Mission to Callodas

by Padawan Zol-Tan (zoltan@wattosjunkyard.com)



CHAPTER FIVE



“Garret,” Obi-Wan called, striding up to the rebel. Garret looked surprised to see so much energy and determination coming from the Padawan. “I need to call a rally. Can you gather the people?”


Garret glared at him, reading his intentions in his eyes and face. “You’re insane,” he growled. “Don’t you think we’ve already tried that? Well, we have, and it didn’t work. That’s why all these people are in here.”


“But it’ll be different this time,” said Obi-Wan.


“What, because you’re here?” said Garret, his voice fairly dripping with bitter sarcasm. “Are your ‘Jedi powers’ going to train these people to fight like soldiers? Stop fantasizing, boy,” he said viciously. “The Government has won. All these people are gonna die. So’s your friend over there. Probably you, too. And me. We’re just not strong enough. Deal with it.” He turned and stalked away.


Obi-Wan felt a choking anger rising within him. Garret’s words had stung, especially when he mentioned Qui-Gon. The Padawan took a deep breath and pushed aside his anger. Then he followed after Garret. He caught the rebel by the arm. Garret whirled abruptly, violently shaking off Obi-Wan’s hand.


“Garret,” said Obi-Wan calmly. “I will not give up. If no one will help me, I will fight alone, but I think someone will follow me, even if it is only Corena. She at least has the courage to keep fighting.” He paused. Garret was expressionless. Obi-Wan sighed. “Besides, if you’re so sure you’re going to die, why not go down fighting? Give Yemil Ch’Andri something to remember. And when we fight, there’s a chance, however small, that we can win.” He could see a shadow of doubt -- maybe even hope -- in Garret’s eyes and plunged onwards. “Will you gather them for me? Will you at least leave the decision up to them? You don’t have to fight, yourself... but I would be proud to fight beside you if you did.”


Their gazes locked and their wills clashed in the long silence that followed. It seemed like years before Garret looked away. “All right,” he said. “I’ll get you your rally, Jedi. But I still think you’re crazy.”


Obi-Wan fought back a grin. “Thank you, Garret,” he said, but the rebel was already halfway across the room. “You won’t regret it, I promise!” he called after him, then stood smiling after the retreating figure.


He sensed a presence behind him and looked down at the old woman. He took her callused hands enthusiastically. “Corena, we’re going to fight,” he whispered excitedly. “Garret’s arranging a rally. I’m going to try and lead them against the Government.” Corena’s face was neutral, but her one eye sparkled.



The hours passed slowly and Garret disappeared into the maze of underground tunnels to gather the other rebels. At lunch, as he had at breakfast, Obi-Wan quietly gave Qui-Gon his own food, as well as that which was given to Qui-Gon, pretending he had eaten already. The Jedi Master was even harder to rouse than he had been that morning, and his grip on consciousness was shakier. While awake, he asked about Obi-Wan’s progress with the rebels. He smiled weakly as Obi-Wan told him of the rally planned for that night. The Padawan took hold of his Master’s hand -- the left one -- and realized with horror that it was growing cold. He needed to get Qui-Gon help soon or the arm would be lost. Obi-Wan would not allow himself to think of what would happen to Qui-Gon after that. He *would* get his master out of there in time. He had to.


Once he had seen Qui-Gon re-bandaged and asleep, Obi-Wan began visiting the other patients, checking their progress and caring for their ills as best he could. None of them seemed to be getting better, but at least some weren’t getting any worse. He was worried. Last time someone had tried what he was about to try to the result was this roomfull of wounded people. The Force only knew how many others had died. Obi-Wan was confident of his own abilities, but he feared putting innocent people in danger. Still, a wrong had been done and as a Jedi it was his duty to try and right it. In the end the people would have to choose whether to follow him or not. He would force no one, nor would he give them false hopes. He knew as well as Garret how small the chances of survival were, but unlike Garret, Obi-Wan knew the Force.


He felt the ancient strength in him and around him, just waiting for him to stretch out to it. When the time came it would be there for him. But the rebels couldn’t understand what it was to fight with the Force as an ally. They had only themselves to rely on. Obi-Wan vaguely remembered what it had been like before he had found the Force and been trained to use it. He had felt alone and frightened, never knowing what to expect or when to be afraid.


He would have to appeal to the faith of the people, if they had any left. He would lead, and it would be up to them to follow or not.


Outside the cave he heard the faint whispering of many people moving quietly. He sensed anger in them, and determination. They were ready to be led. He smiled grimly as the certainty grew. Qui-Gon would be pleased. As the other rebels filtered into the room, ragged and thin but strong, Obi-Wan knew there would be a rebellion, and it would be a powerful one.


There were over a hundred of them, filling the room almost to bursting. Obi-Wan looked over and found Garret standing next to him, frowning moodily.


“Well, Jedi,” he said into Obi-Wan’s ear, “you’ve got your rally. You’re on your own from now on.”


Obi-Wan swallowed. He pushed his way to the center of the room. He wanted to burst into a charismatic speech, but now that the moment had come he was assaulted by an acute attack of stage fright. Besides that, no one was paying any attention to him. He began to grow frustrated. Then an idea hit him.


He unbuckled his lightsaber and held it up over his head like a torch as it ignited. There was an immediate reaction from the crowd. Soon Obi-Wan found himself in the middle of a little clearing where the crowd had backed away. A hundred pairs of eyes were fixed on him and there was complete silence except for the hum of the lightsaber. He extinguished the saber and clipped it back on his belt. He looked around at all the expectant faces surrounding him and his mind went blank.


Obi-Wan breathed deeply and shut his eyes for a moment, centering himself. Then he addressed the crowd. “You all know why you’re here,” he said, gaining confidence. “It’s time the Central Government was defeated once and for all.” A halfhearted cheer arose from the crowd. They had done this before. “I know previous efforts have failed, but this time we will focus on organization and strike the Government before they know we exist. I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. My Master and I were sent to resolve this conflict. When we landed Yemil Ch’Andri ordered us to strike down the rebels or die. But we are Jedi.” There was an exhilarating murmur from the crowd. “We escaped, although my Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, was wounded. We were offered hospitality here. We have seen what you suffer. My Master ordered me to lead you to freedom, and I will do just that.” This time there was more vigor to the cheer.


“I understand that many people may die with this effort, but better to die on your feet, fighting, than wait for disease or Government troops to take you. I will lead you, if you wish it and if you will follow.” The cavern was filled with cheers. Obi-Wan grinned, his eyes shining.


“Good!” he cried. “Our first move must be to arm ourselves. Does anyone know where the Government weapon supplies are?”


“I do!” cried a voice in the crowd. Obi-Wan looked down in surprise as a little girl, scarcely over ten, he would guess, elbowed her way into the ring in the middle of the crowd. She looked around at all the people and smiled, squaring her gangly shoulders and brushing back her long, lank brown hair. “It’s right up next to the Palace,” she announced to the crowd. “I used to watch them guard it before we had to hide.” She swelled with pride at her audience’s approval.


“Well then,” said Obi-Wan. “I’ll need twenty of you to come with me. We’ll move as soon as it’s dark.” There was a surge of volunteers. Obi-Wan picked out twenty men and women, letting the Force determine his choices. Then, while they waited eagerly, Obi-Wan went in search of Garret.


He found the rebel sulking in a corner. “Will you come with us?” he asked without pretense. “I need someone who knows the tunnels. I don’t ask you to put yourself at any great risk, just to get us there and back again as quietly as possible.”


Garret threw his hands up in a gesture of hopelessness. “Why not?” he groaned. “You’ve already stuck your crazy ideas in all these people’s heads, why not mine?” He stood reluctantly. “Lead on, Jedi.”


Obi-Wan wasn’t sure he liked the tone of Garret’s voice, but there was clearly not much he could do about it. The crowd cheered them and slapped them on the backs as they made their way towards the exit tunnel. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Obi-Wan heard a familiar voice say, “I’m proud of you, Padawan.” He followed Garret into the maze of tunnels smiling.


CHAPTER SIX


The first part of the journey was the hardest. They had to leave the tunnels and risk the trip through twilit streets. They stayed in the shadows of alleys and doorways as much as possible and when they had to move out in the open they flitted like wraiths without making a noise. The Force had chosen well for Obi-Wan; the twenty behind him were nearly invisible as they wound their way through the streets. Many, if not all of them were thieves, or worse, he felt sure. Under normal circumstances he would have avoided their company altogether. But these, he remarked silently, were definitely not normal circumstances.


At last they were able to enter the underground tunnels again and move with less caution. It was nearly pitch black, but Garret led them confidently through miles of corridor until at last they came to a small door in the wall. Garret stopped them and motioned for Obi-Wan. The Padawan stepped forward.


“Now you deal with it,” whispered Garret. “This door leads to the edge of the Palace grounds. I talked to the kid before we left and she says it’s a big lumpy stone building. Should be off to the left.” Almost as an afterthought he patted Obi-Wan roughly on the shoulder. “Good luck,” he mumbled, embarrassment tinting his voice.


Obi-Wan nodded solemnly and slowly turned the old-fashioned knob on the door. The door swung open, creaking. He froze as the sound echoed through the tunnel. He didn’t move for a minute, then two, then three. When there was no response from outside he stepped cautiously into the street, motioning for the others to follow. He scanned his surroundings. In front of him there was a huge open lawn leading to a tall sweeping building--the palace, he supposed. To his left and right were a series of squat buildings, structured to match the architecture of the palace. Remembering Garret’s instructions, he headed left, keeping to the shadows of the buildings, followed by his train of assistants.


In this light all the buildings looked the same: big and lumpy, just like the description. The girl seemed to have left out the part about all the other buildings just like it.... Again Obi-Wan would have to trust his feelings. He closed his eyes and stretched out with the Force, using it as a window into the storehouses. Food, technical equipment, medical supplies--here his mind lingered. It would be so easy.... But he knew he had to keep his mind on the task at hand. He probed further. Cleaning supplies, droid maintenance. Weapons. Fifth to the right.


He moved again and the others followed. Then they heard the tramping of boots as the guard came up on his nightly rounds. The rebels noiselessly scattered, hiding themselves in ditches and doorways. Crouching by the side of a storehouse, Obi-Wan reached out to the guard’s mind, clouding it with a gentle application of the Force. The guard shook his head and yawned, then continued groggily down the street and disappeared from view. Obi-Wan released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.


One by one his troop emerged from the darkness and rejoined him. Then they headed onwards. Obi-Wan stopped them in front of the weapons storage building. One man tugged on his sleeve and gave him a look. Obi-Wan read his thoughts clearly: //How do you know this is the one?//


//I’m a Jedi,// answered Obi-Wan in the man’s mind. //Trust me.// The man looked startled and confused, but he did not complain again. Obi-Wan examined the lock on the door mentally. A security code was needed, as well as an iris check. He might be able to bypass it, but it would take far too long. There was an alarm, too, to prevent hot-wiring. He cursed silently. This would be more difficult than he had anticipated.


“Hide,” he whispered to the others. In less than two seconds they were gone. Obi[Wan stepped into the middle of the street, trying to shake the feeling that this was suicide, and softly cleared his throat. It wasn’t long before he heard the footsteps of the guard returning, this time at a run. The guard saw him immediately and took aim. He reached for his comlink, his blaster still trained on Obi-Wan.


“You don’t need to call for reinforcements,” said Obi-Wan gently, moving his right hand a fraction of an inch. The guard placed his comlink back in his vest pocket, looking bewildered. “I’m not a threat,” said Obi-Wan. The guard seemed to consider for a while, then returned his blaster to its holster.


“You’re not a threat,” he agreed, staring transfixed into Obi-Wan’s intense blue eyes.


“I would like to inspect the weapon supply,” suggested the Padawan, moving his hand again.


“Would you like to inspect the weapons supply?” asked the guard, punching a code into the number panel beside the door. His irises were scanned and the door slid open with a small “whoosh.” Obi-Wan thanked the guard, then calmly pinched a nerve in the back of his neck. The guard swayed and slumped to the ground, unconscious.


Obi-Wan waved and the rebels emerged again and slipped into the storehouse. Moments later they came out again, each carrying several blasters and a few detonators. Obi-Wan in turn took an armful of weaponry and closed the door quietly behind him.


It was difficult to move silently with a pile of weaponry in tow, but somehow they managed it. They wove through the streets and passages without incident, but Obi-Wan thought he could feel watchful eyes focused on his party. He hoped it was only his imagination.


As they again entered the cavern, they were nearly knocked down by a rush of sound as the rebels cheered. The weapons were distributed to the adults, and Obi-Wan could feel an increase in confidence and hope from the group. Again he moved to the center of the room and ignited his lightsaber. The crowd sobered.


“It’s been a good night,” said Obi-Wan. Cheers from the crowd punctuated it. “But it’s only the beginning. Tomorrow night I’ll take another group for food and medical supplies. For now, you can rest, but I’ll need a few people to go get some food from the other hideouts.” Once again there was a stream of volunteers. Obi-Wan quieted them with a gesture. “I don’t really care who goes, as long as you can stay safe and quiet. Bring as much food as you can, then we’ll deal out rations.”


Enthusiastically, the people departed. Obi-Wan walked back over to Qui-Gon’s mattress. He was buffeted by congratulatory slaps on the back, but he focused only on Qui-Gon.


Finally, he broke through the throng and knelt by his Master’s side, ordering away his admirers. Qui-Gon had gotten worse. His breath rasped unevenly and he shook as if from cold. Obi-Wan took off his full brown robe and wrapped it around Qui-Gon’s shoulders, hoping it would offer some warmth. He gently brushed a strand of hair back from where it had fallen into the Jedi’s face.


Obi-Wan was frightened. If Qui-Gon, with a Jedi’s healing powers, couldn’t fend off the fever and infection, they must indeed be serious. It was clear Qui-Gon couldn’t hold out much longer. Obi-Wan examined the wound again. It hadn’t gotten much worse, but it was not healing. He wished he could go out for the medical supplies then, but the sun was probably already rising, and he could not risk the trip in daylight. A growing feeling of hopelessness took him as he applied more disinfectant and a fresh bandage. What good would the people’s freedom be if Qui-Gon couldn’t see it?


//Stop being selfish,// he reprimanded himself. //Your duty is to save these people. It would be your duty even if Qui-Gon hadn’t told you to.//


The scouts were coming back with food now and many approached him first, offering him the best of what they had. Obi-Wan refused it reluctantly, saying he would take the same amount as the rest of them. //That was probably a lie,// he realized with amazement. It was not a Jedi’s nature to lie. When he got back to the Temple he’d have to spend a few days meditating, reestablishing his bond with the Light Side of the Force.


He focused on waking Qui-Gon again. It pained him to do it. It was obvious consciousness was torture for Qui-Gon, but he could not let his Master starve. It was a struggle just to reach him. Gently Obi-Wan began to pull the conscious part of Qui-Gon forward through the chaos of the fever. His grip on his Master was slippery, but he hung on ferociously, beginning to realize that more was at stake in this struggle than he thought. Qui-Gon had retreated far into the back of his mind in an attempt to fight the injury and sickness from within.


Qui-Gon’s battle for life had forced him back further and further until he was just barely hanging on to his corporeal self. If Obi-Wan couldn’t pull him back he would be torn from his body altogether. He would die. Obi-Wan threw himself into the effort, holding on desperately to Qui-Gon’s mind, lending him strength. He felt Qui-Gon sense him and draw on the Padawan’s power. It was an eternity before Obi-Wan felt the fever begin to lose its grip on his Master.


He came back to reality with a jerk. He was trembling from exhaustion and his clothes clung to him with sweat. He looked at Qui-Gon and Qui-Gon looked back. Obi-Wan nearly collapsed with relief. The fever had broken and the worst was finally over. Now Qui-Gon would have the strength to heal the blaster wound, at least partially.


The Jedi Master smiled at Obi-Wan. “Thank you, Padawan.” He was pale and his voice hoarse, but at least he was breathing more easily.


“I’ll go and get you your dinner, Master.” Minutes later Obi-Wan returned with a plate of salted meat and reconstituted vegetables. With both allotted portions together it made a fairly passable meal. Qui-Gon ate with refreshing appetite, though still not able to use his left arm to hold the plate.


“And you, Obi-Wan?” he asked after he had finished.


“Oh, I... uh... already had all I’m going to have.” He caught Corena watching him from the corner of his eye. He glanced at her and she turned away.


Qui-Gon nodded. Either he hadn’t picked up on Obi-Wan’s hesitation or he dismissed it as being due to stress.


“How is the rebellion progressing?” Qui-Gon asked.


“We’ve already armed ourselves and tonight I’m taking a party out to get food and medical supplies. I’m pretty sure the Government knows we have the weapons by now, but I don’t think they’ll be able to find us.”


No sooner had he said it than he heard blaster fire in the tunnel outside, proving him wrong. In one fluid motion he was on his feet, pushing his way through panicked crowds to the door. As soon as his way was clear, he ignited his lightsaber and ran full speed towards the tunnel entrance.


His legs were slightly wobbly from lack of food and sleep, but determination and adrenaline lent him strength. He burst through the door into the dark tunnel and was greeted with a shower of blaster fire. His lightsaber wove in intricate patterns, and not a single bolt got past it.


He looked around for the four rebel guards who had been posted at the door. Only one was still alive, firing one-handed, the other dangling uselessly at his side. Obi-Wan moved to stand in front of him, shielding him as he fired at the soldiers. Obi-Wan couldn’t be quite sure how many enemy soldiers there were, but they were dropping steadily.


Eventually there were only three, then two, then one, then that one fell and Obi-Wan deactivated his lightsaber. He put an arm around the rebel who had fought beside him, supporting most of his weight. The two of them limped back inside.


No one made a sound. A hundred faces were turned to Obi-Wan, their expressions grim and eyes fearful. The Padawan lowered his compatriot onto the floor so the man could sit with his back against the wall.


“Garret?” he called. The rebel stepped forward. “We have to leave,” he said softly. “Can we afford to wait for nightfall?”


“Have to,” replied Garret. “We can’t just parade through the streets in the middle of the day, y’know.”


“How long do you think it’ll take?”


“I dunno. An hour for all the people, maybe. One and a half if you wanna take supplies.”


“I don’t think we’ll have that much time. They’ll send more forces before long. Is there anywhere we can go before nightfall that doesn’t involve leaving the tunnels?”


“One place,” answered Garret thoughtfully, “but it won’t take ‘em long to find it if they found this one.”


“That’s all right. All we have to do is stop them from finding us before it gets dark. After that we can move to a safer place.”


Garret seemed to consider the plan for a while, then he nodded sharply.


“Good,” said Obi-Wan. “go ahead and take the first group there. Get the children and the elderly first. Then we’ll start evacuating the wounded.”


Garret saluted sarcastically and went to gather the first group. Obi-Wan returned to Qui-Gon and was surprised to find his Master still conscious.


“We’ve begun evacuation, Master,” he said, sitting down stiffly. “I’m afraid we’ll have to move again after dark. I fear for some of the more seriously injured. The move will not be easy for them; the mattresses are too much trouble to carry safely and quickly, and we don’t have any stretchers. I’m afraid we’ll have to carry them.” He paused. “Do you think you’ll be all right, Master?”


Qui-Gon laughed briefly, but it sounded more like a cough. “Don’t worry, Padawan,” he said, touching Obi-Wan’s arm reassuringly. “Now that the fever’s broken, I’ll be fine. Get the others out first. I’m in no hurry.” Obi-Wan hoped the hint of doubt in his Master’s voice was just a figment of his own stress and overactive imagination.


“Yes, Garret?” he said without turning around as he sensed the rebel’s presence behind him.


Garret jumped a little but recovered hastily. “We’re done with the first batch. How d’you want us to handle the hurt ones?”


Obi-Wan stood up and swayed from a brief spell of dizziness. He shook his head to clear it. “We can’t take the beds, so we’ll have to carry them. Get at least five carriers per person and make sure they’re slow and careful. I don’t want to lose anyone before we have a chance to get medical supplies. I’ll be along in a minute to help.”


Obi-Wan bent down to Qui-Gon again as the rebel left. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?” he asked.


“I’ll be fine, Obi-Wan. I promise.”


And that was that. Obi-Wan went to carry out the others with the knowledge in his heart that Qui-Gon had given his word, and his Master never broke a promise.


Over the next few hours, Obi-Wan kept busy giving orders and helping to evacuate the wounded as fast as possible, sometimes helping to carry, sometimes using the Force to keep the seriously injured in stable condition as they were carried out. His muscles ached and he was giddy with hunger and fatigue, but he kept going until only Qui-Gon remained in the cavern. The Jedi was asleep again, breathing slightly faster than he should have been. Obi-Wan had to remind himself that although the worst was over, Qui-Gon was far from healed. There was still the torn muscle and shattered bone to be contended with, as well as the infection.


Qui-Gon moaned slightly as Obi-Wan and a few other volunteers lifted him and carried him through the twisting passageways to a neighboring cavern, much like the one they had left, only slightly smaller. Since they had left the beds behind out of necessity, they laid Qui-Gon on the hard floor.


Since everyone was tired and irritable, Obi-Wan ordered an hour-long break. Everyone was to sleep if they could and tend to the wounded if they could not. He and Garret decided to take guard duty. Obi-Wan was surprised at Garret’s willingness to participate, but he decided not to bring it up.


They stood in silence for a while in the passageway.


“So,” said Obi-Wan, just for the sake of making a little noise and keeping himself awake, “do you actually think this might work?”


Garret was startled. “I dunno,” he mused after another pause. “You’ve done pretty good so far, Jedi, but we’re a long way from independence.” He said the last word scornfully, like he was talking about a silly childhood ambition.


“Why are you so skeptical?” queried Obi-Wan, annoyed. “You’re so determined not to get hopeful. Why?” He knew it was tactless, but he was tired and hungry and sore, and it made him reckless.


“None of your business, Jedi,” Garret snapped. “You may think you live the tough life, but you’re wrong. You haven’t been here.” He exhaled through clenched teeth. “You wanna know what my real name is?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “Brehan Pollo Ch’Andri.” He leaned against the wall, frowning hostilly into the darkness, daring Obi-Wan to reply.


The Padawan was stunned. He groped for words but found none. His mind was racing to make sense of what he had just heard. Garret related to Yemil Ch’Andri, ambassador of the Central Government?


“How?” he breathed.


Garret scowled at him. “She’s my sister,” he muttered. “Two years ago she married Kadden Badir. She kept her name, I changed mine.”


Obi-Wan nodded. Kadden Badir. The head of the Callodas Three Central Government. Things were beginning to make sense. “So that’s why she has so much power.” He had wondered ever since he arrived why the name Ch’Andri seemed to be associated with everything that went on.


“Yeah,” said Garret somberly. “I guess you could kind of call her the power behind the throne. Not even behind, anymore, really.”


“Is that why you’re reluctant to fight?”


“I know my own sister, Jedi!” he snapped. “She’s one of the smartest people on the planet. You may think she’s been making mistakes, but she hasn’t. Trust me, if you’re still alive it’s because she wants you to be. And when she wants you dead, you will be. That’s the way she works. So don’t get your hopes up too high.”


Obi-Wan was silent. This was too much for him. He had a headache. He was starting to feel the effects of the punishment he was asking his body to bear in the form of dizziness and nausea. Now, on top of all that, he had to deal with the knowledge that he was allied with his enemy’s own brother, and that brother was sure they would fail in their attempt to win freedom. Obi-Wan sat down wearily, rubbing his temples.


“You okay?” asked Garret, sounding like he didn’t particularly care. He probably didn’t, reflected Obi-Wan.


“No,” answered Obi-Wan honestly.


“Oh.”


There was another awkward silence. Eventually, Obi-Wan wrestled his stress and frustration down to a manageable level. “So why aren’t you at the Palace, too?” he asked.


“I was for a while,” the rebel answered. It was obviously hard for him to make this confession, and Obi-Wan didn’t pressure him about it, but maintained respectful but interested silence.


“When Yemil married, I was offered a position as an Advisor. I took it. For a while it was fine, but then Yemil started making Badir pull for complete monarchy. She worked fast, but she was smart enough not to be obvious. It only took half a year for Yemil to get rid of the power the lower classes had. And Badir just went right along with it, curse him. I tried to make him see what he was doing, but the minute I got to protesting, Yemil kicked me out. I tried to start a rebellion, just like you’re doing, Jedi. That was stupid. It gave Yemil an excuse to send out the army. Half of us were killed. The rest hid out for a while. We dug these passages ourselves so we’d have a place to go. I dunno why it took Yemil so long to find out about them. Maybe she thought we wouldn’t be a threat. Maybe she was right.”


“So you’re the rebel leader she talked about,” said Obi-Wan.


Garret snorted. “Not much of one. I gave up after the first time. If she talked about a rebel leader, Jedi, it was just to get you and your boss off guard. Maybe get your hopes up.”


“I’m not going to stop trying, Garret,” said Obi-Wan. “I promised I would free you and I will, or die trying.”


“Probably,” said Garret. “So what’s your next move gonna be?”


Obi-Wan bristled at the scorn in Garret’s voice. “Well, since the evacuation will probably take most of the night if we have to be careful--which we will--I’ll have to wait till tomorrow night to steal food and medical supplies. After that we’ll rest for a week and work on battle training and healing the injured. After that, we attack the Palace.”


“It was nice knowing you,” said the rebel. “For a Jedi you’re awfully dim.”


“I’m only an Apprentice,” said Obi-Wan with exaggerated modesty.


“Why am I not surprised?”


“Look, Garret, I know it’s a stupid move. That’s why I’m making it. Ch’Andri--Yemil, that is--won’t expect that from a Jedi. I may be able to at least surprise her a little. At the moment I’ll take any advantage I can get.”


“That’s not the only reason, is it?” asked Garret slyly.


“No,” said the Padawan softly. “I want to get him out of here as fast as I can. Call me selfish, but in the long run I think he’s more important to me than anything else.”


“How touching,” said Garret dryly.


Obi-Wan was peeved. He had just revealed his innermost feelings to the man, and Garret had only sarcasm to give. Obi-Wan couldn’t understand why he had told Garret at all, or, for that matter, why Garret had revealed to him all he had.


“Garret?” he asked tentatively.


“Hm?”


“Why did you tell me? About, you know...”


“Because I don’t want you to be as stupid as I was. I guess I’m still being dumb thinking you’ll listen to me. You really don’t know Yemil, though. Just trying to save lives, that’s all I’m doing.”


Obi-Wan was getting sick of this. Abruptly, he leapt to his feet and took Garret by the shoulders, staring straight into his eyes.


“Listen,” he said roughly. “Frankly, I don’t care what you think. Neither do those people in there, and most of them were here the first time. We’re going to storm the Palace, and we’re going to win this war. So stop being so damned pessimistic.” He released Garret and leaned defiantly against the wall, staring straight ahead and fuming silently.


Garret did not reply. Obi-Wan could feel the rebel’s eyes on him, confused and angry. The Padawan didn’t care. The tension built for many long minutes until the door opened and light and sound spilled into the passageway. A small, thin face stared out. Obi-Wan recognized the girl who had directed them to the weapon storehouse.


“Um, Mr. Kenobi, sir?” she asked shyly.


“Yes?” he said, trying to keep his voice calm and soft.


“It’s been an hour, sir. Can we go yet?”


Obi-Wan smiled in spite of himself. “Yes,” he said, casting a sharp glance at Garret, “we’ll start at once. Just let me check outside and make sure it’s dark enough.”


The child grinned and disappeared, closing the door behind her. Obi-Wan headed down the passage, weaving through the labyrinth of tunnels towards the door to the outside world. He heard Garret’s quiet footfalls behind him.


“I’m not going to get lost, you know,” he said over his shoulder.


“Just making sure,” replied Garret. “A nerf-head like you isn’t safe to trust with finding his own head in the dark, usually.”


“Shut up, Garret.” He felt the rebel smirk.


CHAPTER SEVEN


Obi-Wan returned to the rebels with his heart pounding in excitement. Outside, the stars had come out and the only light was a faint grayness in the west. It was time to move. The little girl met him at the door, her huge gray eyes ablaze.


“Is it time?” she piped, barely able to control her excitement.


“Yes,” said Obi-Wan, trying to set a good example with a calm facade. “Just let me make a quick announcement, then we’ll go.”


She tugged on his sleeve as he turned to go. “When we do, will you walk with me?”


The question caught Obi-Wan by surprise. He looked down at the child, who stared back with hopeful enthusiasm. He couldn’t see how it would hurt, and he hated to disappoint the one genuinely cheerful person he had to talk to.


“All right,” he said kindly. “I’ll be back in just a minute.”


As he entered the cavern, a path was cleared for him to the middle of the crowd. It was scarcely necessary to use the lightsaber, but he felt it was expected. As he held the glowing beacon over his head, a subdued and worried silence fell.


Obi-Wan swallowed, still not quite accustomed to being the center of so many people’s attention.


“It’s time for the big evacuation,” he said. “This is probably going to be the most difficult part of this rebellion. We’ll have to stay perfectly quiet because we’ll be leaving the tunnels for a time. We’ll also have to keep out of sight. I’ve been told we can have everyone moved in only an hour or two, but we can’t afford to; we’re going to take our time and concentrate on not getting caught. The move will probably take all night, but we *cannot* allow ourselves to get clumsy. Where’s Garret?” The rebel stepped forward.


“This man will show you where to go.” He glanced pointedly at Garret, who bowed mockingly. “You are to obey him implicitly and can trust him with your lives. We will operate the same way we did this morning. In five minutes Garret and I will take the first group. Meet us at the door.”


As the crowd began to assemble their children and elderly, Obi-Wan and Garret walked back to the door side by side.


“Are you up to this?” asked Obi-Wan abruptly.


“I guess I’d better be,” said Garret. “You didn’t give me much of a choice.”


“That’s because I knew how you would have chosen if I had,” replied Obi-Wan curtly.


“If we both survive this, I’m going to beat the Force right outa you, Jedi,” snarled Garret.


“You’re welcome to try. I’m glad to see you becoming so optimistic about this.”


“What do you mean?”


“Well, pardon me if I’m mistaken, but yesterday I don’t believe you would even have considered our survival.”


“Shut up,” Garret grumbled.


In spite of himself, Obi-Wan smirked.


The little girl met them at the door. One by one other children appeared along with a few old women and men. Briefly, Obi-Wan caught sight of Corena, who smiled at him. When the last of the group had appeared, Obi-Wan gathered them together.


“This is the plan,” he said, careful to speak slowly and clearly for the benefit of some of the older refugees. “We’ll all go together to the end of the passages. At that point, Garret and I will take three or four of you at a time to our new camp. It is vital that during that part of the evacuation that everyone do exactly as ordered and stay perfectly silent, even those who are waiting. It will be tedious, but please try to be patient and stay still once you’re at the door. Let’s go.”


He led the way down the tunnels, falling unconsciously into step with Garret, who looked at him with a look of what might almost have been approval.


Obi-Wan felt an eddy in the Force and looked down as the little girl grabbed his hand. He had never really noticed before, but the girl almost radiated Force potential.


“Um, how old are you, er...” He had also never learned her name, he realized.


“I’m KeRaad,” she said proudly, “and I’m eight years old.”


//Too bad,// he thought. //If the Council had found her two years ago, she could have been trained. She would have made a good Jedi.//


Aloud he said, “I’m pleased to meet you, KeRaad. I’m Obi-Wan Kenobi, but you already knew that. You can call me Obi-Wan if you like,” he added, trying to sound calm and mature, but feeling very awkward; he had never been very good with children, even when he had been one himself. “Where are your parents?” He asked casually, then regretted it immediately as the girl’s thin shoulders sagged and her eyes went dark.


“Oh,” said Obi-Wan. “I’m sorry.” He didn’t know what else to say. He had never expected that the girl would be an orphan. Her parents must have been killed in the last attempt at rebellion . He groped for words, but nothing appropriate came to mind. He wondered if he should bend down and embrace the child or if she would rather he just left her alone for awhile. Obi-Wan squeezed the little hand in his, hoping it would serve as a comforting gesture.


“It’s okay,” she said after a while, even though they both knew it wasn’t. She tried to smile and change the subject.


“What’s it like being a Jedi?” she asked, wiping her eyes.


“Well, it’s ... it’s kind of hard to explain,” he stuttered. He hated that question. He’d been asked it many times by many people, but the could never find the words to describe it. “It’s like having another pair of eyes. You can see what can happen in the future and what people are thinking. You also ... well, you’ve heard of the Force?” She nodded. “That’s like ... like being connected to everything and everyone, especially yourself. We’re taught to use the Force only to help people or defend ourselves, because you can’t have a power that great without great responsibility.” He’d have to remember that one for the next time someone asked The Question. “We’re trained to be in tune with the Force so we can use it and obey it.”


“You mean it tells you what to do?”


“In a way,” he said, awkwardly. “the Force has ... an idea of what the future should be, I suppose. The Jedi are here to make sure the right things happen so the future turns out right ... um, sort of.”


“So you control peoples’ lives?”


“No!” Obi-Wan felt hopeless. “We just ... do what we can to follow the path the Force lays out for us, and advise people to take the wisest course of action for them; we cannot control other people’s lives; we take vows against it.


“Besides, the will of the Force is that good is done and things stay balanced, not that people get into trouble or do things that aren’t good for them.”


“So what does the Force want me to do?” asked KeRaad, eyeing Obi-Wan testily.


“Um ...” he said, “well, I guess it wants you to do what you know is right.”


“That’s stupid,” said the girl moodily. “I already knew that.”


“Then I guess you’re already doing what the Force wants you to do.” Obi-Wan realized he’d better change the subject before he dug himself into an even deeper hole. With a pang of remorse he wished Qui-Gon were there.


“So, um,” he began desperately. What kind of thing would interest a little girl, he wondered. “What kind of music do you like?”


//Lame, Obi-Wan,// he scolded himself. //Very lame.//


“Can I see your laser sword?” she asked, completely ignoring his question.


“Uh, no. No. It’s too dangerous. Sorry.” He would have to try again. “Ever been to another planet?”


“No,” she answered quickly. “Are you a slave?”


“What?” That one had taken him completely off guard.


“Well, you said you have a master, so you must be a slave.”


Obi-Wan chuckled nervously. “No, I’m not a slave. I’m an Apprentice. My Master is the person who teaches me everything I need to know in order to be a Master myself someday. I go everywhere with him and he instructs me.”


“Oh.” Finally KeRaad seemed satisfied.


“Well, we’re close to the exit now, so we’d best stop talking. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, KeRaad.” He bowed politely.


“It’s been a pleasure, Obi-Wan,” she said solemnly and bowed back. Obi-Wan fought the urge to smile.


The party stopped at the door. Not a word was spoken as Obi-Wan picked out four children, KeRaad among them, to make the first trip. He leaned over to Garret.


“You lead,” he whispered. “I’ll bring up the rear.”


Garret nodded and slowly pushed open the door. The world outside was nearly pitch black and completely silent. Cautiously, the group stepped out into the cool night air and began weaving their way slowly through the streets.


Obi-Wan stretched out around them with the Force, searching for guards who might be a threat. There were only a few nearby, and Obi-Wan delicately touched their minds, directing their attention away from the rebels.


Garret led them onward for several minutes, pausing occasionally to get his bearings. Soon they came to the door of a small dilapidated house. Garret climbed the front steps in a low crouch, motioning for the rest of them to stop. Obi-Wan watched curiously as Garret’s fingers searched the side of the doorframe. Obi-Wan saw Garret’s hand pause and twist slightly, as though he were turning a key or knob.


An eternity passed, then the door opened a fraction of an inch. It had been hard for Obi-Wan to adjust to non-electric doors, but he was slowly growing accustomed to the swinging motion and the crack of light appearing from the side of the frame instead of the middle or bottom. //One thing I can say for them,// he thought, //is that they’re certainly quiet.//


Garret whispered something into the crack and the door opened wider. They were all ushered inside. As soon as the door closed behind them, they were greeted by a bearded middle-aged man who embraced Garret warmly.


“My cousin,” explained Garret. They were shown down a dusty flight of stairs and into a low-ceilinged basement that stretched out much farther than the perimeter of the house above.


“How do you know this is safe?” asked Obi-Wan. “It seems a little obvious.”


“I don’t,” answered Garret. “But my cousin’s pretty smart -- almost as smart as my sister. Plus, he’s on pretty good terms with the Government, and he’s got some good connections. We’re safer here than we are anywhere else.”


“Good enough, I suppose,” said Obi-Wan. “You stay here with the children. I’ll go back for the next group.”


“You sure you won’t get lost or something?”


“Trust me. I’m a Jedi.”


“Fine. Turn the key behind the doorframe when you get back.”


Obi-Wan left musing. He’d like to get to know this cousin of Garret’s; anyone who could get away with hugging Garret had to be quite a person.



Throughout the night, Obi-Wan and Garret took turns escorting various groups of rebels into the safety of the cousin’s basement. Obi-Wan didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he was weakening. His excited energy had long since run out and his steps became less sure as the night wore on. He was dizzy, his stomach ached with hunger, and the faces of his allies tended to blur before his eyes.


Still, the Padawan forced himself on, making himself be careful and keep his constant connection to the Force. Somehow he kept going, guiding the rebels to their new fortress, keeping them silent and calm even though he had to consciously force his breathing to be quiet and even.


It was a struggle to evacuate the wounded quietly. Many threatened to give them away with groans as they were carried awkwardly through the rough streets. Obi-Wan walked beside them, calming them with the Force, asking them silently to be still and quiet until they could reach the shelter.


Eventually, although it seemed an eternity, the wounded rebels were safely hidden and Obi-Wan returned to the cave for Qui-Gon. He went alone, for the others had spent the night in fear and deserved a rest.


Obi-Wan smothered a yawn as he hoisted his Master onto his shoulders. This time Qui-Gon remained conscious, although the tightness of his muscles told Qui-Gon that the Jedi was still in great pain. Even so, the Padawan felt extra Force-strength filling him as he staggered under Qui-Gon’s weight. He plodded doggedly through the streets, scarcely bothering to be silent. He focused only on putting one foot in front of the other and breathing deeply.


Suddenly, Qui-Gon shouted a warning into Obi-Wan’s mind, and the Padawan heard booted feet approaching rapidly from all directions. He must have stumbled or scuffed his boot heel against the pavement without noticing. He was still too far away from the refuge to make it in time, even if he could run, which he doubted, and he was too weary to win if he fought. His only remaining choice was to hide himself and Qui-Gon until they could escape.


Obi-Wan set Qui-Gon down in the deep shadow beside a nearby porch and pasted himself up against the adjoining wall, wrapping his cloak around him to hide his pale warrior’s robes. His breathing was heavy and loud and he struggled to control it while Qui-Gon mentally shielded them, throwing the approaching guards psychic hints that they should search the other side of the street first.


Obi-Wan’s mind raced as the soldiers began searching. He didn’t think he could get himself and Qui-Gon off the street without being seen or heard, and he couldn’t stay hidden much longer. Maybe he could manage a distraction that would divert the guards to another street and give himself time to escape with his Master. His heart sank. Even with his full powers, it would have been difficult, but in his current state it was impossible.


He was about to give up and let himself be taken and hope someone would notice his absence and send a search party. Then at least Qui-Gon would be safe. He drew a deep breath, and his hand went to his lightsaber. He would not be captured or killed without a fight. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder.


Obi-Wan froze and slowly looked over to see who it was that stood beside him. It was Garret. Obi-Wan could have wept for sheer relief. With Garret there, he might have a chance.


//Garret, can you distract them?// he asked into the rebel’s mind.


Garret looked at Obi-Wan, at Qui-Gon, at the troops drawing constantly closer. He seemed for a while to be absorbed in an internal struggle of some sort. Then his face hardened.


“You’re on your own, Jedi,” he whispered. “I like my life.” And then he was gone.


Obi-Wan watched, stunned, as the soldiers came closer, trying to pinpoint the source of the whispers the Padawan knew they had heard.


Garret had betrayed him. He repeated it over in his mind, not quite able to understand it fully. Garret had been given a chance to help him, and he had not. //I shouldn’t be surprised,// he thought. //Garret never was one to value anyone’s life over his own safety.// He felt bitterness threatening to overwhelm him and forced it down. Garret was gone. He would have to live with the fact and somehow rescue himself and Qui-Gon without the rebel’s help.


A blinding light shone into Obi-Wan’s face and he knew it was too late. He rolled sideways, igniting his lightsaber as he came up. Surprisingly, there was no blaster fire. He blinked away the spots in front of his eyes and saw to his left a soldier gripping Qui-Gon around the neck, a blaster pointed at the Master’s temple. The rest of the soldiers simply watched, waiting for Obi-Wan to act.


Qui-Gon’s face was composed, but from the tightness of his Master’s lips and eyes, Obi-Wan could tell the soldier was hurting him terribly.


//Padawan,// said a voice in Obi-Wan’s mind, //the people need you. Even if it means I die, you must lead them.//


“No, Master,” said Obi-Wan aloud. He was a Jedi Padawan. His loyalties were with his Master. He extinguished his lightsaber and laid it on the ground at his feet.


The soldier holding Qui-Gon, who Obi-Wan took to be the captain, smiled crookedly. “Blasters on stun,” she said. The troops cocked their weapons, twisting the little knobs on the sides to the stun setting. They took aim and, as one, pulled the triggers. Obi-Wan’s mind cried out in despair, then the world went black. He never felt himself hit the ground.


CHAPTER EIGHT


Obi-Wan awoke slowly. His head was pounding, his throat was horribly dry, every muscle in his body ached, and his hands and feet tingled unpleasantly. He opened his eyes tentatively, then closed them against the light. //Great,// he thought, //now my eyes hurt too.//


There was someone else in the room. He had glimpsed her briefly and could feel her presence faintly. It was Yemil Ch’Andri.


“Your soldiers could have killed me,” he said hoarsely, keeping his eyes shut.


“So sorry,” she answered, making it obvious she wasn’t.


“Why was it necessary that they all shoot me?” he asked, wishing desperately for a glass of water.


“I can’t afford to take chances, Jedi.”


Obi-Wan winced. So like her brother.


“Garret sends his regards,” he managed.


“Still sore about him deserting you?” she said, picking up the bitterness in his voice.


Obi-Wan opened his eyes again, squinting against the light. He wondered if it was that bright on purpose. //Probably,// he reflected.


“Surprised, Jedi?” she asked with a smirk. “I assure you, Garret is very loyal; he followed my instructions to the letter.”


“I don’t believe you,” said Obi-Wan, trying to keep his voice strong and level.


“Suit yourself,” she said easily, still smiling.


Obi-Wan’s eyes had adjusted to the light and the fog in his mind was slowly clearing.


“Where’s Qui-Gon?” he demanded, still not daring to sit up.


“Ah, now we get down to business,” she said, and her smile disappeared, replaced by a mock sorrow. “I’d hoped we might have had a little more leisure time, but you Jedi are always so persistent.” She sighed heavily. “Ah, well. I suppose there’s no avoiding it. You see, my dear young Kenobi” --Obi-Wan flinched at the way she pronounced his name, as though he were an insect-- “your Master is in a cell halfway across the Palace. I’m afraid he put up quite a struggle when you were, ah ... sedated. My soldiers, of course, are trained to fight back--just like you, Jedi-- and I’m afraid they outdid themselves that time.” Her voice trailed off wistfully.


“What have you done to Qui-Gon?” said Obi-Wan, an edge to his voice. “If you’ve killed him....”


“Oh, no!” interrupted the ambassador. “No, he’s certainly not dead, but in order for him to remain that way, I’ll need a little cooperation from you.”


Obi-Wan sighed and closed his eyes again. He had been expecting something like this.


“I want to see him,” said Obi-Wan. “I need proof before I cooperate.”


“It’s a long walk,” Ch’Andri said, with false concern. Her sarcasm was beginning to get on Obi-Wan’s nerves.


“I don’t care,” said the Padawan, forcing himself to sit up. His muscles protested, his right arm seizing up as he used it to steady himself. The pounding in his head resumed with vigor and he felt dizzy and nauseous, but somehow he kept his face neutral and his eyes fixed on the face of the woman before him.


She looked him over quickly. “Very well,” she said dryly. “Follow me.” She typed something into a datapad she produced from a pocket in her robe and the opaque containment field around the cell flickered and disappeared. The ambassador rose and strode out of the cell, never looking back.


Obi-Wan struggled to his feet, noticing that his boots had been taken along with his cloak and utility belt. The floor was cold marble and stung his feet, numbing his toes. His knees were weak and every step sent a shock of pain up his legs and back, but at least walking restored his circulation a little.


He caught up with Yemil Ch’Andri, limping a little. He might have imagined it, but it seemed she quickened her pace slightly. He matched it defiantly. He understood then why she had ordered all the soldiers to fire: if he had been stronger he could have attacked her, maybe gotten his lightsaber back and escaped. As it was he could barely walk and his headache kept him from reaching out to the Force. He had to admit, it was a good plan; she didn’t even need to tie his hands.


They walked in silence for nearly half an hour before Ch’Andri stopped at a large armored door and pulled out the datapad again. She typed in a code and the door slid open, clanging into place overhead. Obi-Wan looked into a wide corridor, lined with containment fields on either side. He could see the forms of restless prisoners inside, although they could not see him.


The ambassador led him down the hallway, looking neither left nor right. At the end of the corridor she typed on the datapad again and a small door opened in front of her. It closed behind Obi-Wan, but he didn’t notice.


Instead he stared fixedly at a wide cell in front of him, blocked by a forcefield. There was a stone slab in the back, and upon it was Qui-Gon. The Master was asleep, one arm dangling off the slab on which he lay. The forcefield blurred Obi-Wan’s vision of his Master, but he could see clearly enough the blood and bruises covering Qui-Gon’s face and arms and the dark stains on his robes. He had clearly been beaten viciously and looked close to death.


Obi-Wan’s anger was growing strong, threatening to control him. He almost let it, tasting for a moment the power it could give him. But he could not let the Dark Side influence him, even to save Qui-Gon, and he ruthlessly suppressed it.


Then something caught his eye. In the corner of the room was a tall cylinder filled with a thick, slightly cloudy liquid: a bacta tank. Now he understood: in exchange for... something... from him, they would heal Qui-Gon.


The Padawan gritted his teeth. He would do it, no matter what it was, if it would save his Master.


Yemil Ch’Andri saw the determination in his face, and smiled smugly. “I see you understand the situation,” she said.


“What do you want from me?” he asked wearily. He already knew his life was forfeit, and was glad to give it for Qui-Gon’s sake. After all, he owed it to him.


“Don’t sound so depressed, Jedi,” she cooed. “I’m not going to ask you to do anything that will hurt you or your precious Master. All I want is an address.”


Obi-Wan was puzzled. An address? What could she want with that? Then it hit him.


“You want me to betray the rebels.” It was not a question, merely a statement of fact.


“Think about it, Jedi,” she said, suddenly serious. “His life for their location. They can at least fight back. How strong is this Master-Apprentice bond I’m always hearing about?” She stared at him expectantly.


“You lied,” he remarked. “If Garret really were a traitor you would know already.” He felt triumph, but it was quickly smothered as he realized fully what she had just asked him to do. She wanted him to forfeit a hundred lives. He couldn’t do that, but he also couldn’t let Qui-Gon die. He felt his heart was splitting in two. The choice should have been easy; he should have refused, choosing the lives of a hundred over the life of one, but he couldn’t bring himself to say the words.


Qui-Gon had always given his Padawan everything he had--devotion, friendship, fatherly love. Obi-Wan wouldn’t let his Master die. He couldn’t.


“Congratulations,” said Ch’Andri, jerking Obi-Wan out of his thoughts. “I wondered if you’d figure that out.”


What was she talking about? Oh, yes, Garret. Now he remembered. And he realized that if he chose Qui-Gon’s life, he would be the traitor, not Garret. But Qui-Gon’s face still haunted his mind.


“I...” he began. What would Qui-Gon think? He would surely be disappointed in his Padawan. Maybe he would even hate him for destroying the rebellion he had promised to lead. Obi-Wan knew he couldn’t live with his Master’s disapproval, but as long as Qui-Gon was alive, that was beside the point.


“I’ll show you where they are,” he whispered, although the words nearly tore him apart. He took a shaky breath, forcing back tears. “But first I want to see him healed.”


“Don’t you trust us?”


He shook his head absently. It was slightly better now that the decision had been made.


“So why should we trust you? I want a promise. I want your word as a Jedi.” She was ruthless.


//I’m sorry, Master,// he thought through the containment field. Then, out loud: “I promise.”


Obi-Wan was having trouble breathing. He had just, in essence, killed a hundred people who trusted him. He had betrayed Garret, Corena, the little girl KeRaad... KeRaad. He had almost forgotten her, but he knew she could save them, if he let her.


Her connection to the Force had startled him when he met her. Maybe he could use it to reach her and warn her of the danger. Even so, Garret probably wouldn’t listen to her if she tried to tell him, but at least Obi-Wan had the hope of saving one life.


He knew he would have to enter a trance to have even the slightest hope of reaching her; their bond was not strong. It usually took the closeness of Master and Apprentice for long-distance psychic communication, but he had to try. His biggest problem lay in getting the chance. In his current state it would take a long time and a lot of work and concentration to reach a trance state, and somehow he suspected his captors did not intend to leave him alone for any length of time. Yet for the first time since his capture, Obi-Wan was beginning to feel a glimmer of hope.


He would at least have to wait until he was back in his cell to begin a trance. The Padawan’s thoughts returned to his Master. He turned to Ch’Andri.


“Heal him,” he commanded. “You have my word that I will lead you to the hideout.” Whether the rebels would be there when they arrived was a different matter....


Yemil Ch’Andri hesitated, thinking. “Agreed,” she said abruptly, and motioned to a couple of medic droids in the corner. The forcefield around Qui-Gon was released and Obi-Wan watched with a mix of worry and relief as the droids began preparing the bacta tank. He winced inwardly as Qui-Gon was stripped of his robes, revealing more bruises and cuts. It looked as though a few ribs had been broken, and the blaster wound had only gotten worse.


The oxygen mask was fitted over Qui-Gon’s nose and mouth and the droid medics eased him gently into the bacta juice. Obi-Wan released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. No matter what else happened next, Qui-Gon would recover.


“What will happen to him after you find the rebels?” he asked, even though he hoped all they would find was an empty basement in a deserted house.


“Why, you’ll both be released, of course. I’ll personally provide a transport for you back to Coruscant. For services rendered,” she added.


Obi-Wan nodded. She wanted to be there when the council found out about Obi-Wan’s betrayal of the rebels, to make sure no details were left out. But there would be no betrayal. He would not let all those innocent people die, nor would he give Yemil Ch’Andri the chance to gloat over him and the rest of the Jedi. Failure was not an option.


Ch’Andri, he felt, despite her sadistic streak, was an honorable woman. She would have to keep her word and release them. Then they could return to Coruscant and bring the situation before the Jedi Council, maybe even the Senate, and Callodas Three would gain its freedom.


Obi-Wan realized he was smiling as he was led back to his cell.




CHAPTER NINE


He found food and water waiting in his cell when he returned. He took both gratefully, and ate with an appetite born of neglect. There was just enough there to give him the energy he needed for the trance, he noticed happily. When he had cleaned his plate and drained his glass, he knelt in the center of the floor, his hands on his thighs, his eyes closed, and began focusing himself.


His head still ached and his muscles were cramped and sore. He breathed deeply, letting the calm energy of the Force relax him. There were a thousand little distractions he hadn’t noticed before: the almost inaudible buzz of the containment field, the watchful presences of the guards outside the cell, the weakness of his own body. He worked to push past these, embracing the Force completely until he was completely one with it.


He was unaware of passing time or of anything belonging to the world outside the Force. No emotions or physical sensations remained, nor could Obi-Wan ever remember a time when they had existed. He did, however, remember what he had to do. He stretched out, feeling the awarenesses of thousands of lifeforms around him, stretching out for one. He felt the pull of the Force exerted by the child KeRaad and allowed it to pull him in.


She had been searching for him, probably without realizing it. He gathered the energy of the Force around him and touched her mind. He felt surprise and fear. Obi-Wan let his calm flow into her, telling her not to be afraid.


“KeRaad,” he said mentally. She recognized him and cried out to him. “You are in danger,” he said. “You must evacuate again.” His energy was running out and the trance was slipping. He withdrew quickly from her mind so the breaking of the trance could not hurt her.


He was thrown violently back into his body as his concentration finally snapped. He was out of breath and only semi-conscious. He hadn’t anticipated the trance would be so long or so taxing, but he had succeeded. He only hoped his message had gotten through clearly and that Garret--or someone--would listen to KeRaad and evacuate before Obi-Wan and Ch’Andri arrived.


It had become a struggle just to keep his eyes open, so Obi-Wan gave in to sleep and dreamed of his Master’s face. It was frowning.


Obi-Wan awoke several hours later. All the old aches had returned and he was hungry again, but he knew there was hope, and it gave him strength. He waited for news of Qui-Gon, pacing slowly to loosen the muscles in his legs and back. He knew he was being watched still, but he could not see beyond the electric walls of his cell.


To his disappointment, he was given no more food. //It makes sense,// he thought. //If I get too strong I’ll be able to fight or escape. I can’t, of course, now that I’ve given my word, but I don’t suppose that means much to them.//


He began to think about what he would do once he and Qui-Gon were safely back at the Temple. He hadn’t realized how much he missed the Jedi Temple until now, with its air of ancient serenity. He missed the routine of life there and its dependability: wake, eat, meditate, exercise, eat again, study, meditate, lightsaber practice, eat again, meditate some more, wash, sleep.


He missed the people too. The other Padawans, the students, the Knights, the Masters with their ageless wisdom. He even found himself heartily missing Master Yoda’s sarcasm and biting criticism. Obi-Wan wondered if he could ever belong there again. He had, after all, agreed to betray a hundred oppressed innocents he had promised to lead. He had not acted out of fear or anger, but because he could not bear the responsibility for the death of his Master and, in part, because the Force had seemed to want it that way. Maybe the other Jedi would forgive him. He hoped he could forgive himself.


“Qui-Gon Jinn has recovered,” came a voice from the other side of the cell. Obi-Wan jumped. He hadn’t even noticed Ch’Andri come in. She was standing with her hands on her hips, radiating annoyance. She was flanked by two guards.


Obi-Wan tried to hide the hopeful, almost energetic expression on his face and keep his eyes dull and sad, but he was too late. The woman looked at him suspiciously, then motioned to her guards.


“You’re strong, Jedi,” she told him as his hands were bound securely behind his back, “but you shouldn’t get your hopes up; your precious Master isn’t safe yet.” He wondered what she meant by that, but didn’t say anything.


The guards dragged him roughly out of the cell. Obi-Wan noticed with pleasure that although he was still weak, the persistent headache and dizziness had subsided and the other effects of the multiple stun blasts were beginning to wear off. He kept his eyes downward and forced himself to limp slightly, but he had the distinct feeling that Yemil Ch’Andri was not fooled.


//Garret was right,// he thought. //She’s not just smart, she’s Force-sensitive. I’ll have to be careful.// He strengthened shields around his mind that he hadn’t even noticed erecting, hoping they would be enough to keep his thoughts from the ambassador.


“We’ll take you to your Master first, Jedi, just to prove we’ve kept our part of the bargain,” she sneered, all pretense of kindness gone.


“Then I will keep mine,” finished Obi-Wan for her. He wondered privately why she was suddenly so openly hostile. Probably just a bad mood. He wondered if there was anything he could do to make it worse; if he was lucky, anger might cause her to slip and betray something. If he wasn’t lucky... well, they couldn’t hurt him much -- they needed him to lead them to the rebels.


“Why do you need us?” he asked casually, still staring at the floor. “The Jedi, I mean. One would think you were almost afraid of Garret.”


Anger, this time. Ch’Andri stopped abruptly. “Listen, Jedi,” she hissed. “I am afraid of no one. You are here because I don’t like getting my hands dirty. Understood?” She turned and resumed walking, faster this time, making Obi-Wan struggle to keep up with her, helped along by the occasional shove from the guards who still had firm grips on his arms.


In spite of himself, Obi-Wan smirked. He had clearly hit a nerve. “If all you want is someone to do your dirty work for you, why take Jedi? Why not someone who couldn’t fight back?”


She glanced at him. “If that’s fighting back,” she said dryly, “I’m somewhat underwhelmed.”


He winced. She was right -- he hadn’t provided much resistance; he’d never really had the chance. “I did, however, kill several of your soldiers. I also armed your enemies and let them know they can still fight.”


“And how do you think they’ll react when they see their charismatic leader deliver them safely into the hands of their enemies? What about your Jedi honor then?”


Obi-Wan took a deep breath. It was tome to make his move. “This goes deeper than just a grudge against your brother, doesn’t it?” There was no reply. “Why do you want to hurt the Jedi so much?”


She stopped again, and took his chin roughly in her hand, forcing him to meet her gaze. “Let us get one thing straight,” she said quietly, carefully enunciating each word. “My motives are my own, and you *will* respect that if you value your life or your Master’s.” Her eyes bored into his, and for a moment her guard slipped slightly and he could see into her soul.


He staggered with the force of the pure hatred he saw there, mixed with anger and fear. He saw hints of old memories -- fire, death, unbearable pain. He looked deeper, unable to pull away.


A vicious blow to the cheekbone nearly knocked him to the floor, but the guards held him still. He saw stars floating in his peripheral vision, and his cheek and jaw smarted. He stared at the woman before him, stunned.


Her fists were clenched and she trembled with rage. “If you ever try that again, you will die,” she said, her voice shaky. “Come,” she ordered the guards, and strode forward again. Obi-Wan was dragged along behind, scarcely remembering to move of his own accord.


What had they meant, those images of suffering in her mind? They couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the Jedi--could they? Obi-Wan felt a prick of doubt. There had been so much hate, all directed towards him and the other Jedi. The Padawan was deeply troubled.


After a few minutes of walking in silence, they came again to the prison where Qui-Gon was held. The Jedi lay on the stone pallet in his cell, breathing deeply and evenly. He was asleep, Obi-Wan noted happily, and peacefully.


“May I talk to him?” asked Obi-Wan. For a moment he thought Ch’Andri might deny him the privilege, but she smiled predatorily, her composure regained, and deactivated the containment field.


“If he looks like he’s about to try anything,” she told the guards, “shoot him.”


Obi-Wan was ushered roughly into the cell, the muzzles of two small blasters digging into his spine. “Master?” he said softly, holding his breath. He sighed gratefully as Qui-Gon stirred and opened his eyes. It was so good not to see pain in them, for a change. But what he did see was almost worse... disappointment. They had told Qui-Gon of his Padawan’s promise and he did not approve.


Obi-Wan felt a wrenching pain inside his soul. A minute ago he had looked forward to the reunion with his Master, thinking only of how good it would be to see Qui-Gon again, alive and well. Now he realized he had given Qui-Gon an existence worse than any death. He had put the price of a hundred lives on Qui-Gon’s head.


The Padawan could have kicked himself. How could he have been so selfish? “Master, I...” he began, but Qui-Gon cut him off with a look.


“What were you thinking?” he asked sharply. Obi-Wan took a step back. There was anger in Qui-Gon’s voice.


“Master, please,” he whispered, tears forming in his eyes. “I only wanted...”


“I know,” answered Qui-Gon more softly. He closed his eyes. Obi-Wan had never noticed before, but Qui-Gon’s beard was beginning to show streaks of gray. “I am disappointed, Padawan.”


Obi-Wan sagged in the grasp of the guards, wondering if Qui-Gon knew how much it hurt him to hear those words from his Master’s lips. He no longer felt worthy to be called Padawan by Qui-Gon, or by any Jedi. And yet...


If he had the choice to make again, he still wasn’t sure he could make the right one, because even under Qui-Gon’s anger and disappointment, there was still love. In a way, that almost made it worse.


He wanted so much to cry out to Qui-Gon that the rebels still had a chance, that he had been able to reach KeRaad and warn her, but he couldn’t. Not even psychically. If he tried, the guards would see and shoot him. For a moment he almost considered it, feeling that death would be so much easier than the torture he was already going through. But if he died, it would hurt Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan couldn’t bear to do that again. He had gotten himself here, and he had to get himself out. Sadly, he turned away from his Master.


“You need your rest, Master,” he murmured, as he was led out of the cell. He couldn’t be sure, but Obi-Wan thought he heard Qui-Gon sigh behind him.


CHAPTER TEN


Ch’Andri and her guards marched Obi-Wan through the palace again. This time his depression was real, if not his limp. Over and over a single phrase repeated itself in Obi-Wan’s head: //I failed him, I failed him, I failed him...// Now all depended on KeRaad. If she had been able to convince the rebels to evacuate again, there might still be the hope of forgiveness. If not, at least Obi-Wan might have hope of death.


The Padawan was vaguely surprised as he was pushed, not back to his cell, but to another wing of the palace. A door slid open in front of him and Obi-Wan stared horrified at an army of over a thousand armed, trained soldiers that stood at attention before him.


“Remember your promise,” Yemil Ch’Andri spoke into his ear. “They’d better be inside the rebel hideout by dawn, or things could get messy. We leave in two minutes, Jedi.”


It was the longest two minutes of Obi-Wan’s life. He formulated and rejected a multitude of escape plans, but his promise held him. There was no one he could call on for help, and he could not contact the rebels without another trance. He swung back and forth between hope and despair. It was driving him mad that he could do nothing to help the rebels or himself and Qui-Gon. All he could do was sit and wait to be used as a tool against the rebels and the Jedi, the two groups of people he had come to love the most.


Eventually the two minutes were up. The entire army was loaded onto speeders. Obi-Wan was shoved into the leading one along with Ch’Andri and five guards and they started into the city.


Obi-Wan navigated as best he could, trying to remember the layout of the city he had only seen in the dark. The house of Garret’s cousin, he thought, was in a poor residential area in about the center of town. He told Ch’Andri this much, briefly describing the house, trying to ignore his conscience, which screamed at him to fight or at least give false directions, anything to buy time for the rebels.


But he couldn’t. He had given his word to lead the Government’s army to the rebel hideout, and as a Jedi he could not break his promise. Soon the streets began to look familiar and he recognized the evacuation route he had taken with the rebels--had it only been a day ago?


“We’re almost there,” he told the ambassador. “We’ll need to take a left at the end of this street.” She nodded and, to Obi-Wan’s surprise, gave the command to halt. The speeders slowed and stopped with an eerie singing noise as the engines disengaged. The troops silently stepped from inside them and reformed their ranks. Obi-Wan was bustled out onto the street, the muzzle of a guard’s blaster cold against the back of his head.


“Walk,” Ch’Andri commanded. He obeyed, stiffly leading the way, praying to every deity he had ever heard of that no one would be there. Behind him, the army scarcely made any noise, only a dull collective thump as a thousand booted feet met the pavement in unison with each step.


Obi-Wan’s pulse pounded in his ears and he realized he was shaking slightly. The house loomed up in front of him, bigger than he remembered in the Callodean twilight.


“There’s a small key up high behind the right side of the doorframe. They’ll let you in if you turn it,” said Obi-Wan. //If they’re in there...// he added silently.


Grabbing him by the arm, Ch’Andri dragged Obi-Wan roughly up the stairs behind her. The guards followed. The Padawan was held in front of the door as a guard searched for the key and turned it. The woman was clearly taking no chances; in case of a trap, either the guard or Obi-Wan would be killed while Ch’Andri stood back at the bottom of the stairs and watched.


The guard found and turned the key. There was a long silence and the door swung slowly open. Obi-Wan’s mind cried out in shock and horror. They were still there. He was frozen with the knowledge that he had failed. His effort had not been enough and now the rebels would all die--Garret, KeRaad--all of them.


The face of Garret’s cousin peered cautiously around the side of the door. There was a flash and the whine of a blaster bolt as it sped past Obi-Wan’s ear, and Garret’s cousin was dead before he hit the ground. Obi-Wan could only stare in mute despair at the body, staring unknowingly through the ceiling, an expression of surprise frozen on his face.


Obi-Wan let himself be herded to the door leading to the basement, too stunned to resist. He was a traitor. His honor would die along with the hundred innocent people who even now were waiting below his feet. Qui-Gon would feel it, he knew. And his Master would reject him, maybe even hate him. Obi-Wan would no longer be worthy of the title Jedi. He would be expelled from the Temple, his Padawan braid cut off. Then he would die. That, at least, might give some comfort, just to cease to be.


The basement door was unlocked. A guard opened it, using Obi-Wan as a shield from the darkness below as he fumbled for the light panel. Obi-Wan blinked as the lights buzzed on, and, looking around, nearly shouted for joy: the basement was completely empty.


He heard Yemil Ch’Andri cry out in dismay behind him. He was grabbed by the shoulders and swung violently around, then slammed back against the wall.


“You lied to us!” cried Ch’Andri, her eyes flaming with rage inches from Obi-Wan’s face.


The Padawan shook his head calmly. “This is where they were when I left,” he said, surprised at how even his voice was. “They must have moved again.”


“Then find them,” she hissed.


Obi-Wan shrugged. “I can’t,” he said simply. “I would need to go into a trance, and I’m currently too weak to survive one.” //And you just killed the only person who knew where they were,// he added to himself almost triumphantly.


She nodded, slowly, and for some reason a chill shot up and down Obi-Wan’s spine. “Then Qui-Gon Jinn will die.” She said it softly, calmly.


Obi-Wan’s being cried out in denial and despair. He couldn’t let Qui-Gon die. Not now. Not after he had done so much to save him already. Obi-Wan felt a terrible power rising inside him. He welcomed it and let it use him, possess him. He hard his binders clatter to the ground, although he could not remember unlocking them.


He ducked as the guard holding him fired the blaster that had been pointed at the back of his head, kicking the man in the stomach. He knew the fight was already lost; he was trapped, the door blocked by an army of trained soldiers. But still he fought, desperately, without hope of success or survival.


“Take him alive!” cried a woman’s voice behind him. He couldn’t remember her name or face, but it didn’t matter anymore. Obi-Wan spun, using the Force to throw the advancing guards backwards against the wall. He ran towards the door, muscles tight for combat. He sprang at the soldiers blocking the door, slamming into them with more power than his slight frame should have allowed. Several of them fell, surprised. He sprang over their heads and into the streets.


Obi-Wan had gained the freedom of the outdoors, but his jump had landed him in the middle of a long line of troops. They had clearly been ready for him, for the minute his feet touched the ground, Obi-Wan was attacked from all directions.


He fought viciously, but his strength was waning fast. The butt end of a blaster caught him hard on the back of the head. Stars flashed in front of his eyes and he fell, but somehow staggered back onto his feet. He took a savage kick in the side. He fell again, but again struggled back up, gasping for air. Someone tackled him, pinning his arms behind his back. He was thrown to the ground, held still by many pairs of strong hands. He squirmed and thrashed, but could not free himself. He took another blow to the head, and another.


“Forgive me, Master,” he gasped aloud as he sank into darkness.


***


Obi-Wan awoke suddenly, crying out for Qui-Gon. He had felt... he shuddered to the core of his being. It was like his soul had died somewhere in the night, leaving him empty and alone. He looked desperately over at the woman who was standing passively in the corner of the cell. He still couldn’t remember who she was or why she was there, but she might know.


The woman looked back at him, her eyes like ice. Two words left her lips, so slowly: “He’s dead.”



CHAPTER ELEVEN


Obi-Wan was drowning. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t think. He thought he had felt pain before, when he’d been shot with all those stun blasters, but he’d been wrong. What he felt now made every form of physical torture pale by comparison. His soul was being eaten away inside him, bit by bit. His mind was engulfed in a continual scream of agony too strong to be sorrow.


He couldn’t cry, just stare blankly at nothing while he died slowly from inside. Qui-Gon was dead. He had felt him die. It was his fault, all of it. Two deaths were on his head already, one of which he would have given everything to prevent, and a hundred others would probably follow; the rebels could not have fled far, and the immense army was probably looking for them, if they hadn’t found them already. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Qui-Gon was dead. Qui-Gon, who was Obi-Wan’s entire world, was gone. Nothing else mattered beyond that.


“Where are the rebels?” The voice came from worlds away. Obi-Wan could not respond. Yet it would be so easy just to give the Government a little help, let them find their quarry. Then at least they might leave him alone to his misery. He was about to agree when a single thought assailed his tortured mind: What would Qui-Gon think? He hesitated, then pulled himself away from the outside world, shutting himself up inside mental shields. He withdrew to the center of his being as his body collapsed backwards onto the slab that served as a bed, staring at the ceiling like the corpse of Garret’s cousin.


And still he screamed inside, wordlessly, like a tortured wraith. The scream became his world, his being. It consumed him like fire, devouring all that was not physical. It seemed there had never been anything else, never would be anything else, only the all-consuming cry and a vague memory of a kind bearded face that was gone forever.


***


Obi-Wan lost all sense of time. Hours, days, maybe even weeks went by unnoticed. People would come into the cells from time to time and question him, but he couldn’t hear the questions. They tortured him once, but he didn’t respond. They had already hurt him as much as they could. Eventually they stopped coming, bored or simply disgusted.


Obi-Wan had ceased to care, about himself, about the rebels, even about Qui-Gon. He had devoted his entire life to caring, and now that he didn’t, perhaps he had ceased to live as well. But he no longer cared about that either.


Still enveloped in the torment of his mind, Obi-Wan scarcely noticed as one by one his body’s mechanisms shut down. His eyes, tired from endless hours of staring unblinking at the ceiling, didn’t bother to see anymore. His blood no longer circulated to his hands and feet, concentrating solely on his torso and brain, trying reflexively to keep him alive. But he no longer had the will to live, so gradually his breaths became shallower and the numbness spread slowly up his arms and legs.


It was not long before Obi-Wan, through the haze of pain that enveloped his mind, realized the moment was at hand. He reached out feebly to the void growing before him. He heard the containment field open.


//No,// he thought. //You cannot touch me. Not now.// Someone was shaking his body, trying to speak to him. Obi-Wan could not hear the words, but there was urgency in the voice. Then one word, backed by a surge of power, broke through Obi-Wan’s shields and touched his mind: “Padawan.”


Obi-Wan paused at the edge of death. He knew that word, and the voice behind it. He couldn’t remember a name or a face, but he recalled, vaguely, a deep warmth and a sense of belonging. The incessant scream in his mind stopped suddenly, confused, and then memory flooded into the silence and Obi-Wan knew who had called him, who, even now, was gathering him into a frightened embrace, trying to warm his bloodless limbs.


With a terrible effort, Obi-Wan pushed past the shields he had erected, pulling himself violently back into his own body. He stirred faintly and blinked for the first time in days. He forced his heart to keep beating, wincing as blood was forced back into his stiffening limbs. Every cell in his body hurt. He was hungry and thirsty beyond measure, but he welcomed it, because along with it came the warmth and strength of his Master’s presence.


Obi-Wan tried to focus on Qui-Gon’s face, but his eyes still refused to work. He reached up with a shaky hand and touched Qui-Gon’s cheek. It was wet; with tears, he realized. His hand traveled over the face he knew as well as his own, the broken nose and deepset eyes that fluttered closed under his fingers. It was the same face he remembered, that he had thought he would never know again, although the cheeks were hollow and the care lines deeper.


“Master,” he whispered, fearing that his words would end the beautiful dream he seemed to be having.


“Yes, Padawan,” came the answer, choked with suppressed tears, “I am here.”


“How?” asked Obi-Wan. He would have cried himself, if there had been any water left in his body for tears.


“It doesn’t matter,” said Qui-Gon softly. “I’m so sorry, Obi-Wan.”


“But I felt you die!” choked Obi-Wan.


“I know,” answered Qui-Gon. “It was a trick of Ch’Andri’s. I’ll explain the rest later. Do you think you can drink this?”


Obi-Wan felt a cool glass against his lips. It was full of cold water, and he drank deeply.


“Can you walk?” asked Qui-Gon, urgency beginning to seep into his voice.


Obi-Wan heard blaster fire in the distance. “What’s happening?” he asked, rubbing his eyes. His sight was returning, slowly.


“The rebels are attacking the palace. We have to get out as quickly as possible. I have our lightsabers.” He helped Obi-Wan to his feet. The Padawan stumbled, but Qui-Gon caught him.


Leaning heavily on his Master, Obi-Wan limped out of the cell. His legs were sore and stiff from disuse, but they still worked. Obi-Wan let Qui-Gon lead him through the hallways of the palace. He was lightheaded and dizzy from starvation, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter much. Occasionally there would be blaster fire nearby and they would hide behind a doorway or in a little-used corridor, then they would continue.


Little by little the darkness before Obi-Wan’s eyes cleared and the world began to swim into focus. He shifted his weight away from Qui-Gon and onto his legs, pleased to discover they would support him. He asked for his lightsaber, and Qui-Gon pulled it from a pocket in his tunic, handing it over with a smile.


Obi-Wan turned it over and over in his hands, feeling its reassuring weight in his palm with relish. Just holding it gave him strength. He felt complete again, despite his weaknesses, and the last of his mental shields dissolved. The Force flowed through him again and he straightened, squaring his shoulders proudly. He felt like a Jedi again.


He missed his boots and outer robe, but he could live without them as long as he had his Master and his lightsaber. Now he walked confidently beside Qui-Gon without support, letting the Force guide him to the best exit. He felt it flow between him and his Master like it always had, and an almost overwhelming joy swept over him. He felt tears finally coming to his eyes, but he forced them down.


He felt Qui-Gon’s hand on his shoulder and looked up at him. Qui-Gon was smiling, but there were tears behind his eyes, too.


//It’s good to have you back, Padawan,// said a voice in Obi-Wan’s head.


They were near the exit now, but they felt enemy soldiers ahead. Smiling, they activated their lightsabers and turned the next corner together. They were greeted by a hail of blaster fire, and met it eagerly, lightsabers twirling.


They fought for a long, long time. Obi-Wan knew his strength was only a momentary result of joy, excitement, and reconnection with the Force; it would not last much longer. Every time one soldier fell, another stepped in to take his or her place. The air became thick with smoke from discharging blasters, and it clogged Obi-Wan’s lungs.


Obi-Wan was beginning to tremble with fatigue, and his head swam, making it difficult for him to balance. He needed desperately to cough, but he didn’t dare lower his guard. His grasp on the Force was wavering and he clung to it desperately. He felt Qui-Gon’s concern and heard his Master’s words in his mind.


//We need to get out of here,// said Qui-Gon silently. //Break left on my mark. I hope you can run.//


Obi-Wan affirmed this as he just barely deflected a shot to his left leg, simultaneously ducking another meant for the space between his eyes. There was a brief lull in the fighting as a new surge of soldiers came to take the place of their fallen compatriots.


//Go!// shouted Qui-Gon into Obi-Wan’s mind. Like a single being, they switched off their lightsabers and darted into the passageway to their left, the Force between them lending them superhuman speed.


They shot down the hallway ahead of the pursuing troops. Obi-Wan saw their plan: get far enough ahead of the soldiers to slip away without being seen, then simply let the soldiers pass, and slip out the exit. It posed a few problems, of course: finding somewhere to hide, dealing with the troops that would be left to guard the door, doing all this before he passed out from exhaustion...


Obi-Wan felt himself falling behind. His legs were weak and he struggled to draw enough breath too stay conscious, but he forced himself on. As they turned a corner, their hiding place presented itself -- a large ornate statue of a stern man in ceremonial costume, probably a previous ruler of some sort. The statue was set into an alcove in the wall. If they hurried, they might be able to climb behind it before the soldiers came around the corner.


The Padawan’s adrenaline was wearing off fast, and Obi-Wan had to get a boost from Qui-Gon in order to climb onto the pedestal on which the statue stood. Qui-Gon leapt up behind him, and with shaking arms, Obi-Wan pulled himself around the statue’s leg and into the space between the sculpture and the wall behind it.


He was breathing in ragged gasps that echoed off the dusty marble around him. He leaned back against the cool stone and closed his eyes, swallowing and trying to steady his breathing. He was beginning to feel the full effects of the beating and torture he had endured; his head pounded in time with his heartbeat, and his ribs smarted whenever he moved, probably cracked or broken. He felt like he’d been trampled by a bantha. These Government people had an incredible knowledge of pressure-points and how to most effectively pinch nerves. Every time he moved, a different joint or muscle started smarting.


His breaths were coming slightly more easily and quietly now, but he still felt a twinge of fear as the first guards rounded the corner. Qui-Gon moved his hand a little, and the soldiers sped down the hall after the footsteps of people who weren’t really there. After the last of them were gone, the Jedi slipped from their hiding place, Obi-Wan once again leaning on his Master for support, and sneaked off towards the exit. They were surprised to find it unguarded.


//Be wary, Padawan,// said Qui-Gon through the Force.


Obi-Wan nodded. Something was definitely not right. Cautiously and silently, they moved towards the exit, keeping their backs against the wall. Obi-Wan was finding it difficult to concentrate, and his eyelids were drooping even as he walked.


//Wary,// he told himself. //Right.//


There was a twinge in the Force, like someone plucking a tight steel string, and Obi-Wan fell sideways, but not fast enough. He was knocked to the ground. His lightsaber went spinning out of his grasp and someone stepped firmly on his right wrist. He looked up into the muzzle of a blaster, and past it into the triumphant face of Yemil Ch’Andri.


The Force radiated from her in waves, a chaotic dark power unlike the Force Obi-Wan knew. It clouded his mind, beckoning him to stretch out and welcome it, to use it to escape. He knew that if he did, he would have the strength to defeat the untrained woman who had him at blaster-point. The idea had a sickening appeal, but Obi-Wan rejected it with all his mental strength, once more hiding behind psychic shields.


He saw her finger begin to tighten on the trigger and felt Qui-Gon’s despair as he laid down his lightsaber, prepared to bargain for the Padawan’s life, and he knew that Ch’Andri intended to kill him then and there. He gathered what was left of his strength, determined to put up as much of a fight as he could. He wished the adrenaline that had aided him earlier would return, but all he felt was a resigned acceptance of death. It was vaguely annoying.


There was a change in Ch’Andri’s eyes, a flicker of suspicion as she read Obi-Wan’s intentions. She stepped easily out of the way of the kick that was aimed to disarm her, releasing Obi-Wan’s wrist from under her foot. Seeing hope for the first time, he began to roll onto his feet, but a kick to his already broken ribs brought him down again in a fog of pain. This time the ambassador’s foot came down, not on his wrist, but on his throat, cutting off his air supply completely.


He thrashed weakly, trying to breathe. He didn’t dare reach out to the Force for fear that the dark power outside his shields would come to him instead of the light. Obi-Wan saw Qui-Gon prepare to leap at Ch’Andri, but he knew his Master would be too late. The blaster was still pointed at the space between his eyes, and the ambassador’s finger was tightening on the trigger. A shock of disappointment flickered through Obi-Wan, that he should come so far, only to die when freedom was only a few steps away.


But there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t breathe, and he was too weak to fight. He glanced regretfully at Qui-Gon, hoping the Jedi might survive, apologizing silently for all he had done wrong. Then he closed his eyes, unable to hold them open any longer, and prepared, for the second time in less than an hour, to die.



CHAPTER TWELVE



Obi-Wan heard a blaster discharge and the weight of Yemil Ch’Andri’s foot was suddenly gone from his throat. He wondered that he was still in pain, and even more that he was coughing reflexively, gasping for air. He opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of the Palace.


The Padawan sat up, still coughing, confused. There was a body beside him. When he could breathe again, he gingerly turned it over and beheld the surprised face of Yemil Ch’Andri, staring blankly into space. He drew back in bewildered disgust and horror, nearly losing his balance and falling again. Qui-Gon lay his hand on the Padawan’s arm and drew him gently to his feet.


Obi-Wan pulled his gaze away from the body at his feet and saw Garret. The rebel was standing a few feet away, a smoking blaster in his hand. His face mirrored that of his fallen sister, a mixture of terror and shock. He slowly lowered the blaster and replaced it in the holster on his belt. He swallowed, looking lost and frightened for the first time. Obi-Wan couldn’t be sure, but he thought he could see tears starting to form in Garret’s eyes.


The rebel looked up, hostility beginning to show through his shock and sorrow. “Get outa here, Jedi,” he said hoarsely. “You’re not needed anymore.”


Obi-Wan nodded wearily. “Thank you, Garret,” he said, although he didn’t feel it was sufficient. He owed Garret his life, but he knew the rebel would rather he just go away. “May the Force be with you,” said Obi-Wan awkwardly, and with Qui-Gon’s help, he walked away. As they left the Palace, Obi-Wan thought he saw Garret kneel beside the body of his sister. He felt himself starting to cry again, but forced himself to stay calm.


The Force had chosen well for them; the exit led to a landing platform. There were several ships lining the sides, waiting for their owners -- diplomats or military strategists of some sort, most likely -- to return. Obi-Wan felt bad about stealing a ship, but there was no other way to leave Callodas Three, and he had the distinct feeling they had outstayed their welcome, even with the rebels.


Qui-Gon was practically carrying him now, for Obi-Wan’s legs had forgotten how to hold him up. He focused all his attention on the nearest ship. //I’m almost there,// he chanted over and over in his mind.


The Padawan was surprised at how little effort it took Qui-Gon to support him. He must have lost a lot of weight over the past week. It made sense; looking back he couldn’t remember ever eating or drinking after he heard Qui-Gon was dead. He held his hand up before his face. There was little more than bone and skin left, and his wrist was closer to the circumference he usually associated with his thumb than he liked to think about. No wonder Qui-Gon seemed to be trying not to look at him; it probably hurt.


Qui-Gon bypassed the ship’s security systems with a surge of the Force and the boarding ramp slid smoothly towards them. Just as they were climbing into the ship. Obi-Wan hesitated. He felt something coming towards him--a faint presence, a surge in the Force. He looked back over his shoulder. His neck protested at the movement, but he ignored it as best he could.


A small figure was running towards him, shouting to him to wait. The child was familiar. If he could just *focus*, maybe he could remember. He searched his clouded mind for a memory, a name, with the distinct feeling that he was just inches away from the name he was looking for.


KeRaad. That was it. The child he had reached out to from his cell, who had saved the rebels. Of course. She was standing before him now, looking up at him through large clear eyes. They were not the same innocent cheerful eyes he remembered from the rebel camp; fear and confusion spiraled through them. Obi-Wan wondered how much the child had seen in the last hour, and felt a dim anger at Garret for letting her come.


She didn’t say anything, but Obi-Wan felt her pleading silently. He knew she wanted to come with them, and he couldn’t refuse her; she had no family any more, and not much of a future if she remained on the planet. Maybe if they took her to the Council....


He looked up at Qui-Gon. “Master,” he started, but Qui-Gon cut him off with a glance.


The Jedi Master looked at the girl and smiled a little. “Get on board,” he said gently.


KeRaad’s face was flooded with relief and joy. She threw herself at Obi-Wan, embracing him tightly and weeping into his tattered tunic.


The Padawan gasped as the child’s elbow dug into his twice-hurt ribs. His vision clouded briefly. //No,// he told himself sharply. //I will not faint. Not in front of KeRaad. Not after what she’s been through already.// Despite his protests, consciousness was slipping gradually away. He sighed and let himself sag in Qui-Gon’s arms as peaceful oblivion finally found him.


***


Obi-Wan awoke in a ship’s medical bay. He was mercifully numb and slightly disoriented from a large dose of pain-killer. A tube was connected to the inside of his arm, pumping nutrients directly into his blood. He looked around, trying not to overtax his stiff neck. The room was small and white, containing several small cushioned pallets and some containers of basic medical supplies. There was a chair next to the pallet on which Obi-Wan lay. Qui-Gon was dozing in it, his chin resting on his chest. The Master’s eyes jumped open as Obi-Wan stirred.


The Padawan looked worriedly at his Master; Qui-Gon’s cheeks were hollow and there were dark circles around his eyes. His smile was still the same though, calm and real even under the weary exterior. He stood and walked to Obi-Wan’s side, laying a gentle hand on the boy’s forehead.


“How do you feel, Obi-Wan?” he asked gently.


Obi-Wan shrugged slightly. “Numb,” he replied, “but better.”


A silence fell. Obi-Wan felt suppressed emotions rising again inside him. Eventually, sorrow and self-doubt threatened to overwhelm him, and he gathered his courage to ask the question that was hammering on his mind.


“Master,” he began, his voice cracking slightly from emotion and disuse, “can you ever forgive me? I... you were disappointed,” he faltered.


Qui-Gon’s smile dimmed and he became completely serious. “You allowed personal emotion to sway your judgment, and you put the lives of a hundred innocent people at risk.” Qui-Gon’s face softened slightly and he brushed a tear from Obi-Wan’s cheek. “But you also saved them. KeRaad told me that you contacted her. I’m sorry, Padawan. I underestimated you.” He paused, looking slightly awkward. “Besides,” he said slowly. “If it had been you who was injured, and I had been given the choice, I’m not sure I would have been able to choose the rebels, either.”


Obi-Wan coughed a little, half crying, half laughing. He nearly leapt off his cot, embracing Qui-Gon as an enthusiastic child embraces his father. Qui-Gon looked startled, but returned the embrace, supporting Obi-Wan as the Padawan began to weep in earnest.


All Obi-Wan’s suppressed emotions--fear, sorrow, regret, relief, joy--poured out in a flood of tears. Sobs shook his thin frame and he buried his face in Qui-Gon’s shoulder, taking comfort in the Jedi’s strength and calm.


Eventually the sobs subsided and Obi-Wan lay back down on his pallet, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. He felt silly, having cried like a mere child, but it was so good to be free of all the stress that had been eating away at him for the past week. He now felt only the passive warmth he associated with the Force, and he felt balanced.


“Master,” he asked, both curious and eager to make conversation, “who was Yemil Ch’Andri?” The question had been nagging at him for some time--she had clearly been Force-strong, and the glimpse he had caught of her memories disturbed Obi-Wan greatly.


Qui-Gon was unsurprised. “I contacted Master Windu while you were asleep. I asked him the same question. He sent me her background.” Qui-Gon handed over a datapad.


Obi-Wan looked quizzically at his Master, then began reading. Yemil Ch’Andri, he learned, had lived with a wealthy and influential family on Callodas Three. When she was not yet a year old pirates had attacked the city in which she and her family lived. Several Jedi had been sent to intervene, but had arrived too late; the town was destroyed and nearly everyone had been killed. Among the survivors they had found a child--Yemil-- next to the body of a woman they took to be her mother.


The Jedi had sensed how strong the Force was with the child, and had taken her to the Temple to be trained as a Jedi. She had been a promising student, with an excellent connection to the Living Force and surprising control over her abilities.


When she was old enough, the Masters had given her the choice of either staying at the Temple and possibly becoming a Padawan, or of leaving the Jedi and living as an average citizen. She asked for time to consider, and they granted it, gladly.


A few days later a man and a boy appeared at the Temple--Yemil’s father and brother. They had survived the attack and escaped the city, but not before they had seen two Jedi killed by the raiders. Not wishing Yemil to meet the same fate they had come to the Temple for her.


Yemil, however, had made up her mind to stay with the Jedi. Her father became desperate, and, in the confidence of Yemil’s quarters, had told his daughter that it was the Jedi who had attacked the village and killed her mother.


The girl, still being young and trusting, had believed him. Confused and angry, she had left the Jedi and returned to Callodas Three. Over the years her anger had grown and she had embraced the Dark Side, proclaiming the Jedi her enemies.


Obi-Wan slowly put down the data pad. Everything snapped into place: Yemil Ch’Andri had married Kadden Badir, head of the Callodian government, in order to gain enough power to attack the Jedi. And Garret, horrified that he had been partially responsible for the change in his sister, had hidden himself away, organizing half-hearted rebellions to keep himself busy.


He handed back the data pad. “Why were we sent?” he asked quietly.


“Master Windu trusts us, and our judgment,” answered Qui-Gon with a little shrug. “He was not happy to hear of her death, but he understands that there was no other way.”


Obi-Wan nodded.


“Where’s KeRaad?” he asked, realizing that he had forgotten almost completely about the child before.


“She’s in the captain’s quarters, resting,” said Qui-Gon. “I should probably wake her; she said she wanted to see you as soon as you woke up. She’s very worried about you.”


“What will happen to her?” asked Obi-Wan. “She’s extremely Force-strong.”


“I doubt the council will agree to her being trained. She’s far too old.”


Obi-Wan sighed, annoyed. “But couldn’t you... you know, convince them?” Qui-Gon had quite a history of arguing with the Jedi Council, and sometimes he even won.


“This is not my fight, Padawan,” Qui-Gon said thoughtfully. “If you wish KeRaad to be trained, I suggest *you* go before the Council about it.”


Obi-Wan decided not to argue, although his heart leapt into his throat at the thought of facing the Council in argument, especially Master Yoda. But KeRaad deserved at least a chance. His jaw tightened with determination. He would go before the Council and speak on KeRaad’s behalf.


“You need rest, now,” said Qui-Gon, interrupting Obi-Wan’s internal monologue. “I think I can hold KeRaad off for a while longer, maybe even until Coruscant.” He smiled, and strode silently from the room.


Obi-Wan obediently lay back, enjoying the feel of a pillow under his head again, and surrendered to a deep dreamless sleep.



EPILOGUE


Obi-Wan sat cross-legged on his bed, examining the datapad. He smiled.


“The rebels have control of Callodas Three, Master,” he said casually. “They’re establishing a full democracy.”


“Is Garret running?” asked Qui-Gon, running a comb through his hair.


“No,” answered Obi-Wan, smirking, “but Brehan Ch’Andri is.” He stood and stretched. His strength was returning and his robes no longer fit quite as loosely. His cuts and bruises had healed, although his ribs still ached occasionally where they had been broken.


There was a tentative knock on the door.


“Enter,” called the two Jedi in unison.


The door slid upwards to reveal KeRaad, fidgeting in the hallway. She was looking much better, too, Obi-Wan reflected. There was a growing roundness in the child’s cheeks and her eyes were bright.


“Hello, KeRaad,” he greeted her. “Are you ready to go before the Council today?”


“Actually,” she said, meekly stepping into the room, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think I really wanna be a Jedi.”


Obi-Wan nearly dropped the data pad. “Why not?” he stammered.


“Well,” she said, clearly uncomfortable, “I just want a family, and a real home, too, if you know what I mean. I... I know it’s good to be a Jedi and help people and stuff, but you guys didn’t look like you were having much fun back there.”


Obi-Wan was silent for a while. She was right. A Jedi’s life was a cruel one, without a real home or family. He could understand why she wouldn’t want to follow it.


He bowed. “Very well,” he said.


She looked surprised. “You mean you’re not mad at me?”


He smiled gently. “KeRaad, there are hundreds of people who make the exact same choice, and for them it’s a good one. Some people, like me and Qui-Gon, are meant for the Jedi life. Some, like you, aren’t. There’s no shame in that.” He placed his hand lightly on her shoulder, hoping it was the right thing to do. “If you like, we’ll find you a foster family back on Callodas, or wherever you like.”


She appeared to consider that for a while. “Um, could I be... maybe a pilot instead? I’ve sort of always wanted to fly.”


“There’s a very good flight school on Coruscant,” said Obi-Wan halfheartedly. “You’re a little young for enlistment, but I think they’ll make an exception for you, if that’s what you really want to do. And I know it’s not quite the same as an actual home, but many young people live at the school and have that as their family.”


“You can also still train at the Academy without becoming a Jedi,” offered Qui-Gon. “Many people do it, and it would help you greatly with your piloting skills, even if you only came once or twice a week.”


She was silent for quite some time, digesting this information. She looked up. “Will you come visit me?” she asked.


Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon, who shrugged, then pulled the front part of his hair back and bound it with a simple black thong.


“We’ll try,” answered Obi-Wan. It was a promise, and the Padawan suspected KeRaad recognized it as such.


“Okay,” she said, smiling slowly, “that sounds great.”


“But for now,” interposed Qui-Gon, “how about breakfast? We’re already late, and I’m getting hungry.”


“Me, too,” admitted KeRaad.


“Can you wait in the hall for a while?” asked Qui-Gon gently. “I need to have a talk with Obi-Wan. It won’t take long, I promise.”


“Oh, okay,” answered the child warily. “I’ll... um, be outside.” She paused at the door. “You’re not going to talk about me, are you?” she asked nervously.


Qui-Gon smiled a little. “If we do, it will be only with the greatest admiration and respect,” he answered smoothly.


KeRaad smiled back and slipped out the door, which glided shut behind her.


“I’m jealous,” remarked Obi-Wan smugly. “If I tried to get away with something like that, she’d just laugh at me.”


“You’re surprised by her decision, Padawan.” It wasn’t a question, but neither was it an accusation.


“Well, yes,” answered Obi-Wan, trying to figure out what his Master was hinting at. “But I do respect it,” he added hopefully.


“I know it,” replied Qui-Gon evenly. “You know,” he said after a pause, “you can still make the same choice, if you want to. There is no dishonor in it, and I won’t blame you or try to stop you.”


Obi-Wan could have laughed out loud. “Sorry, Master,” he said, “but I’m not so easily gotten rid of. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.” He stared at Qui-Gon with mock solemnity.


Qui-Gon grinned outright, an extremely rare occurrence. “Then I guess I’ll just have to grit my teeth and take it like a Jedi,” he replied. “Let’s go, Padawan. KeRaad’s waiting.” He headed for the door. “Oh, and Obi-Wan,” he added over his shoulder. “When we get back, you have ten minutes to do something about this room. After that, I shall not be responsible for my actions.”


Obi-Wan groaned inwardly. “Yes, Master,” he muttered, and followed Qui-Gon through the door.



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