Chapter One

Obi-Wan Kenobi slung his survival pack over his shoulder and yawned. It had been a long journey.

Around him rose the many levels of Coruscant, the city that covered a planet. He was standing on a landing platform at one of the high levels of the city, surrounded by tall buildings with spires and turrets. The mists around him could be atmosphere or clouds. The sky was filled with transports, large and small, that negotiated the air lanes with skill and daring.

Obi-Wan watched as his Master, the Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn, thanked the space hauler pilot who had let them hitch a ride to Coruscant. He noted the respectful way Qui-Gon bowed to the scruffy creature. His manner was gentle, yet strength was behind every word and gesture. Obi-Wan hoped that one day he would have his Master's grace and assurance with other living beings. Often he just felt awkward with the many characters they met on their journeys.

Time passes and it teaches, Qui-Gon had told him. You are fourteen. You have much to see and much to experience. Do not hurry the knowledge you seek. It takes time.

"Sorry I can't bring you all the way," the pilot said to the Jedi. "But there are plenty of air taxies cruising this neighborhood."

"We are grateful for your help. I wish you a safe journey home," Qui-Gon said in his quiet way.

"Always glad to help out a Jedi," the pilot answered, giving them a cheerful wave.

Qui-Gon slung his survival pack over his shoulder and gave a satisfied look around. "It is good to be back," he said.

Obi-Wan nodded. Coruscant was where the Jedi Temple was located, and the Temple was home. It was almost time for the midday meal, and Obi-Wan had been thinking about it as the kilometers went by. He and Qui-Gon had been traveling throughout the galaxy for some time.

"Look, here comes an air taxi." Obi-Wan started forward.

"Wait, Padawan."

Obi-Wan turned. Qui-Gon hesitated and waved him back. "I have another idea. Would you mind if we made a stop first?"

Obi-Wan tried to hide his disappointment. "Whatever you wish."

Qui-Gon smiled. "It won't take long. There's someone I'd like you to meet — a friend. It's not far. We can walk there."

Qui-Gon strode to the end of the landing platform and activated a temporary crossing bridge to the next level. Here in the Senate district, the buildings were close together and the walkways were easy to navigate without relying on air transport.

Obi-Wan caught up to Qui-Gon's long stride. He waited, knowing that if Qui-Gon wanted to give him more information about this friend, he would.

"Didi Oddo runs a café near the Senate building," Qui-Gon explained. "He's an informant, of sorts. Many Jedi come to him for information. We don't pay, but we try to watch out for him in return for his help. He knows all types on Coruscant — from Senatorial aides to gamblers to various beings who find laws a hindrance to their...operations." Qui-Gon gave a brief smile. "Everyone knows Didi's Café. I first met him when I was only a bit older than you are now."

Obi-Wan detected fondness in Qui-Gon's tone. His tiredness lifted. It would be interesting to meet a friend of Qui-Gon's. And a café meant he might be able to have a meal.

They traveled along a pedestrian walkway past shops and restaurants, all catering to the tourist and business people who traveled to Coruscant to either tour the Senate or offer petitions there. Occasionally they would have to activate a pedestrian bridge to move from one level to another. The walkways were crowded with being from all over the galaxy. Talk bubbled around them in Basic as well as several languages unfamiliar to Obi-Wan.

Qui-Gon stopped before a small café on a corner. It appeared shabby beside the grander restaurants next door. An attempt had been made to improve it by painting the windowsills and doorframe a cheerful shade of blue. But the fresh coats of paint only made the cracked and pitted stone walls appear more run-down than they were.

Still, Obi-Wan noticed that the restaurant next door was empty, and the dingy café was packed. He could see everyone inside, sitting at small tables crowded together, all talking, gesturing, and eating enormous plates of food.

"Do not engage with anyone," Qui-Gon instructed him. "There are all types here, and fights are common."

He started for the entrance, then stopped and turned. "Oh, and one more thing. Whatever you do, don't eat the food."

Suppressing a sigh, Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon into the bustling café. Tables were packed so closely together they could barely squeeze through. Obi-Wan nearly knocked one customer's plate to the floor. The customer, a Togorian, grabbed at it, snarling.

"Clumsy fool!"

Obi-Wan kept walking, carefully following Qui-Gon's graceful threading through the narrow spaces. Finally, they reached an open area near the back. A long bar ran along one wall. It was crowded with customers.

"That's enough for you there, Andoran," a cheerful voice called. "Finish your ale and get a plate of food to eat. You need food, not drink, my good friend. Pilus, do you call this a tip? You just made a fortune running spice to the Quintus system. You can do better — manys the favor I've done for you, and I have a daughter to raise. Nadarr, let me refill your tea. No, no, don't pay me, save it for your wife's care. Funny how we all get better when we can afford to pay the doctor."

Qui-Gon grinned. "That's Didi."

Obi-Wan still couldn't see anything. Then a small, round man with a melancholy face jumped onto a stool behind the bar. He reached up to grab a bottle, then turned and saw them.

"Stars and planets, it's Qui-Gon Jinn! Clear the way, friends, I have a greeting to bestow!" The mournful face creased into a smile. With surprising agility, Didi leaped onto the bar, then onto the floor.

He threw his short arms around the tall Jedi. Obi-Wan stepped back, confused. He had never seen anyone hug Qui-gon. The Jedi was such a private man that Obi-Wan expected him to disengage himself from the embrace. Instead, he pounded Did on the back.

"It is good to see you," Qui-Gon said.

Didi released Qui-Gon. "You rogue, you stayed away too long. But my eyes thank me as they look upon your person."

Qui-Gon gestured at the café. "There have been changes. You've dressed up the place. New paint, new decoration. It looks nicer." He cast an eye along the food bar. "And cleaner."

Cleaner? Obi-Wan thought. You mean it looked worse than this?

"My daughter Astri's doing." Didi shrugged his round shoulders. "She's trying to attract a better clientele. Wants me to get rid of tables, have more elbow room. Buy new renovations. She's even taken cooking lessons! She'll either ruin me or make me a fortune; I haven't decided which. And who is this delightful young man with you?"

"This is my Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Qui-Gon said.

Obi-Wan nodded at Didi. "I'm happy to meet you."

"An I you." Didi's face turned serious. He touched Qui-Gon's arm. "I think fate sent you to my door, my good friend."

Qui-Gon shot him a keen glance. "Is everything all right?"

"Everything is..." Didi paused. "We can't talk here. Come into the office."

Obi-Wan followed behind as Didi slid the panel open and ushered them into a cluttered back room. Supply boxes were stacked to the ceiling, and the desk was littered with account records, folded napkins, and a food spattered apron.

As soon as the door swung shut behind them, Didi's cheerful face crumpled. He rubbed his plump hands together and fixed Qui-Gon with a mournful gaze.

"My friend," he said. "I am afraid. Danger stalks me. I need your help."