My little story’s growing up! It’s out of its teens already. Can you believe this was going to be a quiet little short of 1500 max?
So this would be a good time to thank Erin and VJ – and anyone else who’s been reading without my noticing – for coming along on the wild ride. It’s not over yet.
The blue satin curtain into the back room of the jewelry store was looped aside, and Carys nodded toward the doorway.
“Comm’s on the desk. Voice-only, sorry, the funds wouldn’t stretch to holo. All yours, though. And guaranteed unbugged, if that’s any comfort. I’ve got work to do.” She went to work taking down the shutters from inside the windows, and let the curtain fall back into place.
Nasriel picked up from the cluttered desk a boxy object that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a comlink, and handed it to Obi-Wan. “Temple medcenter callsign?”
“Yes – no, wait. I have to call the Robin, there’s something I forgot.” He looked doubtfully at the machine. “You call. If that thing works.” Instead of the usual keypad for tapping in a callsign, this comm had a dial with numbers printed around it, the speaker set into the base, below the dial, and the receiver microphone attached to the unit by a coiled flex.
Deftly, Nasriel spun the dial, bringing each number of the callsign one by one past an indicator arrow painted on the base, and trying hard to look as if she didn’t know it would never have occurred to Obi-Wan that that was how this particular comlink worked.
Finally, a clone’s voice came, remarkably clearly, through the speaker grille of the old-fashioned comlink. “Ibrim. Who is this?”
Obi-Wan gingerly picked up the microphone. “General Kenobi. Can you answer a question?”
“Depends what it is,” Ibrim chuckled. “Oh, General, did you find what you were looking for at Malastare?”
“Oh, yes. Everything I was looking for. Please thank 1313 for me. Now, the question is, is it possible to get aboard the Red Robin from outside? Say, through one of the escape-pod portals?”
“It’s possible,” the clone lieutenant replied slowly, “but you’d need either clone armor or a good equivalent, and you’d have to have the tools to open the portal airlock from outside. Does that answer your question, General?”
“Yes, it does. Thank you very much.”
“Glad to be of service,” Ibrim replied, polite but obviously bemused, and terminated the link.
“Solving mysteries, are we, Master?” Nasriel asked quietly.
“If we can. Now the Temple.” Like last time, Bant answered the medcenter link on the second ring. Unlike last time… well, everything was unlike last time.
“Forgot to check the time again, Obi-Nobi? It’s two in the morning, much that you care. I suppose you want Yenseh.”
“Ah… if it’s not too much trouble. I’ve got some news he’ll want to hear.”
Kijé’s high spirits seemed dampened from the call three days previously, and his voice was so low it could barely be heard.
“Hello, Master Kenobi,” he said resignedly. On the other side of the Galaxy, Obi-Wan silently handed Nasriel the receiver.
“Kij? It’s me. How are you?”
“What is this?” he snapped skeptically. “Listen, Obi-Wan, if this is a joke, I can tell you right now it’s not in the best of taste.”
“Kij, it’s Nasriel. The Witch. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I’m not a recording.” She frowned, musing, then her face lightened. “Look, would he know about the time Elimyo locked your file so nobody would know about the reprimand for cussing at Madame Nu?”
“Apparently he does now,” Kijé retorted. “Oh, Witch, I’ve missed you. Was that all? I’ve got to go tell the rest of the gang you’re all right. Where were you? Did you go to Mi’s?”
“Yes it is, and yes, I did. Tell Uli Blaze gets irritable if nobody talks to him.”
“I will. I love you, Witch. Oh. Chizzk. Jokes, Kenobi. Uh… you wanted to talk to Master Eerin?”
“If you please.” To Nasriel, he remarked ironically, “Your friend’s manners seem to have declined since our last discussion.”
“Obi-Wan.” Coming back on the line, Bant sounded agitated. “This is serious. Are you sitting down?” It was a silly question to ask, especially of a Jedi Master who had earned a reputation among the younger generation for being a ‘cold heartless chosski‘, but in most situations it served as a useful harbinger of bad news.
Obi-Wan reached out to take his Padawan’s hand, whispering, “Nasriel, please.” To Bant, he replied calmly, “Yes, not that it matters. Go on.” Nasriel slipped her hand into her Master’s, keeping her face blank to hide the confusion of emotions churning in her heart.
Apprehension for what Bant would have to say. Sympathy for Obi-Wan, not that that would ever be admitted to. Faint black amusement, at the idea he might desire her comfort or support.
“It’s about Ben.”
“I gathered that.” Tightly controlled up to now, his voice cracked at the last word, and he bit his lip.
“Obi-Wan, the fever’s broken. He’s asleep.” When there was no reaction, the Mon Cal healer said sharply, “That’s good news, Obi, you barve!”
“You’re right. That is good news. What do you propose I do about it?”
“He’ll want you when he wakes up. Get back here as soon as you can.”
“We’ll leave within the hour. It’ll be mid-morning before we get there from Malastare, though.” He cut off the comm channel abruptly, and sat still for a moment, head tilted slightly back, as a smile gradually appeared on his face. “Oh, that is good news. Ben’s all right. Nasriel, did you hear me?”
“I heard,” she assured him. “That’s great; it’ll be the three of us again. I mean…” How to put it so that the humor she intended came across, but he still knew she meant it? “I’ve sort of enjoyed having you to myself and all, but it’s always felt like there was something missing.”
Carys rustled the curtain in lieu of knocking. “I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you saying you were leaving. Can I come in?”
“It’s your shop, ‘Rys!” Nasriel half-shouted in exasperation. “Yes, we have to get back to the Temple to pick Ben up – and then go on, Master?”
“If you think I’m bringing a relatively innocent young Padawan within hailing distance of the Altistians you have another think coming, young lady. You, I suspect, have spent enough time with enough interesting characters across the Galaxy that nobody I could introduce you to would corrupt you further.”
“Charming,” Nasriel retorted. Master Obi-Wan was… joking? This wasn’t something she’d experienced before, but she was happy enough to go along with it. Just so long as Obi-Wan didn’t react to teasing in the same way Jiron often had – with a belt or switch. “Master Jinn would call that deliberately limiting Ben’s experience, would he not? Narrow-mindedness is a trait I understand he heartily disapproved of.”
“If I were to tell you the horrors Master Jinn inflicted on me in the name of broad-mindedness…” The sentence was completed with an eloquent shudder. “You make a good point. Touché. We will collect Ben and go on.”
“If Master Eerin lets us,” Nasriel reminded him.
Kijé met them at the landing pad, having extracted from Madame Nu grudging permission to abandon his post in the Archives. Limping rapidly along the catwalk, he pulled Nasriel into a close embrace as soon as she jumped down from the fighter, and kissed the top of her head. When he caught Obi-Wan’s eye on him he blushed scarlet to the tips of his ears.
“Sorry, sir. Er… can I borrow the Witch? We’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
“Can you talk in the waiting area in the medcenter? I’d rather keep her with me, given what happened last time I let her go off on her own.”
“Yes, Master,” the Padawans mumbled roughly in sync.
Bant came out to find Obi-Wan, and the two of them went straight away to Ben. Nasriel and Kijé were quite content to stay in the waiting area, talking quietly about nothing, and utterly happy in each other’s company. When Obi-Wan returned to fetch Nasriel, his expression flickered very briefly into disapproval – the Padawans were rather closer together than propriety dictated, Nasriel almost asleep with her head in Kijé’s lap. The boy tugged at her hair to rouse her.
“Quite.” Obi-Wan frowned. “I’m not going to ask for excuses or apologies. Don’t do it again. Nasriel, Ben wants to see you.”
“Witch!” Ben was in bed in a quiet medcenter room, thinner than he had been, with dark purple stains under his eyes and deeply etched stress creases in his forehead, but he was smiling. “Heard you near got yourself killed. Heard we’re on a mission as soon as Master Eerin lets me go. What’s it about?”
“Oh, are we ever. Just you wait.”