Letter Perfect

In honor of the clever pseudo-philologist who contrived the GFFA's Aurebesh writing system. Whoever you are.

They knelt at the low tables, everyone in his place. Garen tried to take somebody else's place and had to be reprimanded by Ali Alaan, and then little U'zahm wandered away and had to be fetched and set back in his place and by then nobody was paying attention.

The crechemaster clapped his hands, twice, once, twice, once, three times. A dozen sets of much smaller hands imitated the rhythm: one two one two one three. The tall, dark-haired master held both arms high, palms pressed together, standing mountain asana. The entire group bounced to its feet, promptly transforming into a ragged line of foothills, uneven peaks straining upward with juvenile enthusiasm.

Master Ali bent forward, crouching colwar- and the younglings happily followed suit.

"Raaaaaaaahr!" Garen exclaimed.

Lapping waves. Rising sun. Sleeping rock. Twelve small bodies curled into quiescent balls, heads tucked down beside bent knees, hands folded neatly beneath their foreheads.

"Very good. Now take your places."

U'zahm wandered off again, and it was deemed better that he take a nap with Baby Bant during this lesson. He was shepherded away by Master Sifa. The others gripped the edge of the table, anticipating something special.

There were two helpers that day, real Padawans with braids and sabers. They looked very grave and dignified as they handed out the first novelty: sheets of flat, crinkling something, white and faintly aromatic and full of wonderful swirling fibers.

"Paper," Ali Alaan intoned, and instantly the crechelings repeated the unfamiliar word, running curious fingers over the smooth surface, sniffing at it, lifting its thin, featherlight surface from the table, and in Reeft's case, nibbling experimentally at its corner.

One of the big padawans told him not to eat it.

"Feel it," Master Ali encouraged them "Feel it in the Force. What is it?"

Eleven pairs and one trio of eyes closed. Chests rose and fell, antennae twitched, mouths puckered and brows rumpled in concentration. Chiro, who was very strong in the Living Force, piped up first. "Plant!" she squealed.

"Yes. Good. It is made of pressed plant fiber."

And then the second wonder was passed around: sticks with tufted tails at one end, lovely soft finials of hair. Garen stuck the tickling end of his into his companion's ear and received a punch in the shoulder for his troubles.

"This is a brush," Master Ali told his innocent flock. "It is like a stylus, for ink."

Several of them attempted to employ this new kind of stylus upon the paper's blank and inviting tablet, to little effect.

"For ink," the tall Jedi repeated, amusement kindling in his liquid dark eyes. "But we will start with vegetable dye." To the delight of his young charges, he seated himself at the table's head and drew a sheet of crinkling, white paper into place. "Watch."

They watched. The brush dipped delicately into a pot, and rose again coated and dripping with ebony liquid. Master Ali's deft strokes across the page produced a lovely, sinuous line – a serpent curling in on itself, biting its own tail and then thrusting its head back into a knot. Other lines were wings and claws, clouds tattered in the fury of its passing. "What do you see?"

"Draigon!" Obi-Wan decided.

The tall man chuckled, catching Master Sifa's eye. "Writing. This is ancient calligraphy of the kai-ro style. But yes, perhaps also a draigon. Now you will try."

The helpers distributed other pots – vials of cerulean blue, glowing ochre, crimson and shocking green. Garen reached across to take a pot of brilliant violet and was silently rebuffed by its present user.

Reeft ended with ink on his chin; Master Sifa whisked him away to clean up his face. Chiro spilled her pot and smeared its contents into her paper with both hands, making a tempestuous ocean and requiring the intervention of both padawan assistants.

Obi-Wan solemnly bathed his brush's tip in the well of deepest blue and held it above the pure white paper, watching in fascination as a single errant droplet spattered onto the pristine plain. It bled into the tangled fibers, staining them the color of a bottomless sky.

"You have to touch it," Garen scoffed, demonstrating his pragmatic grasp of the concept by making a neat series of intersecting lines.

"It's supposed to be writing," his friend informed him, censoriously.

"This is writing."

"Is not."


"Not." Obi-Wan abandoned his effort to correct the other boy's obstinate perspective and applied himself to perfecting the art form. He gravely traced the bold, open shape of ossk like the truncated pyramid of the Temple, and then an even larger besh – two open hands holding a rock suspended in the Force- and finally a beautiful straight issk, a bright blinding blue saber's blade. He did not add in the small part at the top because it made the 'saber look bent. Issk should be straight.

These letters took up all his paper, left to right, but that was just as well because he thought wesk was ugly, and aurek was too difficult to make, and he could not remember nern. But his calligraphy did not look so fine on the page as Master Ali's had, so he added in a few extraneous flourishes for aesthetical reasons all his own, especially a great many sparks and sounds coming off his issk. The paper was now thick with blue, awash in the scent of squeezed talium roots whence came the ink's deep hue.

"Lovely," one of the helpers told him. "Is that your name?"

He had never before considered whether his name was blue or not. It was a difficult question.

"This is my name," Garen asserted.

But he was still covering his paper with random lines, now an intersecting maze of meaningless strokes and curves. "Where is your teapot?" his comrade demanded. Grek looked like a teapot, and there was nothing remotely like it among the other boy's diligent scribblings. "You have to make it the right shape."

"This is right," Garen sulked.

Larger hands took away their pages and replaced them with new ones, blank canvas waiting to be endowed with the stark beauty of fresh calligraphy. Some of the others had abandoned their brushes in favor of more direct tactile exploration, following Chiron's example, but Obi-Wan stuck to the proper method, primly dunking his brush into the scarlet beetuber juice and applying its tip to his paper with the gravest of frowns stamped on his face.

Esk looked like Master Yoda, leaning on his stick. He took special care to make sure the stick part came down all the way to the bottom of the page, so esk would not topple over. Next to it he drew a lively vev reaching both hands to the sky in a deep morning stretch. Then, a squat kern like the chairs in the dining hall. He attempted a qek, but as always his lines got muddled into a curve and it looked like a muja fruit with a bite missing. So he crammed a hungry krill in next to it, and then another and another until the entire corner was a mass of ravenous krills gnawing upon their succulent prey. Which was a bit disturbing, so he put a few issks through them and then added in many extra strokes for plasma effluvia and bits of vanquished krill flying everywhere. It made a horrid mess; a giant wesk circumscribed and contained the chaos, preventing it from flooding over onto the table and branding it as ineffably ugly.

He laid his brush down, and wiped his stained hands on his soft trousers. Red blossomed upon clean white, like calligraphy, or flowers

"I'm done. Can I have more Papor?"

"Paper," Master Ali corrected. "One more."

"That wasn't writing," Garen insisted. "Make Bant's name."

But he had no idea what color Bant's name might be, and besides, he wanted to try real calligraphy like Master Ali had done. Black ink dripped onto the page before his brush lighted. The spatters looked like stars in a holo-map… except they were backward, specks of Dark in a field of light. His stomach lurched a little, an he swiftly moved to blot them out, but the rent widened as ink spread like an open wound. The harder he tried to obliterate the mistake, the more all-consuming it grew. Soon the entire page was nothing but an agonized swelter of brushstrokes, a paroxysm of emptiness..

The brush clattered on the tabletop as he threw it down in disgust. He hastily wiped his hands upon his pants again, this time smearing harsh, tarry black into the already sticky fibers. It would not rub out, and made his hands filthy all over again.

"Master? Master!"

Large hands gently pinned his wrists, quelling his frantic gesticulations and preventing ink from splattering haplessly over the entire assembly.

"This way, come along." He was steered to the low basin, where the sonics easily thrummed the dark liquid off his skin. Master Sifa shunted him into the dormitory proper, where he was told to change his clothing. It was a relief to be rid of the black-stained trousers; he balled them into a tight wad and shoved it in the laundry bin, where it disappeared amid a rumpled mass of creams and whites.

"Your pants are backward," Garen smirked, joining him a moment later.

"Your head is backward."

"Your writing is backward."

One of the helper padawans separated them, sustaining a bruise or two in the process. "Very unbecoming," he frowned down at them, the white slashes above his eyes like bold calligraphy upon orange skin. He had dramatic sloping montrals, twin mountains rising off his skull, blue and ivory stripes wrapped about them.

The boys slunk into the small playroom, chastised and subdued.

Baby Bant was awake. "Obi," she cooed, closing one fat, webbed fist in his shirt and sucking on her other fingers contemplatively.

"We did writing today," he reported. "With brushes. They don't erase."

"Obi made a mess and ruined his paper," Garen added, superciliously.

Bant merely sucked on her fingers, wide globular eyes blinking in contentment. Sticky Mon-Cal drool dribbled down her front, tracing a viscous calligraphy of its own.

Master Ali filled the low doorway when he entered, clapping for attention. The crechelings gathered round, in a loosely knit circle. U'zahm wandered away and had to be corralled back into place. They sat, crossing their legs one over another, meditation lotus.

"What did we learn today?" Ali Alaan's deep, rumbling voice inquired.

Hands strained into the air, seeking permission to speak.

"Miskka. What did we learn?"

"Ink," the toddler helpfully supplied.

"Paper is a plant," Chiro offered.

"Not an eating plant," Reeft qualified.

"Clig-erphy," someone else attempted.

"A brush is a stylus with hair," another intoned.

"Writing looks like things."

"No, things look like writing."

"The black ink is bad," Obi-Wan quietly interposed. "It goes everywhere."

Ali Alaan gestured for quiet. "Yes. Grand Master Fae Coven once said that a Jedi's life is to be likened to calligraphy. So now you have made calligraphy. Where is the Jedi in it?"

"He's holding the brush," came the prompt reply.

Master Ali's brown eyes smiled. "I should think so. But look deeper. Where is the Force?"

"The paper, because it is nothing and everything," Reeft offered, surprising everyone.

"Good, Reeft. Where is the Jedi?"

Garen scrunched his nose and bobbed his knees up and down, up and down. "The Force is holding the brush, so the brush is the Jedi," he decided.


There were numerous other theories propounded, including the notion that the table was the Force, that the Jedi was the ink, that the Jedi was somehow to be equated with the inkwell, or maybe the tree that the paper came from, although this latter interpretation diverted them into a lengthy discussion of how paper was manufactured.

U'zahm grew weary of the scholastic debate and wandered off yet again. Chiro fell asleep where she sat.

"The Jedi is the writing," Obi-Wan declared, out of the blue. "And everything else is the Force. Except the black ink. It's wrong."

Ali Alaan called them to order once more. "Yes, the Jedi is calligraphy. The Force is brush, ink, and paper. Just as writing points beyond itself, to its meaning, your hearts should be an inscription of beauty and compassion, not greed and arrogance – an enduing sign to others."

Eleven small heads nodded in solemn, if not completely cognizant, agreement.

"Yes, Master. Yes, Master. Yes, Master."

The lesson was carefully scribed upon pure, white paper, the letters formed painstakingly and by hand. Later, the ink would sink down from memory into imagination, rational understanding to vital intuition, a manuscript illuminated and embellished by countless generations, traced upon the pages of a living book, the Force's peerless work in progress.

"We will practice again, soon," Master Ali promised.

And then it was time for play in the gardens. They formed two straight lines, as perfect and imperfect as a calligrapher's measured strokes, and followed the serene crechemaster out the doors, small footsteps fading into the shafting light's luminous brushwork.