The Tap

I love the stories you can find in population statistics.  I read the census figures for fun.  This was just a natural result.  A Padawan’s-eye view of the numbers of the war.  Apologies to Obi-Wan – I didn’t want to do it, darling, but there was really no other way.

Nasriel leapt up at Telcontir’s shout from the hallway, leaving her half-inked sketch on the table in the main room of the quarters.

“The new Taps are finished!  Come on, Master, you have to see this.  It’s the biggest event of the Boehme year.”

“I heard about the Tap when I was your age, but I never saw it, and I was never involved.  Don’t tell me – you are?”

Swinging in at the door, Ben asked, “Hey, everybody’s on about ‘the tap’. What’s a…”

Exchanging an understanding look with his Padawan – Ben’s entire life as a Padawan had been spent in the relative calm of the Council wing of the Temple, and many of the Padawan plots and schemes were foreign to him – Obi-Wan nodded gracefully to Nasriel.  “You tell.”

Nasriel explained, “Tap stands for The Average Padawan.  The keeper of the Halls files usually organizes it, every year.  Once that was Master Vos – now Kijé is responsible.  Tap is a collection of statistics about the Padawans.  All right, let’s go.  I’m on the committee, I can get through the crowd.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “Sorry.  I have work to do.  Tell me about it when you get back.”

And a crowd it was, as Padawans of all ages and branches seethed through the narrow corridors of the Padawan Hall, in the wing long-ago designated Boehme Gang territory, to try and sneak a preview of the finished Tap, a week before publication.

“Kij brought the files here because Madame Nu would never stand for this kind of crush in the Archives,” Nasriel called over her shoulder to Ben.  “Hey, shiftex, Sima.  I need to get the Sentinel edition for Foz to take around the hangouts, he’s going back to Mereaux in an hour.”

“Sentinel edition?” queried Ben.

“Sentinels are totally different.  So if you put Sentinel stats in the Tap, it wouldn’t reflect reality.  It was only last year the gap got too big to handle, so last year, and now, there’s Tap and Tasp – The Average Sentinel Padawan.”

In the narrow hallway, a few Padawans suddenly noticed Nasriel’s presence, and accordingly pressed back as far as possible against the walls to allow room.  Nasriel grinned.

“Much better.  Committee status is good, Ben, you should come along next year.  If we’re all still here next year,” she added soberly.

Kijé Yenseh met them in the doorway of the temporary Tap room – usually Telcontir Leannen’s bedroom – and handed Nasriel a sheaf of papers.  “For Foz.  Get Nebs to take it, I want to show you this years’.  It’s pretty bad, for just one year jump.  Oh, and get Nebs to wait.  This… someone Council needs to see this first.”

Finding space around Telcontir’s desk to survey the sheets of data, Kijé pointed his pencil at a few items.

“Three years younger?” Nasriel said disbelievingly.  “How in the name of – how is Tap three years younger in that time?  Did you put the Sentinel numbers into this, Kij?”

“No.  It’s because so many of the older kids have been killed or Knighted, so they aren’t counted, and the lower age limit for becoming a Padawan has been lowered to ten across the board.  You remember, it used to be that only Sentinels could take a ten-year-old out.  It’s not good, Witch.  The Council’s pushing all the kids too hard – we won’t know for sure until we start hunting numbers for the Youngling and Knight editions, but I think all the age limits have been dropped.”

“And Tap’s fifty-four percent a girl now.  This was half and half only two years ago.  What’s going on, are all the boys getting killed?”

“Yes, basically.  And have you seen the kill numbers?  I put last years’, and the Tasp for both, in the next row for comparison.”  Kijé ran his pencil-point down a column of figures.  “You want to explain these to Junior?”  For some reason, the nickname bestowed on Ben by a well-meaning Sentinel team had stuck, and spread.

“Okay.  Last year, only twenty percent of Templar Padawans under fourteen had seen someone killed. Fifty percent of Sentinels.  This year, it’s seventy and one-eighty – so most Sentinel kids have seen at least two deaths.  And last year, two percent of Templars and twenty percent of Sentinels had killed someone, by the age of sixteen.  This year the kill ratings are up to fifty and seventy percent. Kijé, where’s the Orphanage?”

The archivist extracted two more sheets of flimsi. “Tasp orphans last year: twenty.  Tap orphans last year: fifteen.  Tasp this year: sixty.  Tap this year: fifty.  Ben, that means over half of all Padawans are in Nasriel’s situation – working with a second or third Master.  You are officially in a minority.”

“Seems like the Sentinels are pretty careless,” Ben observed.

“No.  Just unlucky.  Take a look at the starvation index – you’ll have to borrow the pages off Lim, he’s got my last committee copy.  Actually… take the whole thing home, Witch, and show it to Master Kenobi.  Tell him what he’s looking at.  Take it to the damn Council and show them what the war’s doing to their kids.  The Halls won’t survive as they are for another year, not at the rate we’re going.”

“And why me?”

“Because you’re Boehme since forever, and your Master is on the Council.  It’s you, Dama Montalvo, or Maris Brood.  And neither of them has the guts to tell their Master that the Council’s ignoring a pretty major problem.”

That night, “What is this paper on the table?” demanded Obi-Wan.

“Council work,” Nasriel snapped.  “From Boehme.  Did you know that twice as many Padawans have been in battle this year as last?  Or that three times as many Sentinels died of starvation this year as last?  Did you know that over half of all Padawans have used alcohol or drugs to try and forget?  Did you know that?  Did you know that the Sentinel’s finances have been cut again?  Sentinels have always taken casual work out in the Galaxy just to survive.  To feed their kids and complete their tours of duty.  But two years ago, a team of four Sentinels got forty-five hundred credits to last a three-month tour; that’s still well below the Senate-specified poverty line.  This year it was three thousand creds.  I’ve been talking to Foz Ferens – remember him?  When he was a Padawan, it was five thousand for three months.  And a Templar pair was getting five hundred a week on-mission – now up to five-fifty.”

“I’m not responsible for the budgets, Nasriel.  Take it to Master Windu.”

“I have.  He told me you were the one responsible for my crazy ideas, and I should take it to you.  It’s not crazy, Master.  There is a problem, and it’s starting to show in the Halls.  That’s where everything starts to show, before it spreads to the rest of the Temple.  So far only the Tap committee have seen this.  You know all of us.  So far only we’ve seen the ten-year and twenty-year trend data.  We’re offering the Council the opportunity to see and deal with the problem before it gets published to the Halls and the Sentinels, which is scheduled for next week.”

“Do you honestly think they will take any notice?  You know I know that you Padawans are serious about your projects, and that I can trust your figures and trends.  But Master Tii and Master Mundi are the only others with Padawans, and they don’t trust Halls for conclusions.  I’ll be shouted down, and at best you’ll get some half-hearted review of files, with the conclusion that nothing too drastic needs be done.  If you can convince Madame Nu to verify your findings, then yes, I will take this to the Council.”

***

Nasriel, Ben, Kijé, and Madame Nu spent the next three days poring over rows of figures in the Archives.  The formidable Archivist was apparently doing her best to find mistakes in the Padawans’ calculations, but by the end of the third day, shuffled all the sheets of flimsi together and handed them back to Nasriel.

“No problems.  Go back to that Master of yours and tell him I said the Council needs to see this.”

So Nasriel did.  Obi-Wan nodded.

“Good.  Let’s go.”

“Where?  I thought you said you’d -“

“I said I’d take it to the Council.  It’s your work.  You are going to explain to them what is wrong.  Call Kijé and tell him to meet us in the antechamber.”

The two Padawans spent a fraught hour explaining numbers and long-term trends to the twelve most alarming Jedi in the Galaxy.  When they had finished, Mace Windu leaned forward, fingers delicately steepled, in questioning mode.

“Why did you think we did not already know this?”

“N-nothing has been done to rectify the situation for many years, Master.  In fact, lowering the minimum age for apprenticeship lowers the average age of the Halls, so there are more inexperienced Padawans now than ever before.  I-I assumed…”

“Know all this, we do,” Yoda snapped. “Presumptuous, you are, thinking to teach your elders.  Presumptuous, Obi-Wan is, thinking to allow you. Leave.”

Nasriel and Kijé retreated at once – and waited in the Kenobi quarters for Obi-Wan’s return.

“That was cruel, Master,” Nasriel began flatly.  “If you were aware it was common knowledge, why did you let us waste the Council’s time?”

“I didn’t.  Nobody outside your Boehme Gang has ever identified those particular trends.  Didn’t you notice?  Master Yoda said ‘we know‘, not ‘we knew‘.  There is a distinct difference in meaning.”

 “Then why did he send us away like that?  The Temple is spiraling down the gutter, Master, and nobody’s lifted a finger to stop it.  Not even Master Yoda.”

“Can you still not see?”  Obi-Wan was frowning, not in disapproval, Nasriel thought, but sorrow.  “All your numbers, and you can’t see it.”

“There’s – there is nothing they can do, is there?”  Quietly, calmly, Kijé came to one final conclusion.  “Maybe now, maybe a few years from now, but we’re all dead, and there’s nothing we can do.  I never… thought I’d ever see a problem the Council couldn’t solve.”  Taking a deep breath, he nodded, slowly.  “All right.  Whatever happens, nothing will be the same.  But we can survive.  Bar a disaster.  Bar another massacre like Geono – sorry.”

“The name of the planet is Geonosis, Kijé.  It won’t kill me to hear it said.  We can survive.  We don’t really have a choice: if the Order falls, the Republic falls.” Obi-Wan laughed bitterly.  “As an historian, it’s almost amusing – watching twenty-five millennia vanish in a few years.  But there’s hope.  There’s always hope.  There must be.”

The End

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About coruscantbookshelf

"A writer is an introvert: someone who wants to tell you a story but doesn't want to have to make eye contact while doing it." - Adapted from John Green
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7 Responses to The Tap

  1. This is sad. (It’s a good thing that Obi-Wan didn’t ever participate–he would probably have thrown off the average quite a bit. He saw his half-brother die when he was five years old, was forced to kill on maybe his second mission… Fate is never kind to the ones who will grow into heroes, or legends. It’s how life separates the heroes from the villains, I guess. The heroes keep on fighting despite being tested; the villains give in.)

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    • Not given the option not to have numbers included. 🙂 And you’re quite right – one of the older Taps has a footnote to the effect, “Padawan Kenobi reputedly killed a Sith; this has been counted for ten kills.”
      Did you ever hear the quote about that? “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” For some it happens more abruptly than others.

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