Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Taninim and Leviathan
Part 1 - Taninim
3985 BBY

Sriluur was not the sort of heroic posting that a young Jedi would hope for. The arid Weequay home world held little excitement or danger besides the occasional sand storm. The closest anything came to intrigue was helping the indigenous government to keep its sovereignty from the Hutt and Black Sun agents who always seemed to be bent on weaseling their way in. Meanwhile, the Weequay population was so collectivist in nature that individuals did not even take names for themselves. They showed very little warmth to outsiders, as there was hardly any mutual understanding between cultures. It was the last place in the galaxy that Embrik Waykennit would have chosen for himself

Embrik, however, did not have much of a choice in the matter. He was nearly thirteen when Master Aram Isliyae selected him to be his padawan, and Aram Isliyae happened to be the Jedi Watchman for the slice of space ambiguously called the Periphery. It earned its name from its unclear control and position, butting right up against Hutt Space. It was a line that was often blurred. Sriluur was more-or-less the capital of the sector and therefore Master Isliyae's base of operations.

At first, Embrik had difficulty hiding his disgust at his new assignment. He found the natives uninviting and the weather oppressive. The settlements they called cities were nothing compared to Coruscant around the Jedi Temple where he grew up. He had longed for the buzz of excitement, the crowds, and the noise.

Thanks to the anti-individualist culture of the Weequay, they rarely gave a Jedi Master and his Padawan learner anything to worry about. It was only the immigrants that raised any trouble. From the stories told around the academy, the Outer Rim was full of danger and excitement. Embrik's assignment was a far cry from that.

But, as three years passed, Sriluur and the Weequay grew on him. Of all the places in the sector that they patrolled, the port city of Dnalvec had begun to feel like a second home to him. While he still could not claim to understand the Weequay, he finally felt like he could recognize and even appreciate their civilities. Both the Weequay and the teachings of an old Miraluka had done wonders in a once restless padawan.

It was dawn and the two Jedi were arriving in Dnalvec once again. Embrik's usually relief of homecoming, however, was spoiled by the news that they had overheard the previous afternoon. Three makeshift transports packed to the brim with refugees from a system no one had ever heard of had just arrived in Dnalvec. The Master and Padawan immediately hitched a ride on an express speeder convoy from the capital and skidded across the desert all night long. Large waves of immigrants always meant trouble for Sriluur, in one way or another. Refugees were often the worst.

Aram and Embrik disembarked at the small speeder station and made their way to the north edge of the city. The speeder convoy had already brought them in on the north-easternly quarter, so there was not much distance to cover. The morning chill of the desert still hung in the air. Soon enough, the sun would warm the sands, bringing on near-scorching heat. It was the hour of the day that Embrik liked best on Sriluur. People were beginning to stir, to start the day's work, but few business were open yet. The was a calm quiet about the spaceport city. It was a stark contrast from Coruscant, and yet, he liked it.

Aram led the way, though he did not need to. Embrik knew the roads of Dnalvec as well as his master did. They kept to the narrower side-streets that rarely saw much motor traffic. Sandy-colored mud-brick buildings lined either side of the streets. None stood taller than five stories, the most their traditional methods of construction could support. An occasional durasteel monstrosity jutted up above the adobe. Embrik had originally felt some comfort and satisfaction in seeing modern buildings so far out on the savage outer rim. Now, their harsh edges and unnatural constructions offended him, among all the Weequay buildings.

The Miraluka Jedi Master set a pace that was neither rushed nor relaxed, the hem of his brown, wool robe kicking up dust in his wake. Although nearly seventy years old, he always walked briskly and purposefully. It did credit to his conditioning as a Jedi.

“Master,” Embrik ventured after several minutes of walking in silence at his master's heels, “I saw you browsing your records last night when you thought I was asleep.”

“I knew you weren't asleep, Padawan,” he replied curtly, without turning his head or slowing.

“Of course,” Embrik resigned with a light laugh, then returned to his original question, “Did you discover anything new about the origin of these refugees, anything about Fell?”

“Even the records of a historian are sparse with regard to this mysterious colony,” Aram admitted. He brushed his hood off his head, revealing a mess of white hair. The plain cotton band that he wrapped around where his eyes would have been provided the only means of keeping the unkempt hair in check. Despite their inability to see as most of the rest of the galaxy could, Embrik had found most Miraluka to be vain, always ornamenting themselves with intricate masks, hoods, and visors. Aram Isliyae was an exception. “Fell is located, as far as I can tell, on the far outer rim, beyond the Bheriz sector. It was established by colonists from Nar Shadaa about two generations ago,” he continued after a few moments deep in thought, “I can imagine that the colonist were not much different than the usual residents of the Smugglers' Moon. Ostensibly, the colony was established to mine zinc, but covertly, it seems to have more productive spice mines.”

“Then why is it so little-known by the galaxy at large? Something like that must have caught someone's attention somewhere,” Embrik asked, then countered himself, “Unless they were very careful not to catch anyone's attention.”

“Spice is a dangerous good to deal in for many reasons,” Aram nodded in agreement, “It seems that something has gone wrong in the colony. Though, the records give no clear clues as to what the cause for this influx of refugees could be, nor did the rumors that reached us.”

“I wonder what would cause a few hundred people to flee their home planet, one that almost no one knows about or would care enough to attack,” Embrik thought out loud. The pair of Jedi turned onto a wider street that skirted the outer edge of the city. Already in the distance, he could see a squatter village of make-shift shelters springing up where none had been before.

“What possible causes are there? Think, Embrik,” Aram asked patiently.

“Well, most refugees come from wars,” he guesses, “But if this colony was so small, it would take some pretty serious in-fighting to drive people off like this. Maybe someone did get interested in the spice and decided to attack and take the colony for their own. Or maybe it was a plague that sent them all running.”

“If that is the case, we will need to advise a quarantine for the new arrivals,” the Miraluka nodded. “Go on.”

“There could have been some natural disasters that made living on Fell for them unsafe. Maybe their homes were destroyed and they didn't want to rebuild. Or couldn't,” Embrik was running out of ideas as they drew nearer to the informal refugee camp, “Maybe their supplies failed and they ran out of food, or maybe the indigenous population decided to drive them out.”

“All likely options, except the last,” Aram said approvingly, “The records did state that there were no sentient life forms native to the planet, but you did not have any way of knowing that as you did not read the records. You, my padawan, really need to start concerning yourself with research as well. A Jedi should keep himself well-informed, especially a Watchman.”

“Master, we have been over this before,” Embrik replied sourly, “I have been training as a Jedi Guardian, not a watcher.”

“And where have you been these last three years?” Aram's voice did not betray any harshness in the reprimand, “While you are with me, you are a Watchman. And you may find that the will of the Force—and the postings of the Council—may surprise you. Do not discount it from your future whatever your logic tells you.”

“Yes master,” Embrik bowed his head shamefully. “I do enjoy what we've been doing.”

“There, you see?” Aram said with a smile, “And I promise, it has been good for you, and will continue to be so. Although you have made considerable progress on that front, you must not be so eager to draw your lightsaber in combat.” Embrik could count on his fingers how many times he had seen the old man's green blade ignited. Embrik himself, much to his embarrassment, had jumped the gun and brandished his weapon on at least three times as many occasions.

Even before reaching the edge of the squatter town, Embrik could smell it. It reeked of urine, body odor, and heavily salted foods that had gone bad even despite the preservatives. Embrik fought to keep the look of revulsion from his face.

Master Aram halted and gazed over the expanse of people with unseeing eyes. Embrik stopped beside him and crossed his arms thoughtfully, trying to look every inch a together and confident Jedi. With cream tunic and trousers and a brown wool robe to match his master, he looked outwardly like a Jedi should. Except for a neat padawan braid behind his right ear, his mop of black hair was every bit as messy as Aram's as well. They made a well-matched pair.

The refugee camp before them stretched out for the distance of several blocks. People, mostly crouching or laying in the dust, mingled with small cook fires, cobbled-together bundles of belongings, and makeshift shelters.. It was a sea of bright—almost to the point of being vulgar—colors. Or maybe that was just Embrik's Jedi upbringing talking. He had come to like wearing only simple creams and browns like most of the Coruscanti Jedi.

A few wary Weequay patrolled the perimeter. The nearest one acknowledged Aram and Embrik with a wave-salute before continuing on his rounds.

Seeming to be satisfied with his own assessments, Aram turned to his padawan, “Embrik, what do you see?” He was a seasoned teacher. Embrik was his fifth and, as he often half-jokingly asserted, last padawan.

“Lots of filthy people, just laying around,” he answered untactfully.

“You must allow them that it is early in the morning and they have come a long way, against some kind of hardship,” Aram reminded him.

“You know, they're almost all human,” Embrik realized with some surprise. Due to the prejudices of the galaxy, more often than not, people in positions such as these were alien. “And they seem poor, like this isn't the first hardship they have seen.”

“What tells you that?” Aram probed, pleased.

“The clothes they wear aren't fancy, and the things they bring with them look like supplies for living, not heirlooms or valuables that they could sell to help them start up a new life on a new world. And—it's in their body language as well. Wealthy people wouldn't submit to sleeping on the bare ground without some disgust.”

“Good,” Aram praised, “Now what do you sense?”

Embrik did not answer immediately. He closed his eyes and let out a deep breath, probing gently outward. He spoke openly as he felt, “There is both regret and relief among them. Relief to be away from whatever made them flee and relief that their welcome here has not been so bad. There is some fear, but mostly just apprehension. Some sadness too and some anger, but there is really so much apathy.” He opened his eyes and looked up at his master, “I don't understand Master. How could refugees feel so apathetic about their situation?”

“It is our duty to find out,” Aram replied. “And to discover the cause of their flight. If we can, we will also see what can be done to get them settled or moved along on their journey.”

“Yes Master,” Embrik nodded.

“Let us walk among them for a while and see what we can discover,” Aram suggested, then set off at a casual pace. With Embrik again following at his heels, they wove through the crowded camp. Most people simple stared dumbly, saying nothing and thinking little of their presence.

“Jedi, eh?” one man finally noted. He squatted lazily next to a cook fire, chewing something in his cheek. He clearly had been deprived of a razor for about a week, a rough stubble beard growing across his jaw. “I didn't think I'd ever see your like this far out.”

“We try to be everywhere we can be, sir,” Master Aram replied, turning towards him.

The man saw the bandages around where Aram's eyes should be and drew back, unnerved. He had evidently never heard of a Miraluka before. “The name's Max,” he said.

“Max, as you seem to be more awake than most of your fellows here, maybe you could help us,” Embrik invited.

“Help a couple of Jedi? Ha!” he chuckled, “You think I look like a man who could help anybody? I just left my krifing poodoo pit of a home for who-knows-what. I'm just lucky slavers haven't picked up me and my girl yet, or this whole lot.”

“We need some help so that we are better able to help you,” Aram smoothed over the confusion. “We heard of your arrival and have come to help, but we know very little of your situation.”

“You Jedi sure show up fast,” Max chuckled. He did not seem convinced of their good will. “Got yourselves built-in hyperdrives or something?”

“We were just in Al-Campur, the capital, last night,” Embrik clarified. Aram did not seem to think it was important.

“So you wanna know why we're here, hm?” Max asked, with a raised eyebrow. When he got a curt nod from the Jedi Master, he launched into an explanation, “We could of used you Jedi a couple of months back when Rissha the Hutt started causin' trouble. The Hutts finally got wise to us, and they don't take to spice rings in the region if they don't have their own cut in it. Us Fellans are a proud kind of people, you know, so we wouldn't of them taking over our own colony and livelihood. But then those damned worms found all sorts of underhanded ways to disrupt our trade routs in and out. First it was just the exports gettin' intercepted, and then it was the imports. They were tryin' to starve us out. We tried to grow our own food, but we ain't farmers. Then one night, one of the res-modules sprung a leak and in the morning, all the people in it were dead. Stealin' our food is one thing, lettin' out our oxygen is another. That was the last straw for most of us, and so we left. No point in watchin' yourself die when there's somethin' you can do about it. If the governor and his cronies sort things out, then maybe we'll go back some day. But, maybe not. It's their problem, their food, their spice, and their oxygen now, not mine.”

All the while, Aram listened patiently. Embrik tried to soak up every detail he could, from the words he spoke to the way he spoke them and the sidelong glances he frequently made to the woman sleeping on the ground near by. He was proud that at least some parts of his speculations had been correct.

“Thank you for your help, Max,” Aram thanked him.

“The kind of help that's going to come back and help me, I'll give you any time,” he replied. A lively spark was coming back into his eyes.

“What do you and the rest of the Fellans want now?” Aram asked pointedly.

“I can't speak for all of these louts—some of them are half-crazed spice-addicts—but people like me an' my wife just want a chance to get a fair start again someplace, you know?” Max replied, “Maybe not on this—”

“You're a couple a Jedi aren't ya?” a woman suddenly butted her way in front of them, interrupting Max mid-sentence. Aram shot him an apologetic glance and he only shrugged. “Yer kind er always tryin' to go around an' help people, aren't ya?” she persisted. She was smaller than even Embrik and twig thin. She had matted black hair and dark skin, carrying a baby in her arms. There was another child, probably around three years old, clinging to her skirts. Her clothes consisted of two loudly clashing, floral print lengths of cloth that were wrapped and pinned around her in some way as to suggest a dress. A bright yellow scarf synched it all in around her waist.

“Yes ma'am,” Embrik bowed politely. The woman grinned at the gesture of civility, revealing only a few yellowing teeth in her gums. “I am Padawan Embrik Waykennit and this is Jedi Master Aram Isliyae, the Jedi Watchman of this sector.”

“Pleased to meet ya both,” she grinned again, and thrust her bony hand out to shake both of theirs while still managing to hold onto her infant. “There's got to be gods out there somewhere yet who don't just take fun in seein' us thrown around. You Jedi are here to set things right. I knew—I was tellin' my husband this morning—that today would bring good things for our family. I've got six a them little brats, ya know, an' when them Hutts started messin' with our colony, there wasn't enough food for all of 'em.”

“That must have been difficult,” Embrik said as she paused to take a breath.

“But, I was sayin', we're dang lucky not to be livin' in that block that got punched open to the atmosphere. We'd all be dead, and I'd rather be on the run than dead,” she rambled fiercely on. The toddler at her ankles tugged nervously at her skirts. “But this travelin' is no good on the kids. I don't know why them krifin' pilots thought this was a good place to drop us. There's nothin' here. I'm not stayin' if I can help it. But there's the little brats. They never moved anyplace before. Fell is all they know, an' they don't like movin' an' space travel. They packed us in those ships like nerfs. There wouldn't of been room if they didn't, but the brats weren't happy. Cryin' and wailin' all the time. An' not just mine, but everybody's. I think somebody smart said once that space travel is bad for little kids, and I'd believe it. The littlest of the little, 'specially. Little Roan'ev here was fussy the whole time. She can't take no more of this, I think. She's weaned an' all, an' I got too many mouths to feed anyway, so I figure, you Jedi can take her. You're all good people, always helpin' people and stuff like that. You can take her with you and she'll have a nice life. She doesn't need her mom fer that. Thanks to me, she'll just be starving like the rest of my brats.” The woman didn't give them a chance to argue. She simply placed the baby into Master Isliyae's arms.

Embrik was dumbstruck at the presumptions of the woman. When Aram said nothing, he protested, “Madam, we can't possibly—” A strange sensation through Force stopped him short. Something twinged over the bond he had with his master.

“Of course you can,” the woman argued, “Take care of little Roan'ev for me. And you grow up to be somebody, baby. Do better than your mom.”

Embrik's thoughts were elsewhere. “Master?” he asked urgently. Aram's attention was focused on the baby, but his body was rigid and ears unhearing. “Master,” Embrik repeated and reached out for his arm. As soon as his hand contacted Aram's cloaked forearm, reality rushed away and visions bombarded him.

Lightsaber duels on worlds he had never seen or heard of before. Rushes of power. Battles in space. A mask. Enraptured crowds. A shaved head and a metal jaw. Vast armies all in silver. A mask. Dantooine. The Jedi Temple. A great explosion. A mask.

Embrik drew back gasping. His master seemed to have come to as well. It was not the first vision he had shared, but like all the others he had seen through Aram, it made him glad that he was not a seer himself.

“Master, what was that?” he panted.

“This child,” he marveled.

“This child gave you that vision?” Embrik asked in disbelief, “She's just a little refugee baby.”

“Perhaps so and perhaps not,” Aram held onto the child now with reverence, “The vision that the Force has granted us may be a glimmer into her future.”

“Her future?” Embrik asked, brows furrowed.

“Here,” Aram gently deposited the infant into his padawan's arms. Embrik clutched at her awkwardly, delicately. He had never held a baby before. “What do you sense?”

It took a moment for him to realize what Aram was asking of him, but when he finally reached out with the Force, he nearly dropped the baby in shock. It was like standing next to one of the greatest Jedi Masters; the Force coursed through her like a waterfall. It was completely raw and undirected, yet unmistakable. There was an amazing vastness about her; vastness as the Force was vast. All this in a tiny baby who could do nothing more than squirm and stare up at him with wide, apprehensive eyes.

“I believe we must honor the wishes of her mother,” Master Aram said, taking the baby back. He glanced around, but found that the gaunt woman was no longer anywhere in sight.

“But Master, we have a whole camp full of refugees to worry about,” Embrik protested, “We can't waste time babysitting. She would get in the way of our work here.”

“Which is why you will take her to Dantooine as soon as there is a transport that will convey you, and I will sort out the business here,” his master said firmly. “She must be raised among the Jedi. That much is clear.”

“Yes Master,” he submitted. He could not deny that the baby was destined to be a Jedi. The will of the Force had intervened in her future at just the right moment.

“You will explain the situation to Master Studea and I am sure she will arrange for the care and accommodations of this child,” Aram continued, “In the mean time, I will make sure that these people do not wind up as slaves and see if I can get some concessions from the Sriluur government as to their legal status and protections. Perhaps I can give some assistance in moving some of them along to other worlds as well”

“Yes Master,” Embrik nodded.

The old Miraluka jiggled the baby playfully in his arms. “You're going to a new home now, little Roan'ev,” he cooed. An infectious grin spread across her tiny face and she giggled. Smiling himself, Aram deposited her into Embrik's arms again. “Now, you know where to find reliable pilots,” he got back to business, “But before you depart, you should buy some baby formula and a pack of diapers for the journey. She will need plenty of care and attention.”

“But, Master,” he protested meekly, “I have never cared for a baby before. I don't even know how to change a diaper.” That was not a part of his Jedi training.

“Well, there is nothing like a bit of practical experience for expanding your knowledge,” Aram replied with a wry smile. “But I shall give you a few hints. If she gets fussy, see if she wants food, is tired, or has messed herself. If none of those seem to be the case, give her something to suck on. The journey should only take you a couple of days, in any event.”

“I'll do my best,” Embrik promised.

“Contact me once you are settled in at the Dantooine Enclave,” he instructed. “If you run into any trouble, I am sure that one of your fellow travelers will have raised a child before and have some suggestions for you.”

Embrik nodded.

“Now go and see if you can't catch one of those morning transports to Sy Myrth,” he urged. “And may the Force be with you.”

“You too, Master,” he replied with a smile, and strode away feeling confident. As he walked back towards the space ports, he had a growing feeling that his task of carrying a baby from one Outer Rim planet to another was somehow just as important as Master Aram's task of protecting destitute refugees. He looked down at the baby again and jiggled her the way he had seen his master do. She giggled through a squinty grin. “Well, Roan'ev,” he spoke down to her, doubting she understood, “It's you and me now.” It suddenly occurred to him that they had not had a chance to ask for her surname. He would have to leave that issue to the Jedi Masters who would raise and train her.

As he carried her through the streets, bought the supplies he needed to care for her, including a proper baby sling, the Force washed over him in waves. “The Force has big plans for you, Roan'ev,” he said to her, “I hope you're up for the challenge, whatever it's going to be.”

- Next Part -


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