The darkness was total. Not even a hint of light penetrated the hood. Sound was muffled. Obi-Wan Kenobi balanced on his feet, kept his lightsaber in a defensive position, and concentrated. Without sight or clear sound, he had to rely completely on the Force.
He moved to the left, whirled, and struck with his lightsaber. It slashed through empty air. Yet he knew he'd been close.
Off to his right, he heard a buzzing sound, and the clatter of metal hitting the floor.
"Point, Siri," Obi-Wan's Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, said quietly.
Obi-Wan felt a trickle of sweat move down his neck. The hood was hot from his warm breath. He gripped his lightsaber harder. His opponent in this training exercise was Siri, another Jedi apprentice. She had already destroyed two seeker droids. He hadn't felled one.
"Remember your purpose, Obi-Wan."
He heard Qui-Gon's steady counsel. Even though Qui-Gon couldn't see his Padawan's face, he knew that Obi-Wan had lost his focus. The purpose of this exercise, Obi-Wan knew, was cooperation. It did not matter how many seeker droids he destroyed or how many were taken down by Siri. They would be judged on how they worked together. They would have to read each other's intentions through movement, instinct, and the Force. They would have to be generous, reaching out to each other to reveal their intentions.
But how could he reach out to someone who fought only for herself?
Siri focused on the enemy and ignored Obi-Wan. A skilled, graceful fighter, she was singleminded in her purpose. Every particle of her being was focused on victory. It mader her one of the best lightsaber fighters in the Temple. Even though she was eleven two years younger than Obi-Wan she had fought in his classes.
Faintly, he heard Siri's soft footsteps behind him, and heard her foot slide as she lunged. Another buzz, another clatter of medal.
"Good footwork, Siri," Adi Gallia called.
Obi-Wan gritted his teeth. Adi had only recently taken Siri as her Padawan. She had chosen Siri because of the girl's extraordinary promise. Now Siri was proving her value, showing up a more experienced Padawan Ð Obi-Wan.
Frustration and irritation surged inside him, driving out his connection to the Force. Obi-Wan listened intently for the slight stir in the air that the seeker droid caused. He heard the sound, whirled to his left, and collided with Siri.
"Opposite corners," Adi rapped out. "Begin again."
Obi-Wan moved back to his corner. He rubbed his palm along his tunic. His hands were perspiring, and his lightsaber almost slipped. Dropping it while fighting alongside Siri would be humiliating.
He wished he had Qui-Gon's patience. He still had so much to learn. Try as he might, he could not penetrate Siri's devotion to the exercise. It was her battle, her challenge. There was no room for him.
They started forward again. Obi-Wan moved slowly, reaching out to the Force to tell him where the seeker droids were flying. He heard another clang as a seeker droid hit the floor.
"Trust your partner as well as the Force," Adi called. "Aggression and competitiveness have no place in this exercise."
Obi-Wan felt Siri move slightly nearer to him. Yet he still felt nothing from her. Another seeker droid hit the floor, and Obi-Wan's irritation crested and drove out his caution. He reached out, ignoring Siri.
Buzz, clang! A seeker droid hit the floor as he dropped to one knee and made a horizontal sweep. He rolled to his left, then swung upward. Clang! Another droid hit the floor. Why should he wait for Siri's cooperation while she destroyed all the droids herself? He would look like a fool.
Obi-Wan twisted, lunged, and attacked again. He heard Siri's breathing and the whisper of her quick footwork as she did the same. Within minutes, the two of them had destroyed every seeker droid in the room.
Obi-Wan felt a glow of satisfaction as he removed his hood. They had defeated their opponents in record time. Siri threw back her hood and pushed her golden hair behind her ears. Her vivid blue eyes blazed with satisfaction. They bowed to each other, then turned to face their Masters.
"You have both failed the exercise," Qui-Gon said sternly.
Adi rose, her garments rustling. Her tall stature and air of command made her an intimidating figure. She drew Siri aside and began to speak to her in a low tone. Qui-Gon tossed a towel to Obi-Wan so that he could wipe the perspiration off his forehead.
"I know you can fight," Qui-Gon told him. "You've proven yourself in battle after battle. That was not the point of the exercise, Padawan."
"I know," Obi-Wan admitted. "But she -- "
Qui-Gon didn't wait for him to finish. "Siri has her own strengths and weaknesses. That was for you to discover. You merge with the strength, cover the weakness. Together, the two of you are stronger."
"Siri did not better than I did," Obi-Wan said. He knew he sounded sulky, but he couldn't help himself. It was Siri who had changed the rules of the exercise.
"Siri is not my Padawan," Qui-Gon said sternly. "We are speaking of you. Remember Obi-Wan, the fear of looking like a fool is never a reason for doing something. Or not do it. It is a fear born in weakness."
Obi-Wan nodded. He knew better than to continue to challenge Qui-Gon. At least they would soon be leaving. He would not have to repeat the exercise with Siri. Yoda had informed them that he was sending them on a mission.
Just then Yoda entered the training room. He tucked his hands inside his robe, waiting for them to face him.
"A summons we have received," he said. "Parents have contacted their Jedi. Think they do that their child might be Force-sensitive. Kegan, the planet is. Are you familiar with this world?
He asked the question of Qui-Gon and Adi. Both Jedi masters shook their heads. Obi-Wan was surprised. Between the two, they had traveled an extensive amount.
"Remote Kegan is," Yoda said. "A one-planet system orbiting one sun. It is an Outer Rim planet, cut off from the galaxy. Trade agreements, they do not have. Travel to other worlds, they do not do. Outsiders, they do not welcome. No one has landed on the planet in thirty years."
"That is very unusual," Qui-Gon observed.
Yoda blinked. He had lived long and seen much. There was not much that could surprise him.
"A good sign this request may be," he said. "Think we do that by taking this step Kegan means to open up relations with the Inner Core worlds. Welcomes this, the Galactic Senate does. Relations between worlds fosters peace. So two parts, your mission has. Open relations with Kegan we must. Determine the child's potential we must as well. A planet that isolates itself can be filled with suspicion and fear. Diplomatic you must be. Disruption you must not allow."
Yoda looked at Adi and Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan was confused. Was he sending the two Jedi Masters instead of a Master-Padawan team?
"Two teams we have decided to send," Yoda said.
"You mean all of us?" Obi-Wan blurted in dismay.
Yoda ignored his tone. "Cooperate you must to complete this mission."
Cooperate with Siri? Obi-Wan wanted to cry. He'd need more than the Force to accomplish that!