It was mid-afternoon of a cold, gray day on Coruscant, exactly the sort of day when no Padawan in their right mind wanted to study anything, let alone the ancient kings of nobody-could-remember-where. Well, Master Kenobi evidently could remember, and as a result had offered to take the third-level history class for Madame Nu. Most of the Padawans were pleased at this turn of events: Master Kenobi made lessons far more interesting. And he usually tolerated all but the most flagrant of digressions from the topic, besides. Today roughly half of the twenty or so students in the class were huddled in their cloaks – against the rules in a classroom, true, but… On behalf of all the Padawans, Cifonabh Diato had taken on the Great Negotiator at his own game, and won. Cloaks were permitted, just for now, and Madame Nu was not to be told. Most of the Padawans thought this fair enough, and were agreeable to paying attention and taking more than the absolute bare minimum of notes: “Because if even one of you fails this subject I will want to know why.”
“…can anybody retell the last chapter, to refresh everyone’s memory? Yes, Nebesh – hang on, why are you here? You’re surely not old enough for this class.”
Initiate Sai-Dan Nebesh stood up, as was considered polite when addressing the instructor of a class. “I passed the exam for second-level history a month ago, Master Kenobi.”
“Fine.” Obi-Wan frowned. “Padawan Threeb, are you listening at the back there or are you passing notes with Padawan Zahani? Passing notes. I see. Bring them to me, please.”
Very reluctantly, Nasriel stood up, swaying slightly and keeping one hand on her desk for balance. She slowly gathered the scraps of paper, and walked carefully to the front of the room to hand the whole pile to Obi-Wan.
After reading the uppermost note, Obi-Wan said quietly, in the tone Anakin referred to as I-am-right-and-you-are-obviously-stupid, “Now, would you care to explain precisely what… C7H6O3 is and how it relates to the story of Sequipaladien?”
“It’s salycylic acid, Master,” Nasriel replied. She sounded tired and hoarse, and slurred the ends of her words. “I was asking Elimyo if he had any. Also known as aspirin. It relates to the story of Sequipaladien because I will be completely unable to concentrate on this class without any.”
“Go home. Right now. Elimyo, would you kindly escort Padawan Threeb back to her quarters – that would mean not the laboratory. Nasriel, listen up. No toxic chemicals. No figuring out formulae. Certainly no burning things. Go to bed. You are in no fit state to be in a classroom at all. You are sick.”
Nasriel certainly did not look to be in any fit state to be anywhere but the medcenter. She was terribly pale, white to the lips, with dark rims around her eyes, which shone fever-bright. “You can’t make me. You can’t!” she argued desperately. “I have to get the grades for this class so I can have the credit towards ninth-level chemistry. Master, you have no idea how much I do not need to go to bed. I’m fine. Really. ”
“I will not,” pronounced Obi-Wan firmly, “argue this case with you in the middle of a history lesson. Presumably you know what you are capable of. But,” he warned, “we are definitely going to discuss this later.” Relenting slightly, he produced a small foil packet from his belt pouch and handed it to her. “Aspirin. Try to stay awake.”
Most of the Padawans noted with some amusement that, although the lesson continued much as before, Master Kenobi was now decidedly distracted, and kept casting worried glances toward the back of the room. However, Nasriel seemed intent on proving that she was, as she had insisted, fine, really, and, to the obvious disappointment of Jodiit Reay, and the well-concealed disappointment of the rest of the class, neither fainted nor collapsed for the next hour.
Obi-Wan caught her on the way out of the classroom. “Where do you think you’re going now, young lady?”
“Uh… home,” lied Nasriel unconvincingly. “To bed. Like you told me.”
“Very well, go on, then. And no chemistry calculations before I get home.”
“Yes, Master.” Which, as he knew very well, meant, “I’m ignoring you, Master.”
“And don’t try that game with me; I invented it.”
When he got back to their quarters, Obi-Wan found a letter on the table, but Nasriel nowhere in sight.
“Dear Master Obi-Wan,” the letter began bluntly, “I’m at the lab. I don’t plan to be back tonight; there’s just too much to do. Master Koon is impossible, wants us done by yesterday. And no, I haven’t slept in three days, and yes, I know that goes straight to burnout, but we are so close to finished I can taste it. If you aren’t busy – wishful thinking, that – you might like to come down and see what it is I spend my nights on. (Blowing droids up and burning foul-smelling chemicals.) Nebs and Lim and I would all be glad to see you. (If you can remember this time that things in fume hoods or sealed jars are not to be touched!) Yours respectfully, Nasriel K. Threeb.”
The laboratory stank of fuel and smoke, and a destroyed battle droid stood in the middle of the open area between the long rows of benches. Nasriel was sitting on one of the high stools at the far end, writing furiously and tapping at a calculator. At the bench only a meter away from the droid, Sai-Dan Nebesh had a great many small pieces of electrical equipment scattered to the point of no repair. Elimyo Zahani emerged from the chemical store just as Obi-Wan tentatively opened the door, and dropped a capped glass test tube. Fortunately, the phial did not shatter on the floor, but floated gently to a test-tube rack on the bench beside Nasriel.
Without looking up, she snapped, “Be careful, Lim! Drop that and we all die. It’s formaldehyde, Master. Glad you could make it. Ohh, my head.”
Obi-Wan wandered over to Sai-Dan, and asked, “I thought you kids said you nearly had it right? That looks like what Anakin calls ‘radical modification’, to me.”
Sai-Dan, a rodentish looking near-Human, snarled by way of answer, and proceeded to reassemble the pieces at lightning speed. “But then what do I know?”
Elimyo beckoned to the civilian droid hovering uncertainly in a corner. “Twojay, get another battle droid. I wanna show Master Kenobi how this works.”
“My instructions,” replied Twojay nervously, “were to halt all activity not expressly sanctioned by the Council, when in the presence of any stranger…”
“Not a stranger!” hissed Nasriel. “Go! Get the kriffing droid!”
“I can’t believe you can breathe in here,” protested Obi-Wan. “You can show me later, Padawan Zahani. Nasriel: home. Now. No negotiation.”
He was proved right in his insistence roughly three and a quarter seconds later, as, dropping her ink-pencil to the floor, Nasriel slumped forward, her head thudding onto the table in front of her. She pulled herself up with an effort, and insisted – though less vehemently now – “I’m fine, Master, leave me be. I’m needed here. It’s for… the good of the Republic.”
“You are no good to the Republic dead!” Obi-Wan retorted. “Come outside and sit down, and… I’ll reconsider after ten minutes surveillance.”
“So,” said Nasriel resignedly, on her way to comply with his conditions, “the Great Negotiator strikes again.”
In the hall outside the lab, Obi-Wan forced Nasriel to sit down on a chair. “You are sick. That lab will not help. I want you to go home.”
“Could I have some water?” Nasriel asked hoarsely. “No drinking in lab – rules.”
Obi-Wan looked around the hallway, and eventually found a faucet, stuck apparently at random into the wall under a noticeboard, with a drain beneath it. Flicking aside an irreverent caricature of Master Yoda, he found, somewhat to his relief, that a small notice over the faucet read ‘drinking water’ in neat aurebesh.
That somebody had scrawled a poison symbol immediately below the words was momentarily alarming, but Nasriel grinned. “Nebs did that. This is the only drinking faucet on this floor, and we got sick of standing in line waiting for the bio and geo and phys Padawans to finish. Now they all go downstairs. There are cups in that box.”
She started to laugh, a dry, rasping sound that made Obi-Wan wince, but which rapidly turned into a fit of coughing. That only served to drive a little color into her pale cheeks.
Obi-Wan filled a cup with water and handed it to her. “There. Drink slowly, then it won’t make you cough up your lungs again.”
“Can you not try to make me laugh?” Nasriel pleaded. “It hurts. You win. I feel like death warmed up.” Bringing the cup to her mouth, she tipped her head back so the water would not run out through her dry, cracked lips.
“I’m taking you home.”
“Thanks. Would you tell Nebs and Lim you insisted?”
“I did. Repeatedly. Negotiation, Padawan, is just… deciding which principles are truly important, but making your opponent think they all are, and then gradually letting him – or her – reduce your demands to the things you really want. And now you know the secret, I’ll thank you not to spread it. Siri told me,” he sighed, “that one of the first things young Knights are taught is Rule 1 of Training a Padawan: Don’t.”
By the time they got back to the quarters, Nasriel was nearly asleep on her feet anyway, trudging along automatically and leaning on Obi-Wan. He palmed open the door and shook the Padawan gently awake. “We’re home. Go take a shower and change into your nightdress. I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
Nasriel emerged from the bathroom looking marginally better, and dressed in her long white nightdress. Shyly, she said, “Master Obi-Wan?”
“I’ve been awful rude to you today,” Nasriel confessed in a rush. “I know there’s no excuse, and I’m real sorry, because you’re so kind to me. Will you forgive me?”
Obi-Wan handed her the cup of silpa tea, with honey stirred in, just how she liked it. “Of course I forgive you. But thank you for apologizing. Now drink that and then you go to bed, all right?”
Tucking the wool blanket tightly over Nasriel, after she had finished her tea, Obi-Wan said sternly, “You are to stay precisely there until two hours after dawn, or… face my extreme displeasure. I prefer that you sleep during this imprisonment. Try counting banthas walking through a gate.”
“Tell me a story?” suggested Nasriel. “Then I’ll sleep. Promise.”
“No. You are a sixteen-year-old Padawan, far too old to need a bedtime story.”
“Please, Master? You sing lullabies to Ben. I can’t hear it, but I feel… the peace in the Force. It’s nice,” she added. “You could surely tell me just a story?”
Obi-Wan decided that this was one of the truly important principles. “I do not tell stories. I certainly do not tell little girls’ fairy stories.”
“A compromise: a story in verse. Agreed?”
“In Shendi?” asked Nasriel hopefully.
“Very well.” Obi-Wan began slowly, as a result of trying to remember the words without the tune. “O ilya vey, Sinara me, E’iin shar’in elumina! Sintara se, Eamina, E lumin serinamira…” When he glanced up at the end of the first stanza, he saw that Nasriel had kept her promise perfectly, and was already asleep.