And we are back again! Thank you all so much for your patience and general bearing-with!
It’s early in July, right when I said I’d be back. I wanted this up before the Fourth, because all the Americans will be super-busy right around then.
This chapter’s fairly intensive switching back-and-forth, but yes it is mostly Xan and Nasriel, and yes we do find out what’s been happening to Qui-Gon.
There are three things I can appropriately say, at this juncture, about this and coming chapters:
- “This time, everybody lives.”
- “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”
- “There’s always something left to lose.”
I guess you’ll just have to read on to find out which you think is most appropriate.
Whenever we’re away, Kijé keeps an eye on the plants, because Qui-Gon doesn’t – didn’t – doesn’t – trust Obi-Wan with them. Today Kijé called, and left a message with Admiral Yularen at Kaliida Shoals, who bounced it around the fleet until it found me. And with the message, he sent me a holo of something he thought I should see. I took it straight to the command tent where Xanatos was talking to the clone officers.
“Xan! It’s not a riyo, it’s a kaba lily!”
“That’s great,” Xan forced out. “Just wait, kid, okay?”
“Xan! Apart from the one in the quarters at home, kaba are endemic to Aduba-3.”
Waving the officers away, Xan grabbed my arm and pulled me back outside. But the instant I felt the rain on my face, I froze. It had been raining at Laerdocia. It had rained the few times they let me outdoors at Karazak and… everywhere else. And with Xan’s hand on my arm, and my own hunger and exhaustion churning in my head and chest and guts, I lost my grip on what was real. Some logical part of me knew I was safe and free and lightyears away from the slavers, but my body wasn’t listening: I was tense and hyperventilating, my heart pounding as if I was terrified.
Xan swore and let go, but it was too late; I was in full-on panic mode, shaking, almost crying. I guess I’ve been lucky, in a way, that the chizzk that happened to me was so huge, so incomprehensible, my mind sort of shrugged and went how am I supposed to know what should trigger a panic attack? Anyway, I don’t seem to have predictable triggers, which is only scary sometimes. After I’d been home a couple days, Qui-Gon started keeping a list of things that sometimes set me off: do not touch Nasriel without warning her, do not close doors on Nasriel, do not leave Nasriel alone in the dark, do not physically restrain Nasriel…
He… cared about me. And I really miss him.
“Hey. Sriel.” Xan snapped his fingers in front of my face. “Can you hear me? Nod if you can hear me.” Even though I didn’t feel much in control just then, I managed to nod, and Xanatos flashed me a little half-grin. “That’s good. That’s terrific. I’m sorry I grabbed you. It’s okay. You’re at Sempidal, you’re… Force, what’s the Order doing to its kids, you’re on a frontline station… okay. You were trying to tell me something about a kaba, so let’s get under a roof and you can finish telling me, all right?”
When I was back in the tent, sitting down with a hot drink, I calmed down enough to talk.
“The kaba lily flowered. That’s never happened in my lifetime, so Kijé sent me a holo. And the lamp Qui-Gon showed me – in the dream – it wasn’t a riyo, it was a kaba flower.”
“And they’re endemic to Aduba-3,” Xan laughed. He sounded so relieved. “It’s a world. Can you find him on a world?”
“I hope so,” I said.
Dooku seems to be fond of Aduba-3 – presumably for its location, beyond Hutt Space and thus invisible to the Republic, but situated on a clear hyperspace lane so he can go where he pleases. Over the last few days, the Separatist leader has been making calls, dispatching a ship here, a strike team there, and preparing, so he tells Qui-Gon, for his master Sidious to visit the Aduba base. Until today, Qui-Gon has kept quiet – waiting, listening, finding out what he can, and staying out of Dooku’s way.
This morning, as the sun rises palely over the field of golden lilies surrounding the house Dooku has commandeered as a base, Qui-Gon is summoned back to the gallery. Dooku is not yet there, and he is kept waiting, pacing the blue-green tiles of the gallery and trying to think, although his gaze keeps being drawn back to the broken lamp on the wall. A subtle reminder of the consequences of disappointing Octavius Dooku.
And then the man himself appears, cloaked in the blackness of the void, and bearing with him an icy shiver in the Force that perfectly suits the new name he has chosen for himself: Tyranus.
“There’s something you can do,” he tells Qui-Gon. “To prove your loyalty – which I don’t doubt, of course.” A holomap fills the room with floating points of light, and Qui-Gon recognizes a world Dooku has highlighted: Allanteen, home to the Republic’s shipyards.
“What’s to do at Allanteen?” he asks drily. “And what’s that you have highlighted out in the southern Expansion?”
“That is the location of your reason for doing as you’re told.” Without further explanation, Tyranus, Dooku-that-was, tosses Qui-Gon a data chip. “You’re going to the shipyards to load that onto the sync system they use to update shipboard data. Then you’ll come back. That’s all.”
“And if I don’t?” Walking around the holomap, he indicates the other highlighted world. “What’s here?”
“Oh… someone you want to stay alive,” Tyranus taunts. “Go, now. The sooner you return, the sooner she’s safe.”
She. She who? Oh, Force, this is devilish. Qui-Gon bites back an angry retort, and makes for the landing bay, to try and find a vessel with a neutral transponder to get him into the Allanteen system.
Admiral Yularen’s come to take over, at last, so Xan and I can go. About time – three days since Kijé called and gave us the location, and only now we’re on our way.
I’ve never been this sun-deprived before. I mean, I knew about the headaches and the tiredness, but even that awful time Qui-Gon and I were at Hoth for two weeks straight, I didn’t get this – old scars reopening and bleeding again, and new ones refusing to heal. Yularen took one look at me and rounded on Xanatos: “Get her out of here and back to your Temple healers now.”
Xan shrugged. “She’s my Padawan, Admiral, hadn’t you heard? I’m responsible for her, and I don’t appreciate your interference.”
“You’re being irresponsible, Master DuCrion! Until this war is over, the G.A.R. has a vested interest in Jedi survival. Your apprentice is wounded and by the look of her she’s sick as well. Take her home or I swear I will detail a squad to do it for you.” So Xan and I sloshed away through the mud and rain, dodging the Admiral’s men and the relieving clones, to fetch our things from the dorm tent and get away.
Aboard Morningstar, stowing our gear, Xan looked at me properly for the first time in a week, and went so pale I could see it even under the grime grained into his skin.
“Oh, Force, kid. Yularen must have thought I was trying to kill you. I – shall we just go home, get Vokara to patch you up, and I’ll go after Qui-Gon alone?”
“Aduba,” I said firmly. It’s going to be hard enough to find my Master as things stand – I can feel our bond fading by the hour, and darkening as it fades. Without even that fine thread of guidance, Xan would be going in blind. He’d take far longer to find Qui-Gon, if he found him at all, and we don’t have ‘longer’.
I have not endured Sempidal just to go home and reach Aduba too late. Because despite what I said on that trial night when I met Komari and saw what happens when love turns to obsession… right now, I do need Qui-Gon. And right now, he needs me.
Later: Obi-Wan wasn’t happy when we told him where we were going. Apparently Aduba is occupied – the Republic left it because it’s non-strategic and barely inhabited, but the Seps seem to like it. Bi-An couldn’t tell us any more than that, because Tahl was keeping tabs on Aduba, and she’s been assigned to a mission with Bruck out in the southern Expansion. About the only good news today is that I know Qui-Gon is at Aduba.
We’re in a far orbit around the planet, trying to work out what to do. Morningstar’s so small we could probably slip in and out unnoticed, and we’ve got a neutral transponder code to use… this might even work.
Three days later – two for travel, one for loading the accursed data chip into the Republic fleet’s backup server – Qui-Gon is back in Dooku’s office in the gallery. The ‘mission’ turned out ridiculously simple, because the Allanteen base hadn’t heard from the Temple in weeks, and didn’t know he is officially persona non grata, a fugitive. They will have found out by now: Anakin and Ahsoka are due at the shipyards tonight.
When Dooku finally arrives, through the doors in the shadowy far end of the gallery, the doors that lead Force-know-where, Qui-Gon waits a few moments before speaking. He tries to study the lilies outside, tries to draw tranquility from their part in the Living Force, since he dare not touch it himself, but the night without and the blaze of light within preclude his seeing anything more than his own dark reflection.
These weeks at Aduba have been hard – fighting to hold the overwhelming darkness at bay without the aid of the Light. He cannot do this alone anymore, and the shadows are beginning to take hold.
“What have I done?” Qui-Gon asks the reflection in the window, the hushed question shattering the silence.
“Saved a life,” Dooku says shortly, clicking on a holoprojector. There is a town nestled in a clearing of a burning-colored jungle; a maze of narrow dirty streets winding among teetering wooden tenements. Tahl stalks along an alleyway, head flicking occasionally from side to side as she senses, maybe listens, for whatever she is there to find. After a moment or so, Qui-Gon notices that the holo view is taken through the scope of a sniper rifle.
Another few moments, then Tahl passes out of sight, and the Sith lord deactivates the projector. “There. Loading the data into the sync system saved her life. This,” he snarls, snatching up an audio recorder from his desk and thrusting it at Qui-Gon, “has certainly not increased the security of yours.”
Suddenly wary, Qui-Gon touches the playback button. At first there is only a semi-audible mutter. Then his own voice, more strained than he remembered sounding. “Have General Skywalker look at the system access logs when he gets here. Tell him I loaded the sync system patch my… former Master suggested.” So there was a recording device built into the data chip. Blast.
It’s so beautiful… I didn’t think Aduba would be beautiful. It took us far too long – two full orbits – to work out which of the handful of cities on the planet is our destination. We’re on-world, and Xan’s using me as a sort of compass, doing all the proper navigation while I tell him what general direction to go. Just now we’re resting, hiding in a coal-cellar – for a few minutes – because I was too tired to keep walking. Dear Force, I’m so useless today, just exactly when I need to be at my best.
I can’t tell Xan this, I can’t, but the bond is so weak now… it’s all I can do to pick out Qui-Gon’s presence, let alone say or do anything useful at the same time. I found the right building, and then the bond… cut. Gone. Not dead (please Force not dead) just gone. And it’s such a huge building, and we’ll be searching manually.
“The data is loaded,” Dooku says softly. “Even if he gets the message, even if he has the sense to find the data you put on their system, Anakin can’t touch it now. But you. You made… let’s call it a mistake. I don’t need to tell Darth Sidious.” Of course you don’t, if you do he’ll know you’ve let a spy waltz right into the middle of your base, the cynical side of Qui-Gon’s mind retorts. Dooku is still talking. “Do anything like that again and I will kill you. This time you get off with a warning.” This is better than being killed outright. This is better than if he decided to kill Tahl in retribution. Or Anakin. Or Obi-Wan. Or Nasriel. But while it’s better, it’s still not good. Qui‑Gon nods slowly, and takes a few paces back, even though he knows that won’t make any difference.
At some point in the storm that follows, over the inferno roaring through and around him – an even mix of bodily agony and the torment of the Dark Side – he hears the door fly open behind him, brass handles crashing into the stone of the wall.
A voice speaks in the darkness. Although he is fairly sure the lights are still on, the blinding effects of being pummeled by lightning will linger for a minute or so; Qui-Gon does not bother to look toward the doorway.
“Hey, Qui-Gon,” the voice says. Man’s voice. Familiar, but he can’t quite place it. “You coming?”