Well, sort of. I’ve been telling it to myself the last few nights, but then… I’m weird. You may not like it so much. Asterisks mark the point of no return, where it gets ‘really heavy’.
Kudos to Geraldine McCaughrean for her People of the Book – there are exactly two sentences directly quoted.
Technically a Guy Fawkes Day special – if only because of similarities to the part of the story not so widely known i.e. what happened to Guy Fawkes.
Strong H, very little C. Rated 13+.
We are flying. I’m so excited to have my own fighter for the first time – you know how it is. And to be on mission with just us and Anakin and Ahsoka. Back home, Ben is staying over with Dex for a few days. Education in explosives and such. So it’s us and the 501st, trying to save another planet.
While I love flying, two fighters, going alone to recce a nearby world, with no backup, might seem a little foolhardy. Not that I think so: I’m with Master Obi-Wan. Nothing seems foolhardy, or even frightening. Supposedly by going alone we lessen the chance of being noticed.
It doesn’t work. I guess we didn’t expect it to: before leaving the battle station, Master Obi-Wan made me put the Water ‘saber away and take Kijé’s old one instead. No point in letting the Del Gormo blade get captured – which, within the hour, we were.
It’s a pretty planet, though I forget its name. Crop fields and hedges and narrow lanes. A real Sentinel’s paradise. Not that it matters, except to set the scene for the fleeting glimpse I have of the world. In a byway with a high wall on each side, we are ambushed. It sounds absurd – but droids don’t project; they’re invisible.
Master Obi-Wan throws me away from him with the Force. He doesn’t have to say what he means: he is trying to protect me, to get me to safety. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, it’s just that I’ve been raised Sentinel, and I can’t walk away and leave a friend in danger even if I want to.
And I’m glad I stay. Glad we can fight back to back, right to the bitter end. And the end is bitter. For the droids – give the machines their due, they’re good – soon surround us and we are forced to give in or die. And then they take us to an old house on a high hill, at this time being used as a Sep base. Upon the commander’s learning – or seeing – who Master Obi-Wan is, he has us locked in the far basement of the house. It is very cold.
You would have to see it to understand quite, but the room bears describing. If you will imagine walls of rough stone, in a rectangle some twelve feet by six. At each end of one long wall, a door gives into a passage. However, the Seps have run a laser wall across the room, dividing it into two cells. In my cell, I am left unfettered.
But Master Obi-Wan… They chain his feet, with about a half-meter slack to the wall, and shackle his hands together, and run a chain from the shackle through a ring high in the wall, so that he has length enough to move about a little, and lie down, but if they wish they can pull the chain and he will be hanging by the wrists. You must see what I mean.
An electric light burns all the time, so that day and night meld together. They say they come only once a day, but I have never trusted a Sep and don’t mean to start now – and Anakin says it was a week.
On the first day, by the Separatist count, nothing happens. I sit in my cell and meditate as best I can. Master Obi-Wan is quiet, musing deeply, but not sharing his thoughts with me. I sleep as close to the laser wall as I dare.
Two Sep soldiers come into my cell, marking the beginning of the second day, and one kicks me in the stomach to wake me. Master Obi-Wan shouts leave her alone, and I get up quickly. Dumb, because I’m only knocked down again. They don’t work on me for long, and in the end I’m only a little bruised. I’ve had worse from former Masters. The man by the door to the other cell is talking softly the whole while, saying that he will have his men stop the instant Master Obi-Wan tells them where our station is and what its target is. He won’t, of course, but they leave anyway.
The third day of captivity, it is Master Obi-Wan’s brief pang of fear that rouses me from a daydream in the corner. They have pulled the chain tight, and he hangs above the floor. With difficulty, he turns his head to look at me. Tell nothing, his mind warns.
“Even if it means watching you die?” I ask aloud.
“Yes. Without hesitation.”
The Separatist captain nods to his lieutenant, standing just out of Master Obi-Wan’s line of vision, then comes to stare at me through the laser wall. His eyes are narrow and hungry, like a snake’s, and his aura is utterly repulsive. I stand and look him in the face. I am not afraid.
At least… until the other draws a knife. He slashes Master Obi-Wan’s tunic from him, and the rags flutter to the ground. As I see the handle in the man’s belt, so like and unlike to a ‘saber hilt, my heart skips a beat. I’ve been around the block a few times. There are things I recognize that most other kids wouldn’t even want to know about. Like an electrowhip, for instance. I know how it works. What it does to its victims. Why it’s used. And now, I’m scared. Unable to watch what I know is coming, I turn my face to the stone wall and gaze steadfastly at the mortar holding the stones.
“Little girl,” the snake-eyed man says to me, after a minute. “Do you know much about human physiology?”
“A little,” I reply truthfully. “My mother was one.”
“Well, so is he,” the man reminds me. “I have a problem, little girl. I have to be sure you’ve seen this, but… too much more will kill him. Up to you, of course.”
With vast reluctance, I drag my unwilling body through the necessary half-turn. I’ve heard – I couldn’t help hearing – the snap of the whip, the fizz of raw energy dissipating over flesh. At each blow, I’ve flinched as if I felt the electricity crackle over my own skin. If that was me chained there, I would have been screaming in agony before now. But I count ten more strokes before it finally stops, and Master Obi-Wan has yet to make a sound.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” the terrible man says conversationally, and we are left alone.
The chain slack to its full extent, Master Obi-Wan slumps to the floor, and whimpers like a youngling. I am shocked. I have never seen… Force, they must have been brutal. Presently I give up trying to talk, and curl up in my corner, certain I am in hell.
The next day, it is my turn again. I watch the blows fall, in a kind of bored abstraction, aware that the instant my concentration lapses, I will feel the batons slamming into my ribs, my legs and back and shoulders. I am not as brave or as strong in the Force as my Master, and I gasp in pain far sooner than I would like. He is not watching, and for that I am grateful, even if it prolongs the beating.
When I stop rising painfully to my knees, and just lie still, too tired even to flinch, the men kick half-heartedly a few times, then leave. At once I feel Master Obi-Wan’s gaze fixed on me, and I manage to shift my head, dragging it over the rough floor, to gaze back. I would be comforted – only, in his eyes I see the reflection of my pitiful condition.
“I’m… fine,” I tell him, concentrating on absolute clarity of speech. Even to my ears I sound hoarse, and millimeters from tears. Which I am. I drag in a breath and then another, and painstakingly raise my body to a sitting position. Everything hurts. Even blinking.
Master Obi-Wan shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I could have stopped this.”
“No,” I gasp. “Couldn’t – battle… station.”
“True. That will have to be the motto from now on.” And we resolve: not a word about the station, or about any plans. And if we die here, so be it, we will die.
The next day, I am stiff and aching, but I can live with that. It is Master Obi-Wan I worry for. Every slightest sound in the passage outside makes him jump, and he twists his fingers nervously together. I swear, if he doesn’t stop jittering I will cry in sheer apprehension.
“Tell me about life as a Sentinel,” he says, sudden and sharp. So I talk about nights at the Priory, about how to stow away, about a hundred missions. I know I’m talking in no particular order and the words are spilling from me like quicksilver from a canister, but it serves to distract us both for a time.
Then the men come. It is a real whip this time, and I shudder. I cannot – I cannot bear to watch, but the snake-eyed man smirks at me, daring me to look away. So I take his dare, and I watch the lash fall, and the blood spray up, and I break inside, but I do not show it. And Master Obi-Wan tries so hard, but he gasps as the blows crack across his back, and as it goes on, and on, and on, he screams.
“You know,” Snake-Eyes murmurs to me, “If you told me what I needed to know… you get me? You can have your life and liberty, and his, as a free gift.” The temptation is monumental. To say one word and stop this – one word!
“Master Obi-Wan would never allow it,” I whisper at last, and close my eyes.
“Tomorrow,” the man suggests, and then, again, they go away. Master Obi-Wan stands, studying the floor, which is slick and crimson with spilt blood. Eventually he turns to me.
His voice is cracked and husky as he says unsteadily, “I must… look very peculiar right now.”
“You’re a mess,” I reply, and bite my lip. What can they have planned for next time?
The Seps are highly unimaginative where I am concerned, and each beating is merely a repetition of the last: agonizing, but soon over and soon recovered from. Partly, I should say. I think they hit a nerve, for I cannot move the fingers of my left hand, and my face still bears the marks of being scraped along the wall. I don’t even remember that happening, but Master Obi-Wan does.
One day, I pace up and down, shivering in the icy breeze that blows across the floor, and muttering a Saalisan poem.
Master Obi-Wan glances up and asks quietly, “What is that?” and I translate into Basic.
“Nor draft nor drink, nor food nor fire,
Such things dwell not in my desire.
As naught I am, so naught I need.
Let ‘strength and silence’ end my creed.”
“I’m Saalisan,” I explain. “There’s a lot I can get by without.”
“You’re only half-bred,” he says. “And you still need sunlight, which you aren’t getting.”
“Don’t spoil my argument with facts, Master,” I joke weakly. And there are footsteps in the passage. The snake man comes straight to me; he holds a flask of water and offers it to me through the bars of the door. The liquid glitters clear and inviting in the transparisteel flask.
I am so thirsty. I want that water. I want it. Nor draft nor drink… Master Obi-Wan is human. On average, humans can only survive three days without water, and that’s reckoning without blood loss. He’s desperate: I saw him licking the condensation off the stones of the wall, when he thought I was asleep and couldn’t see. We’re both so thirsty…
“I don’t want your water,” I say with all the scorn I can muster. “Give it to General Kenobi.”
To my amazement, the man does as I ask, and Master Obi-Wan drinks quickly, before the water is snatched away again. I do not watch, for fear he see how hard it was for me to refuse the flask. We are to give without grudging, and cheerfully, but my throat is dusty-dry and my tongue sticks to my teeth.
It appears to be a kindness – small, but a kindness notwithstanding. But we are not to get off so lightly. Before the snake man leaves, one of his henchmen takes a syringe full of something that looks green and cloudy, and injects it into the vein in his prisoner’s wrist. Master Obi-Wan frowns, and shifts his hand as if it hurts.
“What is it?” I ask, when the men are gone.
“Mildly caustic, I think. Probably something diabolical.”
I nod as if I understand, but in truth I cannot fathom how he can be so calm. My mind races over possibilities based on the slender data available to me, and at every turn I discover something terrible. Then I remember. His specialization lies outside the field of chemistry. Most likely he has already reached the conclusion I am just unhappily coming to: that if you cannot remedy a situation, worrying about it becomes pointless.
“Are you okay?” I ask. A ridiculous question on the face of the matter, but adequate to break the silence.
“For now. Try to get some rest, will you? We have no way of knowing how long this will last.”
Later, I wake from the sleep I do not mean to take, sliding my mind slowly to full wakefulness, realizing where I am and forcing my mind to become accustomed again to inhabiting a body aching all over and parched as the sands of Tatooine. Scrambling to my feet, I try to stretch some of the stiffness from my limbs, but the effort proves too much, and I crash to the floor.
“Nasriel?” Master Obi-Wan asks suspiciously. “Where are you? Come here.”
“Right here,” I reply in confusion. “Where I’ve been the last week. And I can’t, there’s a laser wall in the way.”
“Oh.” He thinks about this for a while. “It’s still there, then?”
“I… can’t see it.” For a heartbeat, we consider together. Then: “I…can’t see.”
“Oh, Force. Fierfek v kriffing chizzk pizmahi chau’thu trmanni!”
Master Obi-Wan’s faint chuckle at my river of expletives turns abruptly into a fit of coughing. When he can speak again, he says drily, “My thoughts exactly.”
I laugh, which is far more than the feeble joke deserves, and also rather unfortunate, as it brings the snake-eyed man. And today, it seems, is my turn. It has occurred to me that a mere grid reference would suffice to get us out of this – and to kill Anakin and the station.
And I wonder: if it was merely a case of my life or Anakin’s, which would Master Obi-Wan choose? And though I weep after then men have gone away again, it is less from pain than in the realization that he would always choose Anakin. The Chosen One. Every time.
Regrettably, I forget to shield my thoughts, and forget also that my Master is now mostly reliant on the Force. He frowns at the conclusion I reach, and rests his head in his shaking hands.
“I don’t know what I would do, given the choice,” he says at last. “I don’t know.”
I can’t sleep after that, but lie awake under the hard white light, channeling my thoughts into tidier patterns. He’s blind. Master Obi-Wan is blind. But will it be forever? I shake off the thought. Hours later, after an eternity in a half-doze watching the shimmering laser wall and the sleeping Jedi Master beyond it, I wake abruptly and entirely.
“Master Obi-Wan? Wake up, they’re here.”
“Yes, thank you,” he snaps in reply. “I was capable of working that much out for myself.”
Again, secluded behind the flickering red wall, I observe, first wary, then frankly curious, and at last sick to my stomach and longing to close my eyes, but feeling that I must be a witness to this… this… no Basic noun is strong enough.
Master Obi-Wan lies on his back on the floor. One of the Separatists pinions his arms down, so he cannot move. The other takes a device frighteningly familiar to me, and employs it in its usual function. It is a ring-gag: it holds the victim’s mouth open. Though I cannot tell how, Master Obi-Wan seems to have an idea of what is coming, and knows that active resistance is the worst possible response, for he lies totally limp and waits.
But even his wildest fears cannot have anticipated what follows. The Sep torturer shoves one end of a strip of linen material down his throat, pinches his nose so that he cannot breathe, and pours a steady stream of water from a pitcher into his mouth. Master Obi-Wan has to swallow continuously to keep from drowning, and he bucks and struggles, but all to no avail. In gulping away water, though, he also draws the strip of fabric farther down his throat.
“You cannot survive this much longer,” the Sep says. “So tell me, where is your battle station?” Unable to speak, Master Obi-Wan shakes his head emphatically. “Very well.”
In one swift movement, the man grips the end of the linen and pulls, hard. It comes away with a tearing sound that I can barely hear over my Master’s shriek of agony. He is retching and gagging and spitting out water tinged with blood, when he manages to choke out one word.
“So.” For the first time, I see a smile on the torturer’s face. It is not a nice smile. “General Skywalker is with the station. Good. But it will take more than that to stop us next time.” And they leave.
Shifting feebly onto hands and knees, my Master raises his head, and I see a look in his eyes – now sightless – that I have never seen there before. It is defeat.
“I… know… shouldn’t have…”
“What difference does it make if he knows Anakin’s there, Master?” I ask. “They don’t know where there is. You told them nothing they didn’t know.” For the first time, I fear they may be able to break him. But they haven’t. Yet. He nods, then doubles over, retching, and coughs up long ribbons of clear tissue that disintegrate in his fingers. He is falling apart from the inside out.
There used to be a Sentinel trick, utterly unserviceable most of the time, but, I think, useful now. Channeling the Force, I create an invisible, tangible replica of my hand, and send it to touch Master Obi-Wan lightly on the shoulder. To remind him that although he cannot see me, I am still here, and he is not alone. For the few seconds I can maintain the trick, I feel the cold, sickly clamminess of his skin, and know he feels my touch, for a change of expression, too faint to be called a smile, crosses his face.
“Thank… you.” The words are more breathed than said.
“I’m proud to be your Padawan, Master,” I tell him, in absolute sincerity. And I think he hears that too.
But just then the snake man slams open the passageway door. Naturally, I tense up, ready for the pain, but they ignore me. Before I really have time to worry, they have pulled in the chain to its tightest limit, and the snake’s henchman flickers out his whip, cracking it in the air. This isn’t fair, I think. It’s my turn.
The beating goes on for longer this time. Until Master Obi-Wan does not scream any more or even whimper as the lash falls, just hangs there, shuddering, and breathing in little panting gasps.
“Take him down.” The snake’s bored order is obeyed instantly, and the wreck that was General Kenobi falls to the floor.
“He – he’s in a bad way,” the other warns.
“Leave him. The girl can tell us what we want, and his demise will prove a valuable lesson to her.”
With no further parley, they leave, and turn out the white overhead light. I keep vigil by the red glow of the laser wall, watching the blood slowly congeal in Master Obi-Wan’s wounds, listening to his ragged, labored breathing. For how long I sit there I never know, but when the men return, my limbs are so numb I do not feel the first few kicks.
As I am tossed about the floor, I don’t even try to be brave. Before, I could be strong because it helped my Master. Now he is dying and I am dying and it doesn’t matter. I scream.
“Where are they?” Shouts accompany the boots and sticks this time. “Where is the battle station? Where is Skywalker?” The torturer’s head flies from his shoulders. As Anakin’s green blade swings back to guard position, he answers the question.
“In orbit where it belongs… and right behind you,” he drawls. To two of his men, following him into the passage, he adds, “Carry Obi-Wan. Be as gentle as you can.”
I want to walk out of here, unbroken, triumphant over the Separatists, but my legs give way under me. Anakin scoops me up in his arms, and we follow the clones out.
“Is this six or seven?” he calls to Ahsoka, who waits for us outside.
“This time,” I inform him acerbically, “I think Master Obi-Wan saved your life. Pretty nearly at cost of his own.” Then my façade crumbles like my weakened body, and I sob into Anakin’s tabards. “He’ll… not die, will he? Will he?”
“Obi-Wan will be okay,” Anakin assures me fiercely, as much to calm himself as me. “He will be okay.”