The ‘take as read’, and also to Kijé, who informed me after we had finished work that he hated every second of this scene.
Many thanks to Mac, my big brother, for introducing me to Reena, who forms much the basis for Mi Amarok.
Obi-Wan took the lift-tube back up to the bridge level, and shut himself in his cabin to make a call back to the Temple. As Nasriel had predicted, Bant answered the medcenter comm, looking sleepy and somewhat irate.
“Eerin. Who is this? Do you even know what time it is?”
“It’s me, Bant. I’m sorry, I didn’t check the time. Listen, I need to talk to -”
“No, you may not talk to Ben. No, Obi-Wan. Absolutely not.”
“Kijé Yenseh,” Obi-Wan finished imperturbably. “If he’s still there.”
“Oh.” Bant paused, her puzzlement obvious despite the grievously poor signal and extreme tenuousness of the resultant holo. “He’s here… what’s this about? I don’t want him upset.”
“I can’t tell you,” Obi-Wan said to her for the first time in his life. “I can only say it’s important.”
“No, then,” came the flat reply. “The boy is recovering from Tandari fever; any unnecessary -”
“It’s necessary,” Obi-Wan assured her. From somewhere in the medcenter, beyond the visual range of the holotransmitter’s sensors but now beyond the audio range, an outraged yell reached his ears.
“Master Eerin! This is Obi-Wan Kenobi we are talking about! He does not call unless it’s important. Five minutes.”
Turning, Bant scolded, “Kijé, what are you doing out of bed?”
There was a crash that made Obi-Wan wince, then Kijé retorted dryly, “Falling in a heap on the floor, apparently. Master Eerin, let me talk to him.”
Evidently Kijé got to his feet again, for he appeared in the holo a second later, hair disordered and dark eyes unnaturally bright. He held one hand up to Bant, who stood just out of the image, all his fingers outspread. Five minutes.
“Well? Master Eerin’s just stormed off in a huff, so I’m alone. What’s up?”
How to say it? “I’ve a message for you from Nasriel. She said to tell you there is no death, there is the Force. She’s dead. I’m very sorry. I know you two were close.”
“Oh.” Kijé passed a hand across his face. “This is the will of the Force,” he said dully. “So be it. Thanks for letting me know, Master Kenobi. You’re all right? I mean… she died in battle, right?”
“No. No, I’m afraid that’s not so.”
Taking a deep breath, the boy nodded. “Go on.”
“One of the clone officers was murdered. All the evidence seemed to point to Nasriel, so they… killed her. There was nothing I could do.”
After a long pause, Kijé muttered bitterly, “The will of the bishwag Force, huh?” and blushed slightly when he realized Obi-Wan had heard him. “Sorry, sir. I – she didn’t, did she? Not that it matters now.”
“I do not believe for one moment that Nasriel murdered anybody,” Obi-Wan said vehemently. “She asked me to prove that. She said a Mi Amarok can help, and that you know where to find her.”
“Malastare,” provided Kijé promptly. “Go to the south gate of the north city of the Malastare Quadropolis, and ask at the blue-fronted jewelry store for Carys. She’ll take you the rest of the way. And don’t worry about the locals – the Quad’s like a miniature Galactic City.”
“Thanks. Oh – do you know if the Del Gormo lightsaber is still in the Archives? It could be important.”
Shrugging, Kijé replied, “I’ll check. Talk to Master Eerin ’til I get back – won’t be long.” He stepped out of the image for a moment and hollered, “Master Eerin!” Running footsteps, then both Bant and Kijé appeared at once.
“Back in a minute!” the boy promised, and vanished again.
The silence dragged intolerably on, neither Master willing or able to break it.
Finally, Obi-Wan asked, “How is Ben?”
“He’s been worse – yesterday. I’ve no reason to suspect tomorrow will be better. The pain seems to be lighter at night. I’m sorry, Obi-Wan, that’s the best I can tell you.”
“Compared to the other children?”
Bant looked away. “I’d prefer not to say.” When he didn’t reply, only sat waiting for her answer, she relented, “Bad. Ben is the worst off, but… not by much. I’m afraid that’s pretty cold comfort. Yenseh, of course, is up and about already, but he wasn’t badly affected – and anyway, he’s all for will over weakness, look how fast he was walking again after the accident. I can’t let you talk to Ben; he’d be upset, and you’d be horrified. Most of the time he’s delirious anyway.”
“Is he asleep now?”
“No. Not with Tandari. May I be brutally honest? At the moment I can foresee three possible outcomes: the fever will kill him, the sleep deprivation will kill him, or he will recover.”
“Can you give him a message? Tell him Nasriel sends her love – and so do I.”
Bant nodded wearily. “I’ll tell him next time he’s rational.”
At that moment, Kijé appeared, panting and rosy with exercise. “It’s there. Wasn’t I fast? I ran. Found a way of doing it even with the damn leg – language, sorry. It’s there and it hasn’t been touched since you put it there. All right?”
“Fine. Thank you.” Obi-Wan terminated the link and took a deep breath. He needed to think. Priorities, Kenobi, priorities. For at least another two days, he had to stay with the Robin – standard operating procedure, Zuqof had informed him curtly – waiting in orbit above Halm, guarding in case there were Separatist troops they’d missed, or in case anyone was foolhardy enough to come back. But after two days were over? Hurry back to the Temple for Ben? The boy hovered on the edge of death, and… to lose two Padawans in the space of one week, without the chance to say goodbye to either, would be too cruel a twist of fate. He did not think he could bear Owen’s anguish over the comm channel when – if – he had to call his brother and explain. He did not think he could bear Ben’s death.
Or make straight for Malastare, into the unknown, for the sake of Nasriel who was dead already? Not even for her, for her reputation, which Jedi did not care for anyway. The truth, as Qui-Gon had said so long ago, was something recorded in the Force, not any exterior medium, even another sentient’s opinion. Anyway, all he had was a name, and a city. All he knew about the planet was that it was home to the Dug race, and… “They have pod-racing on Malastare. Very fast, very dangerous.” He was making excuses, he realized with a start.
If Ben died alone – not alone. He would not be alone. He would be in the Temple, in his home, with people who loved and cared for him, and undeserted by the Force. It was foolish and prideful to think that one man’s presence or absence could make a whit of difference to whether the boy lived or died. And if Ben died when he was not there, when he was far across the stars righting a horrible wrong, Ben would not know, and any other Jedi would understand, and not judge him. Malastare, then.
Two days dragged by – how different from the two days he had lived through earlier that week, a whole century ago, the days when Nasriel was a prisoner aboard the Red Robin, the days that had vanished in the blink of an eye. Now every second clung, heavy, oppressive, clammy, and had to be fought through to reach the hour he could finally pack his things, toss two rucksacks into the rear cockpit of the sleek Temple fighter, and take off without a backward glance at the 5th Battalion ship. It was 5 that was the unlucky number. Obi-Wan wished he had never heard of the battalion.
Landing near the huge, sprawling Quadropolis just after noon, he saw the impossibility of his task. Four walled cities stood with edges touching, and only one gate led from the outer world into each. In these clothes he would never find anything: he reluctantly stripped off his outer tunic, replacing it with a grey civilian jacket from his rucksack. After remembering that at Malastare the suns set in the east, Obi-Wan located the northern city, and strode through the threatening gates unchallenged, despite the suspicious guards and the spiked portcullis. Following the city wall around, he eventually found another gate, but it led east, not south. On around the wall, and finally he arrived at the south gate, which was tightly closed, with the heavy oaken beams slammed down in their sockets.
The store Kijé had mentioned had blue stained-glass windows, painted with worlds, stars, and animals and flowers of all sorts. It was beautiful. As he pushed open the door, a string of tinkling bells danced musically against the ceiling, glittering in the blue light from the windows that also illumined the cases full of gemstones and silver.
“Can I help you?” A pretty Twi’lek girl emerged from a silk-curtained doorway behind the counter. “Looking for something specific, sir?”
“I’m looking for Carys. A friend told me I’d find her here.”
“You’re looking at Carys. I don’t know you, I’m afraid. What friend would this be? I don’t think I’ve done anything worth sending a handsome man like you after.”
“Kijé Yenseh said you know where to find Mi Amarok. My…” no, the woman wasn’t a Jedi, and he didn’t look much like one now. Something she’d understand his urgency in. “My niece has been killed and he said Mi can help me find the killer.”
“I do, and she can. We can’t leave for a few hours, though. The gates don’t open until sunset. Can I offer you a cup of tea while you wait?”
Flicking the curtain aside, Carys cocked her head on one side. “Come on. Don’t you trust me? Wise man. In this town you never trust a Twi’ girl. Never know where she’s been. But… me, you have to trust. That’s the way things are.”
He followed her into the cozy backroom of the jewelry store, and for the next few hours was alone there, drinking tea and thinking hard.