War Stories – 12

Many thanks to sarahtps for the dragon’s teeth.  We try not to disappoint.
A quick question, as there is some flexibility with the format of the next part: would readers prefer Chapter 13 to continue in third-person following Qui-Gon, or would you rather have it from Nasriel’s diary?  Events – and therefore angst levels – will be the same regardless of format.

To Qui-Gon’s boundless private astonishment a year ago, Obi-Wan Kenobi had, for once, complimentary words to say about a politician, and to the whole family’s less private astonishment, a Senator had been discovered to actually prefer plain speaking.  Just at present, Senator Bail Organa is not interested in talking to Obi-Wan, because Obi-Wan should have known by now not to attempt politics on Senator Organa.  Instead, Nasriel is calling the Senator, to inform him who contracted his wife’s murder.

Organa answers gruffly on the voice-only comm’s second ring.  “I said go away, Kenobi.”

“It’s Nasriel Threeb, Senator.  I’m sorry to disturb you again,” the Padawan says, with just the right balance of apology and urgency.

“I’ve met you, haven’t I?  With Master Jinn?  No, hang up, child.  You’re too young and innocent to get involved in this.”

“Senator Organa,” Nasriel says firmly, gripping the comlink so hard that Qui-Gon is concerned for its continued intactness, “You think that I am innocent because, by Human standards, I am abnormally short and I have abnormally large eyes.  I assure you, an appearance of innocence is purely a cultural construct.  Besides, I’m already involved.  I am calling on Master Kenobi’s behalf, to tell you that the person responsible for the theater’s being bombed is a person known to us, and that the person responsible for the exact time of the bombing is a person known to someone we can find.  We can keep you updated on the investigation if you wish.”

“Thank you,” Organa mutters.  “I would appreciate that.  And… if you could convey my apologies to Master Kenobi.  I’m afraid I was rather harsh toward him.”

“Of course.  Though I’m sure he is quite aware of the difficult situation you are in,” the Padawan responds, diplomatic training resurfacing abruptly.  “And while I don’t pretend to understand its magnitude, I am sorry for your loss, Senator.”  Organa cuts the link, and Nasriel grins at Obi-Wan.  “Step aside, the Great Negotiator.”

“You haven’t had to do it every single day for the last five years.”

Nasriel raises one hand in the classic ‘point-of-order’ gesture used in family debates.  “Um, actually… yes I have.  I work with Qui-Gon, remember?”

Before Obi-Wan can produce a suitable retort, Anakin returns, hovering in the doorway.  “Sriel, my car’s got its engine block sitting on the floor.  You won’t have to go anywhere… can I take your usual citibike?”

“Nyard’msh k’rall,” Nasriel tells him the activation code, a phrase meaning check your landing zone in Ryl, the Twi’lek hometongue.  The bike’s former user is widely suspected to be Master Secura.

When Anakin is gone, complaining about the impossibility of Twi’lek spelling, Obi-Wan says casually, “I’ve got a few minutes free now if you still want to talk to me, Qui-Gon.”  He is being himself again: Councilor, diplomat, Jedi, equal, earlier unmasked anxiety all but forgotten.

Nasriel grasps the problem with this, and solves it by the simple expedient of taking Ben’s arm and drawing him toward the door.

“Come spar with me, Ben?  I’m way out of practice still, and the grownups will be ages before they want us.”  The Padawans close the door behind them.

Obi-Wan locates the quarters’ two meditation cushions, and solemnly sits down, cross-legged, on his own, leaving the more comfortable one for Qui-Gon.  Not, of course, that Jedi are encouraged to pay attention to the comfort or otherwise of their surroundings.

“Well?” he asks.

“Well.”  Repeating to Obi-Wan what he has already told Nasriel is the work of almost a quarter-hour – not because the younger Master interrupts, but because of the numerous pauses in the narrative, brief searches for exactly the right phrase.  Words, it often seems, matter as much to the Great Negotiator as the truth beneath them.  Story complete, gaze fixed on the sunlit distance beyond the balcony windows, Qui-Gon waits for the storm.  It begins, so typical with Obi-Wan, softly.

“Who else knows about this?” he asks.

“Dooku –”

“Obviously.  In the Temple?”

“Nasriel.  Xanatos.  Tahl.  I told Nasriel that Master Yoda knew.”  A breath, feeling the younger Jedi’s blue-steel stare bore into him.  “He doesn’t.”

Obi-Wan scowls.  “Feemor knew you were gone, those five years, but not where or why.  So all this time, Xan and Tahl –”

“Have kept a secret for me, yes.  Nasriel,” he specifies, mindful of his duty as a Master to protect his Padawan, “is entirely guiltless in the whole affair.”

“Stellar job you’ve done of that so far,” Obi-Wan observes coldly, answering the intention rather than the words, as if it is written in the air before him.  As, in a way, it is.  “With all of us,” he adds, an extra refinement of cruelty; but even that does not cross the rigid lines of justice with which he binds himself.  They sit in uncongenial silence for a while, each wondering what more there is to say.  Obi-Wan is the first to find words.

“I should go to the Council with this,” he says uncertainly.

“You will do what you must, Obi-Wan.”

“I am going to the Council,” Obi-Wan decides sharply, standing and moving toward the door.  “Just leave, Master.  Please.  You might go and find Nasriel – They will want to talk to you both.”  The laughingly melodramatic menace that Qui-Gon’s Padawans have long emphasized in the plural pronoun has become, of late, far less laughable and far more menacing, now that Obi-Wan is one of Them.  Qui-Gon goes to find Nasriel.

She is not in the main dojo, which at this hour is crowded and chaotic, nor in any of its subsidiary salles, nor yet in the less likely Spire dojo in the center of the Temple.  Eventually, Qui-Gon tracks down his Padawan in one of the wide corridors in the laboratory wing.  A faint smell of bacci lingers in the air, along with the confusing smoky, chemical odor permeating the area – this is the one place in the Temple that anyone can smoke unnoticed, and many of Nasriel’s friends take full advantage of the fact.  This wing is also in and out of use at odd times of the day, and mazelike to strangers, and lit with peculiar glowpanels that make everything from the bright green linoleum floors to the yellow warning signs on the laboratory doors look dull and greyed.

Nasriel sits in the recessed doorway of a laboratory currently locked, closely studying something cupped in her hands.  In the time it takes Qui-Gon to traverse the length of the hallway, the Padawan ignores six different people passing – but looks up as her Master approaches.

“I didn’t have my lightsaber, so Ben went off with Ahsoka and I came up here,” she explains.

“Obi-Wan has gone to the Council, so no doubt we will be summoned before very long.”  When Nasriel nods, calmly accepting the trouble on the horizon, he continues.  “And until Obi-Wan told him…  Yoda did not know what was going on.”

“Why did you tell me he did, then?”  The question sounds like a challenge, the first experimental thrust of a sparring match, intended to gauge an opponent’s defenses.

“You were frightened.  I thought if I told you that Master Yoda was aware of the circumstance that frightened you, you would be comforted.  I was wrong.”  Wrong to assume there could be a quick answer for what, to Nasriel at least, was a lie twice as long-lived as herself.  Wrong, and patronizing, to assume a Jedi Padawan would value comfort over truth.  Above all, he was wrong to attempt patching the damage of one lie with another.  “I’m sorry.”

Hearing but apparently ignoring the explanation, Nasriel opens her hands, revealing a tiny, iridescent moth perched in her palm.  “This was trying to get into one of the glowpanels, so I caught it.  Isn’t it beautiful?” she says simply.  Taken at face value, this looks like avoidance of a difficult topic.  But few Jedi ever take – or give – anything at face value.  Nasriel is merely accepting his apology in the spirit he intended: a return to their old habits of candid normality, where an unusual cloud formation or pretty beetle is a valid reason for interrupting a serious discussion.

“It is.”  The moth quivers, its threadlike antennae perhaps sensing its captor’s coming words.  Or perhaps it only cares about escaping back to the glowpanel, and this conversation is irrelevant to it.

“What else have you lied to me about?” the Padawan asks.

“Not loving Tahl.”  And that really is all.  The other deception, the hiding of the fact that he, Qui-Gon Jinn, was once a Sith in all but name, and, so far as the Jedi Council is concerned, probably still is, was enough to keep track of without adding any smaller lies.

Nasriel laughs.  “I knew that.”

“You’re not angry about the last few days.  Surprised.  But not angry.”

“No.”  The Padawan is staring steadily at him, eyes aglow in the grey light of the doorway.  “I’ve had time to think.  And I realized that Falling, or almost Falling, or whatever evil thing you did, or were, so long ago… compared to the good that you’ve done… compared to the good that you are… it’s nothing.  A tiny green moth weighed against the foundations of the Temple.  It doesn’t even shake the scales.”  She grins, dismissing the philosophical mood, but not before Qui-Gon has had time to absorb exactly what she said and meant.  “We’re in deep chizzk, aren’t we?”

“I believe so.”  Nasriel will be in almost as much trouble as her Master – because in the eyes of the Council, Falling is Falling, however long ago or recently, and Falling is irredeemable.  They sent Obi-Wan through hell after he returned from Jabiim, and Obi-Wan did not even definitely Fall.  Qui-Gon fully expects the next few hours to be some of the most difficult in his long life.  “Nasriel, remind us of the rules about lightsabers.”

“A lightsaber is the only thing a Jedi truly owns, and his right to its possession is inalienable –” she halts, suddenly understanding the ancient law she is reciting.  “Except through dishonor.”

“Yes.”  Qui-Gon unhooks the Padawan’s ‘saber from his belt, where it has hung next to his own for over a week, ever since Jango Fett decided he didn’t want his hostage to be armed.  “So I had better return you this.  And I wonder if you would do me a favor?  Would you assume custody of my lightsaber?  Temporarily.”

“Master…”

“Even the Council can’t force me to surrender something I don’t have.”

Nasriel nods, gingerly accepting the weapon in her free hand, turning it as if she has never seen it before.  In a way, he supposes, she hasn’t.  “I would be honored.”  She’s troubled, by this latest threat and so much else.  “What’s going to happen to us?  Because… because what Bi-An said, before we left to look for Jango.  He said I’d have to tell the Council about what happened while I was… gone.  Or they’ll split us up.  And he said something about Komari Vosa, but she’s back now, so I don’t know if I’m in more trouble or less.”

“Nasriel, I don’t know what’s going to happen.  But Komari Vosa doesn’t have anything to do with the trouble we’re in now, and I will do my best to ensure you are not reassigned unless you want to be.”

“I’m not frightened now, Master.  I’m okay.  You can tell me the truth.”  He reaches out to take her hand, and the green insect escapes, fluttering away to the nearest glowpanel, a creature fallen into darkness but trying vainly to get back to the light, not knowing that finally reaching its goal would kill it.  Qui-Gon hopes the metaphor is not too apt.  The Light and its sworn servants are vicious to those who reject it, however briefly.

“Tell you the truth?  I did.  I have no lies left.”  His comlink rings, shrilly, and he notices that the caller is Obi-Wan.  Nasriel rolls her eyes, reaches across to press the answer key.

“Qui-Gon, you two are wanted in the Spire.  Now.”  Obi-Wan hangs up without waiting for a reply, and here, in the corridor, Nasriel pulls herself to her feet and tugs gently at Qui-Gon.

“No point putting it off,” he agrees.  Casting one last shared glance at the iridescent moth still flapping around the light, they stride toward doom, brazenly unafraid.  By the time they reach the Council Chamber, it will be at least ten minutes past now.

Obi-Wan will be furious.

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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16 Responses to War Stories – 12

  1. sarahtps says:

    . . . I’m trying to come up with an expression stronger than “dragon’s teeth” that doesn’t become actual Language and failing. Unfortunately. Because I have a feeling I’ll need a lot of those over the next few posts.
    Dragon’s fire-blackened teeth.
    Also, I like the idea of a diary entry, just because we haven’t had one for a while.

    Like

  2. Obi-Wan being terrifying: thank you. (Because he is.)

    Like

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