Daven silenced the alarm. Then he pressed a button and said into a microphone, “We are about to leave hyperspace, Master. Are you strapped in?”
“I will be by the time you close this communication,” the big man reported. He trusted that his padawan could handle the ship easily. It would be quicker and easier to stay where he was, then join Daven after the ship had returned to normal space.
Daven watched the instruments as the transport began to slow. Everything was running normally, and there were no surprises as they came out of hyperspace. When the vehicle performed as it should, the whole process was simple, and almost anticlimactic. The padawan chose to fly manually from here in to Coruscant. The computer could handle it fine, but it was something to do.
Jareel came forward and lowered himself into the copilot’s seat, strapping in. “Smooth,” he muttered to Daven, about the transition to normal space.
The apprentice continued to look out the front windscreen; he muttered an unintelligible answer.
The big blonde Jedi glanced over at the young man. He had noted earlier that Daven looked tired. It was an intense mission and Jareel had written it off to that.
“Weary?” he asked.
“Hmm,” Daven murmured.
“Will you be able to handle the landing, young one?”
“Yes, Master, I will,” he finally spoke up.
Jareel sat back to allow the padawan to bring them in. Daven had made many such landings on many planets in all the missions they had served on together. And he had maneuvered into and through the Coruscant traffic countless times, having a way with the ground controllers who were often overworked and impatient. Part of his training, and Daven had done well in this area, as he had in so many other areas of his learning. Just another routine landing.
“Transport 4774, unidentified traffic in your vicinity, refusing contact. Do not descend. Repeat, do not descend. Hold altitude and circle around, to be placed back in incoming traffic pattern on next pass,” the speaker announced to them.
“No traffic on our sensors,” Daven answered. “Nothing visual. Request that you warn off unidentified traffic and allow us to maintain descent.”
“Negative,” the voice replied firmly. “Unidentified traffic will not respond. Go around again,” the woman said shortly.
In a matching tone, Daven responded, “Why did it take you so long to warn us? You must have seen this before now if you’ve been trying to contact them. You should’ve told us. We could have maneuvered around them!”
Jareel was startled. He’d never heard Daven lose control when dealing with the traffic control personnel, even when they were being unreasonable. He sat up and reached a hand to the young man’s arm. That only intensified the feeling of tension he’d sensed from Daven.
“Daven,” Jareel said gently, but reprovingly. “Cooperate with them. They are doing their job…even if we can’t appreciate it.
Daven turned to look at him. He was even more weary looking than before. “I’m sorry, Master.” Then he turned back to the microphone. The woman had been giving him a strong reprimand, which he’d missed since his master had his attention. “Transport 4774 going around again,” he said tiredly.
Having descended into the atmosphere of Coruscant and easing into the regular traffic flow at the high city level, the transport was left on its own. The harder part was over. Now it was a simple flight to the temple. But Daven sat back in his seat.
“Master…could you take over. Please,” he said quietly.
Jareel didn’t like the way his apprentice looked or sounded. He had been aware of his dropping energy level, and watching to be sure the boy made no mistakes. He was a bit relieved to take over, but concerned.
“Are you ill, Daven?” Jareel asked as he took over control of the transport.
“No, Master. Just so tired. I’m sorry…about the landing.” Part of his training. He would only back away from it with good reason.
“No apologies. If you are too tired to handle it, better not to try.”
The padawan slumped in his seat, head back, looking out but not seeing what he was looking at. Something Jareel noticed.
The transport settled into the landing bay of the Jedi temple. Daven unbuckled his seat restraints and was already on his way out. He wanted his bed. But Master Jareel had other ideas.
“Let’s take a side trip before you go back to your quarters, young one.”
“Master…I’m so tired. Can’t you give our report for us?” he said in a very quiet voice.
Jareel noticed how flushed Daven’s cheeks were. “We aren’t going to give a preliminary report. We are going by the temple hospital. I think that it’s more than fatigue that is assaulting you.”
“I just want to rest, Master. I’m so tired.”
“You’ll rest. But I want to be sure of this first.”
But Daven was too drained to argue or resist. He walked alongside his big master, who began to support him. Jareel knew something was wrong when his apprentice didn’t resist. If Daven were well, he would not want to be helped in any way.
Upon entering the hospital, Jareel settled Daven on a sofa in the waiting area. Then he went to the reception desk and promptly got into a disagreement with the padawan seated there.
“Master Mi’al is busy, Master Jareel. There are other healers who can see your padawan right away. If you insist on Master Mi’al, you’ll have to wait. How sick is your apprentice?”
“I’d like to speak with Mi’al. Even over the comm. Just find him for me.”
“Just find him for me,” Jareel said firmly. “Please.”
The padawan saw the set of the big man’s face and decided he wouldn’t win this. Master Mi’al was an understanding and patient person. He wouldn’t take it out on the receptionist that someone insisted on interrupting him. And the padawan decided that Master Mi’al would do better at winning this argument with the big blonde Jedi.
Jareel stood patiently, glancing back to Daven now and then. The young man had slumped over on the sofa and seemed to be asleep. Yes, this was more than fatigue. Jareel was beginning to lose his patience the worse Daven looked.
“Master Jareel.” The padawan offered his comm device to the big knight.
“Mi’al, I know you are busy, but Daven is very sick. I’d really like for you to have a look at him. Please.”
“All right, but I can’t directly get away from what I am doing. I’ll give instructions for Daven to be put in an exam room and a preliminary check made, to be certain that it’s nothing that needs immediate attention. Then I’ll be there soon as I can. I’m sorry to make you wait, Jareel. It’s necessary though.”
“I understand. Thank you.”
“Let me speak to the receptionist.”
Jareel returned the comm device with a sincere, “Thank you for your effort.” Then he went over and knelt by his padawan. Daven’s face was very warm. He was out completely, not responding to the touch to his face. “Daven…”
Jareel tried to be still and patient and focused, but it was hard to be that way when he looked at Daven’s drawn and flushed face. The boy lay on the exam table with only his pants still on, covered up and trembling a little.
The big man stood and walked over to him. He glanced at the chrono on the wall and told himself that it was important not to lose his focus now. Then he walked to the door and looked up and down the corridor. No one in sight. Jareel walked back to his apprentice.
The padawan healer had taken vitals, asked a few questions…and left. Jareel was ready to begin walking the hospital corridors until he found Mi’al. Just as he decided that was the thing to do, the door opened.
“Hello, Jareel. I’m sorry. I was…involved. I couldn’t walk away from a case,” the grey haired healer explained as he crossed the room. He had already talked with the padawan healer. Mi’al put his hands on Daven and could feel more than the heat that radiated from his body. “When did this start? Today, you told the padawan, but are you sure it was only today? Did Daven start feeling bad yesterday? He got this bad so fast?”
“Well…he’s been lethargic all day long. He said he was only tired. He didn’t mention feeling sick.” The big man paused. “I…don’t remember him looking bad yesterday, but…I do think he said something about feeling tired.”
While Jareel talked, the healer was rechecking Daven’s vitals, as well as checking pupil response, level of reaction to stimuli and other responses. Jareel noted the look on Mi’al’s face and it didn’t make him feel any better. Not the easy, calm face that the healer always wore. His jaw was set and his green eyes dark.
Mi’al spoke into the intercom, giving instructions for samples to be taken and tests to be done. He spoke in precise, measured words, another indicator of how concerned he must be.
Jareel waited, not wanting to interrupt what would be to help his padawan, but not a patient wait. As soon as the healer finished he asked, “What is it?”
“It seems to be viral, at first glance, but it’s also strong, it seems. Became bad quickly. I need to understand it better before I can treat it, but in the meantime, I can treat the symptoms. Help me finish getting him undressed while we are waiting for the lab techs, and I’ll begin treatment. Something to try to get the fever down first.”
“Well?” Jareel said as Mi’al entered the exam room.
“We’re still looking, Jareel. There are a very wide range of viruses in the galaxy.”
“You haven’t decided what it is yet?”
“Do you feel ill at all?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“How about the people you were in direct contact with on your mission? Were any of them ill?”
“No, but we didn’t stay in one place for long. There was a lot of travel required…and even into less civilized areas. Even though we did have to move around a lot, we didn’t directly meet with many people. None of them were sick…that I could see.” He paused. “But…he could have caught this from just about anyone that he might have had contact with, couldn’t he? Even very brief contact.”
“It’s possible, but still any information would be useful. So…no obvious illness. Of course there is the possibility that the natives to that planet have built up immunity to this, and you and Daven were brief visitors. That could be a reason for him to be ill. But you’re not.” He folded his arms over his chest as he stared at Jareel. “It might be in you, but not affecting you as much. You could be a carrier.” A pause. “You wouldn’t mind some blood samples.” It was not a question.
But the big blonde Jedi answered anyway. “Of course not, if it will help.”
“Okay. I’ll get a tech to draw them. And I think we are going to go ahead and put Daven in a room. He’ll be more comfortable and obviously he’s not going home today. Mi’al bent to collect the padawan’s tunics from the floor. He was going to lay them across the chair where the rest of Daven’s clothes were. But he hesitated then turned to face Jareel again. “Can you be more specific about where on that planet that you had to visit?” he asked as he laid the tunics over his arm. “I’ll consult the medical database to see what sorts of viruses are common in those areas, and maybe call and talk to a doctor there.”
“Of course. I’ll need to make a list, but I can tell you the cities…and villages that we went to.”
“Fine. I’ll get you something to make that list on, as I go to get a tech.” He dropped the tunics over the chair and turned to walk out.
Jareel looked down at his padawan. Daven’s breathing was a bit labored. The master tried to remember if it was like that before. He couldn’t remember, but he would ask Mi’al about it.
“Don’t you think Mi’al would notice something like that?” he chastised himself. “It’s only because you are so worried.” He blotted Daven’s damp forehead and fussed with the blanket.
Jareel woke with a start and realized he had been going to sleep in the chair. His head was back and his neck beginning to ache. Good thing he woke before he’d gone deep…and ended up with a very strained neck. He stood and looked down at Daven. The boy looked so pale, but his cheeks were rosy. Jareel adjusted the cold pack on his forehead. Even with that and the IV pumping fluid into Daven, he was still very hot to the touch. Fever still up, Jareel thought in frustration.
There was a tap at the door. Jareel turned. “Qui-Gon.”
The Jedi master came in, Obi-Wan just behind him. Qui-Gon came to stand next to his friend and Obi-Wan walked around to the other side of the bed. He grimaced at how bad Daven looked.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner,” Qui-Gon said. “But we came as soon as we could.”
“Mi’al still doesn’t know what’s wrong?” Obi-Wan asked without looking up from his friend.
“No,” Jareel said quietly.
“But I know he’s working hard,” Qui-Gon said
in reassurance. He didn’t have to know
what the healer was doing or had done.
Qui-Gon knew Mi’al well enough to know how serious he was and how devoted to his work. He was sure the healer was working as hard as he could to understand this. Probably working too hard for one man, if Qui-Gon really knew Mi’al.
“I know he is,” Jareel agreed. “But it’s so hard to just…stand here and not be able to do anything.” A pause. “He just got so sick so fast…”
Obi-Wan took the padawan’s hand and gently squeezed it. It was disappointing that there was no response. It was almost impossible to resist the enticement to touch Daven. Concern and a need to connect with his friend pushed Obi-Wan to put a hand to Daven’s hot cheek.
And his mouth fell open. “He’s so hot,” he said quietly.
“I know,” Jareel answered quietly.
“Isn’t there…isn’t there anything Mi’al can do about it?”
“Mi’al is doing all he can, young one. We have to…be patient.”
“Have you been here all day?” Qui-Gon asked. Jareel nodded wordlessly. “Well…you’re not helping yourself with that, or doing anything for Daven. I think you should go get something to eat and go to your quarters to get some rest. I’m sure you were tired from your mission anyway.”
“I’m fine,” the big blonde man insisted.
“No, you’re not. You’re worried. And if you’ve been here all day, you haven’t had much to eat, I’ll bet. You’re not going to stay here tonight, are you?”
“Yes and I don’t feel like arguing about it.”
“Good, then I won’t have to argue,” Qui-Gon responded. “The least you are going to do is get something to eat.”
“That’s a good idea,” a voice said from the doorway. They all looked to see Mi’al entering the room. He came up next to Jareel. “I’m not any closer to understanding this. I’m still studying it. I didn’t find out anything from the doctors there. I sent them all the information I had on Daven’s symptoms and the results of all we have done. It’s no help. Viruses are so similar. It could be…anything. There is nothing unique enough about it to help me figure it out.” He rubbed his bleary eyes. “But I do think you should go get some food and rest, Jareel. And don’t make me argue with you. I’m tired and I’ll just make it a medical order. You know what that means? I’ll sedate you to get you to sleep…if you won’t go home. And I’ll give you an IV if you won’t eat.”
“Master Jareel,” Obi-Wan spoke up. “I’ll sit with Daven while you go eat. You know neither of us can do anything. Especially if Mi’al can’t. But there will be someone with him. I’ll call you at once if anything changes.”
“Thank you, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said. “We appreciate the offer and Jareel is going to take you up on it, aren’t you, old friend?”
“Yes, he is,” Mi’al said as he took an arm. Qui-Gon took the other and they walked the big man to the door. Jareel could easily have pulled away, if he wanted, but he knew he would lose this battle in the end. Mi’al’s threats were never empty ones. Trying to get Force-enhanced Jedi to give in to a healer was often hard to do. That is why Mi’al was quick to act, when he sensed cooperation was slow to come.
But Jareel paused at the door and looked back. In a hopefully reassuring gesture that Daven would be looked after, Obi-Wan looked down at Daven, adjusting the cold pack and his blanket. The big man allowed Qui-Gon to lead him out.
Mi’al paused at the door. “Thank you, Obi-Wan. And…let me know when Jareel comes back. Not if. I know he will be back.”
The padawan smiled a weak smile. “Yes, Mi’al.”
“You’re supposed to eat that,” Qui-Gon said as he watched his friend push food around the plate.
“I’m not hungry.”
“I know that you are upset and that makes you not hungry, but you also know that you need to eat something. Do you want to end up sick too? What good are you going to do Daven if you wear yourself down? When he wakes up, you won’t be there for him. You’ll be in a bed in the next room.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Jareel said quietly.
“I’m not being dramatic. I’m being honest. You’re a big fellow. You need a lot of food to maintain that muscle mass. Admit it. You do feel bad for having skipped meals today.”
“Eat!” Qui-Gon said firmly.
“I am going to stay with Daven tonight. And don’t argue with me. Would you do any less if it were Obi-Wan lying there?”
Qui-Gon didn’t have to think about that, but he paused before he answered anyway. “No. I wouldn’t.” A hesitation. “But…if you are going to do that, at least eat something.”
Jareel took a bite and chewed a long time on it before he swallowed.
“Mi’al said this came on quickly,” Qui-Gon commented.
“Yes. Very quickly. He brought us in to Coruscant. And…a couple of hours later, he was feverish and unconscious.”
“And you don’t feel ill at all?”
“Not at all. A bit tired, but that’s typical after an assignment.” He stopped eating. “But that’s what Daven said at first…that he felt tired. But we both felt tired from the time we left that place. I don’t think I have it. I don’t feel bad at all.”
“Then if you are so tired, you need some rest.”
“I’ll get it, but I can rest there with Daven,” Jareel insisted.
“Stubborn. Give a master an apprentice and he becomes as obstinate as a wampa.”
Jareel looked up in time to see Mi’al sit down with a tray.
“Did you find out anything?” he asked at once.
“No. Not yet.”
“Then what are you doing here?” the big man demanded.
Patiently the healer answered, “Jareel, I missed lunch and I am hungry. I am not the only person working this case. There are things being done, even if I am not there.”
The big man wilted. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m just worried.”
“I know. But try not to be too worried. I feel certain this is a virus. Daven isn’t getting any worse. It’s just a matter of time right now until we chase this down. We are treating the symptoms. Daven is very ill, but I don’t feel that this is life threatening.”
Jareel looked at him in an odd way. “Was there a point when you thought it was life threatening?”
“That is irrelevant, since it is not an issue.” Mi’al began eating.
“Come on, Jareel,” Qui-Gon encouraged. “Finish your dinner.”
“Yes,” Mi’al agreed. “That’s another part of the reason for me to be here. To keep an eye on my other patient.”
“I’m not sick,” Jareel responded.
“And I’m going to be sure you don’t become sick. So…eat.” He passed a hand over his face.
“Are you all right?” Qui-Gon asked.
“Just weary. It’s been a long day of chasing this. I look forward to my sleep this night. And I think I’ll do better with a rested mind. Don’t worry, Jareel. There will be someone to look in on Daven tonight.” He smiled a bit. “There are other healers at the hospital, you know.”
“But you’re the best,” Jareel responded. “Some of them are…kids.”
“Do you mean…such as Kiel?”
“Well…he is a kid. He’s so young.”
“But I trained him,” the healer tried to lighten the atmosphere. “You don’t think he actually learned something from me?”
“I didn’t mean…” Jareel trailed off.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. I’m worried too, Jareel. But don’t lose your focus.”
“I’ll bet you haven’t mediated today,” Qui-Gon said.
“Hmph. I know what you should do after you finish eating. If you finish.”
“He will finish,” Mi’al said with certainty. “He has a choice…for now.”
“It was easier to just let him sleep here. If he was going to be able to sleep,” Mi’al said to Qui-Gon. “But…as you can see…”
They stood at the door to Daven’s room. The padawan looked very much like he did the previous night. Jareel was slumped in the reclining chair, sound asleep, snoring.
Obi-Wan pressed his way into the room. Obviously he wanted to get closer, but hesitated for fear of waking Jareel.
Mi’al withdrew. Qui-Gon put a finger to his lips as he touched Obi-Wan on the shoulder. Then he withdrew to the corridor also. The healer was leaning against the wall, running a hand through his grey hair.
“Are you all right?” Qui-Gon noted how drawn Mi’al’s face looked. And maybe a little pale?
“Sure. Just tired.”
“Didn’t you sleep last night?”
“Oh sure. Like a rock.”
“But still so tired?”
“Residual effect of a hard day yesterday.”
“We keep looking. I tend to think this is not very contagious since Jareel isn’t sick. I had considered isolation, but Jareel spent…what…a couple of days transit with Daven and he shows no sign of this. There is no indication of infection in Jareel.” A pause. “However, if you or Obi-Wan begin to feel ill, let me know at once. Jareel is so big. Who knows how his metabolism would react to the same virus? Daven is so much smaller.” He rubbed his face. “Am I doing the right thing? Should I have isolated him? Maybe Jareel is a wild card. Maybe he’s a carrier. I should isolate both of them. I think.”
Qui-Gon studied the man in concern. “Mi’al…you sound as if you are babbling.”
He laughed shortly and it sounded forced. “I am.
I needed a rested mind, but I didn’t get the rest I needed.”
“Mi’al, may I speak with you a moment?” Kiel was coming down the corridor.
“Of course. Excuse me, Qui-Gon.” The two healers walked off down the hallway together.
Jareel stood and looked at Daven. According to what Mi’al had told him, the padawan’s condition had not changed much during the night. He was still a very sick young man, and all that Mi’al had been able to do was keep him from getting worse, or maybe not. Maybe that was not because of anything that the healer had done. Maybe that was just that the illness had reached its peak. Or maybe not. He put his big hands over his face.
“You know that Mi’al is doing all he can,” Qui-Gon said quietly.
“I know. But…it’s not enough,” Jareel said with barely controlled frustration.
“I’m concerned too, Jareel, but it won’t help Mi’al come up with an answer any faster if we allow our feelings to get the better of us. It won’t heal Daven either.”
“It’s easy for you to say that because…” he trailed off, not daring to look at Obi-Wan, who stood directly across from him. Of course he didn’t wish anything bad for Obi-Wan.
“Yes, it is easy for me to say. This is not my padawan. I’m fond of Daven, but I don’t have the
relationship with him that you do. But
the other side of that is that I can be a bit more objective than you can
be. That is what you need to hear as
well right now.”
Qui-Gon paused. “Come on. Let’s go get you some breakfast…and get you cleaned up.” The elder knight took his friend’s elbow, but Jareel gently pulled away. “Come on, Jareel. You have to take care of you too.”
“Master Jareel…please go,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “Please take care of yourself. If not for you, then think of Daven. When he is better, he will need someone to look after him until he’s completely recovered.”
Jareel smiled a bit. “Aye. You’re wise.”
“I’ll stay here with him.”
“Thank you, Obi-Wan.”
The apprentice watched the two masters leave. He looked at his friend, so pale. Obi-Wan blotted his face and replaced the cold pack on his brow.
“I understand why Master Jareel is so upset. This happened so fast. It became bad quickly. He said in just a couple of hours you went from flying a transport to being this ill. It’s…scary. Especially since Mi’al is having trouble deciding exactly what is wrong. I mean…with all his years of experience and all the knowledge he has gained, if he can’t place what is causing this…”
Obi-Wan was silent a moment. He held Daven’s hand. “Don’t do this to me, Daven. I know it’s not your fault. You don’t want this. But…you have to fight too. Fight it as furiously as you fight me when we spar. I know you can. Sometimes you make me so frustrated, but…I couldn’t stand it if anything happened. So, you have to promise to keep fighting. Okay?”
Jareel ate, but it was obvious he was only doing it to fend off Qui-Gon’s insistence, and so he wouldn’t argue. The big man wasn’t even looking at what he was eating.
“How could he get this sick so fast?” the blonde Jedi asked. “That’s what gets me about it.”
“Well, I don’t think it was so fast. You said that he complained of being tired well before he confessed to being ill.”
“Yes, but saying that he doesn’t feel well, and then to be out completely so quickly…”
“I think you’re tired from your mission. That’s part of why you are taking it so hard too. And it’s not going to help you if you keep being so obstinate about resting.”
“I slept,” Jareel said defensively.
“Old friend, I don’t want to argue. That helps nothing and only causes you to be more upset. I’m just worried about you, like you are worried about Daven.”
“So, you can’t personally do anything to help him. Obi-Wan is with Daven. Mi’al is working on the problem. And you need to look after you. And I’m going to be sure of it. After this, to your quarters to clean up. Then you’re going to meditate. When you are refreshed and more centered, you’ll be better able to endure the wait, which you obviously aren’t handling well right now.”
Jareel smiled a bit. “Thank you, old friend. I should cooperate with you instead of opposing you so much, shouldn’t I?”
“I believe I said that a long time ago. Now…finish.”
Jareel didn’t look relaxed while he meditated. He looked tense. Qui-Gon wondered at that. And he made a guess. Quietly he said, “Jareel, work with the Force. Not against it. It can’t help you if you insist on making demands of it instead of seeking its will.”
Then for several minutes an odd ballet of expressions danced over the big knight’s face. He must be trying to find the balance between what he wanted and what the Force wanted, Qui-Gon thought. But finally Jareel’s face relaxed gradually, and the Force began to flow more easily in the room. And Qui-Gon could finally settle into his own meditation, without being disturbed by his friend’s unsettled mind.
At the end of the time in the Force, Jareel seemed a bit sheepish. “I feel like a padawan…needing instruction.”
Qui-Gon gently shook his head. “Don’t feel that way. We all have our moments of struggle. You know that. This is just one of those times. You’re worn and things are happening quickly…”
“Except the treatment.”
But Qui-Gon let that remark pass. “It’s easy to let your balance get away from you. But…you did find it again, right?”
“Aye. Finally, I did.”
You did the things I so earnestly insisted. Why don’t we go look in on Daven?”
“No change,” Obi-Wan reported. And it was obvious from looking at Daven that was the case. Still very feverish and pale and unconscious. “He’s been mumbling…things I couldn’t make out.”
“Aye, he does that,” Jareel answered as he ran a hand through his padawan’s damp hair. “He’s not making sense, sick as he is.”
“Has Mi’al been in while we were gone?” Qui-Gon asked.
“No, Master. He hasn’t.”
“His fever is the same?” the big blonde Jedi asked without looking up.
“It hasn’t gone up,” Obi-Wan reported the good news first. “But it hasn’t gone down either.”
“This is maddening,” Jareel said quietly.
“Only if you let it make you that way,” Qui-Gon answered. “You were so calm before you came back down here.”
“I know. I’ve almost lost my focus so soon.” He paused. “It’s very hard, old friend. Just think on it. You have worked with Obi-Wan for how long exactly now? Trained him, reared him. The closest you’ll come to having a son. I’ve seen you when he’s been sick or injured. It’s so easy to stand there and remind me of what I should be and do. It’s much harder to do it when I stand here and see how pale Daven is…how ill.”
Qui-Gon put an arm around his friend’s back. “I know, old friend. I don’t pretend it isn’t hard for you. I know how you feel. I have been quite upset when I’ve seen Obi-Wan very ill before. But I also know that, hard as it is, you have to fight to keep your perspective. No, it’s not easy, but it’s necessary. It’s the only way you’ll get through this.”
Jareel sighed deeply. “Aye. You’re right. I know it. I just…”
“I know, old friend. I know.”
There was a couple of moments of quiet. Then the door opened. Mi’al walked in slowly, looking over the data tablet in his hand. He must be working hard on this, Qui-Gon thought, because the healer looked weary.
“Mi’al?” Jareel asked.
The healer pressed between the two Jedi masters. He had the latest information on his patient, but he wanted to see Daven for himself. To lay a hand on him and feel what he could through the Force. Of course he wasn’t surprised to feel the great battle going on with the young man’s immune system.
“He’s trying to fight it,” he said so quietly that everyone had to strain to hear.
“Are you any closer to knowing what is causing this?” Jareel demanded.
The healer moved away from the bed. He walked to the wall near the foot of the bed and leaned against it. In that moment of quiet, Mi’al showed just how hard he was working, fighting this. His head hung, eyes closed, for a long minute.
“No, Jareel. There’s no doubt there is an infection of some kind. What caused it, I don’t know. What it is…I still think it’s viral, but it seems…not quite. What to do to get rid of it… It’s hard to know how to get rid of it when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be getting rid of.”
“You’re still just treating symptoms?”
“Yes, because it’s all I can do. For now,” he answered quietly. Mi’al rubbed his face.
“You look very tired,” Qui-Gon noted. Mi’al’s face was very drawn, maybe even a bit pale.
“I am very tired,” Mi’al answered. “This has me stymied. I am very frustrated. It should be easier than this.” A pause. “Maybe it’s something that hasn’t been isolated before. Maybe I’m breaking new territory here, instead of covering old ground. I’m beginning to think…”
“To think what?”
The healer pushed himself from the wall, standing up straight, but not quite. “That’s the case. This is something new. Or at least new to me…and the others I’ve consulted…”
Jareel had been listening intently…and watching closely. He noted that the chief healer swayed a bit on his feet. “Mi’al…are you all right?”
He forced a laugh. “Me? Sure. Fine. Fine. Just…” The healer turned toward the door and started to take a step. “Fine,” he said again, before he collapsed to the floor.
The two Jedi masters were there at once. Qui-Gon called out, “Obi-Wan…get someone. Hurry.”
Carefully they rolled Mi’al onto his back. He was still somewhat conscious, muttering something.
“Take it easy, Mi’al,” Qui-Gon said.
“Do you think he caught what Daven has?” Jareel asked worriedly.
“I don’t know. You’ve been around Daven more than Mi’al has. You haven’t caught it.”
“But…” The big man didn’t finish the thought, because he didn’t know what to say.
Qui-Gon put a hand to Mi’al’s face. “He’s very hot.”
“He said he was tired. Very tired. Now he collapses and has a fever. The progression is too familiar, Qui-Gon.”
The door flew open. Kiel hurried in, trailed by Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon moved back out of the way so the younger healer could examine his patient.
“He said he was very fatigued,” Qui-Gon offered. “Mi’al seemed a bit shaky before he went down.”
“Looks similar to how this came on Daven,” Jareel said.
Kiel looked up. “Find a nurse. Tell her I need a gurney in here right away.”
Jareel alternately sat and held his apprentice’s hand and then stood by the bedside, blotting his face and talking quietly to him. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were nearby, offering encouraging words, and then remaining quiet for a while. Obi-Wan held Daven’s other hand and tried to talk, but felt odd with the masters listening.
Kiel came into the room. His face was dark with concern.
“How is Mi’al?” Qui-Gon asked.
“Is it the same thing as Daven has?” Jareel asked.
“It looks like the same thing.” Kiel stood at the foot of the bed, studying Daven.
Mi’al’s last padawan. He was not quite as tall as his mentor, but lean like him. His dark hair was still short, still growing out of the padawan cut, but long enough to lie down instead of sticking straight out from his head. He had it brushed straight back, and the short length at the nape of his neck was in a tie. It seemed as if he were going to wear his hair the same style as his master, as soon as it was long enough to pull back and tie in a ponytail. His dark eyes looked darker with no light in them.
Kiel Aardahn was a quiet and serious young healer. He knew that there were certain expectations put on him because of who his master had been. Kiel thought that the temple was expecting him to fill Mi’al’s shoes when the healer retired. He was being groomed as the next chief healer, so all the rumors went. Mi’al had carefully chosen his final padawan with an eye to choosing his successor. Kiel never broached that subject with Mi’al. It was enough to him to have been trained by the gentle and compassionate healer, and to still be under his wing as he continued to learn his trade. However, the talk never escaped his hearing.
Kiel always had Mi’al to turn to in difficult situations. When a diagnosis was not simple, or a hard decision had to be made, the chief healer was there, not to take over the job, but to offer advice and guidance, and lead Kiel through the process of coming to resolution on his own merits. It was the right way, the way to truly learn, instead of being pulled through a crisis, blindly accepting what he was told to do.
But now. Kiel knew that the chief healer had been stumped by Daven’s illness. Mi’al was not certain what was causing it or how to treat it. He had been working intensely and tirelessly, it seemed, but hadn’t been any closer to understanding it, even as recently as this morning. The younger healer could kick himself. He knew that Mi’al had looked weary, but he passed it off as his overwork to understand the case. It never occurred to him that his mentor was getting ill. After all, no one else had caught this from Daven. Not even Jareel, who’d spent the most time with his padawan. And now Kiel didn’t have his wise former master to turn to for advice or direction. He was alone, and he was now in charge of both cases of…whatever this was.
Jareel’s heart fell when Kiel said that it looked as if Mi’al had the same thing that Daven did. Now the chief healer was out of commission…and no one was any closer to knowing what was wrong.
“What are you going to do then?” the big Jedi demanded.
“I’m going to do the same thing Mi’al was doing,” the healer responded. “Keep examining this to figure out what this is and how to treat it,” he finished quietly.
“But if Mi’al couldn’t decide, then you…”
Qui-Gon interrupted. “You may have a difficult time too, but we are confident that with persistence, you’ll come to the right conclusions.” He glanced quickly at Jareel then back to Kiel.
“I appreciate your confidence, Master Qui-Gon,” the young healer said quietly.
That the comment was directed specifically to Qui-Gon forced the big blonde knight to see what he’d been about to imply. But he couldn’t rid himself of his doubts either. If the practiced and knowledgeable chief healer were stumped by this, what made anyone think that such a young, and still-learning, healer would be able to solve the mystery.
“I’m sure you can track this down,” Jareel said. “But…you do have some of the older healers to help you, right?” Jareel would not see the pointed look that Qui-Gon was giving him.
Kiel drew in a breath. It was not the first time that his skills had been compared to Mi’al’s, and found lacking. He was beginning to learn to control the anger that tried to found itself in him when that happened. Beginning to. It was not mastered yet.
“Master Jareel, the entire resources of the temple hospital are at my disposal. You needn’t worry that it is just me working this all by myself. Yes, I have plenty of help. The old master healers were working this with Mi’al, and they will be looking over my shoulder for you,” he finished firmly.
There was a long moment of quiet.
Qui-Gon appointed himself peacemaker. “I don’t think that Jareel was calling your ability into question…”
“I think it’s obvious what Master Jareel meant. Excuse me. I have plenty of work ahead of me. Oh…excuse me. Ahead of us.” Kiel turned to walk out.
“Kiel,” Jareel said. The young man stopped but didn’t turn. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to question you. I’m sure that you are capable. After all, Mi’al did train you.”
“He did, but I’m not Mi’al.” Kiel walked out.
Qui-Gon reminded himself that his friend was upset about his apprentice. He couldn’t come down too hard on him but he couldn’t have Jareel shooting holes in Kiel’s confidence at a time like this.
“Jareel, I know it may seem like Kiel is a bit young. But you don’t really know him, or what he is capable of. He works so closely with Mi’al, but he ends up hidden in Mi’al’s shadow because of that. You are seeing Kiel as still a padawan. He is a healer now, and a good one.”
“But he is not as experienced as Mi’al, and Mi’al was having difficulty with this.”
“Yes, he was. That’s all the more reason that you should be careful not to undermine Kiel’s confidence or his authority. I’m sure he feels a lot of pressure right now. And don’t forget now his former master is sick too. Just as sick as Daven. I’m sure Kiel has that in mind too.”
Jareel passed a big hand over his face. “All right. I get the message. I’ll behave.”
“Just accept Kiel for what he is. A healer. He’s not a learner anymore.”
“I will remind you.”
Kiel had gone straight to Mi’al’s room. The chief healer was pale and feverish. Yes, just like Daven, whom Mi’al had not been able to help completely before he got sick. Gently the young healer patted the damp face down and replaced the cool pack on Mi’al’s brow. Kiel was waiting on some test results. He had a moment.
“I’m trying, Master.” He paused. “I have to admit that I’m scared. Scared of the responsibility. Especially when I can see that others don’t trust me so much. And I’m scared that I won’t be able to figure this out to help you. And I don’t have your wisdom to draw on. You couldn’t figure this one out. How am I supposed to?”
He adjusted the blanket. “You told me that my time would come. When I would have to stand completely on my own. You wouldn’t be here to help. No one would be. That is the make or break time, you said. That is when you will learn more about yourself than maybe you wanted to know. You’ll find out how good a healer you are, but you’ll also find out what kind of person, and what kind of Jedi you are. I remember it. I do listen to you, Master. I did and I do. You’re so wise. When I saw for myself how wise you are, how could I pass off things you told me? But that conversation was special.
“We’d just had a difficult case. I worked beside you, trying to match you minute by minute. Not sleeping when you didn’t. I felt that I should be there. To help and to learn. After we got our break in the case, you invited me to your quarters. We shared a snack and some tea. It was our first chance to really relax in days. That’s when you told me that someday I’d have to face such a challenge on my own, instead of at your side.” He paused. The memory brought a smile. “And…after that intense and wonderful talk…we both fell promptly asleep.”
Kiel brushed grey hair away from where it was plastered to the damp face. “Is this my time? It is a time for me, but is this that time…the time of my hard solo challenge? Why did it have to involve you though? Why you, Master? You didn’t prepare me for that eventuality. You never warned me that I might be possibly fighting to save you.”
The young healer grew quiet. He held Mi’al’s hand in both of his. Kiel closed his eyes, reaching out to the Force, imploring it to guide him. And as he was wandering in the warmth and assurance of the Force, he thought he could sense Mi’al there, reaching out to him.
You’ll face this challenge, and you’ll meet it. But you can’t turn from it.
“There’s been no change in Daven,” Qui-Gon said. “Why don’t you go sleep in your own bed tonight? You can’t be resting as well as you should in that chair.”
“I’d like to be here. Daven knows I’m here. Even though he’s so sick, he knows. I just couldn’t leave him alone. Not when he needs me so.”
“Yes and you would be too.”
“Even for a short time, if not the entire night?”
“I’ll be glad to stay with him, Master Jareel,” Obi-Wan offered.
“I appreciate that, Obi-Wan. You’ve tried to help so much. But…”
“But what?” Qui-Gon put in. “Someone would be here with Daven. Someone who is close to him. Daven would know his best friend is here.”
But the big blonde Jedi sidestepped all of that. “Kiel hasn’t been in since before midday.”
“I’m sure he’s busy,” Qui-Gon responded.
“Yes, but doesn’t he come in to see his patients? Like Mi’al does.”
“There have been nurses and padawan healers who came in to take vitals and check on Daven.”
“But Kiel should come too…to see for himself. It’s what Mi’al would do.”
The elder knight gripped his friend’s arm. “Jareel, stop that. Quit comparing him to Mi’al.”
“I didn’t mean to. I just can’t believe he hasn’t come in more today.”
“What do you expect after the way you questioned his ability today? I wouldn’t want to come in here and have my skill prodded each time either.”
Jareel turned away.
“I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so hard on you when you are upset, but you shouldn’t be so hard on Kiel either. I’m sure he feels the pressure without you adding more.”
“I’ll add it because he should be able to take it. When I put hard questions to Mi’al, he doesn’t run from them.”
“I didn’t see Kiel run from you today. I think he stood his ground with you.”
“Ahh.” Jareel waved a hand at him and turned away.
“We are all very tired. This is getting to us all.”
“Go and rest.”
“That’s what I had in mind for you, old friend.”
The door opened and Kiel entered. “Excuse me. I just wanted to update you. Obviously you know that Daven’s condition is unchanged.”
“Do you know that?” Jareel asked.
“Yes. I have the record of his progress…or lack of it, I suppose is more correct, right here.” He held up a data tablet. “I’ve been informed each time that anyone has looked in on him.” He paused. “I’ve been very busy trying to isolate the cause of this.”
“We know you are doing your best,” Qui-Gon offered.
“Well, my best isn’t good enough. I am no further along in my understanding of this. I have been in consultation with other healers. And with some doctors on the planet that you and Daven just came from. We are doing all that we can do.” He looked at Jareel, waiting for his comment. But the big man said nothing. “I’m sorry that I have nothing to tell you. We are working around the clock.” He turned to go.
“Thank you,” Jareel called out.
Kiel looked over his shoulder. The surprise was evident. He muttered something that no one quite caught and then walked out.
Kiel was deep in the Force. He needed to defuse his tension and download some of the burden that was heavy on his shoulders. It was a relief to feel the warm energy flowing around him, settling him, filling him. He drew in a slow, deep breath, feeling like he was drawing in energy with it.
And now that he was refreshed, relaxed and reassured by the source that led his life, the young healer began to think on what he knew of the mysterious illness, hoping the Force would show him some answers. He only brought the knowledge to mind, not trying to analyze it or make sense of it. Kiel was leaving that step to the Force. But it seemed not to be answering him. He could have become frustrated easily, if he didn’t so badly need the relaxation he’d found here. No, he wouldn’t allow the annoyance to come. Sometimes an answer will not be obvious, nor given at once, Mi’al had told him of the Force. Sometimes you must wait because it is the will of the Force.
But it’s so hard, Master. I don’t feel like I have unlimited time. You’re not getting better. Daven isn’t getting better. Even with what improvised treatment I am administering, this has got to be wearing on both of you. It must be weakening you both the longer it goes on. I suppose that it’s good that things are not getting worse. I know you’d say that the solution will come when it is time for it to come. And I always accepted that before. It’s a lot different when your teacher is by your side saying those words, instead of unconscious in bed.
A sound drew his attention. Kiel came out of his meditative trance at once.
“Oh. I’m so sorry. I’ve interrupted your meditation, haven’t I?” Qui-Gon said.
Kiel stood from the chair at Mi’al’s bedside. “It’s all right. I’ve been at it a while.”
“I’ll come back another time. I just wanted to look in on Mi’al.”
“Please, don’t leave.”
Qui-Gon came and stood by the bed. He didn’t recall ever seeing Mi’al this sick before. No matter what he’d treated in the past, the healer had always seemed to be able to avoid catching many of the more communicable diseases he treated.
“He looks very vulnerable right now,” Qui-Gon said quietly.
“Yes,” Kiel agreed equally quietly.
“Even though he’s so quiet, reserved and calm, Mi’al still presents a picture of a very strong man. Strong in the ways that count. He’s a formidable man in his knowledge of the Force, and in his knowledge of healing. That’s why it’s so hard to see him like this. Taken down by a simple virus.”
“Not so simple,” Kiel countered. “Or we’d be further along in our understanding.”
“Of course, but compared to Mi’al, a virus seems simple.”
“A kingdom can be destroyed by a virus, Master Qui-Gon.”
“I know. And Mi’al was fond of telling that to Jedi who were so certain of themselves because of their strength or ability with a saber. Even the biggest can be felled easily. With the right weapon.” He was silent and so was Kiel.
After a couple of minutes, Qui-Gon said, “I know that the most difficult time for a knight is the time between being knighted and the time when he or she faces the first big challenge, and faces it alone, without any help from a former master…or any other Jedi at all. It’s not until a knight truly stands on his own and shows what he is capable of that other Jedi will see him for what he’s been all along. I remember what it was like for me. I remember being compared to my master, judged against him and what he taught me. No one allowed me my own abilities.”
He looked from Mi’al to Kiel. “I took it very personally at the time. I thought that it was just me. I must have done something…or not done something to make other knights distrust me, my judgment.” A pause. “After serving at the temple as long as I have, I understand things differently now. It’s nothing personal. It’s…a coming of age. Even if one has been a good apprentice and begins knighthood well, there is still a wonder about how will he perform on his own when the pressure is highest. And the less that any Jedi knows you, the more that Jedi will…doubt, I guess is the best word for it, what you can do. I don’t say that it’s fair, but it has become accepted here for masters to be this way.
“You’ve done well as a healer. I know that, not from experience, because I haven’t had the benefit of your services much. However, Mi’al speaks very highly of you. And it’s not just a former master bragging. I think we both know Mi’al better than that. He never pays false flattery. He only says what he truly means. And if I don’t know you well, Jareel knows you less. I don’t defend what he is doing, but he’s putting you to that same test. Prove yourself.”
Kiel had listened closely and attentively, but now he broke in. “Not exactly, Master Qui-Gon. Master Jareel doesn’t want me to prove myself. He’d rather I stepped back and let one of the older, more experienced healers take over. He doesn’t want me to have the chance to prove myself.”
“Well, I suppose it does seem that way. I wish I had the words to encourage you through this. But just think how much Jareel will change his mind when you do come up with the answer to this. Not only will he see how wrong he was, but I don’t think he’ll ever question you again,” Qui-Gon smiled just a bit. “I think that if Mi’al were advising you right now, he’d tell you to put your focus first on the Force and secondly on your case. Jareel’s attitude is a distraction that will only make you doubt yourself when you should have all your attention on this difficult case.” He paused and looked down for a moment. “I don’t know what else he would tell you. Except maybe…do your best, that’s all you can do.”
Kiel was silent for a moment. “Thank you, Master Qui-Gon. I appreciate what you are trying to do for me. Thank you for your confidence in me. I will try my best. I could accept no less from myself. Nor would Mi’al.”
The Jedi master smiled and clapped the young healer on the upper arm. “Good. But don’t push yourself too hard in order to try to prove yourself. You won’t help anyone that way, most especially your patients. May the Force be with you, Kiel.” Qui-Gon paused for one more look at Mi’al then he left.
Kiel sat back down. “Master, you have the most interesting assortment of friends. Not many, but the ones you do have are so different from each other. But I know that’s one of the things you like about them. If you had so few friends and they were all the same, how dull would that be for you? But at least there is one that I feel I can confide in at a time like this.
“I guess I should go get some sleep now. I am so very tired. I saw how weary you made yourself working this and I have to wonder if that’s part of the reason that you caught it. I can’t afford to. I’d rather sit here for a while longer, but in the interest of the best way to serve my patients, I’ll go now. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep, but I know I won’t if I sit here all night.”
He stood and approached the bed, taking his former master’s hand. “Good night, Master. May the Force keep you tonight. I promise that I’ll do all I can do to solve this mystery. I’ll find out the cause of this…and the treatment.” He blotted Mi’al’s damp face, changed out the cold pack on his forehead and pulled the covers up a bit. “Good night.”
“Kes, what is this still doing here?” The woman stood with her hands on her hips, not looking very happy. “You were supposed to make sure that these clothes were taken care of,” she said to a padawan who assisted in the hospital. She looked at the durasheet label attached to them. “Daven Madond. He’s been here for days now. You should have made sure his clothes were returned to his quarters or to his master after he was admitted.”
The teenaged Kes wilted under the strict admonition. He had no good excuse and his true one was sure to be scorned. He simply forgot. This had been the least important of the things he’d been assigned to do, and he had selectively forgotten. Anyone could have done the task. He’d had more significant things to do.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ll take them now.”
“Yes, you will,” she agreed. “And don’t dawdle. Take them to his quarters and have the janitorial staff let you in. I don’t want this to get misplaced, and you don’t have time to find Madond’s master…now. Go ahead, Kes.”
The boy picked up the folded stack of clothes. They had been brought here just for the reason of keeping track of them and seeing they were returned to the proper person. It was a mere courtesy provided by the temple hospital because many times an admittance was upsetting enough that the last thing a patient, his or her master, or friends wanted was to come and pick up clothes to take home.
The padawan consulted a computerized list of the temple’s inhabitants for Daven’s room number. He walked out quickly, but as soon as he got to the hallway, he slowed. As long as he was away from her, he would make it last as long as possible.
“Do you remember about three or four years ago, Daven, when our masters were going to take us to a performance of the Coruscant ballet?” Obi-Wan didn’t mind talking aloud to his unconscious friend when there was no one else around to hear. And it was, in some odd way, comforting to him to talk instead of just being silent. Besides there was that chance that Daven could hear him, right? And Obi-Wan though it would be better for him to hear pleasant things instead of the constant worry and uncertainty that seemed to permeate the atmosphere of this room.
“They thought it would be culturally enriching for us. And I guess it would have been, if not for that remark that Master Jareel made. You remember it, I know. Master Jareel finally had to take you out of there because your giggling was disturbing everyone, and embarrassing him. But it was his own fault. He said, ‘I usually enjoy this, but this troupe is very different. I’m not sure what they are trying to do but they look like a bunch of Wookies trying to do katas.’ ” Obi-Wan laughed. “Well, that was the end of that lesson in culture for that day.”
“And almost for the rest of your padawan life.”
Obi-Wan looked up. His master stood just inside the door, smiling. The apprentice’s face flushed.
“Jareel does have a way with words. He just needs a governor on his mouth. Or at least a timer,” Qui-Gon said. “I wouldn’t mind so much what he says, if he just didn’t say it when he did. Sometimes. It goes from the part of his brain that thinks of it, directly to his mouth, without passing through the part of his brain that stops to consider if it’s a good thing to say or not.” He walked further into the room. “Don’t be embarrassed, Obi-Wan. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I was curious which incident you had in mind.”
“Well…that was the only one at the ballet…”
“No, it wasn’t. Have you forgotten the very first time we all went? The Wookie katas were not the only time. There was the senate dance too, remember?”
Obi-Wan’s face was blank for a moment before it broke into a smile and he laughed.
“You do remember. Good, I thought maybe you’d forgotten that other grand work of Jareel’s mouth. ‘They look like senators trying to toss a hot bill from one to the other, passing the blame.’ ”
“Does Master Jareel really like ballet, Master?”
“Yes, he really does, Obi-Wan. But he’s very particular, as you may have guessed, about what exactly he does like.” He looked down at Daven. “Any change?”
“No, Master,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “He’s the same. Did Master Jareel sleep last night?”
“Yes. I thought I’d have to tie him to the bed, but I finally got him settled, and put him to sleep. He’s still asleep. And we’ll let him stay that way as long as he will. I guess you must be pretty worn.”
“Not really. I was able to sleep. Mostly. Enough that I’m not too tired.”
“Good morning,” Kiel said as he entered.
“Good morning, Kiel,” Qui-Gon responded. “You seem…determined this morning.”
“I hope so. I hope determination will help me make progress today.” He stepped to the bed and looked over Daven and took his vitals, even though they had been taken not an hour ago.
“Do you mind if I ask you some questions?” Qui-Gon said. “Not because I mistrust you, but I am in the dark about all this, and I’m curious.”
“Of course, Master Qui-Gon. I hope you feel free to ask me anything. I don’t guarantee that I’ll be able to answer though.”
“I understand. You said that this is viral.”
“It appears to be viral. Because it seems so hard to isolate, I’m keeping an open mind.”
Qui-Gon nodded. “So…you’re not sure of that.”
“If it is viral, then shouldn’t it be a simple matter to…give Daven something that will destroy the virus? Or at least boost his system so it can fight it off?”
“Well…that’s another thing about this. Even though it presents as a viral infection, we’ve not been able to find any phages in the blood. No evidence of the components of the virus. Another reason to say that it appears viral. Of course in this wide galaxy, there are so many things I’ve never seen before. I’m not ruling anything out. Maybe…it’s even…able to mimic the appearance of some other component of the blood. Look like a red blood cell. That won’t fool the body, but it would certainly fool our eye.”
“And the body is not trying to fight this off?”
“On the contrary. This state that Daven is in is not only because he is ill. His body is fighting it. The fever is not only because of…whatever he has. It’s a sign his immune system is fighting.” He paused and frowned. “But…it’s almost like…” he trailed off as he got a far away look in his eye.
“Like what?” Qui-Gon prompted.
“Like there is a fresh supply of…whatever this is, being pumped into his body. He’s not improving. Nothing we’ve done, or that his immune system has done, is making him better. If it is a virus, it’s not being destroyed. It’s continuing to reproduce itself, very efficiently I’d say. And each day, there’s a fresh batch of it that keeps him from getting better.”
“You said it may not be a virus,” Obi-Wan said. “If it’s not, then could it be…I don’t know…something he ingested? Something toxic?”
“Toxins generally don’t cause fever. Fever is a sign of an infection, and the body’s attempt to fight it. The body doesn’t react the same to a toxin.”
“But that’s a good question. You never know until you ask. Don’t ever hesitate to ask anything. I’d rather help you understand than try to make you feel foolish if you ask something that’s not quite right. There are no dumb questions.”
Qui-Gon’s lips curled in a half smile. “I hesitate to compare you to Mi’al. You are yourself, not an extension of him. But his influence is very evident in you. That sounds like how he would have responded.”
Kiel looked pleased with that. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask?”
“Not at the moment,” Qui-Gon responded. “I think I have enough to think about, for now. Obi-Wan?”
“All right.” Then he looked around as he suddenly realized. “Where is Master Jareel?”
“Asleep in his quarters for a change,” Qui-Gon smiled.
“Oh. Good. He needed that. That was your doing, I’m sure.”
“And it was a great deal of doing.”
“Will you update him for me when he does arrive? And if he has questions for me, I’ll be in later. But I should get to my lab now. Obviously I have my work more than cut out for me.”
“Yes. I’ll tell him the latest.”
“Which is nothing really.”
“But you’re still working on it.”
“As hard as I can.” He paused. “Well. Until later then.” The young healer exited.
“I like him, Master,” Obi-Wan said. “He is a lot like Mi’al.”
“He is, but he’s a lot like Kiel too. You don’t always like to be told how like me…or unlike me that you are, do you?”
“Well…it’s not that I think less of you, Master…”
“You just want to be your own person. So does Kiel.”
Qui-Gon toyed with his beard a moment. “Now if we could just get that obstinate wampa to understand.”
“Like this, Kiel,” Mi’al said. “Carefully and gently. Remember that your patient is hurt. You don’t want to hurt him or her more.”
“I’m sorry, Master,” the padawan said. “I guess it’s too easy to think I’m just practicing on you.”
The healer smiled. “Well, you can even be a little hard on me sometimes.” The boy blushed. “It’s all right. I was just teasing. I’m sorry to embarrass you. Now, try this again. You want to carefully bind a sprain to immobilize it while it heals. Don’t move so quick and sharply. Slow and easy. And not too tightly.”
“How do I know when it’s tight enough, but not too tight?” the boy asked.
The greying man rubbed his chin. “I’m trying to remember how I learned that. It seems second nature now. Use your sensitivity to help you. You’ll know when it’s too tight. Your patient will be in distress. So will your practice dummy.”
Kiel laughed and then put a hand over his mouth.
Mi’al smiled. “It’s all right to laugh. I was trying to break the tension. You’re much too tense about this. Am I so demanding?”
“No, Master. I just…” Kiel trailed off.
“It’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to be wrong. That’s why we practice this sort of thing. I’d rather you be wrong here and now than in an urgent situation. But it happens there too. The more you learn and practice and become familiar with your lessons, the less likely you will make a mistake when it will be more costly. Now…why don’t you try this on yourself? See how tight you can stand it.”
That was your way of teaching me, Master. So calm. You never yelled at me. Even in an urgent situation. You always were able to stay cool, even when everything was going wrong. And you tried to teach me that. I don’t know how well I’ve learned it. Nothing is going right at the moment. And I feel like that same nervous, inept padawan. Right now mistakes count and I don’t know if I am making them or not. Only because you are not getting worse does not mean that I haven’t done anything wrong. I did learn that lesson. Why can’t I figure this out, Master? You couldn’t figure it out. That doesn’t instill confidence in my ability.
Then as if someone was there in the lab with him and spoke, the words were clear. Your confidence should be based on what you do, not in comparing yourself to another.
Kiel looked up and glanced around the room. “Master? No. Of course it couldn’t be.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up before you came to the hospital?” Jareel demanded, arms folded over his chest.
“Because you needed the rest and there was nothing you could do here,” Qui-Gon answered easily. “Admit it. You feel better this morning, don’t you?”
“More like this afternoon.” He frowned a bit. “I suppose you’re right. I do feel better,” he admitted grudgingly. “But I would have done fine if you’d awakened me earlier.”
Qui-Gon only shook his head. “I sent Obi-Wan to get some breakfast and then to his quarters. He did well sitting with Daven. I overheard him talking to Daven when I arrived.”
Jareel’s gruff looked melted. “Oh? I guess…I hadn’t thought about how much this might be affecting Obi-Wan.” He sighed. “Pretty selfish of me.”
“No. Not really. You’re not being selfish at all. All of your attention is centered on Daven. It’s understandable.”
There was a knock at the door. Both masters turned to look. Master Leish and his padawan, Harld, were there.
“May we come in?” Leish said.
“Please,” Jareel answered.
Quietly they entered and came over to the bed. It was obvious that Leish was distressed by Daven’s appearance, but Harld was clearly more affected. Daven was a close friend.
“We just got back to the temple last night,” Leish explained. “In the dining hall, one of Harld’s friends told us of this.”
“Thank you for coming by,” Jareel said quietly.
Harld only stared at his friend. His master put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure that Mi’al is working hard on this, Harld.”
“Ah…Mi’al is ill too. With what appears to be the same thing,” Qui-Gon answered.
Master and apprentice looked at him. “Mi’al?” Leish said in disbelief.
“Yes. He took sick a couple of days after Daven got to the temple.”
Leish took a step backward. “It’s contagious then?”
“That’s the confusing part,” Qui-Gon said as his brow creased. He held out a hand toward the big blonde Jedi. “Jareel has spent more time with Daven than anyone else and he isn’t sick. No symptoms at all. Not even mild ones. Obi-Wan and I have visited several times and we don’t feel ill either.”
Leish was intrigued now. “Not ill? This is interesting. And who is working on this now, since Mi’al is sick?”
“Kiel,” Jareel said, a bit stiffly.
Leish looked at him. “That sounds as if you don’t approve.”
Before the big knight could respond, Qui-Gon did. “It’s only because Jareel doesn’t know Kiel as well as some of us other Jedi. He’s more than capable.”
“Well, I’m sure he is. Or he wouldn’t be a healer to begin with.”
“Where is Obi-Wan?” Harld asked.
“He stayed with Daven last night,” Qui-Gon responded. “I sent him to his quarters. Even though he says he did sleep.”
“Are you all right, Harld?” Leish asked as he put an arm around his apprentice’s back.
“I don’t know. I’m just finding out about this. I…guess so. It’s just…such a shock to see him like this.”
“It’s always hard to see a friend like this. I…I wish I had something comforting to say.” Leish had always been so cool and overly correct in his relationship with Harld, until very recently. An event in their lives had broken down Leish’s walls a bit. And he was finding out now how little he knew about how to be more than only a teaching master.
“I think we all can take the most comfort from realizing that this illness is the top priority of the temple hospital and the healers are working hard to understand it. Daven and Mi’al are getting plenty of attention and the best treatment the hospital has to offer. We have to trust the healers and the Force,” Qui-Gon said.
“I’d like to see Mi’al,” Leish said quietly.
“Master, may I stay here?” Harld asked.
Qui-Gon began walking to the door. “He’s just across the hallway.”
Leish followed and entered at Qui-Gon’s gesture. The green humanoid approached the bed quietly. Qui-Gon could hear the intake of breath as Leish first saw how pale and drawn Mi’al looked.
“He’s very ill too,” Qui-Gon stated the obvious. But there seemed little else to say.
“I can’t recall the last time I saw him sick,” Leish said without looking up. “It’s so…strange to see him this way.”
“Yes. I had the same thought. Mi’al, even though not an excitable person, is always active. It seems very wrong for him to be so still, so ill.”
Leish held onto one of the healer’s hands. “Qui-Gon…I don’t mean to seem overly critical…but what you said about Kiel… Well, I don’t know him well either. Is he capable? I heard in the dining hall that whatever this illness is, it has been difficult for the healers to determine cause and cure. Was Mi’al treating Daven before he, himself, became ill?”
“Yes. Mi’al was. And he was having difficulty isolating this. But I don’t think that you should judge Kiel if you don’t know him. Didn’t you believe what you said? That Kiel must be capable or he wouldn’t be a healer.”
“Well…yes, I did mean it. But… He is young and…”
“Leish, age is not a determining factor here. Kiel passed his trials. He is capable.”
“I beg to differ with you. Age is very much a determining factor. Age also determines experience.”
“Well, you needn’t worry about that, Master Leish. I’m not working this all by myself, after all. There are other healers, more experienced than I, working this,” A quiet voice said.
Qui-Gon and Leish turned to see Kiel in the doorway. Even though his response had been quiet and calm, his face showed how he truly felt.
“I’m sorry,” Leish said at once. “It’s not you personally that I question. But if this is a difficult case then it seems that experience would help solve it quicker.”
“That is exactly why I am using the experience that is available for me to call on,” Kiel replied.
“Then if you are aware of your need for help and you are availing yourself of it, then what is the problem?” the green humanoid said coolly.
“I have no problem. Except lack of experience. But I’m not afraid to admit it and to try to do something about it.”
“Do you imply that I am the one with the problem?” Leish put a hand on his chest.
“Just a moment,” Qui-Gon broke in.
“Excuse me,” Kiel went on. “I came to check on my patient, and to take a blood sample. If you will excuse me.” He stood aside from the door and held a hand out toward the door.
Leish nodded and walked out. Qui-Gon followed but stopped before Kiel.
“You see, Master Qui-Gon. I’m never going to be my own person, as you suggested that I already am. I’m always going to be too young, and in Mi’al’s shadow.”
“Not always. Keep going as you are now. You’ll get there. I promise you.”
“A vision from the Force?” he replied, not quite sarcastically.
“No. Confidence in you. Kiel, I told you that Mi’al has told me about you. I know what you are capable of. By their own admissions, Jareel and Leish do not know much about you. Don’t let their lack cause you a lack. I’m sure your master told you what he saw in you. Don’t you think he, as a healer, was more able to recognize your talents and gifts in your field than non-healers would be?” Qui-Gon paused. “Think about it. And think about what I told you before. Your ultimate source, not just of knowledge, but also of confidence, should be the Force. Not any one Jedi in this temple.” He patted Kiel’s shoulder and then walked out.
The young healer closed the door and then leaned against it, thinking about what Qui-Gon said, and said before. He stayed there a couple of minutes before pushing away from the door.
“Hello, Master. I wanted to do this myself so I’d also have a reason to look in on you. I’m sorry that this is taking me so long. I need a breakthrough on this. And I don’t know where to look for it. I know…let the Force guide me. I’m trying, Master. I’m trying.” He paused in his talk as he checked Mi’al’s vital signs.
“It seems that there is at least one person who thinks I can do this. Master Qui-Gon is either confident in me…or he’s good at trying to make me feel better about myself. I guess I shouldn’t be so snide. I should meditate on my feelings…and why I am allowing people to make me feel defensive and…dumb. I should have my focus on the Force, on my job, not on people. At least not on people who are not currently patients. I have to admit, at a time when I keenly feel the absence of your counsel and wisdom, it does feel good to have someone show trust in me. I think I can see why you get along so well with Master Qui-Gon. He’s a wise person.
“I know that you think Master Jareel and Master Leish are wise too, but it is in ways that they are not exhibiting right now. At least not exhibiting to me. How can I ask you about that later without sounding so critical? Maybe if I just ask you what you think their strengths are, that might answer it for me. You see, Master, even though they are willing to subtly attack me right now, I’m trying not to hold it against them. I’m trying not to let the bitterness build up. I’m trying to think of a way to ask you about them without complaining about them. I wonder what they will say to you about me when this is over?
“Well, I guess that’s not important. What is important is my work. And I must get back to it, much as I’d like to stay with you a bit. So, let me get this sample. You always told me not to lie to children about when something would hurt. They might get alarmed, you said, when you tell them it will hurt a bit, but at least you haven’t created distrust. Well, I can honestly say to you that this will not hurt. Since you are unconscious, you won’t feel it.” Then he stopped what he was doing. “That’s not true, is it? Just because I won’t see you react doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt. You never react. Maybe it really doesn’t hurt you. Or maybe you’re just too stubborn to let it hurt.” Kiel took the blood sample. “I’ll come by later to look in on you again, Master.”
Kiel looked over the data tablet and back to the teen lying on the exam table. His face was creased in concern.
“He only became sick this morning?”
“Yes,” the padawan healer answered. He wasn’t feeling well when he came to the hospital for his shift today. Kes said he was very tired and seemed listless. When I came back from taking some samples to the lab, and delivering some reports, he was lying down, and he wouldn’t wake up. Kes was hot, and mumbling.”
The healer tried not to sigh. The same symptoms as Mi’al and Daven. He hadn’t figured out what they had yet, and here was another case. But how had Kes come to it?
“Do you know if he had any contact with the two patients with the undiagnosed illness?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“That’s the first thing I need to find out.” He looked again at the boy. “Admit him and start the same treatment.” Kiel made the notes on the data tablet, opening a new patient chart for Kes. He handed it to the padawan. “Check vitals on this schedule and keep me updated. I have to go do a little investigation.” He hurried out of the exam room.
“Why hasn’t Daven come to see me?” Kethen
asked Obi-Wan. “I know he’s back from
his mission. Is he mad at me?” The young boy was very fond of Daven and the pair had a close bond, on the way to becoming master and padawan many observers noted.
“No,” Obi-Wan said quietly. He picked the boy up and set him on the bench between himself and Harld. “Daven isn’t mad at you.”
“Why won’t he come here then?”
“Daven is sick,” Harld said.
“What’s wrong with him? Did he get hurt on his mission?”
“No, he didn’t get hurt,” replied Obi-Wan. “But he must have been around someone who was sick because he’s been sick since he got back.”
Kethen looked thoughtful. “Will you take me to his quarters so I can see him?”
“Daven is in the hospital,” Harld said carefully.
Kethen’s eyes widened a bit at that. That made it sound a lot worse to him. “He’s really sick if he’s there.” A pause. The boy’s face twisted up in concern. “Daven’s not going to die is he?” Kethen asked in a higher pitched voice.
“No,” Obi-Wan said at once. Then he realized that he didn’t really know the answer to that. Because the healers didn’t know yet exactly what was wrong, no one could say with certainty what the prognosis was. He glanced at Harld for help and support.
The other padawan tried. “Daven is very sick, but the healers don’t know exactly what’s causing it yet.”
Kethen didn’t understand what the attempted re-explanation was about. “He is going to die, isn’t he?” he said in alarm.
Obi-Wan pulled the boy close to him. “We didn’t say that.” There. He didn’t answer the question one way or the other, but maybe Kethen took that as “no”.
“I want to see him.”
The padawans exchanged a look. Remembering how bad Daven looked, they didn’t think that was a good idea.
“I don’t know if you can,” Harld hedged.
“Uh…maybe you might catch it,” Obi-Wan supplied.
“You don’t want me to see him,” the boy pouted. “Why not? It is bad. I knew it.”
“No,” Obi-Wan started and then stopped. As much as he wanted to reassure Kethen, he couldn’t say just anything to make him feel better, and it would be so easy to. But at this point, no one knew what would happen. And it was bad. How bad? He sighed. “Kethen, the healers are busy taking care of Daven, and we should stay out of their way. Even Harld and I can’t just walk in to see him when we want to. Besides, Daven is asleep. He wouldn’t even know you were there.”
“He told me before about one time when Master Jareel was really sick,” said Kethen. “And Daven said that he knew Master Jareel would know he was there so he talked to him anyway. Daven would know that I was there.”
And Obi-Wan didn’t doubt that if Daven were aware enough, he would know that the boy was there. He could see the special friendship the two had. Daven had even been able to sense some things from Kethen the time he got separated from the crèche mates that he’d gone to a museum with. Yes, Daven would know Kethen was there. And maybe that was a good thing.
“Harld,” the apprentice began, “maybe Kethen should see Daven. You know how close they are. Maybe Daven should know Kethen is concerned about him.”
The other padawan looked dubious. “I don’t know,” he responded slowly. “I think I know what you are driving at and that might be good for Daven, but is it a good idea for…you know. For Kethen to have to see him. Like that.”
“Kethen, Daven is really sick. He’s pale and there are tubes in him. Sometimes he talks without making sense. He’s not awake. He’s just…delirious from the fever. Daven isn’t trying to converse.”
“Then he needs me,” the boy insisted. “I’ve been learning how to use the Force to heal myself. See this?” He held his arm up and pointed at a small slightly lighter area. “I had a sore there and Master Mi’al told me it was just right for me to practice with. He told me how to think hard about the Force. And look…it’s gone. I can help Daven,” he insisted.
Obi-Wan looked at Harld, who still looked uncertain.
“Let’s ask one of the guardians what their opinion is,” Harld said. “Then I’d feel better about doing this.”
Obi-Wan pulled the chair closer to the bed. Harld lifted Kethen onto it and held on to him. The boy had overestimated his readiness for this; that was clear. One look at his face revealed that.
“You just let us know if you want to leave,” Harld told him.
But the boy’s desire to help drove him. “No. I want to stay. You told me I could see him.”
Kethen looked at the pale, damp face. Daven’s breathing was ragged and uneven. And he wasn’t still. His hands twitched. His face muscles worked and some words he said were audible, but didn’t make a lot of sense.
“Are you okay?” Obi-Wan said quietly.
Kethen looked as if he would cry. He was clearly upset, but didn’t want to leave the bedside of his good friend. He was trying hard to be strong. The boy put a small hand on Daven’s. He closed his eyes tight and was concentrating hard.
Obi-Wan and Harld glanced at each other. The innocence of the genuine desire to help touched them both.
Daven’s body twitched hard once and he moaned loudly. “No. Master. No. Can’t stop. No!”
Kethen was already startled by the movement. The cry undid him. He pulled away, turned to Obi-Wan and grabbed him, breaking into tears.
“He’s not okay,” he sobbed. “And I couldn’t help him.”
The padawan took the boy into his arms and held him close. “Shh. Kethen, the healers are trying to help him and they are having a lot of work doing it. They are trained for it. You’re just learning. But I’m sure that Daven knew you were here trying to help.”
“Then why did he yell like that?”
“I told you that he said things that didn’t make sense. It’s not you. It’s the illness. Come on. I think we should go.”
Kethen didn’t argue. He was ready to go. This was enough to shake his small amount of resolve. But as Obi-Wan got to the door, the boy looked back one last time.
“Is he gonna be okay, Obi-Wan? Really?”
“The whole hospital is helping him, Kethen. Everyone is working hard on this.”
“And you know how good our healers are,” Harld added. “Try not to worry about Daven.”
“Can I…see him again? Some other time?”
“We’ll see,” Obi-Wan said. “Let’s go for now, okay?”
As they entered the corridor, Kiel was walking along it. He gave an odd look to the trio. “You were in there with Daven?”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan began. “Kethen is a very special friend of Daven’s.”
“You shouldn’t have taken him in there. We still aren’t sure how this is spread,” Kiel said reproachfully. “I don’t know how contagious it is.” He looked at the small boy. “If he became sick… He’s so young.”
“So many of us have been with Daven and Mi’al and no one else has gotten sick.”
Harld tried to help. “Kiel, Kethen and Daven share…a special bond. We thought it would help them both…”
“It won’t help me if you cause things to worsen,” the healer said calmly. “Because you who have been with Daven from the start haven’t shown symptoms, I have allowed you to continue to visit. But allowing general visitors isn’t a good idea. I’d prefer that you not bring anyone else. If it’s really necessary, then I’d rather be notified in advance,” he finished firmly.
“You mean…I can’t see him anymore?” Kethen asked in distress.
Kiel softened toward the boy. “I just don’t want you to get sick too. Daven wouldn’t want you to. He’d feel terrible if you caught this from him.”
That, at least, made the boy think before he launched another objection.
“Please respect my wishes,” said Kiel resolutely. “Or…I will close off the room to all visitors.” He glanced between the padawans and then walked away. Perhaps I should have just told them that we have another case of this. That would have made the point in the best way. But I didn’t want to upset Kethen further. Kes caught this, and had no apparent contact with Mi’al or Daven. His only exposure was being here in the hospital, where I have two ill patients. If he can catch it that easily, then this must be more contagious than I considered. But. But how can Obi-Wan, Harld, Qui-Gon and Jareel be around them so much and not catch this! It makes no sense. They spend a great deal of time around Daven, and some with Mi’al. No symptoms in any of them. Kes, as far as anyone knows from his duties, never even went in either of those rooms. What did he do that caused him to catch the infection? Does it do any good to isolate my patients if someone who’s had no contact with them can catch the illness anyway? Kiel ran his hand through his dark hair, a gesture he’d picked up from Mi’al, but unaware of it. He needed to sit and think for a bit. But after he looked in on his patients once more.
“Then he said that if we didn’t respect his wishes that he’d close off Daven to all visitors,” Obi-Wan repeated to his master. “Master…did we do such a terrible thing?”
Qui-Gon didn’t answer immediately, even though he knew what to say. He rubbed his bearded chin. “I know you meant well, Obi-Wan. And I know it does seem like this is not very contagious since none of the rest of us have caught it. But since there still is so much unknown about it and because Kethen is so young, it probably wasn’t a good idea to take him there. It also sounds as if it upset him. I know you didn’t mean to and that you thought you were helping him and Daven, but…I have to say that I agree with Kiel.”
The padawan had been sitting on the edge of the chair. Now he sat back in the chair, as if moving away from his master. “Oh.”
“It’s true that because Daven and Kethen seem so close, it might have helped them both to have this visit, but…” He shook his head. “There are too many other things that are complicating this. And Kiel is…having some difficulties. I’d like not to do anything to upset him.”
“You mean because of the way Master Jareel is acting toward him.”
Qui-Gon glanced around his quarters. “Well…yes. Jareel is worried.” He clasped his hands in his lap. “We all are. I don’t know why Jareel has suddenly decided that he can’t trust Kiel, but…” He stood and paced once. “He doesn’t see that his doubt is affecting Kiel, and consequently, Kiel’s ability to do his job. How would it make you feel, Padawan, to have to perform a task under the constant scrutiny of a man who was sure that you couldn’t accomplish it?”
“Have you told Master Jareel this?”
“No. Mainly because it’s so hard to pry him away from Daven’s bedside, and while he is there, he’s not paying much attention to what I say. And I wouldn’t want to be telling him this and have Kiel walk in on it. Everything is awkward enough. Kiel feels like…like everyone is watching, not just Jareel. It’s his first serious crisis without Mi’al there to consult, if need be. He could use all the help he is able to get. I don’t mean just medical help. I mean our confidence in him. There’s another patient in this. Kiel.”
“Master…you need to have a long talk with Master Jareel,” Obi-Wan said with conviction.
Qui-Gon smiled only a little. “What I really need is for him to listen to me.”
Jareel did the only things he could do for Daven…blotting his face, changing the cold pack, adjusting the padawan’s position, trying to make him more comfortable. He felt so helpless. And frustrated. Why was this taking so long? If Mi’al were working this, there would be answers by now. Why didn’t one of the older healers step in and take this case over from Kiel? It was maddening.
“I’m right here, young one.” Jareel took his hand. “I’m right here.”
“Don’t… Look out!”
“Shh…it’s all right.”
“Look out! It’s going…” he trailed off.
“Nothing is going to happen. I won’t let anything happen to you, young one. If I have to take you out of here and to a hospital, nothing will happen. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I won’t hesitate if you start getting worse. In fact, I think I’ll go talk to one of the other healers. I should do that…and demand to know what they are doing.”
The padawan was muttering something that Jareel couldn’t make out. Daven was squirming under the blankets. Delirium from the fever, Kiel had said.
“Why can’t you get the fever down?” Jareel said to the air.
The door opened and Qui-Gon came in. He walked up beside Jareel.
“There’s no change. At all. Nothing, Qui-Gon. Daven is still as sick as he was. What is going on? Why can’t they do something?”
“Kiel is working on it, old friend.” Qui-Gon put a hand on the blonde knight’s broad shoulder.
“Kiel,” Jareel snorted.
“He knows what he’s doing.”
“No, he doesn’t,” the big Jedi declared. “If he did, Daven would be getting better. How can the other healers sit back and do nothing?”
“They aren’t, Jareel. They are working on this too.”
“I never see any of them come in here. Just Kiel. And he has done nothing.”
Qui-Gon glanced at the door to be sure no one was there. “I don’t think that your attitude is helping things, Jareel. I know it’s hard not to be upset right now, but this…animosity you are showing toward Kiel doesn’t help anything. It certainly isn’t helping Daven. Jareel, listen to me. The more you make Kiel doubt himself, the more you set him back from being able to make progress on this.”
“Then perhaps he should give up the case. Mi’al certainly wouldn’t fold under the pressure. And he’s had some very hard cases. Me, for one.”
“Yes,” Qui-Gon agreed. “He had to try to put your hard head back together.” The elder knight didn’t intend any hurt to his friend, but he had to try to get his attention someway.
And he did. Jareel turned his head quickly to look at Qui-Gon. The look on his face was a mix of confusion and annoyance. “That’s a nice thing to say. You know how serious it was and you can joke about it.”
“I’m not joking. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something that Mi’al left undone in there. Jareel, you forgave Daven for the mistake in judgment that led to that crash, didn’t you?”
“Of course,” he said dismissively. “You know I did. Why do you even ask?”
“Because I want to make sure I’m talking to the same man. You forgave him because he was young and still had some things to learn. Right?”
“Yes…and look how much he has changed since then.”
“Exactly. Don’t you think you could extend that same grace to Kiel? He’s not a padawan, but he is in a similar position. He’s still learning. Yes, he always has had Mi’al to consult with. But Mi’al is not always going to be there for him. We never know when Mi’al could meet with an accident or be called into the Force. What should we do then? Give up on Kiel? Say that since Mi’al is gone, Kiel is of no more worth? Mi’al was a young healer once. You knew him then. You even liked to tease him about some of his uncertainties, as I recall. But he stuck with it. He even managed to ignore you. And look where it got him. Chief healer of the temple hospital. The most respected healer. Even you respect him now. Think back to when Mi’al was just a year or two into knighthood. Remember that mission the three of us went on? Remember how much you teased Mi’al on the way out? And look how well he performed. Even you were impressed with what he was able to do in that war zone.”
“I grant you that, but Kiel doesn’t seem to have even that sort of confidence and he’s here in the safety of the temple…with every resource at his fingertips.”
“Ah!” Qui-Gon pointed a finger at his friend. “Two things. First, Kiel does have every resource. Something he told us before and that he is taking advantage of all that. So why didn’t you accept that then?”
But the elder knight interrupted. “Second, Kiel does have a good deal of confidence. The only thing that tends to be an obstacle for him is how everyone expects him to be Mi’al. Even when Kiel becomes as experienced, he will not be Mi’al. He will be Kiel. And because he is in Mi’al’s shadow, he has not had a chance to stand completely on his own yet and show exactly what he is capable of. This is going to be a good thing for Kiel.”
“But not for his patients.”
“Jareel, how can you be so understanding toward some people and so harsh on others? You could have died from that crash and yet you don’t hold it against Daven. Why can’t you be so understanding about Kiel?”
Jareel looked away, back to his padawan. “It’s not the same thing. Daven may have caused the crash, but he was not then entrusted with saving me. Kiel is being entrusted with just that sort of responsibility. And how is he handling it? Not well, it seems.”
“I’m going to grant that you are upset and tired,” Qui-Gon said in exasperation. “Otherwise I might drag you to the gym and challenge you. It seems that’s the only way to get through that thick head of yours!” He turned and walked out. I need to go meditate.
“Help me, Master! Help! Please! Someone help me!” Daven looked around. There was no escape from this that he could see. It was dark and cold. No, it was hot. He couldn’t decide. It was both, at once. He shivered, but sweat dripped off him at the same time. He was miserable and so thirsty. He’d been walking for what seemed like hours and it looked like he was still in the same place. “Master Jareel!” he called at the top of his lungs. But there was no answer.
But there was a noise. Daven turned toward it. He saw nothing though. It was dark, but there was a very faint brightness also. Not pitch black.
“Hello?” He squinted, trying to see. There was the noise again…and the slightest indication of movement. His hand went instinctively to his light saber, but it wasn’t there. Daven looked down, surprised. Then the noise was louder.
The padawan looked up and now he could see a dark silhouette. Something large, maybe twice his size, but on all fours. He froze for seconds, but then turned to run. Before he could get any speed, the thing lunged from behind and knocked him down. It sank long teeth into his abdomen.
“NO! Help! Help me!”
The thing’s breath was hot. It was cold. He was in pain. Daven couldn’t get away. He couldn’t get a hand on the creature. His strength seemed to fail him.
Jareel sprang to his feet at once and was immediately at the bedside. “Daven. Daven, it’s all right.” He gripped the boy’s hand. “I’m right here. I’m right here. There’s nothing else here. Just me. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.” He put his other hand on Daven’s shoulder, trying to calm him. How could he calm someone who was having such terrible dreams caused by an illness? The apparent hallucinations were driven by the fever. How could common sense overcome that? Or could Daven even hear him? But he had to try.
Jareel focused himself. Daven was thrashing around. “It’s all right, young one. I’m here. I’m right here. I’ll take care of you. Just rest in the Force. Just rest, Daven. It’s all right,” he said evenly.
The padawan did seem a bit calmer, but not completely still. He still was restless, rolling his head back and forth, and muttering. At least he wasn’t yelling out in panic. Jareel felt a little better. A little. And he was frustrated only more that Kiel couldn’t do something to lower this fever.
Kiel had just gotten away from the door and across the hallway only seconds before Qui-Gon had stormed out. The young healer was leaning against the door and looking at his sick master. Mi’al was restless and mumbling.
Kiel came over and looked down on the man. He brushed grey hair away from the pale face and bathed Mi’al’s face in cool water.
“Am I doing the right thing, Master? And I don’t mean about this illness. I mean…should I be a healer? Is Master Jareel right about me? Am I so incompetent? I should be making progress, shouldn’t I? I know that you were struggling with solving this also, but…I still have to wonder if I’m where I should be. Master Qui-Gon said that you were once as I am now and that Master Jareel was there to see it. And now Master Jareel thinks that I should step aside from this. Maybe he’s right. If he can’t see anything in me that inspires him to trust me, then…I guess I should give it up. I’ll let one of the other healers take this over. It’s the only way. And maybe it will finally come to resolution. I’m sorry, Master. I never wanted to disappoint you. I’ve always tried my hardest. I guess that wasn’t good enough this time. I…will…consult with the master healers and ask one of them to take over for me. I’ll confine my contribution to lab work on this.”
Don’t give up, Kiel. You can’t walk away from this. This is your work, your challenge. No one can do it for you.
The young healer’s brow furrowed. That couldn’t have been from his former master. Mi’al was delirious, mumbling about past cases and cases that didn’t exist…mixing the two and adding in muttered things about the haran and Kura.
“I must be working too hard and not getting enough rest. Another fault of mine. I’m trying too hard to be like you, Master. It’s just the way you work. But…I feel like I’m running out of time too. I have to go talk to the healers, and then get some rest.” He replaced the cold pack on Mi’al’s forehead and put his hands on his master’s chest, trying to calm him. “One way or other this will be figured out. I promise you.”
“Kiel. What are you doing?”
He sat up and looked around. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep here. I shouldn’t be here anyway. I should be consulting with one of the master healers. I’m sorry, Master.”
Mi’al stood before him. His green eyes had that same gentle look that Kiel had come to know so well as the healer’s padawan. “You should ask them for help and information. But don’t ask them to do your job for you. I didn’t teach you that way, Kiel.”
“I’m sorry, Master. But…I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve tried everything. Everything…and nothing is helping! I…give up, Master.”
Mi’al folded his arms over his chest. “Give up? You cannot do that. Ever. Not as a healer. When you give up, someone hurts because of it, or someone could even die. A healer can never give up…no matter how hard things get.”
“But Master…I don’t know what else to do! Someone who knows more than me should be doing this.”
“Someone who knows more than you? How much help have the other healers been? Have they given you the answer yet?”
“Then they don’t know more than you about this. You probably know more than they do because you are working so hard.”
“I mean, they have more experience than I do.”
“How did they get it?”
“By all their years of work.”
“I see,” Mi’al said quietly. “And you expect to get this same experience by walking away instead of doing your job.”
“Master! That’s not fair.”
“No, it isn’t, but neither is life. Neither is sickness or injury. None of it is fair. That is the life you have chosen, Kiel. I chose you as my padawan because I saw your talents, your compassion and passion. You have the things that it takes to be a healer. You are a healer. You can’t turn aside now.”
Mi’al interrupted. “No. No more excuses. I expect you to do the job I trained you to do. I know what you can do. It doesn’t matter what others think of you, especially those who don’t understand healing and sickness. They, especially, can’t understand what you are doing or what you are dealing with. Your focus should be on the Force. I’ve told you that before. Focus on the Force. It is your teacher now. Don’t let distractions keep you from seeing what the Force tries to show you. Don’t give up, Kiel. You can do this. And I expect you to.”
The young healer’s eyes opened. He glanced around. He was on the sofa in Mi’al’s office. He remembered now that he came in here to meditate. Must have fallen asleep. But that dream. That dream. It was so real. It was as if Mi’al really were here talking to him. The dream even took place in this office. But it couldn’t be real. It had to be a dream. But Kiel wondered where the wisdom and confidence that the dream Mi’al had shown came from. Not from his own mind, that had spun the dream.
Focus on the Force.
Was that the answer? Was the Force trying to convey the message to him and had used the image of his mentor?
Kiel rose slowly. He didn’t feel very rested. It would be so easy to walk away now. He had a good excuse. His weariness could interfere with his ability to do his job. But he couldn’t forget the words of his dream.
“I won’t let you down, Master,” he whispered. “I don’t know what to do next, but I won’t let you down. I won’t quit. I won’t give up.”
Jareel sat toying with his breakfast. He only came to eat because Qui-Gon harassed him into it, and because he knew someone was with Daven. Harld took Obi-Wan’s place this morning. Because he wanted to help and Obi-Wan was beginning to show his fatigue.
Jareel looked up…and his mouth fell open. “Jaamen. What are you doing here?”
“I have to hear about everything through third parties.” He sat down. “You said before that you’d like having me around so we could get to know each other better and you forgot me.” Jaamen was Jareel's younger brother and the pair had been separated for many years. Jareel had gone down the Jedi path, and Jaamen had been running with space pirates for many years, until he'd seripitously met Jareel. Since then, the pair had tried to form a brotherly relationship, which was still rocky, but a work in progress.
“I’m sorry,” the big Jedi said in confusion.
“Why didn’t you tell me what happened to Daven? Why does Qui-Gon have to call me and tell me?”
“Oh. Well… I guess I just…didn’t think about it.”
“You didn’t think I’d care?”
“No,” Jareel said sharply. “That’s not it.”
“Don’t get yourself stirred up, Jareel. It is true, in a way. You do go out of your way to reach out to me, but you hold off your Jedi friends from me. I care about Daven too. Both of you have helped me out a lot…getting settled here. Daven loves to visit the kids.” He paused. “How is he?”
Jareel looked down and shook his head. “No change. He’s still very sick.”
“Qui-Gon says that it’s a confusing illness. Mi’al caught it, but no one else has. You haven’t caught it and you’ve been around Daven more than anyone.”
“Yes. That does seem to have the healers stumped.”
“Qui-Gon told me about Daven, but not much about Mi’al.”
Oh yes. Mi’al and Jaamen were good friends…dating from years ago when Mi’al had tried to help Jaamen work out some of his repressed hate for his brother.
“Mi’al’s just as ill. He’s shown no improvement either. Is that why you came?”
“Because of Mi’al? Partially. I was concerned about him. But mostly I was concerned about you. I know how fond you are of Daven and if he’s so ill, I thought you’d be as down as you seem. I thought you could use someone to talk to. A shoulder to lean on.”
Jareel smiled a bit. “Thank you, Jaamen.”
“So, let’s get out of here and go find some place to talk. Unless you haven’t finished eating yet.”
Jareel pushed the tray from him. “I’m not hungry.”
“If that’s what you have to eat, I wouldn’t be hungry either.” Jaamen glanced at the conglomeration the food had become since Jareel had been toying with it.
“I appreciate your coming. I would like someone to talk to. Someone…not Jedi. But let’s go back to Daven’s room. I don’t want to stay away too long.”
“Why? Because you have some grand contribution to make to this case?”
“Of course not. But I just want to be with him.”
“Jareel, have you looked in a mirror recently?”
The big Jedi waved a hand dismissively at his brother. “No and I don’t have time for such a luxury.”
“Well, I’m going to make you look in one. You look awful. This is what you are doing to yourself by shutting yourself up in that room, and by not eating.” He indicated the tray. “You need a break. That’s why I’m here. You’re going to get it. I’ll see to it.”
“Don’t argue with me. I’m the one person around here who can handle you. Not with the finesse that Qui-Gon has, but he has realized that his finesse has reached its limit. It’s part of the reason that he called me. Now come on. Let’s go to your quarters and have some tea and some of those great snacks that I know you keep around. And let’s talk.” He paused. “You’ve been gone a lot recently, big brother. I’ve missed you.”
Jareel looked into Jaamen’s blue eyes. There was no guile there. He meant what he said.
“Okay. For a short while. Then I’m going to see about Daven…in spite of you.”
“No, I haven’t seen Kethen today. I haven’t seen him since the day that Harld and I took him to see Daven,” Obi-Wan said into his comlink.
“Oh,” the guardian’s voice was flat.
“Is there a problem?” The apprentice was at once concerned. “Did Kethen get sick?”
“I’m…afraid that…we can’t find Kethen,” the man said slowly. “He’s not here in the crèche. We have searched his sleep area, all the places that the children usually hide, looked in the play area. He’s not in this wing. Unless he has found a new and very out of the way hiding place. But we haven’t sensed him down here…at all.”
“You don’t know where he is at all?” Obi-Wan said in disbelief. “Do you think he’s just hiding? Is he pouting?”
“Well…actually…he has been upset since the visit to the hospital. I don’t say that to try to upset you. I agreed with you at the time. I thought it might be all right too. I don’t know if it’s a matter of pouting as much as it is just being confused and upset. Kethen has been withdrawn.”
In spite of the man’s assurances, Obi-Wan still felt the sting of guilt. He had been on his way to the hospital, but this clearly took precedence. He could do nothing for Daven, but he might very well be able to help find Kethen.
“Obi-Wan…I was wondering. Do you think that Kethen might go back to the hospital to try to see Daven again? He seemed determined that he could help heal Daven…and very disappointed that he had not been able to while he was there.”
“Actually, I was on my way there. I’ll let you know at once if I find him.”
Qui-Gon stood next to the bed. Mi’al looked bad. The last time that Qui-Gon remembered seeing him look this bad…well, not even this bad. He’d never seen the healer like this. But there was the time during the wrongful death suit after their adventures with the monstrous haran. The gentle healer had taken it hard that he’d had to take three lives, sacrificed to the haran, even to save his own. And it wasn’t enough that he felt that guilt. This suit descended on him like a leaden weight.
Mi’al had begun to skip meals and was not sleeping well. And it all caught up with him on that day that he’d had to testify and one of the victim’s sons had disrupted the proceedings, calling Mi’al a murderer. As the healer tried to get up and out of the courtroom, he’d collapsed in exhaustion from the poor care he was giving himself. Mi’al had looked bad then…so pale and gaunt. But this was yet worse.
The healer muttered as he rolled his head slowly from side to side.
Qui-Gon’s brow wrinkled in confusion. Must mean Victor. But who was Victor? The Jedi didn’t know anyone at the temple by that name. Must be some professional contact. Or maybe it was only the product of the man’s fevered brain. Qui-Gon dismissed it.
“I’m so sorry to see you like this,” he whispered. “You always give so much of yourself to your work, to your patients. It’s not right for you to be this way. Except maybe we can give back now in taking care of you. But I would that you were whole and laboring away in your lab, giving, and missing some rest, even it that meant I never had the chance to try to give back. Just like it was then, at the trial, so it was this time. You denied the truth, kept trying to bravely go on…until your body finally gave in. You must have known you were getting sick. Why did you try to keep going? Why won’t you admit that you can’t be indestructible?” Qui-Gon almost smiled. “Ironic. You always accuse us of thinking we are indestructible, because we try to help ourselves with the Force as much as we can before any of us will submit ourselves to you. And yet look what you’ve done to yourself. You’re an obstinate wampa too.”
A noise drew the Mi’al’s attention. A scraping noise accompanied by snorts and grunts. There was little doubt what was making the sounds.
Mi’al could feel fear rise in him. But he knew he couldn’t let it take him over. He wouldn’t be able to take advantage of any breaks he might get if he were filled with fear and doubt. He had to be focused and clear minded…but that was hard to do right now.
The sounds grew in volume. Then the healer could see. In a corner of the room, on the other side of where a body laid, the haran’s head poked out of its tunnel. The large dark eyes reflected just enough of the dim light for Mi’al to be certain those were its eyes. The creature opened its mouth and let out a shriek. Mi’al’s blood ran cold. The dark thing climbed out of the opening in the floor. In the dim light, its dark scales still glimmered iridescently. It walked on its hind feet, holding its shorter forearms before its chest. At the end of its long snout, the haran’s mouth was open, light shining off the lighter teeth. The long fangs dripped saliva and venom. It almost seemed to be smiling at its intended victim. The creature hissed and spat as it studied the healer.
Mi’al drew his light saber. As soon as it powered on however, he heard and then felt a blast. The shot only grazed his hand, but it was enough to make him drop his weapon. It hit the floor and clattered away. Someone said some words to him that he couldn’t make out, but somehow Mi’al understood that it was a threat, and an assurance that now he had no more weapons to use.
The Jedi healer backed away from the dark creature. He could feel the cold evil from the thing. Then his back touched cold metal and Mi’al couldn’t move any further. He watched the creature begin its approach as his mind raced for a solution.
The dark thing stopped to investigate the body that lay on the floor. First it sniffed the dead man. Then the haran sunk its teeth into the flesh and tore a bite free. The creature swallowed and tore another hunk of flesh free. Then it stopped. And it looked at the healer. The cold look in the dark eyes made Mi’al’s flesh crawl. He edged along the cabinet that he was backed up against. Then he could go no further. But the haran could. It was coming closer. He could feel the cold darkness invading him. He pulled hard on the Force to fight the rising fear in him. The haran was only a couple meters away now. What should he do? Should he take a chance and try to flee? Death might be his only escape from this situation.
Then all his choices were taken away. The creature launched itself at him, covering the last two meters in one leap. Mi’al slid to the floor. The dark creature was sitting on him, glaring at him. Before he could gather himself, he felt something tearing through his skin into his abdomen. The healer yelled out in agony.
Qui-Gon was startled out of his reverie in the quiet room. Mi’al was more than just restless. He was struggling hard against something. Something that obvious felt threatening, but that Qui-Gon couldn’t see.
“It’s all right, Mi’al,” he said loudly enough to be heard over the healer’s cries, and he tried to calm him.
The door opened and Kiel hurried in. “What happened? I was going by when I heard Mi’al.”
“Dream…hallucination. He just yelled out suddenly.”
Qui-Gon and Kiel held Mi’al to keep him from possibly hurting himself with the thrashing about. The younger healer knew that it was entirely possible that what they were doing could only be fueling whatever was disturbing Mi’al. He might feel that his intended helpers were actually helping instill whatever harm he feared in his delirium. But Kiel couldn’t just stand and watch either as Mi’al flailed about.
But then he felt the taut muscles begin to relax under his hands. Whether that was from his efforts to calm Mi’al or because the vision was passing, Kiel couldn’t know. He was just grateful that it seemed to be over.
Now Mi’al was back to just restless. The young healer put a hand on his chest to try to keep the calm, and to see what he could sense through the Force.
“I understand what you said about being delirious,” Qui-Gon said quietly, “but I feel compelled to ask…is he all right?”
“Yes,” Kiel said quietly. “He is. It’s the fever. It will cause this sort of thing.” He straightened. “And there’s nothing I can do about it,” he almost snapped, bitterly.
“You’re doing what you can. You have to…just continue and trust the Force.”
The younger man straightened the mess that Mi’al’s covers had become. “Trust the Force and what has it done for me so far? Nothing. I meditate every day. I work on this every day. Am I closer to understanding it? No. I am not. The Force is like a blank wall right now. And it feels like a wall, shutting me in to a tiny little area that’s barely big enough to stand in. And that is where I am supposed to do my work,” he finished bitterly. Kiel carefully wiped down Mi’al’s face with a cool cloth.
“Some times that is the way the Force works,” Qui-Gon said gently. “I confess I don’t understand all its ways. I don’t know any Jedi that does. But if we serve it, we are compelled to seek it, and sometimes to wait on it.”
“Wait. Wait. That’s all I’ve done for days now. Wait. I can’t wait much longer. I can’t…just sit back and wait for the Force to decide when it wants to gift me with the grand insight into this. How sick do Mi’al and Daven have to become before the Force will give me the answer?” Kiel shook his head. “I can’t wait on it anymore. I have to begin to work harder to find my own answers. That’s just the way it will be now.”
“It must be hard to be in your position. I won’t pretend to understand how you feel. I can’t. But I have been in some very difficult, very painful situations. I have even been there, and turned my back on the Force. It’s not a useful or helpful thing to do. Even if you are angry, turning from the Force is turning from what strengthens you and guides you. You need it too much to turn away.”
Kiel replaced the cold pack on Mi’al’s forehead. He turned to look at Qui-Gon. “I know that you believe what you are saying to me. I know that Mi’al believes that too. There are only a couple of times that I can remember when he neglected to seek the Force, and I remember what happened because of it. So maybe I am a fool for taking the path I am about to take, since I have seen that it can bring failure. But…I choose this moment to begin to rely on my teaching and knowledge, on the knowledge of the other healers here. I’m tired of waiting on the Force. I won’t wait any longer.” Then he turned and walked out.
“Oh, Kiel,” Qui-Gon whispered. “I can see how much you are hurting. I’m powerless to help you. I wish that…I could get the words from Mi’al to say to you. Maybe I should wait on the Force. Maybe it will tell me what I can say to you.”
He settled into a chair. Mi’al seemed calm enough for the moment. This was as isolated a place as any to briefly touch the Force. Qui-Gon closed his eyes and turned his thoughts inward.
Jaamen and Jareel had talked and it had been helpful to them both. Jareel felt comforted that Jaamen truly did care about him and about Daven. Jaamen felt that he had connected with his brother. It had been time well spent. But Jareel also had in the back of his mind that he needed to get back to Daven. And Jaamen sensed that. But he also sensed that his brother was somewhat more settled. And so he would not hold him away from his padawan any longer.
“Please let me know how Daven is,” Jaamen said as he walked to the door of Jareel’s quarters.
“Yes, of course. I’m only sorry that I didn’t let you know earlier.”
“It’s all right. I know now.”
The brothers exited and began walking along the corridor. Jareel stopped suddenly and his brow furrowed. Jaamen followed his gaze to a door that was half open.
“That’s Daven’s quarters, isn’t it?” Jaamen asked.
“Yes, it is,” Jareel answered. He stepped closer to the door, reaching out to see what he sensed, hand on his light saber hilt. There shouldn’t be any invaders to the temple, but he wouldn’t take any chances. Why would Daven’s room be open? Who would be in there?
Sensing nothing ominous, he slid the door completely open and stepped only over the threshold.
“Obi-Wan?” he called out. No response. Jareel walked in quietly. Jaamen was just behind. The big Jedi stopped.
“You might need someone to back you up. Certainly if this is someone unfriendly, you need someone to watch your back,” he said quietly.
Jareel nodded, and walked further in. There was no sign of struggle; nothing was knocked over or obviously out of place. It was clean, and somewhat neat. As neat as a young man Daven’s age could be encouraged to be. Jareel walked around the living room. Jaamen split around the opposite side, coming by the kitchenette. He poked in and looked around.
“No one here.”
Jareel turned toward the bedroom. He walked slowly in…and stopped. Stopped so suddenly that Jaamen nearly bumped into him. His mind had been on the room and what might be there, instead of trying to anticipate his brother.
“Look,” the blonde Jedi pointed.
Jaamen peered around him and saw a lump on the bed. A brown lump. Jareel carefully walked over…and knew before he got there what it was. He pulled down a robe to reveal the sleeping form of Kethen.
“Who’s this?” Jaamen asked quietly.
Jareel smiled sadly. “A special friend of Daven’s. I’d heard about what happened when he went to see Daven. I guess he came here to feel closer to Daven.” The big Jedi pulled Daven’s robe off the boy and tossed it into a chair. And he realized at once that someone must be missing the boy. He sat down on the bed and shook Kethen. “Wake up, little one.”
Very slowly he opened his eyes. “Master Jareel.”
“What are you doing here? How did you get here?”
He sat up and snuggled close to the big man. “I missed Daven. He always told me I could come to his room to see him when I wanted to.”
“No. He said you could when the guardians said it was all right. How did you get in?”
The boy smiled just a little. “Daven told me how to get in. I know his lock code.” He saw the stern, concerned look. “Don’t be mad. I can’t see Daven anymore. I wanted to, but they said I couldn’t go back. I wanted to come here…where Daven and I talk and play. He lets me wear his robe sometimes. I like it. It’s soft and it smells…like Daven. I just wanted to…try to be…with him…” His gaze fell away.
“It’s all right. You’ve done no harm. But I’ll bet you’ve worried a lot of people. You didn’t ask before you came here, did you?”
Kethen wouldn’t look up. “No, Master Jareel.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. We’ll take you back to the crèche.”
Kethen seemed to have taken true notice of Jaamen for the first time. His eyes widened a bit. “You look like Master Jareel.” A thoughtful pause. “Are you his brother?”
“I sure am. But I’m better looking than him.” He grinned a bit, but the joke was lost because the big blonde Jedi was speaking into his comlink. “Would you like a ride back to the crèche?”
“Yeah!” Kethen agreed at once. Jaamen lifted the boy onto his shoulder.
“Yes, he’s fine. No harm. We’ll bring him back at once,” Jareel was saying. “I know he needs to be punished for his disobedience, but please remember how upset he is.” A pause. “No. I didn’t mean that you should overlook this, but don’t you think a talk with Kethen right now would be helpful? He reacted out of emotion. He’s worried about Daven. I think…” Jareel was interrupted and he stopped to listen. “Yes, I know that I have no authority. I just…” Another interruption. He cut off the comm and stood. “I promise you that when I retire from doing field missions, I am going to take over that crèche and then it will be run properly. Mark my words. Come on. We’d better get back before they use the time to think of…” He left off there before he upset Kethen further. His rants about punishment might only make the boy fear the worst.
Kes looked so much like Daven and Mi’al. Semiconscious, pale, clammy. But no phages in his blood. Just like Daven and Mi’al. It was all the same thing…all over again. Kiel stood and stared at the boy as he tossed a bit in the bed.
“What do the three of you have in common? What is it!” he said in frustration. “Mi’al I can understand. He had direct contact with Daven. But you did not. Nor with Mi’al…from all I’ve been able to find out from talking to everyone you work with. In fact the last day you worked, you weren’t even at the hospital all day. You had a couple of things to do back in the temple.” He paused. “It doesn’t make sense!”
Kiel paced a couple of times. “Daven had just gotten back from a mission. Of course. I knew that and I considered it. Except for one thing. The transport that was used. I can’t think of a reason immediately why Kes would be there, but I need to find out. And to find out if anyone else who may have been inside that transport since it returned is ill.” The young healer rushed out.
“Hello, Master Jareel.”
“Daven is…the same.”
“I supposed that to be the case.” Jareel looked down on the very ill young man. “Has he had any more of those disturbing dreams?”
“Yes,” Harld said quietly. “He did. But it didn’t last long.”
“Well, it usually doesn’t, but while it is going on…” He shook his head. “So intense for Daven. I can feel the fear.” He was quiet a moment. “Because of the fever. And there’s no way to control that. There’s no way to make him better,” he said quietly, but with a sour tone.
“Did you…find time to meditate, Master Jareel?” Harld asked innocently. He hoped it sounded that way.
The big man looked at him. Harld didn’t know if that was a smile or sneer. “Yes. It didn’t do much good, did it?”
“I guess it’s hard to focus your thoughts right now.”
Jareel didn’t answer. He ran a hand through Daven’s damp hair and let his hand linger in contact with his padawan as he focused on the Force. He had already tried to focus healing power to Daven and it seemed to have as little effect as anything else that was being done. But he had to try. He had to.
“The transport has already been cleaned?” Kiel said in disappointment.
“Yes,” the comm device confirmed. “As soon as any transport is turned it, it is serviced and cleaned to be ready as soon as possible for any Jedi who may need it.”
“Has anyone who works for you gotten sick recently?”
“Well…guess so,” the man said. “Sickness seems to be common in the docking bay. Always opening the doors to bring transports in. The temperature changes in there all the time. Most especially when it’s cold.”
“I mean any sickness out of the ordinary. Has anyone become so ill that he or she has had to take several days off? Has anyone not shown up for work, out of the blue? Since this particular transport came back?”
“Nah. Can’t say that I’ve seen anything like that. Just the usual stuff.”
“No one you’ve had to send to the temple hospital?” Yes, he should know that, but it might not have come to his attention since he was so deep in his investigation. No one may have made the connection since the sources of the illness were so far apart.
“No. Nothing like that at all. No one on my crew has been to the hospital. Not for illness. For injury. And not in…oh…about three weeks.”
“All right. Thank you for your time. You’ve been very helpful.”
Kiel cut off the comm and sat back. He was frustrated again. He’d had high hopes that he was about the make the breakthrough that he needed. But the connection didn’t exist, it seemed. He pushed his chair back from the desk, putting his elbows on the arm of the chair and steepling his fingers.
He started over. “Daven was sick first. He just returned from off planet. He was sick a couple of days before Mi’al came down with it. Then a couple of days after that, Kes comes down with the same thing. Interesting interval. But…no one else has gotten sick. Yet. I don’t know if I want it to stay that way or not. Not that I want anyone to suffer, but the more cases, the more ways I can track and study this. Three patients. The only thing they seem to have in common…is that they’ve all been at the temple hospital. But Daven was sick before he got here. If he brought it into the hospital, why aren’t more getting ill?”
He shook his head and stood. Kiel was used to long hours in the hospital, but he had a sudden desire to be away from it. He needed to get away to a new place to think. That might help. He snorted at that idea…but at this point he’d try anything to get his mind clear. The young healer rubbed his temples as he walked out of his office. The tension was beginning to catch up with him.
“Master Jareel found him in Daven’s quarters. He was curled up on the bed and had covered himself with Daven’s robe,” Obi-Wan was explaining to his master. “Kethen loves to wear Jedi robes, but he has a special affinity for Daven’s and Master Jareel’s. I think he…senses them from their robes.” He shrugged.
Qui-Gon was finishing the bite in his mouth. He paused to respond. “Most likely.” He smiled a sad smile. “Kethen wanted to be in Daven’s room since he couldn’t see him again?”
“Yes. He said he felt close to Daven there. And he and Daven have done a lot of things in those rooms. Games, crafts, meditating. I can see why Kethen would feel…secure, I guess, in Daven’s quarters.”
“Is he in great trouble?”
“I’m not sure yet. When I left, Master Jareel was trying to convince the head of the crèche that she should try talking with Kethen about his feelings before she punished him.” Obi-Wan paused. “That sounded like a good idea to me. Kethen may not understand why he is in trouble. He thought he was just doing something to make himself feel better, and the Jedi do place great importance on feeling. I’m sure he knows that he broke the rules by wandering off alone, but he was upset. What would you do, Master?”
“Fortunately, I do not have to make that decision. I would like to think that Jareel is thinking clearly on this. Talking to any child about what they have done wrong is a good idea, instead of only applying discipline. But…I also know how overly protective he can be at times. I’m afraid that because of the relationship between Kethen and Daven, and that Jareel is so upset right now…well, he may be thinking only from feeling and not from reason also. Let’s hope it works out best for all involved.”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan agreed readily.
Qui-Gon was suddenly distracted. Kiel was sitting by himself at a table in the back corner of the dining hall. The Jedi master couldn’t be sure if he was eating or just toying with his food.
“Excuse me a moment, Obi-Wan. Finish up and you’re free for the night. I think I need to have a word with Kiel.” He picked up his tray and crossed the room. “Hi. Do you mind if I join you?”
Kiel was looking down at the tabletop and muttering to himself. Obviously he hadn’t heard or seen Qui-Gon.
The Jedi master cleared his throat. “Excuse me. Kiel?”
“Hmm? Oh, Master Qui-Gon. Please, sit down.”
“You seem lost in thought,” Qui-Gon responded as he sat down.
“Just trying to put these pieces together…and figure out what three ill people have in common, that may have caused them to all be exposed to the same thing.”
“Three? There’s been another case?”
“Yes. A padawan who works at the hospital. He has the same symptoms…and the same lack of diagnosis.” Kiel’s eyes glazed over as he thought out loud. “He, Mi’al and Daven had to all be exposed to a thing or person that all three had similar access to. But the thing that keeps putting a kink in all my scenarios is that Daven was sick first, and so soon after getting back to the temple. He must have caught this off planet. I don’t see how he could have gotten it on Coruscant. He was already getting sick as he and Jareel were returning.
“Now,” he went on, “Mi’al had direct contact with Daven. There’s all manner of ways that Mi’al could have caught something from Daven. By touch, airborne, for two examples.” He paused, placed his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers. “But from talking to the other hospital workers who interact with Kes, that’s the padawan who became ill, they are all certain that he didn’t have any reason to have contact with Daven. He wasn’t in that area of the hospital. Didn’t work there, and shouldn’t have been there. The lady who supervises him is certain, she says, that Kes wouldn’t have wandered away from his responsibilities. He wasn’t that sort of worker. A little forgetful, she said, but not irresponsible. If she is right in her recall, then Kes wouldn’t have been placed to come in contact with Mi’al either.
“However. There’s every reason to think that there could have been some incidental contact. The hospital is big, but that doesn’t mean that he and Mi’al never would have even passed in the hallway. But if it was that easy for this to be passed…”
“Then it seems as if it would be more widespread,” Qui-Gon finished.
“What sort of work does Kes do? I assume you’ve taken that into account also. As in…could he have been exposed to some of the samples that were taken for test?”
“I did think of that. Kes is an administrative padawan. He’s not likely to have been exposed to any of that. Not likely. I didn’t say a resounding ‘no’. I’ve not given up that idea yet. His supervisor says that, being so new to what he is doing, he does a lot of errand type work for her. Until he learns certain admin procedures and systems. When he isn’t looking over her shoulder, trying to learn, he’s delivering reports, distributing information between the hospital and the council’s administrators, and so forth. That seems to remove him from being exposed to not just any sort of samples but also having chance for contact with the other two patients.”
“Unless he might have visited Daven, or taken something to Mi’al.”
“Which is possible. No one really knows exactly who has seen Daven and when. He has not been isolated. I’ve more recently asked that his visitors be limited, but before that, anyone could have stopped in for a couple of minutes, one time, and not been noticed. Kes’ friends said they didn’t think he knew Daven. There had been no mention of him, according to the closest friends of each. Obi-Wan didn’t even know who Kes was. I would think as close as Obi-Wan and Daven were that the name might have come up if there was an acquaintance.”
“I would think so too. Those two boys do like to talk, and they have a lot of friends in common.”
“Kes wasn’t assigned to deliver anything to Mi’al. He usually doesn’t take medical reports around. Think administrative.” Then Kiel looked a little sheepish. “That was for me, not for you. There is nothing in Kes’ official duties that brought him into direct contact with Mi’al.”
“So that brings you back to the casual contact theory, which doesn’t seem supported by the limited number of cases.”
Qui-Gon was quiet for a moment. He was sure that Kiel didn’t need his help, but obviously he was using Qui-Gon as a sounding board. The Jedi master was using that as Kiel’s permission to suggest ideas. So he considered.
“You are thinking from the starting point of the hospital. Is there any way that there could have been contact between Kes with Mi’al or Daven outside the hospital?”
“I’ve been thinking about that too. And I confess, if that’s the case, I don’t think I can track it down. But…that would still make me think that there should be other cases of this,” Kiel finished in frustration. “What have these three in common that no one else in the temple has been exposed to!” He slapped his hand down on the tabletop. After a couple of seconds, the healer put a hand to his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to react that way.”
“I’m sure you must be tired. Are you getting enough rest?”
“Likely, no. But before you try to be helpful and suggest that I rest, I can’t. Even when I meditate and then try to sleep, most of the time I can’t. My mind won’t let this go. I can’t figure it out. What is causing this? If it is viral, then how is it spread? Why has it been so limited in its effect? That’s one of the bigger questions. If should be all over the place if it is viral.” He paused. “Well…if not all over the place, but I would think that at least one of Daven’s regular visitors would have it by now, especially since Mi’al came down with it so fast.”
“You’re beginning to think it’s not viral?”
“But if it isn’t…I don’t know what it is.” Kiel rubbed his bleary eyes. “It seems to be very selective, and its selection of victims doesn’t seem to offer enough commonality to narrow its method of travel. That being the case, I have no idea how to stop it from spreading any further.” He let his hands fall away from his face. “And, ultimately, right now, that is my bigger fear…that this is something that could spread…slowly, but could begin to spread further into the temple and I don’t know how to treat it or contain it.” His face looked stone hard. “That is what I am facing right now, Master Qui-Gon. I have to understand this, and…I can’t.” He stood.
“Don’t you think you should finish eating?”
“I’m not the least bit hungry.”
“You’re not resting well or eating. You have to keep yourself healthy, for the sake of your patients, Kiel.”
“Yes, I know. I haven’t forgotten Mi’al’s most basic lessons. But he also told me, when I would point out to him that he wasn’t eating or sleeping, when he got caught up in something difficult, that eventually he would get tired enough to sleep and hungry enough to eat.” He picked up his tray. “I am sleeping. Just not in my own bed, at night, during the common hours of sleep. I catch snacks during the day. Don’t worry about me, Master Qui-Gon. But I thank you for your concern.” A bare hint of a smile formed on his weary face. His dark eyes were forming dark circles under them.
Kiel walked away and Qui-Gon watched. The healer was not stumbling around. Yet. He must be getting enough rest to sustain him. Qui-Gon decided that his contribution to this would be not only to continue to try to be encouraging, but also to discretely keep an eye on Kiel. He knew how driven Mi’al could be and suspected that Kiel, either consciously or unconsciously, felt the need to work as hard as his former master. And Mi’al wasn’t around right now to be sure his assistant healer didn’t overwork himself. Qui-Gon had this idea that Kiel probably was trying to put on the best front that he could for the other healers, since he seemed to be sensitive to other’s opinions about his capability right now.
Force, be with him. Show him the answer. Give him the strength and the wisdom to see this through.
“Oh, good morning,” Kiel said, a little surprised, as he entered Mi’al’s room.
“Good morning,” Jareel answered as he studied the healer. “I just wanted to look in on Mi’al.”
Kiel looked down at the chief healer and he felt so frustrated that the man was still this sick. However, he was trying to hold that down. I’m still trying, Master.
“He’s not any better, either?”
“No, Master Jareel. There is no change. Just like Daven.”
The big blonde Jedi was forcing himself not to say the first things that came to mind. “Do you know yet what is causing this?”
“No. I don’t.”
“I never see you much any more. I just wondered about the status of what you were doing.”
“I’m not avoiding you, Master Jareel. I still do come and look in on my patients, but in my attempt to try to track down how this got started and how it might spread, I am compelled to investigate all aspects of this illness.” He stifled a yawn. “I have to play detective right now, trying to see who has had contact with my patients and what they have in common that could account for the exposure.”
Jareel paused to think about that. “But…” Understanding dawned on him. “Are there others besides Mi’al and Daven?”
“Only one other. And it makes little sense how he came to have it. At least from all I understand at the moment. So I have to track down what he has done that brought him into the sphere of influence of this…illness.”
“Why you? That sounds like a lot of legwork that someone else could do. Shouldn’t you be focused on the care of your patients?”
“I am. But I have to split my attention. Yes, someone else could do some of the other, and someone else has, but too many retellings of some things causes them to mutate as the incident is repeated. I’d like to hear some things from the original source, to help my more complete understanding.”
Jareel was silent. Well, that made sense, but it still didn’t make him feel any better that Kiel was off doing that instead of being here to personally attend Mi’al and Daven.
“Daven is getting the best care we can give him, Master Jareel. I’m doing all for him that I know to do. I can’t do more. Not until I understand this. I can’t treat what I don’t understand because I don’t know what kind of treatment to order,” he finished, more sharply than he intended. His annoyance was not at Jareel, but at this mysterious illness. He rubbed his face. “I’m sorry. That was not aimed at you, Master Jareel. I’m…just…frustrated…”
“As are some of us.” He paused. “I really don’t want to seem as if I am questioning your abilities…but…why is this so hard? What is taking so long to figure this out?”
“Master Jareel, I really would like to sit down and explain all that to you. I know it would help your understanding, and I’d like that a great deal, but I just don’t have the time. I have a lot to do as it is. Perhaps I could ask one of the padawan healers to talk to you about what we have done and…”
“That’s not necessary. I don’t need a padawan to explain to me.”
“That was not intended to be insulting, Master Jareel. I can spare an apprentice right now easier than I can spare another healer. We are all up to our necks in trying to understand this.”
“And making no progress,” Jareel said flatly.
“That’s true. I know that so much better than you do, Master Jareel,” Kiel replied in an equal tone. “That is the very reason that I don’t have time to go into the details of my research with you.”
“But you had time to sit and talk with Qui-Gon last night.”
“Because I was off duty then. If you’d like to talk to me tonight, feel free to come by. I’ll answer your questions then.” Kiel was trying hard to hold back his annoyance. He was tired, and he had not meditated, as he had intended. Getting to bed late put him getting up late. He was behind and didn’t spare the time. Now he realized what a mistake that was. Tired and not focused…and under attack from Jareel.
“I might just do that. I’ve never had a healer refuse to talk to me before. My questions were always answered. Always.”
“I just offered to answer them. Would you rather I helped Daven or sat down for a chat?” Kiel said, barely controlled.
“Sarcasm isn’t necessary. Mi’al would never talk to me like that, nor refuse to talk to me.”
Kiel adored his former master. The man was the perfect teacher with his seemingly limitless patience, and his compassion. It was not Mi’al that Kiel disliked. In fact, he tried to emulate the gentle healer’s methods as best he could; that’s how fond he was of Mi’al, how much he admired him. It was the continuous comparisons between them that got him down.
The young healer drew in a breath. Slowly and carefully he answered. “I am not Mi’al.”
“I can see that.”
Kiel opened his mouth to answer, but never had the chance.
“Jareel.” They both looked to see Qui-Gon standing at the door. “I’d like to talk to you, please.”
“It’s not necessary for you to defend me, Master Qui-Gon,” the healer said.
“That’s so,” Jareel agreed. “His actions speak for themselves. There is no defense.”
“I don’t intend to defend him. Kiel is doing fine. He doesn’t need to be defended.” He put his gaze firmly on the big blonde knight. “But you are a different story. I’d like to talk to you, please. Now.” He stood aside from the door, holding a hand out toward it.
Jareel walked out. Qui-Gon looked back to Kiel. The healer was rubbing his head. “Just keep going, Kiel. My confidence in you is unshakeable. Don’t let Jareel distract you. Remember what I told you before. His attitude is a distraction. Keep your focus on the Force, not on any one Jedi.” Then he left.
Kiel sat down heavily in the bedside chair. “Oh, Master. Did you have to go through this? Is he so stubborn with you? How do you handle him? How do I handle him? But I guess that’s part of this lesson too. It’s about more than just handling a difficult case, isn’t it? Healing is just as much about people too, isn’t it? And not only patients.”
“Don’t forget, Kiel. We have to go talk to this padawan’s master and explain to him what the extent of the injuries is, and the prognosis.”
The teenaged healer nodded his head. “All right, Master. I’ll come along and listen. I’m sure I can learn a lot from you. You always have the best way of trying to explain in honesty, but without overly upsetting people.”
Mi’al smiled. “Thank you. But I was thinking that this time you should do it.”
“Me!” Kiel said in panic. “Me? But, Master…”
The elder healer interrupted. “You can do it as well, Kiel. I know that you can. I’ve seen you explain much simpler things.”
“Yes. And that’s why it was easy, because it was a simpler thing. This…”
“Is not so simple, but the same guidelines apply for handling the distribution of the information.” He paused. “It’s time, Kiel. You must do this. It’s part of your training as well. There is more to healing than only fixing the sick or injured person. This is part of what you have to learn to do also. It is an extension of healing. You have to communicate with people also, and I don’t mean only the patients.”
Young Kiel swallowed hard. “But… All right. But I don’t know how.”
“You do. As I said, it is the same as with something simpler. Explain in the simplest terms what the extent of the injury is. But there is one thing that you should keep in mind. With an injury this serious, if you begin to just spout all that is wrong in one breath, it can be overwhelming…and sound much worse than it is. You will be speaking to someone who doesn’t have your understanding of medicine. You should break it up, and put in some good news with the bad news.”
“Good news?” he echoed in confusion.
“Yes. If you show the master that things could have been worse, it shows him that maybe the injury isn’t so bad as he may have built it up to be in his mind. For example, in our current case, assuring the master that even though the damage to his apprentice’s leg was serious, the bones weren’t crushed enough to be beyond repair. Not being able to repair the bone could, in the absolute worst case, with other complications, be a reason to possibly amputate. So, if you assure him that the damage wasn’t bad enough for that to be a possibility, it is comforting, in a way.”
“It sounds like…politics, Master. Here’s how bad it could be…but surprise, it wasn’t.”
Mi’al smiled. “Not politics. Psychology. And there is nothing wrong with trying to be reassuring, especially when someone is upset.” He paused, pursing his lips as he considered. “It’s almost as if you have to get their attention, because they are upset. So that is a reason for showing the worst case scenario, but then assuring the master that that is not the situation here.”
“I have a lot to learn,” Kiel said with an exhalation of breath.
Mi’al patted him on the back. “But you have to begin somewhere. Come on. I’ll be with you. You can do it.”
“But even that case was easier than dealing with Master Jareel,” Kiel said to his semiconscious master. “You didn’t teach me this…but I don’t remember having to deal with anyone who was so stubborn when I was your padawan. Was it because you were doing the talking and I felt removed? Or is it really that no one else has been so stubborn and demanding toward me?” He paused to think that over.
Mi’al could hear the voices. Or he had heard them. Argumentative and loud. Kiel and Jareel. Jareel was attacking Kiel rather roughly, and for reasons that Mi’al didn’t understand. Kiel shouldn’t be that angry. Mi’al was concerned about his former padawan. He had to find them and break this up.
But he was lost. He had no idea where he was. But it was so hot. Then as he wandered around, it became cold. The voices didn’t guide him. There was no direction. The sound was from everywhere.
“Kiel! Where are you? Calm yourself. Don’t let your anger get the best of you!”
He stumbled around. Why couldn’t he find his way? And where was this place anyway?
“Jareel, you don’t understand. Don’t take your frustration out on Kiel. You are misdirecting your feelings.”
But then the voices were gone. They died away. The argument was over. But he was still in the dim, dank place where he couldn’t see and couldn’t find his way. Why was he here?
“Kiel! Where are you! Kiel! Help me!”
He stumbled again. “Kiel! Don’t walk away from me. I can’t find you.”
Mi’al muttered and seemed more restless. He stirred a bit. “Kiel…”
The young healer’s reverie was broken. He was on his feet at once. “Master. Master, are you awake?”
“Kiel…don’t. Kiel. Help. Help.”
“I’m trying, Master. I’m trying. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to do better, but I’m doing all I can do.”
Of course. He should have realized that it was likely one of those fever-induced dreams and not Mi’al trying to communicate with him. Kiel felt disappointed. And his master seemed to be settling back down. He began his morning ritual of checking over his patient and seeing if there was a change, checking his IV…just looking over everything in general. Yes, these things were being done regularly, but it made Kiel feel as if he were doing something to help. He lingered a bit to bathe Mi’al’s face in cool water. It was a reason to escape the rest of the hospital for a few minutes, to try to shut his mind down a bit and rest it.
“I told you that I wouldn’t give up, Master. I won’t. But I’m not sure that all of my best effort is going to help me. So far it has not. It’s so easy to become hopeless. I know how dangerous that can be for me. If I do give up hope, then I may miss something. And sometimes the smallest thing can be the biggest clue.”
Kiel blinked his dry, gritty feeling eyes several times.
“But I don’t want to only think negatively either. I have to be careful not to fall into that trap either. It can be dangerous as well. It can cause me to overlook something, because I am so distracted. So, let me tell you one good thing. I’m remembering all the important lessons you taught me right now. Not that I forgot them. I don’t mean it that way. Of course I remember what you taught me, but I am remembering them in the exact situations that you taught me. And that only impresses them more on me. Remembering the situation and the case…and how scared I was sometimes. All that makes it live for me. I just wanted you to know what a great teacher you were…and still are.”
Gently Kiel blotted his face and replaced a cold pack there. “I should go look in on Daven and Kes now, Master. I’ll be back later. Maybe I could meditate in here. It seems that most of the time when I come in to see you, everyone leaves me alone…like they think I’m going to break down. At least it does give me some quiet and privacy for a bit. When I have the time, I’ll come back.”
He patted his master’s hand and then turned to leave.
“Don’t begin to tell me once more how wrong you think I am,” Jareel said.
“I don’t have to begin,” Qui-Gon said evenly. “I have to continue.”
“Don’t bother.” The big knight walked away from his friend, to the opposite end of the waiting room. This early there was no one else here yet.
“Jareel, let me ask you a question. Have you always been able to walk into a mission and solve all the problems at once?”
“Of course not,” he answered, a little sourly, without turning around.
“And haven’t people had to continue suffering while you worked your way through a mission, trying to…maybe help end a war.”
“If you are trying to make comparisons…”
Qui-Gon cut him off. “I am trying to get you to see a different point of view. You can’t understand what Kiel is going through right now. You don’t understand why this is being so difficult for him to unravel. I’ve tried to remind you that Mi’al hasn’t always been able to instantly resolve every case that he’s had, but that hasn’t made an impression on you. So I am trying to relate it to something that you can understand.”
“It’s not necessary.”
“No? Then why do you continue to give Kiel such a hard time? I know that you are worried about Daven…”
“And it’s so easy for you to say that,” the blonde knight said flatly as he finally turned around. “You are so removed from this…”
“No, I’m not. It’s true that my apprentice is not ill, but my good friend is. Mi’al is just as ill, and I’m just as worried.”
That brought Jareel up short. He was still so focused on Daven being ill. He kept forgetting Mi’al but how could he? That Mi’al was ill was why Kiel was working this. How could he keep losing sight of that?
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I didn’t think about it that way.”
“Exactly why I try to keep giving you a new perspective. One that you refuse to see.”
“All right. Perhaps you have a point then with what you are trying to do. But this is still different. As a negotiator, I never know what I will be called on to face…war, peace, famine, ambush. Kiel is a trained healer. He should know enough about the body and about illnesses. About viruses. He…”
“He never knows what illness he will have to face each day. And there are just as many of them as there are situations that you and I have to walk into as keepers of peace and justice. We are fighting different enemies, but Kiel and I still have the same basic way to approach the enemy. You have to find out who the enemy is and what his strength is. You have to understand his methods before you can fight him effectively.” He paused. “What happens when you face an enemy that you don’t know?”
“Ahh! You know the answer to that,” Jareel said dismissively.
“Yes, I do, but I still want you to tell me.”
“Sometimes one can still defeat an enemy that he doesn’t know, because he has superior weapons or better strategy.”
“Or one may be defeated because of surprises or enemy advantages that were not known.”
Qui-Gon folded his arms over his chest and walked over to Jareel. In a quiet voice he said, “And don’t you think that may be the very situation that Kiel is facing right now? He has told us both that he doesn’t understand this illness. In trying to attack what he doesn’t understand, isn’t it possible that he has simply come up against what he wasn’t prepared for? It doesn’t have to be that he’s not smart enough to know how to meet this. Or…even his lack of experience doesn’t have to be the problem. You’ve faced enemies that you didn’t understand…even as an old, experienced Jedi. Kiel is meeting a new enemy. One that he hasn’t faced before. He has to try some things to see how it reacts…find its strengths. But that doesn’t reflect on his wisdom or even his experience.”
“But…in the meantime…Daven and Mi’al…and the other patient, are getting worse.”
“No. Their condition hasn’t been degrading. Kiel told us that.”
“But surely it can’t be good for them to be this sick for so long. That’s taking its toll on them.”
“Kiel says that as long as the current treatment is maintained and their condition doesn’t worsen, then he feels that it will be all right.”
“For a while. Not in the long term.”
“Jareel,” Qui-Gon said almost with an unbelieving laugh. “How long do you expect them to be sick? And how do you know so much about the medical situation?”
“I didn’t expect Daven to be sick this long. At least not this sick. I’m no healer, but I’m just applying some common sense.”
Qui-Gon nodded. “All right. I’ve tried several times and I just can’t find a common ground with you. I give up on trying to get you to understand. But I won’t give up on getting you to back off Kiel. You don’t have the right to question his ability the way you are doing. Because you are not a healer, you don’t understand. He may not be working as quickly as you like, but you don’t understand why that is so, or why he can’t give instant answers. So since you can’t provide the answers, you don’t have the right to attack him. He’s doing his job, Jareel. To the best of his ability, whether you believe that or not.”
Jareel gave a single nod. “As you choose to think. Excuse me, I’d like to look in on Daven.” He walked out of the waiting room.
Daven looked around. Everything looked hazy and indistinct. Nothing was familiar. He wasn’t sure where he was, didn’t know how he got here. How to get back to…where? Where had he come here from? His head pounded as he tried to figure out the answers to his questions. He tried to put his hand to his head…but his movements were so slow. It seemed like he couldn’t find his head with his own hand. But continuing to stand here in the same place was helping nothing. He had to do something. Anything. Confusion and anxiety pulled at him. The padawan tried to push it away and focus. It was so hard to bring his attention to sharp focus though. Daven couldn’t seem to control what he felt. Sudden fear shot through him. He looked around wildly, quickly chose a direction and tried to run…but it was dark. He couldn’t run. He could hardly walk. The ground was soft and swampy. His legs slogged through it very slowly as it bogged him down…and it was so dark. Daven stopped trying to run and began to walk slowly. Why he picked this direction, the padawan couldn’t say. It felt right. In the midst of the almost overwhelming feelings…this felt right. He picked his way through the misty dark forested area carefully, trying to reach out with his feelings as he went. So dark and foggy. The apprentice could see nothing. He walked along, one arm stretched before him, feeling for obstacles. It was cold…so cold. No, it was hot. He felt sweat pouring down his face, but he felt cold too. He wanted to be warm…and out of the dark. The dark held something bad. The apprentice didn’t know what…but he could sense something ominous. Something not right.
Where was Master Jareel? Hadn’t he been here not long ago? Or was it a long time? Time held no meaning. He remembered hearing him, but that was a long time ago…wasn’t it? But now he heard nothing. How had he become separated from his master? Why had they separated? Daven was so confused…and couldn’t focus his thinking. He and his master usually didn’t part unless necessary so they could watch each other’s back. There was something wrong with him being away from his big master. That seemed to spark a thought. There was something wrong with his master…wasn’t there? Or at least he seemed to remember feeling his master’s anxiety and unease…strongly. Wasn’t that why they weren’t together? If that were true, he had to find him! Something may be very wrong with Master Jareel. A new wave of anxiety washed over him at that thought. There was something wrong very wrong about all this and he had to figure out what it was. Daven tried to hurry again and only tripped, falling into the boggy ground.
He struggled to get up…but he couldn’t. The ground was too soft. When he put his hands on the ground to push himself up, they would sink into it and he was unable to get his feet under him. Finally he managed to push himself up with one arm, trying to get his knees under him…but he sank down again. He had to get up! He had to. Daven knew he couldn’t stay here. It was…bad…something bad…and he had to find his master. The padawan tried again. He was able to get himself into a sitting position. Now what? He tried pushing himself up again, but only sank further into the cold, wet ground. So cold. But hot too. He couldn’t get his footing in the bog and slipped back down. His foggy mind couldn’t seem to touch the Force. So he was unable to use it to help himself get up or even to try to calm his anxiety. Daven forced himself to take in a few deep breaths to try to relax. Then he began reaching out with his arms to feel what was around him since he was unable to see much in the dark. But there was nothing immediately in his reach. He only touched air. Daven got on his hands and knees and began crawling on the swampy ground. It was miserably cold, but there didn’t seem to be any other way out of here. And he had to get out of it. He crawled along, one arm reaching out to feel for any obstacles, or anything at all. Maybe there was something that he could use to help him. Then he felt something rough. Daven came up on his knees and put both hands out. A tree. At least he might use that to help pull himself out of the muck. He wrapped his arms around it and began pulling himself up. Slowly he could feel the soft, muddy ground releasing him, with slopping and squishing sounds as his legs pulled out. And then he was standing, leaning on the tree, grasping it like it was a lifeline. But now he felt lightheaded and dizzy. His first instinct was to sit down, before he fell down, but he was not going to get stuck in that goo again. Daven stood leaning against the tree trying to focus his thoughts. That was so hard. Where was Master Jareel? He should be nearby at least.
“Master Jareel!” But there was no response. “Master!”
Tired already. Dizzy. Sit down, Daven. No! I can’t. I had to fight so hard to get up. I can’t sit back down. Besides, I have to find Master Jareel. Something was wrong. I felt it. I heard him before. He was upset. Where is he?
What was wrong with Master Jareel? Why was he so upset? Why couldn’t Daven remember? The apprentice stumbled along, so slowly in the boggy ground, pulling one leg up out of the muck only to have it sink back in when he put it down again. Into the cold, wet ground. So cold. But hot too. Why was that? The cold he could understand, but why did he feel hot too? Was Master Jareel having the same problem? Was that part of the reason he was upset? Where was he?
As he stumbled along, Daven tried to concentrate…to pull back any fragment of memory that might be there. To remember where he was and why, and why he had separated from Master Jareel. But, there didn’t seem to be any memory to latch onto. It was as if it had all been taken from him by a mind wipe. Trying to remember was like trying to grab a handful of the fog that floated before him. He could put his hand in it and close it…but he had nothing. Trying to call up a memory was just the same. It seemed to be there, but trying to capture it left him with nothing. Then there was something that seemed to be just on the edge of remembering. Daven stopped to concentrate on that. Just when he thought he might be able to recall this, he heard something and his mind was pulled from it. He stood still and listened.
“It’s all right, Daven. I’m here. Just try to relax and calm down.”
That wasn’t Master Jareel. The voice was familiar. It was Obi-Wan. But at least it was a familiar voice. Maybe Obi-Wan knew where they were and what was happening. But Daven didn’t see him. He turned in place.
“Obi-Wan? Where are you?” Nothing. “Obi-Wan.”
“It’s all right, Daven.”
“But where are you! I have to find you. Help me. Tell me where you are!”
Then sudden noise and confusion tore into the quiet world the padawan had been wandering through. A loud roar. People running past him. He knew that sound. He’d heard it before. Everyone was running from the roar. How could they run in this muck.
“Wait! Help me!”
But they continued to run. And then he was knocked down by the crowd. People stepped on him. He covered his head and was trying to call out, but it was hard to when his face was almost pressed down in the bog. And that awful air-shattering roar was getting closer. Daven heard himself yell out in pain as the crowd passed over him. He couldn’t take much of that before he would be killed, he knew. But he couldn’t get up. The people pushed him down and the ground wouldn’t support his efforts to get up. He hurt and still they ran. Still the roar got closer.
Daven began to struggle again. He had to get up. He had to. Desperation filled him. The apprentice thrashed around in the mud, unable to get a foundation to push against. Then finally the crowd was gone. But the awful roar was not. It was closer. He managed to roll over and he saw it coming. The big creature. He had seen it before. Where? Somewhere…far away. But not just on another planet. A completely different place. It roared again and he knew at once. The golona! The golona, from Toru’s dimension.
He had to get away. That thing would eat him. He tried to get up, get his hands and knees under him, but they only slid on the wet ground. Daven looked over his shoulder and saw it so close now. He couldn’t crawl fast enough to get away. It occurred to him that he probably couldn’t run fast enough to get away, even if he could get up. But as long as there was fight in him, he’d keep trying.
“Master Jareel! Where are you? Master Jareel! I need your help!”
Daven apprentice renewed his struggle. He tried to sit up so he could attempt to use the Force to fight off the golona. But how? It had not responded to his attempts to affect its mind. Daven was still having trouble connecting with the Force, but he tried a Force push anyway. It did nothing. Daven concentrated harder. This thing couldn’t be completely unaffected by the Force…could it? Because it was from another dimension, did that make a difference? But he wasn’t able to connect solidly with the Force either.
“Master Jareel!” No answer. Then he remembered, but why had it taken him so long to remember? His link. If Master Jareel couldn’t hear him, he could at least communicate that way. But he was still having trouble reaching the Force. He couldn’t feel the link with Master Jareel no matter how hard he tried. He wasn’t able to focus enough. Now he couldn’t move at all. Something was holding him. Was it the golona? He was almost afraid to look.
Obi-Wan put both hands on Daven, not only to try to calm him but also to try to hold him from struggling so. Obi-Wan feared he might pull his IV line loose.
“It’s all right, Daven. I’m here. Calm down.”
The door to the room opened. Jareel heard his name and saw his apprentice thrashing in the bed. He hurried in.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded of Obi-Wan, but without waiting for an answer he began trying to calm Daven too. “Daven, I’m here. I’m right here. Nothing is going to happen to you. You’re all right.”
“I think it’s just another of those dreams,” Obi-Wan said in a tight voice. “I tried to calm him.”
“I’m here, Daven. It’s all right. It’s all right.”
And the apprentice was beginning to calm. He wasn’t moving around so much. He was still calling for his master though.
“Golona…here. Master. Where…were you?”
“Golona?” Jareel repeated. “I’m here now, Daven, and there is no golona. It’s gone. You’re not there anymore. You’re home. There is no golona.”
Finally the fight seemed to have gone out of him and Daven was still, for the most part.
“I’m sorry, Master Jareel. I tried. And I didn’t want to leave him while he was like that.”
“It’s all right, Obi-Wan,” the big man comforted. “I know you did. It’s just hard to calm him, even for me. You did the right thing.”
Obi-Wan was straightening Daven’s blankets from the struggle. Jareel wiped his face down.
“He’s all right now,” Jareel said. “Just one of those dreams. Nothing to be done but wait for it to pass. Of course he wouldn’t have them if his fever would go down.”
Obi-Wan hesitated to say anything but he hadn’t had an update recently, being in here with Daven. “Kiel isn’t any closer to understanding this. Is he?”
Jareel’s face was hard. He was trying to be reasonable, but it was getting harder. “No, he isn’t.” A pause. “I think it’s time that someone else had a look at Daven.”
“But…the other healers are helping also, aren’t they?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Kiel says they are. I haven’t seen any of them come in to examine him though.”
“Maybe that was when you weren’t in here.”
“Maybe. But I think I need another opinion.”
Kiel stood looking down at Kes. The boy’s face was so pale. Two friends had come to visit, but had left when Kiel came to look in on his patient. He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“You’ve had visitors, but not many. You seem a bit alone. I know how you feel. I don’t have a lot of friends either. And right now I feel very much alone. I feel like some of the acquaintances I had are turning away from me…because of this illness and my inability to resolve this. It’s not just Master Jareel. He’s the most vocal. But I can…feel it. I know Master Leish seemed not very confident in me either. What would they have me do? They wouldn’t be able to do anything to help you or Mi’al or Daven. So why do they act like I am so incompetent? They have no idea if I’m doing the right thing or the wrong thing. I guess that’s what Master Qui-Gon was trying to tell me before when he said not to let the opinion of one person affect me so.
“Well, if you’ll stick with me, I won’t let you down. I’ll try not to let you down. I’m doing my best to find out why you are so sick. I am. No matter what anyone thinks. Do you trust me? I hope so.”
Kiel studied the young man a moment. “A key to this is lying there in that bed. You know something that would help me. I wish I could talk to you for even a minute. You know. You know. You are the one who has the least reason to be sick. No immediate, direct contact with Mi’al or Daven. You are the key. What did you do a couple of days before you got sick? What thing made you come into contact with the virus, it if is viral, that others have not done? You’re the key. I need to find out more about you and all you did. Not what I’ve already been told. I need details. Lots more details. I need to talk to every person you came into contact with that day.” He nodded his head. “I’ll start with the friends who came to visit you and the woman you work with. I’ll start at the beginning and ask my questions all over again, but with more attention to detail. You are the key.”
Kiel hurried to the exam room. He had barely come in the door of the hospital, from the dining hall. Another breakfast half eaten. Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had sat with him, encouraging and trying to get him to eat. It had been another restless night the previous night, his mind refusing to let go of the problem. Kiel’s mind had not been on eating, but the two Jedi prodded him alternately, trying to get the food into him. It was an annoyance until he realized that it was done in concern for him. That had touched Kiel. Someone showing concern for him instead of criticizing.
But he put that out of his mind for now. Right now he was on his way to check on what sounded to him like another case of the mysterious illness. And he had liked it less when he heard the name mentioned. Kethen. A child that young coming down with something that was going to make him so very ill. Kiel’s stomach tightened and he felt new pressure to understand this.
The healer entered the exam room. The young boy lay on the table, pale and clammy, and semi-conscious. One of the guardians hovered over him nervously.
“Do you think it’s serious?” she asked at once. “He looks so sick.”
“I don’t know yet, until I’ve examined him. Why don’t you wait outside, please?” He gave a nod to the padawan healer who’d done the initial exam on Kethen. He began talking quietly to the woman and led her out.
“Oh, Kethen. I knew you shouldn’t have been taken into Daven’s room,” Kiel said quietly as he began checking the boy over.
The padawan healer came back in and stood on the other side of the exam table, waiting for instructions.
“Do you think it’s the same thing?” he asked Kiel.
“It looks like it at first glance. We need to order up some blood draws.”
The padawan took out a checklist he’d made up for himself of standard tests and samples that were normally done on patients and began making marks next to the ones that Kiel called out.
“And please talk to the guardian for me. Explain to her that at this point we aren’t certain what this is, but assure her that we are hurrying to understand it.” He rubbed his bleary eyes. “Sorry to put that off on you, but if you would do it…” he trailed off.
“You look very tired,” the padawan said quietly. “I’ll be happy to do this for you.”
Kiel reached over and patted the young man on the shoulder. “Thank you. It’s a bigger help than you know right now. I am not centered enough to be calm enough to deal with her. And I certainly don’t want to lose patience with anyone who is upset right now. Let me know when you have those results. And get him in a room. You know the drill by now…right?”
“Yes, Master Kiel. We have made up a list of treatment…from the other three patients. I know what to do for Kethen.”
“Good. Looks like it was a good idea to make that list of symptoms and treatment. Good work on that. We may need it again…unfortunately.” Kiel nodded to the padawan and turned to leave. The guardian was not right outside the door, he was glad to see. Any other time he’d spare her all the time and attention she wanted, but not right now. Tired and not centered. That is not a good combination. If I don’t get enough rest or at least a chance to meditate, they may as well put me in a room for all the help I’ll be to anyone.
He was walking along the corridor with his head down, thinking…and trying not to feel the pressure. Kiel was thinking of retreating to his office for a few minutes before beginning his day. He did need to gather himself. And, he suddenly remembered, there were, or should be, the notes from the interviews with Kes’ friends and the lady who was training him. He’d not had the time to talk with them, but had written out extensive questions and dispatched a padawan healer to interview them. How much was the girl able to get done? He needed to look at that also. But first a few moments of quiet. He had to have that. Then he should check back on Kethen, if he hadn’t been informed by then. Then the morning check on his other patients. Maybe by then he could get back to the questions.
Kiel put a hand to his head. It was aching. Another sign of how much he was losing his control and his center. Well, as a stopgap, he would take some analgesics. Maybe the quiet time would help the headache too.
“Kiel, excuse me. May I talk to you a moment?”
The young healer stopped and looked up. He blinked a couple of times as he tried to draw his mind back from where it was wandering in the confusion.
“Oh, Master Ehme. I’m sorry. I was preoccupied.”
The old master stood with furry hands clasped in front of him. His dark fur was now peppered liberally with grey. Old. Well, his age sounded old to most people. He was over one hundred years old but that was only middle aged for his species. He had a hint of a smile on his only slightly withered face.
“I could see that you were. You have much on your mind.” He closed his eyes. “I sense you are not settled. Very anxious. This is not a good attitude to have just now, Kiel.”
At once the healer closed down his thoughts and shielded his mind. He hadn’t paid much attention to that, until the venerable healer had subtly reminded him that he wasn’t keeping his thoughts guarded.
“I…know. I hope to have a bit of time to take care of that this morning,” Kiel responded.
“Yes, please do. Now…may I have a word with you?” He held his hand out toward a door.
Kiel entered Ehme’s office. Usually it was a joy to be in here. The elder healer’s office was lined with many reminders of his home planet, and planets he had visited. Ehme had an eye for native art and his grand collection had spilled over from his quarters to his office over his long lifetime. But right now that was the last thing on Kiel’s mind. He chose a chair away from the desk and away from the sofa in the room, feeling a need to separate himself from the master who was obviously watching him and grading his thoughts and state of mind.
“You’re so closed,” Ehme said quietly as he settled on to the sofa. “All folded up on yourself. Are you so tense?”
The young healer looked down at himself. His arms were folded across his chest and he had his feet crossed at the ankles, but his knees were close together, not spread as would be more comfortable with his feet crossed so. At once he tried to relax and make his posture show he was relaxed.
“I just came from an exam room. I think there’s another case. A young boy. I am afraid of how hard this might hit him at his age.”
“Oh.” Ehme rubbed the fur on the side of his face. Not a nervous gesture, but one of thought. “This is unfortunate. It has been more than two days since the last case developed. We had hoped the cycle was broken. That was too hopeful on our parts. Three cases are not enough to establish a consistent pattern.”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure that it’s the same thing yet. I’ve only done the preliminary exam, waiting on test results.”
“Well, that impinges on what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Master Ehme repositioned himself, resting an arm on the back of the sofa. “About the Infectious Disease Department at Coruscant University Medical Center…”
Kiel sat up now. He was anxious to hear this. Mi’al had a running and very open dialogue with the doctors there. It was useful to both parties. As center of the Republic, Coruscant was a hotbed of disease from all of the galaxy, brought by the great number of travelers coming through the spaceports here. The best and easiest way to keep up with the huge amount of information on such diseases was for the university medical center and the temple hospital to combine their efforts. Kiel knew that they would want to know about whatever this disease was that had invaded the temple. Not only for the information, but also in case it spread beyond the temple. Mi’al usually was the healer who maintained contact with the medical center. Ehme had volunteered to talk to them for Kiel, since he was so busy.
“Yes?” the young healer said at once.
“Well, we have had a change of heart on this, Kiel.”
He sat still for a moment, uncomprehending. “What do you mean? Haven’t you contacted them yet? After all this time?”
“Ah…no. I have not. We…some of the master healers have decided that is probably not the best thing to do.”
“Why not? The medical center should know in case this gets beyond the temple.”
“Well, if it does, then we will certainly share with them what we have found out about it, little as that may be. But until then we have instituted a blackout on information to them.”
“I don’t understand. Why?”
“Because this only affects the temple at this time. We are able to contain it. And…well, the Jedi methods are much more effective than the medical center’s methods. At least for treating Jedi. If we notify them then they will want to begin to offer advice, since we have reached an impasse, and we did not think that would be profitable for us, or for them. It would only tie up their manpower on something that doesn’t yet concern them. And we don’t think it will. This came to Coruscant with a Jedi and he has not been outside the temple since. None of your patients have.”
“But other people have been in contact with my patients, and with their visitors, and they very well may have been away from the temple since then.”
“I think it unlikely. You told me yourself how you’ve cut back on visitors to your patients. And those visitors have stayed close by their friends. It’s still early enough in this that we feel that we can contain it. We can restrict a few Jedi to the temple until this is solved.”
“A few Jedi? The visitors have been out into the temple. It has the potential to affect the entire temple.”
“I think you are overreacting…just as the medical center would overreact. We Jedi healers will be able to contain and heal this in our own and we see no need for the intervention of…outsiders.”
“They have the right to know what to expect.”
“If it spreads. Certainly we would have heard something by now if it had gone beyond the temple. I think a mild restriction on the temple will contain it.”
“You think so. Is this primarily your decision, Master Ehme?”
“No, not at all. We discussed it in conference and we decided that this is a Jedi concern, handled best by Jedi healers. Why, we don’t even know that it would affect non-Force sensitive people. That may contain it to the temple by itself.”
Kiel sat forward, rubbing his face with his hands.
“Is something wrong?”
“Very much so. I don’t agree with your decision.” A slight pause for effect. “And I don’t understand why I wasn’t included in this discussion. I’m not a padawan, after all. I was due input into the decision,” Kiel finished stiffly. Just Mi’al’s padawan. We don’t need to include him. Just tell him what to do and with his master not there to advise him, he’ll do what we say.
“We thought you might not agree. You would be tempted to follow the example of your master, Mi’al. He was always very open with the medical community beyond the temple. Even when we advised him that may not always be wise. However, when he became chief healer all that we could do was advise him, not make policy for him.”
“I support his idea, not just because he was my master. Is that why you didn’t ask for my opinion?” But the young healer didn’t allow Ehme a chance to answer that question. He had already avoided answering it in another form before. “It’s good practice. If we have information that is helpful to the general population, why shouldn’t we share it?”
“Because it doesn’t affect the general population. At this point it is a Jedi concern. We would rather not have the…public invade the temple and try to show us how we should solve our own problems. We have the Force and that is all the help we need, Kiel.”
“The Force has not given us many answers so far, Master Ehme.”
The old healer tilted his head. “Do you mock the Force?”
“No. Not at all. I speak the truth. I have sought the Force on this and it is remarkably silent.”
The creature pursed his lips. “You sound uncertain about the ability of the Force.”
“Not the ability to give an answer, but the will to give it.”
Ehme’s eyes opened wider and he sat up straight. “You now question the will of the Force?”
“No. I think I understand the will of the Force well at this time. The will of the Force is to remain silent on this issue.”
“You are so certain,” Ehme said stiffly. “Yet, by your own admission you are not centered.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t consulted the Force on this.”
“I think you should stop further treatment until you have found your balance and made sure of what you are doing.”
“I will not do anything different, if that’s what you suggest. But stop treatment? No, I won’t do that. I won’t stop giving my patients the liquids they need to keep from dehydrating.”
“That is not what I meant and you know it.” Ehme slid to the edge of the sofa and pointed a finger. “You are becoming defiant…because you feel you hold a special place since you were trained by Mi’al.”
“No, I don’t feel that way at all.”
“You show disrespect for the master healers and for the Force.”
Kiel rubbed his face again, using it as a stall tactic, while he tried to calm himself. “I didn’t mean any disrespect toward you or any of the healers. If I offended you, I am sorry.”
“We will be watching you. Just because you began work on this case does not mean that it can’t be reassigned.”
“I understand,” he said quietly, eating the feelings that were backing up in him.
“And our decision stands. We will not contact the medical center…unless it becomes necessary. We have decided that this is a Jedi concern, to be handled by Jedi…only.” He paused. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, Master Ehme. I understand.”
“Good. I advise you to find time to meditate at once. I would not feel comfortable with you continuing in the state of mind that you are in.”
“I was on my way to my office just for that purpose.”
“Good. Then I dismiss you, to speed you along.”
Kiel stood, bowed to the master and then walked out.
I will not lose my temper. I can’t. I shouldn’t. I won’t. I need to let it out into the Force. That’s the right thing to do. Handle the feelings correctly. But let them out. Don’t keep them in. Don’t let them sour inside.
The young healer walked quickly to his office and entered, locking the door. He disabled the comm unit on his desk. Yes, he did need this time. Desperately. And he wouldn’t let it be interrupted. Kiel sat down hard on the sofa in his office, burying his face in his hands.
Master, was it like this for you? When you faced your first crisis, were you also hounded this way…by other healers and by irate masters? You never told me about that side of it. Or maybe that was included in the general term ‘crisis’. That’s part of the crisis…what you have to face while handling the medical part also. Well…this mourning over it is getting me nowhere.
He sat back on the sofa and made himself comfortable, resting his hands lightly in his lap. Kiel closed his eyes and drew in a breath. Slow and deep. Hold. Release slow. Pause. In again…slow. Already he could feel his shoulders begin to draw down from their tensed up position.
Then there was a knock at his door.
Kiel’s first instinct was to ignore it. If it were an emergency, the hospital worker that was coming to notify him would have identified him or herself and announced the urgency of the matter. But the intruder was not going to be ignored. Another knock followed on quickly.
The young healer opened his eyes with a deep sigh. Slowly he stood and walked to the door. As it slid aside, a metal man already had his hand raised to knock again.
Kiel was surprised, but recognized him at once. “Kura. Hello.”
Kura had not only met Kiel before but had talked briefly with him on a few occasions when he’d worked for a short time in the temple hospital on research he and Mi’al were involved in. Kura was an accomplished bio-chemist, and former foe of the Jedi, in his pre-bionic state. However, only Mi'al knew that about the bionic creature, and because Kura had since been helpful to the temple, the healer guarded the information. The Jedi treated Kura with respect and friendliness.
“Hello, Kiel,” the bionic said, a little tersely. “May I speak with you?”
“I believe I know what you want to talk about. I can only spare you a few short minutes. I have much to do this morning.” He stood aside so that Kura could enter.
Kura Sivru walked in, glancing around at Kiel’s stark office, which contrasted greatly with Mi’al’s deliberately warm and inviting office.
“Nice office,” Kura said by way of opening the conversation, and subtly commenting on the bleakness of the room.
“I don’t spend much time in here,” Kiel muttered as he walked over and sat on the sofa. “Have a seat.”
Kura settled himself, gently he reminded himself. The chairs were not meant to take the kind of use that he could give them if he sat down carelessly and hard, with his bulk.
“Kiel, may I ask why you didn’t contact me about Mi’al?” Kura asked evenly.
The young healer blinked and then stared. “I’m…sorry. Was I supposed to?”
“Mi’al and I are close friends. I thought you knew this. I would have liked to be informed that he was ill.”
“I have to plead ignorance. Not of your friendship. I was aware of it, but I had no idea you were so close. Mi’al has never mentioned to me that I should notify you in case of an emergency.” He paused. “Ah…Mi’al and I are close and I think if he had wanted me to call you…”
Kura waved a hand to cut him off. “It’s not so important. We could argue the point but for what reason? There’s obviously a lack of communication.” He placed his hands, one on top of the other in his lap. “But I’d like to know more about what is wrong with him. I was told that you have no idea what is causing this illness, and that Mi’al has been sick several days. He caught it from Daven…yet you can’t isolate this?”
“Ah, well…” Kiel trailed off before he even got started.
“Excuse me. I shouldn’t make it sound so demanding. Let me try again. Jareel called me…to tell me about Mi’al being ill.”
“Oh,” the healer said flatly. “Now I understand. He asked you to come look over my shoulder…because he doesn’t trust me.”
“Well, that’s a bit strongly worded.”
“Perhaps, but it is true. Maser Jareel and I have…not seen eye-to-eye on my treatment. He is of the opinion that I’m too inexperienced to know what I am doing. And the fact that it is taking me so long to isolate this only vindicates him. In his view.”
Kura held out a metal hand, palm up. “If it’s a consolation, I’m not here to judge you but to try to help. I’m not entirely without knowledge in this area. If it is a problem for you to identify the probable virus, perhaps if I added my assistance to the effort…”
“Thank you, Kura. I do appreciate that offer, but our entire staff is working on this. I don’t know that one more person is going to make significant difference to what we are doing.”
Kura was silent a moment. He realized his position. Precarious at best, for him to come here demanding to be let in on the investigation when he had no formal connections. Maybe a different route in, an indirect one.
“I understand. I really only wanted to be of help to Mi’al, if I could be. But I won’t presume to try to force my way into this. However, just from curiosity, can you tell me what you do know about this? And what you’ve done so far, in trying to identify it?”
Kiel frowned a little. He remembered Master Ehme’s words and how pointed his summary of the master healers’ position was. We have decided this is a Jedi concern, to be handled by Jedi only. Even if Kura’s intent was just to satisfy his curiosity, Ehme was clear that he was not ready for word of this to go beyond the temple. Was Kiel justified in answering all of Kura’s questions? Or would that violate the information blackout that the master healers had set up?
“I’m…sorry, Kura. I’d like to tell you what you want to know, but I cannot at this time,” Kiel said carefully.
“I’ve told you that I haven’t come here to try to push into the middle of your case. However, if it is so difficult to solve, is it so terrible to have one more set of eyes look at your work? The lot of you have been working so hard on it. Perhaps you need a new perspective on it. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, Kiel. I’m sure you’ve had to have consultations before.”
“I appreciate your offer, Kura. I don’t want to seem as if I am trying to come across as having all the answers, and that’s why I am turning you away. On the contrary…I could use all the help I can get. However…”
There was a knock at his door. “Kiel.” It was the padawan who he’d left to order up tests for Kethen.
“Excuse me.” Kiel stood and walked to the door.
The healer cut him off. “Let’s go down the hallway to discuss this. Excuse me, Kura. I have something important to attend to. Please feel free to visit Mi’al. He’s not more than semi-conscious, however. I have to go.”
Kura sat still for a long moment. “That’s what I get for trying to be nice about it. Nice never worked for me. Except with a couple of people. Being demanding was always easier, and more effective. Well. I will look in on Mi’al. Perhaps since Jareel is so anxious to know what I think of this, I might be able to have a bit of a closer look at Mi’al while I am here.”
Kiel sighed. “It’s what I was afraid of. Nothing obvious. Just like the others.”
“Should I get Kethen into a room then?” the padawan asked.
“Yes. It looks like he’s our newest case. Same symptoms, same results. No phages in his blood.” He shook his head. “Whatever the virus is, it’s well concealed. This must be something new. It’s new to me, at least. Perhaps I should do a search to see if there is something in the literature about a virus that isn’t obvious in the blood.” He rubbed his eyes. And I wonder if the medical center knows anything about it. They could be a real help to me right now. They could go chase this through the literature while I try to track the progression at the temple. Master Ehme would hit the ceiling if I contacted them after he told me not to. Mi’al would probably contact them anyway. But he’s the chief healer. And no, I don’t think I have a special position because I am his padawan. I wouldn’t just call the medical center, expecting him to pull my hide out of the fire after he was well. If I make the decision, then I have to handle the consequences.
Kiel stepped closer to the exam table. Kethen was as pale as the blanket that covered him. His small body trembled from a chill, while sweat beaded heavily on his face. The healer put a hand on the boy’s brow. He was not surprised at how hot he was. But also, as a healer, he could sense more than only Kethen’s temperature.
“I wish this hadn’t happened to you,” he whispered. “It’s enough that it is hitting adults so hard, and being so difficult to figure out. It’s not your fault, little one, but you are putting extra pressure on me to understand this. I know it’s harder for you. I’m doing everything I can. I really am. But I will work harder. I promise you.”
The padawan came back into the room at that moment, ready to move Kethen to a room. Seeing Kiel’s posture, he approached slowly and quietly, stopping just behind the healer wordlessly, waiting.
Kiel sensed the boy’s presence. He lingered a moment longer, concentrating on the Force while his hand still rested on Kethen’s face. Then he stood.
“Go ahead. Get him settled in. You know what to do for him. I’m going to look in on the others.”
Kiel left the room, deep in thought. Kethen and Mi’al both were directly exposed to Daven. But there was still Kes. He had to get back to his office soon and look over those interviews. Thinking of Kes, he went to his room first.
“Oh. Good morning.”
“Good morning.” It was the lady who was training Kes. She had seemed so gruff before. Now she was somber. “I’m Laycy Te. I was training Kes in hospital administration work.”
Right, Kiel had not known her name, and really hadn’t had a chance to be introduced to her. He had mostly talked over comm to her.
“No. Not a master. Not yet. Kes looks so sick. Isn’t he getting better?”
“We are having some problems identifying what is making him sick. It’s hard to treat what you don’t know to treat. But the staff is working on this round the clock. We are trying hard to understand what this is. I’m sorry. That’s all I can tell you right now.”
She nodded. “I understand.” But the uncertainty in her voice indicated otherwise.
“I haven’t had a chance, yet, to look over the interview that one of the padawan healers did with you. Is there anything that stands out in your mind in the day or so prior to his becoming ill? She did explain to you about the other patients.”
“Yes, she did. And I can’t recall that I sent him on any errand that would have put Kes in contact with either of the other two patients. Not directly. I had my notes and consulted them. The details escape me, but they are in the interview. Perhaps you will be able to figure out a possible connection from what I did jot down about his movements on his tasks those days. And if you need anything more, please ask. I will look back over my records to see what else I might be able to find out about Kes in that time frame.” She paused. “If you haven’t had a chance to look over the notes, then I guess you don’t know if his friends were able to be of help.”
“Not yet. I hope to get to that a bit later, after I look in on my patients.” Kiel lightly put his hand over hers on the bedrail, in a comforting gesture. “We are giving this the highest priority. Kes is getting the best attention we can give him. Try not to be too worried. As soon as I find out anything, you’ll be informed at once.”
He managed a small, and he hoped, comforting smile. Kiel looked over Kes and checked his vitals, comparing that to the last readings. The only good news was that he was not worse. At least the treatment that Kiel had ordered helped in some way. He suppressed the sigh that was ready to spill over. The young healer hoped his forced look of pleasantness didn’t look too forced.
“I’ll talk with you more later, if you’d like.”
“Thank you.” Her drawn face seemed to ease a bit at that. Some comfort. A small amount, but some.
Kiel had his own particular chart on his data tablet. It was the reason that he was taking independent reading on vitals and observing the patients himself. On his chart, it was not one record for each patient. It was one record for all of them, comparing their readings. He could order them any way he wanted, from youngest to oldest, shortest to tallest, thinnest to stockiest. Not that the body size varied greatly. Daven was a bit shorter than Mi’al. Kes was only a couple of centimeters shorter than Daven. Mi’al was lean. Daven was too, but more muscular. Kes was a bit stocky for his height. But any difference might give him a clue…or similarities. Kiel was looking intently at his data tablet as he walked along. Finally he looked up and realized he had walked past Daven’s room. The first thing he almost did was look around to see if anyone had been watching. Somehow he had this odd feeling that Ehme or one of the other healers was watching all his movements, and making notes.
You do need to find a corner to crawl into for a while, Kiel. Paranoia is not a good sign.
He opened the door, and stopped immediately. Jareel, Obi-Wan and Kura were gathered in the room. But Kura was doing more than visiting. He was examining Daven.
“Where did you get that equipment?” Kiel said stiffly. “Did you take it from the hospital? How dare you?” He walked closer to the bed and placed himself between Daven and the bionic.
“No, as a matter of fact. This is my own personal equipment,” Kura replied easily.
“You didn’t answer my other question. How dare you? What right do you have to come into this hospital and do this? You’ve done work here, but you are not on the staff, and certainly not approved to treat patients,” Kiel said firmly.
“Yes, I realize that, but I don’t see that I have done any real harm, except perhaps to your feelings.”
The young healer drew in a breath to check his anger. “My feelings have no place in this. As a researcher you should understand procedure, and as a researcher on restricted programs you should certainly understand about rules. It’s not your knowledge that is in question here. It is your authority. You have none here.” Then he glared at Jareel. “You have no authority, even if another Jedi has asked you to come. You know that you should go through the proper channels…meaning the hospital staff.”
“Yes, I did talk to Kura,” Jareel said, but his voice was not as forceful as usual. Kiel also noticed that his eyes weren’t as bright as they usually were. “I wanted to know if he had any experience with a virus like this one. I remember that Mi’al said Kura had a great deal of knowledge about viruses. It doesn’t hurt to hear what he has to say.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Kiel agreed. “That is not the point. Besides other reasons, there is also the fact that Kura should be apprised of what has been done so far. It would certainly help his understanding, and keep him from jumping to conclusions if he knows what we have been able to rule out so far. Right now, coming into this cold, he may think he knows what it is, but could be chasing the wrong thing because it has been eliminated. Jareel, there is a methodical way to do this, to eliminate guessing and reproducing work.”
“Then why didn’t you sit and tell him when he asked you what you’d done so far?” He folded his arms over his chest.
“I don’t have time to explain it all to you. Just like I don’t have time to brief Kura. Jareel, you want me to help Daven, but you keep putting obstacles in my way.”
“Then let one of your padawans do it. Like you were going to let one of them explain things to me.”
Obi-Wan spoke up. “Kura is very knowledgeable, and very compassionate too. He took excellent care of me the time that Haas and his men kidnapped us, when I was so ill. He probably kept me alive…with the few primitive things that he had to work with on their rattletrap ship. Not even a first aid kit. He had to drip sugar water into my mouth because he had no access to an IV.”
Kiel paused and drew in a breath. He rubbed his face. “It’s not just a question of Kura’s ability or knowledge. There is one more consideration. I have been directed by the master healers to keep information about this confidential…from non-Jedi.”
“Why is that?” Kura asked. “Do you mean to tell me that they have something unidentified in the temple and they have not notified any medical authorities outside this hospital?”
“I never said that I agreed with it. Kura, I probably shouldn’t have told you that. I can see how upset that makes you. I’m asking you, as Mi’al’s friend, to hold this confidential. You owe me nothing, but for him. Please. I know this is a bad situation, but…you will seriously compromise my ability to work on this if you give the master healers reason to doubt me.”
The bionic studied the young healer. And he saw what he had not really noticed during their first talk…how worn and weary Kiel looked. Without a doubt he was working hard. But if he just knew more about what Kiel was doing! Going to the medical authorities beyond the temple would certainly shake loose some information. And he did want to know. But why had the healers made such a decision? Did they know more about this than they were letting on? Like how contagious it really was. Were they trying to stall a panic?
“I have no right to any information,” Kura said. “You are right about that and I agree with you. But, as Mi’al’s friend, I am asking you to share some of it with me any way. I’m more likely to cooperate with you if I understand what is going on,” he finished quietly. Kura hoped that sounded cooperative, not demanding.
Kiel was thinking. He glanced around the room as his mind considered. For the first time he noticed the dark look of concern on Obi-Wan’s face. Was that concern about Daven, about Kiel’s ability? Or maybe it was worry over how Kiel was going to react to Kura’s intrusion. But it also made Kiel recall something else. He didn’t want to be overly accusing, but he had a point to get across.
“Obi-Wan, I hope you have respected my wishes about bringing other visitors in to see Daven.”
“Yes, Kiel. I haven’t brought anyone else in. Harld hasn’t either.” He paused. “Is something wrong?”
“Take this as information only.” He paused. There was no way to say it without sounding condemning. “Kethen is ill.”
Obi-Wan’s face showed his distress. His mouth moved without saying anything.
“Kethen?” Jareel whispered.
“Yes,” Kiel answered. “He was brought in this morning.”
“I’m sorry,” Obi-Wan finally got out. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean any harm. Kethen was so upset. He thought Daven was dying and that’s why he couldn’t see him. And I thought if Daven heard Kethen’s voice, it might be comforting to him. He seems so restless most of the time.”
“I understand,” the healer assured him. “I knew this would sound like a renewed attack on you and I didn’t intend that. I just wanted you to understand not to violate the instructions that I’ve set down. I think most of you think I am being arbitrary on some of the things that I am doing. I am not. I am acting in the way that I think best serves everyone, even if all of you can’t see that,” he finished evenly.
Obi-Wan didn’t say anything else. He just looked away.
“How is Kethen?” Jareel asked.
“Very ill. Just as ill as the others.”
Jareel said nothing. He didn’t want to add to Obi-Wan’s obvious guilt, even though he wanted to ask the apprentice what he had been thinking to bring the boy into this room when Daven’s illness was still a big mystery. He couldn’t do that. But he would certainly bring it up to Qui-Gon. Perhaps Obi-Wan could take it better from his own master.
Kiel was very aware of Jareel. Something very different about him today. He was not as tense as usual. Still tense, but the level was less. Kiel’s brow furrowed as he concentrated on Jareel’s presence. There was something very different. He turned to look at the big man.
“Master Jareel, do you feel well today?”
The big man stood straighter. That was when Kiel finally noticed that he’d been a little hunched. “I’m fine.”
The healer stepped closer, reaching out a hand, not quite coming in contact with the Jedi master. Kiel concentrated a minute and then put his hand against Jareel’s face. He frowned.
“You have a temperature.”
“Master Jareel, you’re not fine. I can tell.”
“Well…I do feel a little…lethargic this morning.”
Kiel cut him off. “Sit down. Tell me more about how you feel. Nausea, aches?”
“Well, I am a bit achy. I feel tired too.”
The healer tried not to smile. “If you are coming down with the same thing, this will be the first time I’ve been able to talk to a patient before seeing him at the worst. This could be very helpful. I’d like to do an exam, draw some blood.”
Jareel shrugged. “All right.” He paused. “I think I’d like to lie down, in truth.”
“I’ll get a gurney.”
“I can walk,” Jareel insisted as he stood, but he swayed a bit. Kiel took one arm, wondering what he’d do if the big man went down. Kura quickly took the other arm, and the healer was glad. Perhaps the bionic was strong enough to be of more help than he was.
And Kura took advantage of his enforced accompaniment. “Ah…may I observe?” he asked.
Kiel shrugged. He was so tired of fighting, and his mind was more on Jareel at the moment than on the Jedi healers. “On one condition.”
“I’ll keep this confidential.”
The healer nodded and walked out of the room, trailing Jareel and Kura.
Kiel rested his chin on his hand, staring at the durasheets on the desk before him. The numbers were all running together. He sat back and rubbed his tired eyes.
“Anything definite?” Kura asked.
“No. But that’s not surprising. If there were something definite about this, then I would have it isolated by now. I can tell you that there are no phages in Jareel’s blood. Does that mean he has the same illness? I don’t know. He has similar symptoms, but they are not as acute. Does that mean it’s the same thing? Again, I don’t know. Is it affecting him less because of his body mass? Or is it a milder version of the virus? Or is this something entirely different?” Kiel paused a moment, stretching his taut shoulder muscles. “There is yet one thing more that is confusing about Jareel.”
“What is it?”
“He has been exposed to Daven’s presence from before Daven became ill. Jareel has been with him more than anyone else, but three other people became sick while Jareel didn’t. And one of them appears…appears mind you, to have had only very casual contact with Daven, or with Mi’al. Yet Jareel is only now sick. But again, that could be due to his body mass or the strength of the virus. I know that Mi’al was thinking along those lines when Daven first became sick. He wondered why, if Jareel had been exposed to the same thing, he wasn’t showing symptoms.” He sat up suddenly. “Mi’al took some samples then. I have that to compare to what we’ve done with Jareel today.”
“Kiel, you are taking a logical approach to this,” Kura said. “After observing you and your method of investigating this, I am satisfied that you are doing a fine job.”
The young healer’s first instinct was to be indignant that Kura felt a need to approve him, but that melted quickly as Kiel realized how good it felt to have someone show confidence in him.
“You’re very thorough in all your thoughts on this,” Kura went on. “You have all this information available to you, and somehow you are able to hold a great deal of it in your mind, comparing and contrasting it with Jareel’s condition, even before you completed your examination of him.”
“Thank you, Kura,” Kiel said quietly.
“This is presumptuous of me, but would you mind if I looked over your shoulder? Not to check up on you, but to just observe. I have two reasons for it. I am curious about what you are dealing with, and I’d like to see how you attack the problem…or continue to attack it. From all your records there, it certainly seems like you have a good foot up on it. I won’t be trying to tell you how to do your job. This is only professional curiosity.”
The healer sat back, steepling his hands before his face, and looking away from the bionic.
“And of course, I will keep this confidential.”
“But I won’t,” Kiel muttered.
“Oh…nothing.” He paused. “All right. It’s not as if I don’t have the whole cadre of healers looking over my shoulder already. One more person isn’t going to break me. I suppose.” A bare smile touched his lips. “At least you won’t be critiquing me.”
“Oh, no. I won’t. I give you my word on that. You’re right. I don’t have the right to demand anything of you.”
“Well, I want to go look in on Mi’al and Kethen, and then have another look at Jareel. Then…some time this day I have got to begin to try to tie together the pieces of this. I have a whole list of questions, trying to figure out what my five patients have in common that spread this among them. I would say only being exposed to Daven, except there is one that doesn’t fit in there. At least not obviously.”
Kiel stood and stumbled a bit. Kura put out a hand. “Are you all right?”
“Just tired. Don’t worry. I’m not going out on you. I’ve been stumbling around for days now. When I lie down at night, my mind won’t let this go.”
“Then you owe it to your patients to take a sleep aid, a mild one. You are not going to be helping them by coming to wrong conclusions because you are so tired.”
The healer only looked at the bionic for a long moment.
“Is something wrong?” Kura asked.
“No. It’s just…that sounds like what Mi’al would say.”
“I told you that Mi’al and I were close.”
“I feel tired, achy and sick,” Jareel said. “Hot and cold.”
“But you’re not as sick as the others,” Kiel noted.
“Body mass,” Kura put in.
Kiel nodded. “A possibility. I noted that.” He pointed to his data tablet. “But I don’t want to be blinded by that. This could still be something different. Why did it take so long for Master Jareel to get sick?” Then at once he added. “I know…body mass. But that’s not all. Even that won’t account for the difference. It is a factor, but also he must have gotten a lesser viral load than the others.” Kiel rubbed his chin as he stared at his notes. Then he looked up and patted Jareel’s arm. “Just rest.” Then he thought of something. “Master Jareel, please don’t be up and about. I know you are concerned about Daven. Harld and Obi-Wan are going to be looking in on him. We’ll all keep you informed. You’re not going to help yourself if you don’t get some rest.”
The big man frowned. “I’ll rest, but…how about a hover chair?”
Now Kiel frowned. “We’ll see how well you follow my instructions to rest first.”
“How is Kethen?”
Kiel’s frown deepened and his brow creased. “No change. He’s the same.”
“What were Obi-Wan and Harld thinking?” Jareel said in tired frustration.
“You can think about that later. Right now…”
“Yes. Lots of rest. In the bed. Your own bed. Don’t make me have to use Mi’al’s methods on you.”
“You wouldn’t dare restrain me to the bed,” Jareel said indignantly.
“Don’t give me a reason to see if I really would or not,” Kiel replied wearily. Suddenly the less tense atmosphere that had descended between he and Jareel had just gone back up a couple of notches.
Kiel stood leaning on his desk and staring at the wall. Kura sat nearby staring too. It was quiet for a long moment.
“More information,” Kiel said.
“You’ll need another wall,” Kura responded.
“If necessary, we’ll move this to the hallway. Lots of long blank walls there.”
“Good idea, but you lose your patient confidentiality.”
“No names. Patient A, Patient B, and so on.”
“Ah. Good idea.”
The healer pushed away from his desk and walked to the wall that he and Kura had been staring at. Stuck to the wall were many note-sized pieces of durasheet. Toward Kiel’s left was a random looking arrangement of notes. On his right, the arrangement had more order. It looked like a tree. He looked to his left, reading over the notes there.
“Kes’ friend, Alla, has accounted for his presence from…um…” He stepped closer and darted his eyes around, looking for what he was sure that he’d left there. “Ah, here it is. She had lunch with him, and helped him with a database for almost an hour after that. So we have two time slices, when he was in the dining hall, and when he had gone back to his office.” Kiel took two of the notes from the random side and moved to his right, looking over his tree. “So from midday until about fifty minutes later we know that Kes and Alla were at his desk working. She said no one came in during that time.” He stuck the note for that time frame into his tree arrangement. “Kes was not exposed to anything in that time that Alla was not exposed to.” Then the healer turned and looked at Kura. “I wonder if someone could have come in while Kes was away from his desk and possibly brought something in?”
“Then Alla would have been exposed too,” the bionic responded thoughtfully.
“Right. Make a note for me, please, to contact Alla and question her…again, but in more detail about how she felt the day that Kes became ill. And the days afterward too. Maybe it might affect her differently. Anything at all she might have felt that was out of sorts.”
“I’ll put that on the list for another healer or a padawan to take care of,” said Kura as he made the note. “You are too overworked as it is. You can’t do it all by yourself.”
“Mmm,” Kiel hummed as he stared at the note in his hand. “The dining hall. Alla said that they sat with two other padawans. Neither of them has become ill. I think for the moment, I will assume that it was not in the dining hall. If there was something viral in there, most likely it would have hit more than only one person.”
“I tend to agree with you.”
Kiel put his note in a column that was set aside for things that were not totally eliminated, but considered not a high likelihood. He leaned against the wall a moment to think.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Kura. Just wondering…”
The healer didn’t answer right away. He rubbed his eyes. Contacting the Infectious Disease Department at the Coruscant University Medical Center was at the front of his mind. It was the right thing to do; he knew that to be so. They should be informed, and they could be of much help to him right now. He might be re-doing some investigative work that they had already done, or knew of. One call could identify this virus for him. Or not. But he wouldn’t know if he didn’t make that call. Master Ehme had specifically told him not to.
But I know he’s wrong. He’s a master. I’m not. His direction is law, now that Mi’al is sick. But…it’s not the right decision. If I contacted someone who was familiar with Mi’al, perhaps he might grant me some grace and not make a public announcement, since there has been no outbreak outside the temple. What am I saying? I don’t know that’s the case. Only because I haven’t heard anything doesn’t mean that is the situation. I’ve been so busy that I have no idea what is going on out there! I have to do this. There may be sick people out there now. Yes, I should make that call.
Kiel was a bit startled when he felt a metal hand on the side of his face. He jumped and pulled away. Then embarrassed he muttered, “Sorry, Kura. No offense. I just wasn’t expecting that.”
“I understand. I didn’t mean to surprise you, but you seem as determined as Mi’al. I thought that if I only asked you if you were all right, you’d say you were, no matter how you felt. I’m glad that your face isn’t warm.”
“I would have told you.”
“I asked you a question that you never answered. I didn’t know where you were.”
“There’s something I have to take care of.”
Kura nodded slowly. Are you finished here for today?”
The healer paused to wonder that himself. “Yes, I think so.”
“All right. I’ll leave you then. Ah, do you mind if I come back tomorrow?”
“That’s fine. I think it is helpful to me to have another set of eyes looking over my shoulder. Especially on this,” he indicated the wall of notes. “Trying to line up each patient’s whereabouts and whom they had contact with, in order to find the common element, is a big job. I think it’s better if you are here to watch what I’m doing. You remember what you said before about my being tired and drawing the wrong conclusions.”
“Yes, and I hope you will take my advice and use a sleep aid tonight, if you can’t let this go.” Kura paused. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then.”
“I get started early, but come when you like. See you then.”
Kura walked to the door. Just before he exited he looked back to Kiel. “You really don’t need anyone to look over your shoulder. You’re doing a fine job, Kiel. I’m sure Mi’al would be pleased with how you are handling this.”
The young healer’s lips curved up in a small smile. “Thank you, Kura.” It was nicer to hear it put that way, instead of in the form of yet another comparison. The bionic waved and then he was gone.
Kiel waited only enough to be sure Kura was away. Then he left his office, headed for Mi’al’s, and his comm frequency listing. Mi’al’s office was just down the hall from his. But before he could complete the trip, a voice called to him.
He stopped and turned. “Master Qui-Gon. Hello.”
“I kept missing you for couple of days now, even though I tried to be around.” The Jedi master was troubled by how fatigued the young healer looked. “How is your investigation going? How are you doing?”
“Better and all right.”
The abbreviated answers left Qui-Gon a bit stumped for response. “Oh.”
“I came up with an idea to help my investigation, and I’m fine, thank you.”
“I’d like to talk to you…when you have time, of course. I know how busy you are.”
“Yes, especially just now.” Kiel looked at his chrono. “Oh. How did it get to be that late? Um…I had a call to make and…I guess I should eat after that….”
“All right. I’ll meet you in the dining hall?”
“Give me a few minutes.”
Qui-Gon nodded and walked away. Kiel tapped on the code pad next to Mi’al’s office door and the door slid open. He entered and locked it behind him. He didn’t want to be interrupted. Maybe this late most of the healers were gone for the day.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t mind me rummaging in your things, if you knew why I was doing it.” Kiel said to the absent Mi’al. He sat in the desk chair and glanced over the neat desk. “Master, how do you have time to clean and organize your desk?” He paused to think. Knowing his efficient master, the young man decided that most likely Mi’al kept his contact list on his computer. It would be the quickest and easiest way. However, in the event of a problem with the computer, his information would be unavailable. Therefore, there was probably a hard copy of it somewhere too. If he just knew where to look.
Kiel sat back a moment. “Think like Mi’al.” He glanced over the desk again. No, it would not be out in the open. The chief healer protected the privacy of friends and acquaintances. Since Mi’al made it a practice to lock his office, his desk was not locked. Kiel considered only briefly and opened the middle drawer directly before him. In the back left corner lay a small book, decorated with hand painted designs on the outside. Kiel bet it was either a book of contact information or a journal. He lifted it out, ready to put it away at once it if was personal…no matter how great his curiosity.
To his relief it was not so personal. And it was just what he guessed. And organized well and logically. Under Coruscant University Medical Center, there was a separate section for each department. Under Infectious Disease Department three names were listed. Kiel recalled one for certain, another, he thought and the third he didn’t remember at all. That made his choice of where to begin easy. He entered the frequency into Mi’al’s desk comm unit and waited.
“Doctor Ellè’s office. May I help you?”
“This is Healer Kiel Aardahn at the Jedi Temple Hospital. May I speak with Doctor Ellè? It’s important.”
“Just a moment please. I’m not certain if he has left for the day or not. Please hold.”
Kiel toyed with some odd object on Mi’al’s desk. He turned it over and over, and considered that it was just like his former master to have something on his desk to occupy his hands when he was deep in thought. Works for me too. Maybe I should reconsider the state of my own office. A few extra things might not be so bad.
He glanced around at the office. Mi’al’s office was not the standard off-white of most healers’ offices. The walls were tinted a dark yellow tone. The trim and accents were burnt orange and light brown. Very warm tones. Relaxing. Mi’al had chosen this for purpose. And from what Kiel knew, the purpose had been accomplished. Mi’al reported how relaxed people were in his office, as opposed to when he had to talk to them in one of the more stark offices.
Then the comm unit announced, “This is Doctor Ellè. Are you a colleague of Mi’al Noseen’s?”
“Yes, I am, Doctor. Have you consulted with Mi’al often?”
“Oh yes. Quite often. We have moved beyond a professional relationship. Mi’al is a good friend.” A slight pause. “Kiel. Yes, I remember. I apologize. I meet so very many people. Mi’al has mentioned you before. He trained you, right?”
“Yes, he did, Doctor Ellè.”
“Please, call me Tolle. We should form a working relationship too. I’ve told Mi’al before that it would be better if I had contact with other healers also. I don’t know why he was hesitant about that.”
Kiel’s small smile was not in humor. “I don’t think that was Mi’al’s problem. And that brings me to the reason that I am calling you today.”
“Yes, is there something that I can help you with?”
“I hope so, but I should tell you in the beginning that I am breaking a decision that was made by the majority of the master healers here. And it also is the most likely reason that Mi’al probably never introduced you to them.” He hesitated. “You see, the master healers are…stubborn.”
Tolle laughed. “But, of course, they have that feeling under control, right?”
Kiel smiled for real this time. He liked this man already. Obviously he and Mi’al had talked about other Jedi. “So they like to believe.”
“They don’t want an outsider privy to their business?”
“You have remarkable insight, Tolle.”
“No, Kiel. I’ve just known Mi’al a long time…and, in truth, I think I suspected that this was the reason that only he and I have done much business in the past. Mi’al was just too nice to say that the other healers would rather I go take a long walk on a short pier.”
After all the tension, this conversation was balm to Kiel’s soul. He would have liked to continue the humorous part, but he knew he had something more important to tend to.
“I was directed by another healer not to divulge what I am about to tell you, but I don’t agree with that judgment. I think it is wrong and borders on being irresponsible. I don’t know you, but I know that Mi’al does…”
Tolle cut in. “Don’t worry about that, Kiel. As much as I can keep a confidence on something of this nature, I will.”
“You may not be able to keep one if this thing blows up, but don’t worry about it. I’ve already considered that and I’m still willing to do this. We have an unknown virus that has infected five Jedi now. I have been unable to isolate it or identify it. I can’t detect the method of transmission either. There are things about this that are confusing…and making me consider that it may not be viral after all. That was my first estimate because of how it presented, but I have an open mind now. For one example of the inconsistencies, the master of the padawan who initially came down with this has been exposed to him constantly since he was ill, and the master more than a week later finally becomes ill. However, an administrative padawan who, as far as I can ascertain to now, had no direct contact with any of the patients, and he was the third to come down with it. Well before the master I mentioned.”
“Hmm. That is odd sounding.”
“One thing though. The master is a very large sized man. Very tall and very broad. Lots of muscle mass. I keep telling myself that his body size is one factor, but I also don’t want to be blinded to anything significant because of that. Possibly he got a lighter viral load as well.”
“This sounds most interesting. And…the old masters didn’t want this to get out.”
“They said it was a Jedi problem,” Kiel responded, not quite bitterly. “They thought that we had all the resources we needed to solve this, and didn’t need the ‘interference’…or better yet, the ‘distraction’ of those who don’t understand the Force.”
“I understand it fine, thanks to Mi’al. I just don’t have it. Unfortunately. But anyway, I’m glad you decided to call me.”
“Have you had any illnesses come through your hospital that have been hard to diagnose?”
“No. We haven’t had anything so far that has been unknown or unidentifiable.”
“Good. I was afraid this was going to get outside the temple. We are not isolated, even within the temple. That is why I was startled at Master…at the decision not to share the information. I’m glad I was in time. Or at least I think I am. I don’t even know if you might already be familiar with this. And I apologize for being so long about contacting you. The healer who informed me of the decision to withhold the information had volunteered to call your department before. I think I know why he did now. But now he has directed me to uphold their information blackout. I only found out about that yesterday. That’s why it has taken me so long to call.”
“I understand. At least I understand the delay. Not the reason for it.”
“I’d like to transmit the information I have so far to you and let you have a look. I thought that maybe you might recognize this. Or at least I hoped so.” He paused. “And…I hoped to impose on you for some help in figuring this out. If you can spare the manpower.”
“Of course. I’ll make sure we can. This sounds like something we need to understand. And…I know you’ll be in deep when your master healers find out about this call. As long as there is not a general outbreak of this in public, I’ll keep it quiet. But for what protection you can give yourself, blank out the patient names.”
“Yes. I had intended to do that. In fact…I have my own records that I’ve been keeping, separately from the patient charts. For my own organization and study. It would be easier and quicker to send copies of those…because I already have it labeled with letters instead of names. Since it was my own records and not a chart that was secured with the others, I thought that prudent. Even though I’ve kept it secured too.”
“You sound prudent and wise, Kiel. In the handling of this, and your decision to come forward. I can see why Mi’al took you on as a padawan.”
Not ‘I can see you take after Mi’al’? Interesting how non-Jedi medical types are more willing to let me be myself instead of another Mi’al.
“Thank you, Tolle. Ah…I could send a courier over with this
right away. Or would you rather I wait
“Send it on. I’m anxious to know what you’ve got there. If you only put my name on the packet and have it brought to the front desk, perhaps we can keep your courier in the dark.”
Kiel smiled again. “I appreciate your discretion, Tolle, but again, if it becomes necessary for you to break that, I understand and I support your decision. I’m more interested in public health than Jedi exclusiveness. I’ll get together copies of my records. It won’t take long.”
“I’ll be waiting…anxiously. Let’s stay in touch, okay?”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“May the Force be with you on this, Kiel.”
The young healer sat back in Mi’al’s chair. That was very different from how he’d thought it might go. The man was easy to talk to, open and honest. He was discrete, humorous. And he appreciated the Force. No wonder he and Mi’al got on so well.
“Think about it more later.” Kiel stood and paused a moment. Yes, he was guilty of ignoring himself. He would have to do better than this. “You told Mi’al that you wouldn’t let him down. Remember?” The young healer hurried to his office.
“Ah, there you are.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Kiel said as he sat down.
“It’s all right. I was just wondering if something was wrong.”
“No. I had a call to make, that’s all.”
“How are you, Kiel? You don’t look well.”
“I know. I’m not sleeping well. My mind won’t shut down at night. I don’t feel rested even when I do sleep.”
“I know. I’ll take care of it. I owe that to my patients.”
“Good. I take it there have been no great breakthroughs.”
“No,” Kiel said in weary reply. “None. And two new cases.”
“So I found out.” Qui-Gon paused. “How are you able to keep Jareel in bed? As long as he’s able to walk, I thought that he’d be planted by Daven’s bed.”
“Threats. And a promise to get him in to see Daven…if he behaves.”
“Oh. I know where you learned that.”
“I’ve never had to use it before though.”
“You will with Jareel…every time. He’s very stubborn.”
“So Mi’al often says. With a smile.”
Qui-Gon smiled. “Don’t let me keep you from eating. Go ahead. I just wanted to see how you were holding up.”
“About the same as before. I did get a bit of support from an unexpected source though.”
“I saw Kura this morning. Has he been helpful?”
“He’s been supportive. He’s trying very hard not to ‘interfere’ in what I am doing. Observing only. Kura is holding back advising me, but he has pointed out things that he had a concern about. I think after coming in with the attitude of trying to tell me how to solve my problem, he now is afraid to come on too strongly because he will think that I think he’s trying to solve my problem for me.”
Qui-Gon stared at him a moment.
“Is something wrong?”
“I just had to think about what you just said.”
“I know. I’m babbling. Tired.”
“There is one thing I’d like to ask you about.” Qui-Gon hesitated. “But if you’re too tired, perhaps another time would be better.”
“You’d better take advantage of this time while you can. I don’t know when I’ll get to talk again. Things are not slowing down.”
“Well…all right. It’s about Obi-Wan.”
Kiel stopped from his half-hearted effort to eat. “Is he getting ill?”
“No. Oh no, it’s not that at all. Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you think that. I wanted to say a few words to you on his behalf. He doesn’t know that I’m doing this and would probably not be happy if he knew about it.”
Kiel’s brow creased. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s about Kethen.”
“Oh. Well, I tried to tell him as nicely as I could. I didn’t think there was any way to say it without sounding condemning, but I wanted Obi-Wan to know that Kethen was ill so he would understand why I was being so insistent about visitors…or I should say about no new visitors.”
“I’m not complaining about what you did. The day that Obi-Wan took Kethen to visit Daven, I told him that it probably was not a good idea. I know that he and Harld feel very guilty right now. They went to apologize to the guardian in the crèche who brought Kethen in. I think they’d like to apologize to Jareel…since he’s so worried, and to you, for causing another patient, but they are certain that you and Jareel will be angry with them. And Obi-Wan doesn’t want to upset you while you are so…inundated.”
“I’m not happy about the situation and it could have been easily avoided. But if they see now what they did wrong and have learned from it then…I’m not angry with them. That accomplishes nothing. And even if it did, I can’t afford such a distraction right now anyway.”
“You have a mature and wise attitude about this.”
“I’m sorry to make Obi-Wan feel guilty. That wasn’t my intent, but I thought it would probably come out that way. I suppose that you don’t really want to tell Obi-Wan that you talked to me…from what you said earlier, but if you do, then tell him for me that I’m not angry with him or Harld. And there is no need to apologize to me. I just hope that they learned something here that will keep them from making a similar mistake in the future.”
“I think you can count on that. They were very upset after going in to see Kethen.”
Kiel looked down a moment. He looked up and said, “That is the hard thing for them. They’ve been punished. Let it go. Guilt won’t help Kethen or them.”
Qui-Gon nodded. Mi’al’s influence was obvious. But Kiel deserved some of his own credit too. “Thank you for talking to me about this. You should consider counseling too, Kiel. I think you have the understanding of motivations and of feelings that would make you a good one.”
“Trying to make me into Mi’al?”
“No, no. Not at all. I was just thinking how well you are handling this. I know that some of the older healers would almost enjoy an opportunity to put a padawan in a position of guilt. They consider it a teaching tool. Not all of them, but certainly some of them. I’ve observed how they use it. I think their reasoning of allowing guilt to show a padawan mistakes is backward. At any rate, I think you can relate to how Obi-Wan and Harld feel. That empathy would make you a good counselor, not being Mi’al’s former padawan.”
Kiel was still and quiet for a moment. “Thank you, Master Qui-Gon.”
“I will assure Obi-Wan that you aren’t angry with him. I think it would be helpful. Since he is trying to keep Jareel updated on Daven, you two may run into each other often. It would be better if he understood how you really feel.”
“I could tell him myself, if you think that would be better.”
Qui-Gon considered. “Yes. Thank you.”
“Was there anything else?”
“Nothing specific, no. I just wanted the opportunity to talk with you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that. You’ve been supportive of me at a time when it seemed you were the only one who could appreciate my position. You’ll never know how much that meant to me.” Kiel stood. “And I’m sorry, but I should be going. I hate to run out on you, but I need the time. I’d like to talk with you further. Maybe at breakfast tomorrow?”
“I’ll be here. But you haven’t finished eating.”
“I know. I’ll grab something in my quarters. I have one thing to check on then I really need to find time to meditate today.”
“Oh. I certainly don’t want to keep you from that. Please go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Master Qui-Gon.”
Kiel was on his way to his office. He was going to spend a bit more time working on his investigation…the arrangement on his wall of all the notes about where his patients were when, and whom they had come in contact with where and for how long. That was going to be important in deciding how this had spread and he needed to get more done on it.
“Master Ehme. Yes?”
The older master stood tall and silent…and imposing for a moment. “I’d like a word with you. In my office please.” His tone was quiet and there was an attempt to be pleasant, but Kiel had not missed the firmness in his voice also. What was wrong now? It was entirely too soon for him to have found out about the packet to Doctor Ellè…wasn’t it?
The young healer entered the office and sat in the same chair that he had before. He drew in a breath to calm his tension. Why was he so sure this was not good? A feeling. And he had learned long ago to trust his feelings.
Ehme lowered himself into a chair very near Kiel. The look on his face was indifferent and the young healer couldn’t sense anything from him. Shielded tightly. That only made Kiel more apprehensive. He slowly drew in another breath.
“How have you been Kiel? Are you resting better? And your meditation?”
“I’m tired, but doing well, Master.” He deliberately avoided the other questions.
The furry creature pursed his slightly withered lips. “I saw Kura Sivru at the temple hospital today.”
Oh. So that’s what this is about. “Yes, he came to see Mi’al.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, as you might understand, he did want to discuss this probable virus with me. He has a great deal of knowledge in that area.”
“I don’t need to be reminded of that,” the elder healer said stiffly. “I hope you kept in mind what we discussed before…about not sharing information on this.”
Trapped. He would not lie, but he was not ready to reveal all the truth. Kiel knew he needed the help he was getting.
“I did remember what you said, Master Ehme,” he stalled.
“I’m sure you did. And did you uphold our directive?”
With Kura, I did for the most part. I did not tell him as much as I’ve told, or shown, Dr. Ellè. “I did not give Kura a full report on the virus, or even on Mi’al’s condition.” Oh…did anyone else see Kura with his equipment besides me? I mean any of the hospital staff?
Ehme stared at him a moment, and Kiel could feel the master reaching out to him, trying to sense all he could, but the younger healer had already shut himself off when he had entered. He recalled his last encounter with Ehme.
Yes, I am being deceptive. It’s wrong and I know it. I am not quite lying, just not telling all the truth. I know I can’t convince you that I’m right, so I won’t try. I feel this is right. You asked me before if I was trusting the Force. It tells me that what I am doing is right. I will follow that, above what you decide. Until you take me from this case, and I know you will when you find out what I am doing. But I care more about my patients than about appearances and dignity of Jedi healers.
“Kiel, if you think you are concealing things well, you are not. I know that Kura was here a good part of the day, and many times with you. You can’t tell me that you didn’t tell him something.”
“I never denied telling him anything. I said that I did not give him a full report on the virus.”
“You…did tell him something though…by your own admission.”
“Yes, by my own admission. I say it openly. Is that what you wanted?”
The elder healer stood and walked away, facing the wall. He was silent for a long couple of minutes. In that time, Kiel forced himself to be calm and still. He closed his eyes and reached to the Force, rather than stare at Ehme’s back.
Without turning around, the master healer said in a quiet voice. “You will not be allowed to bring Kura into the hospital again. That is not negotiable. I know that he and Mi’al are friends, but he has abused his visiting privileges, so he forfeited his right to see Mi’al. You are prohibited from speaking to him again. Even to update him on Mi’al’s progress. The only thing that keeps me from relieving you of this case is that I believe you understand it best, from your close work on it. However, if I find out that you have violated any of the guidelines I have just set down, knowledge or not, you will be relieved of it.” He turned slowly. “Do you understand?”
Being sure that his voice didn’t betray him, Kiel said firmly, “I understand.”
“Good. You may go.”
The young healer didn’t offer further explanation or justification. He didn’t feel compelled to, and he didn’t think it would be heard even if he did. Kiel stood and walked out.
Kiel started to go back to his office, his original destination, but he made a turn and walked to Mi’al’s room. He increased the dim illumination only enough to see his master’s face. And it was the same as last time he’d seen it…pale and clammy.
“Master, I know I did the right thing. It felt right. I know you’d do what was right for your patients, not just give in to what the Jedi want. I’ve seen you do just that before. This case is difficult enough, just in trying to figure it out. The master healers say they are helping me, but they keep putting obstacles in my way. Is this what awaits me the rest of my career? I can’t believe all the master healers feel this away. Certainly some of them are more concerned with people. Certainly some of them are more guided by the living Force than the unifying Force. I can’t believe that healers would not be more in tune with the living Force!”
Kiel’s glance had wandered away as he ranted. He looked back to his master. Mi’al was muttering and he rolled his head slowly back and forth a couple of times. Kiel tried to help make him more comfortable.
“Maybe that’s part of why you are so restless.” He turned his master to one side and adjusted his blankets. Then he wiped his face down with a cool cloth. “I’m sorry, Master. I shouldn’t come in here and carry on like this to you. I know you can probably hear me, and hear the tension in my voice. That’s not calming,” he said quietly. “But the more they cut me off from other sources of help, the less people I have to turn to, and I have to have someone to talk to. I’ve lost touch a bit with Qui-Gon these last days, while things have gotten so hectic. I suppose I should seek him out. After the Force. I keep letting that slip too. But enough about that, Master. I didn’t only come in to rant. I also wanted to see you.
“I didn’t realize how much I’d miss your counsel if you weren’t there for me. But it’s not only that. I miss your…presence, your friendship. I’m afraid we’re both guilty of shutting ourselves off from much contact that doesn’t have to do directly with our day-to-day duties. At least you’ve had longer to develop relationships than I have. I didn’t fully realize all this until now. Even if I didn’t have to come to you for medical consultation, I just miss talking to you, Master. Just sitting and talking.”
“Have a seat, Kiel,” Mi’al said to his teenaged padawan. He settled back into the chair on the balcony and glanced around. “I probably am trying to project my tastes on you, but would you like a cup of tea?”
The boy sat on the edge of the chair. He had only been the healer’s padawan for a couple of months. Kiel was still somewhat awed by the man, especially after the many things he’d heard about him. If the chatter about him was plentiful before, once he had indicated an interest in Kiel for a padawan, the other padawans only talked more about the healer. Kiel didn’t doubt that his master was a great man; he could sense so much about him already. But he also wondered how much of the talk was exaggeration. Padawans seemed to enjoy making a master out bigger than he was to the proposed padawan, to help them feel intimidated. However, truth or not, the boy was still nervous around his new master.
“Um…yes. I would. Thank you,” Kiel answered, not realizing that he accepted more to please his master than out of true desire.
And Mi’al thought he understood that to be the case too. A hint of a smile played at his lips. He poured the dark liquid and handed the cup to his apprentice. Kiel took it carefully, very stiffly.
“Sit back, relax,” Mi’al said quietly.
“Yes, Master.” The padawan sat back in the chair, but his back was still away from the chair, stiff and straight.
The healer smiled just a bit more. “Please do it because you want to relax, not because I told you to do it. It was not a command.” A pause. “You don’t look very relaxed.”
“I’m sorry, Master.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. Kiel, you look like you are about to faint. Breath.”
The boy didn’t realize how shallowly he had been breathing. He almost gulped with the first breath.
Now the healer chuckled. “Do I frighten you so much?”
“No, Master. You don’t frighten me.”
“I wouldn’t be able to tell that from the way you seem right now.”
Kiel sipped at the cup. “OW!” He pulled the cup from his mouth quickly…and reddened with embarrassment. The boy felt so clumsy. He couldn’t even drink a cup of tea correctly.
Mi’al shook his head a bit. “Put it here and let it cool. Now put your hands in your lap, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Slow in and slow out.” He watched as the apprentice complied. Concentrating on his breathing instead of on his company, Kiel truly began to relax. Mi’al saw his taut shoulders come down, saw the boy visibly begin to let go of the tension.
“Good. Now, open your eyes.” Kiel’s eyes opened. “Please don’t get all upset again. Just stay relaxed.” Mi’al looked away, out over the city, and sipped his tea.
The apprentice stared at his master for a moment, waiting. Finally he cleared his throat. “What did you want to talk to me about, Master?”
“Nothing in particular.”
The boy’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“Nothing in particular.” Mi’al looked at him. “I just thought it would be nice to sit, relax, and chat. Relax after a busy day.” Mi’al smiled again as he watched Kiel’s face. A variety of expressions from confusion to a near smile played there. “No, I didn’t call you here to lecture you or to point out some error. That has been done for the day, and you did well today. Not perfectly, but well, because you learned. Now that part of the day is over and it is time to rest ourselves. And perhaps we can get to know each other better. Just talk.”
Now Kiel did sit back and relax in the chair. His dark eyes were lit with the smile that reflected from his lips. His master wanted his company. They were going to become better acquainted. Being called before Master Mi’al was not always for something wrong.
“I remember that well, Master. The first of many long and wonderful talks. I did get to know you so well through them. And after I was knighted, the talks continued and you became friend. And…I miss that.” Kiel pulled the chair close to the bedside and sat down holding onto Mi’al’s hand. “Even as hard as I’ve been working, I’ve had a few moments of private thought and, Master, after this is over and you are well, I had a research idea that I wanted to talk to you about…”
Kiel stood before the wall in his office, hands on his hips, and studying his investigation spread over the wall. It was beginning to take shape. But there were still holes in his information. There were still questions to be answered.
“But I have a lot here. I can begin to eliminate some things. The thing that still confuses me so is Kes. Daven, Mi’al, Jareel, and Kethen all have a logical tie. Kes is the wild card. At least that’s easy to say because I know of one point when Kethen was exposed to Daven. I still haven’t asked all the questions about Kethen yet. That is part of what I have to fill in. He had that one encounter with Daven. But he’s in the crèche and I have no idea what else he has been exposed to down there. He may even have had opportunity to be around Kes. I need to talk further with the guardians of the crèche and find out more about Kethen’s activities just before he became ill.”
He rubbed his chin. “Obi-Wan and Harld haven’t become ill yet. Why not? What is different about them? I was surprised that Master Jareel hadn’t gotten sick yet. Well, he finally did. So…perhaps Obi-Wan and Harld may be next. Master Qui-Gon too, but he has been here less than those two, because they have sat with Daven. Master Qui-Gon is trying to keep his schedule as much as he can. He has had less exposure, so…I’m guessing it would take longer for him to develop this.”
The young healer looked at his notes again. “Maybe I should concentrate some effort on them also. They are potential patients. I should interview them and find out what is different…while they can still talk. After they get sick, I’d probably kick myself for not thinking of this. Assuming they are going to get sick. But better to pursue this and miss than to let the chance go by and lose the opportunity to interview them.”
There was a knock at his door. “Come in,” Kiel called.
The door slid open and Kura stood there. “You’re here early,” his tone conveyed his surprise. Then it changed suddenly. “Kiel! You look awful.” A pause. “You’re not getting sick, are you?”
“No, Kura. I’m not. I…just have been here a while trying to get this organized.” He pointed to the wall.
“A while? It’s very early. Please don’t tell me that you’ve been here all night.”
“Okay, I won’t tell you that.”
“I wasn’t able to sleep.”
“That’s no excuse. You told me you’d take something so that you would sleep.”
“I’m fine. I’m not tired. After I make my morning rounds, I’ll lie down for a while.”
“If you’re not tired, why are you going to lie down?”
“To please you.” Kiel managed a smile. Then he was instantly serious. “I…have something that I have to say to you, and I’m sorry about it too.”
Detecting the sorrowful tone, Kura tensed a bit. “What is it?”
“I was ordered last night by Master Ehme not to share any more information with you about this. He was most upset, because I violated his directive not to share information with non-Jedi about this case. I’ve been ordered not to speak to you about this anymore, not even to update you on Mi’al’s progress.”
“I see,” the bionic responded slowly.
“I don’t. I’m sorry, Kura.”
“I am too. I’m sorry that they are so…arrogant and stubborn.”
“Yes. Me too.”
“Well, I don’t want to cause you further problems. I should leave before any of them spy on you and wonder why I was so long in your office when you’d been ordered not to speak to me any more,” Kura said bitterly.
“I’m not happy about it myself. I want you to know that I don’t agree with their position.”
“Oh, I understand. I could tell that you didn’t yesterday when you tried to warn me off, and I wouldn’t go away. It was half-hearted. Even if I couldn’t consult officially with you, I think you could have used someone to tell your ideas and thoughts to, someone to encourage you.” He paused thoughtfully. “I’ll bet none of those old…fossils have offered to be an encourager.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kiel said dismissively as he looked away, to his wall.
“It does.” He sighed. “Well… Damn it! Okay, I’ll leave. The longer I stay, the more people will talk. Maybe I’ll look in on Mi’al.”
“Ah…you may find that a problem. Master Ehme said that you’d forfeited your right to visit him too.”
“Oh. I see,” the metal man said indignantly. “Kiel, are you ordering me to stay away from Mi’al?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Very well. I will go see him…and let them throw me out.” Just before he started to leave, Kura asked, “The other Jedi also or just Mi’al?”
“He only mentioned Mi’al’s name.”
Kura nodded. He wagged a metal finger at Kiel. “Then I’ll keep up with you one way or other. And if you don’t start looking after yourself, I’m going to come back, Master Ehme or not, and kick your butt up and down the hallways of this hospital. If I’m going to be put out completely, let it be for a good reason!” he finished emphatically then turned and stomped out.
Kiel stood with a smile on his face, staring after Kura. “Too bad. I think I could get along with you. I find that out too late.” He paused, staring at the door. “You’re right, Kura. I could have used an encourager.” He sighed and turned back to his wall, rubbing his chin and thinking of where to fill in the holes in his information.
“Good morning, Jareel. How do you feel today?”
The big man’s half-open eyes opened wider. “Oh, hello, Kura,” he said quietly. “I’m…all right. I guess. I feel…terrible.”
“Then you’re not all right. Are you worse today?”
“No, I don’t think so. At least, I don’t feel worse.” He glanced at the door. “I’ve been wondering though if I was going to worsen. Kiel still doesn’t know what is causing this. If he can’t get rid of it in Daven and the others, how is he going to help me?”
“That brings me to the reason for my visit. Part of the reason. I also wanted to see how you were, but while I was here, before I leave, I wanted to talk to you about something that was concerning you.”
“Yes?” Jareel let his bed up some more so he could better see the metal man.
“I think you are wrong about Kiel. Your doubts about him are misplaced. He may be a bit young and perhaps lacking some in experience, but that is his only lack. And he does have access to many years of healing knowledge in the other healers, not to mention any number of doctors. And right here on Coruscant, the best medical center in the galaxy, probably.” No need to mention the prohibition on contacting them. You should be reassured, not given more room to doubt. “That will make up for his lack of experience. But his ability, you should not doubt. I observed Kiel yesterday…from the time that he examined you until last evening when he retreated to his office to look over his notes on the case. Jareel, Kiel is a fine healer. He is a wise young man, very methodical and logical in his approach. He is taking all things into consideration. Nothing is being left unasked. I’m most impressed with what I saw yesterday. I think that all of you couldn’t be in better hands.”
“Unless it was Mi’al’s hands.”
“You do him an injustice to continue to compare him to Mi’al. Kiel is a fine healer in his own right, and you should allow him to stand in his own right. If I were ill, I would be quite comfortable trusting myself to his talents and gifts. He’s going to be at least as good as Mi’al, if not better, as he fills in his experience gap. And Kiel is wise enough to know where his knowledge is lacking. He knows when to ask for help.”
Jareel considered thoughtfully. “You’re not just saying this to make me feel good so I’ll stay in bed, as he wants, and not go see about Daven.”
“No, Jareel!” Kura said in frustration. “I’m not toying with you. I’m giving you my honest evaluation of him. It’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? Or did you just want someone to agree with you and tell you how right you were?”
The big blonde knight laid his head back on the pillow. “No. That’s not what I wanted.”
“I thought not. Jareel, trust Kiel. He knows what he is doing and when he doesn’t, he stops for further consideration. That’s more than I can say about many experienced people that I know!”
“All right. I suppose if I trusted you enough to ask for you opinion, I should trust your opinion.”
“Well, you don’t sound entirely convinced, but I haven’t time to argue with you. And you should be resting anyway. Rest, Jareel. And relax. Trust Kiel. Now that you are his patient, if you’ll just observe him, I’ll bet you’ll see just how hard he works and how thorough he is. I should go now and let you rest.” Kura left.
And Jareel had much to ponder.
Kiel held the little hand in his own. It was bad enough to see any of the Jedi so ill. It was harder still to see this child so ill. Kethen moaned and twisted in the blankets a bit.
“I know, little one. And I’m trying hard to help you. I’m running out of ideas though. The only thing I have left, almost, is my paper chase. I hope that will help me see something in this that I have missed so far.”
The healer put Kethen’s hand back on the bed and wiped the boy’s sweaty face with a damp cloth.
“Oh my…” the voice died off.
Kiel looked up to see Jareel just inside the door. His face was pale and damp. His blue eyes were darkened down to grey as he stared at Kethen.
“Jareel, what you are doing out of bed?”
“I’ll go back in a moment.” He walked, or more correctly, stumbled to the bed. “Oh, Kethen.” He looked at Kiel. “Can’t you do anything?”
“All that I can, Master Jareel. All that I can. Come on. You shouldn’t be up.” He started around the bed, wondering how much resistance the big man would put up and what he would do.
“Just a minute. I’ll go back, but give me a minute.” Jareel put a big hand on the small cheek. “Why did they have to bring you down here?”
“I’ve already talked to both their masters about this. I think that seeing Kethen like this is the worst punishment that Harld and Obi-Wan could have.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“I do. I was in here when they were here. And I think we should leave this to their own masters to take care of, don’t you?”
Jareel looked at him, but said nothing.
“Master Jareel, you visit the crèche often. I know that you can’t answer specific questions about Kethen before he got ill, but you know routines and such, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. Well.”
“Do you know any reason that an administrative padawan from the hospital might be in that area?”
“Not in the crèche itself, but in the main office of the overseer of the crèche, there are administrative types of all kinds often.”
“Hmm. That may be it then. At least it is a departure point.” He paused as he rubbed his chin. “Who would be the guardian to talk with to get the most information about Kethen? I assume that there probably is one who knows him better than the others.”
“Yes. Master Buhlea. She’s mainly in charge of the group that Kethen is assigned to. If she can’t account for his activities for the time you are interested in then she knows who was looking after him during that time. She would know, for example, that Obi-Wan and Harld were the padawans who brought Kethen to the hospital, and what day and what time.”
“Good. Just what I need. Thank you. Now…you’ve had your moment. Let’s get you back in bed. I insist and if you don’t cooperate, I will go get a hypospray of sedation and a gurney. You need your rest.”
The big man allowed the young healer to lead him out of the room, and was glad to have someone to guide him. He was lightheaded and a little uncertain of his steps. And he was thinking about all Kiel had just asked him. He looked sidelong at the young healer’s weary face, noting his hollowed eyes. Kiel was working hard on something to earn that visage.
“Do you think that Master Buhlea can help?”
“She can tell me who all Kethen was in contact with. I know it seems obvious that he got this from Daven, but there still is Kes, whom I can’t account for. Somewhere, sometime, he had contact with Daven, Kethen, Mi’al or you. I just know that if I can find out when that contact came, it will give me the break that I need.”
Kiel pushed open the door to Jareel’s room and walked him in, hoping fervently that the big man made it to the bed, and didn’t collapse before then. Jareel did make it and sat down heavily.
Kiel noted that. “Tired?”
“Yes,” Jareel admitted, grudgingly.
“I won’t say I told you so.” He frowned. “Have you been in Daven’s room too?”
“Not yet. I was going to see him after Kethen.”
“No, you’re not. You’re going to stay here and rest.”
“Later I’ll see Daven.”
“Maybe. That depends on how you feel. And even if you do go, you’ll go in a hoverchair, with an escort. No more unauthorized solo trips.”
Jareel lay down and Kiel pulled the covers up over him. The big man looked weary. He sighed in relief to be lying down again.
“I think I’ll lie here and rest for a while.”
“I think that’s a good idea.” Kiel smiled a bit. He turned to go.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong about you. Even if you are young, I can see how much you really care about your patients. If you care that much, you’ll do all that you can, and then look for help when you get when you need it. I see that now. You are doing all you can, more than you can. I was wrong to judge you so harshly. I apologize for that.”
“Thank you for your confidence, Master Jareel,” the young healer responded quietly.
Jareel’s eyes were already closed and he said nothing else. Kiel stared for a long moment before he walked out.
The intercom buzzed. Kiel jumped at the sound, because his head was right next to it. The noise woke him from a sound sleep. The healer slowly realized he’d fallen asleep at his desk. He sat up slowly, rubbing his neck. The intercom buzzed again.
“Yes?” he said into it.
“Master Ehme would like to speak with you, Kiel.”
The healer started to beg off as being too busy, but realized that only stalled the inevitable, and he had time to sleep at his desk, hadn’t he? But that was an accident.
“I’ll be right there.” Before he could even stand, the intercom buzzed again. “Yes?” he said with less patience.
“There’s a comm for you, from Doctor Ellè, Coruscant University Medical Center.”
Kiel sat in a moment of indecision. “All right. I’ll take it. Please inform Master Ehme and tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He pressed a button. “Hello Tolle. How are you?”
“Right now, I’m not sure. And you?”
“Now I’m not sure. What’s wrong?”
“I wanted to warn you before you find out the hard way. And I must apologize to you too. I’m so very sorry that this happened. I truly did try to keep this quiet, but…there’s always someone who doesn’t get the word, or ignores it.”
The young healer sat forward in his chair. “What is it? What happened?”
“I was consulting with the doctors in my department. One of them wanted to ask some questions about your virus, or suspected virus. He was unable to get through to you, so he asked who he could speak with and…I’m afraid he ended up talking with one of the very healers that tried to put a lid on you.”
Kiel put a hand to his head. Now he knew what Master Ehme wanted with him.
“I’m very sorry, Kiel. I told them all not to call the temple, but to come to me with any requests for information, or information to pass along. I haven’t found out yet why this fellow did what he did. Haven’t talked to him yet. I wanted you to know what was going on first, before you got called on the carpet for it.”
Too late, but Kiel was not going to make Doctor Ellè feel worse by telling him that.
“Well, these things happen sometimes, Tolle. As you said, there’s always someone who doesn’t get the word. Thanks for letting me know.”
“You’re taking it well.”
Only on the outside. “Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now, is there? I’ll weather the storm. Don’t worry about it.”
“If you say so. I didn’t expect this would go down well, but since you are so calm, I’ll be. But not with the man who let this out.”
“Well, don’t be too hard on him. I’m sure it was just one of those accidental things.”
“You’re a good man, Kiel. I’m going to enjoy knowing you.”
“Ah…do you have anything for me?”
“No, unfortunately. I have to say that it is very interesting, and confusing. We haven’t made a match to anything that we already know about. Anything new on your front?”
“No. Nothing yet. Thanks for the call, Tolle. I have to run though. An appointment to keep.”
“I understand. You must be a busy man these days. Take care of yourself and I’ll be in touch.”
Kiel cut the comm, put his elbows on his desk and buried his face in his hands. His head was beginning to hurt again. Bad Kiel. You didn’t sleep last night. You didn’t meditate this morning. You told some outsiders about our private information. Our Jedi secrets. Bad Kiel! Bad! Bad!
“What is going on here?” Mi’al demanded.
The other healer stood with his arms folded over his chest. He raised his chin a bit. “You weren’t here to discipline your padawan, so I had to. He was being a bad influence on the others.”
“Kiel? What did he do that was bad? He’s a very well behaved apprentice.”
“Kiel purposely told private medical information. Isn’t that so, Kiel?”
The padawan stopped his chore, cleaning some lab equipment and turned his head. “I did, Master,” he said to Mi’al, “but only because I wanted to help someone. That’s the truth, Master.”
“What did you tell?”
The healer began, “He…”
But Mi’al cut him off. “Please let Kiel tell me himself.”
The apprentice turned all the way around now, relieved that his master would listen to him. “One of the other healer’s padawans injured himself. It looked bad and he wasn’t going to tell anyone. So I told Master Ehme.” He stole a glance at the other master. “Because you weren’t here.”
Mi’al looked at the furry healer. “What is wrong with that?”
“We are trying to teach padawans about how important it is to hold medical information confidential. Even if it seems trivial.”
“I think you are taking that too far, Ehme.”
“It is the principle that must be taught. I am correct in this, and I know that some of the other healers would agree with me.”
“Was this other apprentice injured significantly?”
“I don’t know yet. He was sent with a healer to be examined.”
“Come along, Kiel. You don’t need to finish this. You don’t need to be punished. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
But Mi’al cut him off. “That is my decision for my padawan. You are welcome to take it up with whomever you choose to. May I suggest the council? I’m sure they will see it your way. I will talk to Kiel about confidential medical information, but right now, I see that he’s done nothing wrong, and probably helped a fellow padawan.”
“Is that why Master Ehme is being so stubborn about this, and so strict on me?” Kiel said aloud at the memory. He sat in silence for a moment as he played through the memory again, recalling the controlled anger he’d sensed from Mi’al, and the talk his master had with him about Ehme after the incident.
The intercom buzzed. Probably Ehme reminding him of his desire to talk to Kiel. The young healer pressed the button, but didn’t say anything, still being preoccupied.
“Kiel?” the unit asked.
“Master Buhlea is here.”
“Oh.” He looked at his chrono. He’d lost track of time completely. Master Ehme was waiting on him. “Let him wait,” he whispered. “He’s going to probably relieve me of this anyway. This is my last chance to find out anything useful.” To the intercom he said, “Show her in. And notify Master Ehme of a prior appointment. I’ll speak with him later.”
Kiel stood and walked to the door, opening it and waiting. The receptionist escorted a medium height, full figured woman with blonde hair pulled to the back of her head.
“Master Buhlea,” Kiel said as they approached his office. He extended a hand. “Thank you for coming to talk to me. I hope you are able to help me out.”
She accepted his hand. “I hope so too.”
“Thank you,” Kiel said to the receptionist. “Come in and have a seat.” He walked to his desk to get his list of questions, not trusting his recall, tired as he was. He sat nearby.
“I’m not sure exactly what help you think that I can be,” the woman said.
“I need to reconstruct Kethen’s activities for at least a couple days, maybe more, before he got ill. It may give me the key I need to figure out how this illness is being spread. I know who had it originally, but identifying it is proving to be difficult. And there is one case of it that I don’t understand at all.” He pointed over his shoulder. “I’m trying to track this through this system on the wall. But look at the holes in it. I want you to fill in some of that for me. I know it’s been a while now, but do you think you can help me out?”
“Certainly. I find that in taking care of a group so young, it is necessary to watch everything they do, or have someone watch for you. And keep detailed records. Children that young either will panic when pushed to recall something, or embellish it. Not in a deliberate desire to lie, but it seems to be part of their development of creativity. To protect them and myself, I keep track of everything in detail. It prevents a great deal of misunderstanding.”
“Wonderful. I assume for children that age, there is a certain routine to their days.”
“Yes. They do particular things better if it is part of a regular routine. Getting up in the morning, dressing, eating, learning activities for the day. All of those are very routine.”
“So let’s look specifically at just the couple of days prior to Kethen’s illness beginning.” Kiel pursed his lips, recalling what Jareel had said about administrative Jedi being in the main office often. “What about you? Do you spend most of your day with your group? Or is there a rotation of responsibility? Do you trade off with another guardian…for a break?”
“Not often. I am the one mainly in charge of Kethen’s group, but I don’t do everything with them. It’s good for them to have other guardians for some activities, instead of only one all day long. But I usually stay and observe or help if I am needed.”
“So these two days were very routine then? Nothing out of the ordinary?”
“On the contrary.” She punched up some notes on the data tablet she had brought with her. “Kethen was anything but ordinary those days. This was when he was so upset about Daven Madond being ill. Kethen was distracted and not cooperative sometimes. I know that it seemed like a good idea for him to be able to see Daven, but I think seeing him as he was proved to be too much for Kethen.”
Kiel sat forward. “I certainly understand that. And I think we all regret that decision now, in light of the consequences of it.” He paused. “But I’m trying to…perhaps place a time when he may have had contact, particularly after seeing Daven, with another patient of mine. There’s no obvious way this patient could have caught this virus from Daven. Or from Kethen, for that matter, since he became ill before Kethen. But he had to have been exposed someway. With Kethen’s disturbed state of mind, was there a time when he might have been separated from the rest of his group? Taken…for a talk, maybe to the administrator of the crèche?”
Master Buhlea shook her head. “No. I talked with him several times, but I tried not to separate him from his group. It was difficult enough. I tried not to alienate him.” She was glancing over her notes, and placed a finger on the data tablet. “This is the only significant time that Kethen was away from the crèche. He slipped away.” She reddened slightly. “I won’t try to excuse myself, but it had to have been a time when I was busy with a particular child or problem. Kethen left the crèche and went to Daven’s quarters by himself. We were frantic until Jareel called to say he’d found Kethen. He returned him to the crèche.”
Jareel and Kethen…in Daven’s quarters. Those three again. There was no doubt why those three ended up sick. And Mi’al by association. But Kes. He still didn’t fit. Kiel slumped back in his chair.
“Is that not helpful?” Master Buhlea asked. “I thought it might be, since it was the most significant break in his routine.”
“Yes, it is. But it still doesn’t explain how a hospital admin padawan came to be exposed to Daven or Kethen.”
“I learned that Master Jareel was ill
also. Perhaps the day that he brought
Kethen back to the crèche… Well…is there
a possibility there?”
Kiel frowned as his mind pursued the ghost that haunted him. Kethen and Jareel both got ill on the same day. “Do you know if Jareel was around Kethen any other day besides this one?”
“No. Master Jareel and Daven had just gotten back from a mission when Daven took ill, isn’t that right?” She looked at her notes. “No. Master Jareel didn’t visit the crèche. And several children had asked about that. They were anxious to see him again, but he didn’t make it. Because of Daven, I’d supposed.”
The healer stood and walked over to his wall of notes. There was something here, he was sure of it, but it was eluding him at the moment. He closed his eyes to think, to shut out distractions. And Master Buhlea sensed the increase in the flow of the Force. She sat silently, waiting.
After a couple of minutes, Kiel looked at her. “Would you mind waiting here for a couple of minutes? I need to ask Jareel something. I’ll be back as soon as I can. I know you’re busy, but I have to track this information.”
“Of course. I understand. Someone is filling in for me. I’ll wait.”
Kiel walked quickly to Jareel’s room. He burst in and stopped suddenly. “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” he trailed off.
“It’s all right,” the big Jedi said. “Kiel, I don’t know if you’ve ever met my brother, Jaamen.”
“No. I haven’t.” He tried to be casual about his initial start. “I can tell you’re brothers though.”
Jaamen offered his hand. “Kiel? Jareel says you’re the one who’s taking such good care of him.”
The young healer was taken aback. Taking good care of him? Jareel said that? Then he realized he was staring, probably open-mouthed. “I’m trying my best.”
“I’m surprised you are able to keep the stubborn man in the bed.”
“Not easily.” He paused. “Excuse me for breaking in on you two, but Jareel I need to ask you something. Master Buhlea told me about the day you found Kethen in Daven’s quarters.”
The Jedi propped himself up a bit. “Yes. Jaamen and I were walking down the corridor and I saw Daven’s door open. Kethen was in there, asleep on Daven’s bed. He’d slipped away. Jaamen and I took him back to the crèche.”
“Who did you see in the corridors?” Kiel paused. “I know that’s an impossible question to answer, but it’s important. Can you recall if you saw, or had contact with, a padawan about Daven’s height, stockier, dark hair?”
The blonde Jedi’s sleepy looking eyes opened more. “That describes a fair amount of padawans in the temple.”
“I know.” Kiel ran a hand through his hair. “And it doesn’t make sense anyway. Kes became ill before you and Kethen did. But…it took you so long to become ill. Certainly your exposure to Daven would cause it and not a casual contact with…” He sat heavily in a chair, mind tumbling over the confusing facts. Something’s missing. Something’s missing. A key piece of information.
“I’m no healer,” Jaamen spoke up. “But it seems to me that old dirty robe would have been ripe with all sorts of things to get sick from.”
“What?” Kiel looked up.
“Daven’s robe. Kethen was lying under it on Daven’s bed. It was smelly, but he was content, because he said it reminded him of Daven, and he was so worried about Daven.”
“We had gone out away from the main cities on our mission,” Jareel said. “Into some back villages that hardly had contact with civilization. That’s why his robe was like that. We ran out of clean clothes. We both were a mess after that.”
And insight hit Kiel from the Force at that moment. “Did you have contact with Daven’s robe, Master Jareel?”
“I sat down next to Kethen, and he snuggled up next to me. I suppose I did. I don’t remember. Close enough, I suppose.”
“But Kes…” Kiel sat in quiet thought for a moment. Then he stood and walked to the door.
“Did you figure out something?” Jareel called after him.
“I don’t know yet,” the young healer answered as he walked out the door.
“Look at that,” Kiel said to himself. “All I need is one more piece of data…but in the meantime, I can contact the planet about this. I won’t wait on that last data. I…”
The door to the lab slid open. Master Ehme walked in, a sour look on his face. “Kiel, you have been deliberately avoiding me, knowing that I wish to speak with you. I thought you said that you would not say anything more about this virus to non-Jedi personnel.”
The healer sat up straight in his chair. “It may not be a virus, Master Ehme. Look at this.” He moved away from the instrument.
The furry creature took the seat Kiel vacated. He looked at the image on the monitor screen, projected from a microscope. A small creature was crawling around inside a small clear container.
“What is this?”
“I’ve just wakened him…or her. That’s why it is so active, I think. Trying to find warmth and food.”
“This came off Daven’s robe. It was dormant until I provided a bit of heat for it. Heat equivalent to average human body temperature. Then it came around, and has been looking for flesh to bite on since then. I did give it a couple drops of blood, just so it wouldn’t go dormant again quickly. I wanted to observe it a bit.”
Ehme looked at the small bug again. “Are you telling me that this…”
“This is our ‘virus’. At least I think so. I’m working down to that. I still have two pieces of information to fill in, but they are being worked for me right now. However, this is the break I was looking for. It feels right. The Force gave me an insight earlier that pointed me to this. I can’t say this is the answer.” He was trying hard not to smile, knowing how much Ehme would be discontented to see him look so pleased with himself. “But I feel that this is the answer. It’s not a virus at all. It’s a toxic bite from this.”
“Didn’t you find any bites on your patients?” the elder healer said dryly.
“I’m guilty of having missed them, but they were hard to find. On Jareel, they are in his hair, and very small. I’m not sure I would have seen them if I hadn’t been looking for them. I was about to go look at my other patients. Would you like to accompany me?”
Ehme stood. “I will reserve judgment until I see a more complete story. I trust you are going to follow up on your spot diagnosis before you begin treatment.”
Kiel resisted the urge to say anything snide. He was too excited with the break in the case to let Ehme get to him. “Yes, Master Ehme. I am building my case now. But I want to start treatment as soon as I confirm this. I think my patients have suffered enough.”
The furry creature stared at him a moment. “You will report to us when you have finished your investigation. Before you begin treatment.” Then he turned and walked out.
“My last connection in the chain of linking people to the robe came from Laycy Te, who supervises Kes Charl, the administrative padawan and one of our patients,” Kiel was saying to the assembled group of master healers. “She had overlooked something that became more obvious when I pressed her to try for more detailed recall. Kes was the person who delivered Daven Madond’s clothes back to his quarters after he was admitted to the hospital. They were taken just as they were to his room. Kes left them on a chair in the living room. That was his exposure to the insect. And I did find the bites on his scalp.”
“You can directly relate each of your patients to contact with Madond’s clothes, and have found bites on each?” one of the healers asked.
“Yes. First there was Daven himself, who wore the clothes. Next, Mi’al became ill. He had helped undress Daven. Kes was the third, and I’ve just outlined that for you. Jareel and Kethen both became ill the same day. Kethen was sleeping under Daven’s robe, and Jareel sat down next to him, pulling the boy next to him. Direct contact between them. It’s even possible it was the same individual bug that bit them both, which may account for Jareel getting a smaller dose of the toxin, and why he didn’t get as ill. On close investigation, each of them exhibits these tiny bites, only in the thick hair-covered part of their bodies.” Kiel indicated a projected image.
“And why had you missed this before?” Ehme
asked. “When you contacted the planetary
doctors to ask about viruses, how did they miss that it might be something of
this nature instead?”
“Well, this insect is not very common. It has only been located in a small forested area of the planet, in the tropic zone, and a very humid area. The doctors themselves are only becoming familiar with it themselves. I’m afraid it’s my fault that I didn’t inform them of every place that Master Jareel and Daven visited. And even though I did clear that up, when I called to inquire about these insects, it still was not straightforward, because there is so little knowledge of the insects and their effects. The people who are native to the area are not affected, having developed a sort of immunity over the years of being exposed to the toxin. That’s why this was unknown until very recently, when more travelers have gone into the area. Even at that, there are so few that most of the cases aren’t documented. The aboriginal people have their own cure for this, handed down from the times when they were not adapted to the toxin. They have successfully treated all cases of infestation to outsiders who stayed with them long enough to exhibit the symptoms that the natives recognized. Unfortunately Jareel and Daven weren’t with them that long. Their visit was brief enough for Daven to pick up some of the insects, but not long enough for him to have the benefit of their knowledge.”
“And what can you now do for our patients?” a third healer asked.
“Doctor Yattah, from the planet, is the doctor who has been chasing this for me. He has a documented case that showed up in the town closest to this village. He has transmitted the case records to me.” Kiel held up a data disk. “This tells what the doctors there used in treatment. They were lucky enough to guess that it could be an insect, living so close to the humid jungle. Their treatment is based on what the aboriginals used to treat their own. It’s easy to synthesize. I took the liberty of putting our lab to work on that, pending this review. I thought that it would be the quickest way of having it ready…instead of waiting for your approval.”
“You were certainly sure of yourself,” Ehme said, a bit coolly.
“I was convinced by the data and the hard work of everyone who chased a good bit of it down for me. I had a lot of help. And I’m not trying to be presumptuous, but prepared.” But I didn’t realize I had to ask permission to treat my own patients. I understand though. I lost Master Ehme’s trust completely. This was necessary to show him that I hadn’t lost all reason.
Kiel stood, shifting from foot to foot. He was ready to begin treatment. There had been enough delays, and this one was the worst of all, and the most insulting. But he would swallow that for now. His biggest concern was convincing the master healers to let him proceed. They murmured among themselves. One of them nodded to Ehme who turned away. The healer who’d nodded raised his eyebrows and then he stood.
“Kiel, this looks like a sound analysis of the situation. You know what the cause is, and the cure. Go treat your patients.”
“You look like you feel better, Master Jareel,” Kiel said as he walked into the room.
“Aye,” he replied enthusiastically. “Much better. I didn’t realize just how bad I felt until I started getting better.”
Jaamen chuckled. “Because you are so stubborn that you didn’t want to admit that you were sick.”
“How are the others?”
“Responding slower, but responding. Remember, you got a lesser amount of toxin than they did. But they are responding.”
“Thank the Force. When can I see Daven and Kethen?”
“Let me get a hover chair for you. Just because you are better doesn’t mean you’ve been dismissed. I’ll still restrain you to the bed if you defy my orders.”
“I think I can honestly say that I’m content to just lie here and rest.”
Kiel smiled. “Good. You were very sick, for a long time, Mi’al. I think you’re going to need a good deal of rest.”
The door to the room opened and Qui-Gon entered. He smiled on seeing Mi’al sitting up in the bed. “You look a lot better. Getting some color back already.”
“Am I? I still feel pale.” The chief healer smiled crookedly.
“Well, you are still pale, but less pale.”
“Oh, there are shades of pale?”
“I saw several shades this last week or so,” the Jedi master replied. “All very alarming…but interesting nonetheless.”
Mi’al smiled tiredly and didn’t try for a comeback.
For Kiel it was a great relief to see his former master awake and able to joke to any degree. That he was able to joke was a very positive sign. Mi’al felt good enough to at least try to keep up with Qui-Gon’s wit.
A smile played at Qui-Gon’s mouth. “Mi’al, you would have been proud of Kiel. He did a great job on his investigation, even with many…impediments in his path. Nothing stopped him though.”
“It was a very bumpy road,” the young healer responded. “There were a couple of mountains in it too.”
“But he didn’t slow down. He only put on his mountain climbing gear and kept going.”
Mi’al had been studying Kiel during this exchange. The young man looked happy, and pleased, but he also looked very fatigued. The healer wondered what kind of impediments had been in the way. He recalled how hard he, himself, had been working to understand the illness before he’d gotten sick. If Kiel had been working as hard and had other obstacles put in his way, the young healer must have had a very difficult time. Mi’al longed to talk to him about it. Later. When they were both rested.
“I know Kiel did what was necessary and what was right,” Mi’al responded. “I trained him. I know how he reacts. I know how stubborn he can be too, when obstacles are put before him.” He turned his glance to Qui-Gon. “It’s not necessary for you to tell me about him. I’m sure I’d be proud of his performance, however things worked out.”
Very quietly Kiel said, “Thank you, Mi’al.” As the silence began to feel a little awkward, the younger healer stood away from the wall where he’d been leaning. “I should look in on the others.” He stumbled with his first step.
Qui-Gon put out a steadying hand. And Mi’al looked as if he might get out of his bed.
“I’m fine. Just tired.”
“You look awful, Kiel,” the chief healer said. “I think you should take a break. Go lie down.”
“Just one more day. I can keep going just one more day. Then all my patients should be well enough that I can leave them in care of someone else.”
“I told you he was stubborn,” Mi’al responded. But the look on his face betrayed his worry.
“I’m all right,” Kiel repeated. He stood up straight and started to walk out, but stumbled again. Qui-Gon took the young healer by the arms and pushed him into a chair. “I’m all right, Master Qui-Gon.”
“Qui-Gon, go get a healer, please,” Mi’al said.
“Yes, I agree.”
“I don’t need one,” Kiel said as he started to stand, but Qui-Gon pressed him back into the chair.
“Remember all those threats that you made to Jareel? That was nothing compared to what I’ll do to you, if you don’t cooperate,” Qui-Gon said in a low voice.
Mi’al stood at the door looking in on Kiel. The young healer was sleeping deeply. A well deserved rest, even though it had to be imposed on him. “Stubborn,” he muttered.
“Look who’s talking. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Jareel. How are you feeling?” The chief healer turned to look at the big Jedi. “And shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“If you recall, I wasn’t as sick as you were.”
“True.” Mi’al paused thoughtfully. “I should be in bed. I’m still weak. Would you walk me back to my room?”
“Of course.” Jareel put an arm around the chief healer and began walking. “Have you heard the story of how Kiel came to the correct conclusion about those annoying little beasts?”
“Only the highlights. Qui-Gon regaled me with some of the parts he knew earlier.”
Jareel opened the door to Mi’al’s room and walked the healer to his bed. Mi’al knew he’d almost overdone it. His knees were trembling and he was happy to lie down. The big blonde Jedi adjusted his covers for him.
“Yes. Thank you.” The big man started to leave. “Um, Jareel, are you well enough to sit up for a bit?” Mi’al asked.
“Yes. Is there something you wanted?”
“Please, sit down. You wouldn’t mind talking a little. Would you?”
“No. Truthfully, I’m glad to be out of bed for a while.” He settled into a chair.
“Good. Qui-Gon only told me a small amount about Kiel’s investigation. The entire story, I can’t wait to hear.” The chief healer paused for effect. “But he did tell me quite a bit about some of the discussions that you had with Kiel.”
“Ah…I see. Well, Mi’al, the truth is…”
Mi’al cut him off. “The truth is that you didn’t allow Kiel an opportunity to even begin to treat Daven before you found fault with him…where no fault existed. Is it his fault that he is young, and perhaps not as experienced as some of the other healers? If it is wrong for him to practice medicine because of his age and that he lacks only in information, not in ability, then it is wrong for any Jedi to begin a career until he has full and complete understanding of his field. Jareel, when you were first knighted, were you required to continue to tow a master around with you on all of your missions to oversee your work and decisions?”
“Of course not. But…”
“When I was a young healer, you came to me with your injuries and illnesses. In spite of my age, and my level of knowledge.” Mi’al pursed his lips and looked thoughtful. “Imagine that. Attending a healer is so young and who hasn’t been practicing long. Why, who in his right mind would do such a thing?” Mi’al said in mock horror.
The chief healer rubbed his chin and looked off into space. “I seem to recall a young Jedi knight, not long a knight, who was on a mission that went wrong. It could have gone horribly wrong, but he was lucky, he said. He was able to make use of…the advice of another person, but not another Jedi.” He shook his head. “I just don’t know if that young knight should have been given another chance after such a mistake. Don’t you think he should have been brought back to the temple and maybe served as a supervised padawan for a couple more years?”
“Mi’al, I’m trying to…”
“Trying to what, Jareel? Speak up. I can’t hear you. Are you trying to say you were…wrong? That you severely and unfairly attacked a healer who was sufficiently and confidently doing his job? A healer who obviously had the backing of the hospital staff, since they allowed him to work the case instead of reassigning it. That sounds to me like the other healers found the young one competent and able to perform.”
“And because he had been judged competent by his peers, where did that leave room for you, who have not been trained in the healing arts, to judge him and what he could or could not do? If you had a question or concern about anything that Kiel did, or about Kiel himself, then you should have taken it up with the ranking healer, and in a private conference. Airing your complaints and doubts publicly before other Jedi, and in the hearing of patients, even if that patient was not fully aware, was wrong and unfair to Kiel. Not to mention how it reflected on your character in the eyes of your listeners.”
“You would never react that way toward me, Jareel, and it’s not as if you’ve never had occasion to question me on something. Really, I would have expected you to be more supportive of whatever healer was treating Daven. At least supportive before others. If you wanted to inquire of Kiel about his slow progress on identifying this mysterious ailment, you certainly could have done it in a more respectful way.”
“You’re right and…”
“Kiel would never come into the gym, for example, and proceed to lecture you on the fine points of sparring. He’d never do it to begin with because he understands that is not his area of specialty. And he’d certainly never do it with other Jedi around listening, where you could possibly be embarrassed by having your skills called into question.”
“Is very able. Jareel, you have no specialized training in healing. What made you think you knew so much to assess what Kiel could and could not do?” Mi’al paused only a couple of seconds. He pointed a finger at Jareel. “And! Bringing Kura in here to look over Kiel’s shoulder. To have him examine Daven and myself. And behind Kiel’s back. Jareel, that is…beneath you. So far beneath you. I’m shocked. And I’m outraged. If you’d done such a thing to me, after I had you in a private discussion…a private one, to spare you public embarrassment, I’d have taken it up in conference with one of the council members. Because subjecting another Jedi…any other Jedi to such scrutiny by an outside authority, behind everyone’s backs, is the worst sort of vote of confidence that I can imagine. If anyone was going to come behind Kiel and check his work, it should have been another healer. Not that I question Kura’s knowledge. From outside the temple, he’d be the first one I would have consulted, especially thinking this was viral. But it should have been properly followed up inside the temple before anyone from beyond the Jedi was even consulted about this. And that consultation should have been initiated by one of the healers, not any Jedi who appointed himself as chief doubter and skeptic.”
Mi’al put his head back on the pillow. He had more he wanted to say, but his rant had tired him. Still being weakened from the toxin, he didn’t have complete control. Even though he had not raised his voice and remained calm, Mi’al was fighting to contain the anger that was beneath the surface. His hands shook a bit from the battle. He closed his eyes and drew in a breath.
Jareel finally saw his chance to speak, and he began quietly. “You are right in everything you say, Mi’al. I won’t try to defend myself. I think I have some defense on a couple of points, but I won’t even try it. I concede that I allowed my concerns and fears to blind me and that I unfairly attacked Kiel and unfairly treated him. I did tell him that I was wrong and that I was sorry.”
Mi’al raised his head. “You did?” he responded in surprise.
“Yes, I did. But I am thinking now that perhaps I should speak with him again…to cover certain exact moments when I was most foolish and irresponsible. I thought when you began this that you were being unfair to me since I had already apologized, but I see now that a couple of sentences don’t make up for days and days of attacks and doubts.” He sighed. “And public humiliation. I do apologize and not only to Kiel. I apologize to you…for making it necessary for you to have to expend your energy on this obstinate wampa when you should be resting.” Jareel stood slowly to leave.
“Jareel, now I find that I must apologize to you. I should have talked to you about this, not at you. I would have saved us both some embarrassment if I’d found out you’d already apologized. I’m sorry.”
“You needn’t be. I deserved it.” He held up a forestalling hand. “I did deserve it. Save your breath from that argument. Thank you, Mi’al.” Jareel looked away a moment thoughtfully. When he looked again at the chief healer, he said, “Being told off in a calm and completely accurate and honest way, by a man who is doing it for right reasons instead of selfish reasons is easier to take. And because you were so accurate and honest, it forces me to face myself. And sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do, and often the ugliest thing. But it is also a good thing. I’ve faced myself and found myself lacking. But…I have learned a lesson. The hard way, which seems to be my usual way. I can assure you that you’ll never have to have such a talk with me again.”
Mi’al was quiet a long moment. “Well…I suppose if you did learn something from what I said, then…it was not entirely bad. So why do I feel badly for it?”
“Maybe only because you were allowing your anger to drive you. That’s the only reason that I can see for you to feel badly. Other than that…you were on the mark.” He walked to the bed, extending a hand. “Perhaps if we seal the rift between us that will help soothe both our feelings.”
The healer took the big hand, with a bit of a smile. “Jareel, thank you. Thank you that you don’t give up on me when I am an obstinate wampa.”
“This obstinate wampa is going to rest. Then later I’ll apologize to Kiel.”
“You can try, if you like, but I’ll bet that since you already have, he won’t have it again.”
“But there’s so much more that I need to say.”
“Perhaps…in order to help your feelings. You said just now that a couple of sentences can’t make up for days of attacks and doubts, but I think you’ll find that there were only two words that you needed to say, and Kiel will know that you said them, and he wouldn’t want or demand any more from you.” A pause. “I apologize.”
Kiel and Mi’al sat on the balcony at Mi’al’s quarters. And again the younger healer thought back to the first time he’d sat here and just talked to his master. He sighed, a sound of contentment.
“Something wrong?” Mi’al asked. “Still weary?”
“No. Nothing is wrong. For the first time in a while, everything is right.” He paused. “Well, not everything, but all that matters right here on this balcony, and at this moment. Most everything is right.”
The chief healer chuckled. “Kiel, my best student, so precise in all things. But it is true that there probably isn’t a time when everything is right. But when enough things are right, we can pretend for a short while that the world is perfect.”
“Only while we are here, separated from most of it. Once we step out the door of your quarters and get pulled back into reality, then everything changes. And that use of the word ‘everything’ is quite fitting and appropriate in that context.”
There were a couple of minutes of silence. Then Mi’al broke it. “Kiel, did you doubt your ability to solve the mystery of the insect bites?”
“Yes. I did. More than once. After a point, I doubted it constantly.”
“A bad attitude to cultivate in a time of crisis.”
“I know, and I realized it at the time.” He looked away. Very quietly Kiel said, “And…I turned from the Force in the middle of it…for a time.”
“For a time. Then you did turn back.”
“Yes. I found myself unable to resist. If things were bad enough before, facing it all entirely on my own was worse. I had to have the support and strength of the Force.”
“But you weathered this. You conducted a well thought out plan of attack on trying to narrow your investigation. You’ve made some people rethink their opinion of you. Kiel. That was your time.”
“I thought it might be. It certainly felt like my time. I felt very alone. I had the backing of the hospital staff…but…I didn’t. It’s not that they did not provide me with help and guidance…but…”
“I understand what you mean. And I told you before that you’d face such a time. A time when you’d have to stand on your own. Completely on your own. The Force separated you from them so that you would use this as a time of learning. Not just about what you were treating. You had to learn about you too.”
“There will be a time when you will have to stand on your own, Kiel,” the young healer quoted from memory. “Your time will come. When you will have to stand completely on your own. I won’t be there to help. No one will be. That is the make or break time. That is when you will learn more about yourself than maybe you wanted to know. You’ll find out how good a healer you are, but you’ll also find out what kind of person, and what kind of Jedi you are.”
Mi’al smiled. “You remembered.”
“I did. There were many times when I could hear those words as if you were standing at my shoulder, speaking them aloud to me…as if for the first time. Your lessons were an encouragement to me in this time, Mi’al. They were as fresh and strong as when you first taught me. That and the Force saw me through this.”
The chief healer’s green eyes twinkled. “You have passed into a new world, Kiel. This may have been difficult for you, but it was good for you as well. I think you have heard for nearly the last time when others will only refer to you as Mi’al’s padawan. This was your time and you didn’t turn from it. You made me proud. But most importantly, you did what was right and correct. You served your fellow Jedi, and you served the Force.”