In the basement of the ruined building, Nasriel’s mind swam lethargically back to consciousness, and she checked, as all Padawans were taught, exactly what was going on. Start with you, Master Jados had always said. All right. Her head hurt, but her probing fingers didn’t find any of the symptoms of a serious head injury – only quite a lot of sticky fluid that, in the pitch darkness, she supposed was blood. No broken bones, just bruising. Her arm seemed to be under something, because she couldn’t move it, but it didn’t hurt very much.
Satisfied that she was not badly damaged, Nasriel turned her attention to finding out whether Ben was all right. The Force was emphatically silent on the subject of Ben, to the point of not even letting her know where he was. Skeg. Still, silence meant not dead, not yet anyway. “Ben! Ben, can you hear me?” No reply came. This could be either really, really not good, or fairly good. After all, she herself had been unconscious until recently. “Shut up, Nasriel,” she said aloud. “There are varying degrees of ‘not awake’.” Considering the amount of Dark Side energy unleashed by the bomb, it would be impossible to find out anything outside the tiny area she was in, created by a slab of permacrete from the floor above falling on an angle, but not breaking. Nasriel concluded that there was not really anything to be accomplished by staying awake…
She was roused by a beam of light playing over her face, and a clone’s voice shouting in Basic. “Over here!” The face of the clone appeared in the end of the ‘tunnel’. “Hello, miss. Stay still for now.”
“I can’t move anyway!” Nasriel called back.
The face frowned, “Stuck, are you?” and its owner yelled to somebody behind him, “I found the girl! She’s trapped under something. Not to worry, miss,” the clone said consolingly to Nasriel. “We’ll soon have you clear.” Apparently he thought of something else. “Master Kenobi says it wouldn’t be a good idea to try using the Force down here, so we’ll have to do this manually. Something about accidentally tapping into the Dark Side.”
“Master Obi-Wan’s here?”
“Yes, miss. Now keep quiet, and you’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Obi-Wan glanced Nasriel over as she was assisted from the rubble by the clone trooper. She was dusty and streaked with blood, but still able to walk.
“The brat’s not badly hurt? Get her the seven hells out of here then, she’s in the way.” Nasriel flinched back, wounded. Sure, Master Obi-Wan was worried about Ben, still trapped in the fallen building, but he didn’t need to act as if he didn’t know her. Object lesson number one in understanding Master Obi-Wan, she thought. When the pressure is on, I come second to Ben, because he won’t need to explain my death to anybody. Let alone – now the thought was at least as amused as sad – to Erirea.
The clone who had helped her out of the ruins guided Nasriel away from the spaceport and over to the river wall a few score meters away. Nasriel was surprised to see that it was already night, and the stars twinkled brightly, like points of ice, in the clear black sky. However, one small area of the ruined spaceport was lit up by floodlights, men and clones working together to search the rubble for anybody else who had been inside when the bomb went off – and for Ben.
The clone wrapped a blanket around Nasriel’s shoulders – “It gets cold at night on this planet, miss” – and crouched beside her where she sat on the ground. “Quite a day for you, eh? What’s your name? Nobody told me.”
“Threeb, Nasriel Kenobi, Jedi Padawan.”
He smiled. “Nasriel. That’s a boy’s name in Mando’a, so they tell me. I suppose that at Saalis it’s some sort of flower? Probably a pretty one, if your face is any guide. I’m Storm, Sergeant Storm.”
“I don’t know what it means. Master Yoda gave it me. Thank you, Sergeant Storm, for rescuing me.”
“Not at all, Miss Nasriel. That’s why I’m here. Tell me; is your Master Kenobi usually that… harsh?”
Nasriel answered in a defensive whisper. “He’s just worried about Ben. He didn’t mean to call me a brat.”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Nasriel, but in my experience the Jedi always mean what they say.”
She didn’t reply, just sat silently watching the floodlit ruins, wrapped up in her own thoughts. For a moment, Sergeant Storm wished he could see inside her mind and find out just what it was that the Jedi were really thinking about at times like these, when their faces were set like stone, and they seemed to have forgotten everything around them. Usually they hadn’t, though, he reminded himself, as Nasriel’s amber eyes flickered upwards to note one figure detaching itself from the whirl of activity at the spaceport and walking wearily toward the river wall. Seized by an illogical impulse, Storm sprang up and went to meet the approaching figure.
“Oh, sit down,” said Obi-Wan impatiently. “We aren’t on a battle station. And I wasn’t going to say anything nasty to Nasriel either,” he added, sensing the source of the clone’s discomfiture. Reaching the wall, he tossed a small object to the Padawan with forced casualness. “This is yours, isn’t it?”
After rapidly examining the scrap of twisted, blackened transparisteel, all that remained of her precious dagger, Nasriel handed it back. “Would you please throw it in the river, Master? I can’t fix it, and… I’m not Saalisan anymore so I don’t need it.” The last words came out in a rush, and she smiled up at him. “Have they found Ben?”
“Not yet. I’m still hoping.” The Jedi Master slumped to the ground beside his Padawan. “I might as well be a droid for all the help I can be over there: I daren’t use the Force for anything. Meeting the bomber convinced me that there is far too much Dark Side energy in this area for that to be safe. Does your comlink still work?” he asked suddenly.
Nasriel unhooked it from her belt and tested the battery. “Yes. Why, does yours not?”
Not looking at her, Obi-Wan replied, “I need you to make a call. I don’t have N’Cai Vareng’s call sign in my database, and since he was your Master… I suppose you do.”
“N’Cai Vareng,” mumbled Nasriel. “Yeah, got him. Here.” She handed over the comlink, Vareng’s call sign already programmed into it.”
“You’re calling. I have work to do. Just tell him his brother Azor is dead, he fell off a roof whilst intoxicated – he was the one who set the bomb, by the way – oh, you know what to say. I’m going to get Abiya and Yivan and send them home. If the rescue teams find Ben before I get back, call me immediately.”
Amused, Storm watched Obi-Wan stride away into the darkness, then turned his attention back to the Padawan. He was surprised to see her eyeing the comlink distastefully, as if it were about to bite her. Eventually, she took a deep breath and pressed the call button. From the side of the ensuing conversation that he heard, Storm was not convinced that the Jedi really did all get along well.
“Master Vareng? It’s Padawan Nasriel Threeb. Sorry to wake you up… Yes, that is the blue bastard bugaboo if you prefer it. I was told by Master Kenobi to call you… If he was here beside me, do you really think I’d be talking to you? I’m just obeying an order from my Master… It’s your brother Azor. He’s dead… He fell off of a roof… Yes, well, Master Kenobi said ‘intoxicated’. I think dead drunk is accurate if you care to put it that way… Azor set a bomb in the Steujan spaceport… Oh, so am I, Master Vareng; I can’t tell you how glad… Well, I’m sorry, but you did say it first… Ben’s still missing. Master Obi-Wan’s worried sick… Yes of course Ben Kenobi. What other Ben would he worry about? Anyway, I just called to tell you about Azor. My comm’s nearly out of battery –” she crossed her fingers and held them up for Storm to see. “I have to cut off the connection… Yes, I’ll ask him to call you as soon as we get clear of here. Goodbye, Master Vareng.”
Pretending not to have noticed the crossed fingers, Storm said innocently, “You’ve got five bars of battery left.”
“Yeaah…” drawled Nasriel in an exaggeration of his accent. “Five bars to talk to a guy who hates my guts.”
“I thought you Jedi were all comrades, brothers in arms, and so on.”
“We’re just ordinary beings, Sergeant,” she replied softly. “Ordinary beings trying to do an extraordinary job.”
She switched off the comlink, reclipping it to her belt, and sank back into reverie. The silence of the cool night seemed almost increased by the slight rattling, grinding sounds of permacrete being shifted, and the calm slap of the river against the stone wall. It felt like an eternity later that a cry joined the stillness, floating faintly over the ruins of the spaceport. “Thar anseo! Fuair mé an buachaill!” The sky was still dark and full of stars, with no hint of light even on the horizon.