A deep thrumming roar filled the dim, misty clearing sending assorted lifeforms scampering and slithering for cover as a pair of standard escape pods descended, balanced on tiny white flames, to settle near each other on folding fin-like legs. A hatch cracked and lowered becoming a stepped ramp to the ground and a small, green, large eared being in brown and white robes emerged followed by a small, fair haired Human boy and an equally young brown skinned Zabrak. The second pod opened and three little girls descended hesitantly; a sleek black haired Human, a fox haired Theelin and a fragile, winged Iegoan who moved quickly to join the Master and the boys.
Yoda looked around and took a deep breath of moist air, thick with organic smells. "Well, younglings, our new home this is. What think you?"
"It's so alive," Vita, the human girl said taking in the giant gnarl trees and hanging vines with bright, round eyes.
Yoda nodded his approval. "Alive, yes, full of life is this world. Focus on the moment you must, feel the Living Force encompassing all will you."
The children spread out a little, obediently opening themselves to the moment and the flow of the Force as Yoda watched. Suddenly Uthr, the little Zabrak, jerked back as if burned. "Master, over there – something bad, I can feel it!"
Yoda moved quickly to comfort the trembling child. "Yes, yes, know about that I do. A Dark Side vergence that is, and why I chose this place." Uthr, Vita, blond Tam Shadowstalker and Aiolian the little Iegoan Angel all stared at their aged mentor. "Want to be near it we do. Hide our Force-sense it will."
"Oh," Uthr looked back towards the source of the Dark emanations, small face doubtful. His fellow students looked equally unenthusiastic.
Yoda chuckled. "Near it we must stay – but not too near!" He waved his gimmerstick in the opposite direction. "That way we will go, find a good place for our house we will."
The little Theelin had already started in that direction, and apparently missed the entire discussion being absorbed in a staring contest with a gigantic snake, its formidably fanged jaws just inches from her face. "Ah, see, a new friend Keri has made already!" The serpent turned startled towards the Master then shot back up the tree.
"Not really," Keri answered Yoda. "I was just telling it I'm not food."
"Got the message, it did." Yoda said briskly. "Now, follow me, younglings!"
Four Years Later:
Rain pounded the already soggy swampland, churning the murky waters of Dragonsnake Bog and deepening the normal twilight to near blackness. A small, lithe figure in sloth skin tunic and leggings ran lightly over the quivering muck bordering the bog, danced along a thick blackvine bridge crossing a watery channel then leapt from gnarl tree root to root, dodging between invisible obstacles, on her way to small point of friendly yellow light very near to the ground.
Vita stooped under the round door that had only recently gotten too low for her to enter upright scraping the mud off her bare feet on the coolant grill that served as a threshold.
"Wet clothes off, off I say!" Master Yoda ordered from the kitchen area where he was cooking dinner. Vita obediently stripped off her soaked sloth skins and threw them outside then wrapped herself in one of the fur robes they kept by the door for just such emergencies. Tam handed her a towel for her hair.
The little wattle and daub house was well lit by the emergency lamps from the escape pods, warmed by the fire in the stove and full of activity. The Master was busily cutting up swamp squash and mushrooms for the salad while a simmering pot of fish and eel stew sent out appetizing smells. Tam knelt at the stump table grinding galla seeds in a little mortar to garnish the yoghurt plant pudding on the kitchen bench. Aiolian was at the loom weaving bleached moss cloth for her new dress while Uthyr sat cross legged in the window seat on the other side of the house spinning lumpy yarn from gnarl tree fiber. Keri occupied the remaining floorspace – such as it was – performing the standard sabre drill with the Master's lightsabre.
"You are over controlling, little one," Master Qui-Gon's warm, kindly voice said out of nowhere. "Relax, Padawan, let the Force flow through you." Keri's face, scrunched in concentration, gradually smoothed out and so did her moves.
"And where have you been so late, Vita,hmmm?" Master Yoda asked, still apparently intent on mixing his salad.
"I went southwest today, Master, past Sweetwater lake, and I found and old clearing, no gnarl trees just mushrooms and vines, and there were buildings, Master! Domed modules with all kinds of things inside them –"
Yoda interrupted her excitement with something like alarm. "Alone here, we are!" it was a question and Master Qui-Gon answered it: "There is no sentient life on Dagobah but ourselves - now."
"It looked like they just abandoned everything when they went," Vita said.
"Go tomorrow we all will and see what you have found," Yoda decided.
Yoda stumped solidly through the drifting mists and eerie animal cries of a Dagobah morning his small pupils skipping and running as they played tag in a loose ring around him, Aiolian occasionally becoming airborn for a few minutes and Uthr and Vita taking time out to creep into the miniature jungles of roots beneath the looming gnarl trees. Keri found a lahdia plant and filled her pouch with flower fruits and Tam jumped on a wandering white spider for a short ride.
The ruined settlement was just outside their usual range explaining why they hadn't found it long ago. It consisted of two big domes surrounded by a ring of smaller ones all linked by tubular passages. The buildings were covered with heavy growths of vines and hatches hung askew where questing tendrils had forced their way inside. The roofline was uneven, several of the domes having been pulled out of plumb as their foundations subsided into the Dagobah muck.
Yoda bent his head, eyes closed and ears drooping as he searched the Force. "Much fear there was in this place, fear and death. A research station it was, lost, forgotten. The scientists all died."
The children looked at him, horrified and incredulous. "But why," Vita stammered, "and how?"
"Dagobah it was; killed them the planet did." The Master answered sadly.
"No," said Tam, "Master that can't be!"
Keri nodded emphatic agreement, mouth stained purple-red by the lahdia berries she was munching. "Dagobah's a good place to live! We haven't had any trouble."
"Well there was the dragon snake we had to kill," Uthr reminded her.
"And the bogwings that attacked Aiolian," added Vita.
"That was my fault," the little Angel said, "I threatened their young."
"Live with the planet we do, in harmony," Yoda explained. "As adversaries did these people live, at enmity with the world, and so they died." A long moment of very serious silence followed the Master's words. Finally he broke it; "Come, investigate we will, things we can use there may be."
Dagoban muck had oozed in through doors and splitting floors and the domes colonized by the usual rich assortment of Dagoban life. Anything even remotely organic had been devoured long ago but the plasmeld panels that made up floors and walls were mostly intact as were the plasteel ribs that held them in place. Clearsteel panes lay intact on the muddy floors having been popped from their frames by the invading vines. A wide variety of items lay half buried in ooze; broken furniture, badly corroded and mud clogged electronics, plastic tableware, and datachips, lots and lots of datachips, though blaster power cells were almost as common.
The children quickly forgot their distress in the excitement of the treasure hunt, digging into the silted floors and running to Yoda with their finds. The aged Master carefully examined each object, wiping it off with a piece of rough gnarlfiber cloth then either throwing it behind him as a discard or placing it carefully on another larger piece of cloth to be carried home. But it wasn't until nearly noon that Tam and Keri made the most exciting find yet.
"Master,Master, come and see!" Keri hurtled into the central dome where Yoda had settled himself amongst his bits and pieces. "We've found droids, lots and lots of droids!"
"Of limited use, droids are to us," the Master observed inarguably, "but come and see I will."
'Lots and lots' turned out to be the remains of four A9G archive droids and about twice as many R5s adapted as sample collectors. "Best equipment they did not have," Yoda remarked dryly.
Tam had the access panels of all four A9Gs open. "They're a real mess, Master," he said cheerfully.
"Little use for droids have we," Yoda pointed out yet again. Possibly it was the looks of disappointment on Tam and Keri's faces that caused him to backtrack. "Well, well, play with them you may, but first see what else here there is."
The next big find was made by Aiolian and Vita, an armored speeder sunk deep in the Dagoban mud and concealed under a thick blanket of vines with a fine crop of fungi growing around its thruster tubes. The girls in fact owed their discovery to the latter it wasn't until they started picking the yoghurt plants and mushrooms that they realized the surface under them wasn't just another chunk of rotting tree fall.
Yoda looked on indulgently as all five younglings enthusiastically joined in the job of finding and uncovering the vehicle's hatch. He became more interested when they discovered the speeder, unlike the modular domes, had managed to maintain its integrity in the face of the onslaughts from Dagobah's tenacious and inventive lifeforms. It was the younglings' turn to watch with baited breath as the Master tried to bring the speeder's systems up. Air left five sets of small lungs in gusty sighs of relief as the piloting console lit up.
Yoda seemed every bit as pleased as his charges. "Excellent. Excellent this is. Learn to pilot you must, this vehicle imperfect but do it will. Now to work! Thoroughly checked it must be!"
And thoroughly checked it was from pilot compartment to engine spaces and everything in between. Each of the five passenger seats was equipped with a built-in datapad above a box for samples but the contents of the compartments built under the seat were a bit of a shock.
"Master!" Uthr backed hastily out from under the seat to a safe distance. His expression said he'd found something poisonous – or worse.
"Found something have you?"
"Yes, Master, blasters," the little Zabrak's voice was as eloquent with shock and disgust as his face.
Yoda nodded sadly. "Expected that I did. Depended on their weapons the scientists did. Afraid they were, afraid of Dagobah."
The younglings looked very serious - they knew all too well what fear led to.
"And that's why they died," Tam said flatly, after a long moment.
"Why, yes." Yoda agreed as solemnly.
It was edging on to evening when they finally exited the speeder, sealing the hatch carefully behind them, the ground mist was creeping in around the ruinous domes. Yoda sniffed the air; "Stay here tonight, we will."
They settled themselves in the driest of the domes and Tam lit a fire burying yarrow pods and Ikali roots in the embers to roast while the Master cut up the mushrooms and yoghurt plants Vita and Aiolian had found. After they had eaten Yoda gathered his students around him. "Carefully listen, something new I will show you," immediately five small faces lit up with interest. "Relax, open yourselves."
Five pairs of young eyes closed, after a moment they began to tremble as the fear and despair imprinted upon the Force by the dead research team seeped into their consciousness. "Peace," Yoda said softly, commandingly, "Peace. There is no fear, there is no death. There is only the Force." The younglings struggled for peace, buffeted by the emotions of men and women long dead. Then their other master took a hand.
"You feel no more than echoes of a pain long past." Qui-Gon's gentle yet powerful mental voice whispered. "This is not a place of death but of life, of rebirth. Let the shadows go and feel the light."
Encouraged the children pushed on, letting the negative emotions pass through them, reaching past as instructed until they reached the promised light.
Freedom. Release. Incredulous joy and rueful laughter at their own follies as the tormented souls became one with the Force and found peace.
The children opened their eyes, tears spangling their cheeks. Yoda's wrinkled face was wet as well and the tormented memory of pain and fear was gone from the Force. "Done well you have," said the Master, "very well."