This story contains one line borrowed from one of Erin’s (as yet) unpublished stories – so thanks a million, Erin – but uses it in a rather different context. Also several lines lifted from a song currently popular. Question is: which one?
Professor VJ Duke makes an appearance! Sort of. He’ll recognize himself, but I couldn’t work in his name. Sorry, VJ.
Intended to be an Independence Day short – over the course of an idea-bouncing session with Ding it turned into an Independence Day pretty jolly long actually – posted from Calais, would you believe? Ah, the wonders of modern technology.
References are made in this story to This Time and Breaking Point Part 21.
I just discovered a debt of gratitude to ruth baulding for Troon Palo. Thanks!
“Master Obi-Wan! I’m going to be late! Can I skip breakfast just once?” Nasriel had just come out of the bathroom, hastily buckling her belt with one hand and dragging the fingers of the other backward through her hair in lieu of combing. “I’m teaching basic valence electron theory to a class of Dragon clan Initiates this morning and all I know about them is that Troon Palo is a holy terror. I don’t know anyone who’s been in Dragon.”
“You know me.” Obi-Wan brushed a few stray sheets of flimsi into another pile of papers, clearing just enough space to set down his plate and mug. “Are you sure? There’s a cup of tea on the counter if you want it.”
“Why are you taking the class?” asked Ben brightly around a mouthful of oatmeal. “You’re only -”
Instantly, Nasriel flared up. “Only doing third-senior-level chemistry at the age of sixteen! Only the youngest Padawan in a hundred years to be three months from a University of Coruscant chemistry honors degree!” Snatching up a chaotic mound of papers from the table, she deftly sorted Council decisions from chemistry tables and clipped the latter papers into a folder. “I’m doing it because the guy who should be is near Dathomir, and Master Chopra said I’m the least busy of the people qualified to take the class.”
“Very well,” Obi-Wan decided. “You may skip breakfast. But I want to you eat something today. I’m supposed to look after you; that doesn’t mean letting you starve yourself. Give Master Palo my regards when you see him.”
“Okay. You got it. I’ll eat with the rest of the gang at noon, there’s a rumor abroad I want the guff on, and Kij has it.”
Making a brief detour into her room to shuffle more papers into her folder, Nasriel got halfway to the door before remembering something, going back to collect a small package of mysterious objects that rattled glassily together in their wrapping, and making a minor detour to plant an affectionate kiss on Obi-Wan’s cheek.
“Almost forgot the object lesson. Bye, Master.”
On the other side of the table, Ben came dangerously close to choking on his breakfast. Nasriel made a hasty and prudent exit.
An unexpected call came just after Nasriel’s undignified departure, and Obi-Wan took it in his room. After the caller had terminated the link, promising to come and explain in person, the Jedi Master sat for a long time with his head in his hands, thinking furiously, and at last stood, his mind made up.
Returning to the main room, he found Ben still finishing his breakfast at indolent leisure, but didn’t bother to rebuke him, dialing Mace Windu’s callsign instead.
“Mace? Obi-Wan. I’m coming up… Oh, yes. It’s certainly full-session-important… Potentially an entire system… Yes, I thought you might see it that way.”
Half an hour later, he was back in the dwelling levels of the Temple, running with no heed for the sniggering Padawans in the corridors. He met Ali Alann, the Master responsible for younglings, on the way to the Dragon quarters with a new Initiate held firmly by the hand, and a much younger infant, howling quietly but with persistence, cradled in his other arm.
“Multitasking,” Ali chuckled before Obi-Wan could ask. “But you’ve got two Padawans, lad. Three would be excessive. Or are you just stopping by to talk to Troon for the first time in years?”
“I’m retrieving one of those Padawans you mentioned,” Obi-Wan answered repressively. “She left her comm at home again.”
Inside the common-room of the most rowdy Initiate clan in the Temple, Nasriel, looking only a fraction less frazzled than Obi-Wan had expected, was wrapping up the lesson.
“You’ve all done really well. Can you come give back the marbles? I have to return them to the stores.” She glanced up to see the newcomers in the doorway. “Master Alann, can you please shut that child up?” Ali murmured that he’d thought taking little Nalorac for a walk might help her get to sleep, and he’d better be going anyway. On his way out he transferred custody of the sticky-handed Miralian Initiate to Obi-Wan before slipping away. Obi-Wan tried to take it in good humor: getting shanghaied into babysitting was, after all, the main hazard in a visit to this section of the Temple.
The instant Nasriel was done, however, he handed the child over to Troon Palo and caught his own charge by the arm.
“Not so fast. You’re wanted upstairs.”
“The Council?” Nasriel gaped at him, aghast. “Why?”
“Come on.” Taking her armful of papers from her, he flung them onto a table and drew her out of the room by main force.
As Nasriel scurried after Obi-Wan, for the first time in her apprenticeship having trouble keeping up with him, she tried desperately to think what could be the matter. In trouble? No, because Obi-Wan would already have scolded her roundly. Exact opposite of trouble? No, he was far too grim and too harassed for that. Someone else in trouble she might be expected to know about? But by then they were in the anteroom of the Council Chamber, and Obi-Wan flung open the doors without even touching them.
Somebody stood in the center of the room, facing Master Yoda, and, going to his own seat, Obi-Wan left her beside the somebody, pressing her shoulder lightly: stay there. With a shock as of walking into a dream where nothing would be quite as it should be, Nasriel realized she stood next to Bail Organa.
“Where were you?” Mace Windu demanded.
“T-teaching a chemistry class to the Dragon clan Initiates, sir!” Nasriel stammered, beginning to wish she had found time to take off the white laboratory overall she wore as a matter of course when engaged in any scientific pursuits.
“I can see that,” Ki-Adi-Mundi commented gently. “She came as soon as she could, Mace. Don’t scold the child.”
“Something’s wrong at the Saalisan embassy,” Nasriel guessed suddenly. “It must be at the Senate, because Senator Organa’s here, and it must be bad, because he’s here, not calling, and it must be the Saalisans because otherwise any other Padawan would do as well. Am I right?”
Bail replied, the stress in his voice only shallowly buried, and making him speak even faster than usual.
“The people of the systems near Saalis have voted to let the Saalisan Senator speak for them, to save them the trouble, and to save the Senate time. That’s not a problem. Early this morning, the Separatists did something quite unprecedented in offering that group of systems – and that group only – complete self-determination. The Senate has agreed that they will abide by the decision of the Saalisan Senator, and if he decides to go with the Separatists, not to try and retake the worlds. The Separatists have made a similar promise, which I don’t expect they’ll keep, but it’s worth trying.”
“And the problem is that since the invasion a few months ago nobody’s entirely sure who’s in charge on Saalis anymore,” Nasriel finished shrewdly. “Where do I come in?”
Mace Windu leaned forward. “The Saalisan people have not recognized the invaders as their rulers, so, legally, Y’Kh… the man who was king of Saalis… is still the king, and can still choose the Senator.”
“Y’Khaen Ixdaov,” Obi-Wan supplied. “Nasriel’s third-cousin. But he’s quite limited for choice, because every noble who could be appointed Senator has family at Saalis, who are under threat of death from the invaders if said noble speaks against the Separatists. Y’Khaen wants Nasriel to do it.”
“I’m never going back!” Nasriel half-shouted. “The past is in the past, Master, it’s dead, can’t we leave it in peace? I won’t do it; tell Y’Khaen to let it go. Tell him to let me go. Anyway,” she added in a subdued tone, remembering where she was, “I’m a Jedi, not a noblewoman. It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small and irrelevant. Saalis is nothing to me now.”
“Sent for because of who your father was, you were not,” Yoda said crossly. “Sent for because of who you are now, you were. A Jedi. Sworn to uphold the right, you are. Go to the Senate and hear your cousin’s request, you will.”
“Yes, Master,” Nasriel muttered. “Right now, Master? Is Ben at least coming?”
“Right now, and no,” Mace Windu verified. “Master Kenobi will take you.”
“I am not happy about this, Master,” Nasriel insisted, once on the way out of the Council Chamber, twice in the airspeeder on the way to the Senate, and once more in the anteroom of the Saalisan embassy at the Senate. “There’s something rotten about the whole idea.”
On the last occasion, “Nasriel,” Obi-Wan snapped, “shut up.”
“I wouldn’t put it past Y’Khaen to have something up his sleeve that has nothing, but nothing, to do with the supposed reason he’s sent for us. Master, you do not know these people.”
“I gave you a direct order. And it happens I have met Y’Khaen Ixdaov.”
Nasriel remained obediently silent, but slumped down against the wall and somehow managed to convey an impression of unwilling obedience. Obi-Wan decided that that was better than nothing, and resolved to take up the question of attitude… some other time. For now he was abstractedly studying the room. In the sixteen years since he had last been there, very little had changed. The walls were still white and unadorned, the floor still glittering-bright black stone, and the heavy doors into the embassy proper still swung too silently for peace of mind.
So they swung now, jolting Nasriel, with well-concealed reluctance, to her feet, and him to step up beside her. In the doorway, there stood a slender Saalisan girl dressed in black, and so like Nasriel that Obi-Wan barely resisted the absurd impulse to check that his Padawan was still beside him.
Fortunately, the impression was shattered as soon as the other girl opened her mouth, for she spoke with no hint of Nasriel’s crisp Coruscant accent, but with the exaggeratedly soft vowels and muted hard-consonants of another world.
“T’Narxai kersen nual, kynanze gehdyii v exenu Kaliu. You are most extremely welcome a sight in my eyes.” Although she spoke slowly and clearly, one not thoroughly familiar with the Saalisan habit of pronouncing every vowel in a syllable of its own would have found her difficult to understand. “My father is most glad you are come. Please to come with me.”
To Obi-Wan, Y’Khaen Ixdaov looked no older than at their last meeting, which was somehow vaguely disconcerting, given that the man was king of an occupied world, and trying to navigate a political arena nobody – except perhaps Chancellor Palpatine – had any experience in.
“Master Kenobi. Good to see you.” His voice betrayed all the tension his face did not. “And little Kaliu. Not so little now, luckily. Kenobi, does she know what is happening?”
“Your majesty -” With a shock, Obi-Wan realized the king was old, seventy at least. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t know what’s happening.”
“No!” Y’Khaen Ixdaov shook his head vehemently. “I will not be called sir by a Jedi. You have come to help us: I am in your debt. To you my name is Y’Khaen, and it is I who should call you sir.”
“Very well… Y’Khaen.” Stumbling over the unfamiliar name, Obi-wan confessed, “Sir is rather more straightforward to say.”
The king’s mouth twitched with the faintest hint of a smile, but he continued serenely, “Kaliu is the only Saalisan aristocrat who has no family at Saalis, the only one who dares speak for freedom in the Senate Hall. The plan is very simple. She is appointed Senator for Saalis – I am still king and I can still choose a Senator. She makes her speech, and then, returning here, either resigns as Senator, or… stays on, as she prefers. I would, of course, have to rebestow the title of Earl Threeb upon her, to give such a young representative any credibility.”
“I don’t like this at all.” Nasriel was adamant. “Y’Khaen, you make no rules for me. I’m free. You and my father used to scare me. Well, the fear that once controlled me can’t get to me at all now. I’m not Earl Threeb. The girl who used to do whatever you told her, the perfect Earl, is gone.” Despite her brave words, Obi-Wan sensed desperation in her, not defiance. Nasriel had escaped her past, survived a vicious attempt to draw her back and kill her for what she had once been, and now she was trapped and fighting, watching the bars of her prison slide back into place around her. He knew the feeling. But now it was different. Now he could protect her.
“Nasriel, one day. At the end of the day you hand it all back and come home where you belong,” Obi-Wan said reasonably.
“I’ll do it on some conditions,” Nasriel relented, counting out the points with one eye on Obi-Wan and one on her cousin. “Nobody calls me Kaliu. Nobody. That’s not my name anymore. I want it understood that I am not doing this because of my Saalisan citizenship, which has been revoked, or my family ties to anybody, because I have been disowned. Therefore I revoke my loyalty to the king and disown my family in turn. I am doing this because I am a Jedi and we come to serve. And if Master Obi-Wan is sent away on any pretext whatever the whole thing’s off and I will declare in front of the entire Senate that Saalis is leaving the Republic.”
Y’Khaen nodded. “I agree to your terms… Nas-ri-el… and say they are most reasonable. The Chancellor knows of this plan already and has promised to hear you. We have only one problem left: disguising the fact that Earl and Padawan are one. Nobody knows whether, if they learned who you are, the invaders might not strike at the Jedi, seeing them as your family.”
After much tedious discussion, a few facts became obvious: That since Nasriel had been seen entering the Senate with Obi-Wan, the best way of emphasizing the distinction was for her to be seen with him at the same time as Earl Threeb was speaking. That this was patently impossible. That the princess and Nasriel were as like as two peas. That the princess could wear Nasriel’s clothes and few if any people would notice the difference.
A barrier appeared in the person of the princess – who, Obi-Wan learned, bore the unlikely name of Hastings. She had never worn boys’ clothes in her life and did not want to start now. However, Nasriel explained that because she was wearing them, they were beyond all possible doubt girls’ clothes, and Y’Khaen slapped his daughter and informed her she should be grateful to serve her homeworld even in so small a way, and Hastings was convinced.
The two girls vanished into the princess’s room, for Hastings, with great reluctance, to don Nasriel’s tunic, leggings, and boots, and Nasriel, only a very little less reluctantly, to put on the splendid black silken garments of Saalisan nobility, comprising loose flowing trousers, a long robe slit to the hip at each side, light slipper-looking shoes, and a veil draped over her short dark hair. When they returned, even Y’Khaen blinked, and Obi-Wan had to rely on logic rather than the evidence of his eyes to discern which was which.
Nasriel appealed to Obi-Wan, “How do I look? These things are awful uncomfortable. And impractical.” Practicality was the very lifeblood of Jedi garb, and its opposite was viewed with mingled astonishment and disgust.
“You look Saalisan,” he replied, for lack of an honest compliment. “I see why you didn’t want to come.”
Nasriel smiled wanly. “Let’s get this over with.”
In the vast well of the Senate Hall, the glowing blue powerhouse of the Galaxy, Y’Khaen and Nasriel stepped out into the circular repulsorpod for the Saalisan delegation, a pod identical in every way to every one of the one thousand and twenty-three surrounding it. Obi-Wan caught Hastings by the arm as she made to follow, drawing her back into the shadows of the archway behind the pod.
“We’ll be more use here if anything goes wrong… Padawan.”
Y’Khaen was whispering to Nasriel, who nodded seriously and replied in quiet, and – to Obi-Wan’s ears – perfect, Saalisan, only to have the old king correct her pronunciation time and time again. At last, after an hour’s wait, Chancellor Palpatine called on the Senator for Saalis to speak.
“Your Excellency. Honored fellow Senators.” Obi-Wan stole a glance at the brown-clad figure beside him, but Hastings’ lips were pressed shut and her face expressionless. That light gentle voice with its hesitance and clear, soft, carrying quality was Nasriel’s beyond a doubt, however unlike her it sounded.
“She’s very good,” Hastings commented, studiously clipping her words to produce a curious staccato effect, a parody of a Coruscant accent – but Senate-sector talk, not Temple-sector.
“Be quiet, Padawan.” Whereas a real Padawan would have murmured yes, Master with more or less docility as their mood dictated, and then held their peace, the princess took the order at face value and contented herself with a compliant nod.
“…conscious of the great responsibility laid on me, to decide the fate not only of my own homeworld, but also that of her neighbors,” Earl Threeb’s ethereal voice continued, and spectators’ gallery, Master, snapped Nasriel’s mind abruptly. The gallery had not been open to the public for centuries, not since the HoloNet started broadcasting every Senate session, not since before the Senate Hall grew so large and so deep as to make it impractical to watch a session in person. Yet, signaling Hastings to stay in the shadows, visible but unobtrusive, Obi-Wan took a step forward, to the very edge between the corridor and the yawning well that stretched down for scores of meters.
He saw nothing in the wide arc of transparisteel gallery visible from the archway, but it was unlike Nasriel to alert him to something while she felt the least doubt as to the veracity of the peril. All at once he sensed… nothing. A nothing that should not have been there. A gap in the gallery, just out of his line of sight, where the Force was twisted unnaturally to conceal something. Or somebody.
“Y’Khaen, get down!” Obi-Wan shouted, the instant he had pinpointed the acute immediacy of the danger. Nasriel he would have to trust to look after herself.
When the missile hurtled across the hall from the gallery to the sole floating pod, trailing a fiery tail of crimson smoke, he could do nothing but fling the princess out of the way of flying debris, and hope his Padawan had survived, and not been tossed to her death a hundred meters down like the remains of the repulsorpod. Jedi could mitigate the effects of a fall, but… not that far. Y’Khaen was almost certainly dead, so Obi-Wan pushed that fact to the back of his mind, to deal with some time when there was not immediate danger.
By the time the smoke cleared enough to see in any detail, a minute later, Palpatine had peremptorily dissolved the session and ordered the hall emptied. That helped.
Nasriel had not fallen, Obi-Wan saw to his relief. More relief than he would ever have admitted, to her or Yoda or anybody else. She had leapt upwards from the pod as it exploded, and now gripped the lower edge of the gallery high above the floor. But she was not looking down to find out if he had seen her. She stared up in mute horror, momentarily forgetting to shield, and projecting a ripple of terror that only Obi-Wan could ever have noticed.
A hand reached down over the railing, caught her right wrist, and pulled her up to where its owner could help her to the relative safety of the gallery. Instead of doing so, he flung her back into space, but held her there, not letting her fall, a hundred meters up. The veil over her hair had slipped off, and now fluttered airily to the floor, its very lightness emphasizing the massive drop.
Loud in the deafening stillness, a voice boomed forth. “I know you’re there, Kenobi. I know. Tell me who she is, and I’ll let you both live. Bear in mind that I may already know the answer, so you daren’t lie.”
“She is Earl Imeltaneska-Kaliu Hrabe Threeb, Senator for Saalis,” Obi-Wan answered his unseen questioner steadily.
“The name’s wrong,” commented the man in the gallery, “but I’ll pass that at a pinch. Who is she to you?”
“To me?” He was stalling for time and they both knew it. “A Senator. One of many.” A Force-user, talking like that, acting like that, could only mean one thing, a deadly thing. If the Sith on the gallery could be convinced Nasriel was not important, she was safe.
“Then you won’t mind if I kill her.” Or not. And then Nasriel no longer balanced nervously on empty air, but hung, limp as an idle marionette from the shoulders down, her hands clawing illogically at her neck, and fighting for each rasping, difficult breath. “I’ll ask you again,” offered the Sith. Ignoring Nasriel except to keep her suspended by the throat, he walked a few steps around the gallery so that the Jedi Master could see him. “Who is she? Senator for Saalis?”
“That’s only for the occasion,” Obi-Wan managed, though his vocal cords were somehow as constricted as Nasriel’s. “She’s -”
“Do-not-tell-him!” Nasriel gasped. “Whole thing fails.”
“She’s Earl Imeltaneska-Kaliu Hrabe Threeb, Senator for Saalis,” he repeated lamely.
“So you do want me to drop the brat!” The black-clad figure came into focus: a tall Human man, his face shaded by the hood of his cloak, and only the gleam of teeth in a grin visible. Instantly, Nasriel dropped like a stone, ever faster toward the stone floor few people realized was at the bottom of the well that was the Senate Hall, but as she fell, she caught a handful of the Force’s power and drew her course along the wall, to tumble past the Saalisan embassy archway –
where Obi-Wan extended his hands just in time to catch hers and hold her from falling further. One quick effort, and she stood on solid ground beside him, still breathing hard and trembling from rumpled dark hair to borrowed shoes.
“Get Hastings safe. Call Yoda.” Left without time to say more, Obi-Wan unhooked his lightsaber from his belt, and gazed up at the Sith in the gallery, plotting the quickest route to meet him.
“No, Master, I want to help you. Here I stand and here I’ll stay.”
“If you love me, you will do as I command. Move.”
After giving the girls just time to get back, beyond the archway and into the safety of the embassy, Obi-Wan started the slow climb to the gallery, taking easily the short jumps from one repulsorpod to the next, ever upward. Pausing for a few brief seconds in the Naboo pod, he snatched the time to call Nasriel.
“Lights in the hall full, deactivate electromag anchors.” No if you can. The pseudo-Senator was a Jedi, and besides, had a mind built to understand electronics. She would find a way. Whether it would prove safe or legal or easily mended was a problem to address later.
By the time he raised his head above the repulsorpod’s parapet, eyes scanning the dim blue shadows for a whisper of movement or a scrap of black cloak, the Sith had vanished. Not just improved his cloaking technique: gone. Apparently there was another exit from the gallery. Stifling a curse, Obi-Wan doubled back trhough the familiar and now-deserted Naboo embassy to the lift-tubes around the edge of the Senate dome.
Halfway up the shaft the lift-tube shuddered to a halt, and the lights snapped out, leaving the cabin in inky darkness. It appeared Nasriel had done her job rather too thoroughly. Knocking out a ceiling panel with the deftness born of much practice and oft-encountered necessity, Obi-Wan sprang up to the roof of the lift-tube car. Here, battery-powered emergency lights shed their fitful gleam, just enough illumination to see a few more meters up. Just enough to climb by.
Up, then, ignoring the increasing depth wavering below him, reaching for a foothold, a handhold. Coming suddenly to a point in the shaft where there was nothing, and the walls were too slick to even think about friction-climbing. In the gloom above, Obi-Wan thought he saw a beam, an easy perch if ever there was one. But the intervening space was impassable – most likely the slippery surface was meant as a bar to intruders of a climbing disposition. One carefully-calculated, Force-enhanced leap would cross the gap… but even a slight error would send him hurtling ten floors down. Let the Force guide you. Obi-Wan jumped.
The dreaded mishap did not occur, and a few minutes later he stood on the sweeping transparisteel O of the gallery. And it was as empty as a Tatooine desert plateau. How appropriate he should be looking for a Sith and thinking of Tatooine. How ironic. Here, also, Nasriel’s handiwork was evident: all of the repulsorpods in the Hall had been cut loose from their electromagnetic moorings, and floated perfectly still in the middle of the Hall. A sound like a muffled explosion distracted him, and the usual pale bluish light of the Senate Hall was engulfed in the dazzling white floodlights of the ceiling.
For an instant, Obi-Wan was blinded, and screwed his eyes shut in pain, but he knew that in a few moments he would have the advantage – he had known the light was coming, and he knew a secret. The Senate Hall wasn’t grey, as the soft lighting made it appear. It was pale brown. The perfect color for a Jedi to go unseen in, and a completely imperfect color for a black-garbed Sith. Not to mention the stark shadows flung by the powerful light.
“Lost something, Kenobi?” The voice came from nowhere, taunting, sneering at him. “No, wait. I make it three things. Something you lost many years ago, and something you don’t even know you’ve lost, and something you lost that I’ve just found. Isn’t it a nice thing?”
“Where are you?” Obi-Wan shouted in frustration.
“Right here. If you want me in future, just… keep looking over your shoulder.”
Turning quickly, the Jedi Master caught a glimpse of black near the floor – but it revealed itself to be only Nasriel’s veil which had fluttered earlier to the ground. Evidently the Sith – acolyte, he fervently hoped, for that would be bad enough – was not hiding in plain sight.
“Give me a clue.”
“Hide and seek?” came the delighted reply. “Certainly. Straight ahead, two meters down. Better hurry…” the ominous words were followed by a sickening crack. “That was your apprentice’s arm. Want to guess what I’ll break next?”
Not really, but I suspect her neck. Without sparing a second thought for his own safety, or even the possibility that this could be a trap, Obi-Wan flipped quickly over the gallery railing, running across the hovering pods to the embassy archway the Sith had indicated, leaving the Senate Hall bobbing like a stormy sea.
The walls of the embassy beyond the arch were pale yellow, and for a second he couldn’t work out which planet it belonged to, before realizing it was the Togorian delegation’s offices. But it didn’t really matter at the moment. The Sith stood triumphantly in the doorway, holding Hastings in front of him with one arm across her throat and the other hand pressed to the back of her head. The princess’s left arm was indeed broken, and hung useless at her side, while her right hand sought to drag the Sith’s arm from her throat.
“Found her sneaking around. Did you want her back?” The man’s lips were curled in a cruel smile, and he put a little more pressure on Hastings’ spinal cord. The princess was shuddering uncontrollably, but spoke, managing to retain her mock-Coruscant accent in her stammer.
“K-Kal g-got away. ‘S fine, Master.”
Obi-Wan spared her an encouraging smile – not what he would have done if Nasriel had been in Hastings’ position, but princesses often needed more delicate handling than Padawans – but spoke only to the Sith.
“What is it you want?” he asked steadily.
“Want?” Apparently the concept had not occurred to the dark-robed young man, for he threw back his head and laughed. And then Obi-Wan remembered. Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn. Qui-Gon’s sharp warning: Those that kill but have no reason… they are the ones to worry about. With the flicker of unfollowable motion most Jedi are capable of, Obi-Wan had his lightsaber drawn and ignited, holding it watchfully in the guard position.
Shoving Hastings’ head forward over his arm until her neck cracked, the Sith let her brown-clad body fall limply to the floor. If he hesitated then, Obi-Wan did not notice. In one swift sweep of the arm, the scarlet lightsaber swirled smoothly forth from its hilt as it arced about to meet his blue blade, and battle royal commenced.
No more than three strokes into the duel, Obi-Wan was shocked. The Sith wasn’t holding back at all, yet this was easy. Well, no harder than fighting Anakin in the dojo, anyway. And that gave him time to think. Although there was nobody else in the Senate building, because the Chancellor had had it cleared, somebody in the distance was talking, rapid but soft, in a maddeningly familiar accent. He couldn’t hear any individual words, only the murmuring voice with its foreign inflection. And then, abruptly, the sound stopped, leaving the building silent except for the high-pitched singing of two lightsabers.
A voice of familiar inflection, but utterly strange accent. At once Obi-Wan knew what it was – but why was Nasriel talking in her Earl Threeb voice? She had stopped so suddenly – was she safe? Perversely, Hastings, although lying unconscious on the floor of what had become a battle ground, was as safe as in the Council Chamber of the Temple. The Sith had lost all interest in her, and that told Obi-Wan something else. The Jedi as an Order were not the target here.
If Nasriel was near enough that he could hear her, in that accent that was nearly a whisper, she could hear him. To test this theory, he shouted to her – in Shendi, just in case – shut down the lights. Togorian embassy. No reply in words, only a faint eddy of confidence in the Force. Gradually, with infinite care, Obi-Wan forced his opponent into another office of the embassy.
Too late, he realized his mistake, as Nasriel, slipping in through the other door of the room, the one from the corridor outside, scowled at him.
“Can’t you keep your disagreements in the Hall?”
In that once second of distraction, the Sith scudded across the room to stand, panting, with his back to the dark-tinted glass of the floor-length window that made up the far wall. Infinitely trusting of her Master’s ability, Nasriel ignored the Dark warrior and turned her attention to a panel set into the wall. Did you mean that earlier, Master? she enquired straight into his mind, carefully shielding the question from the Sith opposite.
Instantly, she used the Force to twist open the locks of the panel beside her, and, flicking it open, traced the lines of the electrical circuitry inside with a rapidity that could have resulted only from practice. When she found the right wiring, a tiny smile crept across Nasriel’s face. That triumphant smile almost cost her her life.
Dark eyes shooting from Jedi to apparent diplomat, the Sith studied the situation before him for just a little less time than, say, Anakin would have taken, before sensing a trap and deciding. His left hand darted free of his ‘saber hilt, the black-gloved fingers stiff and pointing toward Nasriel.
The Padawan had barely more than a second to react before the high-energy blue Sith lightning arced across the room to her, but it appeared she used the time well. Pulling one wire free of its housing and gripping the end between two fingers, Nasriel jerked convulsively as the bolt of electricity fizzed over her, but retained hold on the wire – with the predictable effect of overloading the entire circuit and tripping the breaker, plunging the whole embassy into the faint gloom that seeped through the window.
For an instant, Obi-Wan was angry. How dare this man be here, how dare he kill a good king and a girl who had done nothing wrong, and above all how dare he damage his, Obi-Wan’s, Padawan? Do nothing in anger. Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan stared at the Sith, even as the electricity sparked and crackled and Nasriel’s breath hissed painfully between her sharp teeth, and he very deliberately did not hate. And he refused to be angry.
And he reached out and gathered the Force about him, and with one mighty effort Obi-Wan sent the black-clad Sith crashing through the window, where he teetered for an instant on the edge. One further push, and the Sith was flung backward from the ledge to fly across the high plaza around the Senate, blue lightning still forking about his black clothes, his mouth one wide screaming O.
Obi-Wan watched until the Sith had fallen out of sight of the window – it was only a moment or two, anyway – and the instant he could no longer see the fluttering black robes, he turned back to Nasriel. She was slowly getting to her feet, supporting herself on the edge of the circuitry panel.
“I’m fine, Master. Just didn’t see that coming.”
“I know you’re fine. Y’Khaen’s dead and Hastings might be, I didn’t have time to check. Come on. Nice work with the circuits, by the way,” he added wryly on the way into the other room. “You cut the lift-tubes.”
“I know!” Nasriel retorted, a little of her usual fire returning. “All the electromags in this building work off one circuit – that includes the tubes! Oh, mission accomplished, Master. I got Palpatine on the embassy line after I fixed the wiring – put a comlink fuse in it to down it without too much damage – and he linked up a multiple-connection call so that enough of the Senators were listening to me to make the thing valid. Saalis stays in the Republic.”
“Not bad.” And from Obi-Wan Kenobi, acknowledged the best diplomat in the Order, called the Great Negotiator and deserving of the title, that was high praise indeed.
Hastings was alive. “Knocked out with just a couple kilos pressure on the windpipe,” commented Nasriel in disgust. “What sort of dumb kid does that?”
“One not used to combat, Padawan,” Obi-Wan replied, reminding her wordlessly, cousin or not, always compassion, Padawan.
In the stone-floored well of the Senate Hall, the two Jedi stood a discreet distance away as Princess Hastings Ixdaov wept over her father’s body.
“She really loved him,” breathed Nasriel in amazement. “He dragged her around all over the place without bothering to ask what she really wanted, and he never let her know he gave a damn about her, he hit her even, but she really loved him.”
“You loved Jiron.”
“That’s not the same,” Nasriel hissed fiercely. “He never -”
“Ae’en Te’ruis.” The name had become used as a tacit reminder, even without any question appended to it. Don’t lie to me.
“Where did you hear about that?” Nasriel amended, in a subdued tone.
“It doesn’t matter. I heard. But it’s in the past. Turn away and slam the door on it, that’s the best way with bad memories.”
“Yes, Master. You know, I’m glad I was Earl Threeb only for the occasion. I love my life.”
All Padawans realized it, sooner or later. That there was privation, and sorrow, and hardship, in being a Jedi, but there was also joy. Oh, there was such joy.