THE ILL OF THE FORCEby ardavenport o- - - - - (Party Like It’s 1999! The Phantom Menace 20th Anniversary Online Challenge Story (not a tf.n challenge) ) o- - - - - Qui-Gon was taking too long to return. Hearing a creak and a clicking, Obi-Wan minimally turned his head and opened his eyes, blinking in the overly bright ceiling lights, his hand resting cautiously on his lightsaber. But the ship’s droid remained studiously in its corner of the tiny sickbay, clicking and creaking at a flashing wall display, none of its sensors pointed toward its ‘patient’. Apparently, Qui-Gon’s warning to disassemble it should it approach Obi-Wan again had made an impression on its barely adequate programming. He wondered how well it could really care for the Weequay crew, its primary species, and why the ship’s captain and crew put up with it, though the squeaks and spots of corrosion on its outer casing hinted at some neglect on their part. He rolled his head back, closing his eyes. The breather covering the lower half of his face was scented with Weequay body odor and his own vomit, the taste of which still lingered even after multiple rinsings. After the droid had almost stopped his heart trying to keep his airway open, after he ate something from the ship’s galley that violently disagreed with him. Qui-Gon apparently was not sensitive to whatever it was, since they’d eaten the same things. The gasping, mad scramble that followed after his sudden reaction was a blur of motion, arms and legs and decks and boots and faces. Then that damn droid’s head loomed over him, a dark metal-gray menace with a studded ‘chin’ and blinking red eye sensors. First, he’d heard someone say that it was a medical droid. Then another voice amended that it had ‘some’ medical programming. Though he was no longer in danger of choking to death, the nausea still lingered, threatening him with dry heaves, since he had already brought up every particle of half-digested food he had in him. And he had a headache. The bright lights magnified it and he could feel it throbbing with the faint vibration of the ship’s engines through the hard pallet he lay on. And he could barely move thanks to the droid. He inhaled deeply. The strength of the Force flowed through a Jedi. Not quite so well for a sick Jedi. Even so, he did feel confident that the Force would guide his lightsaber if that droid came anywhere near him again. The ship jolted and thumped. The engine vibration and sub limital hum sank down out of perception. Where was Qui-Gon? He had left the sickbay when the ship came out of hyperspace. They were only on this transport for one stop, their own ship having been sacrificed in a spectacular explosion to convince the Mizidian Pirates that they were safe from the Jedi when they were actually on the verge of being captured. That part of their mission had been successful. But their return trip to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant was not going so well. The droid alerted. Beeping, its head rising higher on an extendable neck just before Obi-Wan heard the noise in the corridor outside. The metalloid door pushed out from its seal and slid open. Noise and people came in. A couple members of the crew, the captain, Qui-Gon. And someone new. Broad shoulders, deep blue robe, pale pink skin and hair. The Weequay crew members wrestled a floater between them with a half-opened crate on it. A new droid, shiny silver with white quad-eye-sensors beeped. “Initialized,” it announced in a smooth feminine voice. The room was now completely full with bodies. Weequay elbows and butts threatened to push onto Obi-Wan’s pallet and its alcove. He flinched, but his shoulder was already pressed to the white bulkhead. There was no place for him to go. “Captain, I protest. There is no call to replace me - - - “ “Shut up! You! Out, out!” Captain Okno shouted. Her crewmembers shifted places toward the door, flattened the crate with a loud plastoid crack and turned the lifter to vertical as the new droid found its legs. “Take that thing with you,” Qui-Gon commanded. One of the crew grabbed an arm of the still-protesting ship’s droid and dragged it out after them. “Ten-Zee, you are needed.” the pale pink woman said in an aged and scratchy voice. Obi-Wan blinked up, squinting at the blazing light panels. The whole cabin and everything in it was a headache inducing white and the shiny new droid head that looked down on him glowed with the reflections. This was definitely a newer model, and a real medical droid. A Ten-Zee-Oh-Ot? It passed a scanner over him. There was a moment of confusion when Ten-Zee asked what had happened and the Captain had to go out to the droid in the corridor to pull a data chip. Ten-Zee announced that he’d had an allergic reaction. When the crew and Qui-Gon first carried him to the ship’s droid, it had speculated that he had been poisoned, which had initiated an argument with the Weequay cook, adding more chaos to the emergency. Examining the breathing mask, Ten-Zee emitted a disapproving burble. It swiftly pulled it up and between one breath and the next spritzed something on the inside and replaced it on his face. It did not smell nearly as bad and Obi-Wan breathed more deeply. While the droid worked, Obi-Wan’s eyes settled on the familiar shape of Qui-Gon’s head, a few stray, long hairs dark and sticking out in the harsh light from above. Qui-Gon laid a hand on his shoulder and he relaxed further to an almost meditative calm. It was as if Qui-Gon had become the focus of a meditation. The Force was always the focus of Jedi meditation, but there were numerous paths to clear the mind; words, chants, sounds, lights, images or almost any meaningful sensory memory. But this time, it seemed like his Master guided him into its aura in a deeper way that he had ever felt before. A sting pricked his arm before that patch of skin then went numb as Ten-Zee applied a compact intravenous unit over his sleeve, but even that sudden intrusion only mildly rippled around his present calm. A healing calm. He closed his eyes . . . . . . . . The ship jolted and thumped. He winced and blinked, staring up at the relentless bare bright-white lights above. Again. No heads above him. He lifted his head and shoulders up. Ten-Zee laid one shiny appendage on his shoulder; the quad-eyes blinked as it raised a scanner. The intravenous unit was gone. “Please remain still while I examine you.” He lay his head back on the hardened padding. “Where are we?” “The ship has landed,” the droid informed him. “But I have not been informed of our destination.” Landed? Again? He and Qui-Gon had boarded the Weequay transport because it was going to the Seshrem Trading Post where they could get another transport all the way to Coruscant. Why would they be landing again? “Where is Master Qui-Gon?” “I believe he is with the Captain and Gileno Sil. Arranging for our dis-embarkment. Please remain still.” Though the droid’s digits were hard shiny metalloid, its touch was feather-light, but firm. Obi-Wan lay back. Ten-Zee had barely finished its scan and retracted the instrument when the door unsealed and opened again. Bending his head low under the door frame, Qui-Gon stepped through it. The droid informed him of Obi-Wan’s restored health and commented on his extraordinary recovery and good health, though it recommended light activity for a standard day and advised de-sensitizing therapy to prevent future mishaps. Obi-Wan did not recognize the culprit compound (an apparently common spice in Weequay cooking); Qui-Gon accepted a data chit from the droid, thanked it for its service and tucked the chit into a belt pouch. “He should also take in nutritional sustenance now,” the droid instructed on its way out to report to Gileno Sil, apparently the pink-haired woman who owned it. “Of course.” Qui-Gon bowed to the machine and the door slid closed and sealed behind him. They were alone. “Master, where are we?” He pushed himself up to sit. Only the briefest vertigo passed through him; he otherwise felt fine and quite ready to jump up off the pallet. Qui-Gon’s restraining hand guided him to go no further than just sitting up. The bulkhead was no more or less comfortable to rest his back on than the pallet. “We are in the Blistok system.” Obi-Wan had to think a moment before recognizing that Blistok was an oversized gas giant with four inhabited moons and several space stations. It was not on the most well-traveled hyperspace routes in the Galactic Republic, but it was an advanced and peaceful system. “We have landed in a secluded location to make an unscheduled delivery for Gileno Sil who is another passenger on this ship – an ‘un-scehduled’ one.” “I don’t understand.” “I will explain.” Qui-Gon reached out to a large cup in a recessed compartment. “But first, you require some sustenance.” Grimacing, Obi-Wan looked at it warily until his Master held up a food capsule from his belt. He stirred mixture he had made from that ration and water with a slender heating stick before handing it to his apprentice. Holding the cup with both hands, Obi-Wan sipped the warm, savory broth while Qui-Gon spoke. Gileno Sil was an anti-slavery activist, specifically she assisted escaping slaves to safe worlds in the Republic. The Galactic Republic’s anti-slavery laws allowed her to operate freely -- much to the ire of some Outer-Rim worlds – so long as she broke no laws. But crime syndicates and slavers were known to illegally hunt down and exact revenge on the liberators of their ‘property’, so Sil and others like her operated their networks of sanctuaries for newly freed slaves in secret. She had paid the Weequays to take her and a cargo of supplies – and not record the transport in her logs -- to a new ‘station’ in her network. There were a few members of the crew who had been freed by others like Sil and were enthusiastically supporting her work. Obi-Wan remembered how the Weequay captain had first refused to take them, that her ship was already committed and so full that could not take on even two more passengers. Qui-Gon and the Force influenced her to change her mind for a generous payment. But once on the ship, the crew seemed shocked by their presence with multiple whispering groups ducking away from them. The first mate dragged the captain off to speak privately about their new passengers. Qui-Gon had found out that they went to speak to Gileno Sil who actually approved of their new passengers, saying that the Jedi could be ‘useful’. ‘Useful” Obi-Wan repeated before raising the cup to his lips for another sip. With his now calm stomach, he was actually hungry, but he drank his ‘meal’ slowly, his recent illness too fresh in his mind. Qui-Gon admitted to being sympathetic to Sil’s project once he was informed of itand agreed to be introduced to the hosts of her new sanctuary. They were a religious order and would be impressed by a Jedi escort. “Are we escorting Sil?” Qui-Gon shrugged. “No. And I’ve made it clear that we will not participate in any deception.” His Master looked him up and down, his long hair brown hanging down past his shoulders. “How are you feeling?” “Oh, much better, Master.” He sat up straighter, ready to get up, buoyed a bit from the simple euphoria that sprang from just not feeling terrible anymore. Chuckling, Qui-Gon laid a restraining hand on his eager eighteen-year-old apprentice’s leg. “Finish that first.” He nodded toward the cup before standing. “Master - - - ” Obi-Wan reached out a hand without thinking. “I wanted to thank you. For helping me. I - - ” He took a breath. “I could feel you, and the Force, giving me strength.” Dark blue eyes smiling, Qui-Gon lay a hand on his shoulder. “You did much more than you give yourself credit for. The Force heals as well it gives strength. You are learning and it is coming more naturally to you.” The hand gave him a squeeze and pat before letting go. “I am very proud of you, Obi-Wan.” He had trouble seeing where he could have been guiding the Force’s healing amidst all the choking and vomiting and weakness, but he nodded, accepting the praise. “Yes, Master.” The doubt must have shown on his face; Qui-Gon gave him one more reassuring pat. “We’ll discuss this more when we return to Coruscant.” “Yes, Master.” He turned to the door hatch. “I’ll be back in a moment.” After he left, Obi-Wan drank down the last half of his broth and then swung his legs over the side of the pallet. Reminding himself not to rush, he breathed deeply, closed his eyes, cleared his mind. There was activity all around outside the white cubicle of calm in the ship’s sickbay. The usual crew commotion immediately after a ship landed. Even without the omnipresent rumble of a ship in transit, he could tell that they were on a planet. Exhaling, he stretched and stood. No queasiness, no weakness at all. Ten-Zee had effectively treated his malady and any aftereffect of the Weequay droid’s bungling. He reached for the huge brown wad of his robe that had been stuffed into a wall compartment. He had just put it on, checked his lightsaber, still on his belt and smoothed the folds of fabric over his tunic when Qui-Gon returned. His Master had the hood of his dark brown robe on, shadowing his pale face and beard. Obi-Wan put his own hood on and followed. They walked behind Gileno Sil and the captain down the ramp. Other crew members were unloading their crates from a larger ramp on the other end of the ship. Obi-Wan glimpsed silvery glints from Ten-Zee and a couple of other droids with the cargo. Their ship had landed in a cavernous stone hanger. Obi-Wan saw no natural light at all. This religious order had dug their scared space out of a mountain, a perfect place for a sanctuary, hidden from even the most determined scanners, for freed slaves looking to avoid vengeful slavers. Qui-Gon had said that their hosts were called the Observers of Lherin and that they believed that all things were alive and they paid homage to their own interpretation of the Force. Their name sounded familiar, but Obi-Wan would have to look them up in the Archives when they returned to the Jedi Temple. Three figures covered head-to-foot in robes approached. The middle one was in white, taller than the others, with a wrinkled pink face and very dark eyes peering at them. The other two were shorter and broader with younger pink faces framed by bright, light blue fabric. They looked past Sil and their leader to the two Jedi, arms folded into the sleeves before them. Their look was intense, but not hostile. After greeting their leader and exchanging mutual compliments (they had clearly commed each other many times before this first-time-in-person meeting), Sil introduced them. “Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi." The Head Observer looked impressed as they stepped forward, Obi-Wan closely following his Master’s lead. “You honor us, Master Jedi.” She raised an arm, two fingers sweeping a small circle. Immediately, the two blue robed figures behind her jumped back, threw their robes open and whipped out curved ceremonial blades and executed a quick set of flourishes. They were quite competent with their weapons; apparently Sil’s refugees would be well defended as well as hidden. Obi-Wan caught his Master’s eye motion toward him. Together, they both jumped back and performed their own ceremonial salute in return, ending with their ignited lightsabers in a vertical salute, Qui-Gon’s green and Obi-Wan’s blue, bright in the dark cavern, before extinguishing the blades and returning the hilts to their belts. Smiling broadly, the Head Observer inclined his head toward them. “So, will the Jedi now take the unjustly oppressed into their great temple, to heal them, offer comfort and guide them in their new freedom?” Qui-Gon paused a before exhaling a simple, “No. Our presence here was not by our intention.” “It was my fault, your Grace,” Sil explained in her raspy voice. “I commandeered this transport, while the Jedi were merely looking to get from one part of the galaxy to the other. But I thought that their presence was a sign of good fortune for our shared purpose.” “Hmmm, more than good fortune, I think. For in the vast living world there are no coincidences, only our limited perspectives. Perhaps you are here to see another purpose to which the Jedi might apply their great powers.” “Perhaps,” Qui-Gon answered the Head Observer with a hint of a smile on his lips. “The Jedi do as the Force wills. All the things that have occurred on this trip may have deeper purposes, but I would not presume to know what they are.” The Head Observer grinned back. “Well evaded, Master Jedi.” Then she looked past them. “I see that Captain Okno’s crew is very efficient.” All the cargo had been offloaded from the ship and stacked on lifters guided by blue-robed Observers, and the crew was heading back up the ramp. “We get the job done,” Okno affirmed. “We give you best rates for the work you do.” “We are grateful. Would you like to stay, and see how and where your delivery will be applied?” Sil shook her head. “Captain Okno has other work waiting for her ship on Seshrem. And I promised the Jedi a minimal delay.” They parted, Observers and Jedi bowing deeply to each other before they returned to the ship. The Captain went to her bridge, the Jedi and Gileno Sil to the common room to strap in for the jump to hyperspace. “That’s not a bad idea. The Jedi Temple taking in refugees from slavery. It would be a powerful statement in support of the Galactic Republic’s laws,” Sil suggested as they settled in. “The Jedi do not involve themselves in politics,” Qui-Gon stated. Obi-Wan saw her give his Master an angry glare and she looked as if she might disagree but then seemed to think better of starting an argument with her fellow passengers. Then she leaned to the side and both Jedi turned to see the ship’s droid hopping back and disappearing around a corner. “I am quite glad that my droid was able to help you,” she smiled toward Obi-Wan. “You look well.” “Thank-you. I’m very grateful for your help,” he replied quite sincerely. “I could not possibly refuse when I heard you needed help. It was very fortunate that I was here on the same ship as yourselves and could pull the medical droid from my shipment. Or perhaps bad luck that the crew’s foodstuffs disagreed so badly with you. Along with that droid.” “There is no such thing as luck,” Qui-Gon reminded her. “Our meeting, and your generous help, were the will of the Force.” Obi-Wan suppressed a grimace. He really did not want to think that his recent ordeal had been the ‘Will of the Force’. Or at least he thought he suppressed it, because Sil laughed cheerfully. “Well, I just hope that you’ve got a good medical droid standing by the next time you feel some of that ‘Will’ coming on.” >><< o >><< o >><< END >><< o >><< o >><< Disclaimer: This story first posted on tf.n on - - - . All characters and the Star Wars universe belong to Disney/Lucasfilm; I am just playing in their sandbox.