About a week ago, I posted an update, when my manuscript didn’t go more than two words beyond the end of said update, and in doing so, burned the safety net. In other words, this story jumped off a cliff in the last chapter – I’m sorry about that, because that means now it’s your turn. Off you go. It’s a nice gentle stroll over to the edge, if that’s any comfort.
With at least a week to kill before he can continue with the Fett mission, Qui-Gon calls Tahl at the Temple to ask if there is anything else needing to be done in the area for a few days. The lady locates, in the depths of the mission-list, a trade dispute out of Kalinda, which has of late become violent, and in which the Jedi have been requested by Chancellor Palpatine to mediate between the premier of the planet and the aggrieved guilds. It seems a straightforward assignment, particularly for one of Qui-Gon’s experience.
And indeed, “Since it’s Senate-sanctioned, Mace was going to send one of the younger Knights, but you’re in the area; you may as well take it. Oh, while you’re on the line, can I have a word with Nasriel?”
“I’m calling from Sunrise House,” Qui-Gon explains. “Nasriel went into town this morning and she’s not back yet.” This is not strictly untrue.
“Will she be if I call back in an hour?”
“What if I call back at this time tomorrow?”
The Master considers, for a few seconds, the best way to put this – but by then it is too late and Tahl has guessed the truth.
“Own up, Qui. You’ve lost her again, haven’t you?”
“You mean you really have?” This is the problem with voice-only calls to Tahl: decades of blindness have taught her all there is to know about nuances of tone. Not that she couldn’t always read him like a book.
“The situation is under control.”
“It’s okay, I believe you. Be safe. Call me if there’s anything I can do to help. And may the Force be with you.”
Too nice. Tahl is never this nice. Quick-witted and acerbic, yes. Loyal, generous to a fault, and caring, certainly. Nice, never.
“And with you,” he returns the Jedi benediction. There is silence on the line for several seconds, until Qui-Gon thinks Tahl must have left, but then she speaks again, crisp and precise as ever, if a touch more anxious than usual. He can read her tone as well, and quite as accurately, though it seems best not to mention that.
“Xanatos said to tell you he senses trouble, and to watch out.”
“Xanatos always senses trouble. Tell me he’s not sensing trouble, then I’ll worry.” But Xanatos has more often been right than wrong with his premonitions, so Qui-Gon decides to be on the safe side. “Trouble right now, or…”
“Brewing. It wasn’t at all clear, but he said it’s about an old friend, and it won’t be long in coming.”
This Jedi family is one oddly gifted with premonition: for a Master to train more than one Padawan burdened with the talent of dreaming truths is rare indeed. Three Padawans of the same Master is unheard-of, but the unheard-of, it seems, is happening. Feemor has many times predicted the unpredictable. Xanatos just knows, with a vague but accurate intuition, what is going to happen next. Obi-Wan’s bizarre presentiments are rarely taken seriously: he suffered too many nightmares in childhood to reliably evaluate a dream, though his visions as an adult are sometimes exact enough for decisive action. Nasriel, on the other hand, if her dreams ever come to anything, does not mention the fact. The thought of the absent Padawan catapults Qui-Gon back to reality, where he realizes Tahl is still talking.
“…find Nasriel, Qui. Find her soon. And take care of yourself.” She cuts the link before he can ask her to clarify: did she just tell him to be careful, three times in the course of one conversation, which is twice more than she usually says it in a year?
Putting away the comlink, he instructs Boba to be ready to leave within the hour. Unlike Nasriel, the boy does not react to this news with a barrage of questions, or by trying to read the mission briefing over Qui-Gon’s shoulder. Boba merely shrugs and carries on with what he was doing: playing cards with one of the Sunrise House boys.
“Did you hear me, Boba?”
“Yeah.” At least the child is not afraid of him; that would truly be difficult to deal with.
There is still some time before they have to leave: Qui-Gon returns to scanning the mission briefing. It seems the premier of Kalinda has enacted laws restricting the prices of locally-produced goods sold on-world. Naturally, the trade guilds are unimpressed. To make matters worse, the guild members the premier consulted in drafting the laws have been branded as traitors by their fellows, and, for the most part, hanged by those same fellows. No due process. No justice. Only two are reported to have escaped. This of course led to retribution by the government forces… in short, there is a significant mess to clear up, and Boba is unlikely to be of any help.
Qui-Gon removes the younger Fett from his game – the boy is reluctant, having won twenty credits in half an hour and showing every promise of winning more, but it takes no more stringent measure than a slight, wordless frown to unnerve Boba completely and bring him scurrying after the Jedi Master.
At Kalinda, the premier and the guild bosses have arranged for someone to meet the Morningstar at the spaceport; however, landing to find the port deserted, Qui-Gon takes advantage of the opportunity to place a call to Slave One. There is no answer, so he leaves a message on the comlink data chip.
“Nasriel, if you get a chance, call Tahl and let her know you’re all right. Boba and I are at Kalinda settling a quarrel, but we’ll meet you at Kamino in a week or so. May the Force be with you.” There is no time to say more, as the premier’s men have appeared at the Morningstar’s boarding ramp, and Boba is this close to saying something unpardonable to them. Besides, there is nothing more to be said that he would not hesitate to say over an unsecured link.
Determining the exact root of a diplomatic crisis takes a long time, usually involves harsh words on all sides, and is, above all, mind-numbingly tedious. And finding a resolution to the crisis is all of the above, raised to the nth power. Under normal circumstances, a Jedi sent to resolve a dispute has a Padawan to whom to delegate at least some of the paper-scavenging and questioning. Under abnormal circumstances, with his Padawan halfway to who-knows-where and Boba to look after besides, Qui-Gon is grimly prepared to rediscover exactly how disagreeable working solo on the diplomatic circuit can be. He fully expects this to take at least the ‘week or so’ Fett said to wait before going on to Kamino.
Things go suspiciously smoothly. Boba stays out of the way, quiet and not causing trouble. The premier and the guild bosses seem anxious not to provoke the Jedi Master to call the wrath of the Chancellor down on them, and are as cooperative as avowed mortal enemies can be. Well within the time limit, the parties reach a settlement, and Qui-Gon and Boba are free to return to Kamino.
When they land at Tipoca City, ten days to the hour after parting from Jango and Nasriel at Malastare, it is raining. It seems never to be not-raining at Kamino, but despite the torrential downpour, Fett waits on the landing platform with Taun We. He is smiling.
Boba yells “Dad!” and is off Morningstar, hitting the splash-wet duracrete running, the moment the hatch opens, even before the boarding ramp is lowered. Qui-Gon can see immediately what is wrong with this picture, and even as the bounty-hunter swings his son up into a stiff armored hug, the Jedi notices that Nasriel is neither standing on the landing platform, nor waiting more sensibly in the dry corridor behind the transparisteel doors onto the platform.
Approaching the little group by the doors, he asks, quietly, just audible over the rain, “You have not been bothered by any Jedi – I’ve kept my side of the bargain. Where’s Nasriel?”
The elder Fett lets go of the younger for just long enough to shrug, palms raised. “I don’t know.”