Second installment from the reactor project. Today: premonitions and reflections… and an extract from a private journal.
Nasriel is evidently making an effort to return to her former habits, for by the time Qui-Gon wakes the next morning – still early enough to enjoy the sunrise – the Padawan is already up and dressed, kneeling on the balcony, meditating with one of the pot-plants as an anchor. The sharply fresh scent of halsamint soap hangs in the air, and the Force bears a familiar faint glitter.
“I missed this one,” Nasriel remarks, dropping easily out of her trance and stroking the plant’s crisp golden leaves. “I – can we go back on the lists, Master? We’ve had long enough at home, and there’s work to be done. I’m fine. I’ve meditated on what happened, and I… can release it.”
“What have you learned?”
The Padawan looks away. “Obi-Wan told me about after the Zan Arbor case, so I knew that question was coming. I’ve been trying to think, but I don’t know what I learned. It must have been something, it must, but I don’t know what. I know what you said: until you’ve learned from an experience, you can’t fully release it, and until I’m past this, we shouldn’t go on the list. But can we anyway? I think I could work through it better away from the Temple.”
“How far did you run this morning?” Qui-Gon changes the subject, not as deftly as usual, a deliberate signal that the Padawan’s request has registered, but that he will not give an answer yet.
“Only about two klicks. Thought I might sort of ease back into it. And running helps me think.” She glances up at him, and smiles shyly, a momentary flash of pointed white teeth. “I’ll have to disappear soon – I’m meeting Kijé in the gardens, and we’ll go on to our math class together. If that’s okay.”
This is good. Nasriel’s old friend Kijé Yenseh has been all but abandoned since the girl’s return home. Though he has repeatedly applied to Qui-Gon for information – is Nasriel okay? She’s still enrolled in classes, right? Um, sorry to be a bother, Master Jinn, but is Nasriel mad at him over something? – the boy has the patience of a far older Jedi, and waits. That Nasriel and Kijé are together again suggests a return to some form of normality, and also promises a reduction in the amount of time the girl can spare to spend with her Master.
At noon, Tahl returns, weary but satisfied, from her researches in the Archives. Daily now, in this age of constant missions, she slips away into the odd hours of the night, searching expertly through the blue shimmer of files she can no longer see, compiling summaries of planets, trade-routes, ships, people, for the benefit of the active mission teams.
“Today,” she informs her friend, “I was working on Jango Fett. It’s with the Council now, so whoever takes it will be gone by the end of tomorrow.”
By midafternoon, Mace Windu has read enough to send for Qui-Gon. So many missions are dispatched nowadays, and the Council has so much else to do, that full sessions are no longer called even for the commissioning of the most major missions.
“I know you’re off-list, but this is your field. Young Threeb will have to cope somehow. DuCrion’s report was less than exhaustive,” the Korun Master scowls. “Get any more information you need from him, and be on your way before night. This mission carries the highest priority.”
Leaving Windu’s office, illogically relieved that Obi-Wan was not chosen to dispatch the mission, Qui-Gon comms Nasriel to have her sign for some necessary equipment at the stores, and goes to talk to Xanatos. At around the time the afternoon’s chemistry practical class ends, Nasriel appears back at the quarters, in company of one Padawan Sima Orezna and the equipment she had been sent to fetch.
Sima bows nervously, dropping half of what she is carrying, as soon as she realizes Qui-Gon is home: Nasriel’s friends generally avoid stopping by when any risk exists of meeting Nasriel’s Master.
“I – pardon me, Master Jinn, I hadn’t – that is, I… didn’t have a class and Nasriel did, so I went to the quartermaster instead.” Sima darts away as soon as she can politely do so, and Qui-Gon turns to Nasriel.
“Getting your friends to do your work for you?”
“Sima offered, Master. She figured I’m enough behind in my studies without skipping classes to run errands.”
“It was kind of her. Go pack your things. The ship’s fueled and ready, we’re only waiting for you.”
Because his own pack has been filled and secured the past hour, he can spare a few minutes to lounge idly in the doorway of the Padawan’s room, and watch her. Nasriel moves about like a hummingbird, now hovering, now darting, swift and coldly efficient. Very different from his own way of handling chores, serene and thoughtful, turning even the most mundane of tasks into a kind of moving meditation. That said, Nasriel does get through the job faster, and the thought raises a smile. It is a proverb in the Temple that a Master knows he has chosen well when he ends up learning from his Padawan, as well as vice versa.
“Yes, Master?” She looks up, hands still flying about their work. She is not a beautiful child. Had she been, she would still have been apprenticed first of her agemates – albeit to someone else. Beautiful younglings, in Qui-Gon’s opinion – and he has met enough of them to form one – learn all too early to take advantage of their looks, and never bother to learn more reliable ways of staying out of trouble. The unbeautiful, the ordinary, children like Nasriel is and Obi-Wan was, tend to have rather more character, sharper wits. They have to. Nasriel is not beautiful, but striking and sharp and fiery, with all the unpredictability of a summer lighting-cloud – and as little capacity for holding grudges.
“I think you should take this,” he says at last, handing over a small, soft paper notebook, bound in worn and begrimed white leather. “Start your journal again.”
“How d’you know I haven’t?” Nasriel teases lightly. “You promised never to open it.”
“It was in your pack when you were taken, and it’s been on my bookcase ever since.”
“Okay.” She slots the journal in between a spare tunic and a small toolkit. “There. Ready.”
“You don’t have to take leave of anyone?”
The girl shrugs, picking up both the subtle hint, and her cloak from where it lies folded over the back of the desk chair. “You say goodbye to Tahl if you like. I’ll meet you in the hangar. What are we taking – Dawn?”
“Morningstar. Program it for Tipoca City; I have questions for Lama Su.”
“Roger that.” She pauses at the door. “If your bag’s ready, I’ll run that down too, save some time.”
When Qui-Gon reaches the Morningstar’s berth in the upper hangar, everything is neatly stowed, the preflight preparations complete, the navcom set to Tipoca City, Kamino, and Nasriel ensconced in the pilot’s seat, writing in her journal – Aurebesh charactery, Saalisan language. She stands up, effectively relinquishing the seat, but asks unexpectedly, “Can I take us out?”
“You may.” Taking off from the top hangar of the Temple, in a ship as small as this, is not a complicated procedure, and Nasriel handles it with her usual cool precision. The jump to hyperspace once executed, there is no further piloting to be done during the eight-hour flight to Kamino, so Nasriel, taking her journal with her, shuts herself into one of the two narrow inset bunks in the cramped aft cabin.
It was a good idea, restarting this. Getting back to normal again. And it’s funny – I wouldn’t have thought of doing this a year ago, but there are things I need to say that I can’t say to anyone else. And I know Qui-Gon doesn’t read Saalisan.
He’s old now. Somehow, I thought he could never be old, just as I could never imagine him young. I can easily imagine adolescence onto Obi-Wan, Bruck, even Xanatos and Feemor. But then, they’re all full of stories about their own time as Padawans, to encourage us kids. Qui-Gon has secrets, not stories. He never talked about Master Dooku, even when we were hunting him – except to tell me not to refer to him as Master Dooku. “Just Dooku will do, Padawan.”
It’s almost as if Qui-Gon didn’t exist before Xan was apprenticed, with all the care he takes to gloss over the past. While I don’t fully understand the motivation, I see the effects clearly enough: he always seemed ageless – timeless – constant. Not anymore: I’ve been gone less than a year, and he’s aged a decade in that time. Not just greyer – older. More tired. Just the same as he’s always been, but more so somehow.
Of course, it could be that I’m just seeing things differently. I should ask Xan when we get home – Xan notices everything. Come to that, I suppose I’ve aged a decade in a year as well. I don’t feel sixteen anymore – I feel older than Anakin. I’ve grown up, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
Meantime, of course, we’re hunting again. Because manhunts are our speciality. Because we’re the best in the Temple at finding what doesn’t want to be found. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing either – Xan says Qui-Gon’s only had this reputation the past six years, and he thinks it’s because of me. That he, Xan, was too impatient to be any good at tracking, and Obi-Wan was – is – too much stuck on rules to do a good job without making a fuss. That Qui-Gon was always a good hunter on his own, but now he’s got a Padawan who can help, rather than hinder. Apparently a compliment, this analysis unfolds to paint me as stubborn as my Master, and flexible on law and order. Or perhaps he meant something entirely different.
There’s not anything to write about. Not if I’m really using this for its original purpose: taking daily notes from which to write up the mission report, weeks or months from now. But it’s nice – the freedom to say anything, anything at all, even on paper.
Later: Reached Tipoca City last night. Is it always raining here? The Kams are much like us, and in another life, I might much like them. I think it is mostly their discretion. But discretion does not suit us at this time, so we resorted to subtlety. Qui-Gon requested an audience with Lama Su, to find out if Fett had discussed his plans with anybody. Meanwhile I’m to slip into the city on my own, find Fett’s former quarters, and explore a little in the area. The number of things people leave behind, even when they think they’ve checked everything… it’s wonderful.
Later: The worst news. Lama Su knew nothing, but Taun We – who spent more time with Fett and often spoke to his son Boba – said, when I asked her, that Fett had mentioned the best place for a bounty-hunter to find work, and that he planned to return there as soon as he was done at Kamino.
Tonight we are bound back to Laerdocia.
Oddly for him, Qui-Gon is upset, and not hiding it from me. I think he’s afraid I won’t be able to handle it. I think I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle it. Since we’ve been together again, sometimes it’s hard to tell who started thinking about something first: him, or me. I am still bothered by the chain of events that started last time I was at Laerdocia, and though I meditate on it every day I am no closer to finding an answer: what have I learned?