War Stories – 4

A very happy Halloween to all.
In today’s news: the Legacy series is still suspiciously quiet, and in the mind palace things are also suspiciously quiet, so I’m just holding my breath and waiting for the explosion.  Obi-Wan is hovering unobtrusively in the background, which means he’s noticed something I haven’t, but he’s being too gentlemanly to say anything.
Shall we tempt fate?  Then take my arm and let us go for a stroll together.  There’s bound to be a decent electrical storm in the garden soon.

The Black City of the Malastare Quadropolis is known throughout the Galaxy for its total lack of law-enforcement and resulting concentration of fugitives, thieves, bounty-hunters and their employers and quarry, and in general the lowest outcasts of the Republic.  In the center of the city is a haven, a house bought and funded by Djinn Altis, a mildly heretical ex-Jedi, and run by Mi Amarok, one of Altis’ more spitfire protégés.  Sunrise House is the only safe place in the city – and a good place to go for accurate information.

Striding through the progressively narrower and darker streets toward the center of the Black City, Qui-Gon glances back from time to time, checking that Nasriel is still following.  Two paces behind and one to the left, like any good Padawan, she scurries along rapidly and contentedly enough, having learned many years before how to keep up to her Master without running… much.  Both Jedi have deliberately made themselves inconspicuous, covering their distinctive garb.  Nasriel has a coat, made by Tahl out of a thick beige blanket and adorned with a single row of highly polished brass toggle fastenings, and she has plaited her Padawan braid in with the rest of her heavy black hair, in a single thick line down her back.  Qui-Gon wears the same shabby grey duster he has used for years, the deeper grey pattern woven into its edge faded now, but still visible enough to be obviously not Jedi.

Two streets from their destination, Qui-Gon checks back once more to find Nasriel… not there.  She is a block away, sitting calmly in the filthy roadway, talking to a small dark-haired boy who is hiding behind a discarded crate.

“…  Well, my father’s dead,” the Jedi is saying, with remarkable good cheer considering the subject matter.  “So I guess you’ll be okay.”  When she notices Qui-Gon standing at the street corner, she beckons to him, smiling, a little too bright, a little too casual, the Force fizzing through her in tense elation.  When she next speaks, it is to Qui-Gon, using a Saalisan form of address whose meaning they both know perfectly well, and whose use he forbade shortly after she was assigned as his Padawan.

“Chenray, this is Boba.  He’s lost his father, and I said we could help find him.”  Turning back to the boy, she goes on, “Boba, this is…” she laughs shortly, humorlessly.  “…This is my grandfather.  He knows a lady here in the Black City who can help us find your dad.  Right, chenray?”  Play along, the hard glitter of Nasriel’s golden eyes warns.

“That’s right.”

Emerging warily from his hiding place and slipping his grimy fingers into Nasriel’s outstretched hand, Boba squints suspiciously up at Qui-Gon, and demands of Nasriel, “So, is it your mum or your dad that isn’t blue?”

“My mom was Human,” Nasriel replies truthfully, with only a tiny emphasis on the verb.

The boy nods, wise beyond his years, understanding, without being told, what Nasriel is saying – and what she isn’t – with the strange precocious maturity common to career runaways, slaves… and Padawans of the Jedi Order.

Nasriel and Boba scurry together down the street to Sunrise House.  Boba is the same temporal age as the first clone troopers, making him eleven now, but he is tall for his age: barely shorter than Nasriel.  Because the boy is, after all, an exact genetic replica of Jango Fett, Qui-Gon briefly considers the possibility of simply returning him to Kamino – but that would be wrong: Boba is a free agent.  Jango has been paid for the use of his hardy Mandalorian DNA; he owes the Kaminoans what they have paid for; the Jedi, it seems, are acting as debt collectors, albeit on a high level of secrecy and a still higher plane of metaphysics.  It is a very strange war.

He reaches the kitchen door of Sunrise House bare minutes after the children, and finds them already perched at the table, consuming oatmeal cookies and blue milk.  Or at least Boba is, munching stolidly, black brows drawn together in a scowl of concentration.  Nasriel, who doesn’t eat much at the best of times, is talking softly and rapidly to Mi Amarok, gesticulating with a slightly-nibbled cookie by way of punctuation.

As the Jedi Master enters, Mi is saying coolly, “I’ve always found the best way of getting information from Qui-Gon is to ask him.”  Nodding to acknowledge his presence, she orders his Padawan, “Now, run along and play.  Take your new friend with you.”  When Padawan and perfect clone have each snatched an extra cookie and scarpered, Mi smiles gently.  She is a Balosar by species, and a Jedi of the Altistian school by fortune, and Qui-Gon has known her since before Xanatos was brought to the Temple – since before the smile lines etched in her face became permanent fixtures, before her fiery red hair bleached to grey.  Her equally fiery temper has been tempered by time, but she is still not someone to argue with unless one is very sure of one’s ground.

“Hello, Qui-Gon.”

“Hello, Mi.”

“So.  What strange and terrible wind blows you to my door?”

The mission, like so much of life now, is classified to the hilt.  While there is a certain amount that can be told to anyone, and a certain amount more that can be told to Mi in the course of asking her for help, neither amount amounts to much.  Besides, Qui-Gon is bone-weary of talk about the war, and says so.

“Can we pretend I’m one of your endless succession of strays, and just make polite small-talk?”

“Of course we can.”  Although it seems unlikely that Mi would instantly know exactly how one of her strays takes his tea, and that he prefers almond cookies to oatmeal, the pretense progresses smoothly through the weather, the special effects in a recent holomovie, and the ion storms out at Alderaan, before Mi attempts broaching current events.

“I understand you are involved in the war, Master Jinn,” she says.  “So tell me – how goes the war?”

“That is not polite small-talk,” Qui-Gon growls, regarding her over the rim of his teacup.

“No,” Mi says thoughtfully.  “No, I suppose it isn’t.  Well, tell me about your family, then.  You do have a family, don’t you?” she adds belatedly, catching up the pretense again and giving him the right of every wanderer: to be unknown, to choose whether or not to reveal the least detail.

“Three boys and a girl,” he assures her.  “All of them with completely different opinions on every subject under the stars.”

“You must be so proud,” Mi says, clearly relishing this little game of double meanings.  “Of them,” she clarifies before he can get a suitable Jedi rejection of any such emotion in edgeways.  The subtle compliment, aimed as it is at another than himself, softens denial into assent.

“I am very, very proud of all four of them,” Qui-Gon says firmly.  “And how is your son, Mrs. Amarok?”

“More difficult even than usual.  Staying with Master Altis – it’s months since I’ve heard from him.  But I want to talk about yours.  They’re more interesting.”

***

It’s not all that late, but Boba’s already tired of people and we’ve slipped off to hide in one of the dormer windows in the attic.  The kid’s fallen asleep, and I’m free to write.

Mi wouldn’t tell me anything.  She’s right, of course: the best way of getting Qui-Gon to tell me something would be to ask him.  And ordinarily he’ll answer anything, however strange.  But I’ve tried asking subtly – and he’s the king of subtle, you can’t tell me he didn’t know exactly what I wanted – so I have to assume he won’t tell me what he’s hiding, and go on to not-best ways of finding out.

And I think we ought to be told just the substance of what’s going on – maybe not Bi-An or Feemor, but Xan and I are owed some information.  We’ve both been ‘family interest’ from the age of three, there’s nothing the others don’t know about us.  Obi-Wan has a solid twelve years that nobody will ever know about unless he tells them – not to mention a rumored six months AWOL at Melida-Daan.  Feemor has twenty years.

I love Qui-Gon.  I really do.  He’s more of a father to me than a real father could be.  But I realized – yesterday morning at Laerdocia – that I don’t know him at all.  Personality, sure.  How he’ll react to a given situation.  How he thinks.  How he fights, that’s important, and I know that.  But the faintest little glimmer of history?  Any sort of why?  No.  I’m in the dark there, and he knows it, and he’s happy to leave me there.

As I sit here, writing by moonlight, Boba Fett’s sleepy head heavy in my lap, a wicked thought occurs to me.  Why shouldn’t I keep secrets of my own?  Qui-Gon is a great believer in teaching by example.  Well, he’s taught me it’s perfectly acceptable for Jedi to have secrets from the people closest to them.  The only trouble with that idea is, I don’t want to keep secrets from Qui-Gon.

TBC

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About coruscantbookshelf

"A writer is an introvert: someone who wants to tell you a story but doesn't want to have to make eye contact while doing it." - Adapted from John Green
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3 Responses to War Stories – 4

  1. sarahtps says:

    Darn it, Nasriel, she meant ask outright. Probably. And keeping secrets is a bad idea unless you have to. Generally.
    In other news: the image of Nasriel and Boba eating cookies at Mi’s table is surprisingly cute, as is the image of her shooing them off to play and them grabbing extra cookies as they go. Though I would like to know: who’s Mi?

    Like

    • You make a very good point – that is exactly what she meant. We are going to become terribly tangled before anything gets any tidier, though.
      Cookies is a magic word! You know – introduce one word into a story and you instantly change the whole feel of it. Cookies is the instant-cuteness spell. (Torture is also a magic word, though it has a rather different effect to cookies.)
      Mi Amarok is an old friend – originally designed for another world entirely, but she seems to get everywhere – very useful of her. She first showed up here, but I think I remembered to give her a tag in the sidebar cloud as well.

      Like

      • sarahtps says:

        Naturally. 😛
        You know . . . you’re absolutely right. I had not thought of that before. (Though, upon giving it some thought, I have decided that gingerbread also works nicely as an instant cuteness spell.)
        Ah, coolness. goes to check out the link

        Like

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