The Field Trip
The next day, it rained.
It was not a day in which rain happened to fall; it was a day on which the entire world, as far as the eye could see, was devoted to the singular purpose of rain. Tanaab's barren peninusula, the narrow ridge of hills which walled off its fertile plains from the wasteland, its ocean and distant mountainous heights – all were committed to the act of rain. The sky was a vessel for water, the earth a cup to receive it. It pounded and drove against the thermal shelters, as though an unending waterfall sought to flatten them beneath its deluge.
The Jedi simply waited it out. A few of the more restless Padawans took a marathon run in the rain, simply for the exercise. The masters meditated, or held lengthy philosophical discussions in the confines of the scattered tents. Feld Spruu entertained his friends with a long recitation of his recent misadventures on Yavin, and was mildly reproved for frivolity by his master. Ky Shinshee maintained a sullen silence, and spent the day dismantling and reassembling the ship's stabilizer array, under the watchful eye of his own teacher. Master Pertha made a brief expedition into the wilderness and returned with several fascinating specimens of venomous amphibians which only emerged during flood season. He and Qui Gon Jinn spent a happy morning admiring these rare and glorious manifestations of the Living Force.
Obi Wan slept. Then woke, and ate, and grumpily declined an invitation to admire the aforesaid glorious manifestations. He also declined an invitation to play sabaac with Qui Gon, on the grounds that he was quite done with endeavors that led inevitably to his own defeat. He also declined an invitation to curb his sharp wit and modify his tone to the respectful one befitting a young Padawan, whereupon he was summarily assigned three hours' intense meditation as punishment and cure. Afterwards, markedly subdued, he ate again and then – having nothing else to decline or otherwise occupy his attention – he went back to sleep.
And so the day passed.
The sky was a brilliant blue-purple the next morning, scrubbed and scoured by the violent storm. The air still held the tang of lightning and the fresh scent of wet earth. Tanaab's pale sun warmed the group standing around Master Pertha at the edge of another boulder-strewn expanse of land, a jutting rise surrounded on three sides by the sea. Their transport sat at the far end of this promontory, gleaming in the morning light.
"Now," Master Pertha addressed the gathered Padawans. "This is the last day of our excursion. And it is designed to teach you something very important: the nature of failure."
Obi Wan sighed deeply.
"As you can see, the transport sits at the southern extremity of this smaller peninsula. That marks the boundary of our playing field. The cliffs," he swept his arm out to encompass the sharp outline of the bluffs, and the sea sparkling beyond them, "Are the other boundary. By nightfall, or before, I expect to see all of you on board again. When we are all safely together, we shall make the return journey to Coruscant."
There was a collective murmur of wistful regret. Many of them wished to stay here longer, on vacation from the rigors of Temple life. Obi Wan made a private mental note that many of his peers were a trifle barmy. A side effect of head injuries sustained in the dojo, perhaps. He glanced sideways, but Qui Gon was nowhere to be seen. None of the masters except Agrion Pertha were. They had been missing since dawn.
The old Togruta Jedi raised a hand. "Your masters have hidden themselves on this peninsula. As you can see, the terrain offers ample opportunity for concealment. Their task today is to capture you, by whatever means necessary, and to bring you back to the ship. I am told," he added with a flicker of a smile, "That prisoners will be assigned extra studies to complete on the journey home."
Stifled groans. A Jedi did not complain – but still...
"Your task is simple. You must evade your respective masters for as long as you are able. There will, of course, be no winners today. May the Force be with you."
Master Pertha bowed to them once and strode away, straight across the green swath, toward the waiting transport. His robe billowed gently behind him. On every side, boulders and chunks of stone cast crisp morning shadows. The Force rippled with a playful, ominous anticipation. The group of Padawans drew together a bit closer.
Feld Spruu made a rueful face and laid a hand on Obi Wan's arm. "I wish you the best today, Kenobi. I would not desire to go up against Master Jinn, myself."
"Neither would I," he admitted.
Feld nodded and cast his gaze about them in a wide circle, then departed at a long, loping jog, weaving between the tumbled stones and shadows like a blue ghost. The others quickly scattered also, intent on evading capture as long as possible.
Obi Wan sat down upon the damp earth, cross-legged. He breathed in. Out, banishing tension. In, gathering the Force. Out.
He had no doubt that Qui Gon would find him. There was no possible way he could avoid the immensely powerful and cunning Jedi master, even for a short time. Recognition of limits is a vital skill. What purpose was there, then, in running? A Jedi did not run or hide from the inevitable. He faced it, squarely. Serenely. Sometimes it could not be helped, and in such cases there was no fault or blame in defeat. Not every failure implies a mistake. He was not fool enough to think that he could match Qui Gon Jinn in such a contest. Overconfidence is a failing indeed. His only asset, if it could be counted as such, was his knowledge, his understanding of these truths. He had them already, before this last exercise began. And so, the purpose of the trip fulfilled, there was no reason for him to strive for impossible success. Sometimes it is better to surrender than to persevere in a hopeless struggle.
The sun rose slowly. He breathed. In. Out. Tanaab was beautiful…from a certain point of view. Failure itself could be graceful, serene. From a certain point of view. In. Out.
A hand touched the back of his neck, and the snap-hiss-thrum of a saber blade sounded just behind his shoulder. He had not even sensed the tall man's approach, so fatally perfect were Qui Gon's shielding skills.
There was a pause. "Padawan. You haven't moved from your starting position."
Obi Wan watched the only wisp of cloud in the sky slowly dissipate, its ragged edges blurring into the endless lilac-blue of the sky. "I knew you would find me," he explained. "I can't beat you at this game. You said –"
The saber snapped as it deactivated. "I said what?"
Obi Wan bowed his head. "I knew I would fail today. So I have accepted it. I'm not…fighting against it anymore. Isn't that what I'm supposed to learn from this?"
He heard Qui Gon's breath released in a slow deliberate stream. The tall man's shadow moved, fell across the bending grass, and then Qui Gon himself appeared before him, sinking onto one knee on the cool earth. The grass smelled sweet where it was crushed by his boots. The Force continued to gently shred the cloud overhead into misting fragments. It was warm, but the breeze was cool.
"I have never before known you to give up," Qui Gon said, at last. He sounded tired, perhaps even unsure of himself. Obi Wan did not meet his eyes. "My intention was not to break your spirit, Padawan."
The young Jedi fumbled with his saber hilt, and held it out. Qui Gon's broad hand closed around the comparatively slender hilt. The weapon was newly-made, the trophy and triumph of a recent trip to Ilum. It was discipline and strength and obedience and compassion all at once. "I surrender," Obi Wan said, simply.
Qui Gon stood up. The cloud's last tatters melted in the sun. The Force was shadowed with a thin veil of regret. "Padawan," the Jedi master began again, struggling for words, but he did not finish. He watched as his apprentice stood and then gestured toward the ship at the far end of the peninsula.
They walked in silence. ObI Wan trailed along, taking up the traditional position one step behind and to the left of his teacher. It wasn't their custom, but he stayed there anyway, meekly pacing behind the tall master, head down. An unvoiced melancholy tainted the Force around Qui Gon, slowed his habitually long strides. He seemed…disappointed. Guilty.
Master Pertha was outside the ship, eagerly poking in some insect hive formations in the rocky turf a short distance from the boarding ramp.
"Qui Gon!" he called out as they approached. "There appear to be phyllasta cariolistus here…fascinating." His golden face creased in concern when he spotted the young Padawan lingering behind. "Have you hunted down your quarry so quickly? Alas."
The Jedi master spared a swift look over his shoulder, then nodded once. "I believe we are finished here on Tanaab."
Agrion Pertha looked solemn. "I see," he murmured. "You are the first back, of course. You may as well make yourselves comfortable. You will excuse me if I remain here – a chance to observe such phenomena in person is a rare blessing."
They climbed up the boarding ramp in silence. The ship was spacious enough, especially now when they were the only occupants. The aft cargo bay was fitted with a small brig – a convenient feature, useful when the vessel was taken on missions involving wanted criminals or other dangerous beings to be taken into custody. They paused before its entrance. Clearly, the charade of taking Padawans prisoner was to be carried out with great thoroughness. Obi Wan's shoulders hunched as he peered into the bland confines of the cell.
Qui Gon sighed and hooked both thumbs through his wide belt, gazing down on his Padawan. His mouth was thin, the faint lines in his forehead and around his eyes softened with concern. His grey eyes themselves seemed to look to the future, the past, and then to settle gently in the present moment. "Obi Wan, " he said, hesitating. "I think perhaps I have….overdone it, as you are so fond of saying. When we return to the Temple, I wish to discuss this trip with you."
"Yes, master." He still couldn't meet Qui Gon's gaze. He could feel his master's remorse and unease through the Force; the barely-contained emotion – so unlikely, so startling – tightened his own throat. He truly, truly, had not intended such a thing…
"I'm sorry, master."
A strong hand reached down, tipped his chin upward. "For what?" Qui Gon inquired, softly.
"For this." And he acted.
His Force-push sent Qui Gon tumbling into the open brig, and a smart snap of his palm against the control panel outside the door brought the shimmering energy barrier across the threshold, sealing it. Heart thundering against his ribs, Obi Wan paused only long enough to draw in two victorious, gasping breaths as he looked through the colored haze at his mentor.
Qui Gon had recovered instantly – but not fast enough. He stood a hands-width from the barrier, towering over his Padawan, his eyes full of shock and laughter and a dangerous light the young Jedi did not care to interpret. All self-recrimination and pity had fled the tall master's face; he seemed to scowl and wilt with relief at the same time.
"Impudent brat," he snarled, his eyes laughing.
Obi Wan offered a brilliant grin in reply and dashed forward to the cockpit. Master Pertha was still outside, absorbed in zoological bliss, unsuspecting. The boarding ramp hissed closed. The magnetic moorings released. Repulsors. Thrusters. Manual helm control. Obi Wan hated flying, but that didn't mean he wasn't competent. In less than a minute he had the ship off the ground and sailing serenely across the peninsula toward Tanaab's glittering sea. He rose high into the atmosphere, the cloudless gorgeous sky, the flawless heavenly purple-blue splendor of this lovely planet, and set the autopilot to make one complete rotation along this latitude, at an economical cruising speed.
Then he returned to the brig.
Qui Gon was kneeling in meditation posture behind the glowing energy field. His eyes opened when he sensed the younger Jedi's return. Obi Wan knelt down, too, across from him, on the other side of the barrier. The Jedi master nodded once, in acknowledgement or approval, and closed his eyes again.
Obi Wan closed his eyes too. It was peaceful here, far above Tanaab's wild, undulating surface. He breathed in. Out. Failure had many aspects, many lessons to teach. But it could also be a powerful ally. One just had to befriend it first.
In. Out. They rested in the Force together.
Many hours later, Master Agrion Pertha was able to demonstrate his seldom-employed but still formidable negotiating skills to the bedraggled company of masters and Padawans who waited forlornly on the peninsula for their transport to return. The aging Togruta Jedi was able – after an extended bargaining session – to convince the young brigand who had stolen the ship and taken Master Jinn hostage that the common good outweighed his own personal ambitions. The terms were at last agreed upon: the ship was returned and Master Jinn released, in exchange for the liberation of all seven Padawan captives, and a universal revocation of the proposed extra studies for the journey home.
Obi Wan stood respectfully to one side of the boarding ramp's open hatchway as the other Jedi filed their way inside. Master Pertha fixed him with a singularly penetrating gaze. He bowed deeply to the revered Togruta, his hands folded properly into opposite sleeves. Other masters and students ascended behind him, in ones and twos. None of them made eye contact. The masters' faces were stern. Ky Shinshee paused in mid-stride, stared at the young Padawan for a moment, and then scowled. Obi Wan was taken aback, but he held the older Padawan's disapproving glare without flinching. Ky's master did not smile as he passed, but gave Qui Gon a very odd look indeed. The tall man appeared not to notice. Feld Spruu came last, closing the hatch behind him. "You know what, Obi-Nobi," he said, conspiratorially, as he leaned in close. "They are either going to kick you out of the Order or stick you on the Council. Either way, Master Jinn will not be too pleased eh?"
Qui Gon saved him from making a reply. "Master Jinn," that person said dryly, "Is not too pleased to be the subject of idle conversation."
Feld's lekku twitched as he made an apologetic bow. "I meant no disrespect, master," he muttered, and withdrew, still managing a surreptitious wink at Obi Wan as he disappeared into the forward cabin.
Qui Gon found space for them on a narrow passenger bench built into the curving bulkhead. Obi Wan sat beside his teacher, shifting a little to peer curiously through the open portal leading to the forward cabin and cockpit.
"They are avoiding me," he said, puzzled.
The tall Jedi chuckled and stretched his legs out into the aisle. "Yes. That was quite the stunt you pulled today."
The Padawan colored. "It was just an exercise."
"Hm." Qui Gon's gaze tracked idly over the white ceiling, with its blinking light panels and vent gratings. "Nonetheless, I think Master Pertha has half a mind to go before the Council with an official complaint about your insubordination."
"Padawan." Qui Gon held up one finger for silence. "After you…ah…took advantage of my distraction – which , I might add, was a very cunning manipulation – what happened when Master Pertha contacted you?"
"He didn't seem displeased, master. He simply said that the exercise was finished because all the others had returned to the rendezvous point. Then he ordered me to return with the ship."
"And instead of complying, you told him you were open to negotiation."
Obi Wan nodded, a barely-suppressed grin revealing his dimples.
Qui Gon's eyebrows rose. "After Master Pertha told you the exercise was finished."
The mischievous smile faded to an expression of stunned horror. "Oh," the young Jedi breathed.
"You overdid it," Qui Gon observed.
Obi Wan's fingers curled into the voluminous folds of his robe. He studied the scuffed deck matting. "I …thought I had succeeded today," he intoned flatly.
One corner of the master's mouth twitched upward. "Oh, you succeeded. In gaining the attention of others. Indeed, I daresay you will live in infamy from this day forward, as an incorrigible scoundrel."
The boy slumped a bit, though he kept his face carefully neutral.
Qui Gon patted his knee. "It's not so bad. I'm told the company is quite good."
Obi Wan looked up at his oft-denounced teacher, the Order's resident maverick and legendary rebel, and managed a faint smile. The company was good. He supposed he could grow accustomed to infamy.
Qui Gon folded his hands into opposite sleeves and leaned back comfortably. "I expected far better from you, Padawan," he said sternly, the twinkle in his grey eyes in flat contradiction to his somber demeanor.
"I'm truly sorry, master."
The twinkle brightened into a gleam. "This trip was a resounding failure, I would say."
"Yes, master." Obi Wan imitated his mentor's posture, thrusting his own hands into the opposite sleeves of his robe, and settling back against the thinly padded bench.
Qui Gon glanced sideways at him, once, and gave the slightest nod of approval. The Force warmed with confidence and contentment. Obi Wan closed his eyes and relaxed into a detached serenity. So far as this trip was concerned, he was a complete failure.
It was good.