In honor of International Atheists’ Day. (See Psalm 14 verse 1)
As usual there is somebody to thank: this time it’s Erin, for the kind loan of a truly annoying General, first seen here.
It was nearly three years after the Battle of Geonosis. The 313th Battalion of the clone army had been stationed in the Mid Rim for months now. They had seen very few skirmishes, because General Kenobi was adamant that a station commanded by two children was to be kept on the edges of the war. However, even he was powerless to protect them from bureaucracy: the entire battalion had been flung into a state of almost panicky excitement by the news that General Stalgard was coming to inspect the station. Nervously fingering her Padawan braid, the acting commander of the 313th, Nasriel Threeb, worried, “The trouble is, Ben, Master Obi-Wan’s officially here, but really with the 501st. We’re just standing in, so one more station can stay active.”
“Stalgard won’t see it that way,” Ben predicted gloomily. “He’d have us back to the Temple as soon as look at us.”
While he was still talking, Clone Major Storm entered the bridge. “Pardon me for interrupting, Miss Nasriel, Padawan Kenobi, but General Stalgard’s shuttle is requesting permission to dock.”
Nasriel caught Ben’s eye and grinned. “Showtime.”
The two Jedi and the clone officer hurried down to the docking bay to meet the general. Just at the last second before the shuttle’s ramp lowered, Nasriel flicked her thin Padawan braid around to the front of her shoulder, so that the golden topaz tied at its end gleamed in the austere white light of the bay.
General Stalgard, a stately, graying, non-Jedi soldier, descended the ramp and stared at the Padawans in mild astonishment that rapidly turned to anger. “Where is your commander? Children. This is absurd.”
Drawing herself up to her full height of a meter and a half, Nasriel replied politely, “At the moment, General, in view of Master Kenobi’s – temporary – absence, I am the commanding officer.” I only hope it is temporary, her mind muttered through the Force to Ben. “Padawan Nasriel Threeb, at your service, General.”
“Rank? Do you have a rank?”
“Padawan,” the girl repeated in puzzlement. “Oh, I see. I beg your pardon, sir. I’m an acting Colonel.” Smiling, she added wryly, “Rather grand for just seventeen, isn’t it?”
“Very grand,” agreed the general coldly. “And may I ask whether you were aware that this is a Republic station, and therefore, what in the Galaxy you are wearing?”
Nasriel looked down at her clothes, and saw less to complain of than usual. Because the general’s visit constituted An Occasion, she had even gone to the trouble of ironing her tunic. “Clothes, sir.”
The rest of the inspection was very little less tense. When General Stalgard discovered the clones’ shooting range in one of the hangars and demanded an explanation, it became very much more tense, but, at last, he was satisfied enough to depart. That he swore as he left that he would have them both on a charge worried the Padawans not at all.
Entering her own cabin, Nasriel shuddered involuntarily: Stalgard gave her a cold feeling all down her spine. She was about to call Obi-Wan at the 501st to grumble about the protocol-obsessed General, and then collapse onto her bunk for some much-needed sleep, when the buzzer from the bridge rang with a call.
Wearily, Nasriel opened the comm channel. It was Ahsoka, looking upset. “Hiya, ‘Soka. I was just about to call you guys. Is Master Obi-Wan there?”
“It’s about Master Kenobi that I’m calling,” the Togruta Padawan replied quietly. “Nasriel, he’s – don’t be scared – he’s… well, we ran into a rough patch, and… I’m sorry, so sorry.”
“Ahsoka – what do you mean?” She could hear the note of panic in her voice and tried to quell it. Jedi and soldiers did not panic. “What’s wrong?”
The blue hologram of Ahsoka bit her lip. “Master Kenobi is… is one with the Force.”
“If you mean dead, then say dead. Do you mean dead, really, for certain? Not… not missing, presumed dead? Ahsoka, please.”
Close to tears herself, Ahsoka replied angrily, “Dead. It was – there was an explosion. Nothing left. He was trying to rescue some clones, there’s nothing left. Master Skywalker’s still out searching. He – he found a lightsaber hilt…” Her voice trailed off.
“No! No, please, Force, no, not him, not yet! Ahsoka, this is a joke, right? You’re having some fun? Having a laugh? Please be joking. Please!”
“I’m so sorry,” Ahsoka repeated helplessly. “I’ll get Anakin to call you when he gets back.”
Nasriel’s hand reached up automatically to cut off the channel. One deep, shuddering gasp later, she screamed. “No!” Shrieked her anguish into the silent depths of the Force, “Why? Master, why?” Not him, please, Force, if there is any justice in the universe, not him, we need him. Not again. If Nasriel could have had one wish at that moment, it would have been to wake up from the hellish nightmare her life had become.
Memories poured through her mind unbidden. Drinking tea and talking philosophy in the middle of the night. Longer ago, huddling in an ice cave on Hoth, half-dead with pain and cold, when Obi-Wan had come to find her and bring her home. Still farther back in time, after Jabiim, after weeks of mourning for the lost hero of the Order, Padawan Terzah, the Council messenger, racing into the center of the dojo with a wild whoop of delight and yelling at the top of his lungs, yelling until he was hoarse, “Listen! He’s not dead! He’s alive! Kenobi’s alive!” Oh, if only Terzah were here now with that message.
Please, Force, no. Not my Master. Not this Master.
Clone Major Storm, passing his commander’s cabin on his way to his own, looked in to say good night. She liked that. On opening the door, he found her lying curled on her bunk, weeping, her slim body racked with silent sobs, and tears dampening the blanket.
“Miss Nasriel? Is something wrong?” Silly question, really. “What’s the matter?”
At that she sat up, gulped back her misery and swiped tears away with her sleeve-cuffs. “I just had word from the 501st that my Master is – is dead.” Saying the words aloud flung them into sharp relief and made of them spears stabbing her heart. Even the knowledge that she had the reputation of the Jedi to uphold could not halt fresh weeping. “Oh, Storm, he’s dead. Master Kenobi’s dead.”
Dead. Dead meant, I will never see him again. Dead meant, never again feel his arms around me. Never again have him brush away my tears and gently find a solution to the problem. Never again argue amiably about Soresu. Never, never, never.
“I have to tell Ben.” Tell Ben. Tell a boy his beloved uncle was dead? Tell a Padawan his Master was one with the Force? Tell an impressionable child his role model was fallen? All impossible tasks, and she would have to complete all three at once.
Storm laid a steadying hand on her arm. “Are you sure, Miss? I can tell Padawan Kenobi, you ought to get some rest, maybe even take a sedative.”
“No. Drugs cloud the Force. That’s what -” The sentence had to remain unfinished, because it ended, that’s what Master Obi-Wan says. “And it is better that I tell him.”
Ben was dreaming when she knocked on his door. He rose and opened it, still fuzzy with sleep, and jolted into full alertness by her expression. “What happened?”
“Ben, I don’t know how to put this.”
Terror flickered in his eyes, and made the tone in which he answered tremble. “Is it -” his mind traveled at lightspeed over a million horrible possibilities. “What?”
Inhaling unsteadily, Nasriel replied in plain words, words any girl would use to her brother, ignoring the Jedi platitudes designed for such times, “Master Obi-Wan is dead.”
“I’m dreaming,” said Ben with conviction. “Any moment now you will turn into a gundark and I will wake up.” With this aim in mind, he pinched the back of his hand, looking up with dawning horror as the scene did not change before his eyes to that of his own untidy room in the Temple. “I’m awake. Nasriel, you’re kidding?”
Nasriel did not need to shake her head, but she did anyway. “Would I kid about something this bad? Dead, Ben, dead, gone, one with the Force, passed away, blown away, killed in action – however you like to put it. Master Obi-Wan is dead. Galaxy without end, forever, amen. And I wish it weren’t so.”
“Oh.” Ben absorbed the news in silence, then turned back into his cabin. “Good night.”
Nasriel knew better than to press the matter. She had spent long enough time with the Padawan Pack, the group of orphans too young to be knighted but too old to be merely dispatched back to the Temple, to realize that those who did not show their grief often felt it the more hardly. Returning to her cabin, Nasriel wept until she was drained of tears and energy, and fell asleep, into a web of dark, confusing nightmares about falling into the blackness behind the stars.
In the morning she woke cheerful, and stayed so until she saw the blank holoprojector in the bridge. Then the events of the night came flooding back and overwhelmed her. He’s dead. Master Obi-Wan is dead. Wearily, unwillingly, she switched on the channel, to call her Master – no, he was dead and she had to remember that – to call Anakin, if not for comfort then at least for confirmation of what had happened.
When the call finally got through to the 501st Battalion, Nasriel blinked and rubbed her eyes. Surely… What was one to say? “Is it a joke this time?”
At last she choked, “You crazy barve! What’s going on over there?”
“Nothing,” replied Obi-Wan in calm bemusement. “We’ve not seen action for weeks. Why? What should be going on?”
“Ahsoka called – last night,” whispered Nasriel. “She said you – she said you were dead.” An idea struck her, and she pressed the intercom button. “Padawan Kenobi to the bridge, please, Padawan Kenobi to the bridge,” the commanding officer of the 313th ordered, in as steady a voice as a heart singing with joy would allow.
The commanding officer of the 501st stared at her, for once bereft of words. “Ahsoka called and said what?”
“That you were dead,” his Padawan replied shakily.
“Did you look at the calendar when she called?”
“No!” What in the broad blue Galaxy has that got to do with anything?
“You might want to look now,” Obi-Wan suggested gently.
With a tap on the control panel, Nasriel summoned the relevant data to the viewscreen beside her. “Well?”
“What day was yesterday?”
She had to look closer to see that. “It was All Fools’ Day, Master. Ohhh… sith-spit! I believed her and everything!”
“It’s all right. It’s all right. You were worried and stressed, and Ahsoka’s another Jedi, so of course you believed her. Calm down, young one.”
Just before closing the channel, Nasriel saw Obi-Wan turn and call gently, “Ahsoka… we need to talk about practical jokes.”