More apologies to Obi-Wan. This is the last time I will say this for a while – just take it as read for the next few chapters.
When the crewman responsible for the transport’s engineering reported the exact problem, Major Zuqof made a sound remarkably close to a snarl. “Sand in the engines? That’ll take hours.”
Obi-Wan looked about for his comlink. “I’ll call the ship and ask after Nasriel, if I may.”
“Oh…” A trooper glanced sheepishly up from a game of cards with a friend. “I think I threw your comm across the hold, I’m afraid. I hope it still works.”
Picking up the comlink from the corner, Obi-Wan checked to find that it did still work – and there was a voice message on the data chip. He stepped out of the transport and walked some distance away, so as to call Nasriel in private.
Just as he was about to key in the callsign Zuqof had told him for the Robin, the brilliant desert sunlight from behind him was broken by another shadow flung long and black across the sand.
“Me.” Me was a young Balosar man with a vaguely familiar air, dressed in a vague – and also green – approximation of a Jedi tunic. “I think I’m a little lost. How far out from the equator am I?”
“How should I know?” Obi-Wan retorted irritably. “What are you doing on Halm anyway?”
“Lost my ‘saber,” the man answered lightly. “In the absence of Ilum… you get me? I came down to make a new one. What are the odds of two Jedi meeting here?” He paused only to continue irrelevantly, “Came in a disarmed star-fighter. Lovely piece of work. Well. I’ll find my way somehow.”
After the Balosar had vanished over the brow of a sand dune, Obi-Wan had trouble even recalling the incident as a waking event – it had had a surreal, dreamlike quality. He reconsidered calling immediately, and pressed the playback switch to hear the voice message left on his comm. The recording started with a series of staticky hisses, then Nasriel’s voice broke uncertainly in.
“Master Obi-Wan? Oh. I guess… it’s kind of odd for you not to answer your comlink. Anyway. I’m… uh… well, I’m fine. The bang on the head… wasn’t so big a deal, really. In retrospect. Yeah. I’m fine. I… don’t have long, sorry. Half an hour, to be exact. Um… that is… I only have half an hour, I’m… I don’t know how to say this. Master, I’m going to die. I’m being executed for murdering Captain Orde… I’m sorry if that’s inconvenient for you, but I don’t exactly have a lot of say in the matter.”
What was this? But the message had not ended.
“If you don’t mind… there’s just a couple of things. Call Kijé. Tell him what’s happened, and tell him from me… there is no death, there is the Force. You’ll have to use the medcenter callsign and talk your way past Master Eerin. Don’t take no for an answer. I promised Kij that if I died, and knew about it ahead of time, he’d be the first to know. And… if you get time… can you try to prove it wasn’t me? Mi Amarok can help; get her address from Kijé. I think it’s Malastare. Give my love to Ben. I guess… that’s all, really. I’ll see you on the other side. May the Force be with you.”
She had left the message an hour earlier.
“Oh, Force,” Obi-Wan whispered, then clicked the redial button.
“CT-1313. Who is this?”
The medic? “This is General Kenobi. My Padawan left a voice message from your comm. I’m calling back.”
“General… that was an hour ago. I was standing beside her when she made that call, so I know you know what’s happened.” He hurried on, “I guess you want answers – I haven’t got any. I didn’t know what was going on until we got back up here, but it damn sure wasn’t my idea, sir. Ask the Major.”
“What’s going on, Major?” Obi-Wan had asked the clone officer to step outside so they could talk, and explained what Nasriel and the medic had told him.
“Frankly, I don’t know. When I’m not there, Captain Yrue has total command of the ship. I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing, but if you can wait twenty minutes, we’ll talk it over with him back on the ship.”
“It was my job,” Yrue shrugged when posed with the question. “That’s the law. Murder of an ally in wartime is a capital crime, and falls under the jurisdiction of any interested warship. The captain of such a ship has full authority to try, sentence, and in most cases execute the criminal.” He grinned, and the horribly misplaced amusement left him looking even younger than his twenty-six years. “Anyway, it’s done. I couldn’t take it back if I wanted to.”
“You played at judge and had your fun, but to end by killing a child? I don’t understand how you could do that, Captain.”
“General Kenobi… if she was a child, what in the name of all things holy was she doing on a battle-cruiser? And if she wasn’t, she was responsible for her actions same as you or I would be.” The Corellian pilot’s light blue eyes glittered hardly in the pale light of the bridge instruments.
Zuqof, who had been leaning against the closed door looking more uncomfortable by the second, broke in to dispel the rising tension. “What’s done is done. We can discuss legality and liability back home on Coruscant. I have to call the Kams to tell them about Orde, and… General, I guess you’ve got calls to make as well.”
Ignoring the obvious change of subject, Obi-Wan said firmly, “I want to see my Padawan’s… corpse.” The last word was barely a whisper.
“Been disintegrated already,” Yrue reported casually, refusing to look up from his viewscreen to meet Obi-Wan’s eyes. “Look, you want proof she’s dead? Name the one thing she’d never let anyone take off of her if she was alive.”
“The charm. A black stone… on a cord. Around her neck.” The scene flashed vividly into his mind. Nasriel’s fingers rubbing that stone so hard that the nails blanched. Her crisp Coruscant accent slipping to the softer vowels of Saalisan as it always did when she was in turmoil. Explaining that she had given up everything else, that the lucky charm and the very name Nasriel were all her mother had had of her own to leave her daughter.
There was a harsh clatter as the pilot tossed a smooth, flat, deep black pebble, bored with a hole for a leather cord, onto the control console. The intricate knot in the leather had been slashed apart with a knife, not untied. So. That was that.
In an instant, Zuqof had bounded across the bridge and seized Yrue by the throat, slamming his blond head into the viewscreen before dragging him upright, past upright, to the tips of his toes.
“You go too far, Captain,” he snarled. “You had orders – nobody ever ordered you to be deliberately provocative. Next time you obey to the letter, doing only what is required of a ship’s captain, and nothing besides. Are we quite clear?” he asked menacingly.
“Ye – yes, Major!” Yrue gasped, scrabbling wildly for a footing on the deck that was just beyond his reach.
“Good.” Abruptly releasing his grip, Zuqof let the pilot fall where he might, and turned away to talk to Obi-Wan. “This ship only has one communications channel with a long enough range for calls out-of-sector. If you don’t mind, I have to call Kamino, and then the link will be entirely at your disposal.”
“Of course.” Apparently on a whim, he added, “Might I take a look at the lightsaber that killed Orde? I’ve got an idea I want to test.”
“Sure, go ahead. It’s in the secure locker. I’ll tell ’em to let you in. The paperwork out here is terrible,” he grumbled good-naturedly. “And what Taun We will have to say about this I shudder to think. Orde was a source-man, you see. One of the guys they can recall at a moment’s notice to clone from, now Fett’s dead. Oh, the locker, yeah. Down in back of the hangar. Ibrim should be down there – if he’s not I’ll have his hide – go on down and I’ll comm him to let him know you’re coming.”