So you remember how I said a while ago that the whole problem was academic and cerebral? I didn’t lie… I just found out later that that isn’t exactly true.
Sit tight, we are going to do an ancient and well-respected trope. Forgive me, Master baulding… forgive me, Master Jinn. (Erin will by now have realized to which story that link goes, and be beginning to worry. Don’t.)
Gratitude to Roxanne and The Voice for influencing the imagery.
They meet Fett at the door of the room he has rented in the cantina. It seems an incongruously bland, beige, cheaply-carpeted setting for so momentous a meeting. Starting in the seedy lower levels, around the altitude of the Outlander Club’s back door, the multi-story building sacrifices width for height, and stretches up almost to a respectable neighborhood, near the main entrance of this district’s spaceport. It one of a few establishments that tries tricks like this in order to cater to a more economically diverse clientele, and, for this reason, is popular with people who prefer their lodgings to provide no clue to their background. People like Jango Fett.
The bounty-hunter looks relieved to see Nasriel – perhaps on the grounds that her presence means his ‘mistake’ was not as serious as he had feared.
“I found the woman I described to you,” he greets Qui-Gon. “Who contracted me on the Alderaan hit. Says her name’s Komari Vosa. That the right one?” Shoving the door open, he glances up at Qui-Gon, and shrugs. “It’s your contract, Master Jinn.”
In the small cantina room, a couple of floors above the nearest sidewalk, Komari is sitting on the window seat, leaning forward, head in her hands. She is not stun-cuffed or restrained in any way, and she glances up as Qui-Gon enters. The door remains open, but Nasriel and Jango wait out in the corridor.
“Fett said you were after me,” Komari informs him. “I came instead of killing him because I always liked you. You were honest.”
“It’s been a while.” Eighteen years, to be exact, and they have not been kind to Komari Vosa: her once golden hair is pure white, her eyes haunted, shadowed with dark circles, in an angular face. She looks older than Xanatos – she is seven years younger. When she raises her head, he can see the rows of scars cut into her jaw and neck.
“Has nobody told you?” Komari says quietly. “Any time spent in hell – any time at all – is eternity. Being a prisoner of the Bando Gora at Kohlma was hell. Being their leader is just torture.” Fear sparks in her dull yellow eyes. “You won’t take me alive. I won’t be shut up in a Force-blocked cell. You see, being without the Force is hell, too. Drawing on the Dark Side is torture – but after a while, it numbs. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“Come back. Whatever you suffered at Kohlma doesn’t have to change you.”
“Stop toying with me,” warns Komari. “Just tell me what you want, and then I can go.”
“I want to know who you were trying to kill at Alderaan. Whoever it was, by the way, you failed. One of Dooku’s people interfered.”
“Ha.” The high priestess of the Bando Gora emits a short bark of humorless laughter, but is serious, not to say sullen, again at once. “He was a power-tripping sadist, Master Jinn; you know that as well as I do. You killed him.” She doesn’t have to clarify to what he this refers.
Ignoring the accusation, Qui-Gon informs her, “Unless something has radically changed in the last week, he is a power-tripping sadist. And while this is all very nostalgic, I need to know: who were you trying to kill at Alderaan?”
“What if I wasn’t trying to kill anyone particular? What if I was trying to do something with Dooku’s fingerprints all over it, something huge and terrible enough for you to hunt him down and kill him? He’s more dangerous to the Republic than any of the Jedi imagine. I was his last Padawan, he betrayed me, he threw me out like so much trash… I know him. I know he’d worked with Fett, so I hired Fett. I know he liked bombs with a particular circuit, a particular layout, so I built one. I know he loved to be dramatic, so… I told Fett to set the fuse for the most dramatic, theatrical moment possible.” She pauses, and then remembers what else she has to say. “Your kid getting mixed up in it was sheer good luck: you went after the bounty-hunter far sooner than I’d wanted – was it for something else entirely? – and… Look, I didn’t plan on your Padawan ending up in the middle of things – in my defense, I didn’t know you’d taken on another after Obi-Wan. But if Dooku got hold of her… surely that was what made you want to kill him?”
“Oh… I wanted to kill Dooku many years before you were even born, Komari Vosa. But I knew – as you seem not to – that killing him would only make me like him. And you are stalling,” he adds.
“I answered the question: I was trying to get the Jedi to kill Dooku. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.” Komari shrugs, awkward. “And maybe someone suggested to me that some on the Council get on well with the Alderaanian Senator, and that attacking Alderaan would be… provocative.”
“Darth Sidious,” the woman breathes, awe competing with dread in her voice. “I’ve never met it. It murdered a dozen of my people, and sent one survivor back to me with a comlink – the comm connected only to Sidious, and self-destructed after one call. Whoever it is… it’s scary.”
Qui-Gon has heard of the mysterious Darth Sidious – a shadowy figure thought to be Dark Side, said to be Sith, suspected to have eyes in all sorts of unexpected places, and presumably very powerful. And now, apparently it also knows about Obi-Wan’s unlikely friendship with Senator Organa.
Shaking off her fear of Sidious with a brief shudder, Komari says abruptly, “I told you what you wanted, so I’m leaving. Stop me if you can.” But she halts in the dim hallway, when she notices Qui-Gon’s Padawan there, waiting patiently next to Fett.
“You, child,” she says, skewering Nasriel with a piercing stare, but speaking in a different and softer voice, “are very lucky. Never forget that. If you forget, they will call you ungrateful and discard you. Keep being lucky, child, and you will go far.”
“How can I keep being lucky?” Nasriel asks, direct and innocent.
“Well…” Glancing back to Qui-Gon, a knowing smile hiding in the corners of her mouth, Komari confides, “Your Master and I only know the theory of having good luck. The practice, it seems, is elusive. You have a good Master. That’s a lucky beginning.” She saunters off down the hall, but, waiting for the lift-tube door to open, looks back to Nasriel. “Try being brave. They say fortune favors the brave.”
Jango snorts. “I reckon if you were any braver, kid, you’d be Mando.” To Qui-Gon, he adds, “We square now, Master Jinn?”
“I would certainly think so.”
“Then – I know you’ll take this the right way – I hope I never have to see you again.” Necessity is the emphasis here: having to meet again would imply a dire circumstance on at least one of their parts.
“The feeling is mutual,” the Jedi Master assures him. “That being the case, please convey my regards to Boba; I did not have the chance to thank him for his exemplary behavior over the week he was with me.”
“Yeah. Boba. Right. You know what he said yesterday? He wants to be a diplomat. Because it’s more honorable than what I do.”
“You could tell Boba that even diplomacy is worse than useless when you can’t find the person you need to talk to.” Despite having no official interest in what Boba decides to do with his life, Qui-Gon would rather not be responsible for driving a wedge between the Fetts. “You could also tell him that his father has been of material help in preventing what would have been a major catastrophe, costing many lives.”
Fett nods, and, scooping up his helmet from the floor, says quietly to Nasriel, “Ret’urcye mhi, adiik… Jetii.”
“Adate,” Nasriel insists. “Dar adiik. A’ret’urcye mhi, beroya.” This is one of the things that still bemuse Qui-Gon about his Padawan: a thirst for understanding as many languages as she possibly can. Basic was the Master’s first language, and it is still one of the only two he is comfortable thinking in. While the hobby has its uses – Nasriel is as good as a translation droid, in some applications – it does make it stunningly easy for her to forget that he isn’t fluent in Mando’a, Ryl, Deshaan, Karor, Huttese, or any of the other dialects she regularly uses. Saalisan is another matter entirely; they have been discussing private matters in Saalisan for years.
But this time, when they have left the cantina, and are walking back along the block to their speeder, Nasriel explains unasked. “He called me a kid, so I was just explaining I haven’t been a kid for a long, long time… and saying ‘see you later maybe’.”
“Indeed.” Perhaps he replied more brusquely than he meant to; nothing else is said for nearly half an hour, until they are halfway back to the Temple.
Passing the Outlander, its strobe lights flickering through the windshield, as multicolored and hypnotic as a deathsticks trip, “You’re driving like you’re angry about something,” Nasriel observes. “D’you want to talk?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” He doesn’t do this; doesn’t ban his apprentice – any of them – from learning as much as they can. Tonight… he does. Because tonight… is different.
“Try me,” challenges the Padawan.
“Nasriel Kaliu Threeb, I am doing, and will continue to do, my very best to ensure you never fully understand what I am angry about.”
“You can’t keep doing this,” Nasriel says vehemently. “What about letting things go? What about holding grudges only hurts you? You’re… old, you’re supposed to have your chizzk together by now.”
“Language,” Qui-Gon admonishes, from sheer force of habit. Then, “Well, I do not. And I hope that by the time you are this… old, you will have gained, if not understanding, then at least some measure of sensitivity.” Nasriel retreats into affronted silence for the rest of the trip home, leaving him free to follow a bitter lane of recollection alone.
It was hot, he remembers: one of the scorching bronze days of a Coruscant summer, and the dojo under its transparisteel roof had been like a blast oven. Xanatos, newly Knighted, childhood crumpled up and stuffed into his pocket with the tangled coil of his severed braid, was out celebrating with friends. Dooku was offworld, leaving his current Padawan at as loose an end as that at which his former Padawan found himself.
When Qui-Gon came to the dojo on that long-ago day, Komari, by the look of her, had already been at the drudgery of ‘saber drills for some hours. He counts back over the years, to work out that she must have been sixteen. Nasriel’s age. Outer tunic and tabards discarded in a corner, skin slicked and inner tunic soaked in perspiration, Komari ran almost flawlessly through the figures of the drill. Her blond plait was coming undone, flyaway strands plastered to her neck and face with sweat, and her cheeks were flushed. She was practicing an advanced-level kata and trembling with exhaustion.
For a few minutes, Qui-Gon stood watching from the shadow of the gallery, trying not to breathe in the furnace-like heat, and then Komari wobbled and almost fell, and he wandered across the dojo to talk to her.
“How long have you been at this?” he remembers asking, concerned that she was going to seriously damage herself. Because it would not have done for Dooku to return and find her in the medcenter: there would have been hell to pay, both for Komari and for anyone who could reasonably have stopped her.
“A – a while,” Komari evaded. “I have to get this right before Master Dooku gets home.” It was as she turned away, going to fetch her water flask from the far side of the practice floor, that he noticed: very faint and faded, as if scrubbed many times in an effort to remove them, dozens of rusty-brown lines stained the back of her thin tunic.
“What happened to you?” asked Qui-Gon lightly, although he could hazard more than a guess as to the answer Komari’s adoration of her Master barred her from giving. The only thing he didn’t understand in the entire sad, twisted situation was why she still so idolized Dooku.
“Oh… well… you know…” the Padawan mumbled, snatching up her outer tunic to cover the bloodstains. The trouble is, he did know – does know – could have said something – but didn’t.
An older memory: being sixteen himself, kneeling completely still on the floor, as he had been ordered, gulping back impending tears and helpless fury together, waiting for the next blow to bite across his shoulders. Hating the humiliation of yielding, hating the power his Master held that forced him to yield. Knowing that one word from him, said to the right person, would instantly strike Dooku off both the Council and the register of Masters authorized to train Padawans, but simultaneously destroy Qui-Gon’s own chances of ever finding another Master. Biting his tongue until it bled… covering the livid red welts from the last beating and the one before that… putting up with it, and counting the days until he would be a Knight and free.
He is free. He is a respected Master in the Jedi Order, one who has trained three and a half Padawans, seen countless battles and crises, and been proved right in a dozen disagreements with the Council. Dooku is many years Lost. Qui-Gon is free.
It is over. Why does he have to keep reminding himself of that? Why does Dooku’s voice still ring in his head: This is over when I say it is over, and not one instant before.