Field of Dreams
Author's note: Yet another tale inspired by a brief but intriguing mention in Karen Miller's Wild Space. Though tragic, it deserves its own telling.
Shmojo Lurree had been piloting Republic courier craft for the better part of thirty years, counting his time as an assistant navigator for the armored transport fleet which served the Galactic Financial Reserve. He had been all over the known galaxy, and had provided fast reliable service to any number of important passengers – including quite a number of Jedi over the years. So, really, there was no reason for him to be unnerved by the two individuals sitting in the small passenger cabin directly behind the cockpit. There was no reason to be distracted to the point of paying scant attention to the helm and the nav console. No reason to be eavesdropping like a newbie fresh out of Academy, so eager to hear what was being said behind him that he was practically leaning out of the pilot's seat, almost spilling his plasti-therm caff mug's tepid contents onto the deck.
But these two were just such characters. Not to look at: no, in that respect they were run of the mill, Jedi-wise. Tall human man, about Shmojo's own age, mane of long brown hair, graying beard, sloping forehead and crooked nose. Jedi master, check. Always a little worn, a little frayed, a little aloof, a little intimidating. Across from him, on the opposite bench, another human. Adolescent. Maybe late teens, but it was hard to tell because his baby face made him seem younger but his eyes- serious, cynical – made him seem older. Padawan, check. That was the standard package you got on most Jedi assignments: one senior Jedi and one learner. Rumor had it that the Jedi did all their teaching one on one, on the job. No classrooms, no simulations or exercises. Just harsh reality from day one. Maybe. You just never knew with the Jedi. They were…different.
The younger one was reading a datapad. Whatever he was looking at, he didn't like it. "Master," he complained. "This is so... uncivilized."
The older man chuckled heartily. "You'll be brilliant," he assured his student. "It will broaden your horizons."
"You said that about Nal Hutta, too," the apprentice countered, his clipped tones taking on just the barest hint of peevishness. "When we met your contact. "
The master snorted dismissively. "T'Li-Chthko is harmless. And after she had consumed five drinks, it was perhaps unfair of me to spring you on her without warning."
"It was the other way around, master. She did all the, ah, springing. And I'll keep my narrow horizons, thank you."
Shmojo craned his head further, smiling a little at this interchange. There was a sudden pause in the conversation, as though the speakers had abruptly become aware of his interest in their private affairs. He jerked back upright in his seat and fiddled with the stabilizer controls. Jedi were supposed to have weird powers – reading thoughts, that kind of thing. It didn't hurt to be careful, he figured.
"The briefing," the older man reminded his companion.
"Yes, master. My alter ego has accrued a crushing debt: gambling, expensive entertainments, drinking and carousing, unwise business investments, and exotic travel."
"Eventually leading you into desperate financial straits," the master concluded.
The younger Jedi smirked. "Well, at least I've been having a good time."
"Yes," the other said repressively. "When you get off the econo class freighter line from Azterri you will proceed directly to the labor recruiting office. The colfillini plantation has recently run an advertisement campaign promising credit restoration and financial rescue to those willing to join their volunteer corps."
"Yes, master…." Another pause, presumably as the younger Jedi perused the reading material. Shmojo longed to have a peek at that datapad and whatever classified mission details it might contain, but he knew the chance would never be given him. The Padawan eventually made a soft noise of disgust. "Don't I possess any useful skills?"
"I should think not. We need you to be assigned to the manual labor pool. You are, shall we say, brawn with no brains."
"Good thing T'Li-Chthko won't be anywhere near," the Padawan muttered sardonically.
A long sigh of mingled exasperation and worry. "I do not think this is a matter for levity, Obi Wan."
"I sense your concern, master – but this is no different from other undercover operations we have been involved in."
"Last time I left you to carry out an undercover operation alone, you nearly got yourself killed. On Niffrendi, if you will recall."
There was a pause, just long enough to accent the next remark, and then: "I will gladly exchange places with you, master. The labor recruiters are looking for brawn without brains."
Shmojo almost choked on his last mouthful of lukewarm caff. He wondered briefly whether the Jedi master would cut off his student's head with his laser sword, or pull some other grisly stunt….but the tall man merely chuckled dangerously. "Have a care…I might decide to leave you working in the fields permanently, Padawan."
There was a long silence during which Shmojo returned his straying mind to the ship's controls. They were approaching the Azterri system rapidly. He was to drop off both passengers at the Republic spaceport on the craggy moon and proceed onward to his next assigned destination. Where the Jedi went after he had delivered them was none of his business – though part of him longed to know more about the potentially disastrous infiltration they were plotting. With a resigned shrug, he punched in the approach vector and set the transponder to identify and request landing clearance.
Meanwhile, the Jedi had changed topics. They were speaking in very low voices, almost a soundless whisper, but Shmojo's aural receptors were far more sensitive than a human's.
"Have you been practicing the tai vordrax exercises, as I suggested?"
"Yes, master. I find them…difficult. Sporadic. Sometimes there is nothing at all, and sometimes, well, too much."
The master made a tsking sound deep in his throat. "Postcognition is one of the only sense abilities which draws upon the Unifying Force. It should come more naturally to you. But even if it does not, I still think focusing on its cultivation for a short while will be a salutary discipline. Here." There was a rustling, as of the ship's bench cushions being shifted. "Try this."
Shmojo blanched. So that's where the missing jewelry had lodged itself. But he could say nothing without revealing himself to be an eavesdropper, so he merely hunched forward in his seat and kept listening.
There was a long pause – and then the younger Jedi murmured, "A Twi"lek lady…the Coruscant Opera house. There were Chyrra singers. The food was delicious, and the night was warm, and, well…"
"How did it end up here on a diplomatic corps ship?" the older Jedi insisted, much to the unfortunate pilot's mortification.
"I have no idea," the Padawan said. Shmojo knew it was a lie, and he was sure the Jedi master knew it was a lie, and he was also sure that the Padawan knew that he knew ….he almost jumped out of his skin when a hand tapped him politely on the shoulder a moment later.
"Your pardon," the younger Jedi addressed him. "I believe a previous passenger must have dropped this. It might be valuable." The jewel was dropped unceremoniously into his outstretched palm.
"Thank you," he choked out. "I will see that it is returned."
The apprentice bowed, just a short little dip of the head, and disappeared back into the aft cabin.
And that was the precise moment when Shmojo Lurree decided, or discovered, that beyond being an object of fascinating speculation, a Jedi could also be a likable person. He kept this thought to himself, of course, in hope that nobody on board would be able to overhear it. And then he guided the small courier vessel into the Azterri spaceport and settled it into the assigned docking space with a great sense of relief.
The Jedi thanked him for his service and departed.
Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn had been serving the Republic as peacekeeper and diplomat for almost forty standard years, counting his time as a Padawan learner. He had also spent many years teaching the next generation; in particular, he had devoted the last seven to his current apprentice's education in the ways of the Force. Obi Wan and he had together faced many perils and challenges, and he had to admit that his student had more than once accomplished feats he would not have thought possible for one so young. It was irrational, therefore, that he should be so unnerved by this relatively minor colfillini plantatioin assignment. The Antarian government had requested Jedi assistance in apprehending the villains responsible for outrageous violations of Galactic labor law – at least, suspected violations. The Antarians themselves were unwilling to proceed any further in their investigation without Republic aid because organized crime on the planet was strong, and both profited from and supported the vast agricultural concerns which accounted for the system's wealth. The key economic export – colfillini – had made more than one Antarian rich beyond the dreams of mortals. The mission was routine enough; the only reason he had elected to send his Padawan in indercover as a farm hand was for the purpose of collecting independent evidence of abuses, for use in a Republic court should the Antarians lose their nerve at the last minute.
Still, despite the seemingly humdrum nature of this mission, he could not entirely dismiss the lurking sensation of something amiss, of a slow rot beneath the surface, dangers not yet apprehensible. This was normally Obi Wan's role: he would announce at the outset of the adventure that he had a bad, undefined feeling about the whole thing, while Qui Gon would counsel patience and a tighter focus in the present moment.
Perhaps he should take his own advice.
He watched his Padawan board the graffiti-covered, mynock-invested economy class public transport freighter that would deliver him and hundreds of other vagabonds and migrants to Antar 4's major spaceport. Obi Wan was barely recognizable in his disguise: frayed and worn , yet originally expensive, tailored clothing from the fashionable circles of the Core. His Padawan braid was tucked into the short nerftail behind his head, and he had very reluctantly agreed to permit one of the spaceport vendors on Azterri to provide him with a temporary phosphoric tattoo of a charioteer driving twin gundarks – the emblem of a popular pod-racing franchise. He disappeared into the belly of the enormous and shapeless vessel among a crowd of other beings whose fortunes were poor enough to necessitate the use of this most uncomfortable of transportation methods. Qui Gon shrugged off his vague unease and went in search of his own transport.
He would be arriving on Antar 4 amid the official fanfare and beaurocracy of a routine Galactic business licensing and exporting inspection. He had notified the colfillini plantation owners of the inspection schedule under his own name, though he had carefully omitted to mention that he was a Jedi knight. They would figure it out soon enough; and he had experienced enough less-than-warm welcomes in his career to know that this was a fact one might not always want to mention at the outset of a relationship. It occasionally made for awkward situations involving blasters and armed escorts at the moment of his arrival. He had opted to avoid such a scene this time around.
His first order of business, after boarding the luxury class private transport sent by special charter from the government of Antar 4, was to direct the droid steward to provide him with a comlink to the state offices. He wished to contact one Tayvor Mandirly, an agricultural expert from Alderaan who had arrived onplanet some weeks ago by permission of the Antari government, in order to conduct a bit of investigative journalism. Mandirly was a renowned activist and advocate for various agricultural and labor-related causes – a firm proponent of progressive employment structures and ecologically sound cultivation methods. In short, everything the plantation owners on Antar were not.
The trouble-making Alderaanian had not been heard from in days.
At last, a hologram of the Sub-secretary for Economic Affairs appeared. "I am sorry, sir, but Mandirly has not reported back into his offices here since his last field service trip. Would you like the contact sequence for his accommodations? Or would you prefer to leave a message?"
Qui Gon felt an invisible weight descend slowly in his gut. Something was amiss. He could feel it in the Force. "Thank you. I will try to contact him in person when I arrive," he told the curious official, and ended the transmission. His hand rested thoughtfully on the pommel of his lightsaber, hanging on his belt in easy reach, just beside Obi Wan's. He would return his Padawan's weapon by stealth once they were both safely established at the plantation. The need to travel without his 'saber for more than a full day had provoked strident objections from the young Jedi, but it would likely be impossible to smuggle the weapon in past the labor recruiters; rumor had told of very thorough and highly invasive searches and security measures. Better to flow with the current than to attempt a risky deception at this early stage in the mission.
Mandirly's prolonged absence was more than worrisome. The plantation in question – the largest on Antar 4, covering the entire fertile delta of the planet's main inhabited continent – was controlled by a pair of brothers known to be friendly with a crime syndicate famous for suppressing any negative publicity that might come its way. An outspoken idealist like Mandirly might easily offend their sensibilities and provoke some form of retaliation. He decided to make locating the Alderaanian a priority.
"May I offer you refreshment, sir?" The steward droid appeared at his elbow, bearing a platter of drinks.
"No, no thank you – I require nothing," Qui Gon told it, and settled into the soft acceleration couch to wait out the journey. He would not be able to find out anything more until he actually set foot on the rich, loamy soil of the planet itself.
He would have to be patient, and keep his mind on the present moment.