An experiment in a new narrative technique. You may want to read this twice to work it out. A clue: Every time you hit ***, there’s a new narrator. The first three are Nasriel, Erirea, and Ben. After that you’re on your own.
The title is a ‘reflection’ on where most of this story was written: specifically, Munich and Bonn!
Thanks to Erin for the non-canon Kenobis, and VJ for Darth Duke.
This nightmare is different. It comes when I’m awake, and I can’t move, can’t see anything that’s really there, only the dream.
The man is dying. He crumples to the durasteel floor, and I can’t act, in the real world or the dream-world. I feel I ought to know him, but I don’t. In the dream I can hear nothing and the Force tells me nothing; I have only the evidence of my eyes. He is old, Dying Man, with grey hair and a short, neat beard. I don’t see how long his hair is, because his hood is up. I think his eyes must be blue, but I’m not sure if I see that or just know it.
Facing Dying Man, his opponent looms tall and menacing. He is black and he has no face. He terrifies me, but Dying Man does not seem to mind him. They fight with ‘sabers in the doorway of a hangar. In the hangar itself, two men try to make Senator Amidala board a ship. She wears a white dress and her hair is braided very simply. One of the men must be a bounty-hunter by his clothes; the other is not much more than a boy. Bounty Hunter shouts, and shoots at the clones coming to stop him taking the Senator, but Boy stares, open-mouthed. I think he is a friend of Dying Man.
Black Man raises his lightsaber, but Dying Man holds his down by his side, out of the way, and bows his head. He does nothing to save himself. As he falls, I hear the only sound of the dream: Boy screaming. Nooo! Dying Man crumbles to the ground and Boy shouts, and I lose sight of the dream hangar. I wake, finding that I am crying out in anguish as well, as if I had known and loved the grey-haired man who died. Perhaps it was only a dream, signifying nothing, but I think about him, often.
I think about him, often. Scan every HoloNet report for a mention of his name. Write a long letter every other week. Since the war began in earnest, he hasn’t had time to write, so I sent the letters to Ben instead, and occasionally receive a terse note back. I know he reads them, but this way he doesn’t feel he ought to reply. And so, with the smoke of the burning acrid and stinging in my eyes and throat, I take a straightedge, mark a black line around the edges of the page, and begin to write.
It is his name I put at the top of the page, though I will address the envelope to Ben. I do not think a letter marked for my nephew will be lost in the piles of letters a HoloNet favorite no doubt has sent to him. How odd the Galaxy is. He is the last person I would expect to win interplanetary renown – but probably every woman thinks that about her brother. I only hope he gets this soon. Surely the war cannot hold up the mail more than the postal office already does.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that even a darn inter-system war can’t hold up the mail more than it already is? Well, it can. Annoyed at the two-week delay betrayed by the postmark, I snatch up my dagger – a Solstice gift from my uncle – from where it lies on the table, and slash open the envelope. The knife blade slides smoothly through the rough paper, and I meet the Witch’s eyes across the table. She watches my every move: nobody ever writes to her. Well, like I care anyway. I yank the folded paper out of the envelope, tossing the wrapper on the floor. No doubt Master Chakora Seva would have used a poetic simile about the exterior being mere trash and the interior illuminating, but I am not Master Seva, nor do I share some people’s fascination with the man.
Through the thin page, I recognize my aunt’s handwriting, and smile, before I notice something else, something that makes my blood run cold: a heavy black line is traced around the border of the letter. I glance quickly back up at the Witch.
“Get out,” I say softly. “Go away. This doesn’t concern you.”
Although her golden eyes cloud, she nods silently, and gets up, and goes out into the corridor. I watch her walk away before I wave the door shut. Then, with the letter still folded and unread, I go and knock on my uncle’s door. I speak in Shendi, so he’ll know ahead of time that there’s a problem.
“Av’raya Ae’enn Narshala? Abe el?”
“What is it?” The door opens at once. He sits at his desk, looking over his shoulder at me. Looking worried and… old. Crossing the room, I set the letter on the desk, and wait as he unfolds it and scans the lines of writing. This would have been addressed to him anyway, before we were so busy with missions for the war.
Before she was so busy with missions for the war, and desperately important work, also for the war that seems to have taken over everything, we used to meet sometimes. Maybe in the Archives where I live, maybe in the lab where she works. To talk, or just to sit silently together. So we arranged to do that again, like in old times. She didn’t come. After a week of waking dreams, her nerves are worn as thin as the pages of my much-read, thousand-year-old copy of the Vendee epic, and I worry for her. So when I have waited for an hour, I go to her quarters to find her.
She kneels by the door to the balcony, hunched over so that her forehead touches the floor, shaking with silent sobs. On the ground beside her lies a sheet of paper, torn from a notebook. I limp across the room, and pick up both girl and paper, folding her gently into my arms and rubbing her back. Gradually, the weeping abates, and she becomes still in my embrace. Her body is soft and yielding against mine, and for a moment I wish – but we are Jedi. I bow my head and inhale the warm spicy fragrance that clings about her glossy hair.
“What’s the matter, Witch?” I ask. I needn’t. Looking over her head, I can read the neat, upright script centered on the paper I hold.
Gone to Steujan. Family/war business. Sorry couldn’t tell you – no time. You were with Adesse anyway. Remember to water the plants. MTFBWY. He couldn’t even be bothered to write the short benediction in full. I catch myself: that is uncharitable. He just had no time to spare.
“And I’m off the lists,” the girl in my arms murmurs. Of course, with the dreams, it’s too risky to send her on a mission. And she doesn’t speak Shendi anyway, so she would not be of much help. But what the blazes, I ask myself, posing the question for the sake of wondering, with no chance of finding out, does Master Kenobi’s family have to do with the war?
What the blazes do we have to do with the war? Perhaps blazes isn’t the best choice of word, given the state of my father’s farm. Now I’m in the absurd position of having to move my family to the adjoining land, belonging to my sister and her husband. And now I hear our saintly brother the Jedi Knight is coming home. Not because of the disaster his family’s sustained, no. I suppose Erirea told him that much in her letter – she’s a good sister, wouldn’t want to surprise him. If that’s even possible; I don’t understand the Jedi, don’t understand my own brother. No.
No, the reason any Jedi has been sent because this isn’t the only Kenobi farm torched – there are distant relatives all over the world – and the politicians are afraid Steujan is next on the Separatist agenda. And why my brother? Because he speaks the language. Simple as that. I think it’s nuts. He’s needed more elsewhere. Who’d want to conquer this little backwater of a planet anyway?
Why are we trying to conquer this little backwater of a planet anyway? It’s irrelevant. There are worlds out there ripe for the picking, with ten times the strategic importance of this farming world. It isn’t as if I’m merely a commoner on the Confederacy payroll, either. I am a Sith Lord. I am Darth Duke. Sending me to stir up chaos on this planet is demeaning, pure and simple.
Oh, I know. I know. This is Kenobi’s homeworld, and my Master will stop at nothing to destroy him. To crush him into dust and scatter him to the winds. But at the end of it all, who is this Kenobi? Just one man. Of course he’s a good solider and the HoloNet love him, and it would unbalance the Order if he died, but only for a day or two. They’d find another poster boy.
But Darth Sidious knows best, so we will waste my time and Confederacy resources to take this planet. For the sake of one man.
One man. That’s all I am. Whatever you hear on the news reports. One man: mortal, fallible, and right now… afraid. This plan is lunacy. Because Steujan’s so small and insignificant, even the Separatists aren’t expending their usual resources to capture it. For a change, all they’re doing is inciting riots, presumably to convince the government that it’s easier to leave the Republic. This worries me, because I don’t know what plans they have for my home, when, or if, they take it. Because any deviation from the Separatist norm is a sign that there is something happening behind the scenes, far bigger than anybody dreamed of.
And I don’t see how four Jedi are going to change anything – four, yes. Nasriel’s friend Leannen, who passed the Trials a fortnight ago, and his Padawan. Dear Force, he’s only twenty years old, and the child’s eleven. What are we doing to our children? Leannen’s only a boy; he should still be a Padawan himself.
He’s only a boy, but I had no choice. If Threeb could have gone I would have sent her. But she’s not herself, or so Adesse the mind-healer has it, and she’s been gated. Even Yoda couldn’t reverse that. Send Obi-Wan and his Padawan alone? Impossible. It’s not that I don’t respect the man – I do – but the most level-headed of my fellow Council members, which he is, could possibly be led astray. If the Separatists are wise, they will use his family against him.
Not that I would ever tell either of them this, but Leannen’s there to keep an eye on Obi-Wan. The man is the most responsible Master in the Order. Bar Yoda, perhaps. And as long as there’s a distinctly irresponsible young Knight about to be taken care of, his heart hasn’t a chance of influencing his head. But the Dark mists my perception. I cannot guess how this will end.
I wish I knew how this will end. My first mission as a Knight, and I’m realizing pretty rapidly that I have no idea what I’m doing here. The capital of Steujan looks as if it was beautiful once – but from the air I counted twelve massive bonfires through one sliver of the ship’s viewport. Now that we are on the ground, I feel the city stands poised on the edge of a precipice, from which it could topple at any moment. Armed men stalk up and down the streets, eyeing one another suspiciously, and shy children peep out from the shadows before scurrying away. I’ve never had to do this before – help rescue a world, I mean. Master Elis and I got assigned trade-route missions the whole of the war so far. And now I’ve got Nebs to look out for as well.
Master Kenobi looks sick. I guess since it’s his homeworld and all, he hoped it wouldn’t be too bad, but it looks like it is. Now, we’re out of the spaceport and walking down the streets to… well, to someplace, I guess. Master Kenobi isn’t talking. I don’t blame him, really I don’t: I wouldn’t feel much like talking if it was the Temple that looked like this planet does. Last time I was in a place looked like this, it was a city where they’d had a civil war the last five years. Why do they call them civil wars? There’s not much that’s less civil than trying to kill your own countrymen.
Whatever the reason, the results are similar. The air mists over with that special foul smoke that comes from burning houses, books, furniture… people… regardless of what they are. All the windows are broken and only a few boarded up; there are flakes out of the paint and plaster of the walls, and the odd house is ruined entirely or else gutted by fire.
I don’t much want to talk myself, if it comes to that. It would feel like a sacrilege, like yelling in the Archives. The streets are so quiet.
The streets are so quiet. At least the people are not in panic, not taking angrily to the public squares by torchlight as they did last night and the night before. Yet I am still concerned. What new devilry can be in store for us now? Our Senator managed to get a message through to say that there are Jedi coming, but that is all I have heard. All our comm systems seem to be down.
I gaze unseeing through the empty windowframe of the room where the Assembly of Elders meets, so lost in my thoughts that the street below, shifting in its moving shadows of sun and cloud, becomes phantasmal to me. I am too old for this. But because my eldest surviving son is absent and has been for twenty years, I am still here. When I last caught a glimpse of him, it was during the last crisis. He was only a boy, here fleetingly, but to help. He had been gone for thirteen years before that. My daughter follows his career avidly on the HoloNet, but I have not the stomach to watch scenes of warfare every other day.
There are men walking down the street, in broad daylight. Since the black ghost began to haunt the countryside, since the uprisings started, nobody goes out to walk by day, and few by night. For in daylight there are snipers, picking off anybody they see, and at night there are the fires, the riots, the chaos of a beautiful city fallen. And to walk in the streets you must be courageous or foolish.
There are four of them, and I think they are coming here. They are two men and two boys – and one of the boys looks so like my son that for an instant I find myself deceived, but I recall that there are twenty years and many lightyears between this boy and my son as he must be now. And I should not be thinking of him anyway. I have far too much to do to waste time on a father’s sentimentalism.
I have far too much to do without these dreams wasting my time. Every time the dream comes it feels more urgent, it seems more vital that I understand it and act upon it. Adesse says it is most likely a warped memory of what I have been told about the Battle of Theed, and to be sure, there are parallels. But I knew Master Jinn. Not well, I’d never claim that, but I knew him. And I’d know him again, even in a dream. Dying Man is nothing like Qui-Gon Jinn.
If anything he reminds me of a father – not my father, I don’t mean! But somebody’s. The first few days of the dreams, when I told him that, Master Obi-Wan laughed and said I was a bit old to be having nightmares about my father’s death. And that Jedi didn’t care for that anyway. He doesn’t understand – it’s not a joke!
Leave me alone! I don’t know who he is!
Dear Force, can’t you leave me alone? I don’t know who he is! Why do you keep insisting I must recognize him? He is the oldest of the Assembly. What of it? There are old men in politics elsewhere in the Galaxy, why should he not carry on? His name is Matthias Kenobi. What of it? There are hundreds of Kenobis on Steujan, it stands to reason there will be a few here. I have returned to Steujan only once since I was sent to the Temple. I know nobody here.
I am thankful Leannen is waiting with the two boys in the porch of the Assembly building. Or, to put it another way, I am thankful all three boys are waiting in the porch. Addressing the chief of the elders, I ask the question that weighs so on my mind.
“If you please, who is the… older gentleman? I do not think I have had the honor?”
The strange man raises his hands to cover his face. He lets slip a faint gasp, and turns away from me with a swish of wide black silken sleeves, to stare fixedly out the window.
“That is Matthias Kenobi, Master Jedi,” my informant replies. “He is kindly maintaining his place until we can find someone else.”
Matthias Kenobi. The name is still familiar, but I am no farther ahead. Many names are familiar to me: I have met such a multitude of people over the years. But the elder is still talking.
“Poor Matthias. To lose his first son – with his first wife – to the army, and his first son – with dear Tanneilie – he would never say quite how. But it’s only Owen now, and he is too much occupied with the farm to assume his father’s position.”
At last – too late – I know. Owen. Erirea speaks of our brother Owen in her letters to Ben. Which means that the man is…
“I am sorry, Sir,” I say awkwardly to the perfectly cut coat-back that is all I can see of him. “Forgive me, I did not know you. It has been a long time.”
“You are forgiven, Master Jedi,” he replies. Ben has ventured out of the porch into the street, and I can see him over Matthias’ shoulder. He is watching Ben fixedly. “Who is that boy? He was with you. Your son?”
“My nephew,” I answer him. That Ben is also my Padawan seems to matter not a whit at this moment.
I’m his Padawan, but that doesn’t seem to matter a bit. He’s supposed to trust me! Yet a whole hour has passed – ten minutes, says Telc languidly – a long time, anyway, and I’m left just hanging around in the street. I step out of the porch and meander, kicking savagely at stones, bored to tears.
“A Jedi does not sulk,” Telc reminds me, and I jam my hands deeper into my pockets and take a few steps farther away from him. He can’t boss me, he’s barely Anakin’s age. Yeah – Anakin. Nuts to calling him Master Skywalker. Somebody gasps, someplace above me, and I look up to see a man all dressed in black, standing at a shattered-empty window, watching me. At the port, a man was muttering in Shendi about a black ghost, thinking Jedi just landed from Coruscant wouldn’t understand him. But I don’t think it was this guy he meant. Anyway, he’s old – but not ancient, like Yoda. Just old. About seventy or so, maybe.
Telc snaps something to Nebs, flicking his head to indicate something along the street, and Nebs is up and running and man does the kid move like a bolt from a blaster. I don’t know where he’s going, of course, because a second later one of the local polits turns up in the porch. The Jedi Master’s compliments, and would I mind joining them. I’ll bet my boots that’s not what Master Obi-Wan really said, but I go.
Climbing the staircase, I notice nothing’s written in Basic, and hope Telc and Nebs don’t get in trouble without me. But there’s no time for too much thinking. We reach the Assembly room – the man escorting me explains painfully that I would not under normal circumstances be allowed in here, but the rules are all bent, for it is the only room still habitable. Master Obi-Wan is talking to the man in black when I arrive.
They both look up at me, and the stranger says calmly, “So, this is Ben.”
“Yes, Sir.” To me, he adds, “Ben, this is Matthias Kenobi. Your… grandfather.” He sounds faintly surprised to have said such a thing. At once, I have to recalculate his age. My father’s father? He must be a hundred at least. ‘Cause even parents are pretty old, so grandparents – whew! I heard Anakin and the Witch swapping stories one time – they both remember before the Temple. A few minutes later, I change my mind again. Matthias isn’t just old. He’s clever. He knows the planet.
Man, I don’t know about this planet. It’s weird. And Telc’s just no fun at all now he’s a Knight. I mean, we get this mission – and what kid outside-a Ben, who’s his nevvy, and the Witch, who’s nuts, wants to work with such a stiff-spined full-a-legal-chizzk Council guy like Kenobi? Well, not Sai-Dan Nebesh, I tell you now. Anyway. Mission. I don’t speak the mumble-mumble lingo they use out here, and this feels for sure more like a pre-war recon jazz than any kind-a real war mission the on-list guys back home talk about.
So anyway there’s me lighting out after some blip-blip son of a deleted all dolled up in black – dude ain’t got no more taste than Master Skywalker. I split like greased lighting, catch up to the guy just around the corner of the street, and when I’m about a half-second off hollering who the blip-blip nine-Sith-hells are you anyway, whaddaya know, road turns upside down. I mean, not just upside down, that wouldn’t faze me too much, but upside down and inside out and whirling around in cute little spirals as well.
So this is a little touch creep-out, yeah? And the whole way I can see this bad-taste dude pretty clear, watching me with this kind-a quizzical look on his face, one eyebrow up like Master Council Kenobi when he’s pursuing a what-the-hell-did-you-think-you-were-doing line of conversation. And yeah, that is an animal I’m pretty familiar with by now. Given he steps harder than ever on Boehme Gang stunts now he’s got the Witch.
Anyhow, I’m standing there like a dumb cluck looking back, for about a blip-blip minute ‘fore I notice, dude’s touching me. Got his hands each side-a my head, fingertips on my temples. Which is super creep-out.
I’m all like, dude, get your mitts the deleted off-a me, only not out loud, a-course, and he whispers at me: “The power of the Dark Side, young one. Go back and tell your Master.” And he lets go, and the street figures on standing still again, and whoof! he’s gone. Naturally I skid back to Telc to tell him just where he can stick his deleted mission, but weird things can happen along one little street, okay? Last thing I think is, Man, that guy was fierce. How do we move against the Seppies now?
How do we move against the Republic? It’s not difficult, even with few men. To make the people angry enough to riot – easy. Cut the comms, the usual precursor to invasion. Fear leads to anger: behold, they are afraid, and therefore angry. To make them hate the Jedi, and all those connected to the Jedi, which includes the Senate – more delicate. This requires a few willing and well-rehearsed Confederacy men to masquerade and a Sith Lord to provide the effects from a prudent distance. With the aid of that glorious invention, the rumor, wicked ersatz Jedi may be painted as representative of the whole pathetic Order.
A black ghost prowling the countryside and starting raging fires adds to the effect. For the converted, he becomes further reason to hate the Jedi. For the diehards, the idealists who still believe, he is something evil, and their confidence is whittled away by a continued failure by their precious Jedi to do anything about it.
I know this planet by now. Know the odd little things interesting but not useful, know the land and the politics. One of the three clans here has a story that blue-eyed children are special in some superhuman way. While it sounds like one of the many superstitions that spring from the phenomenon of Force-sensitivity, I cannot be sure, for there are no children here whose eyes are not a commonplace brown. Despite such superstitions, and their primitive farming lifestyle, though, the people take a good deal of persuading before they will react violently. But it is done.
Now I can sit back, watch the destruction, and wait for the Assembly to crack under the strain and accept Confederacy assistance. For you may be sure no such offers will be received from the Senate, however many are sent.
I have a plan for this world still grander than mere annexation to the Confederacy. Steujan will become a Sith planet, more magnificent in darkness than even Zigoola was before Kenobi ruined everything. For that he must suffer. I don’t think, though, that when we finally take Steujan, I’ll allow Kenobi to be captured by careless troops.
I want to destroy him all by myself, and then relish the sweets of Darth Sidious’ favor. If Kenobi gets droid-damaged he’ll be no fun for me at all. And if I cannot have him for myself, I will break him by remote control, by destroying anything and everything he holds dear. Steujan is only the start. There is Skywalker – how sweet Kenobi’s shock will taste to me when he realizes what we have been doing to the boy all along, under his very nose! There are those two addle-brained Senators to be thwarted at every turn and indiscriminately menaced by bounty hunters, terrorists, or assassins. And if all else fails, there are always the children.
There are always the children to think about, on any mission involving Padawans. And it’s simple mathematics: two Padawans are at least twice the worry. I resolutely banish Nasriel from my thoughts, though not without a twinge of guilt as I imagine her expression if I was ever to really send her away. But she is in the Temple and therefore completely fine in every way. That helps.
Ben is glancing anxiously from me to Matthias – I cannot bring myself to call him anything else.
“May I go see if Telc and Nebs are okay?” Ben pleads. I can see in his eyes that he has understood barely two sentences of a twenty-minute conversation, and this worries me. He understands the bastard argot snatched in scraps from a score of other tongues and cobbled together anyhow, the slang of Padawan society, better than his own native language. I would blame Anakin, with his Huttese and his cursing, but if I am honest it is probably Nasriel’s eccentric friends who are chiefly responsible. And myself for allowing this. As usual.
“Yes, Ben, you may go. Ask them to come up.”
He escapes gladly. The setting sun touches his hair with crimson, making it blaze like a torch as he slips away.
The setting sun touches the whole street with crimson, so that at first I only notice Telcontir’s worried frown. Sai-Dan – Nebs – sits in an alcove of the porch, in company with a broken old statue of somebody. He holds one hand across his forehead, shading his eyes.
“They stoned him,” Telcontir says quietly, as soon as he sees me in the doorway. “He went to check something for me, and on the way back -” His brown hands describe a defeated gesture in the air. “I don’t know why.”
Nebs grins palely and drops his hand. Although the rather grubby handkerchief he holds is now also sticky with blood, the cut seems to have stopped bleeding. Flicking his fringe across it and disposing of the cloth in his pocket, he gets up to follow me. The message is the same as that I get from Telc’s slight, weary shake of the head: we won’t mention this. Some conversations do more harm than good.
Some conversations do more harm than good, and, alas, I fear this is one of them. Too many years have passed, and now I know no more of my son’s life than he does of mine. We talk at cross-purposes and have nothing in common but a name and a desire to free Steujan from the Separatists.
But the Jedi do not care for individual worlds, only for ideals. He is a member of their Assembly now, my daughter tells me, and has developed a reputation for unflinching steadfastness of purpose, and… arrogance. As he stands by the window, gazing out over the street, I am seized by an almost unbearable urge to shake him.
This was your home, I would say. All this pain, this devastation, how it tortures me inside. All the innocent who suffer from your Order’s stubbornness and pride. But I won’t. No point in offending a Jedi. No point, either, in telling him how much the Order is hated out here. At last they have sent help – it is too late. Look at the city. Look at the people! My son, open your eyes!
The boy is returning, trudging up the stairs. By elimination, I work out that this must be Owen’s boy, Ae’enn Chiava. Ben. I doubt he’ll have been taught to answer to his right name, so Ben, his public name, I must call him. And speak Basic. The other boys follow him into the room, and the elder of them addresses my son as an equal.
“Well, what’s the plan? Nebs hit up against something a little odd outside.”
“What?” I demand.
“A-a-a kind-a Sith,” the child stammers, then adds shyly, “Sir.”
“A kind of Sith? Where? What kind? Did it say anything?” Fixation on the task at hand – I’m seeing that now. Small matter to my son that the boy’s nervous hands are smirched with blood, small matter that he trembles, a very little, and tries to hide it. But he stands erect and answers the questions in order.
“A black kind – Human. Matter-a yards down-road and squig round-a the left bend. And how’m I meant to know what the blip-blip Sith said, Obi-Wan?”
The man thus addressed raises his eyebrows a fraction in surprise. Clearly it is not the Jedi way for children to call adults so.
“Alir’yana,” I say. He does not reply. Perhaps he has forgotten that he used to answer to that title, for it is the boy Ben, Ae’enn Chiava who looks like twenty years ago, that turns to me. Oh, time is all in flux today and I am blinded by her vagaries. When will this nightmare end?
The nightmares have ended. For a few days, one came every hour, but now it is twelve hours and counting, since the last. I still don’t know who Dying Man is, but I shall always think of him, now that he is gone.
I shall never think of these weeks again, once they are gone. Never. When a woman makes up her mind and resigns herself to the fact that her eldest son is forever lost to her, for him to then reappear… this is too cruel. I cannot bear to find him only to lose him again, so I remain here, in the rooms Matthias rents when the Assembly sits, and I wait for it all to end. Although I could open the shutter and see the hall across the street, I will not look. In case he is there. In case I see my son, for then I would weep, and not be able to hold myself back with the dignity proper to Matthias Kenobi’s wife.
I have held myself back, with the dignity proper to a Sith Lord, until the time was right. I have waited, though my impatience to act has bitten me to the quick. And at last I am rewarded. It is time to parcel out fate.
The old man dies. The two foreign Jedi leave – or die, depending on how they react. The red-haired brat I will need. And Kenobi – dear Kenobi – he will escape at first, so I may more deeply enjoy catching him. Because, let’s face it, in ten minutes I will hold him on a leash that I may tug at will.
I set the charges, confident that everything is ready, lined up to await my signal. I can be trusted. Lord Sidious will see that I am no longer a child.
I am no longer a child, and I am logically annoyed that Matthias still thinks of me as one. A minute later I thank the Force for its timing – had I said what I had wanted to say, I would have ruined everything. The Great Negotiator has some issues trying to negotiate with his… father. But all is well: something exploded quite spectacularly farther along the street. I must know what is going on, but I cannot leave now. Others will have to serve as my eyes.
“Leannen, Ben, go find out what is happening.” Although Padawan Nebesh does not think so, I have noticed the gash to his head, and I do plan to ask about it. Soon. And not send him out again. The older boys depart obediently, though the Karori Knight fingers his lightsaber in unconscious nervousness.
As if the explosion was a signal, the street is no longer empty. I stay at the window until I see the boys safely around the corner. We are on the brink of something unprecedented in Galactic history. But I do not know what. I no longer understand this quiet world where I was born.
“What is happening, Matthias?” I ask.
What is happening? I shake my head real hard so’s I know where I am. Must-a got hit harder than I thought, or did the Great deleted Negotiator himself just admit he doesn’t know what’s going on? This is scary, I swear.
He ain’t looking at me, though, so I’m safe enough. And you can say what you like, but there’s something funny going on around here. I mean… this old guy, he’s got something. He’s not one-a us, not Jedi material, but I’d guess only a few points below the cutoff on midichlorian count, if that, by the feel-a him. And Master Kenobi’s bothered by that.
Or by something else about the guy. Hey, I’m eleven. How the blip-blip black holes of the Kessel do I know what Master fought-a-Sith-and-survived is thinking? Answer: I don’t! What I do know is there’s a crowd-a folks in the street, and I can feel the anger curling in through the broken windows like poison smoke off one-a the Witch’s potions. Telc’s out in this, and my guess is it’s about to get nasty.
Ben’s out in that crowd somewhere, and the storm is about to break. I don’t trust crowds – even though every person I can see may be good, reasonable, and kindly in everyday life, when they are all together their only motivation is the basic irrational cruelty common to all sentients.
Perhaps the most useful piece of advice I have ever been given was Master Piell’s: Maybe a Jedi feels fear. He just has to give fear the cold shoulder sometimes. Although I do so now, I know I have only to slip very slightly for the terror to return. Much of life in the war involves this delicate balancing act between fear and caution.
In the murmur outside, one phrase recurs, but I cannot tell what it means. I look to Matthias for a translation, but he stares back blankly, a hundred conflicting emotions playing in his mind, before at last slowly shaking his head.
“You would never understand, Ae’enn Narshala.” And that hurts. But my overriding concern is for Ben. Whatever is happening out there, he is vulnerable in the middle of it. He does not even speak the language with perfect fluency.
The boy Ben will be vulnerable. He barely even speaks the local language, so will be predisposed to trust another Basic-speaker. Also, the Jedi children have by now a notion that the Sith they seek is sable-clad. As a matter of fact, I’m currently wearing green, loitering a few blocks from the Assembly. I have a clear line of sight down an alley, yet am distanced enough to preclude involvement.
The anger of the mob is exquisite, a powerful undercurrent seeping strength into me. Curious that Kenobi will experience the opposite effect.
As the boys round the corner and come to me, my job becomes laughably simple. Ben leads, and in an instant I hold him against me with one arm, pinning his hands between us and away from his lightsaber. My free hand controls the shikkar whose needle-sharp point pricks at his jaw. The other boy needs no warning to stay back, lest he startle me and my hand slip.
“Go,” I offer pleasantly. “You can leave.” I expect he will be foolish, stubborn, and heroic, and nor am I disappointed.
“Not without Ben,” he says, imitating courage he does not feel.
“Very well.” Any Force-user can render another sentient unconscious, but the Jedi, intriguingly, will not do it. This one responds as anticipated, slumping insensate against the wall of the alley. And Ben and I walk away, I secure in the knowledge that Kenobi cannot get to us for some time. My pet mob seems delightfully close to riot.
The mob outside the Assembly seems dangerously close to riot. I have lived here all my life: I know why they are here, what they want. Crouching in the corner, his blue eyes very wide, watching me with candid curiosity, the small Jedi boy knows as well, and he is frightened. But even now I can save this situation. Slowly, I walk back to the window and lean out, retaining a grip on the sill for balance. What I am doing is obscenely risky, and I know that, but I am an old man. However many risks I take, I can shorten my life by ten years at the most, but I do not think it will come to that. I know these people.
I know these people, but I have never known them to be like this. There is such fury here, and the occasional words I pick out of the murmur chill my blood.
“You left us to die – now it’s your turn.” – “Show yourself!” – “Jedi: runian!”
Afraid of what I might see, I crack open the shutter of my room. Through the broken windows of the assembly hall, I see Matthias, leaning out to talk to the crowd. Although he is speaking, I cannot listen now. I am looking for the person I did not want to see. I am looking for Ae’enn Narshala. Much to my disappointment, I do not see him. And so I begin to listen.
“…You have all known me and trusted me for many years. I must ask for your trust once more. I know some of you believe that the Jedi have abandoned Steujan, left the world to tear itself apart. Those who follow the HoloNet will know this is a lie. We are not abandoned – we are one of many, and others are in greater danger.”
The mob mutter, and shuffle ashamedly, and some at the edges slip away down alleys. But Matthias is not finished.
“Others are a little confused as to who exactly has been causing the recent disturbances.”
A breath passes over the crowd, a breath that taking form in the single word Jedi. And it is true, Erirea tells me. The black ghost is more like a Jedi than he is like anything else any of us is familiar with.
“There have been Jedi on Steujan for precisely…” he turns back into the room for a second, and talks to someone. I see a faint form, a man dressed in white, and then he vanishes again and Matthias is back. “Precisely three hours and seventeen minutes. Is this the same as the fortnight we have all suffered through in terror? No, it is not. Who then is responsible? My friends, the Jedi Council are so concerned for you that they have given me permission to tell you one of the deepest secrets of the Galaxy. My friends, we have been under attack from the Sith.”
“The Sith? They’re a fairytale!” jeers somebody.
“No!” Matthias snaps. He disappears again, and this time when he returns there is a small boy with him. His wide blue eyes darting about nervously, the boy steps forward and tries to say something, but the current of curiosity in the crowd drowns him out. He starts again, and at once all are still. I wonder what madness Matthias is trying now.
What kind-a nut-trick is the old man trying now? This is kind-a scary, standing out here above everybody. Matthias – I know that’s his name, Master Kenobi called him it – has his hand heavy on my shoulder, so I can’t wiggle out. Looking down at the crowd, though, man, do I want to do that or what! I recognize some of the blip-blip deleted pizzmahi down there; they were throwing stones earlier. At me!
“Tell them about the Sith,” Matthias whispers. So I tell, as loud as I can talk, and he’s translating into the local lingo, and between us we’re just up to the part about the Sith finally letting go-a me, when I get a notion to look up at the roofs over the way. And do I get the blip-blip shock-a my life, or is Yoda a Wookiee?
Master Kenobi sees the sniper too, and tries to Force-throw the guy’s aim off. But, well, do or do not, y’know, and in the end he does not. I mean, it was a long way and a small target and all. But by then, blam, it’s too late. Matthias is down, and I ain’t never seen no Jedi Master so cut up as Master Kenobi looks, not in my whole life. I mean, oh-mah-gods, he’s like this close to crying. Master Kenobi. Whaddaya think-a that?
And then I realize what’s happened. Kriffing deleted chizzk, somebody just shot Matthias and now he’s dead!
Excellent. My sniper shot Matthias and now the old man’s dead. A hint, Kenobi. The first taste of what is coming to you, of all I’ll take from you and make you suffer. This is only the start. In quiet satisfaction, I watch the unfolding scene through my macrobinoculars, until I see something that surprises even me.
In silent horror, I watch the unfolding scene through my half-open shutter, until I do something that surprises even me. I fling open the shutters and step out onto the balcony. My husband is dead. Taking a deep breath, I tell myself firmly, Tanneilie Kenobi, you are a widow, but I do not believe what my mind is telling me.
Instead, I note dimly that half the crowd in the street has turned to face me. I know that I look imposing, even regal, with my silver hair and my green gown. I know that I can make my voice carry across the whole area and still sound calm and quiet. I know I can do this.
That is, if I am careful not to look straight ahead of me.
In measured tones, I begin. “Is this enough for you? We have all walked for weeks in a dream, not knowing who our enemies were. Wake up. We know now. Go home and rebuild the damage – the Separatists have wanted not your world but your hearts. They can only win this battle with your permission. I urge you not to give it to them.”
There remains nothing else to say, so I withdraw. I have said what had to be said, and I have seen what I had to see. Making myself a cup of tea to stead my nerves, I consider every detail of the glimpse I had, with the punctilious attention of an obsessive. Ae’enn Narshala… what can I say? There is more to him than I can ever understand.
There is more to this situation than I can ever understand. More – and less. Far be it from me to say so aloud, but Steujan is not a strategically important world. One might even say monumentally unimportant. Therefore, the Separatist attempt to take the world is in itself disconcerting, for it means they see something here that nobody else does. Yet their tactics are laughable: cause confusion, and kill the leader. This is not much more sophisticated than the tactics employed in Initiate war-games.
So I kneel on the floor in the Assembly meeting room, beside Matthias Kenobi’s corpse, and think furiously hard about the mission. Ben. A Sith. A riot, or very close to one. Anarchy. Ben. As the pieces of the puzzle slide into place, something slips into the way and stirs them out of all order, so that I have to start over.
The small Padawan, Nebesh, creeps stealthily across the room and crouches beside me, his whole thin face alight with earnestness.
“Can I do something to help?” he pleads. “I’m just sick-a hanging around.”
I send him to return to where he saw the Sith, and look around for Ben. As a precaution, I loan the boy one of a pair of short-range comms, which should not be affected by the planetwide comm breakdown. Alone again at last, I have time to think. About the mission. About Matthias, who was closer to me than almost anyone else – who I never knew.
Brooding, like suicide, is not the Jedi way, but now there is nobody to stop me, no Qui-Gon to laugh me out of it, no Anakin to demand attention. Matthias’ death has no impact on me. This seems fitting: I am a Jedi. All ties are cut. This world is nothing more or less to me than any other. But that woman, on the balcony… she confuses me.
I am glad when young Nebesh calls and drags my concentration back to the present moment where it belongs.
“Obi-Wan? I found Telc. You might wanna… it’s right out-a the building, left at the end-a the street. ‘Kay?”
I move rapidly. It is always tempting to act, but often wiser to wait. Well, now the time for waiting is over.
Looks like this waiting game’s finally over. The Sith’s paced up and down this room till I’m dizzy watching him, muttering under his breath in something I can’t understand and don’t much want to. But now he stands facing the door, gloved fingers playing over his ‘saber hilt, occasionally glancing at me. I’ve never been this close to a Dark-sider before, and his presence makes me feel like retching, but I can’t even double over far enough for that. I lie shackled hand and foot, chained to the stone wall.
Although the Sith’s left my mouth free, I don’t make a sound: I’d rather die than have Master Obi-Wan find me now. Because if he does, he’ll die. I can feel him, searching for me, worried, nearly frantic if that’s possible. But I don’t dare reply, even in the Force.
And then it is too late: the door of the low, wide stone room flies off its hinges, pouring a stream of sunlight across the dusty floor. I close my eyes tight, then change my mind and open them. I don’t want to see this, but I have to.
I don’t have to do this – don’t have to fight Kenobi – but I want to. To save the boy’s life, he would do anything I told him. Anything. For an instant I am swept away by the overwhelming power, but I control myself. This, of course, is poetic justice. We Sith like that. Maul killed this Jedi’s Master, and was defeated. I will kill his Padawan, and triumph, and Darth Sidious will see I am worthy. Panting softly with anticipation, I flick my lightsaber from my belt and ignite it. This will be a close match.
My lightsaber is ready in my hand and lit. This will be a close match. I have no illusions that I can defeat two Sith in one lifetime: my only aim is to survive long enough for Ben to get safely away. After that… I place my fate in the keeping of the Force.
En garde, I think, but this is no friendly sparring session. At first all my concentration is focused on keeping the Sith away from Ben, but I soon realize he is not interested in harming the Padawan. I forget every moment of the fight as it passes, retaining only two impressions from the whole bizarre time fighting in the abandoned warehouse. One: I am not aware of weariness, or fear, or even of thinking. My whole being is concentrated in the blade of my weapon. Two: the Sith is very young, not older than Leannen. Perhaps the war has pushed the Separatist youngsters too hard, too fast, even as it has ours.
And then we are abruptly out in sunlight, dueling along an empty street, back toward the river that runs behind the Assembly building. The Sith darts ahead, and I have a moment’s respite, a moment when I need only think about running, and not swordplay. A moment when I lose him entirely. Farther along and a floor up, a fire-escape door bangs open, and I find my quarry again.
We fight indoors through blocks of apartments, the silent Sith meeting my every blow. Nobody is here to be wounded by the stray sweep of a laser blade: the city is all but deserted, so Matthias told me. We go on, up flights of stairs, making – I notice obliquely – rather a mess.
For most of thee time in this building, we are moving, he running, I pursuing, until we fight at a dead end, a large apartment on the sixth floor. I relax, aware of a curious fatalistic feeling. I know I will die today, and I take little interest in this battle now that I can foresee the outcome.
Out on the balcony, ‘sabers dance in the sun and the delicate transparisteel railing is destroyed in seconds. He is so near the edge… perhaps… perhaps… the river is bare meters away. Lightsaber and Force and heart and hand together and shove – he flies over the brink.
But before I have time even to breathe a sigh of relief, I fall also, dragged from the balcony by the willpower of the Sith. I will not fall safe in the river – I know enough of trajectory and Sith philosophy to tell that. As the sidewalk rushes up to meet me, I can only hope Nebesh will find Ben. Oh, not good… then nothing.
Nothing. This sucks, this sucks… I can only hope I find Ben before someone worse does. And I do. Well, I don’t know about before, ’cause-a this blip-blip deleted Sith Ben starts yakking at me about sure sounds like worse to me. But my ‘saber makes some pretty fast work of the chains that got him stuck to the wall, and soon’s he got some blood back in his feet he’s up and going, dead set on finding Master Kenobi. Man, I don’t know. Seems like we Jedi here are having what Telc calls ‘little proximity issues’. And speaking of Telc…
We find him grumbling on the pavement, working the last grogginess from his head.
“We have to find Master Obi-Wan,” says Ben, and he sounds fierce. Telc breaks off mumbling long enough to ask just how he’s going-a do that.
“We’ll ask the balcony lady,” Ben replies.
Okay, I suppose ask the balcony lady is a pretty sound strategy for a Padawan Ben’s age, but as it turns out, not a practical one. It isn’t technically my fault I take a wrong turning: you try getting knocked out by a Sith and see how alert you are an hour later. As I say, we take a wrong turning, wind up in a residential area full of apartment houses.
And Ben says sharply to forget the lady, because Master Kenobi’s around here somewhere, close. A Force bond that strong is cool, but rare, by the way. As we round another corner to come parallel to the river… I send Nebs into town to find the lady. I’m only just a Knight, and this is crazy, I can’t handle this.
They are children; of course they cannot cope with so odd a situation alone. And though I am not accustomed to be called hey lady by an eleven-year-old boy, I cannot object in this case. The boy speaks only Basic, and that rapidly and sprinkled with obscure imprecations, yet I understand enough to learn what Ae’enn Chiava – what Ben has deduced.
That there was a Sith. That Ae’enn Narshala fought it. That in the course of the fight, the Sith disappeared somehow and Ae’enn Narshala fell six floors to a permacrete sidewalk. That he is – miraculously – not dead.
The boy, who introduces himself as Nebs, tells me all this as we walk swiftly over the shortest route to the river.
I guess Nebs filled the lady in on this mishap along the way, because she knows all about it when she gets here. At least, she knows as much as we do, which isn’t much, even thought I had to listen to pontificatory Sith oratory for an hour. But whatever else the lady knows, she knows how to organize, and she knows how to boss people around. She says the comm breakdown disappeared just after all of us Jedi did, so there is no difficulty in getting done whatever she wants. By the time the moon is full over the city and all the stars are out, we are back at the spaceport where we started.
Master Obi-Wan is still unconscious, we lay him on the bunk in the cabin. The lady pretends not to be worried, but there is only so much a civilian can hide from a Jedi. When I am programing the navcom and she thinks I can’t see her, she strokes his hair and whispers something that surprises me hugely. It is only now, helping to land the ship at the Temple, that I work out why it surprises me: she called him Ae’enn Narshala. I would ask, but she is far away on Steujan now, and all my hopes are set on the healers’ skills.
It seems now all their hopes are set on my skills. And while these are considerable… well. I can but give my best. But before I can do anything, I have to wake Obi-Wan and find out exactly what happened. Ben and Telcontir and little Sai-Dan are all here in the next room, but none of them saw anything.
And the first thing Obi-Wan has to say? The children. Where are the children?
“Ben and Sai-Dan are just next door,” I assure him. “They are absolutely fine.”
“No,” he insists. “My children.”
Oh. Anakin. I send one of the medcenter apprentices out to find him. This takes a while, because, for once, he is not in the dojo.
It take’s Vokara’s assistant a while to find me, because he starts by looking in the dojo. I’m in the Archives. All the kid has to say to get me moving is, Master Kenobi’s back. He’s asking for you. I recognize a medcenter kid when I see one – he doesn’t have to add, he’s injured.
On the way out, I call to Droid at the desk that he better get hold of the Witch and let her know. She gets real stressy, real easy, about anything concerning Obi-Wan. Droid must call her right that instant, because when I get to the medcenter the Witch is already in the waiting area, fidgeting from one foot to the other and playing with something on a string around her neck.
“A Jedi is never impatient,” I remind her gently, and she subsides, flashing her sharp teeth at me in a sheepish grin.
Obi-Wan looks awful. Like, really awful, white to the lips and bruised all over his face and chest and one arm. I’m told he fell off a roof. He’s awake, though, alert to the point of jumpy.
“Nasriel,” he says sharply as I enter.
“Anakin,” I correct.
“No – where is she?”
“Outside.” I stick my head into the corridor to call her, and – pretty much usual in dealings with Jedi – there’s this tiny little moment where I don’t quite catch how she gets from there to here.
“Here I am, Master,” she says quickly, slipping across the room to stand beside him. He’s relieved: he sinks back against the pillows and almost smiles.
“Nasriel, listen. In case -”
“No,” the Witch protests, “If it’s a just-in-case, it can wait until you’re better.”
“Just in case it can’t.” Obi-Wan’s tiring fast, struggling through the pain each word costs him. Hovering in a corner, Vokara doesn’t like this at all. But she’s putting up with it.
“Nasriel, I have to apologize -”
“Master!” She’s terrified now, and doesn’t care who knows it.
“I am truly sorry… for ever having made light of your feelings over your father’s death. I was wrong. Forgive me.”
“It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter!” Suddenly she stops, a very still, unwavering light in the Force. “I see. Of course, you were at Steujan.”
What she sees I don’t know, but it pleases Obi-Wan.
“Thank you. Can we talk more – when, Vokara?”
“Tomorrow afternoon, at the absolute earliest.” The healer is adamant.
“Bacta,” surmises Obi-Wan miserably. “Come back exactly one minute past noon, Padawan.” As she nods, and vanishes again, he turns to me. This conversation’s taken a lot out of him; his voice is barely a whisper now.
“Anakin, the Sith escaped. He might come after you next. Be on your guard.” His eyes drift shut, and he murmurs, “All right, Vokara, do your worst.”
Leaving, I hear her husky Twi’lek voice say crossly, “Unless you stop picking fights, Obi-Wan, one of these days you’ll really get hurt. I don’t know what I’m going to do about you.”
I know what I’m going to do about him. Dying Man, in my dream. I’ll remember forever. And if I ever see him, really, I’ll ask… who are you? Why do I know you? Where are you going, and will you let me come?
PS: Something for “fun”. This is a genuine question someone-who-shall-remain-nameless asked yesterday: “WIP? – oh, work in progress. What’s it about? Nasriel? And speaking of her, I have finally remembered to ask you – is Obi-Wan actually her father?” Suffice it to say Rosalie choked on her coffee and responded to the asker immediately, in quite firm words, to set the record straight.