In which Nasriel has a horrible day, we dabble in The Law, I borrow a quote from Erin, and Kijé Yenseh breaks the rules.
Yes, Sarah, I am working on a way to introduce your suggestion of part 14.
At first light, Qui-Gon slips back to the Sentinel level, inadvertently waking Tahl and causing her to curse him sleepily from her room. It is only in the lift-tube on the way down that he remembers that the Sentinel level follows so few of the same rules as the rest of the Temple that they may as well be on different planets. This is not going to be easy.
It’s midwinter: the level is crowded, with most of the Sentinel children sleeping on the floor or sharing bunks. To save floor space in the overcrowded rooms, the narrow corridors are chaotic with the detritus of a few hundred nomadic lives – packs, some tightly strapped, some falling open and spilling books, spare clothes, candles, the odd pan or dented tin mug; a pair of boots; a battered meditation cushion he’d swear dates back to Dooku’s days as a Sentinel. Only the slenderest necessary clearing remains down each passageway, but the clutter does, a little, relieve the oppressive institutional feel of the level, brought on by its worn, unpainted duracrete walls and floors, and rows of old-fashioned hinged doors.
Despite the soft buzz of sound produced by myriad sleepers and occasional whispered conversations, the hallways are deserted at this early hour, except for a very small Padawan of the feline H’Vong race, who regards him quizzically until he asks her if Nasriel is somewhere about. The Padawan shakes her head so emphatically that her whole body turns.
“Do you know where she is?”
“No. All gone. All gone.” Something is wrong with this child – she cannot be less than nine, because even Sentinels are not permitted to take Padawans younger than that, but she behaves with the bizarre blend of temerity and shyness that is more characteristic of children half that age. The girl suddenly startles at nothing, and darts away down one of the long, echoing corridors.
We slipped out of the quarters early, to get to the court complex in time. I was still drowsy from a bad night and from Corri’s sedatives that Gree gave me to help me sleep, but I remember Foz explaining, on the way, what is going to happen. Because nobody knew I was there until a couple weeks ago, both the prosecution and defense lawyers want to meet me for depositions, which Foz described as ‘asking a few questions to help them prepare stuff for the trial’. I don’t want to answer a few questions. I want time to meditate on it, and release it, as I thought I’d done before Qui-Gon and I even left Coruscant. Seems like some things just don’t want to be released.
Leaving the Sentinel quarters, Qui-Gon resorts to the least official and most efficient directory service in the Temple: the Archivist’s assistant, Kijé Yenseh, a boy with a remarkable memory and a near-magical capacity for obtaining information. Undisputed darling of all the researchers in the Order, Kijé is also an old friend of Nasriel’s. The usual difficulty is finding him.
Today, Kijé appears abruptly, the moment Qui-Gon crosses the threshold between the golden stone and warm sunlit halls of the Temple proper, and the cool blue light and dusty silence of the Archives. The boy carries a tall pile of paper-copy books, and offers the Archives equivalent of a bow: nodding respectfully.
“Do you know where Nasriel is?”
The junior Archivist hesitates, hefting his pile of books to a less precarious angle. “I’m not entirely certain right now, but I can find out, if you don’t mind coming with me – I’m supposed to be working.” Originally a Consular Padawan and precociously brilliant Niman form swordsman, Kijé was assigned to Madame Nu the Archivist when an accident in the course of a mission lost him most of one leg, leaving him with an inflexible prosthetic and a decidedly uneven gait. He can still cope with the books, though, and limps earnestly about his business of bringing order.
Qui-Gon modifies his pace to remain beside Kijé, and they proceed together along the towering rows of shelves. Although this is rarely a densely populated area of the Temple, there are still enough Jedi about – reading, writing, talking softly to each other – that the Master notices an oddity: all of them, without exception, avoid looking at him and Kijé, and those who are already standing move casually away. Kijé glances up at him, green eyes dancing with wicked amusement.
“I wondered how long it would take you to notice. Funny, isn’t it, how everyone avoids people they see as unfortunate? I’ve had plenty of time on this, I’m obvious with every move I make. There are two key reasons – in your case, three. One: a subconscious fear that misfortune is contagious. Two: in the more compassionate, fear of saying the wrong thing, and so avoiding having to say anything. And three: they know what the Council’s down on you for, and they’re trying to work out if it’s true.”
“And you apparently think it isn’t?”
“I prefer to suspend judgement until the rumors die down and I’ve got a chance of getting accurate information,” Kijé replies. “But I’ve got years of data already. On everyone,” he adds consolingly. By now they are at the end of the Archives hall, a place Qui-Gon rarely goes. Kijé shifts his burden to free one hand, and keys in a code to a door hidden in the shadow of a bookshelf.
Inside the small storeroom thus accessed, closely packed boxes reach to the ceiling and stacks of loose books cover the floor. The wall in one corner, while free of boxes, is papered with fluttering notes pinned to the plaster. Neatly placing his pile of books in an open box and bending to study a piece of flimsi close to the floor, Kijé frowns.
“Padawan Threeb, you said? You… place me in a very difficult position, Master Jinn.” He extracts the sheet of flimsi, which even in the dim light of the storeroom Qui-Gon can see carries the Council seal and yesterday’s date at its head, and flattens it out against a box so that the Master can read it.
Attn: Kijé Yenseh. It has come to the Council’s attention that you are on friendly terms with Padawan Nasriel Threeb. Due to circumstances that will not be disclosed to you, the Council finds it prudent to inform you that Padawan Threeb’s whereabouts and activities are no longer of concern to Master Jinn, effective from now until further notice. The brusque memo cuts off, and continues in handwriting: That means that when he comes to ask where she is – which he will! – you are to say nothing. Qui-Gon notices, betrayed but unsurprised, that the hand is unmistakably Obi-Wan’s.
“So you see,” Kijé murmurs, “I’m not allowed to tell you that Nasriel is at the Central Courts with Foz and Gree, or that they expect to be back sometime this evening, or that I doubt anything terribly important is happening today, because Gree and Foz’s Padawans are still in the Temple instead of over there with them.”
“The Central Courts? Why –”
“I’m sorry I can’t help you, Master Jinn,” Kijé cuts in sharply, turning to look out into the Archives. Madame Nu is coming.
“Thank you for your time, anyway,” Qui-Gon says. “And if you learn anything else…”
“I’ll be not-allowed to tell you that as well,” the Archivist’s assistant grins. “It’s fine, I already know your callsign.”
I’ve met with the prosecution lawyers – they call it deposing. Cold little room off in a corner of the court complex – long glass table, no windows, smells of cheap new carpet. At the outset, they reminded me that, as a minor, I had the right to have my ‘legal guardian’ present… I knew. I also knew it wasn’t going to happen, and I was on my own. One lawyer asked if there was a reason I was choosing to do this alone, because most kids he deals with definitely want their parents there. I made something up, I can’t remember what.
It wouldn’t have been too bad, I guess, if I was okay with strangers asking me questions I wouldn’t want to answer even if Qui-Gon were asking them. And it would have been easier if the lawyers had understood that six months multiplied by however-many horrible things happening every single day is a total I can’t work out even roughly. Because I can’t remember how many however-many is – one thing blurs into another when it’s that much over that long. I had to keep telling them I’m guessing here; I don’t actually know. And they didn’t understand how in the name of the Seven Sages of Kal’Shebbol I could not know.
Local law officers interviewed the other captives involved as soon as possible, and most of them have been back with their families for months now. I was with the Altistians, in limbo, for two months, because no way I could go back to the Temple sixteen years old and five months pregnant and cope with it. The baby died, which in a lot of ways was a relief; I went home, and I thought that would be that. And then all the Sith chizzk, and… I’m not coping.
When the lawyers decided they’d heard enough for now – one of them had to leave partway through, and came back looking as if she’d been sick – I found Gree, and asked, if they had all the interview transcripts from all the others, why did they need me? Apparently, as a Jedi, I have good credibility as a witness. And Gree said it’s as a Jedi that I’m here. Because I’m contributing to getting justice for the other victims, and because justice matters. Even though I’m only a kid and all I want to do is forget.
Late in the afternoon, Gree calls Qui-Gon, makes one incredibly brief request, and hangs up before he can reply.
“Can you contrive to be in the gardens, at the stone seat by the waterfall, in an hour? Any excuse will do.” No excuse will also do: nobody cares where he is, and the waterfall is as logical a place as any other for an officially non-existent Jedi Master to be.
At sunset in winter, there is a particular moment when a particular ray of sunlight pierces the foliage of the gardens, and, in sliding down the sky, slowly caresses the whole height of the waterfall. Qui-Gon happens to know that the gardens’ design centers on this peculiarity. Just as the sunbeam begins to gild the spray at the cataract’s base, tossing rainbows high above the pool, Nasriel comes running across the grass – in flagrant violation of the rules – to fling herself, breathless, into his arms.
“Foz is stalling for me downstairs and Kijé’s promised to cover another ten minutes if anyone asks, so I’ve got a whole quarter-hour,” she reports triumphantly.
“Yes, Kijé said he wasn’t allowed to tell me you were at the courts – what’s this about?”
The Padawan shrugs dismissively. “Oh… they caught the slavers and stuff and they’re having the trial here because it’s easier, and they want me to testify. So I had to go and talk to the prosecution lawyers today and the defense lawyers tomorrow, so they can work out how to use what I’ve got to say, to build their case.”
“I do know how trials work, minx.”
“Then why’d you ask? Anyway,” says Nasriel, firmly changing the subject, with a brittle exuberance he doesn’t trust, “how was your day?”
“I spent most of it looking for you. How long ago did you find out about the trial?”
“Um… when we got home. I didn’t tell you because you have so much else to think about, and… It’s fine, I’m fine.” Her shoulders slump, and the exuberance shatters. “I don’t want to do tomorrow, Master. Today was lousy, and that was only the prosecution, they want to believe me. And – they said I could have my guardian there if I wanted – moral support or something – but I couldn’t.” Nasriel is clinging to him, as to an anchor in a storm, breathing with the shuddering gasps of stifled sobs. “I can’t do this, I can’t do it, I’m a bad Jedi, but I can’t.”
“Being vulnerable does not make you a bad Jedi. Nasriel, listen. Of course you can’t do this. Nobody can. But nobody can do what you’ve already done, either. And you are not alone – the Force is with you, always.”
The Padawan nods, still hesitant, but in some measure comforted. “I – thanks, Master. I wanted to come home tonight but – it’s okay, I know that won’t happen. Can I – can I call you tomorrow, when the deposition’s done? Would that be a pain?”
“Oh, of course. Insurmountable,” deadpans Qui-Gon, and Nasriel smiles crookedly. “Minx, what exactly do you think I’ll be doing all day? Waiting for you to call. I promise. Go on now, we’re out of time.”
“I’m not a victim,” Nasriel asserts, going to leave. “I’m a survivor.”
“You are indeed that, Padawan mine.”