The comlink came back on line from static. “Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan, can you hear me? The pirates are back!” Warned by the Force, he swept the controls hard to one side. It was enough to save them from instant destruction, but not enough to stop the damage. Obi-Wan was flung out of the pilot’s chair as the entire ship rocked. He leaped back up and grasped the controls, struggling to bring the ship out of the trajectory it had been flung into by the blast. Nothing changed.
Obi-Wan hit the comlink. “I have no control. Repeat no control. The ship’s not answering to the helm. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I have a feeling we’re about to be in a crash to rival Anakin’s worst!” He doubled up in a fit of coughing, unable to speak.
“Obi-Wan, what’s wrong? Is there–” Garen’s voice was cut off abruptly as the ship shook again.
“Master, we’re caught in the gravitational pull of a planet!” Nasriel exclaimed.
Obi-Wan keyed the comlink again. “Just get somewhere safe, this is not a game!” he shouted.
Siri and Garen rushed up to the cockpit, only to find the door locked. “Oh, kriff!” Garen exclaimed. Nasriel joined them, staggering as the ship shook giddily.
“There’s nothing we can do for now, we have to prepare for the crash,” said Siri.
“Master Tachi’s right,” Nasriel added. “We have to get to someplace safe.” They rushed back to the main area and strapped themselves into seats.
The landing was not smooth, to say the least. Transparisteel shattered and rained down on them from the viewports, metal that had been superheated groaned and twisted. As soon as the ship stopped moving, Garen leaped up. “I smell fuel. The lines must have been cracked. Come on, we’ve got to get out of here, fast!” He dashed up to the locked door and thrust his lightsaber into it, burning away the door seal. Siri joined him hurriedly, and together they rushed into the cockpit.
Obi-Wan was lying to one side in a crumpled heap, unconscious. Garen picked him up and slung him over one shoulder, then glanced around in worry. “That smell is getting stronger,” he said.
“The viewport!” Nasriel said impatiently. Siri grasped the Padawan’s arm, and they leaped out, followed quickly by Garen, who was carrying Obi-Wan. As they stumbled away from the ship, a spectacular explosion rocked the ground behind them.
At the Temple, Ben was very quietly using every single swear word he knew – including a positively iridescent Toydarian one that Obi-Wan had inadvertently taught him – in the vague hope that a navcom understood that a high degree of cursing indicated a very important mission, and would therefore possibly stop telling him that Dorshan did not exist, and just program a course there. It was as he was reaching the end of the Mos Eisley vocabulary that Mon Calamari Jedi Bant Eerin happened by.
“E chu ta, fierfek droi! Schutta! Bolla ovv!”
“Ben, I really don’t think it will help much if the navcom goes to the seventh hell. What’s up?”
He looked up, discomfited. “Sorry, Master Eerin. I’m trying to program for Dorshan, and the stanging machine won’t let me. Master Obi-Wan’s missing.”
“In that case,” asked Bant, her voice oddly warped as if she were under a great deal of strain, “why the blue Wild Space are you going to Dorshan?”
Ben thought he might possibly go mad. He compensated by swearing in Bocce. “Kzah, Bant! Master Tachi said that’s where they last heard from him.”
Taking a deep breath, she said slowly, “That is as may be. Now there is nothing alive on Dorshan at all.”
Ben waited for her to give him the good news, but after a few seconds turned back to the recalcitrant navcom, this time in Corellian. “Ya’a, petchuk! I want to go to Dorshan, you stupid droi. Di’kut.”
“There’s a small planet a few lightyears to this side of Dorshan.” Bant’s voice broke in on his expletives just as he was resorting to mere Basic. “I think they have crashed. Dying… there is death close by. You must hurry, Ben. Here, I will program the navcom.”
As the Padawan watched Bant’s webbed fingers type in the coordinates, he felt like he was about to drown in a rising tide of disbelief. “There’s nothing there. It’s a black hole, Master Eerin. You don’t crash in a black hole.”
Bant turned to him sternly, her arms folded. “And do you remember your Master’s faith that the computers were wrong and the Force right in the minor matter of the black hole that was really Kamino? Do you remember how his faith was justified? The Force is infallible, Ben. Perhaps that is the lesson you are supposed to learn tonight.”
“I just want him home safely,” Ben whispered, feeling almost like a youngling under the older Jedi’s withering gaze.
“So do I. Now go. Wait. Remain exactly there.” Striding to the other side of the hangar, she spoke brusquely to an astromech droid; it quickly buzzed away into the corridor leading to the rest of the Temple. Bant stood tapping her foot impatiently until the astromech returned, and then, taking a small jar from it, turned on her heel and marched back to Ben. She handed him the jar. “This, I hope you will not need to have on the ship. Things almost never turn out as we hope, therefore put it somewhere safe aboard.”
Bemused, Ben took it from her. “What–”
“You can read. It’s reeska extract. Missions like this can go very badly wrong very quickly, remember that. I sent the droid to get this stuff without the ethanol content.”
“There’s always ethanol in reeska.”
Bant smiled. “So Obi-Wan never did tell you about the – uh – incident with the… never mind. He’s allergic to ethanol. Bruck Chun used to think it was very funny.”
“I’ll just go, shall I?”
Suddenly she was serious again. “Go. And may the Force be with you.”
“You know, every time I hear that I think about all the things that can go wrong.”
Obi-Wan lay on the hard ground, eyelids flickering occasionally as he moaned quietly in his sleep. Nasriel’s hand brushed his temple. “He’s burning up!” she whispered.
“In this case, that’s probably a good sign,” Garen said, unable to hide the exhaustion in his voice. “When I found him, he wasn’t running a fever. His immune system has gotten a hold again; he’s fighting back.”
“It hasn’t stopped the infection, though,” Siri pointed out. “We are stuck here, I don’t know for how long, and we’re running out of time.”
Garen leaped to his feet angrily. “I don’t care about the odds! Obi-Wan’s made it through every last mission we’ve been on, and he’s survived it every time. He can do it again!”
“Garen, we have to face it,” Siri pointed out. “This may be the one time his luck finally runs out. No one leads a charmed life, and certainly not Obi-Wan either. This time… he may not make it.”
“No!” Garen gasped. “I’m not going to give up on him!”
“I’m not either, but Garen – are you ready to let go?” Siri said.
Garen shook his head and walked over to the comatose Jedi Master. “Come on, Obi-Wan. You’ve got to live. You just have to. You know what? If we didn’t bring you back, we’d probably have even Windu in tears. And none of us wants to face that, now, do we?” He gave Obi-Wan’s shoulder a gentle shake. There was no response. Garen slumped to the ground beside Obi-Wan, struggling to fight off tears.
Dawn broke across the rainforest, glorious in its majesty above the trees. However, beneath the thick, close canopy, only a dim greenish glow penetrated to the forest floor. Nasriel lay still in her place, not wanting to get up. This could very well be her new Master’s last day. Maybe Master Vareng was right and she was a jinx. Maybe she had been the reason why all her Masters either hated her or died. She wished she had never woken up that morning. She wished she was not Force-sensitive. She wished she had never been born…
“Please don’t ask for that,” Obi-Wan whispered. Sharply, Nasriel turned to face him. Obi-Wan was awake, though he looked completely exhausted and very sick indeed, the blue veins around his eyes almost the only color in his face. “Nasriel, listen. Don’t ever believe that. You’re not bad luck. If I die, it will be nothing to do with you. It’s in the line of duty, not your fault.”
“Is this more of the ‘there is no death, there is the Force’” – Nasriel was searching for the right word, and finally spat it out in disgust. “That nonsense? There is death. The first thing I ever knew was – death. The whole Galaxy reeks of centuries full to bursting with death, Master, and the stench is strongest in the Temple Halls. When all else is gone, these three remain: love, the Force, and death. But the greatest of these is death.”
“What a way for a Jedi to talk!” exclaimed Obi-Wan in astonishment. “You don’t believe that, do you?”
“You should,” said Nasriel distantly. “After all, you’re dying now, and I’ll die in a few years perhaps, and that’s the only real difference.”
A few meters away, Siri sighed. “Running out of time, Muln. Did you hear what the kid just said?”
“You know what? We aren’t running out of time. We’ve run out. Have you ever heard the term ‘living dead?’“ Garen nodded his head toward where Nasriel was kneeling, still as a statue, beside the prone form of her Master. “He’s dying. She won’t live much longer than he does, because with him dead, guess what, she won’t care anymore. And we don’t even know where we are to call for help.” Absently, he plucked a leaf from the thick undergrowth that surrounded them and muffled their words from the other two Jedi. “Gods, what a planet,” Garen continued, kicking at the loose soil at his feet. “Not a clearing anywhere.”
Siri dug her fingernails into his shoulder, making him cry out in pain. “Shut up. Now look at what you’re holding.”
“Reeska. The stuff’s all over this neck of the woods. I hate it. It stinks.”
“You’re a wonder,” laughed Siri in relief. “You didn’t even remember the name of the one antidote for the Blue Shadow Virus.”
Garen shrugged. “I remembered. I didn’t want to raise it while our own little blue shadow was listening in case I got her hopes up. What you’re thinking is impossible. It takes the chemistry heads at the Temple days to get the extract from reeska. In case you hadn’t noticed, we don’t have days. And Obi-Wan’s allergic to ethanol anyway, so it’d just make him sicker.”
“You’re still being an idiot,” Siri exclaimed, pushing him. “It’s not the ethanol that makes it work, and it’s not about any chemical reaction with the ethanol. It’s the compounds in the plant itself. The ethanol is only used to make it keep on long journeys. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
The tiniest possible smile curved over Garen’s lips. “Perhaps.”