In the Umbara spaceport, none of the three Jedi was particularly happy. It did not help matters that the spaceport was woefully inadequate to handle the amount of traffic generated by the clone base there in addition to the ordinary humdrum civilian travelers. Of course, another debate ensued, this one over whether it was entirely ethical for Obi-Wan, as a ranking General of the Republic, to go through the Military gate, which was much less crowded today, or whether Jedi on strictly Jedi business counted as civilians. Nasriel remained neutral, luckily for her: the argument ended only on the far side of the civilian gate, having outlasted one of the longest queues in the Galaxy, and left Ben firmly reminded of who, precisely, was the Master around there, and Obi-Wan muttering that although he did not agree with what K’tarr had done, he certainly sympathized!
They selected a cantina by the simple expedient of choosing one whose name struck them all as amusing: the Lucky Gundarks Cantina, a kilometer from the spaceport. Consensus temporarily abandoned in favor of Padawans knowing their place and taking orders, it was decided to meet there at midnight and compare notes. In the meantime, Obi-Wan would take Ben, and Nasriel, with four years more experience in strange people and stranger places, would scout about alone.
Nasriel had a singularly disagreeable evening of it. Although over three years with Jiron Jados had accustomed her to stretching the truth as regards her age, to drinking unusual things, and to worming information out of unpleasant individuals, this was somehow different. Jiron had been an irresponsible young blight on the Order, to quote even his best friends, and had always treated her as an equal partner. Being given a similar task by orthodox, sensible Master Kenobi, Nasriel noticed the difference: it irked her to be expected to work like a Knight and obey blindly like a Padawan, both at once.
“So…” she cooed to a half-drunk – he was an assassin, going by his boots alone – “you seen my friend around here? Trando’ guy, mighta been tellin’ big stories ’bout bein’ a Jedi.”
“I seen him,” grunted the assassin. “I’ll even tell you where if’n I can buy you a drink. Noyeau?
Recognizing the name as a potent liqueur flavored with cyanide oil, Nasriel shuddered slightly, but quickly turned it into a wriggle of delight, politely swallowing the bitter liquid brought to her. “Where?” she asked eagerly.
“In here, three month back,” crowed the man. “Have another?”
With a tactful refusal that would have done credit to the Great Negotiator himself, Nasriel slipped into the next cantina along the wide road. Here the price of useless information was a kiss for a scaly green spice trader before going on. The capital of Umbara was a big city: six hours, eighteen cantinas, and three extremely nasty drinks later, Nasriel had still learned nothing new and was starting to feel muzzy enough to be glad it was midnight.
The Lucky Gundarks was an uproarious house even at that hour, its wooden-beamed main parlor a blaze of smoking lamps in brightly-colored glass shields, and everything down to a meter from the floor veiled in a cloud of thick herbal smoke. Not for the first time that night was Nasriel glad that Saalisans could hear nothing that passed for music: by the looks of things, there was a great deal more noise than the clinking and shattering glasses, the yells for “another!” of this or that, and various brawls in various quarters at various stages of violence. With difficulty, she pushed her way between rough stained trestle tables and rough alcohol-smelling men to the bar. Her politely raised voice was ignored or not heard by the innkeeper, and she eventually had to resort to what Obi-Wan would condemn as frivolous use of the Force: gently floating a bottle of Corellian brandy in front of the innkeeper’s bewildered face and along the bar toward herself. The man naturally enough followed his property and found himself face-to-face with a weary young Jedi.
“Looking for an Obi-Wan Kenobi,” she said for the third time. “He here yet?”
“Well, you needn’t whisper,” he complained. “You the Witch? Upstairs, second on the left.”
‘Upstairs’ was a narrow, creakily-floorboarded passage at the head of a stone staircase so old shallow dips were worn in the treads from all the feet passing up and down over the years. Perhaps, once, the walls here had been whitewashed, but it was a busy, smoky house, and if two beings of about Human size had walked together in that hallway, they would both have gotten soot on their sleeves. Nasriel finally began to relax: this was just like so many other cantinas she had stayed in before. ‘Second on the left’ was a low door with an old-fashioned handle latch.
Two knocks on the door, trying to shake off the absurd illusion that she was thirteen again and looking for Jiron. Fortunately, Ben shattered the fragile moment by rattling open the door and scowling at her. “Any luck? We drew a blank.” He was taking great effort over the words, but his voice still sounded ridiculously slushy, as if he was half-asleep.
Hiding a smile in the shadows of the hall, Nasriel replied, “Half a lead. Ben Kenobi, are you drunk?”
“I don’t know,” Ben said confusedly. “Come in.” The room was small and bare, but scrupulously clean, with the white walls only slightly smoke-dimmed and the pale wood of the floorboards so much scrubbed as to wear away, leaving tiny pinnacles around the nails. Along the wall opposite the door, two sturdy durasteel beds were wedged, and the remaining corners of the room were occupied, respectively, by a well-travelled-looking cot, hastily made up, and two carelessly flung rucksacks, to which Nasriel cheerfully added her own.
“Did you want one of the beds?” she asked. “Only you can have it. I’ll not be hung over tomorrow; I’ll take the cot. Where’s Master Obi-Wan?”
“Sick,” said Ben succinctly.
“Where is… where is…” the girl persisted.
“Force-opaque Toydarian at some place down the street played a trick – vodka – stupid.” From this cryptic outline, Nasriel divined that her Master had fallen foul of a combination of mischief-minded lowlife and his own allergy to ethanol. She knew enough from surreptitious questioning of Garen Muln to take this seriously – drinking alcohol always resulted, for Obi-Wan, in a splitting headache, acute nausea, and a peculiarly vile temper which he generally had cause to regret the next day. Tonight, he was lying curled up in his cloak on one of the beds, a pillow clapped over his head to muffle the uproar from downstairs, and apparently asleep. Nasriel thought it prudent not to upset the status quo just yet, and rolled fully dressed onto the cot. There were certain advantages, she reflected just before falling asleep, to being half-bred of the second or third hardest-drinking species in the Galaxy. For skeg sake, a Saalisan could drink even a clone under the table.
Morning was heralded in the Lucky Gundarks by a sudden cessation of the racket from the ground floor. Ben, as per his friend’s prediction, was hung-over, but not beyond the point where strong, sugary black caf was of significant effect. Now wide awake, he explained that nobody else had heard of or seen K’tarr in the last three months.
“So on to Umbara,” he concluded.
“It’s not for us to decide,” Nasriel reminded him. “I’ll wake master Obi-Wan.” She plucked gently at his cloak sleeve. “Master?”
“Who is it?” mumbled Obi-Wan sleepily. “Go away, Siri, it’s still night.”
“It’s not night, and it’s not Siri,” Nasriel replied. “It’s me: Nasriel. Please wake up.”
Sitting up slowly, gingerly rubbing his temples, Obi-Wan asked in a very quiet voice, “Did you learn anything last night? I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I learned,” said the Padawan solemnly, “that Master Muln is more truthful than I have previously given him credit for, but about K’tarr, no, nothing worth repeating.”
“I see. You said your friend at Xathomir can find him for us.”
Nasriel nodded confidently. “Reseda is the center-man for the network K’tarr is – and Roni and I were – in. He knows where everybody is, so no-one has to contact direct. I know his schedule by heart, and this month he’s at Xath. Are you okay? You look awful.”
“In case nobody’s suggested it to you before, Nasriel, don’t get that transfer to the Healers. Now, if Ben is awake… we should leave.”