Enicar Mining Colony
“And on behalf of the people of Enicar, Master Jedi, I thank you,” the envoy continued. “Our citizens have been without a voice for too long; we desperately need impartial eyes to see the justice of our demands.”
“I shall certainly consider the things I have seen here when I make my report,” said Minya K'Tarr, not pausing in her stride. “We've made arrangements with the Second Triumvir to provide you with doctors and necessary supplies while your appeal is being considered in the Senate; I think you will find that once--” She stopped in the middle of the hall, surprised by a touch through the Force, not over her training bond with Sirrell, but brushing against her mental shielding. A moment later she felt it again, blunt and clumsy, but gentle and not at all malicious; more like a series of pats than a blow or a probe. Curious, she reached out into the Force, trying to trace the sensation to its origin. She turned to the envoy.
“What is down this corridor?” she asked. The man blinked, looking puzzled.
“Storerooms, mostly,” he said. “A few offices. The child-care center for West Enicar.”
“For West Enicar?” she said. “How many child-care facilities do you have, Speaker?”
“Only the two,” he said, “one on each side of the planetoid. It's not an optimal arrangement, but we haven't the resources to staff a number of smaller centers. The two we have are run by nursery droids, and occasionally one of the parents gives up a rest allotment to assist.” He sighed. “We'd like to do things differently, but we're barely getting by as it is, and we simply can't spare any more people.”
“May I see the facility?” she asked. “The conditions under which your children live are an important point of consideration for the Senate; I would like to be able to give as complete a report as possible.”
“Of course, my lady,” the man replied. “Just follow me.”
They walked down the shabby corridor. As they moved, she could feel the mind-touch growing stronger, until she stopped in front of a plain door. She felt the patting, again, and then a ripple of amusement flowed over the training bond.
I should have known you’d find your way here, Master, Sirrell said. Come in, and see what I've found.
She opened the door, and saw her dignified Padawan sitting cross-legged on the floor, with a grubby child getting sticky fingerprints on her tunic. The room was fairly crowded with children, some playing with toys while others napped on threadbare mats. Efforts had obviously been made to keep the facility cheerful and neat, but the nursery droids had to be operating near capacity just to keep the children safe, clean and fed.
“Look here, linkaani,” Sirrell said, “Here is Master K’tarr come to say hello.”
The child smiled up at her, sudden and sweet. As she felt the mind-touch again, he let out a satisfied little chuckle.
“My word,” she said, opening herself to the boy's presence in the Force. He was just a baby, not even old enough yet to have been named in the ritual that his people practiced upon their children's first birthdays, and still he twinkled and shone like a happy young sunbeam in the dingy room, warm and golden. She sat beside her apprentice and held out her arms. “Here, child, let me hold you a bit.”
He came willingly, bumping against her mind again as he settled into the folds of her robe. She placed a hand on his stomach, and he rubbed the silver fur that covered it, his wonder at the sensation radiating into the room.
He’s been poking at my shields all day, Sirrell said. I think he likes the way they feel. She looked at the child wistfully. “Can I hold him again when you're through?”
Master K’Tarr smiled at her Padawan and relinquished the boy, who was beginning to show a tendency to wriggle. She turned to the envoy, who watched from the doorway.
“Whose child is this, Supervisor Tojza?” she asked. “May we meet his parents?”
“I don’t recognize him, Master K’tarr," he replied, "But if you'll give him to me I can pull his record.”
Sirrell handed the child over, and the envoy ran his small hand through a bioscanner next to the door. “The children are checked in and out by bioscan,” he explained, studying the display. “Ah. This is the child of one of our administrators; she should be coming to fetch him soon. You could speak to her then, if you wouldn’t mind spending the time.”
“Not at all,” she assured him. “All things move within the timing of the Force.” She ignored her Padawan's amused mental snort. Don't say a word, Sirrell, she said.
I wouldn't dream of it. Sirrell tickled the baby, hiding a smile in his soft hair.
They passed the time pleasantly; Minya chatted lightly with Supervisor Tojza and watched in amusement as Sirrell played Force-games with the child. Her Padawan had always enjoyed her duty rotations in the crèche and Initiate classes, and was skilled in a variety of techniques that were employed to evaluate and train Force-sensitivity in the very young.
Sirrell gathered molecules of a trace gas out of the air and formed them into a glowing blue ball. Nudging it with her mind, she sent it softly through the air towards the boy. He batted at it, but his hands passed through. He turned to Sirrell in confusion, and she directed his awareness to the ball. He reached towards it, much as he had been doing to their mental shields, and let out a delighted cry when the ball moved.
He catches on quickly, Sirrell said.
Indeed. It appears we may have to administer a midichlorian test this evening, if the boy's parents will permit it.
The door's lock beeped, and the door slid open to reveal a worn-looking woman with a sweet face. The boy crawled towards her immediately, his joy reaching the Jedi in bright waves.
"There's my little one!" the woman exclaimed, scooping the child in her arms and bouncing him through the air until he shrieked with laughter.
"Ah," said Supervisor Tojza. "Madame Kowalski. Good evening."
Madame Kowalski stopped, startled. "Pardon, sir, I didn't expect to meet you in the nursery."
He smiled reassuringly. "Normally, you would not have, but our honored guests, the Jedi, expressed an interest in touring the facility. They were quite taken with your son there." He turned. "Jedi Master K'Tarr and Jedi Padawan Aksbani, allow me to introduce Madame Kowalski, a member of our administrative staff."
The Jedi bowed to the woman, who smiled and bowed in return. "It is an honor to meet you in person," she said. "All the miners' families were so glad to know that you were coming to bear witness to the situation here."
Minya smiled. "It is the duty and the honor of the Jedi to serve," she said. "We are glad to have been able to serve the Force on Enicar, and also to have had the joy of meeting your son. The Force is strong in him."
"In fact," Sirrell continued, "we would like to ask your permission to administer the blood test for Force-sensitivity."
Madame Kowalski froze, looking down in amazement at the child in her arms. "You think he could become a Jedi?"
"It is very possible."
The boy made an interrogative sound, and his mother shushed him. "We've always known that he was special," she said softly. "But this... we never imagined anything like this."
"It is an important decision, and one which should not be undertaken lightly," said Minya. "Perhaps we might discuss this further with your family, if you are willing to allow him to be tested."
"Of course," Madame Kowalski said. "If-- our home isn't luxurious, but if you would like to join us for nightmeal, you could speak with my husband then."
The Jedi bowed. "We would be honored to accept your invitation, Madame Kowalski," said Sirrell.
Later that evening, after a simple but nourishing meal, the Kowalskis turned to the Jedi.
"We've decided to let you do the blood test," the child's father said. "And, if you decide that you want to train him, you can take him." He rested his hand on the back of the chair that his son had been placed in, stroking the boy's hair with his finger. "We've always dreamed of making a way for our children to have a better life than we've had, hoped maybe to save enough money to send them to the university, so they could have better than a miner's place in the galaxy." He sighed, resting his big hand gently on the top of his son's head. "I never thought it would mean sending him to the Core to become a Jedi," he said, "but he deserves better than to live his life with calascart dust under his fingernails." He watched his son in silence for a moment, then spoke without looking up. "Do the test."
Sirrell drew the blood sample with practiced ease, soothing the boy's small hurt with the Force, and handed it to her Master to be tested. After a few moments, her Master handed back the datapad. "Look," she said, softly.
Sirrell smiled when she saw the readings. "No wonder he shines," she said, softly.
"Indeed." Master K'Tarr turned to the Kowalskis. "The Jedi order would be honored to accept your son for training," she said. She saw Madame Kowalski tighten her grip on her husband's hand.
"You are leaving tonight," she said.
Madame Kowalski bowed her head, seeming to gather her strength. From his father's lap, the child started whimpering.
Madame Kowalski bit her lip, then rose. "I'll get his things."
They sat in uneasy silence for a while, while the boy fussed and his father rubbed his back in long, soothing strokes, his attention fixed solely on his child. When Madame Kowalski returned, she carried a plump bag and a small stuffed animal. "This is his grulla; he sleeps with him at night," she explained, tucking the toy into the outer pocket of the bag. "He gets restless if he can't find him."
Minya smiled, accepting the bag from her, and handed her a datapad. "Here are the forms you will need to complete,” she said. “My padawan and I will leave you in privacy to say your farewells. When you have finished, please bring him to us in the corridor outside, and I will sign the forms as well."
They left the Kowalskis’ quarters, shutting the door behind them. Sirrell sighed, letting herself lean back against the wall.
Her Master sent a pulse of reassurance over their bond. “It troubles you, I know,” she said. “Taking them away.”
“He’s so tiny,” replied her Padawan, “and his parents love him so much. What right have I to say that he should leave them and come with me?”
“You weren’t the one who made that decision, Sirrell. His parents did. They know that the Jedi can give him things that they simply cannot, that we will enable him to fulfill his potential.”
“But are training and opportunities enough to make up for the loss of his family?”
“Do you miss your family?”
“Do you feel a lack of companionship or love in your life?”
“It is not the children who suffer in this, Padawan. It is the families who sacrifice. Every time a new candidate arrives in the crèche, it is the sign of a noble gift, to the Republic and to the Force, and to the child itself. Such a gift will not go unrewarded.”
The door opened, and Madame Kowalski emerged, carrying her son, who was broadcasting his confusion and distress. She handed the child to Sirrell, who cuddled him close, sending warmth into his mind. “Here are the forms you needed,” she said, handing Minya the datapad. Minya reviewed the forms, ensuring that they were completed correctly, and then affixed her signature and the seal of the Jedi Temple. “I’ve sent copies to my personal account and to the Jedi High Council,” she said. “You may keep this one. You may, if you wish, request regular status reports on your son, but you will not be permitted to have direct contact with him for many years, as it would interfere with his training.”
“I understand.” Madame Kowalski accepted the datapad. Bending forward, she brushed a kiss onto her son’s hair, then turned and hurried back into her quarters.
The Jedi returned to their ship, pleased to be heading back to the Temple after spending nearly three months away on various field assignments. The child, soothed, curled into Sirrell’s shoulder during takeoff and drifted to sleep, his stuffed grulla clutched in one chubby hand.
Sirrell smiled down at the child. "Look at him," she said. "Our little nameless one. What shall we call him, Master?"
"I think you have already found his name, Rell," Minya replied, smiling. "What did I hear you calling him in the nursery? Something in Talyish?"
"Linkaani," Sirrell said, remembering. "A ray of light."
"A bit fanciful, as names go, but I think that 'Ray' would serve."
"You're right, Master. It suits him." Sirrell ran a gentle finger over the boy's soft cheek. "Welcome to the Jedi, Ray Kowalski."
Five Years Later
Jedi Outpost, Iu'con IV
The flames of the funeral pyre cast their light on the solemn faces of the Jedi who circled it. Their robes were drawn close against the wind, bitter even in the summer months, but they showed no signs of imminent departure; they would stand their vigil until their comrade's body had been reduced to ash.
By the head of the pyre a Knight gazed fixedly on the fine-drawn features still visible through the flames. Beside him, a boy dressed in the gray clothing of an Initiate stood, craning his neck in an attempt to see past the stone lip of the pyre.
"Would you like me to lift you up, Benton?"
The boy turned, startled, and saw his father's mission partner bending toward him. "Yes, thank you, Knight Frobisher."
"The boy is old enough to stand on his own two feet," Robert Fraser said, his eyes never turning from the pyre.
"I want to see her," the boy whispered. "Please."
"It does no harm," said Knight Frobisher, picking up the child.
The fire was beautiful, Ben thought, and warm. It was right for her to go away into heat. She had always felt the cold more than the others. He choked on a sob.
"Benton," his father said, warningly. "What have I told you?"
He drew a deep breath, trying to steady his voice. "There is no death," he said. "There is the Force."
"Robert," Frobisher said, "I don't think--"
"You'll do well to remember that when you reach Coruscant," his father continued. "You will learn to devote your life to the teachings of the Code."
"Yes, Father," he said, quietly, and watched in silence with dry eyes as his mother burned.
Jedi Temple, Coruscant
Master Laniar walked softly through the crèche, making a final check on the sleeping children before going to his own rest. He let his senses flow through the room, smiling a little at the flashes of dreams he picked up. Nothing was out of the ordinary until he reached the room where the children between four and six standard years slept. The children here were restless, moving uneasily in their sleep. Frowning, he isolated the ripples of emotion that were disturbing them, following them back to a single bed, where a small human boy with a shock of fair hair was tossing in his sleep, projecting his stress into the Force.
Master Laniar laid his hand gently on the child's head, trying to see into his dream. He drew in a shocked breath when he found the vivid image of a Jedi funeral pyre. The pyre had not been burning long, and the features of the body were still distinct; a woman, with dark hair and a serene face. He could hear snow hissing as a bitter wind drove wet flakes onto the hot stone; he could feel his throat clog with unwilling tears. It was a powerful image, more vision than dream, and he made a mental note to watch the child for evidence of foresight.
Pulling out of the boy's mind, he tried to steer it into a dreamless state, but was unsuccessful; the images wavered but were unusually reluctant to dissipate. Sighing, Master Laniar gently brought the child into wakefulness.
The boy opened his eyes, and blinked in confusion. "Master Laniar?" he whispered. "What's wrong?"
"You were having a bad dream, Ray," Laniar said, stroking the boy's temple as he sent healing Force into his mind. "Do you remember?"
"There is no death," Ray said, his voice quieting under the soothing influence. "He kept saying that, over and over. There is no death. But she's still gone."
Three weeks later
Jedi Temple, Coruscant
Ben startled awake, barely suppressing a cry. His memory of the dream was already fading, but the feelings it had stirred remained. He drew a gulping breath, trying to center himself. The feelings were too strong, though, and he could feel his control slipping.
Pulling his robe from its hook beside his bed and donning his slippers, he slipped out of the dormitory and walked on silent feet down the hall, seeking quiet and solitude in which he could quell his sadness and fear.
The Temple never closed completely, as some Jedi belonged to nocturnal species, but the halls were nevertheless deserted in the middle of Coruscant’s night cycle. Ben kept to the edges of the corridors, blending with the shadows in his Initiate’s gray.
In a few minutes, he had reached the carved doorway of the Temple Library. With the ease of practice, he slipped past the night librarian and made his way to the Thar-Rill Archive. Thar-Rill had been a scholar of linguistics and folklore, and had spent his life gathering folk tales from various Republic worlds and painstakingly translating them into Basic. The archive of his translations lay in the farthest corner of the Library, tucked behind the angle of one of the bookcases that held the philosophical writings of Master Thon. Ben liked to spend his free periods there, much to the bemusement of his fellow Initiates. He couldn’t read all the stories yet, but his father had taught him how to use the common reference works, and they were daily growing easier to follow.
Tonight, though, he was far more interested in the archive’s seclusion than in its contents. Seating himself in the corner, comforted by the smell of wood and paper and the faint hum of the stasis fields that protected the books, he centered himself as he had been taught, and began trying to release his stormy emotions into the Force.
He didn’t know how long his fruitless meditations had lasted when he heard a noise close by. Opening his eyes, he saw a boy, a little younger than him, sitting on the floor in front of him and regarding him worriedly with bright blue eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked, startled out of his customary politeness.
“I’m Ray,” said the boy. “What’s your name?”
“Ben,” he replied, taken aback. “What are you doing here?”
“You woke me up,” said the boy.
“I’m sorry,” said Ben. “I tried to be quiet.”
“Not like that. Your—” he frowned. “You’re sad. Your tummy hurts.”
“How did you know?”
“I dreamed it. The lady burned.”
Ben swallowed, tears burning his eyes. “She was my mother.”
“There is no death—”
“But she’s not here.” Ray watched him implacably, hugging some sort of plush toy. “You’re sad because you miss her.”
He nodded, miserable at his failure. “I’m sorry I woke you up.”
Ray shrugged. “It happens. Master Laniar says I’ll learn to control it when I get older.” He shifted, tucking his feet up under the hem of his robe. Ben caught a glimpse of bare toes.
“Why don’t you have your slippers on?” he asked. “The floors are cold at night.”
“I know. I usually wear them, but I didn’t really wake up until I was almost here.”
“Here.” Ben took off his slippers and pushed them at the boy. “You can wear mine.”
“Won’t you be cold?”
“I grew up on I’ucon IV,” Ben said proudly. “It was way colder than this.”
Blue eyes grew impossibly wide. “I’ucon?” Ray asked, shoving his feet into the too-big slippers. “Isn’t that where the Grullas live?”
“Yes,” said Ben.
“I’ve got a Grulla, see?”
Ben studied the proffered toy. “It’s a very nice Grulla,” he said, not remarking on the fact that the head was too small and the eyes sewn on lopsided. Ray smiled, radiant.
“Knight Aksbani says my mum made him for me and sent him with me when I came to the Temple,” he said. He was quiet for a moment, watching Ben. “You can borrow him,” he said. “So you won’t have bad dreams anymore.”
“I couldn’t take your Grulla,” Ben protested. “Your mother made him for you.”
“But you’re sad,” said Ray, “and I’m not. He’ll make you feel better. He’s a really good Grulla.” He held the toy out again, setting his jaw stubbornly.
“Well, if you’re sure you won’t miss him too bad…” Ben began, and trailed off when Ray flashed another grin.
“I won’t,” he said. “And you can bring him to visit me, anyway, so he won’t get homesick.”
“OK,” Ben said, taking the Grulla and tucking it under his arm. Ray yawned, his whole face crumpling, as though now that he was assured Ben’s problems were dealt with, he was free to resume his interrupted slumber.
“Let’s go back to bed,” said Ben, his misery receding. Ray nodded, reaching sleepily for Ben’s hand. They walked together back to the crèche, Ray nearly asleep on his feet by the time they reached the door.
“Ray,” he whispered, “where is your bed?”
Ray blinked sleepily at him, his face uncomprehending.
“Where do you sleep?” Ben tried again. Ray waved an arm vaguely into the room.
Ben sighed, and pushed Ray over to his bed, which was the closest to the door. Ray burrowed into his covers like a nesting mouse, sinking rapidly back into sleep. Ben reached under the blankets and pulled his slippers off Ray’s feet, then pushed at him until he moved over, grumbling a little. He climbed into bed next to his new friend, hugging the battered Grulla.
Several hours later, Master Laniar walked through the dormitory, making his nightly rounds. He smiled when he saw the two boys, noting how tightly Ben was hugging the Grulla, even in his sleep. He was unsurprised that Ray’s empathy had drawn him to the unhappy newcomer. Tomorrow, he thought, he’d have to move them closer together. Friendships between Jedi were to be nurtured.