Some missions, some memories, and someone else dies.
Please note that while the ‘pretty rock’ from a waterfall pool is quite real and substantial (white marble, matte finish, beautifully rounded – I picked one Qui-Gon would approve of), the falling-in part is not. There is a small waterfall on campus of which I am rather fond.
“Seven days,” Jango decided. “I’ve got someone to kill downtown, so you have seven days to find Jettster before I join in.” Knowing he was serious about the seven days, I didn’t think it was a good idea to ask about the killing.
“Give me just a moment, Jango,” I begged, yanking one precious page out of the folder and pulling Xan aside to explain.
I was three sentences in before I remembered Xanatos doesn’t speak a word of Saalisan, and had to start over. Flapping the page at him, I said, “Xan, I’ve got a world. This is terrific. I can find Dex in a week on this alone. But I have to go now. If I can make Jango owe me… come on, Xanatos.”
“Where do you need to be, kid?”
“Okay,” said Xan, taken-aback. “Ojom. Just tell me one thing, with no exaggeration: do you sincerely believe you can find Dex? Remember you’ll be working mostly alone, because I’m about as useful as a sugar teapot when it comes to hunting.”
“I can do it,” I said. I have to do it. I’ll need Fett’s help – maybe a year from today, maybe a lot sooner, but the point is that I’ll need it. And finding Dex is the only way I can afford to pay for it.
“Okay,” Xan said again. “You know this is going to be crazy hard to get permissions for?”
“You’re a diplomat by trade, DuCrion. You can handle it.”
Well… long story short, Master Koon is an old friend of Qui-Gon’s, nearly as troubled about this whole debacle as Xan and I are, and perfectly willing to help us ‘buy’ Jango Fett’s help. He called up the Central Courts on my behalf and read them the riot act. Were they aware this constituted unlawful imprisonment? Never mind that the ‘prison’ is an entire planet. Well, will they kindly allow Padawan Threeb to be offworld for ten days, on urgent Temple business? While ‘urgent Temple business’ is overstating my self-imposed mission just a little, I didn’t have to say it, and it got results.
Xan and I were getting Morningstar ready to leave for Ojom half an hour after Master Koon got off the line with the chief justice – some of the landing gear was jammed and we had to pull it apart to investigate. Although Anakin is the best in the family – possibly the best in the Temple – at fixing stuff, we couldn’t be bothered looking for him, so we pulled the jammed gear apart, getting oil and hydraulic fluid everywhere, and settled down to cleaning out the pieces and tossing tools at each other. Xan would make a terrible Master, but that’s mostly because he doesn’t like being restricted, and doesn’t see the point in restricting anyone else. On the other hand, he’s the go-to ‘older brother’ when I just want to have some fun for a while.
I suppose it isn’t natural to be sad all the time, or even for very long. In that way, it’s like swimming in the ocean: rather than a continuous storm, hammering you under and overwhelming you at every turn, misery takes you in waves, with just enough time in between to recover. You’ll only drown if you give up. I’m not giving up.
And just for now, I’m floating in a calm patch, surviving until the next wave, and tentatively enjoying myself.
“What is this?” Xan demanded, clawing a clot of sticky purplish-black gel out of a sleeve tube.
“That’s blood,” I said. “The cleaning droids must have missed it.” Enter another ocean wave: that was only six days ago. I studied the almost-healed cuts on my wrists and remembered to keep breathing.
A memory: sitting in the engine room watching my blood run like ink over my palms. Wondering vaguely whether it really was possible to die like this. Feeling, for that brief half-hour, guiltier for stealing the knife than for going off with Dooku and starting… oh, such a storm.
Another memory: being very small, about five or six, and having Qui-Gon stop by the youngling dorm one evening, to visit me on his way home from a mission. I had listened with interest, but little understanding, to an account of a mix-up at Hygerria. (It was years before I realized that these visits doubled as rehearsal for Council debriefings later.) On this occasion, I had had as terrible a day as a Temple youngling can, and poured out the whole pathetic story. How so-and-so had laughed at my accent. How Master Alaan had made me redo a page of writing because such-and-such had spilled a cup of juice on it. How I had fallen into the waterfall pool in the Thousand Fountains while trying to retrieve a pretty stone from the edge of the pool. (I still had the stone, though, and I remember Qui-Gon gravely agreeing that it was almost worth falling in for.) He listened, as seriously as if I had been grown up, and stroked my hair. You would make a good kitten, minx. One only has to rub you the right way and you start purring at once. I don’t usually like people touching my hair, but Qui-Gon’s not just people; he’s special.
On its own, it was a good memory, a sweet, safe memory; in the circumstances, it burned like a ‘saber cut. After a few minutes, I noticed that Xan had stopped working on the hydraulics and sat staring at me.
“I’m fine,” I whispered, and picked up a hydrospanner, to start putting the landing gear back in its proper compartment under the engines. Wave passed and survived. Keep going.
Then Obi-Wan turned up in the hangar. He pretended not to notice what we were doing, though that must have been difficult, because there were bits of hydraulic systems all over the floor.
“Xan, Sriel,” he called. “You know that old saying – about routes – ‘if someone tells you a hyperspace lane is mined, it means someone else has already died’?”
“I might,” I said, wary. “Who died?”
“A shuttle carrying relief crew from Coruscant to a battle station out near Moddel hit a mine. No survivors.”
“Feemor?” Xan asked quietly.
“All on board were killed, Xanatos,” snapped the Great Negotiator, the Councilor, very stiffly and properly valuing no life above any other, and then, “Yes, Feemor is dead,” confirmed Obi-Wan, with the flat misery that the family know means he’s working hard to keep up an inflexible control until he can be alone.
“Right.” Xan squeezed my shoulder, and I didn’t mind about the smears of black oil that had been on his hands and were now on my tunic. “I guess it’s just us now, kid. Until Qui-Gon comes home.”
“There’s no ‘until’,” Obi-Wan corrected automatically. “But it is just you. Tahl’s been given a short-notice intel station posting out at Saleucami, and Bruck’s gone with her.”
“And you?” I’d only that moment noticed that Obi-Wan had his cloak on and his pack slung over his shoulder.
“Sempidal. The fighting has gotten worse out in the north rim, and the Chancellor in his wisdom has asked the Council to send someone there to take charge. I hate to put it like this, but… Qui-Gon Jinn leaving the Order is the least of our problems right now.”
I hated that he’d put it like that too, but Obi-Wan’s right. Komari Vosa is still somewhere in the Galaxy nursing a grudge against both Dooku and the Order. Dex is missing and I have seven days to find him. The war is snatching away more Jedi than we can spare – they’re sending Kijé on station – he’s leaving tonight. And we have no idea who Sidious is or how it knew to send Komari after Breha Organa. And if I didn’t know better I’d swear the Chancellor is trying to kill us all, one deadly mission or disastrous skirmish at a time.
Obi-Wan shrugged, and headed off to the next hangar bay. Since he and Ben were taking a G-class light shuttle instead of his own fighter – which lives next to Morningstar – I figured things at Sempidal were worse than he was letting on. Losing a shuttle is no big problem. Losing Obi-Wan’s fighter, with all the modifications he and Anakin have made to it, and all the coordinate metadata in the navcom, would be a huge problem – so I could tell he expected things to be bad enough that there was a significant chance of crashing, losing, or otherwise writing off a ship.
“May the Force be with you, Bi-An!” I called.
“And with you, Sriel.” I could have sworn he had added under his breath, “And Qui-Gon,” but it could have been my imagination.
So Xan and I put the landing gear back together, pristine, oiled, and bloodless; and set out for Ojom.
Later: I don’t think I’ve been here before. I mean, I’ve traveled so much I couldn’t be sure, but I think I would have remembered the climate. It’s cold – about negative-five degrees – and hazily humid, but the sunlight… it’s strong and filling, without being glaringly bright or particularly warm. I have so much energy here that I surprise myself. No, I’m quite sure I haven’t been here: if I had, I would have spent all my time asking to come back.
Xanatos doesn’t like it at all. He says it’s too cold, and too bright, and he doesn’t like the thick air. Although we started out on one of the dozens of space stations orbiting the world, it took about an hour (and a quick check of a local directory – my Besalisk is awful, but enough to match a grid reference to a name) before I started telling Xan we really needed to be down on the planet.
On all of Ojom, there is exactly one family of Jettsters, part of a community of about a thousand living on a glacier near the equator. So said the first person we spoke to planetside, a gregarious woman in a polar settlement, who gesticulated to illustrate her meaning – having four arms, a Besalisk woman can do a lot of gesticulating! Our friendly informant offered to take Xanatos and me to the equatorial settlement in her own transport – she owed Dex’s brother some money, and thought he would be less annoyed about the late repayment if she came accompanied by two Jedi.
The mystery of where-is-Dex turned out not to be much of a mystery: he had come home to visit his family, because he hadn’t been back to Ojom since moving to Coruscant twenty-five years ago. Nobody bothered asking ‘why now?’ because the one thing you have to know about Besalisks is that they will go where they want, when they want, and usually have no particular reason. I suppose it’s a kind of wanderlust, and Force knows I understand that well enough.
“So,” Dex asked, once we’d tracked him down, “I know you both, but you seem to be missing someone – where is he?”
“What makes you think we didn’t come without him?” I shot back.
“I left the address for him and nobody else – Qui-Gon has the manners not to bother people except in an emergency.” Stooping to study my face, Dex added, “Though by the looks of you, perhaps I should have said, ‘had the manners’.”
“It’s not quite that bad,” Xanatos cut in.
“Hmm. Is it not, now?” Dex turned my head so Xan could see me. “She thinks it is. Well, the old reprobate was fond of you kids” – I think Dex is actually younger than Xan – “so I’ll help you for that. If he’s dead, you’ll need it. If he’s not, and he’s missing… you’ll need it more. What can I do?”
“We just need you to come back and talk to Jango Fett,” I said. “He says you know where to find someone he’s looking for.”
Dex nodded, his neck-pouch – wattle, Besalisks call it – swelling in concern. “Don’t sell your soul to Jango Fett, kid. You won’t get return on the investment.” But at least he agreed to come to Coruscant with us – because “I don’t see how it will help, but if you say it will… well, Qui-Gon didn’t raise you to be a liar or stupid. I’ll trust you on this one.”
On the way home, aboard Morningstar, Dex flew copilot, playing the controls like a musical instrument and making the ship sing for him. It’s the only kind of music I understand. I sat on the floor between the seats, watching the stars. We were passing Vulpter, a golden blob in the distance, when Xanatos turned to glare at Dex and me.
“Okay, you two. I give up. What clue did Nasriel find in the cantina?”
“Passport renewal form from the Ojom consulate,” I said
“That told you to look offworld,” Dex rumbled. “What else?”
“A flimsi map of the Galaxy on the office desk, showing average jump-times to different planets, and a pair of compasses on the windowsill, fixed to the exact distance between Coruscant and Ojom.”
“And Qui-Gon would have known that,” Xan murmured, almost talking to himself.
“Qui-Gon wouldn’t have needed the map,” I replied, hearing the wistfulness in my own voice. “But I did it. In the end.” Dex wanted Qui-Gon to be able to find him, and made his trail subtle enough that nobody else should have been. So I must be a fair tracker in my own right. I’m diplomatic, or I wouldn’t have talked so many people into letting me be here. Unorthodox, to be even considering enlisting Jango’s help. And developing a willingness to ignore the Council’s wishes when I feel it is right.
For the first time in my life, I am afraid of growing up to be like Qui-Gon.