Thanks to Rachel for challenging me to a 24-hour Word War: everything below the asterisks is a direct result.
Two day slipped by too fast, as cool water glides away when one tries to hold it, because time is a pernicious thing, altering its pace with one’s mood so as to cause the greatest possible irritation. Obi-Wan had no further opportunities to speak to Nasriel until very late at night – or early in the morning – just before the ship reached orbit about the world of Halm.
Nasriel was still asleep, almost tumbling off the narrow bunk-shelf, and all of her that was visible was two closed eyes, and long black lashes curving peacefully onto her cheeks. Somewhere deep in her mind, she knew he was there – could not help knowing – but didn’t wake. While in almost any other circumstances Obi-Wan would have found his Padawan’s quiet trust touching, now it was only just shy of inconvenient.
He crossed the tiny cell and tapped her on the head. “Wake up, right now.”
“Hmm? Oh, okay.” Sitting up and flicking the cloak aside, Nasriel blinked, and asked brightly, “What do you want me to do?” Obi-Wan realized with a faint twinge of memory that this facet of Nasriel’s character was probably Qui-Gon’s primary reason for trying to have her assigned to him: an apprentice who not only liked mornings, but could be cheerful and compliant within four seconds of an abrupt awakening, would certainly have been a pleasant novelty for a man accustomed to dragging his Padawan out of bed and expecting him to be civil well before dawn. Well, at least Nasriel usually had the tact – or sense – not to try inflicting mornings on anybody else. Being the victim of an early riser who happened to be one’s Master was one thing, but similar tyranny from one’s Padawan would have been insufferable.
“Be very quiet, for a start.” Rapidly, Obi-Wan unfolded Nasriel’s own cloak and tossed it to her, together with Kijé’s silver lightsaber, both of which he had neatly abstracted from the ship’s safe-storage bay as being both utterly irrelevant to the murder inquiry and rather needed by their rightful owner.
Nasriel slipped on her cloak, and, ‘saber restored to its proper place at her belt, flickered her golden eyes questioningly upward.
“Hurry, we haven’t much time. Come with me.”
Cautiously, they ventured out into the deserted corridor, pausing only to reset the code of the cell door, so as to hinder discovery of Nasriel’s absence therefrom.
When they reached the hangar door, Nasriel stopped dead in her tracks, tugging at Obi-Wan’s sleeve. “Master, this is illegal. I’m under arrest!”
“There’s barely half an hour before we have to leave the ship on the mission. Zuqof handed command over to me three hours ago – I’m merely countermanding his order. I’ll need you on the ground.”
Nasriel smiled slightly. “You need me, huh? There’s a new one.”
“Three minutes from now this hangar will be swarming with clones. Go quickly and get into our fighter. You shouldn’t be noticed in the hurry, but… hide. What I’m doing is technically legal, but I’d rather not have it questioned until we’re safely on the ground.”
This was more like what she was used to: dancing around legality, playing hide-and-go-seek with the rules. As Obi-Wan turned away, back to the corridor, Nasriel went to the Jedi starfighter, stepping lightly up over the wing into the cockpit, and gliding the transparisteel cover back over. Sinking fluidly into the Force, as a stone is loosed from fingers drooping over a still pool, she wove a pattern of unnotice about her, and slowed her breathing and pulse to nearly nothing: hiding the way Jiron had taught her.
She heard the steady tramp of marching feet, clones forming up ready for embarkation; blaster rifles clattering against durasteel flooring; shouts. Platoon – form up! Platoon – embark! The busy hustle of a battle station in the last moments of preparing for war.
Time was of no consequence this deep in the Force: it could have been anything from a heartbeat to a day before Obi-Wan shoved the cockpit cover back and swung gracefully into the pilot’s seat. (He later claimed it was a little less than twenty minutes.) Nasriel didn’t even have to probe to find out what he was thinking – he seemed to have forgotten both that she was there, and to shield from her.
Mild annoyance about the comm headset. All these unnecessary gadgets. So uncivilized. Apprehension – could that be right? Nasriel wondered. Flying is for droids. Yes, it could. Just as she realized that hiding in the Force like this, invisible but watching, was really no better than spying, and began to drift back to the so-called “real Galaxy”, where the color was dimmer, and every scent and sight and sound less vivid, Obi-Wan covered his microphone with one hand to ask quietly:
“Are you there?”
“Yes, Master. Why do you ask?”
“I was beginning to wonder. You’re all right?”
“Fine. And… thank you. I…” Force, this was hard to say. “I thought you didn’t care what happened to me. Thanks for the rescue.”
“That’s my job, Nasriel. Personal feelings don’t come into the matter.” A pause. “Much. You’ll have to be quiet again now.” He spoke into the comlink. “All units check in with status report.”
Although Nasriel could not hear the replies, she knew what they would be: “Blue two, standing by… Blue three… four, standing by… Troop Transport one, standing by…” until all were accounted for.
“All units, take off and form up. Maintain radio silence from leaving Red Robin to landing. May the Force be with us all.”
The battle group took off almost as one ship, sweeping out into the seamless velvety blackness of the void. Spacer’s black, the kids at the Temple called it. The blackest black there was.
The planet of Halm glowed faintly in the distance, bright and unsullied, from this distance at any rate. Nasriel wondered what they would find there.