“I have been trying to contact you for hours. Where were you?”
Nasriel unhooked her comlink and scrolled through the missed messages displayed on its screen. “Wow, you have, haven’t you? I was out. I left it switched off because there is actually a no-comms policy where I was. I was barely allowed to leave it on my belt.”
Obi-Wan repeated the question. “Where were you?”
“Visiting Senator Bail. I sent him a message with a query about… a private matter involving you, and he invited me to come up to the Senate to discuss it more fully.”
“How did you get there? My speeder wasn’t reported missing today – and I haven’t given you your license back yet.”
“Master Skywalker took me. He was going to see Chancellor Palpatine, and offered me a ride.” Nasriel’s eyes glowed. “It was so much fun. We got back about twenty minutes ago.”
Anakin Skywalker sauntered into the room, following Nasriel. “Yes, Master, I took her to the Senate without asking you. Ben said he’d tell you where she was.”
“You didn’t go to the Senate. Twenty minutes ago I was watching the main sky lane there, and I did not see your speeder. Where were you both?”
Anakin grinned. “We didn’t take the main road. We took the Spiral. The Witch said she was in a hurry, and I was sure in a hurry, so I took the shortcut.”
“Let me get this clear. You, a Jedi Knight, took somebody else’s Padawan on the single most dangerous sky lane on the planet, without even bothering to tell that somebody else what was going on. Is that an accurate summary?”
Turning to Anakin, Nasriel said thoughtfully, “Yes, that’s pretty accurate. We also found out on the way home that Master Skywalker’s speeder needs its brakes fixed, we stalled on a steep angle to the upper atmosphere – Anakin wanted to show me the stars – came within a millimeter of running into another speeder, raced Sima Orezna, who wasn’t supposed to be out either, from the Outlander to the Senate, and… that was all, wasn’t it, Ani?”
“Yeah. That was all. I thought it was a fairly quiet trip, Master.”
“Please… don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. And don’t ever do that again.”
“Master Obi-Wan, what did you need to talk to me about?” Nasriel had apparently had enough of exasperating her Master, and switched to respectful politeness.
“You and Ben are going to the Mid Rim, to command a battle group. You leave tomorrow, early.”
You and Ben. You and Ben. “What about you, Master?” For the first time, she sounded worried.
“I,” said Obi-Wan crisply, “am going with Anakin, because Master Yoda thinks he has lost too many men over the last few months, and wants me to find out why. I’ll come to join you two as soon as Anakin’s little chaos is sorted out.”
The weeks stretched into a few months, which in turn stretched into nearly a year. Nasriel and Ben reported to Obi-Wan with news of what was happening on the battle group he was technically commanding, and occasionally with questions. Towards the end, there was a month when the 313th could have vanished from the face of the Galaxy for all its communicativeness – or lack thereof.
The first news to reach Torrent Company, the 501st Battalion, came from Coruscant direct. Late one night, a voice call was put through to Obi-Wan Kenobi from Master Mareya Lechesi at the Temple. Obi-Wan groaned, but accepted the call anyway. “What, Mareya?”
Mareya sounded agitated and apprehensive – not a good combination. “I just received a letter addressed to you, care of me. It’s very clearly labeled ‘to be opened only by Master Kenobi or with his express permission’. Do you want me to send it through to you on the facsimile transmitter?”
“You have my express permission to open the letter in order to forward it to me.”
There was a sound of tearing paper, and then Mareya gasped. “Oh, no. No. This can’t be.” She composed herself and continued, “Obi-Wan, I’m afraid there’s some bad news.” There was a long silence as Mareya collected her thoughts, a silence that seemed to Obi-Wan to last for centuries before the other Master finally spoke. “It’s Padawan Threeb. She’s dead.”
“Dead?” Dead? Nasriel dead? He rolled the words in his mind and listened to them rattling around and refusing to sink in. She couldn’t be dead. Hadn’t she told Anakin when he said she wouldn’t last a week that she planned to live forever? She had told him how, too, her white teeth and amber eyes flashing with excitement. It’s easy, Ani. I’ll just dodge every blaster bolt that comes my way. “Mareya, can you transmit the letter now, please?”
“Just a minute. There’s a note here from a Major Storm, saying that Padawan Kenobi is damaged, but not badly, that the 313th no longer exists, and that as there is no point in remaining on a destroyed battle station, he and Ben are heading back to Coruscant. That’s all. Your letter transmitting now. Master Lechesi cutting off comlink.”
Obi-Wan all but ran to the data printer in the control room. When the first page was printed, the rattling words finally sank in. Nasriel was dead. There on the page was her neat, angular handwriting he had come to know so well over the last couple of years of official – and unofficial – reports from the 313th battle group, less neat now, but still legible. The other thing legible was the pain it had cost her to write those words. This wasn’t fair. Where pirates and collapsing spaceports, fires and even the Sith had failed, one stray blaster bolt had succeeded. Nasriel was dead. Obi-Wan folded the paper, somehow hoping that if he put it away without reading it, the truth would be less painful. Five minutes later, in his own cabin, he forced himself to turn his eyes to the page and read, to be a Jedi, and face the truth.
“Dear Master Obi-Wan,
“Just so you know, this was not written ahead of time. I really am dying right now, so please excuse me if I am a little incoherent. Dying hurts, Master. Major Storm says he’ll send this to you at the Temple, care of Master Lechesi. I can trust her to deliver it safely.
“I’m glad I’m dying like this: for the peace of the Galaxy, with a loyal friend beside me and the time to write a last message. We had a hard fight, and I have tasted hell, but it was worth it if my death achieves some good.
“Please say goodbye to your sister and to Abiya for me, and tell them I’m sorry to have had so little time with my second family. Don’t say I’ll miss them; I won’t, but I’m glad that what we’re doing here will make the Galaxy a safer place for Abi to grow up in. Ben, by the way, is alive, but I don’t know where. The major is waiting for me to die before he goes to search for him.
“I don’t know whether you will miss me or not, and I’m not sure which I hope for. I will miss you, Master. You’re still so young; it’ll be years before I see you again. But you’re the only one. Everybody else I’ve ever loved is already waiting for me. Master Jinn – if he knew all you’ve achieved I just know he’d be proud of you. My parents, I suppose, although I never really knew them. Sien; I do love Sien. All – and I mean all – of the men in the battle group Ben and I commanded so disastrously. Master Jados – do you know, I can see his face now for the first time in years. I think he’s glad I’m coming back to him.
“Thanks for everything, Master. For helping me face the demons. For letting me cry without telling me to get a grip. For showing me – not telling, Master, showing – how to be a Jedi, even down in the mud and blood. And thank you for what you said, the first day I was your Padawan: ‘Life claims its own, all in good time.’ That has been a great comfort to me. I can almost hear you laughing about this last one: thank you for being the blue-eyed Kenobi and proving that anything really is possible after all.
“For a moment I caught myself wishing you were here now, if only so I could hug you one last time and see that annoyed expression I know so well, but now I’m thinking clearly I realize I’m relieved that you’re not here – you won’t know how I died, and you won’t have any nightmares on account of the Blue Witch.
“‘Love is not the slave of life, and neither shall death sunder its deep eternity of existence.’ (That’s the line of poetry Sien told me when he was dying. It seems fitting.) I love you, Master Obi-Wan, Jedi protocol to the four winds. I’m the one dying now. I think I’ve earned the right to say stupid things if I like.
“There is one last thing. Please consider it my final request to you. After I am dead, the major will take from my body the good luck charm I always wore, and enclose it with this letter. I would be honored if you would keep the charm in memory of me.
“Acting Colonel Jedi Padawan Nasriel Kenobi Threeb, onetime Imeltaneska-Kaliu Hrabe, Viscountess Threeb. (I haven’t written my full name in years. The part of it I’m proudest of is the “Kenobi” you gave me, so thank you for that as well.)”
Nasriel was dead. Why did everybody he cared about have to die? But then, why did he care about them? It was against Jedi protocol. Obi-Wan slowly folded the letter and slipped it into one of the pockets on his belt. This was the end. He sat down on the hard cot and put his head in his hands. He felt like crying, but the tears wouldn’t come. Is this what it feels like, Master? I’m having my heart ripped out, all over again. He had seen so many beings die – too many –and he was only thirty-eight. And now someone else was gone. He had sat by Tahl’s side as the Jedi Master lay dying, he had watched Xanatos sink under the acid pool, he had fought to save his own Master and it hadn’t been enough, he had killed too many times to count or bother remembering, had been heartbroken and angry when he heard of Waxar’s death at the hands of Pang Krell, seen the life go out of Adi Gallia’s eyes, heard her cry in pain as she was impaled on horns and lightsaber blade, had watched a thousand times as his troops – whom he refused to think of as non-entities – sank and died. He was hollow inside, and broken, and still the war dragged on.
Anakin happened to pass the door as his former master sat there, and looked in. “Obi-Wan? Are you all right?”
All emotion was blocked out of Obi-Wan’s voice as he answered with the simple truth. “No.” Toneless, cold, hard.
“Please, Anakin. Just leave me alone.” Now his voice held a hint of pleading. Anakin might understand, ever since Ahsoka had been killed in a skirmish, but Obi-Wan had to fight his own battles alone.
And if need be, die alone.
With a mumbled apology, Anakin left the room. Obi-Wan flung himself down on the narrow, hard cot.
And finally, the tears came.
“Why?” Obi-Wan whispered. Why did she have to die? Why wasn’t I at least there with her? Why does nothing work as it is planned? Why doesn’t the Force solve problems instead of creating them? There was no reply, only names.
Geonosis. Naboo. Felucia. Obi-Wan pressed his face into the pillow. The list went on and on. Bothawui. Umbara. Iego. Dathomir. Jabiim. And now, Tebrin. The Force was silent. The Dark Side rose and clouded all else. Even if the war was somehow, by some miracle, won, it was already lost.