|Rating: PG, one instance of
profanity and an ending that may shock some...
Disclaimer: usual copyright disclaimers
Author's Note: the quote about 'a lie murders...' is adapted from one of
Merlin's lines in the movie 'Excalibur.' Happens after "Well Begun"
Heads turned surreptitiously to look
at the tall young man as he swept through the hallways of the Republic's administrative
offices. The flowing, earth-toned Jedi robes that were so inconspicuous in most
parts of the galaxy were utterly distinctive here, where expensively cut, sharply
tailored, and brightly accented clothing tended to be the norm. The Jedi's long,
confident stride was also a distinct contrast to the hunched scurry that characterized the
Most of all, it was his bearing, some quality in his mere
presence, that said that this particular Jedi was not one of the Senate's resident
scholars, or even a visiting healer, but rather an active Jedi knight.
There were mixtures of interest, speculation, fear and attraction
in the glances aimed at him, but no one tried to stop him with either a word or a touch.
Even the people who worked with Jedi fairly frequently were reluctant to approach a
knight without a really good reason. Besides, there was no knowing what kind of
mission he might be bent upon.
Qui-Gon Jinn was on his way to have lunch with the recently-
appointed Deputy Third Minister, Finis Valorum. They had lunched together a few
times at irregular intervals, depending largely on the Jedi's presence or absence on
Coruscant. Qui-Gon knew that the deputy minister still didn't know what to make of
him. But it was also true that he did not know what to make of the young politician.
Through each of their meetings, Jinn's feelings had told him that
he was dealing with a kaleidoscope, and perhaps one that was consciously selecting what
patterns of light and color it wished him to see. Yet in each conversation, there
would be a fragment of thought that Jinn found resonant, even appealing -- but only a
fragment, and then Valorum would disappear into jokes.
This time, Finis had invited the Jedi to eat in a dining room
reserved for officialdom, on the theory that really good food relaxed almost anybody.
He was already there, waiting and brooding. Will he show? ... Of course he'll
show. The chance of any Jedi ever breaking any commitment, however
inconsequential, was close to nil. Yeah, but I don't think he likes this. Or
There were many, many histories of the Jedi; Jedi scholars and
healers and even knights were scattered around the galaxy. Yet no one, Finis
included, felt like they really knew anything about them. The greatest mysteries of
all were the knights, the ones who combined the passive discipline of submission to the
Force with the extraordinary skills of their warrior tradition -- what were they like on
the inside? Jungle, desert, fractal, nuclear flame? No one knew.
Finis wanted to know. Somewhere inside all that drapery
is a human guy. He sleeps, he gets up... he doesn't shave.... Finis sighed,
thinking over their previous meetings.
The young Jedi always responded politely, if rather
perfunctorily, to every topic of conversation Valorum introduced, but rarely led the
conversation anywhere himself. His answers were informative but impersonal. Valorum
persisted in throwing out bits of his own life as lures, but so far nothing remotely
personal had come out of Jinn.
And then there's the great stone face....
The man might have been an advertising holo for self-possession.
Jinn's overall expression rarely altered much from what Finis and his young
colleagues jokingly called Generic Jedi -- anyone who'd ever dealt with any Jedi in any
capacity knew the look. Except his eyes... stuff happening there.
Finis made a bit of a game of trying to decode the nuances.
Disinterest and mere courtesy were rounder-looking, concentration more triangular.
What the mouth did was not necessarily a real smile. But if there were
crinkles or crow's feet, it *was* a real smile. Jinn's eyes mostly looked gray, but
smiling made them seem blue. They also went bluer when Jinn went out of focus to
think about something carefully. Eyebrow movement was frequent but still
inscrutable. Humor, concern, dismay? How would I know?
In fact, as far as he could tell, mostly he just bored the Jedi.
In the executive dining room, the interest level was a little
more sophisticated, but still present. A few people craned to catch a glimpse of the
Jedi's lightsaber as his long cloak flowed and ebbed with his strides, but they looked
away before taking the chance of meeting his eyes. And a few were actually looking
at Valorum as well, since he was marked for either success or self-ruin, either of which
would be interesting and therefore made him possibly worth knowing.
The glances continued at intervals as they were seated and told
the steward what they wanted to eat. And the way some of the other diners _didn't_
look at them was almost equally telling; they were being discussed.
Beside, the two young men made a pair worth looking at. The
Jedi's face was roughly made, framed by loose, light brown hair that looked like what it
was, a padawan haircut being allowed to grow out, and a somewhat scruffy beard that was
still filling in. The politician was sleekly groomed and possessed of a startling
male beauty -- rich black hair, fine features, the full, pursed mouth that was a
family trademark, fair skin and vivid blue eyes.
One person peeled off another table and came to visit.
"Hey, Finis, what's new? Who's your guest?"
"Qui-Gon Jinn of the Jedi, meet the deputy
Minister-at-Large, Teo Skora. Teo, meet Qui-Gon Jinn." The smile that
accompanied this introduction was about half grimace.
"He sending you on a mission somewhere?" The question
was punctuated by a chuckle, but the young woman's eyes betrayed real interest.
Valorum answered, a strain in his voice. "We're having
"Perhaps you'd like to join us," Qui-Gon said politely.
Valorum became a still life. Teo Skora's eyes became
"Finis would never want me that near him with a knife,"
Qui-Gon's face froze as well. Valorum drew a bit of comfort
from seeing the young Jedi thrown off balance, even for the smallest fraction of a moment.
No Jedi training in how to handle inadvertently asking the jilt-ee to join the
jilt-er, eh? Oooops.
A large Chkk came up behind her. "Valorum."
That was the greeting. "Cooking up another escapade?" His voice had
undertones of contempt.
"Jedi Knight Jinn, Minister-at-Large Ekkrimsa."
Valorum's voice was so carefully correct it was almost oily.
Qui-Gon rose and bowed respectfully. "An honor,
"Jedi, huh?" The Minister wasn't very interested;
there was no way he could use or influence one. "Come along, Teo."
Their food was arriving; Ekkrimsa was blocking the server. He looked down at
Valorum. "We'll have to all get together for dinner sometime soon. Call
Finis smiled and waved as Ekkrimsa and his aide walked away, but
he muttered through his teeth, barely loudly enough for Qui-Gon to hear, "not in this
lifetime-- *chom ba depepta, sleemo*..."
A split second later, Valorum winced. He darted a glance at
Qui-Gon. "You understand Huttese? O-o-o-f course you do. Sorry
Qui-Gon smiled politely. "A creative combination. Not
words you expect to hear on Coruscant."
"Yeah." Valorum snorted. "Which is why I use them.
Picked it up flying between the Rims. I kinda like the language, actually --
lets me vent a bit without getting fired. Like about Ekky. He hates me just
because I'm no use to him, never will be. I hate him back for going through life
thinking that way. If I knew some way to get the Chancellor to dump him, I'd use it.
Teo..." Finis sighed.
"Teo hates me except when she loves me. Which is
another reason Ekky hates me, actually -- he'd like to get next to her and it's never
going to happen."
The Jedi made no response.
What's he thinking now? Valorum ran through several
possibilities ranging from outright disgust to potential agreement on the merits of
Ekkrimsa, but all there was to go by was that polite smile. He rubbed the bridge of
his nose. "So you know those words, eh? Ever use them?"
"They don't entirely tend toward the preservation of peace
and justice," the Jedi said dryly.
"That's not a no," Valorum said hopefully.
"It's a definite not yet," said Qui-Gon. "I'll be
sure to let you know immediately if I ever find myself using those words to establish a
That should have been a joke, but the Generic Jedi smile never
wavered. Valorum shook his head. I don't care what he says, I think they get
Inscrutability lessons. He cast around for a topic, rubbed the bridge of his
nose again, and thought of one.
"Can I ask you, how'd you get this?" Finis tapped
the side of his own nose. The Jedi had a distinctive and unrepaired broken nose, an
extreme rarity on Coruscant. "And why'd you leave it?"
To Valorum's surprise, this question brought a wide grin out of
the serene young Jedi. "Judge me by my size, do you?" he said
Valorum was puzzled. "Well, yeah, for starters...no?"
The Jedi ran his fingertips along the bridge of his nose, feeling
the bend and flattening of the cartilage underneath. "Master Yoda broke it.
I kept it because the lesson was . . . an important one."
And something more, Valorum noticed. Something he doesn't
want to say to me. He took a stab at it. "And maybe to rub his nose
a little in the fact that he defaced his apprentice?"
The grin disappeared. "No," Qui-Gon said.
"That would be wrong."
"Excuse me," Valorum said quickly. "I meant
no offense." Was this guy telling the truth? Probably; he's a Jedi.
But they don't just teach them Inscrutable, they teach them Strange. Starting when
they are very, _very_ young.
He took a bite of fruit, casting around in his mind for another
topic of conversation. The Jedi wasn't helping; he was simply and quietly digging
into his lunch.
"Speaking of truces," he essayed, "inviting Teo to
sit down was a masterstroke. It was almost an historic occasion. Plus, you
almost won bets for half the junior ministry." He rubbed his jaw. "I think
they thought you were my date. Teo's talkative, and old Ekky is positively mean
concerning anyone he doesn't own. That'll give all the old twitterers something to
The Jedi smiled. "You wouldn't wish to disappoint
them." But this time the Generic Jedi smile really was
concealing an inner feeling: dismay.
One reason he was leery of this particular Valorum was that
publicity followed him like a gnat chasing rot. Finis appeared to be the most gifted
in his generation of a famously gifted family, but was also said to be among the most
dissolute. His name appearing in gossip linked with Valorum's as a romantic item was
not something Qui-Gon Jinn would enjoy.
Then, of course, there was the ancillary question of whether this
was Valorum's way of working up to a declaration of interest. He did seem to date
pretty much anything that moved...
The politician was pondering, too. Disappoint them?
Insult, joke, sincere remark? Valorum had no clue. None of the
"Of course, you're not my usual type," Finis rattled
on. Somewhere inside this guy there has *got* to be a normal human reaction.
He affected a big, false smile. "And you're not yet on record about what
your type might be."
The Jedi said nothing, and his face was completely neutral.
Finis Valorum was a trained negotiator. He knew how to pull
a stone face, knew what an expressionless mien meant in dozens, even hundreds, of
cultures. It didn't help.
Both in the military and in law school, Valorum had been taught
that the only way to repair a total lack of information was to get some. He pressed
"Ever been to Zero? A bunch of us are going tonight;
why don't you come with? Come on, a night out with the boys and girls."
Zero, named for Coruscant's galactic coordinates -- zero/zero/zero -- was the current
hotspot for the more expensive young social set. "I promise you won't get
debauched unless you want to be."
The Jedi raised his eyebrows slightly.
Valorum wasn't sure if this meant confusion, amusement, surprise,
disdain, or some entirely other thing. He picked disdain. Okay, eyebrows
at half mast means disdain. He decided to ignore it.
"Come on, you can't tell me you do drunken carousing at the
Jedi Temple. Come see what normal people -- well, no, that's a lie -- come see what
drunken young idiots with a ton of money do for fun."
The Jedi smiled slightly. It was not an eye-crinkle smile.
"Deputy Minister, I once attended a funeral that made anything that could
happen at Zero look like a tea party. It is a large galaxy, and we do get out of the
Temple from time to time." The smile widened, though it was no friendlier.
"And perhaps you would be surprised by what does happen within its
Finis sighed. "I'm sure I would. Just looking
for a reaction. You know, a couple syllables here and there to liven up my
"Then my reaction will not have disappointed you."
"Not at all." Finis smirked. "At least now I
know that it *is* possible to annoy a Jedi."
This time the smile was genuine. "Minister, sometimes
the Jedi even annoy each other."
"That *is* a relief," Valorum grinned. Reward the
smile. C'mon, Jinn, loosen up. "You sure you don't want to
Qui-Gon was sure, and becoming surer by the second.
"Deputy Minister, why do you wish me to come? Do you think it would be good for
me? Do you want to observe what happens to Jedi restraint in a setting where excess
is encouraged? Is it a desire to exhibit me to your friends? Shall I simply follow
you at a polite distance and be inscrutable?"
"I don't want a pet Jedi," Finis snapped back.
Inwardly, he was cringing. Inscrutable? Did he read my mind? Shit
shit shit. Also, he noticed that Jinn had tacked on "deputy" this
"Which raises the question of what you do want."
Valorum's temper flashed. "What I told you. An
education, an understanding. For which I will trade you mine, as it develops -- *if*
it develops." He swallowed hard, and his eyes narrowed. "If you want to
call me a liar, Jinn, let's hear it now."
Qui-Gon was both motionless and expressionless in that maddening
Jedi way. "I beg your pardon," he said calmly.
"For what?" Valorum's voice was cold and level.
"Deputy minister?" Oddly, what he was seeing,
rage, was not what he was sensing through the Force.
"What do you want me to pardon? State your
Qui-Gon considered. This was a good question, actually, and
not one that most people would think to ask. "For angering you. For
appearing to call you a liar."
"Hah!" said Valorum, dropping the icy demeanor.
He waggled a finger at the Jedi. "Hear this, Jinn: never, ever apologize
to a politician for calling him a liar. Any pol who isn't a liar is a fool. So
if you get pushed about it like I just pushed you, they just want you in the position of
having to apologize. It's a power play."
Qui-Gon nodded. "An interesting lesson," he said
Valorum sat back and folded his arms. "Would you be
willing to promise never to lie to me, if I asked it of you? Or a Senator did?
In our official capacity?"
Qui-Gon didn't have to think long. "Yes. There
could be times of having to withhold or delay a truth, but yes."
Now Valorum nodded. "That's what I thought. Your
life demands that you tell the truth. Your life also _permits_ you to tell the
truth. Mine demands that I be willing to lie, it permits me to lie pretty much at
will, it sometimes emphatically does not permit me to tell the truth, and every now and
then it flat out demands that I lie."
The Jedi's eyes grew thoughtful as he assimilated Valorum's
words, comparing them with his feelings. Despite the constantly changing array of
faces Valorum showed to the world, Qui-Gon's sense of the deputy minister so far was that
Valorum was not a liar. It was curious to have the man himself insisting otherwise.
Valorum leaned forward again. "Jinn, what happens if
you lie? Does it screw up your whole relationship with the Force?"
Qui-Gon shook his head. "It's not that simple.
The Force can lead you into a situation where a lie is needed for a good reason."
"How do you know?"
"Instinct?" Valorum was confused.
"Force-instinct? How does it work?"
The Jedi stopped to think. Valorum dug into his food,
watching the man's face and trying, without success, to find an expression he recognized.
It struck Valorum that the young Jedi's eyes, as he looked inside
himself for a way to describe the indescribable, were the most unguarded he'd ever seen
them, thoughtful yet almost casual. He likes this question? He likes this
answer? ...He likes his food? It was curious, Finis reflected, that there seemed to
be something sad, even delicate, lurking behind that gaze -- what could happen to a Jedi
by the age of 23 to make for eyes like that?
"You feel it," Jinn said. "There almost is
an analogy to the physical kind of instinct." He laced his fingers together and
looked at them.
Qui-Gon's voice took on a teacherly quality. "There is
an old saying that a lie murders a small fraction of the Force. It is not meant
literally, but it teaches us that words are acts. A word must be used as carefully
as an action, a lie must be considered no less carefully than a death." He
glanced over at Valorum. "Every choice is also a risk, every action.
There is always danger."
"Once again, how do you know if you're doing it right?"
The Jedi's eyebrows flickered up. "The Force tells
us." He frowned. "We must remain receptive, centered, even passive
to know -- to have clarity in the Force." His lips curved, and he looked down
at his hands. "I must."
Passive? This highly trained warrior whose
lightsaber was even now resting at his hip? Finis hadn't really dwelt on it, but
despite his own military training, the young man in the capacious cloak could probably not
just kill but dismantle him, bare-handed. And then there was the weapon -- a meter
of pure energy that could easily cut through anything from animal tissue to solid rock.
And what about that 'I must'? A story there?
Valorum shook his head. "Passive," he said
Jinn glanced over at him.
"Not one of my talents," Valorum said, relaxing.
"Passivity. Makes me crazy -- up and doing, that's what I like. Drives
me nuts in other people, too -- you get an order, you carry it out. You have a job
to do, you get to it. Yet here you are saying it's crucial. If you asked me, I'd say I
The Jedi smiled. "Perhaps that's why I didn't ask
"That and the fact that you have yet to ask me
*anything*," Finis said. It was only half a joke. He saw an opening.
"Which leads me back to -- seriously, don't Jedi _want_ anything?"
"Desire interferes with perception, minister."
"No kidding," Valorum was amused by his phrasing.
"For example, my perceptions of Senator Carida's daughter Init are so
scrambled they hardly bear talking about. I mean, have you _seen_ her?"
The Jedi remained impassive; Valorum gave him a slightly sour
look. "Or do you even notice the pretty girls and boys?"
"You want one simple answer to unlock a whole soul, deputy
minister." Qui-Gon smiled at him, but this smile was nothing more than the Mildly
Friendly format of the Generic Jedi face. "Even non-sentient life forms are rarely
"Hey, me, I _am_ easy," Valorum joked. "Ask
anyone." He grinned. "Ask Teo. Or do Jedi try to not even think
Qui-Gon gave him a funny look. "Deputy minister, you
patronize me. You want me to be all one thing -- some delicate, fascinating creature
of the deep woods, or a solitary religious fanatic, or a singleminded warrior. But
we are as various and changeable as everyone else. Perhaps more so because our focus
is on responding to and serving the living moment."
Valorum leaned back in his chair, smiling. "_Good_ avoidance
there, Jinn. A completely elegant, enormously interesting answer, and totally
non-responsive to the question I asked. We'll make a pol out of you yet."
Watching Qui-Gon's face, he laughed out loud. "You're thinking that
would be a fate worse than death."
"No," said the Jedi calmly, then his eyes gleamed.
"But I could have been."
A joke! Valorum grinned, then spoke thoughtfully.
"Look, Jinn, I truly don't think I _want_ you to be anything. My problem is, I
can't _tell._ I watch you eat food. Did you like it? How would I
know? I understand Wookiee table manners better than yours."
It made Qui-Gon laugh. "I'll try to be more
expressive." He brought out a pretty good version of a Wookiee word for
'happy,' blending a warble and a hoot. Most of the room turned and stared.
Damn! Valorum laughed too. "You're a man of
many talents, young Jedi -- some of these folks have been out cold since the Keek
Qui-Gon smiled comfortably.
So he doesn't mind being a spectacle --there goes the
deeply-repressed-Jedi-personality theory, Valorum thought. Yup, I guess he
just doesn't like me. He sighed. "Come on, let's go get some air, or
we'll be comatose too."
They walked together to a transit center where each could catch
an airbus, Jinn back to the Temple and Valorum to a meeting.
The two men fell into a easy stride together, an uncommon
experience, and even a bit of a pleasure for each of them. Both were long accustomed
to shortening and slowing their paces for the convenience of shorter beings. Valorum had a
long-ago mental picture of Jinn going by in the Senate halls at a deferential distance
behind his master, Councillor Yoda; the then-teenaged Jinn was practically reduced to
The memory gave him a little stab, because it brought with it
Valorum's thought at the time, which was that the tall boy was somehow so good-hearted
about the silly mode of progression that he made it look like a great pleasure.
"Jinn, if I offended you with that Zero thing, I'm sorry.
That's not something I want to do."
"You do not offend me, minister." Qui-Gon's head
went up a bit. "It does sometimes seem as though you wish to."
"Provoke you," Valorum conceded. "I feel
like I have very little sense of the guy inside the Jedi outfit, and I keep looking for
him. You know, poke a stick into the animal's den until it comes out?"
"And bites you," said Qui-Gon.
"If that's what it takes," Finis said seriously.
"You, on the other hand, conceal yourself inside a fog of
Valorum faltered in his stride and stared, eyebrows high.
"Well, crunch!" he said. "Teeth!"
The Jedi kept walking, looking straight ahead. "You
joke about everything, yet you are a serious man."
"I'm glad one of us thinks so."
Qui-Gon gave him a sidelong look that asked for a better answer.
"Jinn, if the day dawns that I can't make a joke about
anything, anything at all, you'll know I'm dead."
The Jedi said nothing. His eyebrows rose slightly, and he
Disdain again? Valorum didn't think so. Disappointment?
He sighed. Eyebrows are complicated.
They didn't speak again until they were standing at the transit
point, standing side by side and staring idly out at the cityscape.
Valorum was mentally going over his schedule, which made him
think of Zero, which reminded him -- "So... a funeral, huh? Where was
"Aaeelok," Jinn said quietly.
His tone made Valorum wonder again --disappointment?
But that would mean he gave a shit.
All Valorum said was, "Aaeelok? No way-- the whole
planet goes to sleep at sundown."
The Jedi's face settled into its instructional calm.
"You are probably aware that on Aaeelok, the belief is that only males of the race
transmit souls -- the gods send the souls to the men, who reincarnate many times, while
the females are merely fleshly vessels where the new life incubates. There are a
great many rituals based on this belief, which are closed to outworlders."
Valorum nodded; this was schoolboy stuff.
Qui-Gon continued. "As it happens, Jedi are not considered
outworlders there, but rather sojourners, travelers who always have guest status. It is a
grave insult both to host and guest if a guest does not participate in any important
ritual to which the host is party."
Valorum nodded again.
"All males present at the funeral of a male of the priestly
caste are required to," Qui-Gon frowned slightly, "....mmm, replenish the
corpse so that it may travel to its next life ripe with many souls."
Valorum's eyes went wide, and he assimilated this information for
a long moment. Finally he said softly, "Force fuck me, Jinn, I think I might
rather be me than you after all."
Qui-Gon nodded calmly. "That is one possible response
to the experience."
Valorum's transport came first. As the young minister
climbed aboard, he said, "See you soon, Jinn."
"I'll look forward to it."
Finis looked back in surprise.
Qui-Gon folded his arms into his sleeves and smiled blandly, but
his eyes were gleaming again. "Deputy minister, I didn't promise not to
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