I think we’re nearly there… probable thanks to John Grisham today, at least for the inspiration and possibly even for an early version of a setting.
“Well.” Surimaresh appeared around the corner. “That’s that, then. She’s gone, no more worries for us.”
“And where were you, three days before we met at Halm?” Obi-Wan enquired, dangerously calm.
“With my mom and Carys. Check with Tam, he’ll remember. I carved him a toy blaster.”
“I’ll check. I may have other questions later, though.”
Leaving Surimaresh with Djinn Altis, firmly ordered to remain there until he received word to the contrary, Obi-Wan and Ben left within the hour for Coruscant. On regaining the familiar bounds of the Temple, Obi-Wan went to inform Yoda of the day’s events, only to be informed that the Grand Master had just left for the Chancellor’s office. He made for the speeder bay, and found Anakin tinkering with an engine.
“We’re going to the Senate. I have to talk to you.”
“Nice to see you as well, Master.” The young Knight wiped his oily hands on a rag and selected a fast airspeeder. “Okay, what about?” he asked, once they were on their way.
“How did Palpatine know Nasriel wasn’t dead? Oh – I know it was you, Anakin. Why?”
“Just came up in conversation.” Anakin managed to shrug and take a hairpin turn at the same time. “We were talking about the war. He asked where you were – he worries for you, Master. We all do. So, because the mission wasn’t secret, I told him. You were with his own pet battle group, what was the harm in talking about it?”
“The harm is that Nasriel’s life is now in grave danger. And if he’ll kill one Jedi on an excuse, he may not stop there. Our losses in battle are already too high to afford any casualties to friendly fire.”
“He may be a politician, Master, but the Chancellor’s a good man. Or have you forgotten all he did during the Naboo crisis? Padmé trusts him to do the right thing, and I trust her to be right.”
“I won’t argue with you, Anakin.”
“You worry too much about those kids.” Anakin changed tack abruptly. However, he couldn’t criticize for long: the Senate was just ahead. “There are more important things to do – and Padawans are what training remotes were invented for anyway. You’re not just anybody, with time to spare for Padawans. You’re the Great Negotiator. Not supposed to waste your time on kids.”
“Anakin… I spent ten years of my life doing exactly that.”
“Yeah, but that was with the Chosen One.” Anakin flashed his former Master a momentary dazzling smile. “Well, here we are. Go negotiate.” He vaulted elegantly out of the aircar onto the platform and waited for Obi-Wan to join him.
“And where do you think you are going?”
“With you.” The famous Skywalker grin was back, the one that defeated every argument and objection. “Call it moral support.”
“I don’t need -”
“Your Padawan’s in jail,” Anakin reminded him. “You just got back from about four crazy missions in a row. Trust me, Master, you do need.”
“Then, thank you.”
If a Human had been killed in Palpatine’s office, even dirty-killed with an edged blade, rather than the quick clean death a lightsaber offered, nobody would have noticed. Any blood would have soaked into the thick carpet, and soaking, blended into the surrounding crimson. Only the Chancellor himself, immaculate in his dark robe, with his soft, clean white hands, was not bloodstained here. Literally and figuratively, he had no blood on his hands. He did his best to hold together the crumbling Republic, placate the argumentative Senators, and give the hard-pressed Jedi Order as much of a free hand as possible, the better to produce favorable outcomes in mission after mission.
And so, Obi-Wan was surprised by Palpatine’s uncooperativeness today. No, he could not take the Council’s word for it that Nasriel was innocent. He had to undertake his own investigation. No, he could not release Nasriel into Obi-Wan’s custody in the meantime. No, nor the more politically reliable custody of the Council as a body. She would remain in an ordinary jail, in a Force-blocked cell and under constant guard. No, it was not possible for Obi-Wan to visit her. No, nor any other Jedi. He did not understand their powers and was naturally averse to taking risks with such a potentially dangerous prisoner.
Frowning, Obi-Wan objected. Could he not talk to his Padawan, with guards in the room if that would reassure the Chancellor? Because, while he accepted with regret His Excellency’s other conditions, he did find it entirely necessary to talk to Nasriel.
Yoda finally backed him up. More than probable, it was, in fact certain, that the final key to the mystery Padawan Threeb held. If refused this reasonable request was, then the trust of the Council could Palpatine look to lose.
The Chancellor thought, on consideration, that something could perhaps be arranged, and sent word to the prison to that effect. If Master Kenobi did not mind, he preferred to reduce delay in this case. Master Kenobi might go to speak to his Padawan now.
It was cold here, not the biting cold of Hoth that froze the breath in the mouth, but a gentler chill one didn’t even notice until it set one shivering. Icily blue, the dim light added to the unwelcoming effect. The far wall of the narrow, bare room was made from a sheet of transparisteel, looking into darkness and so reflecting the door opposite and the armed guard standing beside the door.
The man broke silence to explain to Obi-Wan, “In a minute, they’ll fetch the kid and turn on the light in the other room. There’s a comm system, so you can converse normally. You have ten minutes, but you must speak in Basic, and if I or the guard in the other room think there’s any funny business going on, you leave at once. Okay?”
“Fine,” Obi-Wan agreed. He didn’t have much choice. Then the light clicked on beyond the transparisteel.
Nasriel seemed mostly all right. Of course, Force-deprivation never did any Jedi any good, but it had only been a few hours so far. Her face was expressionless at first glance, and her Force aura blank, but on closer examination expressionless and blank revealed themselves as uncommunicative and not there at all. So… that was the reason behind the unnatural chill of the room. Nasriel spoke first.
“We seem to be making a habit of meeting in odd places, Master.”
“I would have spared you this,” he said helplessly. “But Palpatine wasn’t having a bar of it.”
“It’s all right.” Nor was the color leached only from the Force. Nasriel’s very voice was flat and toneless. “I am -” she took a breath to finish the sentence on, but changed her mind and released it in a long sigh. “Resigned. I don’t really care anymore what happens. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Does it bother you what would happen to Kijé if… the worst comes to the worst?”
“No. Not now.”
“I have a strong lead on another suspect. I’ll follow that up and tell you how it goes. Any messages? Kijé, Sima, Ben?”
“No. Just Mi. If it… happens, you know… tell her thanks for trying.”
Laying one palm flat against the window, she stared back at him, unblinking but empty-eyed. Obi-Wan pressed his own hand to the transparisteel, as close to touching as they would get for a while. Perhaps ever again. “I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”
“Hope is the certainty of that which is not known,” Nasriel quoted Chakora Seva. “We don’t know. And I don’t really care.”
“I know. And I care. There must be a way. Promise me, whatever you do, you won’t give up. True balance is tipped ever so slightly in favor of Light.”
Indifferently, Nasriel finished the quote. “And this infinitesimal difference we give the name ‘hope’. Infinitesimal. Meaning so small it might as well not exist. It’s okay, Master. I’ll see you either later, or… later. And I have no idea who really did it. And I hope you don’t find out until it’s too late. Because I’m so tired. Of the war. Of clones and always mourning people and trying to squeeze ten minutes at a time in around Council schedules and missions and Ben-needs-me-too. I just want to go. Quite away. To the Other Side. Please let me go, Master.”
“Never. I promised you that on the first day. The very first, on the balcony.”
“And look where that got us. Lucky, lucky Anakin,” Nasriel said bitterly, and her hand dropped from the window as she turned away. “No more. I can’t bear it any more. I’m so tired. I’m so tired of being locked up. I want to run.”
“Imprisonment is a state of mind.” Yes, it was worn and hackneyed, but true.
Instantly, Nasriel was back at the window, hand white against the transparisteel, breathing quickly and hard, glaring at him. “Chakora Seva was a contemplative who never had to deal with being shut away from the Force or with so-called friends who wouldn’t help him when he’d risked his life for the success of their missions. Do not quote at me.”
“I’m sorry. I’m doing all I can, but this is political now. It will be slow.”
The guard at the door tapped him on the shoulder. “Time’s up, Master Kenobi. Take her away,” he added to his colleague in the other room. The light flipped out again, and Nasriel’s slim hand, the last he could see of her, was pulled away into the darkness.
Obi-Wan made a call as soon as he reached the warm breeze of the street. To Kijé Yenseh, to have Surimaresh Whitewall summoned to Coruscant.