Nasriel learned enough to become seriously worried about the mission’s chances of success. Of the hundred and twelve men aboard Red Robin, counting Obi-Wan, only four could be said to be normal: Chami Yrue, the pilot; Lieutenant Ibrim; one clone trooper; and of course the Jedi Master himself, who, being a Jedi, was by definition highly unusual in the Galactic scheme of things. As for the rest… nine Corellian crew under Yrue’s command, all of them crooks to one degree or another; three clone officers, counting an extreme racist, a man cheerfully confessing absolute disdain for rules, and a third who flatly refused to say a word. And of course all of the troopers would, under normal circumstances, have been sent straight back to Kamino.
After an hour’s exploration, Nasriel slipped quietly off to her cabin. She locked the door firmly before rolling, fully dressed, too tired to bother abandoning even her boots, into the bunk. It was ten hours after noon.
Some time later, she was awakened from an uneasy slumber by the faint hiss of the cabin door opening. She’d locked that – hadn’t she? Definitely. But it didn’t matter: to her knowledge, only one person on the ship could open from the outside a door locked on the inside. Master Muln said Obi-Wan had always been good at that. Come to think of it… Nasriel couldn’t recall ever seeing him actually touch a door control.
He didn’t come in, probably supposing her to be already asleep, but stood in the corridor for a few seconds, before gracefully gesturing the door closed again. Reassuringly, even the lock returned to its former position, with a definite snick. Nasriel smiled to herself in the darkness, and drifted back off to sleep, considering with quiet amusement what sort of man it was that would stop to ensure that his sixteen-year-old Padawan was safely asleep. Kind? Not quite the right word… No, good. A good man whose previous experience of teenagers informed him that the typical precautions one took with a much younger child remained necessary for many years. Anakin had a lot to answer for. The last thought that consciously registered in Nasriel’s mind was, Force, in another life Master Obi-Wan might have made a brilliant father.
A persistent hammering in the passage outside. Nasriel, startled from sleep and still acting mostly from instinct, snatched up Kijé’s lightsaber from under her pillow and lay, tense and still, waiting.
“Open this door at once!” While the gears of her mind grumbled into life, she sat slowly up and swung her feet to the floor. Three steps to the door, ‘saber still in hand, all instincts flicking alarm switches and conscious thought standing blearily in the middle wondering which to respond to first.
Licking her dry lips, Nasriel asked uncertainly, “Who’s there?”
“Sterling. Open up, kid.”
“Okay, okay, coming.” Reach out in the Force and twist the moving parts of the lock aside. By now the door must be pretty used to this kind of manipulation. On a vague whim, Nasriel checked her chrono. Three in the morning. What…?
“Captain, what’s the game?”
“No game, sir.” The familiar dark-brown eyes she had seen in so many clones before him now held an unfamiliar expression: something cold, and hard, and anxious. “You’re to come with me to the hangar at once. Right now, sir.”
“All right.” No doubt this would all be cleared up soon and she could go back to bed. If the Force willed it, of course.
Obi-Wan met them at the hangar door, looking rather like a man who has not had time to go and sleep, and has received a singularly unpleasant surprise instead.
“What’s – Master, what’s going on?”
Rather than replying, he turned and led them farther into the hangar, past the landing craft and the fast little red two-seater from the Temple, t the open space near the far wall where the clones had a makeshift shooting gallery, and where Nasriel had noted would be a good place to practice kata. Nobody had been shooting tonight. Much of the Robin’s crew and battalion stood silently about, making a half-circle around something in the center of the gallery. The hangar had been shocked into stillness, and Nasriel was aware of a horrible, horrified charge crackling in the Force.
Orde’s body lay on the floor, his armor still gleamingly clean. Somehow it seemed wrong that the white plastoid should remain so spotless when its wearer was dead. Grimy with the smoke of shelling and the dust of battle, lain in that same dust, it would not have been so jarring. But death where everything was clean…
A few meters away, all in different directions, the clone’s arms and legs, the natural angles grotesque now separated from the solid trunk, lay scattered about. Somebody had found the slain Captain’s head, and brought it back, and covered it with a clean polishing rag. Looking closer, Nasriel saw a deep, melted gash in the floor-plates. Another step into the circle, between the clones who almost magically cleared a path for her, and she realized that the gash didn’t just go through the flooring: it had sliced Orde’s torso neatly in half as well.
The high, cavernous chamber, brilliant with floodlights, reeled and danced before her eyes, until Obi-Wan’s hand rested gently on her forearm, a welcome point of reference.
“Master, who could have done this?”
For an instant she was falling sideways, forced to step in that direceion to keep her balance. Something clinked against the floor. As she instinctively stooped to pick up the tool some careless technician had dropped – a hydrospanner, perhaps, or a hex-wrench – someone shouted Stop! but Nasriel’s fingers had already found the tooled leather of the grips, so old and friendly and yet not… and the back of her mind nagged at her to make the little flick of the right thumb on the activation switch.
Gloved hands intercepted; Sterling, the darkness rising in his eyes, held her wrist immobile as he snatched away the lightsaber.
“That’s – it’s exactly like mine, exactly. How did that get here?”
“Precisely what we want to know.” Zuqof came forward, pushing through the crowd, past Captain Yrue, whose naturally pale skin was drained white in shock. “Padawan Threeb, where have you been for the last six hours?”
“I was wandering about the ship for about an hour… then I went to my cabin and to sleep.”
“Anyone see you?”
“Well… lots, around the ship, but later – perhaps not exactly see as such, because it was dark, and I didn’t speak to him or anything, but Master Obi-Wan -“
“General Kenobi has been with me the whole time. Padawan Threeb, would you look at Captain Orde. What’s… your first impression?”
“Mou kei, sai cha, sai tok,” Nasriel named the lightsaber strokes inflicted on the clone. “Someone was pretty serious about wanting him dead. Mou kei – the dismemberment – isn’t necessarily a kill stroke, but sai cha – decapitation – is. And then whoever it was cut him in half after he was dead. This is horrific.”
“Would you say,” Zuqof asked, voice silky soft, an odd contrast with his Mandalorian accent, “that… say, a Jedi could have done this? Hypothetically.”
“Master, what do you think?”
“Oh, no.” Taking Nasriel’s chin between thumb and forefinger, the clone Major turned her away from Obi-Wan, to the corpse on the ground. “I asked you.”
“Then I would say anybody who knows how to use a lightsaber could do it, but very, very few if any Jedi… would.”
“I see.” There was a pause. “Padawan Nasriel Threeb, you are under military arrest on strong suspicion of the murder of clone Captain Orde. And I require that you show me your hands.”
When she didn’t react, except to stare at him in mounting bewilderment, he added almost kindly, “You heard me.”
They stood like that for a long time, Nasriel facing Zuqof, and mistily aware of Obi-Wan, over to her right, about a meter away.
“Master…” Into one flatly-spoken word, she tried to convey so much. Anxiety. Pleading. And acknowledgement that if he said so, she would play along without a murmur.
“Let him. I’m sorry.” There was a husky catch in his voice. “Just… let him.”
“Here, then.” Unhooking lightsaber and dagger from her belt, Nasriel held them tremblingly out to Obi-Wan, without turning her head away from the carnage to her left. “You’d better look after these.”
Obi-Wan stepped forward and took the weapons. “I’ll give them back directly this is all cleared up.”
“Thanks, Master. All right,” Nasriel added to Zuqof, holding out her hands, palms up as if in supplication. “Go ahead.”
Wordlessly, the officer snapped a pair of binders onto the Padawan’s wrists. He had to ratchet them to their tightest setting to fit Nasriel, and, as the cold beskar iron touched her skin, the flutter of fear in the Force hit Obi-Wan like a punch to the stomach. This was his Padawan. He was supposed to protect her. Instead he had to stand by, silent, powerless to interfere, as she was hustled ungently away.
At the corner of the nearest ship, just before she was led quite out of sight, Nasriel paused to turn back. She was deathly pale, but her head tilted bravely back and she carried herself like... a Jedi, Obi-Wan thought.
“I’ll see you later, Master.”
He could only nod. “May the Force be with you.”
“Thank you,” the Padawan replied politely, before Zuqof tugged impatiently at her arm, and she disappeared altogether.