Nasriel had not expected to be assigned to anybody ever again, not after Gueca Sala’s blistering public censure of her and N’Cai Vareng’s careless dismissal. Certainly, she had not expected to be assigned to a Sentinel. However, she had a sneaking suspicion that the Sentinel in question had not expected to be assigned a Padawan, either. They would stick together despite that, because he needed an assistant who wouldn’t complain, and she knew he was her last chance. Ever.
Jiron wasn’t a real Sentinel anymore, not since he was Knighted, but the pair of them still behaved mostly like a Sentinel team, wearing civilian clothes and avoiding being recognized as Jedi.
Tonight, that held true even more than ever. Staying in a seedy hotel in a dark corner of a world on the edge of the Republic, where law-enforcement was lax, to say the least, Nasriel began to wonder if her young Master had not finally crossed the line between genius and lunatic. He tossed her the garment that constituted her disguise for that evening’s mission, and discreetly turned his back so she could change from her nondescript civvies.
Nasriel held up the skimpy dress in disgust. “Roni, are you serious?”
Not turning, he replied, “Perfectly. The whole point of this exercise is that you get yourself noticed. I assumed, and Reseda assured me, that what you are holding is the best way of achieving that. But it won’t work until you put it on.”
Without further argument, Nasriel shucked off her tunic and leggings, and pulled the dress over her head. “Okay, turn.”
Jiron studied her critically. The silver-sequined garment stopped fully nine inches short of the girl’s knees, however much she twitched the hem down, and was skintight as far up as it went, which was within bare millimeters of absolute indecency. Her arms and shoulders were uncovered and gleamed with a pearly blue shine in the dim light of the room, and she looked deeply uncomfortable.
“Roni, I look like a cheap hooker.”
“Darling, relax, all right? It gets worse.” Fishing in his cloak pockets, Jiron produced a pair of glittery long cuff bracelets and long tinkling earrings to match. Reluctantly, Nasriel slipped them on and tried not to move her head too much because it rattled. The next things from Jiron’s pockets were a comb, with which he rapidly reorganized his Padawans’ tousled short hair into a sleek, smart style, and a package of makeup pigments. Even kneeling on the floor, his head was on a level with hers, an easy height from which to see clearly what he was doing as he rubbed blue paint roughly over the bright markings on Nasriel’s cheeks and forehead before ostentatiously emphasizing her eyelids and lips with brighter colors than were natural for any species. “Now,” he laughed when he was finished, “you can’t look in a mirror or you’ll scare yourself. Oh, shoes. You’re too short.” The five-inch heels were silver to match the dress, and when they were on, Nasriel was almost five foot five, and looked very slightly older.
Jiron yelled through the narrow doorway, “Reseda! Come see. I want a second opinion.”
The slender Twi’lek Jedi who stuck his head around the doorway was easily eight inches shorter than his friend, but still about six feet tall himself. His green lekku stiffened slightly in surprise when he saw the Padawan in the room, but he grinned, and teased, “I didn’t think it was quite the done thing for Jedi Knights to have beautiful women in their quarters, Roni…”
“I do not look beautiful!” Nasriel retorted. “I look cheap. And young. And I’m scared. I don’t wanna do this, Master.”
Jiron took Nasriel’s face gently between his hands, smudging her paints. “Oops. No, Kal, you’re not scared. Remember, fear leads to…”
“Anger,” Reseda supplied, “which leads to hate, which leads to?”
“Suffering,” Nasriel whispered.
“And that’s what we’re out to halt,” Jiron joined in to say with her. “Now, what do we have to remember?”
“The Republic, stopping the bad guys, and..” For a second, Nasriel seemed to forget the next part, then the stickily-painted lips parted with the end of the saying. “And one in the eye for Kenobi when he sees what Sentinels can accomplish!”
Picking up Nasriel’s dark brown cloak, Jiron swirled it elegantly around her shoulders, effectively covering the sparkling dress. “Don’t want anybody but our guy to see you.” He handed her a small flat transponder. “This in the heel of your shoe – no, hang on, I’ll place it, you’d fall over. Now, I want you to wait thirty heartbeats from the time you really feel at risk before you activate this. Force-activate, that’s safer. Reseda and I will never be more than a hundred meters away, and we will come as soon as you signal. Got it?”
On the corner of the street half an hour later, Nasriel was beginning to decide that no, she hadn’t got it, no, she really wasn’t happy here, and she quite wanted to call the whole stunt off. But this was yet another ‘necessary mission’ from the Council. The Council, Nasriel thought ruefully, had not expected Jiron to take them literally when they said to apprehend Firu Iizo ‘by any means’, but what else could you do to catch a man with only one known weakness? The crime lord was reputed to follow his… well, the word Jiron had used was far from nice… everywhere; and if the girl in question was young, Iizo was all the happier. Which made him an easy target for a sting: even way out here, there was such a thing as ‘underage’. And if the man was in a detention cell anyway, that gave the Republic ample time to investigate his suspect financial practices. It did seem faintly perverse to Nasriel that what was apparently the greater crime was, in this case, merely a pretext to apprehend some shady dealings.
The drafty street had a practical gale blowing along it, stirring up scraps of paper and whisking them briskly away down the flagged sidewalk. After tossing her cloak into an alleyway – she couldn’t wear it, it was too discreet – Nasriel had selected a station under a glaringly orange streetlamp that set her beads and sequins ablaze with light, leaning against the wall of the upmarket club Iizo frequented, shaking her head in mute refusal every three minutes or so as other pedestrians passed the corner.
At long last Firu Iizo emerged, walking purposefully, apparently unaffected by the alcohol Nasriel could smell on him fully twenty meters away. Her stomach lurched at the thought of what Jiron had gotten her into this time, but she hurried after the crime lord anyway, teetering only slightly on the impossibly high heels. Catching up to him, she slipped one hand confidently through the crook of his arm, and murmured hopefully, “Lonely?” It sounded ridiculous, but Reseda’s friend Mi had coached her all week, and that was what Mi had instructed her to say, and Mi did this for a living, for stars’ sake! so she must know.
Stopping dead in his tracks, Iizo stared down at Nasriel. He was a tall, stout Pantoran, perfectly groomed and thoroughly oily-looking. “How old are you?”
Oh, Roni, I’ll kill you for this, Nasriel desperately tried to telepath over the Force, but giggled anyway and said coyly to this despicable man, “Well… technically I’m fifteen Standard… but I won’t tell if you won’t.”
Iizo laughed, a deep, rumbling chuckle, and teased, “Anything else I should know about you, pretty girl?”
Oh yes. Yes there was. “I’m a Jedi.” Jiron had been adamant: Nasriel must remember to say outright that she was underage and a Jedi, otherwise this creep could get away from the law and they would be in trouble for entrapment. However, he had not said to let Iizo believe her…
Now the man was practically roaring with laughter. Drunk as a smuggler, Nasriel noted in disapproval. “I’m sure you are,” he said patronizingly. “Left your saber at home? Don’t worry, little one, I’ve got mine.” You probably couldn’t find it with a navcom, you’re so darn stupid, Nasriel didn’t say. That was nearly the oldest, and certainly the crassest, joke told about the Jedi. It was also the most annoying, but she masked her irritation well and walked her fingers flirtatiously up Iizo’s bulky, black-clad arm to his shoulder, where she stopped to stroke the greasy velvet on his collar. Another trick learned from Mi.
“It’s nearly my bedtime,” Nasriel suggested with a little giggle.
Iizo took the hint. “Well, I’m sure my place is much more comfortable than your spartan old Temple. Shall we?”
Oh, she had nearly forgotten! “How much?” Nasriel demanded, letting the giggle vanish temporarily. If Iizo didn’t pay her, then he was legal and she was not. And that was the single worst thing that could possibly happen. Get thrown into a law-enforcement cell in that dress, Mi had warned numerous times, and you won’t live till morning.
Fortunately, the man took her seriously. “Two hundred.” Nasriel took the dataries he offered, and slipped them into the pocket in the side of the abominable dress, being careful not to touch them too much lest she smudge his fingerprints.
A hundred meters away, on a rooftop in the pitch darkness, Jiron grinned and handed his macrobinoculars to Reseda. “Easy.”
Cautiously, the other Jedi replied, “Give it a while longer, so we know for sure he would. Otherwise he can say he was only kidding her.”
“That’s my little girl down there! Res, c’mon. We’ve got enough.” But, at Reseda’s insistence, they waited. Five minutes. “Res, we gotta follow them, seriously.” Ten minutes. Twelve and a half minutes. The transponder beeped suddenly into life, its green light flashing urgently. “Res, now!”
Lightsabers were credentials enough to get past security, into the building where Firu Iizo had his penthouse apartment. Running up the stairs with Reseda close on his heels, Jiron alternately cursed and worried and hoped his Padawan was all right.
Finally they reached the door to the top floor. Now, a fully-grown Karori male, as Jiron was, weighs roughly a hundred kilograms, nearly all of it hard muscle. There are very few doors that can stand up to a really determined attack from such a being, and this door was not one of the few.
The rich black silk carpets and tapestried walls of the living room attracted Jiron’s attention for precisely as long as it took him to ascertain that his Padawan was not there. Three doors of black glass, reflective as mirrors under their nets of gold filigree, opened in the far wall. Rapidly, the two Jedi kicked in the unlocked doors, right and center, but found only empty rooms. Setting his shoulder to the locked, right-side door, Jiron was about to smash his way into the last room through sheer strength, when Reseda laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Roni, I’ll get it open, okay? We want this guy alive.”
“I want my kid alive!” Jiron snarled, but stepped back and let his friend in.
“She’s not -” crash “- your kid!” grunted Reseda, ramming the door. Gold twisted and glass splintered as he crashed at the unyielding surface again, and Jiron chafed with impatience. In the lull after the third such onslaught, a girl’s voice whimpered quietly inside the room, and he could wait no longer, but joined the other Jedi and burst into the room.
Firu Iizo was standing in the center of the floor, holding a blaster pistol, but Reseda pointed Jiron away from the crime lord; “Look after your kid,” and unhooked a pair of binders from his belt.
Seeing that Iizo wasn’t really going anywhere in a hurry, Jiron looked to the far wall and found his Padawan. She was huddled on the woven straw matting of the floor, body turned to the wall, but looking back over her shoulder with the mulish expression he correctly interpreted as trying not to cry. The bodice of the silver dress was yanked down and bunched around her waist, but she seemed to be unhurt.
Quickly averting his eyes, Jiron took off his outer tunic and handed it to her. “Clothes, kiddo.” On Nasriel, the tunic fell nearly to the ground, and the belt went around her waist twice. Jiron knelt on the floor and drew the girl toward him. In his arms, she finally relaxed, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Roni, a hundred meters?” The Force gently detached her lightsaber from where it hung next to his on his waistband, and rehooked it to the twice-wrapped belt. “You need math lessons.”
Reseda coughed politely. “Places to go, people. Jiron, she’ll have to come.”
Jiron picked Nasriel up easily, carrying her on his hip like Ali Alann carried younglings, and the two of them followed Reseda, who was holding Iizo firmly by the arm, all the way to the law enforcement depot.
Despite their surprise at being woken from their slumbers at their desks by a pair of Jedi and a small-sized girl in unusual garments, the officers were delighted to see Firu Iizo – and more than delighted to hear that they could keep him. Jiron detached one of Nasriel’s ghastly bracelets, and handed over to the officers the small sound recorder hidden there. Iizo fumed.
When all the papers and interviews were done, and each of the three Jedi had explained the whole evening about five times over, Jiron turned to his Padawan, who was comfortably drowsing in his arms. “Right, you, home. Res, finish up here, will you?”
Tonight, home did not mean “go straight to bed, young lady,” but “let’s stay up late and watch Greatest Corellian Hero.” Three episodes past midnight, Jiron produced a bottle of sugary soda. “What’s the toast tonight?”
Nasriel considered for a moment. “To… the Republic, the good guys, and Kenobi.”
Pouring bright red drink into two glasses, Jiron grinned. “Agreed. The Republic, us, and Kenobi.”