourself are a clear example of this. The Force always finds a way!" Obi-Wan nodded but said nothing. "In my lifetime the Sith also arose from the ashes and compelled the galaxy to war. They had done so a millennia before and will always continue to do so. There cannot be light without darkness, as balance is the very essence of the Force itself."

"You are wise indeed Master Sunrider. What you speak of is pivotal in the events of my time and, I admit, at the very heart of my despair!"

"You intrigue me Master Kenobi!" Obi-Wan paused as if building up to something. "Master Sunrider, in your time where you familiar with the prophecy of the 'Chosen One'?

"A very great Master once told me of it. He had been told it by his Master. It was always told in times of war and anguish. Why do you ask?"

"He has been found!" Obi-Wan simply said. Nomi Sunrider nodded knowingly. "That would seem to fit the prophecy, which spoke of the darkest of times. The events you have described are certainly darker than any I have known. I am intrigued then if the chosen one has truly arisen in your time, why do you despair so? Will he not restore the Force to balance?" Obi-Wan put his head into his hands, emotion getting the better of him suddenly. When he had composed himself he said simply. "He has fallen! It was my task to train him and I allowed the darkness to grasp him. I failed!" Nomi Sunrider's image did not flicker. "Master Kenobi I now understand the depths of your pain. You must use that to drive you on!" Obi-Wan was taken aback! Did he hear that correctly? "But emotions lead to the dark side. I am already too close as it is!" he protested. "Indeed! And which foolish doctrine taught you that?" Master Sunrider rebuked. "A Jedi controls his emotion; he does not let it dictate to him. Only once emotion rules the head does darkness ensue. Anger, pain, love can all feed righteous action if they are controlled." Everything Obi-Wan had ever learned seemed to unravel! Nomi Sunrider continued without noticing the impact of her words. "If the prophecy has come to pass as you say, you have not mentioned its concluding prediction."

Obi-Wan had to concentrate hard just to think straight. "You mean the greatest Jedi being born in the time of greatest darkness? But does that just not refer to the chosen one himself?"

"Why must the two necessarily be the same? Does not the prophecy speak of a chosen one arising to bring balance at a time of great darkness, but also of the greatest Jedi being born?" Obi-Wan had a revelation! The boy! "You know this to be true do you not Master Kenobi?"

"I do now! I even know who! I journeyed here for your help on exactly this manner, but until now was unaware of what the Force has been trying to tell me all along."

"Then I will help you to understand," she said.

_________________________

They talked at length. Eventually the image of Nomi Sunrider attempted a summary. "So this is the situation as I see it. One other Master and yourself are still alive and active as far as you are aware. Your former Padawan – the chosen one, has become a Sith and is the at the right hand of the Emperor, also a Sith. The chosen one has two young children, who are hidden from him and you are charged with protecting one of them – the boy."

"That's about the size of it," Obi-Wan said with a rueful smile. Nomi Sunrider continued. "The chosen one has not yet fulfilled his destiny. Balance is not yet restored to the Force. This must be somewhere in his future!"

"But how can he still restore balance now? He has become an agent of evil. I know all too well just how lost he is!" Obi-Wan sounded exasperated. "Darkness cannot extinguish the light! Yet the smallest light can hold the darkness back," the holo-image said. "I will tell you a story about a great Jedi. He was the essence of what a Jedi should be; compassionate, brave, selfless and sure of his actions. One day he gave himself to the darkside, convinced he could learn its ways and destroy it from within." Obi-Wan interrupted. "I can tell you how this story ends! The darkness consumed him, without him even realising it!" Nomi responded. "What you say is the truth, he was consumed and he did great evil. But that is not where the story ends! At the end of his life he found a way to redemption and the light took him back. If the Force wills it, it will be so!"

"Unfortunately Master Sunrider I think Anakin is too far gone. He is more machine than man now. He has much to hate, including himself!"

"Love will overcome hate! The love of a parent for a child is limitless. I know this!"

"The boy is the key then!"

"It would seem so. The task of the prophesised greatest Jedi is to bring about the destiny of the prophesised chosen one!"

"And therein lies my problem," Obi-Wan said. "He is just a boy. One who I must guide on the right path and defend until he can walk that path alone. Yet I am one man, and an aging one at that. I must have a guarantee that I can complete this task." Nomi Sunrider waited for him to continue. "I have sought you out to gain that guarantee. I need knowledge that you have, but that is lost to us now."

"Master Kenobi, my holocron was my personal testimony. It was never meant as a storehouse for knowledge or as a training aid."

"And yet here you are guiding me," Obi-Wan countered. The image did not respond. "My Master died when I was a Padawan. But he has managed to do something incredible; something the Jedi of my time cannot, but the Jedi of your time could. He came back! I must be able to do the same if I am to ensure the boy's future!"

"Then why does your Master not teach you the way?" Nomi asked. "He does not know it! He does not know how he came back," Obi-Wan said. The holo-image was silent a long time. "What you seek is not to be taken lightly. It is the greatest challenge a Jedi can face. I find myself quite amazed that this knowledge is lost to you. It is our greatest treasure after all."

"You will help me then!" Obi-Wan almost sounded desperate. "I can offer no guarantees. What you seek is extremely complex and cannot be planned for, nor predicted. There can be no weak links in your mind. Your commitment must be total," Master Sunrider scorned. "I know what I must do," Obi-Wan stood firm. "Very well then! Your mind at present needs rest. Go Master Kenobi, sleep, recuperate, heal. Return to me when you are well rested, then we will begin!

__________________________

It was dark when Obi-wan left the abandoned dwelling. Carefully taking the ancient wooden box with him he made his way back to the Knights Quest. Unfolding the small bunk at the back of the cockpit he slumped down but did not immediately close his eyes. He new Master Sunrider had been referring to his overall need for rest, rather than the exhaustion put upon him by his recent travels. When he thought about it, really thought about it, the stress on his mind and body had not stopped since the death of Qui-Gon long ago in that generator room on Theed. If anything the psychological pressures on him had increased in that time, culminating in his present situation, where the entire future rested solely on his shoulders. No wonder his mind was in no fit state! Even a highly trained Jedi must have a breaking point somewhere. Closing his eyes at last, Obi-Wan performed a simple exercise to clear his mind then fell into a deep sleep.

When he awoke and ventured outside it was bright, warm sunshine. Too bright for morning, meaning he must have slept through until afternoon. No matter! He still had jobs to do. Deciding to accommodate himself in the ancient dwelling, he needed to make it habitable, which would require some rubble clearance from the entrance. He could use some equipment from the Knights Quest for simple furnishing and water recycling, but he would still need a heat source and food. That meant wood for a fire and some hunting practice.

An hour or so of landscaping with his lightsaber and some muscle, resulted in a clean accessible doorway to the buried rooms. He also transferred the water recycler with mobile energy generator and the bed roll and covers from his bunk.

Next he needed fuel for his fire, which would be simple enough with his lightsaber and the repulsor sled he had to carry it with. Only difficulty was his location. The mountain foothills he was in where a particularly barren place, with very little vegetation. The nearest tree line he could see was about fifteen klicks away, which would be nothing if he took the Knights Quest. But Obi-Wan intended to get back to basics, in order to really clear his mind; so he would walk it.

Arriving at the small wooded area he had viewed earlier it was approaching early evening. Obi-Wan made short work of the nearest small tree, piling about three days worth of firewood onto the replulsor sled. Scouting around he then picked up several fist sized stones which he placed in the shoulder strap tool bag he had also brought from the Knights Quest. On his journey here Obi-Wan had realised it would be more efficient if he combined hid firewood trips with his hunting ones. There were plenty of wild creatures living amongst the trees, so it should be a fairly simple task to bag something edible.

Reaching out with the Force Obi-Wan felt the familiar signs of life all around him. Nothing stood out as particularly big however, but some seemed reasonably dinner sized. One group of about twenty creatures in particular drew his interest, as they were only about a hundred or so paces away and seemed fairly docile. Approaching slowly and as quietly as possible, Obi-Wan observed the creatures, which were about knee height and hairless. That was a bonus – no skinning! They were also contentedly grazing on the lush vegetation of the forest floor and paying no attention, it seemed, to anything else. Not concerned about predators, he thought. Another bonus!

Taking aim with one of his stones Obi-Wan propelled it, with a little Force assistance, towards the nearest animal. It struck right between the eyes and the creature went down cold. The others scattered, but not for long. Ignorantly overcome with their desire to continue grazing, they quickly returned. Obi-Wan repeated the same move, with exactly the same results. The Force was truly with on this one. It was like hitting a ronto in a refresher; you couldn't miss!

Returning to the dwelling just past nightfall Obi-Wan lit a fire just outside the entrance. Deciding not to eat quite yet, he chose instead to rest. It had been a truly satisfying day and Obi-Wan slept well once more.

________________________

He spent the next several days in the same routine, only once changing his pattern. Finally deciding it was time to breathe some life into Master Sunrider's beautiful lightsaber. Laying his robe on the floor, he slowly disassembled the weapon, paying careful attention to the steps he took so he would remember how it went back together. The mechanics of its construction were intricate, unlike his own which simply unscrewed. Hidden catches and clips had to be released several times before the inner-workings slid smoothly from their housing. The arrangement was simple. The crystal was held in place next to what should be the four thousand year old equivalent of a super-conductor, which in-turn was connected to three power-cells in sequence. Obi-Wan unclipped the power-cell attachment and replaced them with a spare from his own utility belt. His modern cell being many times more powerful than the ancient trio.

Minutes later the weapon was reassembled and Obi-Wan stood, passing it from hand to hand, feeling its weight. "A salute Master Sunrider," he said, then hit the activation plate. A snap-hiss sizzled the air, bringing with it the familiar ozone smell. The blade hummed at a higher pitch than his own and its emerald colour appeared undiminished. They are always the same, Obi-Wan thought, in regards to the colour and intensity of green crystals. Blue ones varied from indigo to almost white!

Obi-Wan began a short practice sequence; nothing special, just the velocities. When he had finished he deactivated the blade, before gently replacing it in the wooden box. "Just a small gift Master Sunrider," he said. Turning then back to the dwelling, he decided it was time.

The small room became bathed in shimmering blue light as the image of Nomi Sunrider appeared once more. "Greetings Master Kenobi, how may I be of assistance?"

"I am ready for your guidance Master Sunrider," Obi-Wan said assuredly. "You have worked hard to cleanse your mind it would seem."

"Living with nature is a great healer," he replied. The image smiled. "Let us begin then!" Obi-Wan listened intently.

"I offer no guarantees of success Master Kenobi. You must first be aware of and accept that." Obi-Wan nodded, hoping he had disguised his frustration. "The Force chooses who will pass and nothing can be done to the contrary. Many great Jedi have not been called, not even the most powerful."

"So it is not something you can help me to train for?" Nomi Sunrider laughed. "No Master Kenobi, I cannot. All I can do is help you to open your mind so you are receptive. I will also help you to recognise if the Force calls you, although this again I cannot guarantee, as each individual will have a unique calling."

"The Force has purpose for all life," Obi-Wan began a question. "As Jedi we just have the ability to tap into that purpose. Surely then we must have the opportunity to answer when the Force calls!"

"That may very well be so Master Kenobi. The problem may lie with individual's ability to hear the call when it comes. It would seem that highly trained and experienced Jedi minds are not receptive. In my experience only Masters, and very few at that, or the innocent seem to make the transition. I can only surmise that our mind block our receptiveness with more powerful signals such as pain, love, anger, fear, loss or even infernal Jedi focus and patience. Masters can only succeed by pushing beyond the influence of these things, the innocent never fall prey to them in the first place."

"What about my Master, Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan offered. "How has he recognised his calling?"

"Unwittingly it seems. Perhaps some minds are tuned differently, who knows! The Force calls who it wants!"

Obi-Wan stayed silent awhile, deep in thought. "There must be a reason besides not being attuned enough, or else all Force sensitive beings would be doing it."

"There are theories," Nomi Sunrider said. "Some wise Masters put it down to a matter of destiny. They determine that we all have a destiny the Force requires us to fulfil. Perhaps only if we complete that journey does the Force call us. Or perhaps it is the opposite; that the Force requires us to go on until we complete that destiny. Once again, who knows?"

"You are right Master Sunrider, it is extremely complex!"

"Let us then not dwell on the why. Set that aside Master Kenobi, we must prepare you to open your mind."

"I am ready!"

"Are you?" The sternness of the question took Obi-Wan back a little. "Are you truly aware of what you seek?"

"I seek the ability to recognise when the Force calls me."

"If," she corrected. "If it does call, when do you suppose that will be?"

"I don't know."

"It will be at the only moment it can be. The moment of your death!" Obi-Wan actually understood that, although it was a grim prospect. "I suppose then I can only recognise my calling if I am close to death?" he asked. "Precisely! And we must train your mind to that point." Obi-Wan swallowed hard at the prospect. "We will begin the same way I did. We will go for a walk!"

_________________________

Outside the dwelling Obi-Wan stopped to scan the horizon. "Tell me of our surroundings," the holo-image of Nomi Sunrider said. Obi-Wan smiled. "You are more familiar with it than I Master Sunrider, I am on your home world in the very place you lived." If it were possible, the image looked wistful a moment. "Very well then," she said. "You should see to the north three distant peaks."

"Yes I see them."

"We will head to the centre of the three."

"I will prepare immediately Master Sunrider."

No Master Kenobi," she stopped him. "Do you have water?"

"Yes," he replied. "Then we will go now. You will find food along the way." Obi-Wan hesitated. "If you wish to open your mind to the necessary point, you must be prepared to sacrifice. You must push yourself to your limits and beyond. Only then can you hope to hear your calling. You must reverse the barriers you have built up by smashing through them and this can only be done by facing them in their rawest form. You will feel pain, anger, despair. You will go beyond patience. You will be afraid!" Obi-wan said nothing. Swallowing hard he deactivated the holocron and placed it in his pocket. Then with gritted teeth he began his journey.

He walked for hours. Crossing a vast desolate plain with little vegetation, save the parched scrub. It was frustrating to think that his journey was almost circular, having begun in the mountain foothills, he was heading away from them only to rejoin them again as they arced around this massive plateau. Obi-Wan stopped to take a drink, his first since he had left. Darkness was rapidly consuming the horizon as night approached, the temperature rapidly dropping with it. He really should stop and build a fire, so he activated the holocron to inform Master Sunrider. "No Master Kenobi, you must go on. It will take five nights for you to reach the base of the mountain. I permit you to rest for one night during that time. You can choose which!"

"But Master Sunrider, your planet's cold season is nearly here. Surely I must protect myself during the night!"

"You must deal with whatever hazards come your way and you must pass through them!" was all she said. Obi-Wan raised his hood then continued into the night.

He walked through the whole of the next day and night, by which time despite his best efforts at conservation, he was out of water. There were no sources anywhere nearby. This was a problem and a potentially fatal one at that. Although daytime temperatures were not an issue, his exertions were still using fluid, which he had to replenish. By the third night he had a dilemma! He had not slept for three days and two nights now, nor had he stopped for more than minutes at a time. In short, he was approaching physical exhaustion. The problem was if he rested for the night, as he was allowed to do once, he would be adding to the duration his body would have to endure without water. That had to be his priority and there had to be water sources at his destination; he could see the snow on the peaks from here. And so he went on!

The following night proved almost impossible and it was not even the end. He had now gone nearly three days without food or water. He hadn't even thought about locating food, his body was just not up to the task. Muscles and joints ached with cramps due to mineral depletion. His lips were cracked and his tongue had started to swell. He had stopped sweating hours ago as well, his body desperately trying to conserve fluid. And yet he still went on, he had to. It was a case of reach the mountain or die!

The final hours of his journey were painfully slow, each step taking strength of will he wasn't sure he had. The Force was the only thing that kept him upright and it did so until he found himself, without realising it, ankle deep in a fast flowing, crystal clear mountain stream. His whole being cried out for him to drink until his stomach would burst, but the Force and his wits held him back. He allowed himself one mouthful, which burned all the way down his throat. Filling his water bottle, he found shelter between two rocks, curled up and slept.

Throughout the night he steadily increased hid fluid intake, until by morning he felt ready to attempt a spot of fishing in the stream, in order to sate the hunger than had now replaced the thirst. His body eventually fit to continue, Obi-Wan consulted the holocron again. "I am at the base of the mountain Master Sundrider."

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"I've been better!" he smiled ruefully.

"Your mind is strong Master Kenobi and it does you credit, but it is also to your detriment. It will be tough to break through."

"What must I do now?" he asked. "You will exercise your mind in meditation," Nomi Sunrider replied. "At the mountain top!"

_________________________

The beginning of the ascent was just an elevated walk, similar to the terrain around the dwelling he had been living in. Gradually though it became more of a scramble, with loose rocks slipping free every now and then under the weight of hand or boot.

It was now the middle of the day and the sun was high in the sky, but despite that the altitude and the cold made it much colder. This was compounded by the air temperature as well as Obi-Wan slowly approached the snow line. The climb itself was not too technically challenging. Master Sunrider had given him a well practiced route to follow, during which there were only one or two shelves to actually climb. Easy climb or not, it was still hugely physically demanding, the cold increasing the effort necessary.

By the time Obi-wan reached the snow line it was approaching nightfall. He had no desire to climb in darkness so he stopped under a convenient overhang and huddled up as best he could. It would not be a pleasant night! By first light he had been shivering for several hours and he could only bring himself to eat a little of the fish he had brought with him, with a few sips of water. His limbs were heavy and his joints stiff and his intense desire for sleep left his mind in no doubts he was in the early stages of hyperthermia. He had experienced this before and knew he must keep going. To stop would be fatal.

Several hours later, Obi-Wan had lost track of time long ago, he reached a fissure in the rock face. He was almost at the summit and this appeared to be the route Master Sunrider had described. Squeezing through the gap Obi-Wan stumbled out into a natural amphitheatre about fifty or so meters across. Cliffs arose on all sides, but this fairly level area was about as high as you could realistically go. It was still mercilessly cold here, but at least there was shelter from the wind.

Using the meagre provisions he had brought with him from the base of the mountain Obi-Wan lit a pitiful fire, but at least it was something. Sitting down as close as he could to it without burning his robes, he activated the holocron. "W….We arrrre h….herre M….Master S….Sunrridder," he shivered. "Allow the Force to envelop you Master Kenobi," she responded. "Let go of your reality. Let go of your senses. Do not reach out, reach in." This was the polar opposite of how he usually meditated. Normally he would expand his presence out then pull back to himself. He had never gone inwards! "W….what do I s….search for?" he asked, shivering much less as the Force put up a barrier around him. "What is your earliest memory?" the holo-image asked. Obi-Wan was unsure. "Try to find something before the events of your life wearied you. Find a positive moment." Obi-Wan thought hard, but it was tough. Every positive memory he thought he had became tainted. Good times with Anakin and Qui-Gon led his mind to sadness eventually. He thought again then suddenly found himself smiling. He couldn't tell how old he was in his memory, but he was fairly young. The day he had created his first lightsaber, the day he had first felt like a real Jedi; that was what meant a lot to him!

"Take hold of that memory," Master Sunrider suddenly disturbed his thoughts. "Wrap yourself in the feelings and emotions it gives you. Hold yourself at that point and shut all else out." She paused. "Now listen….look….feel!"

"What am I searching for?" Obi-Wan couldn't help himself. The image sighed wearily. "I cannot say for sure. It will be unique to you! However, I am quite certain it will be a portal or doorway of some kind. It could be metaphorical or physical. It could be a light, smell, sound or feeling – anything that gives you the impression of an entranceway." She paused and seemed to think for a moment before continuing. "Caves are quite common! Although on a Force journey this could be linked to inner darkness. One thing is for certain though! If the Force calls you, it will be unmistakeable. Now focus!"

Obi-Wan returned to his happy memory and held it. He had no concept of how long for; time seemed to blur, but it was daylight again when Master Sunrider disturbed his meditation. He felt very weak! "I sensed nothing Master Sunrider."

"You sound surprised Master Kenobi. Did you really think it would be so easy?" Easy! He thought. "The Force may never call you, or you may just never be able to hear it. You will never know until it happens."

"What now?" Obi-Wan asked. "We will return home," the image replied. "Is that it? We just give up!"

"Not at all Master Kenobi, this is just the beginning!"

_________________________

Over the course of the next planetary cycle, Obi-wan repeated his journey to the mountain five times. None was as difficult as the first; he prepared with plenty of water to avoid dehydration, but his lack of appropriate clothing always resulted in hypothermic effects. Even the path across the plateau was much colder now as the planet was well into its cold season. Snow often fell far from the mountains, which were now thickly blanketed right to their bases, their foothills and beyond. If anything the cold was worse than the dehydration; Obi-Wan was thoroughly miserable and losing any motivation.

He spent another eight hours or so in meditation at the mountain top, eventually rousing only to find himself buried up to his shoulders in snow. The Force had protected his body from the extreme temperatures, but he was now wet and very cold. The image from the holocron waited patiently for him to free himself. "Your expression tells me you were frustrated once again," it said. "Really," he snapped. "How very perceptive of you. There I was thinking about cheering you up with a big smile!" The image remained unmoved. "What did you sense this time?" Master Sunrider asked. "The same," Obi-Wan replied, deflated once again after his moment of anger. "I find my way into the currents of the Force without issue, but when I try to focus inwards, my way is barred."

"Your mind is strong Master Kenobi. It has been made so by the suffering and pain you have dealt with. This I have already told you!"

"My mind may be strong, but my body and my will no longer are Master Sunrider. I believe something will break before long."

"I agree Master Kenobi, there is nothing more I can tell or show you. The Force will decide your fate, but take comfort in the fact that your experiences here will have helped attune your mind." Obi-Wan nodded, but in truth he felt little comfort.

The descent from the summit was particularly treacherous. Strong winds had begun to whip the snow into a fierce blizzard. By the time Obi-Wan reached the foothills his body could no longer go on. Jamming himself into the shelter of a crowd of large boulders, he dropped into a Force trance, both for protection against the elements and to help hi body recover.

A scream of pain and terror jarred him from his Force induced sleep. Even though conscious, the sensation remained and it made him feel quite sick. Hundreds of voices were crying out in terror nearby – something terrible had happened and it was resonating through the Force. Obi-Wan activated the holocron. "Master Kenobi, you are distressed! What has happened?" the image asked. "The Force is in turmoil Master Sunrider. I can feel pain and death all around, but I do not know where from. Are there settlements in these mountains?" he asked. "Not in the mountains themselves, but communities have always lived in their shadow. There will be many such places around the edge of the great plain."

"Then I must go there!" The image smiled. "You are a true servant of the light Master Kenobi. You seek to serve others despite your own suffering. Yes I agree you must go! May the Force be with you!"

It was dark now as Obi-Wan battled against the freezing wind. His Force trance had allowed a little physical recovery, but his body was still very weak. The Force was still sending out painful currents from somewhere not too far away into the blackness, making it obvious where Obi-Wan needed to head to. Soon he was there, the awful sensation was unmistakeable and overwhelming, but all Obi-wan could see was snow!

Then it struck him – avalanche! Somewhere under that snow, a whole community had been consumed. Obi-Wan immediately pushed his Force senses outward, searching for signs of life. There was none! He tried again, pushing harder and deeper, but there was still nothing. He was too late! Wait! The Force whispered to him. Feel! It persisted. Quieting his mind from everything around him; the wind, the snow, his own pain; he listened. There! The faintest glimmer of life. Obi-Wan rushed to the spot and began to dig frantically with his bare hands. About one meter down he found something – a little girl! She was maybe three or four years old, Obi-Wan was no expert in such matters, but what was clear to him was that she was alive – barely! He wrapped her up under his cloak, transferring as much of his own body heat to her as he could, then he began to walk.

He knew instinctively there was no one else left alive, it had been almost impossible to sense the girl, let alone others. He also knew he could not save this girl alone, he had to find help! Reaching out with the Force once more, Obi-wan felt the life of a settlement in one particular direction. It felt many klicks away, but it was the only one and he had to get there!

He pushed on into the wind. The snow was knee deep in places and many times he stumbled on his weakened legs, but not once did he drop his precious cargo. Hours passed and still he ploughed his lone furrow, each step after agonizing step. He could feel help getting closer and closer, but he had reached his limits. His face and hands were frostbitten, blistered and burning and his muscles would no longer move despite his will for them to do so. Obi-Wan lay down and curled himself around the child. Even if he died, she would not do so! He willed it in the Force!

________________________

Slowly, he felt himself awaken. It was that pleasant, peaceful wakefulness that you experienced after a restful sleep. It was still dark, but there was no wind or snow and it was no longer cold. Obi-Wan stood and stretched, his body feeling its old strength and vitality.

Suddenly out of the darkness a large, but gentle hand reached out for his shoulder, turning himself around. Obi-wan spun and a lump instantly choked his throat. "Master!" he said. "Am I dreaming?"

"Not dreaming my young Padawan," said Qui-Gon Jinn. "You are in that place where the Force exists between worlds and I am here to guide you. Walk with me!"

They walked together through the darkness and Obi-Wan felt as if he were in the bowels of a great star ship, even to the extent that his boot heels sounded as if they were hitting deck plate. "Where are we going Master?" Obi-Wan asked after a while. "That depends on you my friend."

"I don't understand."

"What do you seek Obi-Wan? What destination do you desire? The future, the past or the present?" Obi-Wan wasn't sure what Qui-Gon meant, but he was sure he was in a star ship now. The darkness had given way to a dull grey corridor, lit by glow panels every so often. They stopped at a point where the corridor narrowed slightly, shaped like an elongated hexagon. Beyond, the room was brightly lit, although Obi-Wan could not make out any details. Then, out of the glare stepped another figure, an equally familiar one. "Greeting Master Kenobi," it said. "Master Sunrider," he responded to the figure. But it was not a holo-representation this time, she was actually there! "Do you recognise this place Master Kenobi?" she asked him. "No, I have never been here before."

"You should," she said knowingly. "Look again." Obi-Wan glanced around. He saw walls, ceiling and floor. There were lights and deck plates, and there was the unusual shape where the corridor narrowed. Wait! It was a doorway! A doorway in the corridor! "This is my portal!" Obi-Wan part questioned, part stated. "The Force is calling me!"

"From a certain point of view you are correct, I believe," Nomi Sunrider said. Obi-Wan turned to get Qui-Gon's opinion, but he was no longer there. "What do you mean, from a certain point of view?"

"I believe the Force is showing you the way. But I also believe I am here for a reason. I think I am her to stop you!"

"Why would you do such a thing?" Obi-Wan was incredulous. Nomi Sunrider smiled. "Your Master asked you what it was that you sought. Have you forgotten?" Obi-Wan paused. "Do you seek the past, the present or the future?" Obi-Wan did not even hesitate. "I seek the future because the future is dependant on me!" Nomi Sunrider smiled. "You have great strength Obi-Wan Kenobi, no go and bring about that future!" Obi-Wan turned and headed back into the darkness.

________________________

"Welcome back Jedi," said a voice as Obi-Wan opened his eyes. He found himself in a comfortable sleeping cot, packed tight with warm blankets. "You must eat something, I have sent for food. You will find that your body is very weak."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said his voice cracking. "How do you know who I am?" The man smiled. "All on our world know who you are! Your arrival here is truly an event for us besides, who else could have achieved the feat you have just?" Obi-Wan remembered! "The girl – is she alright?"

"She is very weak, but getting stronger each day. She will live, thanks to you!" Obi-wan tried to sit up. It was a huge struggle but he made it. "How long have I been here?" he asked. "Ten days," the man replied. "Our scouts were on their way to our neighbouring village when they found you. Both of you were close to death!"

"The other village," Obi-Wan began. "I got there too late. I am sorry!"

"We know the risks we take in our mountains. It has happened before and it will happen again. You do not owe anyone an apology."

Food arrived at that point, a warming soup that Obi-wan polished off double time. "I will leave you to complete your rest," the man said, nodding in salute as he left. Obi-Wan looked around for his possessions; they were all there, including the precious little whit cube. He would be needing that!

Over the next days his strength gradually returned, as happily did the little girl's whom he had rescued. He did visit her several times, but she was a frightened little thing, with no idea who he was and confused about her change in circumstances. He did use the Force before he left her a final time, just to ease her pain and put a little light back. Eventually it was time to leave, not just the village, but the planet. After lengthy goodbyes and thanks, he made his way back to the Knights Quest. His journey was over, he had achieved what he had set out to do, but now he realised that was not enough. He had to share this rediscovered knowledge that was such a treasure and there was only one being in the galaxy with whom to do exactly that. "Old friend, coming to find you I am!" he said to himself. Then he just laughed!

_________________________

The way down the mountain is always easier. We have learned the path on the way up; we know what to expect and this knowledge gives us the confidence to do what is required to get home.

Chapter 10

The black canvas of space was often a daunting prospect to many travellers, especially when it was as black as the present view. If you looked closely the occasional twinkle of a distant star would catch your eye. The more time that passed, the more faint pin pricks of light would appear, indicating you were moving, albeit slowly, towards those stars.

This was exactly what the Knights Quest was doing; moving very slowly. The planet it had left now about the size of a small freighter through the rear view port. Obi-Wan leaned back in the pilots seat, clearly not one of those travellers concerned about his meaningless place in the vastness of the galaxy; apparently not even concerned about where he was going, or even steering for that matter. Since leaving the planet he had merely engaged the sublights and wandered in no particular direction.

Of course he was no fool! He had a plan. He just hadn't thought it up yet, having been using his time to reflect on recent events. His last act before leaving the surface had been to return the carved wooden box containing Master Sunrider's lightsaber to its resting place in the hidden alcove of the ancient dwelling. He had also resealed the rooms with rubble. It felt like the honourable thing to do, respecting Master Sunrider's choice of final resting place. He had of course kept the holocron though!

Glancing at the tiny treasure, still glowing even several meters away, flooded him with a sense of calm he hadn't had since as long as he could remember. Peace of mind was something he had never been able to grasp, even as a youth. The mild mannered unflappable Jedi Knight others had known was more often than not an act. The truth of him had been more self doubt and concern for others, occasionally making him come across as aloof or even prickly. That Obi-Wan was no more! He would always have his scars, both physical and psychological, but the weight on his shoulders had gone. He knew he could complete his task now, no matter what!

Looking at the holocron also stirred the tactical part of his thinking, bringing him back to his need for a plan. He must share his new insights, which put simply meant he must find Yoda! Then he could return to watch over the boy until the time was right. But how do you go about finding a half meter tall Jedi Master in an entire galaxy? Especially if he doesn't want to be found!

________________________

Like a good investigator Obi-Wan retraced his steps, even if those steps had taken place over a decade before. Painful memories resurfaced as part of his recall, but he brushed them aside. He had been on board Bail Organa's personal transport – Tantive, if he remembered correctly. Having left Polis Massa they travelled to Naboo for the sombre task of returning the body of Padme Amidala to her family. Yoda had still been with them at that time, in fact he was still there on route to Tatooine, where Obi-Wan would depart. That was where he left, Obi-Wan realised, during that jump. The Tantive had dropped out of hyperspace at the Jedi Master's request, whereupon he had left, without even looking back.

More details leapt into Obi-Wan's memory the more he thought about it. Yoda had left in an escape pod, the same Kashyyyk pod he had arrived in. It had no hyperdrive, Obi-Wan was certain of that, which meant he could not have travelled far from his drop off – somewhere between Naboo and Tatooine. Obi-Wan flicked on the navicomp and called up the relevant region of space. There were actually many worlds listed, even though the area was considered pretty remote. That was more due to the uncharted and obscure nature of the planets in question he surmised. Close to Tatooine most if not all the planets listed were unlikely destinations for a Jedi to hide. Geonosis and Kamino were certainly out of the question and Ryloth was just downright inhospitable. Come to think of it, Yoda had left not too far from Naboo, making destinations in that region more likely anyway.

Obi-Wan focussed tighter in on that region. Again it was an eclectic mix of worlds, some well known, others not so, but most with reasonable factors in the favour of someone wishing to hide. Rubbing his eyes he decided to think about the details later. First he had to get there anyway and it was a long way! The Hydian way divided the galaxy in half along its entire width, about thirty days travel, even at lightspeed. Obi-Wan would need a stopping point somewhere along the way – he had a choice of two. The most logical choice was Eriadu for any normal traveller, but the Imperial presence their was too much of a risk for an outlaw, especially considering his recent brush with the Empire. No, it would have to be Comenor! It was much further from his destination than Eriadu, but it was comfortingly neutral. Comenor it was then!

________________________

Space bustled with traffic. All manner of vessels from freighters to vast transports filled various level orbits around the planet. Obi-Wan was not surprised in the least as Comenor was right at the centre of the galaxy, commercially speaking. It was a vital hub in the trading network in so many industries due to its proximity to three main hyperspace arteries. The planet itself was nothing special, large areas of it covered by urban sprawl, typical of many worlds in this region.

Obi-Wan headed straight for the surface. He knew the drill! The place handled so much traffic a ship his size was not even worthy of a second glance. He wouldn't even need clearance to land; he could just find an open berth in one of the multi-vessel landing areas. The data readout was already listing many such available berthing spaces, so he chose one that was closest to part of the cityscape. This was still about ten klicks away however, which would mean jumping a ride on a public shuttle to get into town.

Thirty or so minutes later Obi-Wan found himself standing room only on a well used transport that was in serious need of some new repulsors. He actually checked all his teeth were still intact as he stepped off; the journey had been that jarring!

It was like déjà vu! Another spaceport, the same spaceport, it didn't matter! On his chances of dying scale this place was just above midway, although he was pretty sure there were certain sections within where it would jump up the scale a notch or two. Obi-Wan was not planning to visit one of them any time soon, in fact he was not planning on staying here long at all. He only needed some basic supplies; filter cartridges for his water recycler and some organic pods for the ships galley. He had to eat after all! Both items would be readily available in any one of the multitude of stores he could already see. But first things first, thinking about food had made his stomach growl!

Of the several eateries available within five minutes walk Obi-Wan chose the most upmarket place. It had been a while since he had eaten gourmet, so he decided to treat himself. The place was all decked out in mono-chrome plasteel with hidden glow panels in the walls, floor and ceiling. These changed colour every so often, adding to the effect. Very contemporary, but definitely not to his taste, never-the-less it did bode well regarding the quality of the dining to come.

Obi-Wan took a seat in a booth that had seats covered in bright red synth-hide. Almost instantly a service droid skidded up on its uni-wheel. Unsure as to what to order, Obi-Wan asked what was the most popular dish they served. Quickly changing his mind upon hearing the answer and rephrasing his question, adding 'for humans'. Remind me never to dine out on Duros he thought. That species were obviously the most frequent patrons in this establishment.

As Obi-Wan ate and drank his non-tox ale; his was flying later on after all, the place had begun to liven up a little. Most beings were in to relax after finishing their work; most but not all however. From his seat close to the bar Obi-Wan had become distracted by a conversation taking place there, despite his best efforts not to overhear.

The bar manager – a human, was animatedly waving his arms around in what looked like rising panic. Obi-Wan could actually sense his fear through the Force, as he seemed to be trying to convince two other beings this side of the bar of his innocence. They were not convinced! The smaller of the two – a near human with small antennae sprouting through his hair, leaned across the bar and forcefully grabbed the man by his throat. Obi-Wan couldn't hear what he said, but his actions spoke loud enough.

Conversations throughout the room had died down by this point and many patrons had visibly moved away. The sense of fear had also gone up a notch or two, and not just in the bar manager. At that point the other of the two hostiles – a human this time; albeit a big one, stood, picked up a stool and hurled it into the fragile distilling equipment behind the bar. The fear went up another notch! This was not good, Obi-Wan thought, but he was not going to get involved, not if he could help it; he had more important things to deal with!

Just then the door to the outside slid open and a blue uniformed Port Control Officer walked in. Someone must have called for help, Obi-wan thought, now he could relax again. The officer – another human male in his late twenty's approached, removing his hat as he did so. "We really don't need to do this Askill, there are other ways to sort it out," he said. "I'm not the one with the problem," said the near human. "He's the one causing the trouble!"

"What's going on Yev?" the officer asked the bar manager, who despite being held by the throat managed to answer. "I can't give them what they want; it's been too quiet of late."

"Can't your boss give him some leeway?" the officer asked. "You know it don't work like that. They gotta pay!" With that the big human began smashing more stools and chairs into the fixtures and fittings. The officer sighed. "I don't want to do this Askill," he said reaching for his blaster. "Then don't, turn your back like the rest of 'em."

"I can't."

"It's your funeral then!" With that the two aggressors charged him. Both had blasters with which they began to pistol whip him. Obi-Wan could contain himself no more. Why did trouble always seem to find him? "Gentlemen, I really rather you wouldn't do that," he said as calmly as possible. Blind hope really that he could talk them down. The smaller – Askill, turned sharply, the thrill of the fight clear in his eyes. "Sit down old man," he spat. "You have no idea who you're dealin' with."

"Ironic," Obi-Wan said. "I was about to say that to you!" Askill stood to face him. "Fine, you wanna' be made an example of as well?" he said striding purposefully towards him. When he was in range he raised the butt of his blaster high, but that was as far as he got. Like a blur Obi-Wan side stepped him, grabbing his raised arm as he passed. With one knee into the man's back he pulled, hard! The shoulder gave a sickening pop and the arm flopped useless. The man screamed in pain, but this was also cut short as Obi-Wan smashed an elbow across the back of his neck, dropping him cold. The large human, startled by his accomplices scream, suddenly stopped the beating he had been issuing and turned his attention to Obi-Wan. He began his approach slowly; Obi-Wan decided not to wait until he got there. Taking a running leap he instantly closed the gap between them, bringing a hard knee up into the man's chin as he did so. Bone cracked and teeth splintered as Obi-Wan landed gracefully. The big man was tough, not going down, but he had had enough. Holding his shattered jaw with one hand he hoisted his partner over his shoulder with the other then stalked out of the exit.

The bar manager and several other employees immediately rushed to help the young officer, who actually turned out not to be in too bad a shape; just cuts and bruises. Once back on his feet he made his way over to sit across from Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan himself had been trying to disappear into the background again, without much success; he was now the focus of entirely too many whispered conversations. This was exactly what he did not want!

"I would first of all like to thank you for what you did," said the young man as he sat down. "But I really wish you hadn't intervened. As a stranger here you have no idea how things run in our town."

"It seemed fairly obvious to me," Obi-Wan responded with a raised eyebrow. "Bad guys doing bad things and assaulting a port control officer. In my book that's way off the chart wherever you are and I couldn't stand by while it happened." The man smiled. "You misunderstand me friend. My concern is that you have now involved yourself in a dangerous situation. Those two characters will not take what you did to them lightly. They will be back and they will be looking for you."

"I can take care of myself. Besides I wasn't planning on staying long anyway."

"Then I suggest you leave as soon as you can. Thank you again!" He got up to leave, but Obi-Wan stopped him; against his own better judgement. Why can I not leave things alone? He thought.

"Who were those two?" he asked. The man hesitated before answering, he was clearly intrigued. "An explanation is the least I owe you I suppose. They are the collection and enforcement end of an operation run by a local entrepreneur."

"This entrepreneur," Obi-Wan went on. "Does he always use intimidation as part of his business dealings?" The officer laughed. "You have no idea!"

"Do tell then," Obi-Wan leaned back in his seat. The man laughed again. "Why is a total stranger who is just passing through so interested in what goes on here?"

"Let's just say I've had experience of dealing with this type of thing in the past. I might actually be able to help!" The man still smiled, albeit with firmly raised eyebrows. "Okay, what harm can it do? A planet such as ours takes in a lot of revenue from trade. Taxes, handling fees etc – basically a lot of credits! Tied in with that are all the secondary industries linked to the trading port; suppliers, repairers and places like this," he explained, waving one hand around. "They are worth a lot of creds too. So much money is bound to attract bad sorts, one of whom just happens to run our local sector." Obi-Wan knew what he meant. "How does he operate?" he asked. The young man went on. "His organisation runs many legitimate businesses as well as taking cuts of revenue from elsewhere. But the man himself deals mainly in protection – you know; you pay us or we put you out of business sort of thing!" Obi-Wan knew the sort all too well. "Why don't the authorities deal with him?"

"You saw the esteem they hold us in just now! The trouble is, the guy who runs the show at a local level here is not at the top of the tree. There are other more important players who run things on a planetary scale. We don't have the resources to take them on; especially as we're pretty sure they have off-world backing as well!"

"Hutts," Obi-Wan nodded. "You guessed it!" the officer nodded back. Obi-Wan rubbed his beard, not quite hiding his frown. "It would appear you do indeed have a problem then!" He paused to think. "What about the Empire?" Obi-Wan couldn't believe what he was suggesting. "They aren't interested. Things run smoothly on the whole and nothing interferes with their business. To be honest most of us who live and work on this world are not too concerned with how it's run. Even if they are criminals, the rest of us don't do too badly." Obi-Wan was confused. "The manager of this place would disagree with you I imagine!"

"Yes he would!" the officer agreed. "Our problem is a local one. The guy who runs this sector does things his way; always has done."

"Why don't you just remove him then?"

"We would if we could."

"Even if someone would replace him?"

"Yes, even then," the officer said somewhat resigned. "So what's to stop you?" Obi-Wan persisted. The officer paused to collect his thoughts. "His brother," he simply stated. "It was him who gave him control of our sector. His brother is one of the big players. If we were to upset him there would be a lot of trouble." Obi-Wan stroked his beard again. "I see. That does complicate things a little more." The officer sighed. "It's the reason things are run the way they are around here; because he can get away with it. His big brother's reputation protects him."

Obi-Wan suddenly had a brain wave. "Are you telling me that not everyone in this organisation works the same way?"

"On the contrary. Big brother actually frowns upon it, but leaves him to it. Family heh!"

"So would I be right in thinking that big brother would only be upset if little brother was 'removed permanently' as the expression goes?"

"Yes, that would upset him," the officer answered. Obi-wan went on. "But if little brother somehow found himself in trouble with the law; caught red handed say! Would big brother be too concerned then?" The officer thought about it. "Probably not, not if he was stupid enough to get caught. But that's another problem. He may be a nasty piece of work, but he's not stupid! We'd have got him already if he was."

"Maybe you haven't been using the right bait," Obi-Wan smiled. He took a deep breath before continuing. "If I help you start the clean up, will the Port Authority be able to take care of the rest?"

The officer held up his hands in protest. "I still don't understand what you're getting out of this. I didn't tell you all this to encourage you. I don't really want you doing anything to make things worse; I would rather you just leave!" Obi-Wan waited for him to finish. "You didn't answer my question. Are Port Authority in a position to clean up when necessary?"

"Yes of course! It's our job!" Obi-Wan stood to leave. "Be ready. I will signal you when I am."

"Where are you going?"

"To do my job!"

_______________________

Obi-Wan had an idea, but no firm plan. What he did know for certain was that some well connected criminals were looking for him; a prospect that would have struck fear into most. But to Obi-Wan it was actually a necessary part of the idea he was formulating; why spend effort hunting the Nexu, when the Nexu is hunting you! He did not want to be found just yet however, so had returned to hold out in the Knights Quest until he was ready. He needed some advice first.

Sitting cross legged on the deck plate at the rear of the small cockpit, Obi-Wan activated the holocron. The blue light was particularly intense in this confined environment, but it offered comfort all the same. "Greetings Master Kenobi, how may I be of assistance?" Although only a representation of Jedi Master Nomi Sunrider, it seemed to Obi-Wan to speak to him as if he were an old friend. Of course he knew the programs within the device had just augmented themselves to his presence, but he could still pretend. "Master Sunrider, it is pleasant to speak with you again," Obi-wan nodded in greeting. "And I with you," the image responded. "I sense renewed focus in you and unburdened focus at that!" Obi-Wan smiled. "My mind is clear now thanks to you Master Sunrider, but I find my path once again blocked and have come to seek your advice."

With that Obi-Wan explained his current situation. "No matter how hard I try to avoid these predicaments, they always seem to find me. The job of a Jedi; even an unemployed one, is never ending!" The image of Master Sunrider chuckled. "Your humour remains intact, which is a good sign. You must know by now that the Force takes you to the places you need to be. Even when you least expect it; and so you find yourself here."

"It would seem then that I am required to help these people!"

"Indeed it would. So let us settle upon a course of action." They both sat in silence awhile; eventually the image spoke again. "You have made your presence abundantly clear to these people. They will fear, but also resent you; seeking revenge."

"That much I am sure of," Obi-Wan said with a rye smile. "If their leader is as clever as you say, I do not think he will resent you as his men do. I believe he will be interested in you as a possible recruit."

"I have already thought of that. I was planning on reintroducing myself at some point," Obi-Wan said. "I agree," Nomi Sunrider said bluntly. "You must try to join these people if you are to get close to them. To do that successfully you must seem to have a purpose!"

"That's easy on this world; to make credits – quickly," Obi-Wan offered. "Once I'm on the inside is where it gets more difficult. How do I get their boss to get his hands dirty, when normally he would have others do it for him?" The image paused again, as if in thought. "I will tell you a story," she began after several seconds. "There were once a simple people living on a simple world. They lived together in a great citadel with a great wall surrounding it. The reason for this was because they had been terrorised for generations by a great beast who would destroy their homes unless they appeased him with offerings. The beast was cruel and would only be satisfied by the flesh of those in the prime of life. The people had tried to kill the beast many times, but he was too wary and too clever for them, always avoiding their traps then wreaking his revenge upon them. One day a great leader arose from the people who knew that he must rid them of their terrible foe and so they built a trap. It was a simple trap, that the beast would easily see, and therein was its genius; for the trap was baited with that which the beast could not resist. The great leader offered his own daughter; a girl of intelligence and beauty and sure enough the beast came for her. So enraptured was he that he ignored the simple trap and that was his undoing!"

Obi-Wan smiled. "I do enjoy your tales Master Sunrider."

"Good. I hope you also understand them!"

"Yes. Even the cleverest, most dangerous enemy can be caught off guard if you offer him something he cannot resist."

"Precisely! Find out what this criminal leader wants most, then simply offer it to him on a plate. Even if his suspects a trap his desire should still get the better of him!"

Obi-Wan thought. What does the leader of a criminal organisation want? Simple! He wants credits; fast credits. What's the fastest source of maximum credits in the galaxy? One thing above all others – spice!

________________________

Obi-Wan returned to the cantina where the trouble had occurred. He needed contact with that port official and fast! He did not have long; it was over three standard hours since he had intervened with those thugs and they were bound to be looking for him by now. They could not find him before he had the information he needed!

Eventually, after what seemed like hours, the bar manager signalled him to the back of the premises, where the young officer was waiting. Obi-Wan held out his hand in greeting, which the man took. "At least I know I've got the right man," he said, indicating a badly swollen eye socket. "Ouch!"

"It would have been a lot worse had you not been hungry!" Obi-Wan snorted a laugh. "Now what can I do for you my friend?"

"What do you know about spice?" Obi-Wan came straight to the point. "You mean from a scientific or a law enforcement point of view?"

"I mean does it find its way through Commenor?" The officer held out his hands palms upwards. "Of course it does; the same as any other thousand places like it!" Obi-Wan held him with a steely gaze. "I need you to be more specific!" The man shook his head and sighed. "I can't believe I'm actually going along with this. I don't even know who you are!" Obi-Wan said nothing. "Are we off the record?" It was a rhetorical question! "The stuff comes in across the planet. They don't even bother to hide the fact; they don't have to. No one dares to touch it!"

"Hutts!" Obi-Wan said. "Exactly! They control it directly and local organisations have no say in it; it's worth too much to them." Obi-Wan grinned. This was perfect; spice was indeed his correct choice for bait. "But your officers know how it comes in?"

"Are you kidding? I can tell you times, dates, places, even the colour of the haulers they use!"

"Excellent," Obi-Wan grinned again. "When's the next big shipment due?"

________________________

This part of the planet was entering its night phase by the time Obi-Wan left. The streets were fairly empty, more so than he would have thought for a busy commercial port, although there where plenty of establishments still doing business.

As brazenly as possible Obi-Wan began to walk. He had nowhere to go, but decided he should look like he were shopping for supplies; which he still had to get anyway! He had to be right out in the open; hiding was not part of the plan. It did not take long!

Stopping to browse in a store window, Obi-Wan noticed a shadow fall over him from his left. Glancing over his shoulder he saw a giant of a being staring straight at him. Obi-Wan had no idea what species this creature was, but he was certainly not to be messed with. Taking a step in the other direction Obi-Wan turned to find his way barred by another; a Rodian this time; more precisely an armed Rodian! "We can do this easy and quiet, or hard and messy," the Rodian said in basic. "Either way no one's gonna' bother us. It just means you won't have a headache and our back seat won't need cleaning if you choose wisely." With that a blacked out speeder pulled up, the rear door of which was opened by the huge creature who was still stood nearby. The Rodian waved his blaster in the vehicle's direction. Obi-Wan hesitated; mainly for effect, before getting in.

The journey was not all that long. Obi-Wan had no actual chrono, but his internal one; seasoned by years of field experience was pretty accurate. The direction they were headed in was another matter, although they were not hanging around judging by the flashes that lit up the speeder's interior every time they passed a glow lamp. Eventually they came to a stop and the rear door opened.

Obi-Wan was guided straight into an unmarked doorway and through a series of featureless passages, before being pushed onto and expensive looking couch in what appeared to be a simple office. No one spoke to him the whole time and after several minutes he was actually left alone. Looking around in more detail Obi-Wan concluded that despite the minimalist nature of the office space, all the furniture within it was of exquisite taste and quality. Impressive! He thought.

At that moment a door directly opposite him slid elegantly open, drawing his full attention. Through it glided a dark skinned man. He was fairly small in stature and wearing plain formal attire that disguised just how expensive it was. Obi-Wan had an artistic eye for good tailoring – a result of the many ambassadorial functions he'd attended!

The man sat behind a desk before turning to face Obi-Wan directly. His gaze was intense, so much so, that for the briefest moment Obi-Wan was actually unnerved. Even amongst the powerful people he had had dealings with in the past, this guy had the look of someone used to getting what he wanted. "I will pay you the respect of being direct," he said after a moment. "I know already you are not to be taken lightly. Normally someone in your position would be dead by now; and you would be if some of my associates made the decisions. Fortunately for you, they do not! I on the other hand see the value in someone such as yourself, which is the only reason you are here now." Obi-Wan said nothing, so the man continued. "Do you know who I am?"

"No," replied Obi-Wan. "But I know what you are!"

"And what would that be exactly?"

"The person I'm looking for. Someone I can do business with. Why else do you think I got your attention the way I did?" The man smirked. "You're either very smart, or a complete fool, but you certainly got my attention! That is the reason you're here. I am always in need of employees with you're talents." Perfect, Obi-Wan thought. I'm in! "I work alone," he said, still aiming to stand his ground a little. "Really. Then why did you want my attention?" Obi-Wan dangled some bait! "I have a business proposition. One that's too big just for me, and one that would run smoother with your approval."

"Is that so?" The man stood. "Take a walk with me," he said, completely changing the subject. "I'd like to show you the way I run certain things." Obi-Wan didn't like this change one bit, but had no choice but to go along.

He was led along another one of those bare corridors. The guy in the sharp suit did not speak, nor did the two sullen associates who had joined them apparently out of nowhere. These bouts of silence were especially off-putting! Obi-Wan had been expecting the bravado that usually came with criminal organisations. Not here; here things were slick and professional!

The corridor suddenly brightened and their small party stopped in front of a transparisteel wall, behind which was a large room that appeared to have padded walls and floor. In the centre of the brightly lit room a group of beings were stood still around one figure who was addressing them. They all seemed to be listening intently, although Obi-Wan could not hear what was being said.

"I like my operations to run smoothly," said Obi-Wan's host. "To ensure that, I hire the best. These beings are potential employees. Observe!" Obi-Wan did so.

The figure in the middle – a Zabrak, had stopped talking now. The others had formed around him on four sides. One side of four was empty handed; the other three sides carried weapons ranging from sticks to vibroblades. It seemed that this was some sort of combat/defence class and that the instructor was about to engage sixteen opponents at once.

Obi-Wan stood transfixed for the next standard minute, for that was how long it took. By then only the Zabrak was left standing. His host turned to him and grinned. "My security chief. He helps my associates perform their duties more efficiently. A Teras Kasi champion in fifteen systems no less! Impressive, no?"

"Very!" Obi-Wan genuinely was. "I would very much like you to meet him." At that point Obi-Wan understood what this was all about. It was a test! If he passed, they could do business. If he failed; well, he would just turn up in a heap on the street somewhere; another victim of the way things were run around here.

"This is the gentleman we were told about," his host addressed the Zabrak as they entered the room. "I am interested in just how committed he is to dealing with us!" The Zabrak said nothing, remaining motionless. "I take it you will listen to my proposal after I'm done here?" Obi-Wan asked. "With great interest," the man smiled coldly.

Let's get this over with – fast! he thought as he made his way to the centre of the room. Having just seen the Zabrak in action, he knew he would not have long against him; he was more than capable of taking on even a Jedi. Obi-Wan had one chance; which was to anticipate and defeat his first attack. That would also impress; maybe even unnerve his host a little as well. If he could pull it off!

Obi-Wan immersed himself in the Force, focussing on the Zabrak and all possible interactions between the two of them. He pushed into the being's mind as well; finding the cold calculation of a warrior, not a killer; which was reassuring. His thought processes were extremely complex, like a dejarrick player; not thinking about one move, but many; and in many different sequences. Against any normal opponent Obi-Wan could see how he would be so effective. Here however, it would not be the case!

Then he felt it! The Zabrak's thoughts began to coalesce into interlocking patterns. This was how Obi-Wan's combat sense worked for him. He could visualise his opponent selecting and rejecting different attacks before eventually deciding on a move, which Obi-Wan would then see in his mind's eye a split second before it came.

And so it came! So fast he almost missed it – almost! Obi-Wan visualised the Zabrak leaping passed him, grabbing his neck on the way, before choking him down. His own muscles responded without conscious thought with a simple side step in the same direction, taking him into the path of the attack. Once there a Force assisted straight arm caught the Zabrak palm first right under the chin. The impact somersaulted him backwards at least once before his unplanned rotation was interrupted by the floor. He did not move! Obi-Wan knelt to check his pulse, which was fine. He then stood to face his open mouthed host. The whole incident had taken one second! "Shall we go over the details now?" he said.

________________________

Obi-Wan laid out his proposal. He pretended he was muscle for hire straight out of Corellia, who from time to time indulged in a lucrative sideline of stealing spice shipments. That was the reason he was here on Commenor; trailing one such shipment until such time as he could take it. At first his host scoffed at the idea, expressing it as suicidal to take credits off hutts. Obi-Wan countered that by reassuring him this shipment was Corellian and nothing to do with hutts. This was an independent dealer who cleverly used Hutt networks as a cover for both acquiring merchandise and distributing it. Obi-Wan made out he'd been looking for an opportunity to take a cut of this for a while and that very few knew of the operation – which of course was true, as it was all fabrication anyway.

Using the information he'd gained from the Port Control Officer, he elaborated on his plan. A shipment would arrive in this sector tomorrow, using a hauler exactly the same as those used by the Hutt networks; all they had to do was be there when it arrived to intercept.

His unnamed host stroked his chin in thought. The possibility of dipping into the spice market unbeknown to the Hutts and making a profit around ten times that of normal business was hugely attractive, just as Obi-Wan meant it to be. "Why do you need me?" he asked after a moment. "Why not do it yourself. It's a lot of credits to advertise to someone else!"

"It is! And that is part of the reason I need you. Firstly, I cannot move that much spice on my own, I only need a cut. Secondly, you run things around here which helps if anyone were to ask any awkward questions." The man nodded. "You say you only need a cut!"

"Yes, I want one third. You take the rest." The bait was now irresistible! "That's why I came straight to the top. Less people to share with. You do as you will with the rest."

"I agree," his host said. "The less people involved, the more profitable it will be for all. I will join you on this personally, with minimum backup." Obi-Wan couldn't help but smirk. "Excellent. Meet me here at this time tomorrow."

At that he was allowed to leave! There was an expression still used by professional sport hunters and trappers across the galaxy. How did it go? 'Hook, line and sinker'.

_________________________

Several standard hours later Obi-Wan left the Knights Quest. It was right before dawn and a glorious orange sky illuminated the planet. The skylanes and walkways were still busy with traffic; this was a forty-two hour a day world after all.

Obi-Wan sealed the egress hatch but the ship was ready to go at the touch of a button. He had picked up the long awaited supplies he needed last night and so was ready to make a fast exit as soon as today's enterprise reached its conclusion.

The short transport ride back into town was as uncomfortable as ever, so Obi-Wan alighted early and walked the last few blocks, arriving at a courtyard that fronted onto a non-descript warehouse. The entrance to the yard was controlled by a single electro-gate that was manually operated from an adjacent guardhouse.

"It's a distribution depot for a local firm that manufactures power couplings," said a voice from a nearby doorway. Obi-Wan glanced to see his newly acquired accomplice walking towards him. "I have a little stake in their portfolio!" Obi-Wan said nothing, feeling a little affronted at having to work with such a lowlife. That would pass once events began to unfold. "So stranger, what's the plan?"

"We wait," Obi-Wan said sternly. "It should not be long." As if on cue, three repulsor haulers decked out in bright green with an electronics manufactures name on the side, turned off a the nearest intersection, then paused briefly as they waited to be admitted through the electro-gate.

"Where's your backup?" Obi-Wan asked. "In a speeder around the corner."

"How many?"

"Just the one. One of my most trusted," he laughed. "And someone you've already met!" That could only be one of the thugs from the cantina, Obi-Wan thought. Perhaps they were planning to double-cross him after this was over. No matter! "Make sure he's ready. We go now!"

The two of them crossed the roadway, Obi-Wan leaving his accomplice to get them clearance through the gate, which he did within seconds. Once inside they made their way over to the three haulers which had just finished being loaded with one large custom hover-pallet each. Obi-Wan knew the vehicles would be leaving again within minutes. "Leave this to me," he said. "I want this done quietly." Meaning he didn't want anybody dead!

The three hauler pilots were stood not too far away. Obi-Wan approached so that the haulers would block his accomplice's line of view. "Excuse me gentlemen," he said, beckoning them towards him. "There seems to be a mistake!"

"What's the problem?" one of them asked as they approached. Obi-Wan shook his head. "You are!" he said. "You really should consider an honest job!" With that, he struck the first man with straight fingers in the bundle of nerves where his jaw met the base of his ear. He dropped instantly! Before the others could react, a quick nudge with the Force clunked their heads together, to much the same effect.

Having quickly grabbed the ignition chip from one of the unconscious pilots, Obi-Wan leapt up into the necessary hauler and started it up. "Leaning out of an open window he yelled to his accomplice. "We're leaving – now!" The man leapt up into the passenger seat. "Impressive! You've done this before." Obi-Wan did not respond, not until they reached the guardhouse. "Time to do your bit and get us out of here," he said.

The guard leaned out of his control window, but did not look up as he checked his datapad. "This one's not cleared to leave yet, all three have to…." He stopped mid-sentence after eventually glancing up and realising who he was talking to. "I….I….don't understand. Sir, should you really be taking this particular hauler?" The guard obviously knew what was in the vehicle and who it belonged to. "Understand this," Obi-Wan's passenger said with particular venom. "Should you really be asking me questions if you still wish to go home tonight?"

"Of course sir," the man visibly paled. And with that the gate opened.

They turned at the main intersection and joined the low level traffic lane that would take them right into town. "Stay on this for the next fifteen turn offs. I have some people waiting in a secure location," said Obi-Wan's passenger. I'll bet you do, he thought. He would follow directions up to a certain point, but he had his own destination in mind! Glancing at the heads up display Obi-Wan could see they had picked up a tail; a sleek, blacked out speeder similar to the one he had ridden last night. Back up was following!

Time to get things started, he thought. "We should check the merchandise," he said. "I need to know how much and what quality." His accomplice took this as a cue to enter the rear compartment through the narrow access from the cockpit. Leaving the hatch open, Obi-Wan could hear an intake of breath followed by a whistle. "We got the whole range back here, even one case of Glitterstim! By my reckoning, a market value of two to three million!"

"Excellent," Obi-Wan said. "That'll cost you a lot more time then!" At that he flicked a switch on the control board, sealing the rear compartment. Almost instantly the sound of pounding fist meeting plasteel filled the vehicle. "What're you doing?" hollered the new prisoner. "A favour for someone who needs rid of a problem. Namely you!" Obi-Wan shouted back. "Then you're bringing a world of hurt down on yourself," the voice said in that calm tone of someone who had gone beyond anger and now wanted blood. "You'll be dead within the hour!"

"Oh, I intend to be long gone before then!"

The voice suddenly dropped in volume. This coincided with a reaction from the tailing speeder, which accelerated. His prisoner obviously had a comm. unit. Obi-Wan accelerated in response, causing a painful sounding impact from the rear compartment and bringing a guilty smirk to his face. Unfortunately the speeder easily matched his burst of speed, pulling along side effortlessly. Obi-Wan glanced over his right shoulder to see one blacked out window retract and a rather menacing looking blaster pistol emerge through it. Combat reactions instantly took over and Obi-Wan swerved in the speeders direction, which took evasive action but not before scraping a speeder shaped gouge in a nearby wall. Changing tactics the speeder pilot dropped off behind the hauler. Obi-Wan had to watch his heads up display carefully; he knew this guy was going to try and get ahead of him by swerving side to side where Obi-Wan couldn't see him, until there was a big enough gap for him to accelerate through. It became a game of nexu and nerf, with the hauler zig-zagging to block the speeders path; a game that could not last long! Up ahead the traffic lanes were much busier, but Obi-Wan had no choice but to enter them if he wanted to reach his destination. He knew there would be some damage, but trusted in the Force to ensure no innocents would be hurt.

At that point the speeder shot past. Blast! he thought. His momentary concentration lapse had let him through. A sudden thump accompanied by a flash of light really brought him back to the moment. The blaster was back and was now firing through the speeders rear window. Fortunately the haulers view screen was heavy duty, but it would not last that long. Obi-Wan responded again with another burst of acceleration, bumping the sleek vehicle, which had to adjust to regain control. Another impact caused yet more distraction for Obi-Wan who was tightly focussed on the speeder. He realised too late he had just clipped an innocent vehicle that was trying to get out of the way. Huttspawn! he thought. They were into the traffic!

It now became a dangerous game! High speed swerving and scraping and jostling; with the occasional building or other vehicle caught up against their will, brought chaos to this sector of downtown Commenor.

Port Authority pursuit speeders had also joined the chase by now, which was fine as far as Obi-Wan was concerned. Taking a moment to get his bearings he made a final swerve left; time to end the game! He hit the accelerator one final time then opened the pilot side door; holding on until the last possible moment to ensure he hit his target; then he leapt, using the Force to carry him well clear. Mid-leap he managed to see the black speeder swerve to a halt then accelerate in the opposite direction; it had obviously seen what was about to happen!

Obi-Wan landed in a narrow passageway between two buildings and didn't break stride, even at the sound of shattered transparisteel and falling steelcrete brought about by the impact he'd been anticipating. The sound caused him to hunch his shoulders momentarily, but he didn't look back.

Eventually after several minutes he stopped running and paused for breath. He could hear the sirens of law enforcement vehicles in the distance, but it was quiet around here. Time to head back to the Knights Quest and get off this planet. "Don't move," said an angry voice from behind him. "I don't give up that easily!" Obi-Wan turned to find himself staring into the large barrel of a blaster, followed not too far behind by the snarling face of his old friend Askill. "I don't know who you are but you're not gettin' a second chance from me! You're goin' down this time!" Obi-Wan smirked. "Let me show you who I am," he said. At that the blaster pistol leapt from Askill's hand, across the several meters of empty space between them, before slapping firmly into Obi-Wan's. The near human was stunned motionless. Obi-Wan made a gesture with his empty hand. "You have had enough of your life as a criminal. You are going to turn yourself in and help the authorities with their enquiries." Askill repeated the words through glassy eyes. "Oh, and pass on a message to the officer you attacked the other night. Tell him I've finished doing my job. Now it's up to him to carry on the clean-up!"

_______________________

Relaxing in the cockpit of the Knights Quest, Obi-Wan picked up the local holonews channel before he left Commenor space. A reporter was standing in front of a smashed building. "In dramatic events, the vehicle crashed through the reception area of the Port Authority headquarters without any apparent reason. Fortunately no one was injured in the impact. When officers arrived on the scene they were astonished to discover a large quantity of illegal spice, with a street value of millions, in the rear compartment. An unknown suspect is currently being questioned regarding the incident and we have unconfirmed reports that he is a leading underworld figure. Also in a seemingly unconnected but equally bizarre twist, another member of the underworld later walked into custody and gave himself up. He is also being questioned."

Obi-Wan switched off the screen. Job done! Now to get on with his real one.

_______________________

In gaining knowledge of the path we can become the guide. It is now our duty to help others find the way.

Chapter 11

The gentle but insistent alarm from the control panel roused Obi-Wan from a pleasant slumber. His journey from Comenor had been an uneventful one, allowing him to make use of the time for practical things. Minor repairs to the running of the vessel, stimulating discussions with Master Sunrider's holocron and sleep; long luxurious sleep, were all part of the itinerary.

The mottled colours of hyperspace reverted back to visible points of light as Obi-Wan cut in the sub-lights. Up ahead, but still a good distance away, the planet Malastare was clearly visible. This was the last stop along the Hydian Way before Eriadu, where Obi-Wan had no intention of visiting. Besides which, this planet was as good a reference point as any to begin his search for Yoda.

He flicked on the navicomp. Time to think like a Jedi Master trying to hide. That brought a smile to his face. Shouldn't be too hard, I've already been doing it for a decade himself! But that was different; he wasn't Yoda. Yoda did things that just didn't occur to you and thought along completely different patterns to anyone Obi-Wan had ever known. What would he do? There was no point trying to fathom the Jedi Masters thoughts Obi-Wan realised, it would be easier to take a logical approach first, after all, he could not have travelled too far in only an escape pod. Obi-Wan looked at the options.

The two closest planets were Umgul and Sullust. Both were highly populated worlds, which presented ideal opportunities for anyone wanting to disappear into the crowd. If you weren't small, green and nine hundred years old, that was! Umgul was definitely out; just too commercial. Similarly, Sullust, although more industrial than commercial, was out too; since the population lived in underground warrens to avoid the harsh surface conditions.

Similar environmental factors ruled out several other worlds nearby, including Clak'dor VII and Alzoc III; whereas over-industrialisation also ruled out Sluis Van.

The options were rapidly dwindling and eventually Obi-Wan had it down to two; Omwat and somewhere called Dagobah. Omwat was sparsely populated with a good mix of urban areas and natural habitats, ideal conditions for someone to hide under. There was a stumbling block however! The Empire had a presence there; some kind of scientific research facility. Although, as Obi-Wan thought about it, with a smile, he wouldn't put it past the old green one to hide right under the Imperial's noses. Yoda had always been a comedian! Omwat was possible, thought Obi-Wan, turning his attention to the remaining option.

Dagobah was located right on the very edge of the known galaxy according to the navicomp. Obi-Wan had never heard the name before and this did not surprise him when the limited information about the planet scrolled across the screen. It was devoid of civilisation; no cities, no spaceports, nothing! The topographical readouts showed jungles and swamps, with all the life forms that went with it; all of which were non-sentient. Obi-Wan stroked his beard; this was beginning to look like a real option. The more he thought about it the more it seemed to make sense; seemed to fit the character of his old master.

Amongst the beings who had known Yoda well, there were but a handful left. There were almost certainly those who had known him very well indeed, but he had far outlived them and they were but distant memories now. Obi-Wan was certain that if anyone knew him best it was himself; although what there was to actually know was little indeed.

By all accounts the Jedi Master was approaching nine hundred standard years old, everyone knew that. His species and home world were a different matter; known to no-one. Even given their longevity they were rarely seen. Many thought him from an extinct race, with only a few elders left alive, including Master Yaddle; herself over five hundred standard years old and equally as secretive. Others thought he was from another galaxy and as such was blessed with huge Force powers as a result. Obi-Wan had no real opinion on the matter!

He did know some things for certain though. When Yoda became part of the Order the Jedi were rebuilding. They had just about recovered from near annihilation in the war against the Sith at Ruusaan about a century before. It was a glorious time for the Jedi who grew and diversified their structures and procedures in a time of seemingly endless peace. Yoda became a fundamental part of that peace with increasing age and stature. He spread Jedi influence across the galaxy in the Chu'unthor; the wandering training vessel and was an essential part of new doctrines and training methods the Jedi employed.

Yoda also travelled extensively alone Obi-Wan knew, encountering many different approaches to the Force in many different cultures throughout the galaxy. He even spent many years in complete solitude as part of his attempts at new understanding, and it was this fact that made Dagobah seem like just the place Yoda would choose to live in. It had the two things Obi-Wan knew Yoda needed above all else; quiet solitude and life! To be surrounded by life itself!

There was one snag to this location however – distance! It was right at the edge of the galaxy and by Obi-Wan's reckoning, maybe ninety standard days at escape pod speeds from where Yoda had departed. That was a long way! For any normal being it would be impossible, but it would just be the kind of feat Yoda would pull off to avoid detection. Despite the difficulties and questions it posed, Dagobah just felt right!

_________________________

Entering the Dagobah system, a muddy brown, green world filled the view port. Thick grey swirling clouds formed most of the atmosphere, indicating several weather systems currently hammering the surface somewhere. Obi-Wan let out a high pitched whistle with regards to both the unpleasant look of the place and the life readings his sensors were picking up. The place was absolutely teaming! That would make finding Yoda, if he was here, all the more difficult as his presence would be completely masked.

Performing a sensor sweep, the surface indicated almost complete vegetation coverage. The atmosphere didn't allow for much detail in the readings, but there were several blank spots in the canopy, which Obi-Wan guessed were clearings. He decided the closest example would be an appropriate landing site.

Hitting atmosphere the sensor readings went from hazy to zero; the Knights Quest was flying blind. Fortunately Obi-Wan had avoided the worst of the atmospheric hazards and was able to guide the vessel without too much trouble to a safe landing in what was indeed a jungle clearing. Taking minimal equipment with him; just some water, his belt and lightsaber, Obi-Wan popped the egress hatch and made his way outside. Dagobah's air rushed in and two things hit Obi-Wan like a wave; the noise and the heat! Technically it wasn't just the temperature; the moisture content of the thick air instantly raised a sweat across his forehead and felt truly oppressive. The noise was also overwhelming. A ceaseless chorus of clicks, chirrups, howls, quaws and whoops bombarded his ears to the point that his head was beginning to hurt. Obi-Wan wished silently to the Force that whatever he was going to find or not, he would do so sooner rather than later.

Leaving his heavy robe behind Obi-Wan sealed his ship and headed off into the jungle. Minutes into the journey, and the diffuse sunlight which had penetrated his landing site clearing had all but disappeared. There was some light, but it was dull grey, compounded by the water vapour clinging to the low level vegetation. Obi-Wan paused for a drink and looked around. Only his Force awareness was now telling him where his ship was, and he was certain any normal traveller would already be quite lost! He pressed on, to where exactly he still wasn't sure. It just felt like the right way to go! Several times he pushed out his Force awareness, hoping to feel that old, familiar presence; but equally hoping it might also feel him. He himself felt nothing but the throbbing life all around him.

He had been walking for about a standard hour when the landscape changed, refreshingly so. The tangled jungle floor gave way to a narrow stream towards which the ground gently sloped. The stream itself was covered in vegetation, but was moving just enough to prevent stagnation. It also relieved slightly the oppressive nature of the air, for which Obi-wan was grateful. Following the stream along its edge Obi-Wan observed the variety of plants growing there. The trees were different in nature to those growing deeper in the jungle. Here they had huge, gnarly roots that grew down towards the water, arching over the embankment to the extent that you could easily walk through them. They actually reminded Obi-Wan of creatures with grasping tentacles.

As Obi-Wan continued his walk the stream had gradually widened, until eventually it fed into what only could be described as a vast marsh. Hundreds of large stagnant pools connected together by other streams stretched off into the distance. Dotted throughout these pools were many islands of dry ground which were overgrown by the same gnarly trees he had already seen. These, despite the openness of the area, still kept the sunlight out with a tangled canopy high above.

Obi-Wan stopped, unsure which way to go now. Then without any warning hard, heavy rain began to cascade down. It was that intense rainfall that you couldn't see through and Obi-Wan was soaked through in seconds, despite his best efforts at taking shelter under the nearest tree routes. This was a truly depressing place!

_______________________

The downpour lasted a while and unsurprising, considering his recent run of luck, Obi-Wan's choice of shelter was somewhat porous. When the rain finally abated he decided to head back to the Knights Quest, resuming his seemingly improbable search later.

The rainfall had done little to alleviate the oppressive conditions, in fact if anything, all it had done was saturate the ground even more, if that were possible! Obi-Wan started his long trek back. He had gone about ten paces when the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. It was not fear he felt; rather just a sense of being sized up by another living creature, which on this planet could easily mean a predator of some kind. "Lost indeed you must be traveller if stumble upon this world you have," said a voice from behind him. "Oh, I am not lost," Obi-Wan replied without turning around. "Though I am beginning to wonder why any sane being would intentionally seek out the bloody place!"

"The truth you speak traveller," said the voice again. "Your reasons for doing so of great import must be!"

"Indeed they are," Obi-Wan replied, turning around at last.

And there he was, standing on a wide, level tree route, not ten feet away. Obi-Wan had not sensed his presence until he had spoken, and yet the powers of the ancient master had sensed him across a world. That calming influence one sensed in the presence of a great Jedi Master washed over him. It truly was a comfort to have one such as Yoda on your side.

The little green wizened face tilted to one side as it looked up at Obi-Wan, who noted to himself how the old master's colouring was a little paler than he remembered, but that the sparkle in his eyes remained. "Beneath that old face and beard, look like an old friend of mine you do traveller," Yoda said. "Be him you cannot however. Far away he should be. Important tasks he must complete!"

"And that is why I am here Master," Obi-Wan responded. "To ensure that task is completed."

"Intrigued I am then Master Kenobi. Beginning to think I was that all this way you had come just for a swim!" Obi-Wan frowned. "It was raining," he said, indicating his sodden robes. "When rain it does, shelter I usually seek," he said with a chuckle. Still the comedian!

"Come Obi-Wan, things to discuss we clearly have." At that he turned and began to walk along the edge of the swamp. Obi-Wan followed.

Their journey together did not take long and almost without realising Obi-Wan found himself outside a small mud hut. A smile formed across his lips at the seamless way it blended in with its environment; indicative of its creator, who could be at home just about anywhere there was life.

An ungraceful crawl on hands and knees later and he was inside, where he removed most of his wet clothing and hung it close to a small hearth. At first this struck him as odd; that there was an open fire inside when outside was already stifling. But a little attention revealed the air temperature in the hut to be much fresher. "Simple engineering Obi-Wan," Yoda said, reading his thoughts. "Air, drawn in by the fires heat it is. Rising out through the flue creates the flow." Obi-Wan nodded - impressed. Such simple effectiveness! "Only you could have made a place like this into a home."

"Necessary solitude Obi-Wan. Prepared for the future I must be and held accountable for the past I am." Obi-Wan knew Yoda blamed himself for the fall of the Order. From a certain point of view there was truth to that, but not in Obi-Wan's mind. "The pieces of that future are beginning to move into place," Obi-Wan said, picking up Yoda's positive comment. "The boy is beginning to find his way."

"Yes, I know! Feel his stirrings I do. Like his father he is; impetuous and headstrong. Difficult and dangerous this is. His emotions will become barriers the longer his training is left." Obi-Wan knew this was their paradox. Luke Skywalker was their best chance at defeating the Sith. To do that he had to be trained in the ways of the Force. Too early increased the chances that Vader and the Emperor would discover him while he was still a child; too late and his training would be more and more ineffectual. "He is just a child master. The risks are too great."

"Know this I do Obi-Wan. And yet great risk you take in seeking me out," he said, manoeuvring Obi-Wan decisively into the reason he had come here. He decided to waste no time in revealing that reason. "Master, there is something I must share with you; something incredible!" Yoda snorted. "Many incredible things in my lifetime have I seen and heard Obi-Wan. To surprise me now an achievement will be!" Obi-Wan smiled. "Do you still speak with Qui-Gon?" he asked. "Yes, in meditation," Yoda replied. "What have you learned from him?" Obi-Wan asked, almost as if Yoda was his Padawan. Yoda narrowed his eyes, taking up the challenge. "If mean by that, the way back have I discovered, the answer is no! Master Qui-Gon opened my mind he has, nothing more. Know I do that this is a great knowledge lost even before my time. To recover it, many years have I spent in meditation."

"You are right Master, it is indeed a great knowledge and one that I also believe we must regain if we are to overcome the darkness. To that end Master, I have been on a quest; a quest back in time to when the Jedi knew of such things." Yoda's ears waggled. "Time immeasurable that would be Obi-Wan. What find you on your quest?" Obi-Wan answered without words. The orange glow of the hearth replaced by a warm blue one as he retrieved an object from his belt pouch. "This," he said. Yoda had truly forgotten what surprise felt like, but in that moment he remembered all at once.

________________________

"There is someone you should meet Master," Obi-Wan said, placing the holocron on the floor between them. Yoda was silent. Obi-Wan let a satisfied grin spread across his face; this was the only time he could remember Yoda at a loss for words.

Like all great leaders, his momentary lapse was but that; his serene composure regaining control almost instantly. "A treasure indeed have you brought Obi-Wan. Glad I am that choose me you did to share it with."

"Who else could it have been?" Obi-Wan snorted an ironic laugh.

Yoda reached out a hand to touch the ancient treasure, which glowed with an intensity Obi-Wan had not seen before. The moment he made contact, the device exploded in an exquisite dance of blue sparks. Obi-Wan was actually taken back a little by the display. The light shows he had seen previously were never so elaborate. But as ever after one or two seconds, the lights became the same familiar figure and Obi-Wan was pleased to see her once again. "Greetings Master Jedi, I am Jedi Master Nomi Sunrider. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?" Yoda did not hesitate. "I am Jedi Master Yoda."

"Greetings, Master Yoda. I offer you my humble service, though what one such as yourself can learn from me I am unsure!" The holocron had obviously reacted to the Force sensitivity of Yoda, Obi-Wan thought, hence the spectacular light display. "Introduced to you by my good friend I have been," Yoda said. "Ah, yes, Master Kenobi," the image nodded. "A strong and true servant of the light!" Obi-Wan felt himself blush, but said nothing. "Made you aware has he of our situation," Yoda went on. "Yes," the image responded. I know the dark times you find yourself in."

"Your interpretation of them, interested in them I would be."

At that the three Jedi discussed what Obi-Wan and Nomi had done so in their first conversation. The rise of Sith, the fall of the Order, the Chosen One, the prophecy and the idea that Luke was the key to it all. Eventually Obi-Wan realised he was no longer needed. He had done what he set out to achieve, now he must return to his original task. He did not want to leave and felt saddened as he dressed. This would almost certainly be the last time he would see both Yoda and Master Sunrider, for he would be leaving the holocron here. He knew he had to let go, but found it particularly hard this time. "Be not sad Obi-Wan. We have purpose that greater than ourselves is. Servants of that purpose we but are!"

"I know Master, I was just enjoying my time here."

"Meet again we will Obi-Wan, and then just as friends we can truly be!" Obi-Wan held that thought. Yes, what he and Yoda would go onto would be better than this. Isn't it strange how those involved in great events often crave simple things like family and friends. "Master Sunrider," Obi-Wan said addressing the holocron. "Yes, Master Kenobi?"

"My reasons for bringing you to Master Yoda are the same as those I sought you for. He must share in that knowledge."

"If it is what he seeks," the image replied. "Then he shall find it!"

"Goodbye Master Sunrider, it has been my pleasure."

"May the Force be with you Master Kenobi." Obi-Wan turned to Yoda. "Safe on your journey be Obi-Wan. May the Force be with you." It was always his way; no sentiment. "May the Force be with us all," he said, the headed back out into the jungle.

Night had fallen across this part of Dagobah. Not that you would notice; the jungle floor was always gloomy under the vast canopy high above. Rain was falling once again, pummelling hard as it always did and adding to the darkness. Through that darkness a light was visible; just one light. But a light that glowed brightly in its seeming contest between orange and blue.

The sound of the rain could be clearly heard through the open window of the small mud hut, but was no distraction to those within. Mind you, the two in discussion inside the hut would barely have given a snarling rancor at that same window a second glance.

"What know you of the Sith in your time Master Sunrider?" Yoda asked the holocron. He was sitting cross legged on the floor with the small white cube on a low, tree-stump table in front of him. "A powerful Jedi rediscovered their teachings and persuaded others to join him," she began. He also gained the backing of powerful warlords, most of whom did not understand the darkness they were meddling with. War spread across the galaxy; many great Jedi fell."

"Always so it is," Yoda nodded sombrely. "Defeat them you did though."

"Yes, but a great cost. Planets were destroyed and civilisations wiped out. I myself lost both friends and family."

"How did you win?" Yoda asked plainly. "A vast Republic fleet laid waste to the Sith stronghold. Hundreds of Jedi combined their power to hold the Sith Master's essence there until he was consumed. In truth, it was nearly beyond us."

Yoda stroked his wispy hair back across his head. "Describe you do how Jedi have always fought the darkness; with the awesome power of the light. So it was when part of the Order I became. My masters prepared me for battle; but battle never came, so prepared others in my stead for that same battle I did, and have always done so." The image shook its head in agreement. It is difficult to lead such an order, especially in a time of peace. I know this myself. You focus on many different issues and the darkness is able to hide in its own shadows; forgotten." Yoda closed his eyes. "Hmmpphh!!" he snorted. Forget the darkness I never did, but allowing others to do so I am guilty of. Knew the Sith were not destroyed, suspect I did, but complacency the better of us it got in our waiting. Then when the time came, prepared we thought we were, but not for the new darkness. The Sith; changed they have and useless are our old methods against them. That my failure is. Foresee it I should have!"

"You speak of old methods Master Yoda," the ancient Jedi Master took a harsher tone. "And yet from what I understand, your Jedi Order is very different from mine. You seem to be distinctly lacking in knowledge that should not have been lost and your view of the Force has changed dramatically from the one I knew. It may not directly be your doing Master Yoda; the seeds of change were sewn well before you were born it would seem. It is those changes; to the very essence of the Jedi, that appear to be where the fault lies. I put it to you that the 'old ways' you refer to are not that at all, for they are actually lost to you. Your doctrines are, and always have been a corruption, and as such, floored in their thinking and execution."

It took a great deal to ruffle Yoda after nearly a millennium, but the idea that his whole existence had been built on a falsehood, almost stirred his long dormant anger. "A waste of time it would seem my whole life has been then, if correct you are. And yet despite your superior doctrines, did not the Sith rise in your own time? Did they not before that, and after?" The holoimage was unperturbed by the rebuke. "Do not be offended Master Yoda. You seek the answers to why you could not defeat the Sith. Perhaps they are in the success of those who have gone before!" Yoda remained silent awhile; his composure returned. "An example of different approaches between us I would like you to give Master Sunrider," he said at last, offering a challenge. "Very well," the image said. "I offer you my daughter! The Jedi of your time do not allow attachment do they not?"

"They do not," Yoda answered. "Attachments cloud judgements with emotions. Emotions lead to poor choices and put the needs of the one above the needs of the many. Serve, Jedi do! To do so, selfless they must be."

"I agree, emotions do cloud the mind, but only if that mind is not trained to deal with them. This is where the problem lies I believe Master Yoda; your Jedi have avoided emotion, my Jedi embraced them and learned to control them." Yoda shook his head. "And what of the code; 'there is no emotion, there is peace. There is no passion, there is serenity?"

"It is a very different code to the one I knew Master Yoda. 'There is no anger, there is peace. There is no fear, there is serenity. There is no hate, there is love. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no death, there is the Force'." Yoda snorted. "The Sith think in such ways. Their passion leads to selfish actions."

"Passion is to be controlled by emotion and that is where the Sith fail," Nomi countered. "Emotion is what makes the Sith a formidable enemy. How better for a Jedi to counter that than through the use of his own."

"Use of emotion, to the dark side leads," Yoda said unmoved. "And yet avoidance of emotions, well…. where did that lead your Chosen One?" Nomi played her trump card. "In his training the failure lay. Too old he was," Yoda countered once more, but with just the slightest hint of doubt. "Precisely Master Yoda. He was trained to shy away from his emotions; to fear them even. Had he been in control of them; been trained to control them, would he have fallen?" Had your Jedi been accepting of love and attachment, would he have been in a position to rebel against your doctrines?" Yoda remained silent.

"I will tell you a story Master Yoda. I once lost a great friend to the dark side. He became a powerful Sith and I was forced to fight against him. I did so with his brother even though we loved him very much; both of us having to control what we felt. Eventually a great battle culminated in our confronting my friend. We did so, and in a moment of rage he killed his brother. But in that same moment the love he felt for him and the realisation of what he had done broke the darkness within him. Love overcame hate; the love of a brother was too powerful for the darkness."

"But by then, too late was it not?" Yoda questioned. "Pain already caused it was." The holoimage remained silent awhile before continuing. "I see we differ too much in our thinking Master Yoda to ever fully agree. We have both spent too much too much time learning our way to change now. But I would like to offer one more point if I may."

"Go on," Yoda waited. "If Jedi were meant to avoid attachment. If they were meant to never feel love for another, especially that of their own child. Then why does the Force will the destiny of the Chosen One to be brought about by love? His fall due to his love of another, and his redemption due to the love of his son!" Yoda had no answer.

________________________

Dawn on Dagobah was obvious only to those who knew what to listen for. The noises made by the local wildlife changed as those creatures who preferred it slightly less dark began their day. Yoda was familiar with this cycle now, leaving the hut at the same time each day to engage in the same routine.

Today would be different however, but not so much as to interrupt his meditation first thing. Holding himself in levitation a hands breadth from the floor the old master enveloped himself in the Force. Time was no concern; he would end when it felt right.

When he felt ready he relaxed to the floor, then turned his attention to the holocron he had brought with him. A gentle brush with one finger activated the device, and the image of Nomi Sunrider was with him once again. "Greetings Master Yoda, how may I be of assistance?" Yoda did not offer greetings back. "Master Kenobi, a purpose had in bringing you to me. Discuss that we should."

"Very well," the image said. If possible she seemed uncomfortable with what they were about to talk about. "Master Kenobi sought my help in discovering lost knowledge. He desired the ability to answer when the Force calls him; to become one with the Force; to live on after death." Yoda narrowed his eyes; an indication of the gravitas of this subject. "Discover this knowledge did he?" he asked. "I do not know. I helped him to open his mind. To break down his emotional barriers. I know he toiled and suffered much in his quest, but the final step is for him alone to take. I suppose in passing my holocron to you he has either given up, or he feels he is ready."

"Told you of his Master did he?"

"Yes."

"Communicate also with him I can. Taught me much about the living Force he has, but unable to show me the way he is."

"The way is different for all Master Yoda; this is why what you seek is difficult." Nomi Sunrider went on to explain about how the Force calls and why most cannot hear it, the same way she had with Obi-Wan. Yoda was much more receptive to the concepts. "Lived along time I have Master Sunrider. Barriers in my mind have long gone. Put aside pain and loss I have many times." The image sighed. "I have seen this in masters of your ability before Master Yoda. You are able to push the limits of the mind when it comes to control. But there is a barrier that always remains; you have become inflexible!" Yoda snorted. "When nine hundred years old you reach, bend as easily you will not!" The image laughed. "When I helped Master Kenobi, I did so by pushing him to his physical and mental extremes, leaving his body and mind stripped raw. A fresh wound in his Force perceptions that was hypersensitive to its currents. With you I do not think that will be possible. We must be more subtle! We must search within you, for what we seek is already there; we must merely unlock it!" Yoda closed his eyes. "Help me look then you will?"

"It will be my pleasure," she said.

For many days the cycle of meditation continued. Always it was the same – the holocron would push the old master to focus on and hold a long concealed emotion from his past; but the millennia of training and experience in him always forced those emotions down. Eventually after one long meditation Yoda opened his eyes and sighed. "Difficult this is. Too old I am, with feeling buried too deep." Although he would never admit it out loud, he was beginning to feel something breaking free in his mind, although it was almost imperceptible. "Too stubborn, not too old," Nomi Sunrider commented. Yoda would also never admit that the long dead master was beginning to grow on him, although he did not like being spoken to as a padawan. "Stubborn, indeed! Know you much about stubborn Master Sunrider!"

"I prefer to think of it as strong willed." Yoda snorted a chuckle. "Recalled a long buried memory you have for me Master Sunrider. Before a Padawan even I was, instructed we were in simple swordsmanship. Out teacher, a sour old mynock she was; strict and unbending. Many full Jedi Knights intimidated by her they were. Her name was Madame Sunrider! I recall, from a long dynasty of Jedi she came. Know now where her hard streak came from!" The holocron image smiled knowingly. "Know this Master Yoda. If my will was tough in life long ago, now it is infinite. My holocron will never tire, never lose patience and never run out of answers you don't wish to hear."

"So it seems," Yoda sighed. "Confronting a Sith Lord, pale in comparison to your instruction it does!" The image laughed. "It will take time for you to succeed Master Yoda. I am not going anywhere, and time is the one luxury we do have." Yoda nodded. "It is, and use it well we will!"

___________________________

The Knights Quest cruised into a holding orbit that was already crowded with other vessels waiting their turn. This was going to take some time, but it was necessary for the final leg of Obi-Wan's long journey. By Tatooine standard time he had been gone for several months!

The comm. buzzed. "Sorosuub freighter Knights Quest, this is Corspace control. Please state your intended destination and purpose of visit."

"Control, this is Knights Quest. I wish to land in Coronet Port Sector. My purpose is to trade and connect with a transport." Obi-Wan had reached Corellia, the thriving hub of the galaxy. His purpose in visiting was twofold. Firstly, he had to sell his ship, despite having become quite attached to it, and the commercialisation of a planet like Corellia would make that fairly easy. Secondly, once he no longer had the Knights Quest he would need transport back to Tatooine; again a simple prospect here. The comm. buzzed again. "Permission granted to land in Coronet Sector Eighty Eight. E.T.A. two hours. Welcome to Corellia." Two hours! Obi-Wan thought. Corellian air and space control were sticklers for security, but it would give him the time he needed to complete one or two last minute jobs.

Two long hours later Obi-Wan opened the egress hatch and gasped a long breath of air. That hadn't been his best idea! Although necessary, he certainly hadn't thought it through. The air scrubbers and filters had done their best, but the smell of acrid smoke still clung to his clothes and stung his eyes.

Before selling the ship, Obi-Wan knew he had to remove all trace of his journey. The navicomp kept a log of all coordinates and backed it up a ridiculous number of times, so that even an expert slicer would take forever to wipe it. The only option was to destroy it, which Obi-Wan decided to make look like it had burned out in a system overload. His lightsaber made short work of the device; only then a short out in the system started a small cockpit fire. Obi-Wan managed to deal with this quickly, but not before surrounding instruments had also been damaged. Not to worry though, it would look more authentic anyway!

And authentic it did look, especially when it came to the selling price! There were plenty of dealers around the docking area and Obi-Wan had plenty of offers, all of which were about the same and equally miserly. Eventually he accepted a deal for about half the credits he had originally paid. Tapping the ships hull one last time as he passed Obi-Wan headed to off-world shuttle departures. He was not looking forward to this bit! He would arrive back on Tatooine the same way he had left; by a circuitous route so no one would link him to it. He could only guess as to what delights his ride would have in store for him this time.

________________________

Journeys are never straight lines, they are circles. We

always return to where we started. Unfortunately we

have to say goodbye to those we have met along the way,

but we should not be sad, there is always another journey

to take.

Chapter 12

Heat! Damned, infernal, suck the very sweat from your brow heat! If you were not native to this planet you never in truth got used to it. You learned to live with it after a time; but even a temporary sojourn off planet faded its memory and quickly showed off-worlders to be, well, exactly that! Obi-Wan Kenobi would always be one such being, even if this place was, under the circumstances, his home.

Stepping out into the dusty, shimmering street Obi-Wan grimaced to himself. In truth the grimace was both one of distain; for he did loathe this locale sometimes. But also one of acceptance of the familiar. Deep down it was a relief to be back!

The familiarity Obi-Wan should have felt however was not quite as he remembered. Something was wrong and judging by the feeling at the base of his neck, the Force agreed! Then it struck him; the street was deserted! One of the main arteries through the busiest, most overcrowded spaceport on the planet was occupied by him alone. This was most disconcerting!

There was trouble somewhere for certain Obi-Wan knew; not that that was unremarkable in such a dangerous place as Mos Eisley. The beings who frequented this place however usually did not so much as blink when it occurred, so used to it they were. The hustle and bustle of their every day existence would just continue on around it. For that to stop was unprecedented. Obi-Wan raised the hood of his robe against the sun and started a lonely path towards transport that would take him to Anchorhead. He hoped his hooded robe would also help him avoid who or what had cleared the streets; but a nagging feeling told him trouble would likely find him as it usually did!

He hadn't gone far when the unerring quiet was broke by the sound of breaking transparisteel. Obi-Wan rounded a corner of low buildings towards the sound, stopping outside a swoop and speeder merchant's storehouse. Two figures were busily removing one of the vehicles. Looters! Obi-Wan recognised immediately. One of the figures; a human, saw Obi-Wan approach, but did not seen too perturbed. "You can take your pick after we're done, but you'd better be quick," he said. Obi-Wan did not like the idea of letting these lowlifes get away with their actions, but decided information was more important right now. "Why the hurry?" he asked. "Troops will be in this sector any minute."

"Troops," Obi-Wan repeated. "Imperial troops?" he asked as the credit chip dropped. "Hell yeah!" the man explained. "They're pretty much takin' down anyone they think is suspicious after that smuggling shoot out the other day. So right now I'm outta' here!" With that he offered a sarcastic mock salute before powering up his stolen swoop and speeding off into the distance.

It didn't take a genius to work out what he'd been referring to. It seemed a smuggling group, who more than like frequently used Mos Eisley, had run into trouble with other undesirables, or the Imperials themselves, and had come out shooting. The Empire did not take kindly to disorder like that and seemed to restoring its own brand of order with brutal efficiency. They had obviously decided that a lawless place like Mos Eisley needed a harsh lesson that would serve to the rest as a first example of their intentions.

"Blast!" Obi-Wan cursed aloud. That meant the transports out of town would be shut down. He would have to find an alternative mode of travel.

Heading towards the outskirts, Obi-Wan realised he wasn't entirely alone. There were still beings defiantly milling about, but they were doing so quietly and elusively. The stillness was quite unnerving, but as it transpired, also quite useful. The spaceport was in lockdown, but not for all living things, and it was a familiar honking sound that drew Obi-Wan's attention. Perfect! he thought, smiling at the several freely wandering eopee, who without their owners had herded themselves together near a public drinking trough for mutual protection.

The creatures were a little on edge as he approached, but his gentle touch and calm voice seemed to reassure them once again that the sentient beings here were no threat. "It's alright my friend," Obi-Wan spoke to one creature in particular. "I would be most grateful for your assistance in getting me home." The animal exhaled a short blast of air trough its long nose in response. Technically this was stealing of course; not a very Jedi course of action. But the creature was loose, so Obi-Wan decided it was more like borrowing; in fact he would return the creature later at some point, so was actually doing the owner a favour. Obi-Wan took the reigns, and the instant he did so, that trouble he knew would find him showed up to the whining sound of repulsors.

"You there," said an electronically enhanced voice. "Step away from the animal and return to your dwelling. The use of lethal force has been authorised for all citizens who do not comply." Obi-Wan turned slowly to see two Imperial troops stepping out of a small speeder skiff. "Comply quickly and we will be able to lift the curfew sooner, once order has been restored." This trooper wore a shoulder pauldren, a sign of rank, and carried a heavy assault blaster. The other who stayed by the skiff appeared unarmed. Under normal circumstances Obi-Wan could have resolved this situation in a matter of seconds, but that would involve leaving unconscious Imperials on the middle of the street. Not the best idea when you wanted to just slip away quietly. He would need to be more subtle! "There is no need for me to leave the streets," he said raising his hand slightly. "You have ordered me to remove these animals so they do not cause obstruction." The trooper repeated the words, directing them both at his comrade and Obi-Wan. "You should move quickly," he went on. "More trouble could head this way."

"Very well officer," Obi-Wan smiled cooperatively. "Which would be the best direction to leave by?"

"North," the trooper stated as if the idea had been his all along. "The citizens there have been contained all day and there is minimal trooper presence. Move along now!"

________________________

It was midday when he arrived, tired and hungry at Anchorhead. At eopee pace it had taken him the better part of a local day to get here, including a brief stop for shelter during the coldest part of the previous desert night.

Obi-Wan intended only to refresh himself and the animal briefly, grab some essentials, before completing the couple of hours travel to his dwelling at the edge of the Dune Sea. Tethering the eopee next to a water trough, he was about to enter the local supply store, when the scene before him, a familiar presence distracted him. There were numerous speeders, maybe thirty in all, parked in front of the poor excuse for a cantina where the locals often met. That many vehicles was unusual, signifying an important occurrence. It was that fact that had drawn his gaze, but it was the slightly built blond haired boy who had risen from one of those speeders and now approached him, that had drawn his attention.

"Hey there wizard man," said the boy when he was close enough. "I haven't seen you for a while. Biggs said you had probably gone crazy and run off into the desert. Obi-Wan smiled. "I've been away on business young Luke, but tell your friend he is quite insightful." Luke didn't seem to get his meaning and there was a slight pause. "I just wanted to say thanks for helping to dig that speeder out," Luke said at last. Obi-Wan nodded at the memory. "My uncle's only just let me out of prison for that one."

"Does your uncle know you're here?"

"Sure, everyone's here! They're all spooked about those Imperial troops turning up here yesterday." Obi-Wan's pleasant smiled disappeared. "Imperials were here? What did they want?" he asked a bit too urgently. "They were just checkin' no-one from Mos Eisley was hidin' out here," the boy answered matter-of–factly. "Did you see them?" Obi-Wan pressed, still alarmed. "Sure. I even spoke to one. Asked him about his speeder."

"Did they ask you anything?"

"Nah!" Luke looked amused. "I'm just a kid. They've got more important things to do!"

On the inside Obi-Wan laughed. The boy was wise, and he was right! The Imperials were not looking for him yet; why would they be? There was still time.

"I'd best be going wizard man. Thanks again," said Luke.

"Call me Ben," Obi-Wan said. Luke smiled. "So long Ben Kenobi," he said, then turned to leave, but paused. "The others say crazy. Some even say you're dangerous and not welcome around here. But I'm glad you're back. Something feels right about it!" Obi-Wan's chest swelled. "Learn to trust those feelings," he said. The boy just wrinkled his nose like maybe the old man was crazy after all.

_______________________

The ground bucked and shimmied, causing his stomach to roll uncomfortably. Upon close inspection it wasn't ground at all, it was deck plate; and it was gravity compensators shifting suddenly within a vessel that affected his guts. The ship bucked again as if struck by something. Obi-Wan rushed forward to the cockpit. He was not alone, but he did not know who his companions were. There was conversation, but he could not understand it. He was dreaming again! A vast black shadow loomed over the vessel, engulfing it. There was total darkness except for the tiniest speck of intense bright light next to where he stood. At that point Obi-Wan Kenobi opened his eyes and found himself staring at a dusty, plastered ceiling. It was still night, but the cloudless sky and reflective desert surface aloud for plenty of eerie light to penetrate the small room, making it easy to see.

Sitting up, he swung his legs over the edge of the bunk and paused; reflecting. For a Jedi he wasn't a big dreamer, not like some, who were forever receiving visions about who knew what. They had been happening more often of late however, and they all seemed to have a running theme – darkness!

This dream was different however, although the darkness part was still there; there were two things missing, which was why he felt the need to reflect. Firstly, he had woken peacefully, not with a start and not in a cold sweat. Secondly, Anakin had not been in it! For the past decade every dream he could reasonably remember had at least contained a reference to Anakin; this one had not. That thought would have usually set off that long familiar knot in his stomach, but there was no feeling; no knot. He simply felt calm and at peace. Taking that with him, he decided to go for a walk.

The night air was still quite chill despite the approach of the dawn. Diffuse orange colours had already begun to push the inky blue-black at the visible parts of the horizon. Obi-Wan made his way along a track that led up into the cliffs where the Jundland Wastes began. The path was easy enough to follow, frequently used as it was by womp rats who occupied some of the rocky outcrops. Circling upwards his path eventually opened out at the top of a small mesa tat was almost separate from the rest of the rock structures. The view was quite something! In one direction there where the eerily beautiful shapes of the Jundland Wastes beginning to appear with the dawn light; and in the other, the infinite sweep of sand that was the Dune Sea.

The orange tendrils of Tattooine's twin suns had been joined by reds and yellows as they stretched out further across this part of the world. The distant braying of a herd of banthas carried through the still air. Obi-Wan closed his eyes a moment; this truly was the embodiment of that inner-calm he had brought with him.

"It is magnificent isn't it?" said a voice from behind him. Obi-Wan opened his eyes with a start. He had not been aware of anyone's approach, besides which, they were in the middle of nowhere. "We are indeed fortunate to be a small part of the wonder that is the Living Force!" the same voice went on. Obi-Wan did not move; he felt no urgency or threat. His inner-peace was still there, if not stronger than before! Slowly he turned his head, although his heart already told him what his eyes would behold. "Master!" he exclaimed, releasing the breath he had been holding a he did so. "Hello my old friend," said the voice. But it wasn't just a voice. Obi-Wan could but smile as the shimmering blue figure of Qui-Gon Jinn came and sat beside him.

"How?" was all Obi-Wan could think to say. "In truth my friend, I do not know. The Force wills it and propels me on the next step of my journey. What that will be I await with anticipation." A comfortable silence ensued for several minutes, both figures simply happy in each others company. "It is good to see you," Obi-Wan eventually said. And he meant it. Despite having been able to speak with his old Master during meditation for many years; to actually be able to converse in person was one of those simple pleasures he longed for. "And I you Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon replied. "Alas, I feel it will be for the last time!"

"I know," Obi-Wan said, and he truly did. "Something inside here," Qui-Gon said, pointing to his chest. "Something is calling me to where I am needed. I know now my work here is done."

"Thank you," said Obi-Wan. "For being my friend and my guide."

"You are the guide now Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"Yes, and it is clear to me now the path I must take."

The two friends talked as but friends long after the dawn.

________________________

Twighlight was fast approaching as he made his way home. He had taken a different route than normal to avoid two Tuskens on banthas. They had not seen him at that distance, but he had seen them alright. The borrowed eopee was safely tethered in Mos Eisley that morning and before long its owner would identify it and reclaim it. Anything to do with one's livelihood on this planet was top priority, and ownership was on the whole respected.

The rubble strewn path he was following did not seem often travelled, but was passable with the occasional scramble. It was while on hands and knees that that unique sensation the Force sometimes gave him began to tingle. There was a mineral seam somewhere around here! Obi-Wan chuckled to himself. Back to work then I suppose he thought.

Climbing to the top of a nearby overhang so he could send a clear signal, Obi-Wan opened his comm. "Mos Ore Conglomerate please," he said then paused to listen. "I need to speak to engineer Jez Kerrel." Another pause. "When is he available then?"

"No, that's alright. Just inform him that Ben Kenobi has something he might be interested in."

Obi-Wan closed the comm. and looked out at the horizon. Tattooine's twin suns were lowering rapidly towards it, bringing the glorious tapestry of a sunset with them. It was easy to get lost in such a moment; to think about the future or the past. To hope, to dream! But that was for others; Obi-Wan Kenobi knew where he was going on his journey and he knew how to get there. He turned and headed for home without so much as a glance back.

________________________

Epilogue

That was a damn sight easier than it should have been, the old man thought as he half ran, half limped down a wide corridor. Those troopers really were weak minded and east to outwit; maybe there would be a way out of this after all!

Unconsciously, his mind wandered, his legs had reacted by drawing him into the shadows, hoping not to be seen. It was not a bad plan; staying out of sight of the scores of personnel around. But that was not who, deep down, he wanted to hide from. Fool! he thought in rebuke of himself. This is not about you!

Pausing in the shadows at the intersection of two corridors the old man took in deep breaths. He really was tired and his knees ached. He was grateful for the chance to stop every now and then; this place was vast! Those chances were coming more frequently now as squadrons of troopers or black clad officers hurried back and forth. The sound of panicked boot heels on deck plate and rushed information bulletins over the tannoy system was an almost constant background. Someone somewhere was causing a problem!

It didn't take a Jedi Master to work out what that problem would be. He hoped the boy was strong enough to make it to safety. Should he have left him alone like that? He's not alone is he though, the old man thought. He's on his own path and there are already others helping him. He snorted to himself at the thought of the brash ship's captain. He was arrogant and lacked hubris, but he was smart. His heart was also in the right place; that was certain. There were worse allies!

But what if the boy does get away? What then? The questions and doubts in the old man's head kept coming. The dangers to come are many. What if I haven't guided him far enough along his path? The old man's mind swirled, and he suddenly realised why! The chill feeling that had been creeping along the corridor shadows with him, making his skin crawl, had suddenly enveloped him. The darkness was here, and it knew where he was!

Obi-Wan Kenobi cleared his mind. There are others to guide him, he thought. You must get him there! With that he pulled up his hood, drew his lightsaber and pushed on towards the darkness.

In moments he was there and the darkness lay waiting; still, broken only by a threatening hum of crimson. It began its approach. Obi-Wan ignited his lightsaber. The darkness spoke. "I have been waiting for you Obi-Wan, we meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner, now I am the master!" This made Obi-Wan chuckle on the inside. You still have much to learn, he thought. "Only a master of evil Darth!" came the rebuke. Darth, he thought, not Anakin. Anakin was long gone; nothing but a memory now. There were others who had filled that hole. That thought ignited his Jedi instincts and he struck the first blow, which his old apprentice easily parried. Vader responded with a flurry of his own strikes, high, low, left and right. Obi-Wan blocked them all with ease, but not without giving ground. Vader seemed to sense the ease with which the old man had repelled his attack and unleashed his next with fury. Blow after blow reigned down with hammer like force, but each one caught blue light until there was no room left and the two blades locked together. Vader's strength was immense, barely giving Obi-Wan time to slip sideways, avoiding the push that would have bisected him, but instead struck the corridor wall. A hiss of acrid smoke and a burst of sparks filled the passageway.

Obi-Wan took the chance to back off, his arms aching at the ferocity of the hits. He opened himself to the Force and the pain was gone. This was always the way it was for him in combat. Always backing off, always giving ground. And yet his defence was almost never breached. So long as he could call on the Force, he could block and parry forever.

Vader seemed to sense his thoughts. "Your powers are weak old man," he mocked. And from a certain point of view they were. His physical skills had diminished with age. He had to call upon more and more Force reserves than he had in the past. But none of that mattered because the Force was with him always. Even beyond death he knew, if that was his destiny. "You can't win Darth," he responded. "If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

Obi-Wan's mind opened. The Force flooded through him as it always had, but in a way like never before. He could feel the thousands of lives moving around him; could grasp the fury of the space station's vast reactors, like the heart of a star. He could see through the eyes of wild creatures running across a great plain of some distant world, and he could sense the boy moving ever closer to freedom. His eyes became like two steely points of light. His gaze did not flicker!

Vader seemed to sense this; but his momentary fear was burned to anger with two ferocious blows. "You should not have come back," he boasted to regain his composure. Then he unleashed the fury again. An onlooker sensitive to the Force would have felt the pain, bitterness and hatred in those strikes that fell one upon the other. Obi-Wan felt it too, but not as emotion, merely as fact. For Obi-Wan Kenobi was not truly there in that place. His body was controlled by the Force alone, and not one hate filled strike came close.

The consciousness that was Obi-Wan was elsewhere and everywhere. He was the future and the past; he was himself in another life long ago; he was somebody different in time to come. "Be mindful of the Living Force," said Qui-Gon Jinn. "Merely passing through this life we are," said Yoda. "If the Force wills it, it will call," said Nomi Sunrider.

Obi-Wan's body spun and sidestepped in the wide corridor. His consciousness still saw through his eyes; saw the hulking silhouette of Vader framed in the bright light that shone through the elongated hexagon shape of the blast doors. The doors! The light! The shape! At that moment of enlightenment the boy's presence flooded into him and all at once he was back in his body.

He sidestepped again, glancing to his left at the movement of troopers in his peripheral vision. He felt the boy move and looked as he grabbed his freedom. Yes! He would be alright. Then his oldest ally and friend called to him from deep within his own heart.

"Come home!"

Obi-Wan smiled!

143