This is the end… hold your breath and count to ten…
What’s that? No, it really is!
And so it was that Obi-Wan and Surimaresh were admitted to Chancellor Palpatine’s office barely ten minutes after requesting an interview. It was an eventful ten minutes. Mace Windu called to say that a Mi Amarok had arrived at the Temple about her son and the murder. On hearing where Obi-Wan was and why, he offered to send her along. Mi arrived at the same time as the Chancellor’s men bringing Nasriel from the prison, and Kijé, who had volunteered to drive Mi over, winced on seeing his friend. Nasriel seemed not to notice him at all, but stared dully down at the shackles binding her wrists and ankles.
Catching Obi-Wan’s eye, Surimaresh asked, with a near-reverent blending of nervousness and delicacy, “Is that -”
“Yes, that’s Nasriel,” Obi-Wan replied.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Every youngling in the Temple is taught this,” Obi-Wan said acidly. “You may not have been. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t fix anything.”
“Oh, I taught him,” Mi interposed. She glared at her son. “I raised him well. Suri, how could you?”
The Knight thus applied to rolled his eyes. “Go easy, Mom. Okay, it was a murder, but not a crime. It was for the Republic.”
“And the leader of that Republic will decide your fate.” Nodding to the page who appeared in the doorway to summon them, Obi-Wan noticed that Nasriel was escorted in first, and that she seemed far more tired than afraid. An old, listless tiredness, the look of one who has seen so much as to become utterly unsurpriseable, and utterly uncaring for the future of anything including itself. He had seen that look before, once and only once. But it had not been a child that wore it.
Kijé Yenseh settled himself resignedly in the anteroom to wait. “May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi.”
“I’ll need it,” muttered Obi-Wan grimly.
And, indeed, Palpatine was not in an accommodating mood. He listened with his eyes narrowed, not revealing anything, not interrupting, and when Obi-Wan and Surimaresh had, between them, finished their story, he leaned forward.
“Master Kenobi, do you seriously expect me to believe this impossible story of a murderer confessing?”
“No,” Obi-Wan said slowly. “Your Excellency, I expect that you will disbelieve it, because it is the truth.”
“I see. And… Jedi Whitewall? What have you to say?”
“I killed Orde rightly by deliberate action. I don’t want to kill Nasriel wrongly by deliberate inaction. That’s all.”
“You say Orde was dangerous because he was Force-sensitive,” the Chancellor began shrewdly. “Can you prove that?”
“What – the danger, or the forn-senth?”
“If you can prove the Force-sensitivity I will take Master Kenobi’s word for the danger,” snapped Palpatine. “And I shall be very glad to be sure of the avertion of a danger. But it was still a murder, and that Threeb did it is the only explanation of all the facts.”
“Wrong. It is one possible explanation of some of the facts,” Mi interjected. “Do you have children, Chancellor? No? That’s why you’re no detective. Call up the 5th, right now, ask the men if they were absolutely certain.”
“I will then… I’m sorry, I don’t know your title.”
“Mrs.” Mi responded quietly. “As honorable as any and more so than some.” More so than Chancellor, her eyes said, with no need of vocal corroboration.
A deft shot. Obi-Wan belatedly realized that besides her Jedi training and former… professional skills, this grey-haired Balosar woman was a wickedly clever politician when she had to be.
“Major Zuqof’s personal comm,” Palpatine explained to her suspicious glare, keying in a callsign from memory. “Zuqof: did you ever entertain the possibility of Padawan Threeb’s innocence?”
“Not personally, sir,” replied the miniature holo that hovered over the polished surface of the desk. “No other obvious suspects. But some of my men were totally convinced. Problem, sir?”
“The un-obvious suspect has appeared,” the Chancellor said, with the deceptive mildness so characteristic of him. “Master Kenobi says one of your men has evidence to support the case that our new fair unknown is the guilty party. Anything to add, Major?”
“Yes, he does,” Zuqof admitted. “Burning to tell you all about it. We’re at CoCoTown. The officers and I can be up there in ten minutes flat.”
“Be so.” Palpatine cut off the comlink and leaned forward in his high-backed scarlet chair. “Well, I can hold my investigation now rather than later, I suppose.”
Major Zuqof, clone officers Ibrim and Sterling, and Captain Yrue, arrived in the office ten minutes later to the second.
“Well.” There was something about the Chancellor’s satisfaction that Obi-Wan didn’t much like. It was too much like the smile of a man who has successfully closed a trap. Too pleased to be quite innocent. But the man served as the leader of a chaotic and fracturing Republic. No doubt he had a hundred political agendas of which the Council would know about three at best.
But Palpatine was talking again. “So we are all agreed that I will endeavor to find the truth in this matter, and that my decision is final and binding. Correct?” From around the room came a murmur of assent. “Excellent. Anything else?”
Zuqof stood rigidly to attention. “Should my conclusions or those of men under my command prove to be wrong, I would wish to resign from the service as disgraced, sir.”
“One who wishes me to affirm the conviction, then. Well, we can’t all be unbiased. Master Kenobi, have you anything to add?”
“Only that I hope you can find the truth. The trust between the Senate and the Order has been much damaged of late.” Which was true: even Senator Amidala, Anakin reported, wondered. If it could be so. If, in short, orthodox Jedi could do murder. Senator Organa had openly avoided him in these corridors of power, turning on his heel and walking away down another passaged. And that had hurt.
“Suppose you start.” The elderly politician’s voice broke in on his tangled musing. “The night of the murder, and the days after, just as you remember them.”
So Obi-Wan went over the events again, remembering all and telling perhaps half. His Padawan’s life was at stake, but she had already said she didn’t care, and Palpatine did not need to know how shaken he had been in the caverns, how much his anxiety for Nasriel and Ben had impacted his effectiveness in combat. The last thing anybody needed was for the Great Negotiator to be pulled off active duty on psychological concerns. Besides, the image projected to the outside Galaxy was that while you could, if lucky and foolhardy to a vast degree, possibly kill a Jedi, you could never break one. That was not an image to be shattered without a direct order from Master Yoda, so Obi-Wan deliberately omitted details from his narrative.
Then it was Zuqof’s turn. He recounted events as they had happened, to the letter, and told of his actions and Yrue’s without explanation or mitigation of facts. Yrue corroborated his commander’s story, offering as his only excuse that he had acted throughout in accordance with the laws governing murder in wartime.
Finally, with many nervous glances back at Obi-Wan, who studiously ignored him, Surimaresh began to tell what had happened from his point of view. As he spoke, a slow smile crept over Palpatine’s face. Almost, thought Obi-Wan, like a man hearing an account of how a plan of his own has been carried out. Finally Surimaresh finished.
“I see.” And Palpatine gave the impression that he did see, that he had seen it all from before Dooku first commissioned the Altistian Knight to murder Clone Captain Orde. Or assassinate him, depending on terminology. “At last the Separatists have put a foot wrong,” smiled the Chancellor. “Noticing a risk to the Republic and removing it themselves!”
“Or noticing an expendable among their own and orchestrating his death to foster distrust and dissension in our ranks,” Obi-Wan hastened to add. “Your ruling, Your Excellency?”
“Yes. Of course. The case seems quite simple.” But before giving it, the Chancellor asked of the room in general, “If I say, Whitewall is guilty, what then? I will have gained nothing but the enmity of the Altistians. I don’t pretend to understand your internal politics any more than I do your remarkable powers, but I know there are differences between the sects.”
“I can speak for Master Altis,” Mi replied quietly. “He knows the meaning of justice. He will understand, whatever your Excellency’s verdict.”
“Well, then. Surimaresh Whitewall murdered Captain Orde. This was an unprovoked killing of an unarmed man and as such abhorrent to any ideas of justice. He was tricked into doing it by Count Dooku, but that mitigating factor does not restore Orde to life. It is therefore my unpleasant duty to pronounce Jedi Whitewall guilty of murder. Although the automatic sentence is death, I am inclined to be clement. The facts of Dooku’s interference and the – ah – murderer’s remorse and confession lead me to sentence him instead to life-imprisonment.”
Surimaresh closed his eyes. “Please let me die,” he breathed. “If you have a gram of feeling, please, let me die.”
“I beg your pardon?” Palpatine appeared quite dumbfounded.
“To imprison a Jedi,” Surimaresh explained, his voice low, “Your Excellency would have to use Force-blockers. Try to imagine being sentenced to a life-long term of no light, no air, no water or sustenance, and no death, and you come close to imagining the sentence you have passed. The Force is more to us than life itself. This is not mercy. This is unspeakable cruelty.”
“I see. Master Kenobi, do you concur with Jedi Whitewall’s analysis?”
“Oh, yes.” Despite the – literally – deadly seriousness of the situation, Obi-Wan forced his mouth to curl in a slight, sardonic smile. “If anything he rather underestimates the effects of Force deprivation.” He remembered a few occasions. Every cell screaming for the quickening contact that was as necessary as a heartbeat, and as unnoticed as breathing until it was removed. The crashing, overwhelming, pure relief when the Force caught up with him again, flooding through every nerve and vein, bringing with it wholeness and life.
Still only in his twenties, Surimaresh would suffer over forty years of the agony, with no hint of the ecstasy, unless he found a way of ending his life sooner.
“Very well,” Palpatine relented. “Jedi Whitewall, I sentence you to death.” Surimaresh released the anxious breath he had been holding and though his eyes were still dark with fear, he flashed Mi a brave smile. Palpatine pretended not to notice as he continued, “And now. To consider Padawan Threeb.”
She was so quiet, standing so still and apathetic the Force did not dance in its familiar aura, but pooled sluggishly about her. Oh, Obi-Wan could see his Padawan had been changed. If it came to that, he had been changed. Hardened. For one terrible second, the thought flashed across his mind. What if that was Dooku’s plan all along? What if Orde, Surimaresh, Nasriel, were mere collateral damage in an attempt to break his spirit, drag him into the pit of despair from whence he could never again aid the Republic in her darkest hour? Dooku had known him, albeit vaguely, as a Padawan’s Padawan. Could have known what was best calculated to break him.
If that were so… but it was impossibly prideful to think that he was so important. If it was him they had wanted they would have had him by now. Killed him. No. It was a complete accident that Orde had been murdered while there were Jedi on the station. And yet… perhaps… but then he had won, hadn’t he? Retained hope in the darkest hour.
“What shall I say of Padawan Nasriel Kenobi Threeb?” Palpatine mused. “I say she is -”
To be concluded in Healing Point.