We’re having a wee bit of a difficult week over here and it’s showing, I’m afraid.
Some Mando’a – because I couldn’t not – a tired joke revitalized, all my legal research finally getting a use, and a bit of a spat.
A chapter where Nasriel and Obi-Wan both owe more to The Voice than they will ever know.
Here’s to life.
Xan and Jango came back about an hour ago, at midnight, with Komari walking between them. Her hands were stun-cuffed in front of her, but Xan had his arm around her shoulders.
As soon as I saw them from the cockpit, I hurried down to the hatch, disrupting Boba and Wilse’s game in the hold along the way. “She just agreed to come?” I asked Xan.
“I was a Jedi once,” Komari answered me. “It’s too late for me to be a Jedi again, but never too late to do the right thing. All I needed was the courage.” She sighed, glancing back into the night out of which they had come. I thought I saw a spark of blue light out there, but it could have been my imagination.
“Fortune favors the brave.” I didn’t know what else to say. Komari’s walked away from everything she’s ever known, twice now, and this time she knows it won’t end well. That – that is brave. If only I’d had the guts to do the same I might be with Qui-Gon now instead of just wandering around the Galaxy feeling lost and pointless.
“I’ve appointed a successor to lead the Bando Gora; there’s no going back for me now,” Komari said. “You’ll visit me sometimes, won’t you, Xan?”
“As often as I can,” he promised. “Because it’s Breha Organa you killed, you’ll – you’ll only be at Alderaan, after all.”
When we got back aboard Slave One, Wilse disagreed. Springing to his feet the moment he saw Komari with Jango, he reached back for the sword slung across his back, but checked himself just shy of drawing it, and turned on Jango instead.
“Fett, tion gar nakar’mir – dala rukyr’amur solet be cuun aliit?” For some reason that hadn’t occurred to me – the Galidraan massacre where Komari and Dooku between them killed over a hundred Mandalorians was so long ago that I’d forgotten it would still matter to an older man like Wilse.
“Nayc,” Jango cut him off. “Ni nu draar copaanir.”
“Gar enteyor kyr’amur kaysh, Jango. Gar partaylir ibac.” I was half afraid Jango might rise to that one and shoot Komari where she stood, but he scowled at Wilse.
“Ni linibar dala oyayc. Kaysh ner verborir.” Suddenly the scowl dissolved into a nasty grin. “Bal be’jetii ade jorhaa’ir Mando’a.” Without changing language, he called to me, “Tion vaii mhi hiibir gar Bando Gora dala? Gar verborir, ade.”
“Alderaan,” I said, trying not to enjoy Wilse’s surprise too much. “Mhi vaii slanar at Alderaan. Senator Organa has half a million credits for the man who brings him Komari Vosa.” Wilse decided that half a million credits would go a long way toward appeasement for Komari’s past crimes, and we set off.
Reaching Alderaan just before dawn this morning, after a full day in hyperspace trying to catch up on sleep, the guys tacitly worked out that Jango would go on-world, take Komari to Bail, and of course Xan would go with him. But when they were just about to leave, I remembered something and drew Xan aside.
“Don’t let Jango go. Bail will hold him just as much to blame as Komari.”
“Oh, Force. Yes. I’ll ask him to send Wilse instead.” Xan paused, as if what he was about to say wasn’t something he wanted to say, and gripped my shoulder with a rough shake that I suppose was meant to be affectionate. “Good save, kiddo. Qui-Gon would have been proud of you.”
“Will be,” I insisted. “When I find him again.”
“Sriel…” Xan let me go suddenly and sat down on a crate. “I will never – never – tell you to stop hoping, but you have to understand. You might not find Qui-Gon, and even if you do, he might not be Qui-Gon anymore. Don’t say anything right now. Just think about it, while I’m on-world with Wilse.”
So I sat in the open hatchway of the ship, and thought about it. I was thinking as the sun rose over the plains and lit the tiny grey smudges of cloud high in the sky a brilliant orange, and as the soft fur of silver-grey dew on the grass thinned and sparkled and finally dried away. It was a good sunrise – the burning kind that Qui-Gon would have appreciated. Jango left when the dew did, leaving me and Boba and Slave One landed in the long grass at the quiet end of Alderaan’s sprawling spaceport. And now the sun is high, and the air is full of the smell of dry grass and burnt fuel and the sound of thousands of tiny raspy-voiced insects singing. Boba has caught one, and lies in the grass watching it crawl over his hands.
Later: I ran. I run to clear my head, give me space to think. Sometimes because I’m bored. Sometimes because the weather is so hot and bright, and I have so much energy, I have to run. That day, on the long circuit around the free-landing field, I ran to avoid thinking. When I got back, tired and sweaty and unable to stop turning over what Xanatos had said, the sun was slanting down toward dusk, Jango had reappeared – from an afternoon spent gambling with the crew of another ship – and Xan and Wilse were crossing the field toward us, silhouettes against the sky, with long black shadows flung out before them. Wilse tossed a hard plastic bank chit to Jango, who caught it and nodded in satisfaction.
“Entirely,” smiled Wilse.
“Good. I’ll take you home,” Jango said to me, “and then we’re done. I’m grateful to you for putting me onto that reward, though, so if I hear anything of Master Jinn, I’ll let you know.”
It was already dark when Xan and I got back to the Temple – on foot, because Jango had dropped us at the spaceport and because the nearest airbus stop to the Temple is over a kilometer from the main gates. The gatekeeper rummaged among the messages on his board, and muttered that Master Kenobi had left word for us to report to him in his quarters as soon as possible.
“Possible,” grouched Xan. “Not practical. Which means we don’t get to go home and clean up first.” It had been a long trip, and I knew he was still agonizing over whether he’d done the right thing by Komari. Nobody ever said life in this family would be easy.
Obi-Wan opened the door at first knock. He was limping, and clean-shaven, with a new gash, stitched and beginning to heal, on his cheek. I mistook him for Ben for a moment, and Xan snapped out of his mood long enough to laugh.
“Told, Kenobi. She’s right, you look every day of sixteen.”
“I’m sure you’re very glad that’s not a problem you have to consider any more,” Bi-An said evenly, brushing aside a lock of hair that wasn’t really on his face to start with. Xan scowled again – he has a streak of pure white running back from his forehead, and doesn’t like it one bit.
“Cute. What do you want that you were in such a hurry about?”
“I need to talk to Sriel. You can go away and… dye your hair if it makes you happy.”
When Xan had stormed off, I said quietly, “Are you okay?” Not because of the damage – this was barely a graze by Obi-Wan standards – but because he’s usually so considerate, usually wouldn’t send for someone until they’d been home at least an hour.
“We won Sempidal back. Lost… forty-two men. Ben got himself trapped in a burning hovertank and is in the medcenter. Me – this was just shrapnel.” He grinned crookedly, rubbing at the cut on his face. “Quite a lot of shrapnel. I used all the negotiation tactics I know on Vokara, just to get home. Oh, and the court finally reached a verdict this morning, if Sarathpas is to be believed.”
“What verdict?” Please, please, if there’s any justice, lock them all away until the stars implode, don’t let them hurt anyone else.
“Well, I don’t know, I haven’t seen the footage yet. I was waiting for you.” Obi-Wan fetched a data chip from his desk and clipped it into the holoprojector. Before activating the recording, though, he glanced at me. “Are you ready?”
“I don’t have to watch it, do I?” Even frozen still, the blue holo of the courtroom – judges’ bench, lawyers’ corrals, witness stand now empty, dock definitely not – chilled me. Let the picture start moving, let it come to life, and I’d be back there, in the stand, feeling all those eyes raking me with hungry stares.
“Don’t you want to –”
“No! I’m sorry, Bi-An, I know I’m being such a coward, but please…”
“It’s all right, you can just listen if you want.”
So I sat on the floor and hugged Blaze and listened to the chief justice’s voice droning on and Bi-An’s pen whispering across a sheet of paper, noting down names and sentences. Eventually the judge said the name of Fourth-row-far-left, and the pen whisper paused for a moment, before meticulously adding the name to the list.
“…found by a jury of your peers to be guilty on counts of assault and rape; sentenced to life imprisonment,” growled the judge on the recording, and then went on to the next name. The pen clattered to the table, and Obi-Wan suddenly turned the recording off.
“That’s – life, that’s good, isn’t it?” I didn’t understand what had prompted this reaction. “Isn’t it good?”
“No – no, Sriel, it’s not good, and… life doesn’t mean life,” he explained, muffled, face in hands. “‘Life without parole’ means life. ‘Life’ usually means about ten years.”
“That’s not fair!”
“No, it’s not fair. It’s also wrong and unjust. The others… the judges were sane. A lot of ‘life without parole’, one or two ‘death’, for the ones who murdered. But our mutual nightmare will be on the streets again by the time you’re twenty-six.”
“At least…” I came to stand next to him. “At least he doesn’t know who you are anymore.” I think it was then I noticed – Obi-Wan was frightened. I couldn’t tell whether he was frightened now, or just reliving something he didn’t want to. Then something clicked, and I saw: he was mostly afraid for Ben, who everybody always says is the exact image of his uncle at the same age. “Ben will be grown up by then. And ten years… it’s a while. I’ll have time to grow up too, before he comes after me again.” Not that that idea didn’t turn my guts to ice.
“Don’t be so hopeless; he’s not going to come after you. For Force sake, child,” Obi-Wan said in exasperation. He was about to start saying something else, but I interrupted.
“I’m being hopeless?” I spat. “You’re the one going full-on kriffing gloom-mongering. And you only had to deal with that one demagolka for ten minutes, twenty kriffing years ago. Me? I lost count of them after the first day. Every day. Every day he – and all of them – were torturing me, and – and – know what, stuff you, Kenobi. Yeah, you had some chizzk times, and yeah, Qui-Gon wasn’t there for you when you needed him to be, and I’m just sure that’s messed you up for life, you precious fragile kriffing angel, but guess what? Same deal here, only I haven’t been allowed to go all to pieces. I haven’t had time.” Deep down, I knew perfectly well I was going completely off the handle and Bi-An had done nothing to deserve it, but mostly I just knew what an evil relief it was to lash out at someone.
“Yeah, it surely does suck to be you. It sucks chizzk to be me. My Master’s probably turned Dark – I know he’s not at Thalassia, you don’t have to pretend for me anymore – and I’m stuck with Xanatos. And I testified in open court so now every yrelt who dodged arrest knows exactly who to come after – and Jedi kriffing composure be damned, I’m scared. And I can’t even pull Jango in for help finding Qui-Gon, I’m on my own. And I was involved in Breha Organa’s murder even if nobody knows it yet. And in the middle of the whole osik’la that’s slavery, I caught something deadly that killed my baby. The one single solitary half-decent thing to come out of the whole kriff-up is dead and rotten and I am more alone now than I was at Chu’unthor. You know nothing, you arrogant, patronizing hedyen.”
Obi-Wan waited until I had finished and was lying on the floor sobbing into Blaze’s thick fur, before saying evenly, “You are being singularly unpleasant today, and I don’t doubt you’ll regret it in the morning, but I’m going to disregard every insult you’ve thrown at me, as you’re not sober at present. It’s all right to be upset, but not to take it out on other people. Life is tough, Sriel. So of course you know what we have to be.”
“Tougher,” I muttered.
“Correct. Go home and get some sleep.” Obi-Wan sighed, and pulled me to my feet. “Did you find Komari?” he asked, more gently.
“Yeah. She’s at Alderaan waiting for her trial there. Xan’s pretty cut up about the whole mess.”
“I think they used to be friends – back in the day.”
“Yeah,” I said again. “And Marnle and Lusien are home in Ninth Lower, so he’ll be out with them tonight. And… it’s not morning, but I’m sorry for being so awful, Bi-An. You didn’t have that coming. I was upset, but that’s no excuse, because hurting you as well doesn’t change it. Can you forgive me?”
“I have as little idea of your problems as you have of mine. You’re forgiven.” He hugged me, awkwardly, as if he was trying to be comforting and didn’t quite know what to do. I guess Ben’s more resilient than I am – at the moment – and doesn’t go to pieces as easily. I pulled away first, because I could feel my mouth tingling like I was about to cry again, and went off home alone, because I was right, Xan’s out downtown with a Sentinel crew.
Tahl was back in quarters, though, her intel posting finished, and the moment I walked in she asked what was wrong: “because I know it’s not just Qui being away that’s bothering you.”
Away. As if it were just another mission. “Oh, I’m fine, Tahl,” I said, going to my room and closing the door. There are so many things all weighing down on me, and I didn’t want to rip into Tahl the way I had to poor Obi-Wan.
Later: Xan came by at dawn. We’ve been given a station posting, leaving tonight. Funny – I can’t bring myself to care. I’ve been holding everything down for so long that now I mostly feel flat and numb. Except for that crack where I tore a strip off Bi-An. I can’t believe I never even saw that coming. ‘Be mindful of your feelings’ indeed.