Welcome to hell. Obi-Wan blinked in puzzlement, but Mi’s smile only widened.
“Precisely speaking, you are on Torre’s bed in the kitchen on the ground floor of Sunrise House, Black City, Quadropolis, Malastare. The city is called hell for two reasons. One, like hell, it is not acknowledged by the politicians. Two, it plain is. You saw a little on the way in. This is where the thieves, the drug dealers, the whores, the pimps, the gangsters, the slavers, and the guns for hire live. The gates are open only at night. During the day our very existence is denied. Sunrise House is the only safe place in the Black City.” She shrugged, as if trying to tip the cares of the filthy streets outside off her shoulders. “Do you want something to drink? Tea? Caf?”
“Not in this town,” Carys said toughly. She was standing with her arms folded, looking down at him, and a lesser man would have found it unnerving. “Here you only drink water if it’s been boiled and still hot, or with a dash of brandy for disinfectant. Preferably both.”
Slowly, Mi got to her feet, and, opening cupboards in the scrupulously clean kitchen, fetched down a chipped teapot, a jar of dried tea leaves, and two thin, almost translucent, white ceramic drinking bowls. As she busied herself measuring tea into the pot, and swinging a heavy copper kettle over the fire, Obi-Wan moved to one of the sturdy timber benches that ran either side of the long kitchen table. He rested his elbows on the tabletop and his head in his hands, noticing out of the corner of one eye that the shabby grey jacket he had been wearing now hung from a hook on the kitchen door.
“Why?” He felt compelled to ask. “Why live here? Who else lives here?” The house felt big, as if there were many other rooms above and around the homely kitchen.
Mi answered the second question first. “Carys, two other girls, and three boys permanently, and right now three boys and four girls temporarily, and also one girl waiting here for her uncle to come for her. I live here because this is where the Force showed me a need.” Almost without pausing for breath, and certainly without leaving him time to respond, she added, “Your lightsaber is on the mantleshelf. I want it kept out of little Tamro’s reach.”
“Tamro who?” Obi-Wan asked, idly curious.
“We don’t use surnames here,” the woman answered indirectly, turning to stir something sweetly spicy-smelling in a bowl on the countertop beyond the table. “Carys! You were the fool who got him slugged, so you can introduce Obi-Wan around. Not in the third bedroom – she’s still asleep, poor child.”
It was a mazy, confusing house, all half-levels and twisting corridors that doubled back on themselves. And all the time the dozens of small rooms buzzed with chatter and people hurrying in and out. Carys dutifully told him all their names, but it was impossible to remember. Yinshan, Hala, Sula, Nichel, Lyud, Aldi, Elié, and Jashli… Kiri and Kili and Torre and Tamro…
“Tamro who, Carys?” It was a dark, surly little boy of about five, with foxy reddish-brown hair and a perpetual glower in his black eyes.
“I don’t know. Ferli might; he’s her son, after all. Ferl? What’s Tamro’s surname?”
“Jados,” called a young woman reading a book in the corner of a hallway. “For his father.”
“Jados,” Carys repeated unnecessarily. “We’d better go down; it’s cold out of the kitchen. And… look, I’m sorry about Kimli’s guy whacking you in the street, that was kinda my fault because I had to hit her, but… I did tell you to stay close. Why do you care what Tam’s name is?”
“I knew a Jados once,” Obi-Wan contented himself with replying.
Back in the kitchen, the tea steamed in its pot, adding the scent of the silpa leaves to the woodsmoke and spices the air was already thick with. Carys came only as far as the door, despite her protests against the chill in the upper rooms, and then left again, letting the door bang shut behind her.
Setting the teapot, a jar of honey, and one of the drinking bowls on the table, Mi said over her shoulder, “Sit down and talk to me.” The other bowl, half-full still, balanced precariously on the mantle, and from time to time she would pause to sip from it.
So Obi-Wan sat at the kitchen table of a quiet house in hell and told Mi the whole story, starting with the landing in the Red Robin’s hangar bay.
“…and then I came to you,” he ended.
The woman set down the stone jar she held, and sighed. “My dear, I am so sorry. How awful for you.” As she turned back to the fire, she added softly, “Now, let me see what I can do. To start with, you can describe the lightsaber found with the body, in as much detail as you can remember.”
Obi-Wan told her about the gilding on the hilt, the green tooled leather of the grips, and the pommel with its curious milled lines run around it. About the pale – almost silver – blue of the blade, and the deep-pitched thrum of the energy beam. Clattering a dozen wooden bowls down onto the scrubbed surface of the table, Mi pursed her lips, thinking. It was almost a minute before she replied.
“Yes, I’ve seen it. And I know who can tell you who has it now.” The kitchen door slammed open, and she changed tack abruptly. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know after supper. No business of any kind at the table, that’s Sunrise House rules. If you knew who lived here you’d see at once why.”
There were sixteen people in the house, by Mi’s count, and some miracle permitted fifteen of them to fit around the table. Tamro Jados was by far the youngest, for most of ‘the family’, as Carys put it, was aged mid-teens through mid-twenties. Apart from the wary skittishness of the ‘temporaries’, it was very like a table of Padawans back at the Temple, with everybody talking at once and nobody trying to keep order. The food in the wooden bowls was some sort of highly spiced lentil stew, and not very appetizing even by Temple standards, but it disappeared rapidly enough.
When everybody had finished eating, and the eldest ‘permanent’ boy had broken up the fight two of the ‘temporary’ boys had started at the far end of the table, Mi turned to Ferli with a quiet order.
“She’s still asleep,” Ferli protested with a laugh. “Still! Little ziphead.”
Quick as Ferli was to duck, Mi was quicker, and delivered a stinging slap on the other woman’s cheek.
“Girl was pumped full of drugs enough to down your man, let alone a little thing barely Tamro’s size. Wake her gently and send her down to talk to me. The rest of you clear out.”
“Me as well?” Obi-Wan checked, getting to his feet.
“You stay. Sit down,” Mi snapped. Gradually the warm kitchen cleared, and at last the door closed, leaving the room peaceful.
“It’s name is Air,” Mi said, apropos of nothing. “The lightsaber you described. What most people don’t know is that Master Del Gormo could fight either double-bladed or Jar’Kai. And he built two lightsabers which can be screwed together pommel to pommel, or used one in each hand for Jar’Kai. Together they form a pair, named Air and Water. You found Air. Water was lost track of nearly a hundred years ago, when Hanneli of Iridonia, who had indirectly inherited it from Del Gormo, her Master’s Master, gave it to her Padawan, Miron Pol. Pol vanished. Air Hanneli gave to her other Padawan, Tara Whitewall, who grew up to join the Altistian Jedi.”
Obi-Wan permitted himself a tiny smile. “Water is currently safely locked up in the Temple Archives. I put it there myself.”
With a gasp of horror, Mi cried, “No! They were made to be used!”
“How would you know?”
Now it was her turn to smile. “I was once Tara Whitewall. I changed my name when I ran away to the Black City as a girl, but I soon learned my mistake. Master Altis bought me back, but asked me to stay on at Sunrise House, to help others in the same position. And now I’ve answered your question about who lives here.”
“So how did Air get aboard the Red Robin?”