Patience

Prologue

Planet Corulag, Core world:

Tarlock Egon had expected his short business trip to Coruscant to be as uneventful as always. It was a journey he had made many times in his career. He had bidden farewell to his family on the landing pad, his wife standing outside the space shuttle as tearful as ever, despite the fact that he would only be gone for two standard days.

She had never trusted space travel and her terror kept her firmly on the ground. If his business trips to Coruscant weren't such a vital necessity to their livelihood, he suspected he too would be banned from taking these trips to the Capital. Time and again he had assured her that no pirates operated within the short distance between Corulag and Coruscant. Corulag was Coruscant's closest planetary neighbour along the Perlemian Trade Route and not even the most lawless Torgorian would dare venture so far into the interior of Republic space. On the Capital's door step? They would have to be crazy. Tarlock rolled his eyestalks.

But his assurances never hit their mark and he was forced to effect patience at every parting.

Never mind, he would be back soon and then she would be happy. Tarlock settled himself into the passenger seating amidst a large gaggle of buzzing tourists and shrugged it all from his mind, beginning to switch off in preparation for the long, boring overnight ride to Coruscant. The inevitable late arrivals dribbled on board until the plush passenger seats of the space shuttle were filled with chattering beings of all shapes, sizes and colours. Take off would follow shortly.

But the minutes crept on by and still there was no stirring from the craft's steady engines. Tarlock heaved a sigh as he began to feel the first twinges of impatience. Really, he was used to the inconsiderate stragglers but this was taking the space biscuit. Who in the galaxy was holding them up this long?

Tarlock twisted his eyestalks towards the boarding ramp, which was still open and allowing the late summer breeze to waft in. At first he could see nothing, then, all of a sudden, a long shadow fell across the short, metal ramp, cutting though the golden light of the setting sun. Tarlock's impatience fell dead and a nervous prickle stole up his spine as the shadow was followed by a tall, cloaked figure. His eyes followed it, fixated for some unknown reason, as it came striding smoothly up the landing ramp. The long, dark brown cloak and deep hood rendered the person impossible to identify. The late comer was definitely humanoid but all else was left to the imagination. Even the hands were tucked out of sight, lost in long, voluminous sleeves.

The stranger paused in the doorway to speak in low tones to the uniformed attendant. Tarlock's curiosity was peeked still further when, after just a few words, the young attendant straightened in respect and pointed the figure towards the passenger seating. Surely the attendant should have turned the late comer away. The shuttle was full.

Mystified, Tarlock watched the tall figure as he stepped away from the landing ramp and started towards the seats. His mind was working overtime, trying to place the stranger. A person of some importance? Tarlock couldn't imagine who. Senators and planetary leaders wouldn't usually deign to travel on such a humble passenger ship. They were rich enough to afford their own grand transports, riding in the lap of luxury whenever their duties carried them from their respective homeworlds.

On the other hand, this man certainly had the air of a king. His presence, even cloaked, radiated a quiet power, commanding attention. One by one the other passengers fell silent as a long, graceful stride carried the stranger down the isle on silent feet. A few pointed and murmured amongst themselves.

It was then that Tarlock realised just what he was looking at and very nearly dropped his briefcase.

It all fit. The dark robe. The aura of power that prickled the skin.

A Jedi! He was staring at nothing less than a Jedi Knight!

Never in all his days of travelling to Coruscant had he even caught a glimpse of one of these mysterious wizards. But he didn't need to be slapped in the face to know that he was looking at one right now. The stranger appeared exactly like all the holo films and stories promised. His children were crazy over them. An ancient piece in the very fabric of society. If rarely seen by many.

Tarlock's mouth gaped open.

He was actually sharing a ship with a living legend! Excitedly he recalled all that he knew of these sword wielding peace keepers and wondered how much of it was true. Were they truly wizards like people claimed? Could they really manipulate a great unseen power? Or the 'Force' as they liked to call it. It was whispered that they could harness its energy to do almost anything.

True or not, with these Jedi keeping the peace there hadn't been a full scale war in the Republic for over a thousand years. Tarlock's eyestalks waved slightly. That was quite a feat. Based on the rare sightings, there couldn't be all that many of them and it was a vast galaxy. To most beings the legendary feats of the Jedi were just that, legends, and fine fodder for all the trashy adventure novels ever written. Much to his children's delight.

Tarlock stared at the very real Knight moving in front of him now, feeling the presence radiate like an almost tangible thing. Was this one just returning to his Temple after saving the day in some distant part of the galaxy? The Temple of the Jedi Order had stood on Coruscant for centuries uncounted.

The great building was situated not far from the Republic Senate itself. A good position to be in if you needed to keep a finger on the pulse of the Galaxy. But aside from its location, nothing much else was known about the Temple. It was a place where outsiders were forbidden to tread. There were whisperings that it held a vast array of relics and priceless treasures. Secrets from bygone ages. Many would give their right arm for a glimpse of the inside. Tarlock supposed the rumours to be true. The Temple was thousands of years old and was bound to contain valuable pieces from the forgotten past. But he doubted the riches in the Temple were the glittering objects that most considered to be treasures. Even from the little he knew of the Jedi, Tarlock guessed they didn't hold much in store by luxuries. No, their treasure would be wrapped up in knowledge and learned wisdom, he was sure.

Tarlock dismissed the argument; he had never been interested in any of that anyway. As a father it was the subject of children that bothered him most. As far as he could gather, Jedi were forbidden to marry. Forbidden family or any sort of attachment. Some obscure part of their Code he imagined. The Jedi continued their religion through children claimed from around the galaxy. Children with potential. Their real families gave them up to the Order when they were identified as 'special'. Most never saw them again.

Tarlock was glad he had never had to make such a choice. The choice of giving his children to the Jedi, or keeping them and risking the ensuing confusion and loss of control when their abilities developed without guidance.

He had never had to make it, but he had faced it. As members of the Republic, his children were obliged to undergo a test shortly after birth. Like many families it was the closest brush he had ever had with the Order. His children had been checked for high levels of…of medi… medi-chlorians, was it? Apparently if beings possessed a high level of these things in their cells then they had a greater sensitivity to the great power – the 'Force'.

None of Tarlock's children had even registered on the scale. They possessed no Force talent whatsoever, much to his relief. Maybe that was why there were so few Knights. He couldn't imagine many parents wanting to give up their young to the Jedi. Even if it was for the greater good.

He spared a moment to feel sorry for the ones who did and had, then turned his thoughts back to the present subject of his curiosity.

The Jedi had not moved to sit with the other passengers; instead he'd gone straight to the front of the large cabin and was standing apart from them. There was no indication that he would even sit at all. He had settled where he stood.

As Tarlock continued to watch, a travel pack dropped to the Jedi's feet from one broad shoulder, then large, calloused hands came up, drawing back the concealing hood, letting it fall from the high head to blend in with the rest of the brown folds. The length of the robe fell open as the man's long arms dropped to his sides, giving Tarlock his first glimpse of what lay beneath.

He was human, and his long body was dressed in a layering of plain, tan tunics that covered him from his torso down to the knees. The layers of pale material looked comfortable and well worn, all bound in place by a cloth sash of the same colour wound tightly around the lean waist and secured with a leather utility belt. Long, sturdy boots went over loose fitting dark brown pants to complete the outfit.

The layers of brown and tan material were thick and nondescript but the Jedi's body still managed to speak of pure athleticism and strength, rising up until his head nearly brushed the ceiling.

The facial features were strong and broad, trimmed with the chin fur that many of the human species seemed to favour. A thick mane of brown hair fell just past his shoulders. The upper half was bound by a leather tie, keeping it from his face. A few streaks of distinguishing grey shot through the brown mass. A sign of age among humans.

The face itself was set in chiselled lines, betraying no thought or emotion. He would long ago have been shaped into something beyond the ordinary. An untouchable warrior. A heart filled with, not love, but wisdom and cool reason above the heads of ordinary mortals. One ready to draw his laser sword and lay down his life in defence of the innocent at a moment's notice.

Or so the stories lead one to believe. Tarlock tilted his head, trying to see something beneath the stern mask. There must be an actual person under that all that, mustn't there? The man was human after all.

Tarlock noted that the proud nose stood slightly crooked beneath the high brow, as though it had been broken several times. A thin, stern mouth could be seen through the neat beard, set like one that didn't smile often. Tarlock had taken the rugged features in at a glance but it was the man's eyes that drew him in and kept his attention. Deep set and dark blue, they appeared to hold the experience of the universe and all its weight therein. Laugh lines long faded trailed along the pale skin, indicating joy once known but long since forgotten.

He had been through a lot, this one. Tarlock decided that the grey wasn't all down to years. He felt relief again at his children's lack of Force talent.

Did this Jedi have any memories of his real family? Probably not.

He tore his gaze away from the Jedi's face before his scrutiny was noticed. He settled his eyes once again on the polished leather belt—and jumped. Any remaining doubts he had to this man's identity evaporated in to thin air. A black and silver cylinder was clipped at the trim waist. Large enough to be grasped comfortably in both of the mighty hands, it hung close against the Jedi's left thigh and within easy reach.

The hilt of a lightsaber.

Tarlock shuddered in wonder and not a little fear. He knew enough to recognise the weapon of a Jedi when he saw one. The laser of the sword's blade when activated was recorded to be able to cut through any object, any material. Iron, steel. Flesh and bone. It could take your head off in an instant. It would take a Jedi's powers to wield such a thing. Anyone else would be liable to cut off their own foot. It was said they were trained to use them from their first steps and, once fully trained, could handle the blade with such precision that they could sizzle a fly out of the air before one could so much as blink an eyelid. Jedis' reputation as fighters was deadly and unsurpassed. No known single warrior could stand against a Jedi Knight and win. Maybe even an army warriors if the vids were to be believed.

Looking at the man before him, Tarlock could very much believe it. Keeping the peace could be ironically violent, it seemed. His gaze travelled to the deep eyes again. He wondered who had ever gotten close enough to break this one's nose.

Tarlock flinched when the blue eyes turned suddenly and stared directly into his. The Jedi must have sensed his scrutiny and did not care for it. Stern and impassable, the eyes went straight through him. It felt to Tarlock as if all his deepest secrets were suddenly laid bare for the Jedi to see and judge. Shaken, he tore his gaze away. That gaze had probably boiled better psyches than his own. In that moment he could well imagine how many a troublesome leader had been brought to the negotiating table. He certainly wouldn't consider starting a war when faced with that.

He was very very glad these Jedi were the good guys. Though, he had heard it wasn't unknown for some of them to turn bad….

Tarlock shuddered and was careful to keep his eyes down after that. It was also said that Jedi could read and control minds if they wished and he definitely didn't want that.

The Jedi Temple, Coruscant:

Long laser blades flashed through the charged air of the darkened room.

Obi-Wan Kenobi ducked as the hot beam of the training sabre seared over his head. He could not see its blue glow through the heavy blindfold pressing down on his eyes but he knew it was there. He had to use the Force to know precisely when to dodge. The lightsaber hissed harmlessly through the air where his neck had been only a moment ago.

A blow there would signal the end of the match, with his opponent the winner.

"Good!" the gravely voice of Master Yoda floated up from the sidelines of the large training room. Obi-Wan could almost feel the ancient Jedi's pleasure at his performance. "Let go. Use your feelings, you must."

The words spurred the young man on. Tall and strong for his twelve years, an inexperienced observer may assume he would have the advantage in battle. But as a Jedi student, Obi-Wan knew size and strength counted for nothing where speed and agility were needed. Nor did they have any effect on the Force that he had struggled his entire life to master within these Temple walls.

Obi-Wan listened intently for the sound of his foe's lightsaber, for his breathing, for the scrape of his boot against the floor. Such sounds echoed loudly in the vaulted chamber. A random jumble of blocks added another element to the exercise. He had to use the Force to sense those, too. If he lost his concentration for even a moment, he would most definitely stumble on such uneven ground.

"Keep your guard up," Yoda warned.

Obi-Wan obediently raised his own thrumming, laser weapon. He felt the energy vibrate through his hands as he rolled quickly to the right. His opponent's blade slammed into the floor beside him. He took a small leap back and cleared a pile of blocks. The humming song of the other lightsaber slashed the air in front of him as his foe made a hasty strike, motivated by irritation and fatigue.

Good.

Sweat trickled underneath the blindfold, making his skin itch and his eyes sting. Obi-Wan blocked these physical distractions out as he had been taught, along with his satisfaction at his opponent's clumsiness. He could not permit them. Instead, he imagined himself as a full Jedi Knight of old, battling the dark powers of a Sith Lord.

In his mind's eye he saw the black robes of his foe swirl in a physical representation of the dark power radiating from the Sith's coiled body, barely restrained. Feral eyes gleamed yellow with evil's corruption, flashing as the Dark Lord swung his blood red lightsaber in challenge.

Instinct took over and Obi-Wan surrounded himself with the Light, combating the ancient Darkness. His every muscle was now tuned to the power of the Force. It moved through him, giving him the clarity and speed that he needed.

Obi-Wan swung his training blade and blocked the coming blow effortlessly, knowing exactly where it would strike. His evil attacker's red lightsaber hummed and whirled down. Obi-Wan leaped into the air, somersaulting over his opponent's head and thrust his lightsaber out. Right where the Sith's black heart would be.

The illusion shattered when the other student yelped in surprised rage as Obi-Wan's hot blade stung his neck. If he had been using a real Knight's weapon the strike would have decapitated. Luckily the training blade in his hands only gave a searing kiss, but one that the Healers might need to tend to.

"That was a lucky blow!" the wounded initiate shouted. The voice was familiar and highly unwelcome. Obi-Wan felt a sudden resentment curl in his stomach. Until now, he had not known who he was fighting. He'd been lead into the room blindfold. Now he knew. Bruck Chun. Obi-Wan's heart clenched. Like him Bruck was one of the oldest students at the Temple. Like him he had nearly completed this phase of his Jedi training.

"Bruck," Yoda called calmly. "Leave your blindfold on. A Jedi needs not his eyes to see."

Obi-Wan heard the other boy's blindfold slap to the ground regardless. Bruck's voice was choked with fury. "You clumsy oaf!"

"Calm yourself, you will!" Yoda's gentle voice was now edged with rare steel.

Obi-Wan winced, preparing for the storm that was about to break. Every student at the Jedi Temple had his or her own weaknesses. Obi-Wan knew his own all too well. Often he struggled to control his impulsiveness and his anger. His fear of not being good enough. It was the aim of every initiate to control these flaws and not let them drive his or her motives. Only when they succeeded in this could the student safely continue on the Jedi path. The Temple was a test of character as well as skill.

Bruck struggled with a simmering temper that could ignite quickly into a hot rage. He usually kept it well under control so that only the other initiates had glimpsed it. He also, unfortunately for Obi-Wan, held grudges. A year ago Obi-Wan had stumbled in a corridor, tripping Bruck, who had fallen. It had been a complete accident caused by legs and feet that were growing too fast on both boys, but Bruck had been sure that Obi-Wan had done it deliberately. The other students' laughter had eaten into Bruck's pride and goaded his temper. Obi-Wan often wondered how someone like him had made it this far though his training. He'd called Obi-Wan an oaf, then-Oafy-Wan.

The name had stuck.

The worst thing was that it was true. Often Obi-Wan felt that he was growing too fast. He couldn't seem to catch up with his long legs and big feet. A Jedi should feel comfortable in his body, Obi-Wan just felt awkward. Only when he was at one with the Force did he feel at all graceful or sure.

"Come on, Oafy!" Bruck taunted. Obi-Wan pressed his lips together. Bruck must be really angry to display this much insolence in front of the Order's most revered Master. "See if you can hit me again! One last time before they throw you out of the Temple, you waste of space!"

"Bruck! Enough!" Yoda snapped. "Learn to lose as well as win, a Jedi must. Go back to your rooms to meditate, you will!"

Yoda's intervention came too late. Bruck's words cut at Obi-Wan like a knife, well aimed as they were. In four weeks he would turn thirteen and his Temple training would be at an end. Time was running out. No Jedi Master had offered to take him on as their Padawan apprentice and thus continue his journey on the Jedi path. If he was not chosen before his birthday, then the Code dictated that he was too old and the Council would reassign him. He would never become a Knight – the very goal he had worked his entire life to achieve. The thought made him ill. Taunts like Bruck's were becoming more and more frequent. He'd been listening intently for rumours only to find that no Jedi was scheduled to come in search of a Padawan before the dreaded deadline. He was deadly afraid now that he'd never fulfil his dream. The fear fuelled him enough to make a foolish boast.

"You don't have to send him away, Master Yoda," he said. "I'm not afraid to fight him without his blindfold."

He could well imagine the flush that would be creeping up toward Bruck's white-blonde hairline right now and the distinctive narrowing of ice blue eyes. He also imagined Yoda's thoughtful nod, as he absorbed the rash words. The truth was Obi-Wan was just as exhausted as Bruck. He secretly hoped Yoda would send them both back to their rooms instead of letting them fight again.

After a long moment, however, Yoda agreed. "Continue, you will. Much to learn you still have. Use the blindfolds, you must."

Obi-Wan turned and bowed respectfully in Master Yoda's direction. He knew the ancient Master was well aware of his fatigue. Although he wished for a reprieve, he accepted the wisdom of all Yoda's decisions, great and small. This must be his lesson.

Obi-Wan tightened his blindfold and pushed away the aches of his body, willing it to obey. He tried to forget he was fighting Bruck, or that his chance at becoming a Jedi Knight was almost past. He concentrated instead on the flow of the Force, a cleansing light around and within him. He could feel the living Force in Bruck and the darkened ripples caused by the other boy's deep anger. He had to resist the hot irritation that rose in response.

In the name of the Light, what was his problem?

Assuming a defensive stance, he let the Force guide him as Bruck lunged. He danced out of the way and parried the blow with ease. He used the Force to jump high into the air, avoiding the next strike and landed behind a pillar. Three meters. Not bad. Lightsabers smashed together, sputtered, burned, then whisked away. The air soon became clogged with the energy of battle.

For minutes on end the two students fought a graceful dance. Obi-Wan leaped away from every attack and blocked every jarring blow. He did not try to strike back. Not once. He would let the other boy see that he was not clumsy. He would let him see it over and over without ever taking the offensive.

Sweat began to drench Obi-Wan's tunics. His muscles were awash with burning acid. He could hardly breathe fast enough to get the air he needed. But as long as he did not attack in anger, the Force remained strong with him. He tried no to think of the fight. He lost himself in the dance and soon he felt so weary that he did not think at all.

Bruck fought slower and slower. In the end Obi-Wan did not even have to dodge the weary attacks. He merely let them slide to the side until, finally, Bruck gave up.

"Good, Obi-Wan," Yoda called warmly. "Learning you are."

Smiling widely, Obi-Wan switched off the training sabre and hung it on his belt. He removed the blindfold and used the material to swipe the sweat from his face. Next to him, Bruck was doubled over, panting. He did not look at Obi-Wan.

"You see," Yoda said. "To defeat an enemy, you do not have to kill. Defeat the rage that burns him and he is your enemy no longer. Rage the true enemy is."

Obi-Wan understood this wisdom well, but Bruck's glazed glare told him that he had not defeated his opponent's anger. Nor had he won the other boy's respect.

The two boys turned to Yoda and bowed solemnly before kneeling before him, but even on their knees, they still had to look down to meet Yoda's eyes. Standing at less than a meter tall, the venerable Jedi was one of the smallest Masters in the Order – in physical stature. In the light of the Force, however, Yoda was a giant. His Force presence dwarfed that of the students.

Obi-Wan gazed upon him with a deep respect mixed with warm fondness. For all of his short life, Yoda had been a constant, unfailing presence. The strange little Master had overseen Obi-Wan's growth in the Force since infancy. Just as he had every Jedi for the last ten generations. Aged at over eight-hundred years old, Yoda had probably forgotten more than Obi-Wan would ever know.

The old Master leaned heavily upon his wooden gimer stick and glanced up at him. The long, pointed ears tilted forward from the sides of his wizened head, protruding from the wispy, white hair that stood out in stark contrast to his green skin. Obi-Wan had never discovered to which species Master Yoda belonged. He suspected nobody knew. Except maybe Master Yaddle. She was the same. Though maybe not quite so old.

The large, grey-green eyes smiled. "Enough for one day," Yoda said. "Tired you are and rest you both need, hmm yes. Very important it is." His eyes fixed on Obi-Wan for a moment longer than necessary as he said this. The young man was quick to pick up on the gesture. Yoda never said or did anything idly. His head tilted slightly in thought. Rest you both need.What could be so important that he require rest?

Before he could let his mind dwell on the question, Yoda continued. "Tomorrow, a Jedi Knight comes to the Temple seeking a Padawan. Ready for him you must be."

With those words, Obi-Wan's world was suddenly turned blissfully upside down. There was a moment of disbelief and Obi-Wan had to stop himself from asking Yoda to repeat the words. A Knight was coming? A Knight was actually coming to the Temple in search of an apprentice! Obi-Wan had to call on a life time of training to contain his delight, excitement and boundless relief at this unexpected news. All was not lost after all! Usually, when a Jedi came to the Temple in search of a Padawan Learner, rumours beat the arrival by weeks. He hadn't wanted to admit it but he had lost hope. Now after all the pain and heartbreak, a Knight was coming. Here. Tomorrow!

"Who?" Obi-Wan asked, unable to contain himself any longer. He could hear his own heart thudding heavily in his chest. "Who's coming?"

"Know of him, you do," Yoda said, and Obi-Wan could tell the Master was secretly smiling at his barely disguised eagerness. "Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Be here by morning, he will."

Obi-Wan's eyebrows shot up. One surprise after another. Qui-Gon Jinn. Now that was a name he certainly did know.

Master Jinn was renowned throughout the Order. Exceptionally strong in the Living Force, he had a unique connection to the life energy that bound the universe together. As a swordsman he was said to be almost unrivalled, the best seen in centuries and one of the Jedi's most skilful negotiators. He was also rumoured to be a bit of a loner. A mystery. A maverick. One who followed his own instincts when it came to interpreting the will of the Force. His clashes with the collective wisdom of the Jedi Council were the stuff of legend among the initiates and added to his appeal. Many of them would give their right arm, or the alien equivalent, to become that man's Padawan Learner.

Yet, despite the best efforts from the best of the Temple students, none had ever succeeded in gaining the honour so far. For the past six years Master Jinn had travelled back to the Temple to look over potential initiates. Each time he left without taking a new Padawan, leaving only disappointment in his wake.

Obi-Wan had heard that Qui-Gon had lost his first and last apprentice in a bloody battle. No one knew exactly what had happened. Obi-Wan assumed the student must have been killed, because ever since that day Master Jinn had vowed never to take another Padawan. He returned each year only because the Council made him. He would spend a few hours watching the pupils, studying them as if looking for something that no one else could see. Then he would leave empty handed, going back to fight the darkness alone.

Obi-Wan's hopes died as fast as they had risen. Qui-Gon had rejected many students. What made him think he would be the one to please him?

"He won't want me," he muttered in bleak defeat. An invisible fist closed his throat, choking him with despair. "No one does."

Yoda squinted up at him, eyes steeped in infinite wisdom. "Hummmph!" he grumbled. "Always in motion is the future. One cannot be sure, but sensed I have… a kinder destiny for you."

Something in Yoda's tone made Obi-Wan wonder. The fist at his throat loosened. "Will he choose me?"

"On Qui-Gon that depends - and you," Yoda said. "Come before him tomorrow with the Force as your ally. Perhaps accept you, he will." Yoda reached up and put a comforting, three fingered hand on his arm. "Either way, it matters not. Leave the Temple soon you shall. But tell you I must, to lose such an apt pupil, I am sorry."

Startled and pleased, Obi-Wan beamed gratefully at Yoda. In that moment he felt that even if he didn't become a Knight, he could go on with his head held high. He had earned Master Yoda's good opinion and that was a great gift.

Yoda patted his arm once then turned and shuffled from the room. The tap of his gimer stick echoed faintly on the stone floor as he went. The lights powered down automatically and dusky shadows moved in to dominate the area.

There was a moment's quiet before the stillness was broken by a sudden laugh. The high mocking sound cut through the silence left by the old Master's departure. Obi-Wan gritted his teeth. He had almost forgotten about Bruck.

"Oh, don't get your hopes up, Oafy," Bruck said. "He's just tying to make you feel better. The Masters won't be able to push you onto anyone. There are plenty of better candidates for Master Jinn than you."

Obi-Wan stiffened. Hot anger trickled through him, muddying the happiness brought about by Yoda's words. He felt tempted to point out that Bruck was not one of those better candidates. Instead he headed for the doorway.

He had taken but one step when something hard hit the back of his head. The sound of the blow against Obi-Wan's skull reverberated through the room.

Bruck had thrown a training probe.

Obi-Wan spun to face the other boy in open shock as Bruck sneered. Bruck was often cruel, but not usually so brazen. Breathing deep Obi-Wan let the shock and hurt pass through him as he had been taught. It did no good. As he centred himself, a terrible truth struck him like a thunderbolt.

"You knew that Master Jinn was coming to the Temple, didn't you?" Obi-Wan accused, his suspicions hardening into a hard knot of certainty. Being the oldest student in the Temple, the Masters would encourage Qui-Gon to accept him-the lost cause. Bruck did not want that to happen.

The other boy's own thirteenth birthday was only three months away and, now that he was looking, Obi-Wan could clearly see his own greatest fear reflected back at him in the ice blue eyes of his rival. Fear of never being chosen. In this one thing, they were the same.

"I made sure you didn't find out," Bruck smiled. "And you never would have if I'd had my way."

Obi-Wan stiffened at the admission. Any sympathy or understanding he might have felt for Bruck died in the face of the other boy's maliciousness. His temper spiked as the full extent of the plan hit home. Bruck hoped to become Qui-Gon's Padawan. He wanted it so badly that he was willing to lie and cheat to eliminate his biggest threat. He had tried to keep Obi-Wan from preparing. Thanks to Yoda that plan was now out of the window but the realisation was still a shock. Jedi were taught to conduct themselves with fairness and honour, as children they were surrounded by it. To be suddenly faced with such callous selfishness was like a slap across Obi-Wan's face.

He stared across the room into Bruck's taunting eyes and the reason for the other boy's brazen goading was now painfully clear. He was deliberately trying to get Obi-Wan to lose his temper. His anger and impatience had always been his downfall in the past. Bruck knew that very well and now he was trying to use it in a last ditch effort to ruin Obi-Wan's chances.

Well he would not let Bruck win. He could not let him see the fear he felt and how close it was taking him to the edge, fear that he just wasn't good enough to be a Padawan. So instead of rising to the bait, Obi-Wan forced a smile onto his face. "Bruck, in three months from now, I hope you make a wonderful farmer." It was the worst insult he could muster, to suggest that Bruck's mastery of the Force was so small that he would be fit only for the Agricultural Corps.

With that he spun on his heel and stalked out before he did something he regretted.

He felt Bruck's rage blaze behind him. "You won't succeed, Kenobi!" he shouted. "I'll make sure of it!"

Grinding his teeth, Obi-Wan ignored the words with a titanic effort and carried on walking. He had to prepare for tomorrow. Even if nothing else was certain, Bruck Chun was going to get a painful lesson in humility. No matter what, Obi-Wan would not let him win.

"Are you sure what you are doing is wise?"

Yoda turned as the broad, dark figure of Mace Windu came striding up beside him. Without invite, the other Council member joined him in his journey towards the Room of a Thousand Fountains, adjusting his long stride to match Yoda's more sedate limp.

Yoda peered up at him. Mace's strong, dark face was as impassive as ever in the dim light of evening, the soft lamps above shone faintly upon the clean shaven head. Piercing black eyes studied Yoda no less openly – eyes that many students, and no small amount of Knights, claimed could burn right through flesh and reduce a kryat dragon to ash. Yoda cackled at the notion, intimidated none by the other Master. He had known Mace since he was a squalling youngling in the crèche, and could readily dig up stories that would make the intimidating man squirm.

Hmmm. Maybe need it, Mace did sometimes. Too serious he was.

"Wise, my old friend?" Yoda asked.

"You know of what I speak," Mace accused. "You are scheming to bring Qui-Gon and this Kenobi boy together. I just wanted you to know that I do not fully agree. Jinn is not ready for another such Padawan. There are others that would be better suited. More controlled and steady on the path."

Yoda paused then shook his head slowly. At first glance maybe true that was. But first glance one should never take. He had often wondered why young Obi-Wan had been overlooked by so many Masters. More than enough potential, he certainly had. Now Yoda thought he knew. Waiting the Force was.

To Mace he said, "Jedi to the core, young Obi-Wan is. Surer on the path than many of us in his heart. Simply needs the chance to grow with the right teacher he does. Compete before Qui-Gon tomorrow, he will. Foreseen it I have. Hard was the blow of betrayal on our friend, when turned his back on the Jedi, Xanatos did. Hasn't let go of that, has Qui-Gon. Bitterness clings to his soul. Peace he cannot find. Not good for a Jedi. Needs another to reopen his heart, get him to let go fears he does not even know."

"And you think this boy is such a one?" Mace raised a critical eyebrow.

Yoda sighed at the other Master's lack of faith, though he understood well Mace's reticence. Close friends he and Qui-Gon had always been through childhood. Though they had grown apart over recent years, following Mace's election to the Council and Qui-Gon's loss, concerned for his old friend Mace still was. Didn't want to see him hurt again.

Yoda halted and gave the other Master his full attention. "Agree with you, I do," he said, "that neither is ready. But works in mysterious ways the Force does. Bring Master and Padawan together it may yet, for need each other, these two do." He pushed all of his certainty into the last.

Mace shook his smooth head, but it wasn't a gesture of outright denial. He was silent for a long moment as he considered Yoda's words. In the end all he said was, "I hope you're right."

Yoda cackled, green eyes dancing. "Right I nearly always am. Realise this one day, you will." He smacked Mace's shins with his gimer stick, enjoying the wince that cracked the other Council member's seemingly permanent glower. "When eight hundred years old you reach, be as wise as me, you will not!"

Orbit, Coruscant:

Tarlock woke as the shuttle touched Coruscant's upper atmosphere. It's outer hull blushed with heat as it kissed the upper layer and dropped lower. In seconds they were nosing through a heavy cloud bank masking the rising sun from the planet below.

Tarlock's eyestalks flicked forward. The Jedi still stood unmoving up front. Still as a statue. Tall frame ramrod straight. He may well have been standing there all night staring out of that porthole. Tarlock shook his head. It was unnatural.

Turning his own eyes to the window, he watched as the endless cityscape of the Republic's Capital planet came into view far below. Everywhere one looked they were faced with gleaming buildings thousands of meters tall, arcing walkways and floating landing pads. No forests, no mountains, no oceans were to be found. The shining city dominated the whole surface of Coruscant. The vista was nothing short of breathtaking, the scale and engineering feat mind blowing. Tarlock couldn't help being blown away every time he saw it. The city had dominated the planet for thousands of years, home to billions, from the leaders of the galaxy to the lowliest shop owner. The epicentre of the Galactic Republic's civilization and culture.

The floor tilted as the small ship quickly manoeuvred to join the bustling air lanes crisscrossing Coruscant's skyline. Tarlock felt a familiar queasiness fluttering through his system. This next part he was less than fond of as the pilot jockeyed for position among the other countless vessels travelling the city planet. It was forever busy on Coruscant. As the Capital of the Republic there could be no help for that.

The little ship swerved and jinked, causing her passengers to take a firmer grip on their seats. The Jedi reached for nothing. His booted feet were firmly planted as he rode out the shuttle's manoeuvres with the serene assurance and grace of a trained warrior. Tarlock supposed he hadn't expected anything less.

The strange man had not spoken to anyone since boarding. Awe and not a small amount of fear had kept most of the other passengers from trying to approach him, and the Jedi had made no attempt to break the boundaries and set them at ease. With his imposing height he was a forbidding spectacle and seemed to be in no mood for excited questions.

Of course some of the bolder tourists had tried, but a slicing blue glance had quickly made them realise they had more pressing things to study. The Jedi had pulled deeper into his cloak and aura of brooding mystery. The lightsaber was now kept well from prying eyes.

The ship settled, levelling out after successfully pushing into one of the air lanes. Tarlock returned his gaze to the window. His long eyestalks made it a simple thing for him to see out and look at the world below. They were now passing over the Senatorial District, Coruscant's richest quarter. Huge, silvery apartments reached for the sky, rippling out in an ever widening circumference from the golden dome of the Senate building itself.

Grand homes of the Republic's Senators, the places where they lived when they came to represent their respective planets before the Chancellor. For thousands of years the Republic had governed most of the known galaxy in peace. Everyday hundreds more planets petitioned for membership and it was up to the elected Chancellor and the Senate to govern each one fairly and peacefully, meeting the needs of countless billions and making sure the Republic's laws were honoured.

Not an easy task with so many divided opinions and interests. No wonder they needed the Jedi to meditate the numerous upsets.

In contrast to the tall buildings around it, the Senate building itself was relatively squat, crouching among its flamboyant cousins, but no less grand for it. Its round, gilded dome glinted gold as a ray of sunlight broke through the cloud cover, setting it alight in a dazzling display.

Ignoring the gasps coming from all around him, Tarlock's experienced eye noted the many transports docked around the building's expansive girth. The Senate must be in session. He wondered distantly for the reason before dismissing it. As a small businessman, it was no concern of his.

What was his concern, however, was the fact that the shuttle hadn't turned in its usual direction. He felt a flash of annoyance. If he was late for his meeting, he'd-

The thoughts trailed off abruptly when he caught sight of the new direction they were taking.

The Jedi Temple was now looming upon the skyline. The five distinctive spires reached gallantly for the sky, rising straight up from the great, blocky base. Tarlock's eyes widened as they drew quickly nearer. Of course! They would have to drop off their unexpected guest first.

He laughed under his breath at how unexpected life could be sometimes. When he had started this trip he would never have believed he would be sharing a transport with a Jedi Knight, much less that he would be docking along the sacred walls of the Temple itself!

But after a few short minutes that's exactly what he was doing. The ship reached the Temple, flying right up to the gleaming glass and steel walls. Their ship was dwarfed by the sheer scale of the building, like an insect buzzing along the fat flank of a nerf. They flew round once until the pilot docked at the main landing bay. Excited murmurs broke out all around the tiny ship and for once Tarlock was as excited and as awed as the tourists. As the forward landing ramp lowered, all eyes, eye-stalks or other sensory appendages strained to catch a glimpse of the Temple's interior.

Tarlock was surprised when out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Jedi's broad shoulders sag slightly. It was the only indication of emotion the tall man had ever shown. He looked… sad. Tarlock didn't understand. He wondered what could possibly make him so reluctant to be home. But the answer to that question would never be his and curiosity was cut short as the Jedi strode down the ramp without even a backward glance. The ramp swung back into place, blocking their brief view and rousing disappointed murmurs.

As the shuttle took off and left the Temple behind, the murmurs and complaints at the swift departure continued. Tarlock himself found he could not complain. He had gotten far more than he could have hoped for on this journey. What a story he would have for his children this evening when he returned home. He had flown with a real, breathing Jedi Knight! He smiled quietly to himself. Maybe now his wife wouldn't worry so much. Not if she knew he was sharing transports with the great Guardians of the Galaxy…