Written mostly in a field in Norfolk in company of six small children playing soccer, and a horse, and a rather splendid game of Mafia. I retired crushed from the game because I was (again) designated the detective and was (as usual) hanged, but you come off better for it because this chapter was done then and not when I got back from camp.
Hanging seems a curiously appropriate reason for having written it.
Surimaresh arrived in the morning at the nearest public spaceport to the Temple. Anakin offered to go and collect him – “Not that it’s anything to do with me, Master, but I like flying, and I wouldn’t mind meeting this guy.”
Landing the aircar back at the Temple an hour later, he obviously minded very much. His narrowed eyes and blank frown, a typically Anakin way of expressing deep disagreement without words, and a look thoroughly familiar to Obi-Wan, contrasted rather oddly with the glitter of mischief in Surimaresh’s eyes and his wicked, pointed grin.
“Master Kenobi. The reason for this sudden summons?”
“You weren’t. You lied.” Obi-Wan had the satisfaction of watching the two younger Jedi’s expressions flip in an instant, so that it was the Balosar whose face became closed and unreadable, and the Human who wore the look of malicious amusement.
“What weren’t I?” Surimaresh asked, his grammer betraying his steady tone and level stare.
“Visiting Mi Amarok.” At these three innocent words, the Altistian’s face blanched perfectly white, and he closed his eyes. Obi-Wan said quietly to Anakin, “I have to talk to him in private. Would you mind sparring with Ben instead of me?”
“You don’t own me anymore, Obi-Wan,” Anakin grouched.
“I’ll owe you instead, then.”
“You better bet on it, old man.” Nodding to Surimaresh to follow him, Obi-Wan went without another word back to his quarters.
“You weren’t at Malastare,” he reiterated as soon as they were both inside and the door closed. “You were at Halm, a full day before I saw you there. Nasriel sensed you in the caverns. She sensed your fear. And I think I know why you were afraid. Before Halm -”
“Can I smoke?” Surimaresh interrupted. “I’ll tell you the whole lousy story, but I need a cigarette.”
“On the balcony.”
And so, sitting cross-legged on the balcony, Surimaresh Whitewall chain-smoked and told his story. And in the end, yeah, all right, he had been at Halm. Making a ‘saber, like he said. Didn’t want to say anything because there are laws against wandering around war zones, y’know? Never even heard about the clone murder until Obi-Wan told him.
Oh – told Master Altis, then. Came to the same thing, really. Well, it was hard lines on the kid and on Orde – of course – but not really his, Suri’s, problem, was it? More of a –
“I never told Master Altis. He knew already. And nobody ever mentioned the name Orde.”
“Aw… chizzk. Done it now, haven’t I?” Stubbing out his cigarette half-smoked, the young Knight rested his head in his hands and said nothing for a long time. The only sounds in the quarters were the traffic outside and Surimaresh’s unsteady breathing.
“All right,” he said at length. “You’ve gotten this far, I guess you deserve the rest.” So deliberately as to appear slow-motion, he drew the package of cigarettes from his pocket and tossed it over the balcony rail. “I have to do this by myself. You understand, don’t you?”
“Pull yourself together and then talk,” Obi-Wan commanded coldly. His comlink rang and he retreated into his room to take the call. “Excuse me.”
On the other end of the line, Clone Lieutenant Ibrim was so excited his words tumbled over each other. “General Kenobi! I tested what you said about the emergency pod doors. Not only does it work, but all the circuits register having been opened and then closed once before as well. Is – is that all right? I wouldn’t presume -”
“You did exactly right, Lieutenant. Thank you very much.”
“I filmed the process I used – rigged a cam to my helmet. Do you want…”
“Please. I can’t receive files here, so could you send it to the Archives? Tell the archivist to hold the vid for me.” Terminating the call, he returned to the balcony door and leaned against the frame. Surimaresh was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest and his head bowed. His limp yellow hair hung over his eyes.
“All right: talk.”
“How much do you already know?” asked the Knight suspiciously.
“Assume I know nothing and start at the start.”
“They would have cloned from Orde. He was Force-sensitive, you know that? The default state of an untrained forn-senth is Dark – we would have been dealing with Dark Sider clones – fatal. You front-liners would be massacred before you knew what hit you. Yan said the Council figured the Kams would never believe it, so we had to deal with it ourselves. Quick elimination mission: job done. I flatter myself I did it pretty neatly.”
“Very neatly.” Obi-Wan deliberately kept his tone level. “So neatly, and leaving so few traces, that a Templar Padawan was accused of, and came within millimeters of being executed for, your pretty neat job.” He was glad that Surimaresh was sitting down out of his immediate reach. It reduced the temptation to strangle him.
“So, I hitched a lift on a troop-transport to Halm, hid out in the caves until I could slip away. I got out home to Chu’unthor as soon as I could. Tell the right people, and the kid will be fine, right?”
“Whitewall, she’s a child. In a cell in a prison with every other sort of common crook, and without the small defense the Force provides. And Palpatine is merciless, and it will take very certain proof to convince him.”
“I’ll record a confession. Get them to test that I could have gotten in and out, break my alibi, and he’ll have to let her go.”
“Master Altis would be devastated if one of his Knights were a murderer. You know that, don’t you?”
“He’d be worse if I were a murderer who got an innocent kid killed as well.”
“True.” Obi-Wan was doing his best to remain calm, but Surimaresh’s casual assumption that it was so easy, that the chaos he’d caused could be mended by a simple apology, frustrated him. Greatly. Did the Balosar have any idea of the rift he’d created between the Senate and the Order? Of the wide-cast net of suspicion in the Republic’s best clone unit? The cold hand of murder had been laid to the throat of a dozen alliances, and it strangled wherever it touched. Some damage was beyond healing.
“In the meantime,” he continued, “what do you propose to do?”
“Disappear?” Surimaresh smiled. “I could live free for a lifetime just in the Black City.”
Live free? That was too much. In two steps and one swift yank, Obi-Wan crossed the intervening space and hauled the Balosar to his feet.
“You are a murderer,” he ground out. Surimaresh looked away, and something snapped. A second later, the Knight hung precariously, his upper body tipped backward over the railing, and Obi-Wan held him there. “You have killed one person. Only the will of the Force prevented your actions killing a second. You have damaged the trust between the Chancellor and the Council. In doing so you have endangered the Republic and every world it fights for. And I should just let you walk away?”
“When you put it like that… no,” choked Surimaresh. “Okay. You win. Let me up.”
Doing so, Obi-Wan thrust a comlink into his hand. “There. Record.”
Surimaresh took the comm reluctantly and recorded onto its memory banks the same story he had told to Obi-Wan. When he was done, he handed back the comlink and looked up. A curious indifference softened his voice as he said, “There. Go save your Padawan. Would you… give me a minute alone?” The last phrase was emphasized and touched with urgency.
“Lightsaber.” Obi-Wan held out his hand for the weapon.
Surimaresh’s expression changed to one of shock. “You’re only leaving me my shikkar – or the railing, I suppose. Come on, I don’t want to make a mess. We’re both reasonable men, Master Kenobi.”
“Then be reasonable. Suicide is not the Jedi way.”
“Neither is murder. I am damned already; what harm is there in it?”
“There is only one person of whose murder you can never repent. I will not allow you to do this.”
“I was thinking of my mother,” protested Surimaresh. “But… all right, I’ll do it your way.” Coming in from the balcony and closing the door behind him, he extracted a clasp-knife from his pocket and a glass-bladed shikkar from his boot, and handed them over. “Can I bunk in Sentinel temps? I’m guessing your politician won’t want visitors with no appointments.”
“He will,” Obi-Wan said grimly. “If they have the solution to the mystery he’s adopted.”