I have been accused of going off on side-stories. I am wounded. That is exactly what I have been doing. However, as you will find shortly, the Dex side-story – which I freely confess to working in much earlier as a safety-net I could use or fold as required – wasn’t really a side-story so much as an Excuse to go looking for someone else. I refuse to be sorry.
More historical angst. More Xanatos – because c’mon, who doesn’t love Xan? Boba Fett being adorable because Sarah asked him to and I swear this was the earliest I could get him in, a tip of the hat to Deathstroke for the amusement of Chavez, and some Komari hints to keep Erin guessing. Any more requests?
When we were heading home aboard Morningstar, Senator Organa called, on Anakin’s accursed comm system that can take calls in hyperspace. Seems Bi-An told Organa to contact me with a list of people who knew ahead of time about Breha’s birthday concert, because the people on the list, and anyone they told, could have told Dooku what time to reset Komari’s bomb for in order to kill Breha. Inference: one of the people on the list, whether knowingly or not, is a Separatist spy. The problem is that this list is pages long, and even with my limited experience in the diplomatic circuit, I can tell it includes half the Senate and most of the upper nobility of Alderaan. And frankly, I’m more interested in finding out who sent Komari after Breha Organa at all – because that’s Sidious.
I was staring at the list on the Morningstar’s viewscreen, wondering where to start, when Senator Organa asked suddenly, “Is Master Jinn there?” I don’t know what line Bi-An spun him to have him call me, but apparently the line didn’t include any information on what’s been going on in the Temple over the last few days.
“He’s not available at the moment; can I take a message?” And then it hit me: I have a hundred separate and distinct memories of fielding calls from the Council, using those exact words, and then shutting off the transmission to grin back at Qui-Gon. I always picked up the comms when we were expecting a Council call, but… then I wasn’t lying. ‘Not available’ is not the same as ‘not here’ – a distinction that the Council took an amazingly long time to recognize, and that Senator Organa didn’t notice either.
We got home, back under gritty clouds of Coruscant, and I called Jango to have him meet us at Dex’s cantina.
“You owe me now,” I told him, when he had what he needed from Dex, when Xan and I were going back up to the Temple.
“I do that,” Jango promised, and even though I’m sure he could have found Dex by himself, well, that is the price he agreed to, and I have paid it, and I will hold him to it.
At the quarter door – the quarters where I have lived for the past six years, and visited on and off for years before that – Xan laid his hand on my arm.
“How are we going to do this, Sriel?” He sounded almost worried; I’m not used to Xan being worried. Reckless, yes.
“Well… you can’t move in with me, because we can’t kick Bruck out until he gets home to move his stuff… and I wouldn’t feel right moving into Qui-Gon’s room… shall we just stay where we are, and we can decide what to do when the rest of the family gets home?”
So Xan went off to his own quarters, in the next corridor over, and I ventured into the cool, mute twilight of home. I made tea – because that’s my chore in the evenings; I make the tea – but I forgot what I was doing and made enough for three, as usual. I drank two cups, sitting on the sofa, feeling sorry for myself, and poured the excess over the roots of the candy-paper plant. It seemed grateful, I guess. By the time I was ready for bed, the silence was starting to get to me, so I went to find Telcontir, who looks after all the unofficial Temple pets while their owners are away, and borrowed Blaze again, for company. Blaze is about twice my size, and remarkably relaxed about being borrowed – and Tahl always complains bitterly about shaggy hairy wastes of space lying around waiting to be tripped on, but she’s not home.
That was last night. This morning I met Xan in the refectory – he getting breakfast proper, I having a cup of caf. After the wonderful sunshine at Ojom, I won’t need to eat anything for days, and I don’t much like breakfast food anyway.
“Sriel,” Xan said, pausing halfway through a bowl of oatmeal, “would you mind if we used Jango’s debt to you on something else?”
“Finding Komari again. Look,” he coaxed, “Komari was Jedi as well, and – forgive me, Sriel – she didn’t choose to leave and join the Dark Side and lie to us all about it for years.”
“I guess not,” I said flatly. It’s true, what Xan said. Dooku disowned Komari and let the Council send her away, all because she loved him and didn’t trouble to hide it. I wonder, am I really so much better than Komari? Or am I merely, as she herself said, luckier?
Consider: I love Qui-Gon as if he were my father, and better than I loved my real father. I always thought that was only reasonable. That I was better than Komari because Dooku was despicable and Qui-Gon is not – extension: her love, her hero-worship of her Master was foolish, and mine is not. But perhaps…
Perhaps she wasn’t a fool after all. Perhaps, once, Dooku was as good and kind and noble as Qui-Gon. I don’t want to think too hard about the obvious flip-side of that perhaps: the idea that Qui-Gon might someday – might already! – be as cruel and ruthless as Dooku.
I asked Xan about that, what Dooku used to be like. He laid down his spoon and shook his head slowly. “Sweet child. As if Qui-Gon hasn’t told you a hundred times.”
“He never,” I said. “It was like Dooku didn’t exist except as quarry.”
“Well. Master Dooku, when I knew him, was brilliant. Brilliant swordsman, brilliant diplomat, could convince anyone of anything. But dear Force, he was cold. If killing someone ensured the rapid success of a mission for him, that person didn’t have long to live. He could wait forever to get what he wanted, but he had no patience with people; rarely let you get away unpunished for a mistake, and Force help anyone who made the same slip twice. Dooku demanded perfection – from himself as well as others, mind you. But if he could make someone else take the blame when he wasn’t perfect… well. Komari trotted around after him and he either ignored her or ripped into her for messing up – no middle ground. I used to think Qui-Gon hated Dooku’s guts; took me years to work out it was actually the other way around. But. This is no topic for an open refectory. Talk it out at my place?”
“But I haven’t finished my caf.”
“Bring it.” He poked his oatmeal dubiously. “This isn’t burnt today – miraculous – pity to waste it – come on, minx, we shall decamp, breakfast and all.”
I decided that that was enough. “Do not ever call me that again, Xanatos DuCrion. You’re my Master for now, but that is not your place.”
Picking up his bowl and ignoring the serving droid’s haughty glare, Xan tapped me on the head with the spoon from my caf. “Sorry, Sriel. Been a while since I had a Padawan. Been longer still since the time I nearly punched Feemor’s face in for calling me a nuisance. Wasn’t his place either. I understand, kid.”
Although I had known the habit of bizarre nicknames was older than me, I hadn’t realized it went back to Xanatos. A tantalizingly vivid scene flicked past my imagination: on mission, Xan dawdling, Qui-Gon calling good-humoredly come along, nuisance.
In the present, as if he had seen the same image, Xanatos laughed. “No. Rarely so civil – we fought constantly. Mostly about decisions he’d made and I demanded he explain. Often about Komari and Dooku. I’d say for Force sake, Master, you can see what’s happening – someday he’ll kill her – why don’t you say something; why don’t you stop this? He didn’t explain until after she was gone: that he knew even better than I did how bad things were for Komari, and had offered to go to the Council on her behalf. She declined – didn’t want to be the Padawan who instigated an action against her Master. That’s a species nobody will train.”
I guess it was then that I realized Xan wasn’t telling me something. “You and Komari were friends. Close friends, like Kijé and me. And you still want to help her.”
“I hate to make you pay for it,” Xan hedged. “But…”
“It’s okay, Xan. I can find Qui-Gon without Jango’s help. If you feel it’s that important to find Komari, then… sure, go for it.” And then I remembered something. That Komari was responsible for the death of Bail Organa’s wife, and a dozen or more of the Alderaanian nobility. “Xan, if we send Jango after her, we’ll have to go along. As soon as she’s recognized in Republic territory, she’ll be arrested. We can’t lawfully stop that, but she shouldn’t have to be alone either.”
When Xan called Jango to ask if he could find Komari again, Boba answered the comm. It seemed Dex’s information was good, and Jango was downtown with his former mentor, leaving Boba alone on Slave One.
“Are you okay on your own?” Xan asked Boba. When he turned back to flash an awkward grin at me, I realized I must have been gaping in astonishment. Typically disinclined to interfere uninvited, most Jedi will go their whole lives without ever asking someone else’s child if he is all right. A stray, an abandoned orphan, someone who has nobody to care for them, sure. But you don’t meddle with other people’s children, and you don’t meddle with other people’s Padawans.
It turned out just as well Xanatos asked, though, because after a moment, Boba replied, “I’m kind of scared – Dad’s never left me on my own in the Core before. Is that girl there? The blue girl? Um… I think her name’s Minx. Can – can I come to the Temple?”
“If your father wouldn’t mind, then of course you can,” Xan assured him. “Remember to let him know where you are. Tell him he can he call anyone in the Temple and ask for DuCrion; they’ll put him through.” Cutting the link, he said defensively, “He’s eleven, Sriel.” Xan’s a funny one – he doesn’t say a lot, and most of it is terrifyingly pragmatic, so you’d think he was absolutely heartless. And then he goes and does something like that.
Boba arrived aboard one of the cheap airbuses that endanger the upper-level roadways, and he and I spent the afternoon down on the shooting range, testing some new pistols a Sentinel team had brought from Ord Paidron. When Xan called to summon us back upstairs, we were in Kijé’s room with the rest of the gang, passing around a canister of highly suspect ice-cream that Elimyo had made in a spare liquid-nitrogen dewar from the labs, and watching reruns of Greatest Corellian Hero.
Boba and I got to Xan’s quarters to find that Jango and his mentor, a tall, taciturn, white-haired Human who introduced himself as Wilse, were already there.
Pulling Boba to him and ruffling the boy’s hair affectionately, Jango said to me, “This DuCrion reckons he’s your Master.”
“At the moment, he’s right.”
With a quiet grin, suggesting he knew he was getting Xan into trouble, the bounty-hunter continued, “He reckons that lets him use your hunting contract to find someone other than Master Jinn, which is what you were talking about wanting it for.”
“It doesn’t give him the right to dispose of my possessions, if that’s what you mean.” I knew that from when my father died and the Council ruled it none of Qui-Gon’s business what I did with my considerable inheritance. (I’d taken his advice anyway.) “However, Mr. Fett, I would like you to discharge your debt to me by finding Komari Vosa and allowing me to accompany you on the search.”
“Your contract, your choice, kid, but… I’d be a happier man if you were trying to find Master Jinn. Since he’s like family to you and all.” I’d forgotten about the Mando’a preoccupation with family ties, and about how odd this sudden change of quarry would look to Jango.
“I can find Qui-Gon alone easier than I can find Komari alone, and anyway, Komari is family. As you said: my contract, my choice.”
We’re leaving at first light the day after tomorrow. Jango and Wilse have ‘something to deal with in town’ and I only hope it isn’t trying to kill a Senator like the time we Jedi first became aware of Jango. But that was Padmé, who’s pretty hard to kill at the best of times and had Obi-Wan and Anakin looking after her besides. (Hope Obi-Wan’s all right out at Sempidal.)
And Xan’s going on a bender with some of the guys from Ninth Lower – they’ve been planning it for months. So Boba will stay in the Temple and we’ll keep each other company until the adults are ready to leave.
I suppose it’s good, this filling in the time until I can go looking for my Master. I was raised to be a tracker and a diplomat: I can be patient. I have to be. But I’m nervous, now this hunt for Komari is taking away my fallback option – I have to be able to do this alone now. Our bond is silent. Qui-Gon’s not letting me know even roughly where he is, or if he’s okay. My only certainty is that he is not dead, and I am clinging to that for all I am worth.