Manhunt – Part 6

Reseda said not another word as he led Ben back to the edge of town. After that one crowded alley, everywhere else was quiet, almost deserted, and more than half the buildings were abandoned, staring sightlessly at weed-grown lots through roughly boarded-up windows. Ben felt he ought to make some sound, in deference to the blinded houses, to let them know he was there.  For over a kilometer, however, he had no excuse to speak.  And then, in the distance, he saw the sunlight, beginning now to slant down from zenith to horizon, glitter of one live building, and somehow knew that that shimmering glass gem was their destination, there at the end of the wide, empty street.

“Master Che, why are we going to the spaceport?”

“Picking something up,” Reseda replied shortly, not breaking stride to talk.

Something was someone, waiting inside, sitting half-asleep on a rucksack, wearing a Padawan tunic so clean it could not be other than brand new, and with a fresh piercing in one ear for the strand of beads taking the place of an orthodox braid.  It was a H’Vong boy, a pale lemon-yellow feline biped, with tiny blue specks scattered through his fur.  Moreover, Ben recognized him.

As the boy straightened from his hasty bow to Reseda, Ben cried, “Why, Allun Wuqotikea! What are you doing out here?”

“I git ri-issign’d,” Allun said shyly.  “Ti… simwin. I think.”

Ben had forgotten about the other boy’s difficult accent, but understood him well enough.  ” To someone? You don’t know who your Master is?”

“He’s not here right now,” Reseda cut in swiftly.  “Is that gear heavy, Wuqotikea, or can you carry it?”

“Yis – ni – I kin minij. Kin wi stirt niw?”

Reseda nodded approvingly, and walked further into the spaceport, the two Padawans tailing along, chattering with the Halls gossip. Finally, the three of them came to a door, the entrance to what looked through the dark glass to be a tunnel.

Pressing Ben lightly on the shoulders, Reseda murmured, “Stay here, Kenobi,” opened the door, and shepherded Allun into the passage beyond.  Against one wall, a dark figure in a long cloak waited, holding two rucksacks, one of which he tossed to Reseda.  The Twi’lek pushed his companion forward and seemed to be introducing him, because the boy bowed respectfully.  Talk over, Reseda beckoned to Ben, but moved away down the tunnel before he could catch up.  It was so dark Ben could not – dared not – run, but walked sedately, having to feel his way and follow the light of the luminous beads threaded onto small steel rings in the Twi’lek’s lekku-tips. A loud electronic voice made Ben jump, but he could not make out its words under the crackle of the speaker system.

The beads’ pace quickened.  “Hurry up,” snarled Reseda, “we’ll be late.”

Late for what? Ben longed to ask, but something warned him that that would be unwise that the very best. At last the tunnel came to an end at another door, which the mysterious newcomer shoved open to a blaze of light. Reseda hooked one foot around the door to hold it for Ben to come through.

The room beyond the door was narrow, perhaps three meters to the opposite wall, but nearly fifteen meters long, the door set in one end of this length. Apart from an aisle along the center, the room was filled with rows of hard durasteel benches, most of them occupied by beings of various ages and species.  Shoving Allun ahead of him, Reseda’s friend in the dark cloak stalked to a vacant bench near the far end of the room, Ben and Reseda following him.  Once all four were seated, and the rucksacks stowed in overhead racks, the stranger flipped back his hood, and Ben received the fright of his life.

It was K’tarr.

There was no mistaking the low-browed, reptile bullet-head, the yellow-grey scales, and the wide, rubbery-lipped leer of crooked teeth.  Ben could not repress a shudder of disgust.

“What is this?” he demanded shakily of Reseda.

The Sentinel was studying his fingernails intently, seemingly determined to remain aloof, but smiled wryly at the boy’s question, and said, “I did promise to direct you to K’tarr…”

As if Reseda’s words had been a signal, the whole room vibrated, a dull roar began in the background, and Ben finally started to be truly afraid.  Fear, Master Yoda said, led to anger, and it was in anger that he next spoke.

“You also said we weren’t going far! This is a ship. We’re leaving the planet.”

“Well,” shrugged Reseda, “I lied.”

Nothing more to be done, Ben huddled in a corner of the bench and let his mind wander. Lying.  The three foundations of the Jedi Way, at least according to Obi-Wan, were Humility, Obedience, and Patience, and the center was trust. And there could be no trust without honesty. He had always suspected that the Sentinels were not quite like other Jedi, and this confirmed it.  Nasriel was a Sentinel. Nasriel, he realized slowly, was safe now.  With their Master: safe. And Obi-Wan trusted the Witch. What if this were an elaborate trap? If  Obi-Wan Kenobi were… horrid thought… were dead, the Separatist cause would be hugely advanced. Who was certain bait to catch the Great Negotiator? His nephew.

It was a trap.  It had to be a trap, and Nasriel was neck-deep in it. Wandering the Galaxy for years… the Seps could have influenced her in a hundred different ways. And Jiron’s death – well, who from the Temple had seen the body? Nobody, that’s who. Ben shook his head in unwilling admiration of the girl’s acting ability, and his hand moved unbidden to his lightsaber, which Reseda had somehow overlooked. At that moment, he saw what he must do. When Nasriel and Obi-Wan caught up to them, as must happen, because she was leading him into a trap, he, Ben, would kill Nasriel for the two-faced schemer she was, and then, perhaps, two Kenobis might be a match for two turned Sentinels.

His mind made up, Ben did not notice the thick reptile claws of the Trandoshan opposite him cease their hypnotic movement and come to rest on the dark cloak.  K’tarr grinned at Reseda, who nodded in satisfaction. Job done.



About coruscantbookshelf

"A writer is an introvert: someone who wants to tell you a story but doesn't want to have to make eye contact while doing it." - Adapted from John Green
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