I have paid to publish this, with a very dreary two hours on Khan Academy’s art history department and a more thorough explanation of the Ghent and Merode Altarpieces than I ever wished to hear.
On the other hand… have some more story! For once Nasriel gets the ‘deep heavy’.
The voyage back to the Temple is long and silent – Xanatos remains in the cockpit, and Nasriel remains deeply asleep or unconscious. Qui-Gon is left alone with his thoughts, and they are not the most pleasant of company. He hopes that Anakin managed to fix whatever Dooku’s data chip did to the Republic sync systems, and that the damage wasn’t too serious. For two hours by the wall chrono, whose edge he can just see, Qui-Gon counts up what currency he still has with the Council – most of it is in the form of snatches and drabs of information, data of dubious usefulness but definite Republic inaccessibility. Perhaps it will be enough.
When Morningstar reaches Coruscant, the sun is just rising, striking the tiny outer window of the airlock golden and opaque. Xanatos appears suddenly in the passageway, leaning with one arm on the transparisteel of the door. He holds a comlink in his free hand, letting it hang idle, and opens the airlock link.
“Vokara’s coming for Nasriel.” There is a pause, as if he expects an answer, but Qui-Gon does not have one, and Nasriel could not have one, so, “Mace is coming for you,” Xan adds.
Vokara does not come. Vokara sends Bant, the gentle Mon Cal healer who, for a few years before she discovered her rightful calling, had been Tahl’s Padawan, and so is counted one of the family. When she arrives on the landing platform, Bant assiduously avoids looking at Qui-Gon, focusing instead on Nasriel, and on keeping her gaze down – this is rather more obvious in Bant than it would have been in a near-Human, because her eyes are so large and silvery.
Not that Qui-Gon minds in the least – the flood of light, and Light, that pours in as the hatch opens is almost enough to make up for anything. He has been so empty, for so long, that he cannot properly hang onto the Light, and it eddies around as if unsure of him – but it is there, and that is enough for now.
Mace waits on the platform, face and stance expressionless, aura blank. “You were warned.” Qui-Gon recognizes the veracity of this, and is about to say so, but Mace cuts him off. “Yet here you are back in the Core.”
“From a certain point of view.” He does not feel like the same Qui-Gon Jinn who left – is he back, or has someone else returned? The Korun Master has yet to reply. “Well?”
“Well.” Mace is not amused. Is he ever? “Come with me. Lightsaber?”
Qui-Gon shakes his head; he left his lightsaber in a safe-deposit box at Corellia, but the Force seems to be suggesting that Mace thinks Dooku has it, and he is more than happy for this misapprehension to continue. Lightsabers aside, They have elected to spare him the indignity of being stun-cuffed, and for that he is grateful enough to come quietly. Xanatos is still watching.
And then there is a thanatosine containment cell, just as the Council threatened a month ago. Qui-Gon has never been this far down before, deep in the sublevels of the Temple where the dull brown walls seem to mop up and mute the light, and by the time Mace halts a few meters from the dead-end of a corridor, he is comprehensively lost.
“Yours,” the Councilor says, tapping on the pane of transparisteel that forms one wall of the corridor here. A door beside the pane lets into the cell behind it, and it is this door that Mace opens, and then locks behind Qui-Gon, before striding away up the passage.
This time, the sudden absence of the Force feels like a loss – when he has so recently found it again, found the clean pure Light that has soaked over the millennia into the very foundations of the Temple – to lose it again seems unbearably cruel.
Exploring the cell occupies him for all of ten seconds – bed against one wall, table and chair against the other, ‘fresher and washbasin behind a partition. The room is two paces square, with no chrono or any other way of marking time. While there is an electric light, it won’t help him, because the switch is inside the cell. Time, it seems, does not matter down here.
Kijé appears suddenly, a while later, and bows, as respectfully as if his friend’s Master were not on the wrong side of a cell window.
“Good afternoon, Master Jinn.” He opens a hatch halfway up the door, which Qui-Gon had not previously noticed. “I hope you’ll excuse the presumption, but I thought you might appreciate something to pass the time.” Something is a stack of blank flimsi, an ink-pencil, and what proves, when Qui-Gon crosses the cell to pick it up, to be the holobook edition of Baral Favain’s Notable Flora of the Outer Rim. ‘A garden in a book,” Qui-Gon has often told his youngest Padawan, and his own flimsi-copy is heavily annotated with comments and sketches.
“You’ve seen Nasriel,” he surmises. “She’s awake.”
“Yes. She asked me to tell you that she… will be fine.”
“What did she say?”
Kijé looks away, twisting his fingers nervously. “Padawan Threeb’s exact words were, please tell him he didn’t hurt me very badly.”
Qui-Gon feels sick. “Did I?” It is not beyond Nasriel to understate her injuries, if she thinks that that will be less painful to him than the truth. Kijé, though, has no such qualms.
“I don’t know, Master Jinn. What I’ve gathered from Master DuCrion and from Nasriel herself suggests that you Force-threw her at a stone wall. She’s certainly injured, but I’m not a healer; I don’t know if the damage sustained is more concurrent with wall-throwing or with incidents at Sempidal. And I haven’t been able to speak with Master Eerin yet.”
“Are you still gathering data, Kijé, or have you made all your conclusions?”
“I’ve made most of them,” says the junior Archivist. “That’s why I’m here.” Kijé rarely smiles, but he does so now, a shy, half-formed grin that says he has finally come to his point. “I’m Archives, Master Jinn – I can go anywhere I want. Getting Nasriel down here, even when she’s feeling better, will be more difficult. Is there anything you’d like me to tell her in the meantime?”
This particular anything would fill a holobook, and Qui-Gon suspects even Kijé’s legendary capacity for memorization might falter. “Just tell her yo varel nu, chenilara.”
Comprehendingly – it would seem the boy does speak Saalisan – Kijé repeats the message back to be sure of the pronunciation, bows again, and leaves.
Picking up the ink-pencil, Qui-Gon starts to write, and stops only when he runs out of flimsi: everything he remembers from the ice-planet, from Aduba, and all the worlds in between. Dooku, Grievous, Sidious; the Separatist forces and plans. He is contemplating writing on the wall, when Yoda comes.
“Eating not, are you?” the Grand Master observes, and Qui-Gon notices for the first time a tray of food balanced precariously on the open door-hatch. Now who brought that?”
“…No.” And how long has he been here?
“This tell me, Qui-Gon. Why return did you, hmm? Know this would happen, you did.”
“Nasriel would have died.”
“All dying, are we. Attached you are to Padawan Threeb, I sense.”
“With respect, Master, even you cannot sense through thanatosine.”
“Attached you are to her, anyone with eyes can see. Unnecessary risks for her you take.”
“That depends on how you define necessary. What did you really come for, Master Yoda?”
“To talk, came I.”
“And we are talking. How is Tahl?”
Leaning on his stick, Yoda scowls. “Well, is Tahl. A Separatist sniper hunting her did she discover and capture. Home she is from the Mid Rim. Master Che in the medcenter pestering is she, as would you if you could, hmm?”
“That’s good.” He tells Yoda why Dooku had sent the sniper after Tahl, and he tells about the data Dooku had him load into the sync systems. Yoda listens, still and silent, eyes closed, until Qui-Gon asks him what the data chip actually did.
“To repair the damage, a day it took Anakin. Longer would it have taken if what to look for you had not told him, hmm. Jammed comms on all cruisers that synced from it, the data bug did. Most unhappy, Anakin was, contact with all his squadrons to lose during a battle.”
“You’re serious, Master?” Thank the Force it only lasted a day. Curse his own naïveté for loading the damnable data at all. If Anakin had not been there, the consequences would not bear thinking about.
“When not serious am I?” Yoda snaps.
“The time in Anakin’s apprenticeship when Obi-Wan made him rake the sand in the meditation garden, and you came and played in it,” Qui-Gon answers promptly.
“Talk more tomorrow, we shall,” Yoda decides, not deigning to answer, and shuffles away as quickly as he came. Turning back to the wall, Qui-Gon selects an area of smooth stone, a little above eye level, and resumes his writing.
Saying today was not terrific would be kind of an understatement. I’m sick, but I knew that. Bant says pretty much everything is down to Sempidal, and I didn’t get much hurt at Aduba. And I’d already told her that, I told her – and Master Che and Bi-An who showed up unexpectedly – that Qui-Gon was just getting me away from Dooku, that if he’d wanted to hurt me he would have kriffing hurt me.
Then Kijé came back from the sublevels to bring me a message from Qui-Gon. It was perfect – this tiny moment in the middle of everything being wrong – to remind me that I still have the Force, and I still have my Master, and things are already getting better; we’re home, for a start.
As I try to replay everything that happened, without involving myself in it, I find out… what I learned. I learned that a Jedi cannot afford to rely on any person, not even himself, because people are fallible. That the Force must be everything to us.
And now I know that that is the lesson, I am sitting in the medcenter meditating on what has passed. And I can release it. This isn’t like other times I’ve had to release something that happened – this changed me, and I know it. I’m not the same Nasriel who got kidnapped. I’m stronger.
I got up and opened the blinds, and I’m sitting here in the light, weeping my eyes out. It’s not the first time of crying over all that, and I guess it won’t be the last, but I am not broken anymore. Although I’m not okay, I am choosing to quit drifting around in fragments, and start putting myself back together. I don’t have to be defined by what happened to me. I can release it.
I was kidnapped. I accept that this happened. I was raped and tortured. I accept that this happened. My baby died. I thought Qui-Gon had abandoned me. The Shaman tried to turn me to the Dark Side. I thought my Master was a Sith. I thought I was a Sith. I confronted the slavers at trial and it didn’t end the way I hoped. It happened, it happened, it happened.
And it still hurts, and I will still cry, but as I release the past… I feel the past release me as well. I’m free.