Obi-Wan Kenobi peered through the dense cloud cover, hoping to catch a glimpse of the surface of the planet Rutan. All he saw was a thick gray mist that swirled around the starship, forming tiny droplets that trickled down the viewport.
He stretched out his legs impatiently. He was anxious to arrive on the planet and start the mission. It had been a long journey from Coruscant Ð his muscles felt cramped and he longed for fresh air. Their small starship, on loan from the Senate, had needed repairs, which had added a full day to their journey.
Noting his restless movement, his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, glanced at him. "Control your impatience, Obi-Wan," he remarked. "The mission begins before it starts, when we can prepare for what lies ahead."
Obi-Wan suppressed a sigh. Qui-Gon was a Jedi Master, and his wisdom was legendary. His advice usually made sense after Obi-Wan thought about it a moment. But sometimes it could be difficult to follow. Especially when he had been sitting in a transport for three days, waiting to get somewhere.
Qui-Gon gave him a short smile. The good thing about Obi-Wan's Master was that even while he chided Obi-Wan's impatience, he understood it as well.
"So let us review what we know about the mission ahead," Qui-Go suggested. "Information is preparation. What do we know about the history of Rutan and Senali?"
"Senali is an orbiting satellite of Rutan," Obi-Wan recited, remembering the information Jedi Master Yoda had provided them back on Coruscant. "Now it is a separate world with its own government, but it was a colony of Rutan for many years. Two worlds fought a long and difficult war that took its toll on both populations. The war was won by the satellite Senali in a surprising upset."
Obi-Wan stopped as his attention swerved and memory took over. Months ago, he had been involved in a civil war on the planet of Melida/Daan. In that conflict, the side with fewer weapons and lesser power had won, surprising not only the other side, but the galaxy. He knew firsthand how resolve and cunning could win out over superior forces.
"And what happened after that?" Qui-Gon prompted, breaking into his thoughts.
"Since the war was devastating to both worlds, a unique peace agreement was decided upon. The firstborn children of the rulers of both Rutan and Senali are exchanged when each child reaches seven years of age. The child is brought up on the neighboring planet, but is allowed to receive visitors and go for short visits to his or her home planet, as well as be in contact with the royal family. This is so that he or she does not forget his or her birth family or duty."
"And what happens when the child is sixteen?" Qui-Gon prompted.
"The child is allowed to return to his or her home planet in order to be groomed for leadership," the thirteen-year-old Padawan answered. "Another member of the ruling family takes his or her place until the next generation is born."
"It's an interesting solution to the problem of maintaining peace between two old enemies," Qui-Gon mused. "The thinking is that the leader of each world will not attack a planet where his or her child is residing. But the plan has a flaw that the rulers didn't take into account."
"What is that?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Feelings," Qui-Gon answered. "Loyalties are formed in your heart, not born in you. Emotion can't be ruled. Both leaders thought that if their children were with them for their first seven years, that would ensure their loyalty. But one can be loyal to one's home planet and yet want a different life."
"Like Prince Leed," Obi-Wan said. "He has lived on Senali for almost ten years. He does not want to return to Rutan."
Again, Obi-Wan thought back to his experience on Melida/Daan. He had wanted to join that society and live there. But even though he had made the choice to do so, he had not given up his loyalty to the Temple. Others had not seen it that way. He sensed that he would understand the torn feelings of Prince Leed.
"Or at least Leed claims he wants to stay on Senali," Qui-Gon amended. "That's what we're here to find out. His father believes the Senali are forcing him to stay. That's why the Senate fears that the two worlds will go to war again."
The mist began to break into patches of cloud. A large city appeared beneath them.
"That must be Testa, the capital city," Qui-Gon said. "The royal guards of the king are on the outskirts."
Suddenly a warning light flashed on the control panel.
"I was afraid of this," Qui-Gon murmured. "Thanks to our detour, our fuel is very low."
He guided the craft closer to the planet's surface. They left the city behind and began to glide above a field of stubby, straw-colored grass. A warning alarm pinged.
"We're losing fuel fast. I can't make it to the royal landing platform," Qui-gon said. He checked the coordinates. "If we land on this field, we won't be far from the palace. We're close enough to walk."
Obi-Wan flicked the controls that would prepare the ship for landing. Qui-Gon headed for level ground and guided the transport to a smooth stop.
"Let's just take our survival packs," Qui-Gon suggested. "No doubt King Frane will refuel the transport for us and we can fly it to the landing platform later."
Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon down the ramp. Together they struck out across the field. Obi-Wan enjoyed the sensation of being outside again. He inhaled the fresh scent of the grass and tilted his head back to catch the faint rays of the sun that managed to filter through the clouds and mist.
Suddenly, Qui-Gon stopped. "Do you feel it?" he asked.
Obi-Wan felt nothing. But he waited before answering. Qui-Gon's perceptions were usually sharper than his. His Master had a deep connection to the Force that united all things.
Then he felt it, too Ð a vibration in the dirt beneath his feet.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure," Qui-Gon said. He crouched and put a hand on the ground. "Not equipment. Animals."
Obi-Wan peered through the mist. Far away he thought he saw a cloud of dust rise from the field. The dry grass rippled, but there was no breeze. Then he picked out shapes through the mist. Galloping animals were heading toward them.
"They are running scared. It's a stampede," Qui-Gan said. He whipped his head around. "There's no time to find shelter, and we're too far from the trees. Run with them, Padawan. Do not let yourself fall or you'll get trampled.
"Run with what?" Now Obi-Wan could hear the pounding noise. "What are they?"
"Kudana," Qui-Gon said tersely. He scanned the air overhead. Dots that Obi-Wan had thought were birds suddenly dived and twisted like no birds Obi-Wan had ever seen. One of the dots zoomed toward them. It was a seeker droid. Obi-Wan saw an indicator light flash.
"A hunt," Qui-Gon corrected as in one smooth movement he withdrew his lightsaber and activated it. "And now we are the prey."