The change at the Jedi Temple hit Obi-Wan Kenobi even before he stepped inside. The Temple was usually a place of meditation and study, the hushed quiet often interrupted by the sound of soft laughter from behind a closed door, the excited voices of young children, or the faint sound of splashing fountains.
But now the peace is gone, Obi-Wan thought. The quiet felt ominous. It wasn't the quiet of busy souls going about their day. It was the wary hush of a sanctuary under siege.
Obi-Wan stood with his former Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, outside the closed door of the Jedi Council room. At any moment they would be summoned inside. They had been called back to the Temple for the most devastating of reasons an attack on Jedi Master Yoda's life.
Obi-Wan glanced at Qui-Gon. To an observer, Qui-Gon would seem to possess his usual composure. But Obi-Wan knew better. He could sense the sharp distress that ticked underneath the control.
The Temple was on high security. As always it was completely closed to outsiders. But now even Jedi Knights had been ordered to stay away until further notice. All arrivals and departures were monitored, and no one was allowed to leave except on the most pressing of missions. Even though most of the Jedi knew Qui-Gon by sight, both he and Obi-Wan had to undergo a retinal scan before entering the Temple from the spaceport level.
Qui-Gon's finger tapped the hilt of his lightsaber, then stopped. His face smoothed out, and Obi-Wan knew that Qui-Gon was reaching out to the Force to find his center of calm.
Obi-Wan tried to control his own apprehension. He was burning with questions and speculations, but he did not dare break the silence. Relations between him and his former Master had been strained since Obi-Wan decided he couldn't be Qui-Gon's Padawan any longer. He had renounced his Jedi training in order to help the young people of Melida/Daan bring peace to their planet. Obi-Wan realized now what a mistake he had made. He was a Jedi to the bone. All he wanted was to be accepted back into the order and be Qui-Gon's Padawan again.
Qui-Gon had told Obi-Wan that he'd forgiven him for leaving the Jedi. But if Qui-Gon had truly forgiven him in his heart, why was there this awkward silence between them? Qui-Gon was a reserved man, but Obi-Wan had come to count on the respect and warmth he often saw in his former Master's eyes, as well as his occasional flashes of humor.
Obi-Wan knew that once he was called inside the Council chamber, his own fate might be decided. His heart rose at the thought that perhaps the Council had already voted to accept him back. He had told Yoda that he deeply regretted his decision. He hoped that Yoda might have pleaded his case.
Obi-Wan pressed a hand to his forehead. His increasing anxiety had caused him to perspire. Or was the Temple warmer than normal?
He was about to ask Qui-Gon when the door to the Council room hissed open. Obi-Wan stepped into the room behind Qui-Gon. The twelve Council members ringed the chamber in a semicircle. Gray light flooded the room from the large windows overlooking the white towers and spires of Coruscant. Outside, the wispy clouds looked like thin metallic sheets. An occasional flash of silver shimmered, the wings of a spacecraft catching a ray of sunshine as the clouds momentarily parted.
Obi-wan had only been in the Council room a few times. He was always awed by the depth of the Force here. With so many Jedi Masters in one space, the air seemed charged.
Immediately his eyes sought Yoda. He was relieved to see the Jedi Master sitting in his usual place, appearing calm and healthy. Yoda's gaze passed over him neutrally, then focused on Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan felt a twinge of worry. He wished Yoda's glance had been more reassuring.
Qui-Gon took his place in the center of the room, and Obi-Wan joined him.
A senior member of the Council, Mace Windu, did not waste time on preliminaries. "We thank you for coming," he said in his dignified way. His eyebrows knit together worriedly. "To be frank, this event has shaken us. Master Yoda rose before dawn to meditate, as is his custom. He went to the Room of a Thousand Fountains, again as is his custom. Before reaching a footbridge he sensed a surge in the dark side of the Force. He hesitated, listening to the Force, and in that heartbeat a device planted underneath the footbridge exploded. The intention was to kill Yoda. Luckily he is not so easily fooled."
Mace Windu paused. A collective shudder seemed to run through everyone in the Council room. So many depended on Yoda's wisdom.
"Mace Windu, here with you now am I," Yoda said gently. "Dwell on the could haves, we must not. Focus on the solution, we must."
Mace Windu nodded. "Master Yoda saw the flicker of a meditation robe as someone hurried away. This person ducked underneath a waterfall, then disappeared in the churning surf."
"Strong in the dark side, he was," Yoda said, nodding.
"We know that Bruck Chun hasn't left the temple since you discovered he was the culprit in the thefts," Mace Windu said to Qui-Gon. "We still do not know who he has allied himself with. We only know there is an intruder in the Temple."
"Has the person been spotted again?" Qui-Gon asked.
"No," Mace Windu said. He reached for a data sheet on the arm of his chair. "But just this morning, a student found this. It was left outside a meditation chamber."
Qui-Gon took the data sheet from Mace Windu's outstretched hand. He read it, then handed it to Obi-Wan.
MEDITATE ON THIS, MASTERS:
NEXT TIME I WILL NOT FAIL.
Mace Windu placed his hands on each armrest. "Naturally, this has been the focus of consideration and debate. We feel the dark side working. Not only that, but it appears the invader has managed to sabotage our central power structure. You may have noticed the warmer air. We have a perplexing problem with the air cooling unit. Every time Miro Daroon fixes something in the tech center, there is another malfunction elsewhere. There have also been various problems with the lighting and communication systems in some of the wings of the Temple. Miro is hard-pressed to keep up."
Obi-Wan was puzzled. Mace Windu had not looked at him once during his briefing. Why was he here? He wasn't technically a Jedi, since the Council had not extended the offer to take him back. And he certainly wasn't Qui-Gon's Padawan any longer.
At that moment, every face on the Jedi Council turned to him. Mace Windu's intense gaze studied his face. Obi-Wan struggled to remember his Jedi training composure. It wasn't easy to have twelve Jedi Masters staring at him. And the penetrating gaze of Mace Windu was the most rigorous of all. His dark eyes had a way of making you feel he had seen into the very heart of you, ferreting out secret feelings you weren't even aware you had.
"Obi-Wan, we are hoping that you will have insights into what Bruck Chan can and will do," Mace Windu said heavily.
"I wasn't his friend," Obi-Wan said, surprised.
"You were his rival," Mace Windu said. "That could be even more valuable to us."
Obi-Wan was at a loss. "But I didn't know Bruck well. I knew how he would move in a lightsaber dual, yes. But not what was in his mind or heart."
No one said anything. Obi-Wan struggled not to betray his apprehension. He had disappointed the Jedi Masters once more. Looking around the room, he did not meet one friendly eye. Even Yoda gave him no encouragement. He wanted to wipe his damp palms on his tunic, but he didn't dare.
"Of course I'll do whatever I can to help," he added quickly. "Just tell me what you want me to do. I can talk to his friends "
"No need," Mace Windu interrupted. He laced his long fingers together. "Until a decision is made by the Council, we must ask you not to interfere with Temple business unless we ask you otherwise."
Obi-Wan felt stung. "The Temple is my home!" he cried.
"You are welcome to remain here until your situation is resolved, of course," Mace Windu said. "There is still much discussion to take place."
"But there is a real threat to the Temple," Obi-Wan argued. "You need help. And I wasn't here during the petty thefts. I'm one of the few Jedi students who can be ruled out as a suspect. Someone could have helped Bruck. I could investigate."
Obi-Wan saw with a sinking feeling that he had made a mistake. He should have known better than to ask the Council to take him back based on the fact that he could be of use to them in a crisis.
Mace Windu's sharp gaze cut him like ice. "I think the Jedi can manage to solve the crisis without that kind of help from you."
"Of course," Obi-Wan said. "But I wish to tell all the Jedi Masters that I feel genuine remorse for my decision. It felt right at the time, but I've come to see how wrong it was. I want nothing more than to have back what I once had. I want to be a Padawan. I want to be a Jedi."
"Have again what you had, you cannot," Yoda said. "Different you are. Different is Qui-Gon. Every moment makes you so. Every decision a cost it has."
Ki-Adi-Mundi spoke up. "Obi-Wan, you have violated not only the trust of Qui-Gon, but the trust of the Council. You seem not to recognize this."
"But I do!" Obi-Wan exclaimed. "I take responsibility for it and I'm sorry for it."
"You are thirteen years old, Obi-Wan. You are not a child," Mace Windu said with a frown. "Why do you speak as one? Sorry does not make the offense disappear. You interfered in the internal affairs of a planet without official Jedi approval. You defied the order of your Master. A Master depends on the loyalty of the Padawan, just as the Padawan depends on the Master. If that trust is broken, the bond shatters."
The sting of Mace's words made Obi-Wan wince. He did not expect the Council to be so severe. He couldn't look at Qui-Gon. His gaze found Yoda's.
"Unclear your path is, Obi-Wan," Yoda said with more gentleness. "Hard it is to wait. But wait you must to see your way revealed."
"You may go, Obi-Wan," Mace Windu said. "We must speak with Qui-Gon privately. You may go to your old quarters."
Well, at least that's something, Obi-Wan thought. He struggled to maintain his dignity as he bowed to the Council. But he knew his cheeks burned with shame as he left the room.