Title: No Tears Left to Cry
Category: Drama, Adventure, Angst, Mystery, Hurt/Comfort, Obi Banging.
Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: Minor ones for the JA books
Disclaimer: All recognizable Star Wars characters are the
exclusive property of George Lucas. All others belong to me.
I have no official permission to use these characters, but
I'm not being paid for it either, so that's okay.
Feedback: Yes Please!
Time Frame: 9 years before TMP. Obi-Wan is 16.
Summary: Obi-Wan is accused and convicted of first-degree murder, cast out of the Jedi order and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in an alien prison.
Will anyone ever know what really happened?
Things bracketed by *'s are *italic*.
-No Tears Left to Cry-
Obi-Wan Kenobi stared straight ahead, denying the tears that wanted to stream down his face. As the sharp blade in Qui-Gon's hand sheered off his Padawan braid, the young Jedi felt as if it had passed straight through his heart instead. His former Master did not look at him, would not meet Obi-Wan's eyes. It was as if Qui-Gon were looking through him, as if the apprentice were not there.
Sick-hearted pallor and crimson shame warred in Obi-Wan's face. Under the stares of hundreds of people, most of whom had at one time been his friends, shame ended up winning out and the sixteen-year-old's cheeks flushed a painful red. Obi-Wan clenched his fists, making the binders, which held his arms crossed in front of him, pinch his wrists. He tried to swallow the raw, enormous lump in his throat, but couldn't.
He had heard of public expulsions from the Jedi Order, but they were rare and he had never seen one in person, until now. It was the ultimate unthinkable, only for those who had done deeds so dark and terrible that all must be warned about them.
Obi-Wan wanted to die.
Qui-Gon stood in front of him now, but Obi-Wan could not bear to look at the man he respected and loved most in the galaxy. He could not stand to see the disappointment in the Master's clear blue eyes, or worse, the disgust. Instead, the former Padawan gazed over the big Jedi's shoulder, yet that too, was a mistake. In the somber faces of the assembled Jedi there were far too many that he knew.
By accident, his eyes briefly caught on his friend Bant Eerin. Tears filled her silver eyes and ran down her salmon cheeks as she looked up at her friend. The young Calamarian leaned against her Master for support.
Obi-Wan quickly wrenched his eyes away. Bant thought he was guilty. Master Qui-Gon thought he was guilty. Everyone here thought he was guilty. Even Master Yoda stood, quiet and brooding, behind Obi-Wan on the podium with the rest of the Council.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, the choices you have made and the crimes you committed against the people of X'diin have violated the Jedi Code and thereby placed you outside the Jedi Order," Qui-Gon's voice was thick, but cold. "Accept then the consequences of such violations," the Jedi Master's voice dropped lower in an effort to keep it from cracking. "You are hereby banned from the Jedi Order and denied access to all Jedi grounds and areas. You are no longer a Padawan learner, and you are no longer a Jedi."
Tears he could not control were sliding down Obi-Wan's face now. The teenager blinked desperately, but they would not stop. His heart was broken and his life lay in a million pieces around his feet. *No longer a Jedi...*
Obi-Wan was so miserable he felt sick. He was actually glad that the X'diin had confiscated his lightsaber. Otherwise it would have been Qui-Gon's duty to take it from him now and destroy it.
"The training bond between us is severed. I have nothing of you, and you have nothing of me," Qui-Gon thought the words were going to kill him. *Obi-Wan...*
Obi-Wan gasped as if someone had stabbed him in the gut as he felt himself suddenly cut adrift. *"Master! Master!"* his heart was sobbing and only tremendous amounts of willpower kept his body from following suit. He didn't think he could live, cut off from the Jedi, cut off from Qui-Gon...
Obi-Wan's tear filled, red-rimmed eyes met Qui-Gon's. *"I didn't do it Master! I didn't!"* he pleaded silently, even though he knew they could no longer speak to each other in thought since their link had been severed. *"I thought you believed me..."*
Qui-Gon looked away and Obi-Wan felt something deep inside of him die. Qui-Gon hated him. He didn't need to be connected to the big Jedi to feel the anger that was swirling below the Master's barely composed surface. Obi-Wan let all the hope inside of him perish in that moment; he had no reason left to live.
Qui-Gon had to turn away to compose himself. He could not burst into tears right here on the podium, he could not!
*"I didn't do it Master!"* Obi-Wan's eyes pleaded silently with the big Jedi, needing no translation to carry their message.
Qui-Gon could not hold those eyes, could not face the pain in them. What was he supposed to say? I know? If he knew Obi-Wan was innocent, then what in the name of the Force was all this happening for?!
Yet Qui-Gon was sure Obi-Wan *was* innocent and he hated himself for what he was being forced to do.
When he cut off Obi-Wan's apprentice's braid, the boy had flinched visibly and Qui-Gon had thought he must either smash something into a million pieces, break into sobs, or go insane. Somehow he had managed to carry on, but that had been nothing compared to the pain that tore him apart over Obi-Wan's reaction when their bond was severed.
This was not fair! Qui-Gon seethed inside himself, even as he forced his lips to speak the words that duty demanded of him. He was as close to letting his anger take over him as he ever wanted to get.
*"I won't do it!"* he had told the Council when they first brought this horrible thing to him. *"I do not care what all the evidence says and, if you will pardon me, I do not even care what you say. Obi-Wan could not possibly have done these things, I will not punish him for something he has not done!"
"Qui-Gon, his guilt or innocence is not up for us to decide," Mace Windu said quietly. "If this were only a Jedi matter... but it's not. He was tried, the Galactic Court found him guilty of four counts of first degree murder-"
Qui-Gon did not need to be reminded. He remembered quite well, remembered the whole, stupid fiasco. Everything had been stacked against his Padawan from the start. "You can't call a spectacle like he was put through a trial!" Qui-Gon nearly shouted, momentarily forgetting himself. "Evidence was fabricated, witnesses lied..."
"Can you prove any of that Master Jinn?" Eeth Koth asked quietly.
"If I could prove it Obi-Wan would not be on his way to a X'diin prison!" Qui-Gon said, regaining a forced calm in his voice. "But I know what I know, and I know Obi-Wan. He did not commit the crimes he has been indicted for."
The Council regarded the big Jedi calmly, and thankfully, not one of them mentioned that he had been wrong about a Padawan before, but Qui-Gon could just feel them thinking it all the same. It didn't make him angry for himself, he had put the pain of Xanatos behind him some time ago, but it made his heart burn for Obi-Wan. It was not fair that Obi-Wan be judged for others' past failures, it was not fair that he was being punished now for crimes the Jedi Master was certain he had not committed, certainly not of his own volition at any rate.
"Do you know what really happened?" Plo Koon inquired gently. Everyone here understood how Qui-Gon felt, and the awful thing that was being asked of him.
"No," Qui-Gon admitted softly. "Neither does Obi-Wan. We can't prove it," he said a trifle bitterly, "But I believe that Rycaliin was used to wipe his memory and cover the real killer's trail."
"We know," Mace said sadly. "You've told us all this before."
"And I will say it a million times, until someone listens to me!" Qui-Gon said stubbornly. "The Galactic Court would not listen, neither will the X'diin. If it's proof they want, then proof I shall obtain for them. I will see Obi-Wan cleared of this," determination was etched on Qui-Gon's somber face.
"It will do the boy little good to clear him if he is dead," Master Windu said bluntly.
Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "What?"
Mace shook his head sorrowfully. "The Galactic Court found him guilty, but it is up to the X'diin to pass sentence upon him by their laws, since the crime was committed on their planet."
Qui-Gon knew that. "But they have not yet decided..."
"We received word from them an hour ago," Mace interrupted. "That is why you were summoned. They intend to enforce the death penalty."
Qui-Gon's hands clenched into fists at his sides.
"Unless..." the senior Council member sighed, he didn't like this anymore than Qui-Gon did. "They have said all along that we Jedi were trying to be above the law. That we do not discipline our own, that we are dangerous. Their real wish is not so much for Padawan Kenobi's death, as to make an example out of him.
A public expulsion would serve that purpose even better, and, if we comply, they will downgrade his sentence to a life-term in prison."
Qui-Gon tried to grasp what he was being told. The Council didn't believe Obi-Wan was guilty... they were trying to save his life! But what a horrible way to have to do it!
"Where there is life there is hope Qui-Gon," Mace said earnestly. "It is not pleasant, I know, but we will clear him of this, if what you say is true, it will be uncovered. Yet none of that does any good if we allow him to be executed."
"I understand your reasoning Mace," Qui-Gon shook his head, "But you must understand mine. It would be a lie, a horrible, destructive lie! Obi-Wan will think that I really think he is guilty, it will destroy him! The final choice in this is yours Masters, I can't change that. But I will NOT take part in further injuring a boy who has done no wrong!"
"The procedure cannot take place without you Master Jinn," Eeth Koth pointed out. "It is the Master's duty when the expulsion involves a Padawan."
Qui-Gon was torn. It seemed to be the only way to save Obi-Wan's life, but Qui-Gon knew how sensitive his Padawan was, this blow could possibly destroy him just as surely as an execution.
"Master Yoda," Qui-Gon turned in desperation to Yoda's small seat. "What do you have to say about all this?" The usually vocally insightful Master had been completely silent through this entire exchange.
The ancient Jedi Master looked centuries older today and his wizened little face seemed to contain more wrinkles than formerly. "Difficult, this decision is. Love your Padawan, you do. Decide how to serve him best, you must. Say one way or the other, I will not," the little green being shook his head sadly. "Seem ill, do all roads. No, no voice have I in this."*
Qui-Gon had agonized over it, but in the end, what choice did he have?
Obi-Wan's shoulders were ridged and his jaw tight as he tried to deal with the unbearable sorrow and humiliation that was threatening to crush him.
He had not been allowed to see Qui-Gon since the Court had found him guilty. But at least during the trial, Qui-Gon had stood by him, defended him, believed in him when the Padawan's story sounded feeble even in his own ears.
Obi-Wan choked back a sob. Apparently, when the court found him guilty, Qui-Gon had done the same; only this verdict hurt a hundred times worse than any court of law, in any system could possibly have inflicted.
The young Jedi knew he was to be transported to X'diin for sentencing, but instead of taking him immediately to their waiting ship, his X'diini captors had brought him, without explanation, to the Jedi Temple. As Obi-Wan was led into Temple's main audience chamber, with binders on his wrists and under heavy guard, he found that the huge chamber contained every Jedi who was currently on Coruscant.
At first he hadn't known what to make of it. Then he had seen the entire Jedi Council on the podium with Qui-Gon standing, dark and grim beside them. As his guards ushered the Padawan up the stairs of the platform Obi-Wan had felt his heart contract in sheer horror as he realized what was about to take place. *"No! Oh, please no!"* his heart screamed, making his head spin dizzily and his knees weak.
The procedure lasted only five minutes, but it was more incredibly horrible than Obi-Wan could have possibly imagined.
The assembled Jedi observed the whole thing in grim silence and the X'diin guests watched with sneers of smug satisfaction.
Obi-Wan thought he was going to be ill. Why was this happening to him?! Was there no justice at all in this galaxy?
He felt the X'diin guards' hands on his arms, guiding him firmly off the podium. It was over, but Obi-Wan's misery and loneliness were just beginning.
*"Obi-Wan, wait!"* Qui-Gon's heart cried, but the X'diinis took his ex-Padawan away before he could have any more contact with him. Qui-Gon longed to let Obi-Wan know that he had hated this whole thing, that he still believed in the boy, but the X'diinis did not give him the chance and he could not reach Obi-Wan through the Force without their bond. Allowing that to be severed was the hardest part of the whole thing, yet it was not something Qui-Gon could fake, not surrounded by a room full of Jedi, not with the Council breathing down his neck.
The Expulsion ceremony was an ancient Jedi ritual, just as sacred, if much more distasteful then, the Knighting ceremony or the taking of the Trials, it was not something to be trifled with, and, as painful as it was, Qui-Gon knew that. Oh, but it hurt so badly...
Obi-Wan stumbled off the podium, still reeling in shock, his heart bleeding. The crowd parted solemnly for them as he was marched out. Obi-Wan kept his tear-filled eyes glued to the floor, unwilling to meet the gaze of those who had once called him friend.
He was condemned, Obi-Wan realized, and it didn't matter to anyone whether he was guilty, or innocent.
Qui-Gon stood on the podium, watching them take Obi-Wan away. *"I swear to you Obi-Wan,"* he vowed silently, clenching his large fists at his sides. *"I will get to the bottom of this. I will see you cleared!"*
As the transport hatch slammed shut behind Obi-Wan, it seemed to him to be symbolic of the end of the chapter that had been his life and he saw only empty, hopeless misery before him.
Qui-Gon sat on his bed, surrounded by the silence of the sleeping Temple, but felt no peace. How could he feel any kind of peace while his apprentice was locked away in a foreign prison on a planet where humans were not well liked, for crimes he did not commit?
The big Jedi sighed. How had all this happened? It didn't make sense. The mission he and Obi-Wan had been assigned to on X'diin had seemed so simple, how could it have possibly become so complicated?
They had been requested to act as an escort for the obnoxious Senator of X'diin. The X'diini senator was extremely paranoid and insisted that someone was trying to kill him. No real threat to Senator T'lyn could be ascertained, and it was the opinion of most people, including the majority of X'diini, that the diplomat was jumping at shadows.
When the Senate grew tired of his blusterious whining about the need for protection when traveling between Coruscant and X'diin they finally consented to giving T'lyn a Jedi escort to see him safely back to X'diin during the Senate's customary recess period.
The journey itself had been uneventful enough, actually bordering on incredibly dull. It had been Obi-Wan's opinion that Senator T'lyn was not entirely mentally stable. Even though there was only he, his four cabinet members, the two Jedi and the ship's crew on board, the skittish diplomat kept himself locked in his cabin nearly the entire trip, only coming out to shout at people and throw temper-tantrums if he saw some detail that he did not approve of.
Qui-Gon reflected that T'lyn certainly gave people enough reason to *want* to kill him.
The snobbish X'diin secretly looked down on the fact that his escorts were human and did not miss an opportunity to display a polished contempt for them.
The day before they put down on X'diin, Obi-Wan had been practicing his katas in the ship's ready area, which Qui-Gon had gotten permission for him to do. Obi-Wan had only been working on these particular katas for about a week, so he was still struggling to master them. After some initial instruction, Qui-Gon was convinced that Obi-Wan knew how it was supposed to be done and was in no danger of harming himself, so he left the boy to work on his own for a while. Qui-Gon knew that sometimes it was easier for the apprentice to concentrate when he was still striving to perfect something, if he didn't feel he had to do it right every time because he was being watched.
While Qui-Gon was away an unfortunate incident occurred. Obi-Wan was so intent on his practice that he was not as aware of his surroundings as he could have been. He did not feel Senator T'lyn's approach and the X'diini came upon the young Jedi suddenly while he was in the middle of the most difficult part of the kata.
*"What do you think you're doing?"* the Senator snapped irritably, catching Obi-Wan in the middle of a high, somersaulting flip. The sudden interruption caused Obi-Wan to momentarily lose his focus. He was only distracted for an instant, but at that crucial moment, in an exercise he did not yet have down, it was enough to warrant mild disaster.
Obi-Wan came crashing down, a mild jolt of alarm shooting through him as he realized that he was not in proper form, nor in control of where he landed. He hit the floor hard an instant later, but his feet were at the wrong angle to catch him. His ankle twisted painfully as his boots lost purchase on the slippery deck and flew out from under him. Tucking and rolling in an attempt to absorb the fall, the young Jedi ended up running smack into the Senator and knocking him down.
Qui-Gon returned a few minutes later to find Obi-Wan favoring an injured ankle and being thoroughly chewed out by the irate X'diini.
*"Stupid, clumsy idiot!"* T'lyn was shouting at the contrite teenager. *"What are you doing whirling around that way? You could have killed somebody! You're an oaf and a menace!"* he berated harshly.
The words had stung Obi-Wan, but he tried to remain calm. He never liked being called clumsy and a part of him felt irritatedly inclined to point out that he would have been fine if the Senator had not interrupted him, but the Padawan kept his temper.
Qui-Gon intervened calmly, halting the Senator's tirade and pointing out that Obi-Wan was merely practicing an exercise he had been instructed to and that they had permission to use the ready area. It did little to calm T'lyn, but at least it quieted him a bit.
Qui-Gon took Obi-Wan away to look at his ankle. Obi-Wan was visibly upset over what happened. He was however, not upset at T'lyn, but at himself for allowing the distraction to toss him off so much...
Qui-Gon took his head in his hands, remembering the way that incident had been construed at the trial.
They had made it sound as if Obi-Wan had a reason to be holding a grudge against the Senator, and it only got worse from there. From that point on, the prosecutors had painted a fantastic tale that was more worthy of a trashy holo-flick than of the court chambers it was presented in.
Their arrival on X'diin was uneventful, as was the first five or six days there. The two Jedi were scheduled to return to Coruscant on the seventh day, since the Senator had more than enough bodyguards to watch over him on his home world.
That was the day everything went wrong.
Qui-Gon had gone out, and when he returned Obi-Wan was not in their quarters. The boy had left no note, but Qui-Gon had not told him to stay, so he was unconcerned, sure that his apprentice would be back soon.
Two hours later he was just beginning to become concerned when he received a nearly unintelligible call from Senator T'lyn. The diplomat was nearly screaming in fury, but all Qui-Gon could make out was that he had better get down to the Senator's chambers at once.
When he arrived minutes later however, the Senator was not there, only three dead bodyguards and T'lyn's pretty, young wife Iyana who was only half-dressed in a flimsy nightie and hastily donned robe. She was wide-eyed with terror. The girl was half X'diini and half human, a combination which, despite the X'diini's general dislike of humans, was a very attractive mix. It was no wonder she had caught the Senator's eye, even though she much younger than her husband, being only a year or two older than Obi-Wan.
Iyana was sobbing, but Qui-Gon could make no sense of what she said. *"I didn't want this! I loved him, I did! It's all my fault, all my fault,"* seemed to be the only thing she could make coherent. Able to glean nothing from the girl in her hysterical state, Qui-Gon turned his attention to the open door on their right and the sounds of commotion that were coming through it.
Hurrying out, the Jedi Master found that the doorway led out to the gardens. Soldiers were everywhere and not far away lay the decapitated body of Senator T'lyn, his head cleanly chopped off by what Qui-Gon knew, with a thrill of horror, could only have been a lightsaber.
Not many minutes later Obi-Wan was sighted, apparently trying to flee the estate grounds. He ran when the guards ordered him to halt, or at least, that's what they all swore. When Qui-Gon heard this he was quickly on the trail, wanting to reach Obi-Wan before the soldiers did. He did catch up with the apprentice first, but when Obi-Wan saw Qui-Gon there was no recognition in his eyes, only uncomprehending fear. The boy was shirtless and his hands were stained with blood.
*"Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan what's happened?"* Qui-Gon inquired gently, suppressing his urge to shake the boy by the shoulders and demand what in the force was going on. Obi-Wan was running scared, which not a thing Qui-Gon had seen too often and it alarmed the Jedi Master. For a moment, recognition and confusion showed in the Padawan's face, but before he could speak, several soldiers showed up, making Obi-Wan start to bolt again. Before Qui-Gon could stop them, the soldiers used a stun-beam to bring Obi-Wan down.
Qui-Gon lay back on his sleep couch, carefully running over the events in his mind. There had to be an answer to this tangle somewhere, or at least a place to start unraveling.
Back in T'lyn's quarters the investigators found Obi-Wan's tunic and belt and Iyana had tearfully confessed that she and Obi-Wan had been having an affair nearly the whole time the Jedi had been on X'diin. She said that T'lyn had come back suddenly and caught them. He threatened to tell Obi-Wan's Master, she said, threatened that he would destroy the young Jedi. He called Qui-Gon to implement his threat, and there was a fight.
Iyana didn't seem to remember much after that other than that there were guards, guns and light swords. The coroner later confirmed that the guards were indeed killed by wounds obtained from a weapon that must have been made of sheer energy. A lightsaber.
The young X'diini was apparently drowning in guilt and madly incoherent, but the investigators were there and recorded every single word of her damning testimony. When they brought Obi-Wan in, unconscious, everyone's attention was taken off of her for a moment and Iyana pulled out a concealed blaster, shooting herself in the chest before anyone could stop her.
Qui-Gon and the medics tried to revive her, but it was too late. *"A walk trough the garden..."* she had murmured, as if seeing the afterlife open before her, and then she died.
Her frantic state and impulsive suicide was later concluded to have been, if not entirely caused by, than at least exacerbated by, a spice called Na'dril that the investigators turned up in the chambers. Na'dril was a heavy narcotic, commonly used as a potent aphrodisiac and testing showed high amounts of it in both Obi-Wan and the late lady Iyana's bodies. The level was not high enough however to have caused more than mild disorientation and confusion. Not the absolute uncomprehending terror that Qui-Gon had seen in his apprentice.
When Obi-Wan woke up he remembered nothing that had happened since Qui-Gon left him that morning. Horrified by what he found himself accused of, the young Jedi earnestly protested that absolutely nothing untoward had ever happened between himself and Lady Iyana.
Qui-Gon saw truth in his apprentice's eyes, but neither of them could prove it. Did Qui-Gon have an account of where Obi-Wan was every instant they were on X'diin? Of course not. And what reason did Iyana have to lie? It didn't make sense. None of it made sense.
No physical reason for Obi-Wan's loss of memory could be ascertained and it was viewed by most as a convenient lie.
Qui-Gon had come to the desperate conclusion that a drug called Rycaliin, which was native to X'diin, might have been used on Obi-Wan beforehand to selectively erase the young man's memory. The Court threw that out because there was no trace of Rycaliin found in Obi-Wan when he was tested immediately afterward. It was still the best theory Qui-Gon had however, so he stuck to it until he could come up with another.
Obi-Wan was innocent; he refused to believe otherwise. Yet even Qui-Gon had to admit the evidence was overwhelming. Other than Obi-Wan, all actual witnesses to the event were dead.
*"Convenient,"* Qui-Gon thought with disgust. This was all too well laid out to have been unhappy chance. Someone had to have designed this web, and they did it very well. Obi-Wan was firmly ensnared within its tangle and his Master was at a loss as to how to extradite him.
Qui-Gon had told the Council that witnesses had lied and evidence been fabricated, but, he supposed, he didn't really *know* that.
The Jedi Master sighed unhappily. What was the truth here? He didn't know.
He didn't know *now*, but he certainly intended to find out. He had already been informed that under no circumstances would he be allowed to visit his Padawan in Brl'yndria, but there was nothing to keep him from going to X'diin, and that was exactly what he was going to do. First thing tomorrow morning, he was leaving and he was not coming back until he had the answer to this mess.
Brl'yndria was X'diin's highest security prison, located on a miserable rock of an island thousands of miles offshore in the middle of the storm tossed sea. The confines of the penitentiary were home to over three thousand X'diin criminals, and one young human.
Seven hundred and thirty-five of those inmates were under the age of eighteen. That was what drew a group of Hope's Challenge workers to the barren island.
Hope's Challenge was an organization dedicated to trying to help troubled youths. They had programs in hundreds of prison and rehabilitation colonies all over the galaxy, working with young people, teaching them how to live better lives on the outside, once their sentences were up. High amounts of progress could also lead to sentence reductions on some worlds.
This would be Hope's Challenge's first program on X'diin.
A small watercraft cut through turbulent ocean waters, carrying the Hope workers to Brl'yndria. A pretty woman in her late twenties with auburn hair and green eyes leaned against the forward railing of the craft, watching the island grow on the horizon. She had been with Hope's Challenge for the past ten or eleven years. Her first introduction to the organization had been when she herself was a troubled youth of sixteen, now she was the leader of the Brl'yndria project.
"Ms. Jancy? Ms. Cyndi Jancy?" the X'diini captain of the craft approached her. "We are preparing to dock Ms. Jancy, please have your people ready to move out. The tides are unpredictable here and disembarking is best done quickly."
"Hey, human," the word was applied insultingly. "You fall in the laundry or something?" one of the other teenage inmates taunted Obi-Wan about his fair skin, which contrasted sharply with the deep purple skin of the X'diin.
Obi-Wan ignored the jab and tried to keep eating his food. He did not feel very hungry.
"I'm talking to you freak," the X'diini, whose name was Vrad, snapped, leaning on the cafeteria table so that Obi-Wan had to see him. Average height for a X'diin was seven feet and the huge purple beings could make Obi-Wan feel very small.
The three X'diini inmates that surrounded him now were purposefully using their height in an attempt to intimidate the young human. In the two weeks he had spent here, Obi-Wan had quickly become the favorite target for all the bullies in the juvenile branch of the imposing prison.
One of the X'diins intentionally knocked Obi-Wan's cup over, sloshing it across his plate and the table. Obi-Wan sighed inwardly. *"Here we go again,"* he thought grimly.
"Oops!" Vrad mocked, pretending it was an accident. "How clumsy of me! Here, let me fix that for you." Picking up Obi-Wan's watery plate the bully dumped it on the young Jedi's lap and then dropped the dish on the floor.
"What a mess! Better pick it up humie," a second boy smirked, using the X'diin's derogatory word for human.
Obi-Wan tried to control his temper. Rising out of his seat he brushed the food off his prison uniform and knelt to pick up the fallen plate. If he were blamed for making a mess in the prison's cafeteria, he would be stuck cleaning it up for the next three days. Due to the X'diini's residual prejudice towards non-X'diins, especially humans, the guards and wardens usually had no trouble blaming anything that went wrong on Obi-Wan.
Vrad kicked the plate out of the young human's hand, sending it skittering across the floor.
Obi-Wan battled back the red haze that wanted to cloud his vision. Even if he was no longer a Jedi, he would not give into hate.
No longer a Jedi... the pain of his expulsion was still a raw, throbbing wound in his chest, rising up and nearly overcoming him every few moments.
Refusing to be provoked, Obi-Wan got up and retrieved the dish. The best way to handle a bully was to ignore them. Unfortunately, that wasn't always possible.
Vrad shoved Obi-Wan.
The teenage human stumbled, but kept his balance.
"Aw, poor little Humie lose his footing?" Vrad taunted.
"Wretched little Jedi reject," one of the other boys sneered.
"Jedi reject, Jedi reject," they sing-songed, shoving the smaller human boy around between them. News traveled fast, even in prison, and most all the inmates knew who and what Obi-Wan had been. After all, a single human in the all-X'diin prison attracted a lot of attention and curiosity.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, breathing deeply in an attempt to control his raging emotions. Vrad and the others were pushing him too far this time.
"Hey little Jedi, where's your braid?" Vrad ran his finger over the bare patch behind Obi-Wan's right ear.
It was all right there in front of Obi-Wan's eyes again. Qui-Gon's large hands cutting off the braid that had grown, with their relationship, for the past three years. Obi-Wan could still feel the gentle touch of those hands over his own at other times, in the happy bygone days when he was Qui-Gon's apprentice and the Jedi Master would guide the Padawan through a new maneuver, or lightsaber drill. *"You are no longer my Padawan, you are no longer a Jedi..."* Obi-Wan's chest tightened. It was still all right there, painful and fresh as if it had happened yesterday.
Vrad's friend Tiimo sniggered. "Doesn't matter, they don't want him no more. Murders aren't allowed, at least, not one's that are convicted!" Reaching over Obi-Wan's shoulder, Tiimo made a snipping motion with his fingers. They really had no notion what they were talking about; they were simply trying to be annoying.
They succeeded. They more than succeeded, they went too far. The wounds in Obi-Wan were much too raw to be able to take that kind of mockery.
"You haven't got any idea what you're talking about! Go away and leave me alone!" Obi-Wan demanded, shoving their hands away from him.
Vrad smiled. They had hit a nerve. "Make us," he taunted. "They say you Jedi are so tough, but you just look like a puny little Humie to me."
"Maybe that's 'cause he's only an ex-Jedi," Tiimo jabbed. "Think maybe you can get the prison to boot you out the way the Jedi booted you out reject?" the X'diin shoved the young human again.
Obi-Wan lost control of the feelings he was fighting. Before he could stop himself he planted a solid punch right into Tiimo's smirking mouth. The power of the blow sent the X'diin head over heels over the cafeteria table. Vrad howled and lunged for Obi-Wan. All havoc broke loose and the entire mess area turned into one, gigantic brawl as all the inmates started fighting with each other, needing no provocation or reason other then that it was already happening. Food and meal trays went everywhere as the brawl turned into a food-fight as well.
Guards were on the scene in an instant but it was several moments before they could bring the rioting inmates back under control. Once order was restored an angry Warden paced up and down the lines of bruised and battered teenage boys ranging in age from twelve to seventeen.
"Disturbances like this will not be tolerated! You are all going to clean this up!" the warden snapped. "Half rations for a week and extra work assignments for everybody! Now, who started this outrage?" he demanded.
No fewer than seven sets of fingers pointed at Obi-Wan. The teenager knew he was in for it now.
The warden stalked over and frowned down at the human. A lovely purple shiner marred his right cheekbone, but Obi-Wan's turquoise eyes were unrepentant. Vrad and Tiimo were much worse off.
"More trouble from you again, hm?" the warden's face was dark. "Maybe a day on the wall will take some of the energy out of you."
Obi-Wan pressed his lips together in a tight line. A whole day? That was pretty harsh.
All the inmates that participated in the brawl were required to clean up the mess that had been made out of breakfast. When they were done, the guards took Obi-Wan away to face the rest of his punishment.
Vrad tried to smirk at the young human as they took him out, but his swollen mouth and bloody nose marred the effect.
Obi-Wan lifted his chin grimly. The X'diin's injuries did not please him, he derived no pleasure from another's pain, but at least perhaps Vrad and his friends would think twice before they purposefully tried to egg him into a fight. Obi-Wan squared his shoulders. He did not relish the idea of spending more time on the wall, but he was not sorry, not one bit.
Cyndi consulted her data pad, leaning wearily against her desk. "Is that all of them Kire?" she asked her fellow Hope worker.
The Calamarian poked his large salmon head out into the hall. Pulling it in again, he nodded, "That's all Cyndi, no more left out here."
The first thing they had had to do was register all those who wished to participate in the Hope's Challenge program. Participation was on a voluntary basis. Of course, since the X'diin government, less interested in seeing the program work than in sponging up the funding that the Republic backed Hope's Challenge with, wanted the program (and thus the funding) extended to their other prison's as well, the inmates of Brl'yndria were strongly "encouraged" to volunteer, resulting in a very impressive number of enrollees.
X'diini were known to be generally un-fond of humans, and, as the only human in her group, Cyndi had been a little concerned that that might have a negative effect on her ability to connect with the kids here. She had been greatly relieved to see that, at least so far, her species was not presenting a serious problem.
Oh, certainly some of the more insolent, rebellious youngsters called her a "Humie", but apparently word had been spread that being nice, or at least, begrudgingly respectful, of her would make life easier for them, and the young people in Brl'yndria may have been criminals, but they weren't stupid. The wardens too, seemed to have orders from higher up for they treated her with respect and any personal bigotry they might have felt was masked under the cool, business-like manor in which they conducted themselves around her.
Cyndi shook her head, eventually, she hoped, many of the young X'diini would become truly interested in what she offered them, and come to respect her and the other Hope workers as people, and not just because they were told to do so. She had seen it work before.
Kire was scanning over his data pad. He chortled in his throat, giving his odd-shaped head a shake. "Seven hundred and thirty-four enrollees processed. That's the entire juvenile population of Brl'yndria!"
"Not quite," Cyndi shook her head. "Records say seven hundred and thirty-five."
"Ooh, one person," Kire said sarcastically. "Disappointed Cyndi?"
Cyndi pretended to throw her data pad at her grinning Calamarian friend. "No, just being specific."
"Okay then, who, specifically, did not care to sign up?" Kire asked, sitting down and leaning back in his seat.
Pushing a lock of hair behind her ear, Cyndi compared their data banks of volunteers to the prisoner records that had been made accessible to them. It didn't take long to find the only discrepancy. "Ah, there's our only hold-out. Kid named Kenobi, prisoner number 890, age: 16 standard years, 5'4", brown hair, hazel eyes... hey, get this Kire, he's human."
"A human prisoner here in Brl'yndria?" the Calamarian's bulbous eyes showed a bit of surprise. "I thought everyone here was X'diini."
"So did I," Cyndi mused. "I wonder if that's got anything to do with why he did not volunteer for the program."
"Maybe," Kire shrugged.
Cyndi, Kire and the rest of the Hope crew had been working since noon. It was now late evening and time to call it a day. Completing her last duty, Cyndi presented her report of the day's events, such as they were, to Brl'yndria's Head Warden Asar Dr'l.
"I trust the turn-out was acceptable," the thick-limbed X'diini inquired briskly.
"It was quite impressive Mr. Dr'l," Cyndi acknowledged. "All but one of your inmates have already enrolled."
"Yes, I see," Head Warden Dr'l nodded, scanning over the data pad she had presented him with. "Prisoner Kenobi is currently undergoing reprimand for misbehavior this morning. I will see that he reports to you first thing tomorrow."
"Thank you sir," Cyndi nodded, a wry smile tugging at her lips. *"I guess these people really have no concept what the phrase: 'volunteer' means,"* she thought sarcastically.
After discussing a few more details with the official, Cyndi took her leave, heading down the main hall towards the east wing of the prison. Since Brl'yndria was the only structure on the island, Cyndi and the rest of the Hope team had been provided quarters within the facility itself. It was an admittedly different situation than they were used to, but since it was necessary, Cyndi hoped that it might make the youths feel closer and more comfortable around them as well. In some ways, they were all prisoners on this island now.
The way to the east wing took her through the commons area. The commons area was the central hub of the prison complex to which all hallways eventually led. To one side of the area was the doors that led to the huge cafeterias where the prisoners were served breakfast, lunch and dinner (the X'diini deemed it too expensive to acquire and maintain the number of droids that would be required to bring the meals to each of the prison's three thousand inmates in their cells). There were seven separate cafeteria rooms and each room held about two hundred inmates at a time. Meals were served in two shifts.
A set of doors on the other side led out to the force-field enclosed outdoor area where the prisoners were allowed to exercise three times a week. Directly between the two, dividing the commons area like a median so that one had to pass it on one side or the other, was an upraised platform, several feet above the ground. On that platform as a nine-foot tall projection that was a dull silver-grey color and resembled a narrow wall. That was where Cyndi saw the only other human occupant of Brl'yndria, and when she found out just what the officials here considered a "reprimand".
Obi-Wan had been strapped to the device that was known simply as "the wall" by prisoners and wardens alike for hours now. The wall was actually more of a square pillar. It was just wide enough for a man to stand with his back to it and have his arms pulled back and fastened on either side of the pillar. Obi-Wan stood upright, held against the wall by the fastenings around his wrists. He tried to keep his breathing even, but it had become impossible as the hours dragged by.
The seemingly featureless wall had one attribute that was not visible to the naked eye. It was electro-charged and random burst of energy zapped through it every few moments. They were unpredictable and Obi-Wan could find no pattern to the searing jolts of pain. They flickered at random intervals and with verying intensity. Some were no worse than a shock obtained from touching a live light socket; others were as searing as a blow from an electro-jabber.
The constant electricity was disturbing the young Jedi's natural heart rhythm and Obi-Wan's pulse was racing unevenly as beads of perspiration rolled down his bare sides and arms. A jolt of pain rocked him and he moaned softly, wondering how much longer they were going to leave him here. He had already spent an agonizing day on the insidious wall, he prayed that they were not going to leave him here all night as well, he didn't know if he could take it.
Through pain-fogged eyes Obi-Wan saw a pretty young woman standing about three meters away. She was human, that by itself was enough to make her a novelty here, but Obi-Wan also had the funny notion that she seemed... familiar to him somehow. Why, or who she was, he did not know and could not begin to guess. Goodness knows he had met enough different people during his and Qui-Gon's missions... Obi-Wan's throat clutched up, that had been a mistake to think.
For a moment, he studied the woman, her curly auburn hair and clear green eyes... then a terrible jolt of pain caused his vision to cloud again.
Cyndi found the boy staring back at her for a moment. Then she saw him flinch and tighten; pressing his head back against the wall he was bound to as a spasm of pain overtook him.
Another wave, worse than the first, followed quickly and Obi-Wan cried out unintentionally, straining against the bonds that held him.
Cyndi bit her lip. She did not like to see people in pain. She wished there was something she could do for the boy, but she knew she would only make trouble for him and herself if she tried to do anything now. She would have to wait and talk to him tomorrow.
Obi-Wan slumped forward, held up only by the placement of his arms. Was it just him, or did the jolts seem to be increasing in both intensity and frequency?
His mind was a blur of pain and conscious thought was becoming difficult. Perhaps, Obi-Wan thought hopefully, he would pass out soon. Consciousness remained however, for two more excruciating hours before the strong young Jedi's body finally gave in to the black void that beckoned him, promising release from his pain and, at least for a while, rest without the constant torment of his dreams.
Come out Moon, come out wishing star
Come out come out, wherever you are.
I need you to come here and find me,
'Cause without you I'm totally lost.
I've hung a wish on every star
It hasn't done much good so far.
I can only dream of you,
And wonder if you're dreaming too
Wherever you are.
I'll hear you laugh, I'll see you smile
I'll be with you, just for a while.
But when the morning comes
And the dawn begins to break, I will lose you.
Because it's just a dream, when I open up my eyes
I will lose you.
I used to believe in forever,
But Forever's too good to be true.
I've hung a wish on every star
It hasn't done much good so far.
I can only dream of you,
And wonder if you're dreaming too
Wherever you are.
(Song of unknown title and origin. I don't know who owns it, but it's not me.)
Toward morning, Obi-Wan's fitful, almost delirious slumber once more became filled with dreams. Dream after dream, unrelenting as he tossed and turned on the sleeping pallet in his cell. Some dark and horrible, some beautiful and bright.
The happy ones were the hardest really, because in them he was with Qui-Gon again and they were working side by side like they used to do. The big Master would smile at Obi-Wan, one of those warm smiles that made the boy's whole heart want to sing, and Obi-Wan would wish he could stay in that dream forever and never have to awaken to the cruel reality around him. Yet ever in a small, back corner of the teenager's mind was the knowledge that it was just a dream, however wonderful, and would vanish with the morning light, or the next fleeting turn of his tortured mind.
Indeed, a few moments later, Qui-Gon's smile vanished and his eyes turned accusing. Looking down, Obi-Wan saw blood on his hands. Horror clutched at his heart as he tried to say he hadn't done it, whatever it was... but he couldn't remember and he couldn't get his voice to work. His mouth moved, but it made no sound.
*"I have nothing of you, and you have nothing of me..."* Qui-Gon's cold voice rang through Obi-Wan's head as the Jedi Master cut loose the bond that had meant everything to the Padawan, that had become his entire world.
*"No, Master, please!"* Obi-Wan wanted to scream, wanted to plead, but he couldn't speak, his voice was barely a whisper.
Qui-Gon turned his back to his former Padawan and Obi-Wan was suddenly surrounded by people, thousands of them without names or faces. *"Guilty!"* they chanted harshly, over and over until the swelling roar of it seemed to fill Obi-Wan's ears and make his head pound. *"Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"*
Obi-Wan looked around, searching desperately for Qui-Gon, but the big Jedi was gone without a trace and Obi-Wan was completely alone in the middle of the hostile throng. *"Murderer! Murderer! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"* they screamed at him.
*"No! I'm not! I'm not guilty! I'm not! I didn't do it! I don't remember... but I didn't! I didn't kill anybody, I swear I didn't!"* Obi-Wan was sobbing now, both in his dream, and in reality, but in his dream his voice was too soft and too small to be heard above the din of the thousands who declared his guilt. *"No! No! Stop it!"* Obi-Wan tried so hard to make his voice work, to make himself heard, that he ended up actually crying the words aloud and yanking himself out of the hideous dream.
Yet waking brought no comfort, for Obi-Wan merely awoke from one nightmare to another, and there was no visible end to the one he was trapped in now. He could not console himself that it was only a bad dream because it was true, every single, horrible moment of it was true.
Obi-Wan rolled over, feeling his tortured body screech dully at him. Burrowing his face into the pillow, the boy soaked it with his sorrow, sobbing until he had no tears left to cry.
In too much pain from his punishment yesterday to be able to fall asleep again, Obi-Wan just lay there in the dim twilight of his cell, heartsick and drained, until the lights came on and the wake-up sirens blared.
The young Jedi tried to rise, but the world spun around him and he sank back down again quickly. His eyes were itchy and swollen from crying and he felt as if his body were burning up. He was terribly thirsty.
Besides the normal after-effects of having gone through such a severe ordeal, Obi-Wan's problems were compounded by the fact that the wall was intended, and therefore calibrated, for X'diini, whose bodies were much bigger, and much stronger than Obi-Wan's comparatively small human one. It was like using a stun collar meant for a bantha on a kaduu.
"Inmate 890, you will rise and come with me," a brisk voice from the other side of the cell's clear, force-field door commanded.
Obi-Wan moaned and reached up to hold his aching head. Oh, Sith, where they talking to him? Did they seriously mean they expected him to be able to actually *move*?
"Inmate 890 you *will* rise and come with me immediately, is that understood?" the guard's voice acquired a threatening edge when Obi-Wan did not respond.
Obi-Wan had learned to beware of that edge. "Y-yes sir," he mumbled groggily, forcing himself to sit up. The boy's hands went immediately to his head again and he moaned softly in pain. Oh, but he hurt!
The guard waited impatiently for several moments as Obi-Wan struggled to collect himself. The boy still wore his prison uniform from yesterday, so there was no need to dress, all he had to do was get up and walk over to the door...
It sounded so easy in theory, but Obi-Wan was having a hard time making his hurting body obey. Finally rising with an incredible amount of effort, Obi-Wan stumbled to the door. The guard touched a panel on the wall and the force-field door disintegrated.
The X'diini guard eyed the small human prisoner. He didn't know much about humans, or what was normal for them, but this one, at least in his opinion, did not look too good.
Taking Obi-Wan by the arm, the guard helped support the young human as he led him towards Hope's Challenge's new headquarters. For this help, Obi-Wan was very grateful. Not all the X'diini where mean and hard, just like with any other species, they had were all very different.
Cyndi looked up from her desk when the guard knocked on one side of the open doorframe. She saw that he had the boy she had seen last night with him. "Come in," she invited, smiling warmly.
Obi-Wan was surprised to see that this is where he was being taken. He wasn't sure who Cyndi was, or what she was doing here in Brl'yndria, but her smile was warm and that was something at least.
The guard deposited Obi-Wan in the room and moved back to stand outside the door, unobtrusive, but ready to act if there was any trouble.
Cyndi reflected, as she looked him over, that the teenager hardly looked in any condition to be making trouble. He looked drawn, dark circles hung beneath his eyes and a large, swelling bruise mottled the right side of his pale face.
"I was told to report to you Ma'am," Obi-Wan said respectfully, trying not to sway unsteadily as he stood facing her.
What Cyndi saw in Obi-Wan's eyes surprised her. The young man met her gaze squarely, without looking away as most of the young people she worked with would do. His eyes were clear, honest, and bright, yet they held incredible sorrow. Cyndi was intrigued.
"Why don't you sit down Kenobi?" she gestured towards a chair. The boy did not look too steady.
Obi-Wan moved to obey, but the ground seemed suddenly alive and heaved unsteadily beneath his feet. His vision hazed yellow and black splotches floated before his eyes. Catching himself on the wall, Obi-Wan attempted to clamp down and drive the weakness away.
Cyndi's eyebrows creased in concern. "Are you all right?" she asked, and then kicked herself for asking such a stupid question when the boy was obviously *not* all right.
Obi-Wan nodded mutely, still struggling to clear his vision and regain his sense of balance.
Cyndi laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and felt that the boy's body was trembling. He was controlling it, but it was still there. "You're not well," she observed compassionately.
"I-I'll be fine in just a minute," Obi-Wan said a trifle hoarsely, pressing his eyes shut against another wave of dizziness. The boy was deathly pale.
"You need to see a medic," Cyndi said gently, taking him by the arm. "I'll take you..."
"No!" Obi-Wan protested weakly, trying to pull away from her. "Don't need a medic, I'll be fine..." but the way his words were starting to slur only served to convince the older woman otherwise.
"Don't be stubborn with me now, you're not well and you need to be treated, come on," she coaxed.
Obi-Wan continued to shake his head in protest.
"Is there a problem Ms. Jancy?" the guard asked, stepping into the room.
"Kenobi is ill," she said with concern, wishing the prisoner file had contained first names. "He needs to see a medic."
"Come with me," the guard ordered briskly, but not unkindly.
Obi-Wan repressed a groan. It was an order now, not a request. Given no choice he pried himself loose from the wall.
Cyndi took his arm, steadying him. "I'll go with you, you'll be okay," she said as they followed the guard out. She hadn't meant for this to turn into a command, but Kenobi really did not look well. She wondered at his reluctance to seeing a medic when he was obviously feeling so poorly. Teenage bravado? Cyndi wasn't sure.
When they reached the prison's clinic she began to understand perhaps a little of Obi-Wan's aversion to it.
The medical droids who ran the clinic were efficient and skilled, but compassion was apparently not high on their list of credentials. The mechanical medics' bedside manor had all the warmth and understanding of a bacta tank.
To Obi-Wan's great embarrassment they made him strip completely naked for examination, without even thinking to ask Cyndi to leave the room.
Cyndi quickly realized that, as much as she wanted to help the boy, it would be far better for him right now if she left. "I'll see you in a little bit, Kenobi," she excused herself quickly to avoid further humiliating the young inmate.
Cyndi was working at her desk about ten or fifteen minutes later when Kire found her.
"Cyndi," the Calamarian man said, taking a seat across from her.
"What's up Ki?" she asked when she saw the serious look in his eyes.
"Cyndi, I know you just wanted to help that Kenobi kid, I probably would have done the same thing, but I wouldn't recommend doing it that way again," he friend said softly.
"What do you mean?" Cyndi asked, giving him her full attention.
"It seems," Kire sighed, "That it is... how shall we say... frowned upon, when inmates turn up in the clinic after having been 'reprimanded'," he shook his head.
Cyndi's temper flared for a moment. "He was really sick Ki! He needed medical attention!"
"I know, I know," the Calamarian looked pained. "It's not nice, but it's the way it seems to work here."
Cyndi sighed; it wasn't the first time she had seen this sort of thing. If she had been here a little longer she would have already known the quirks of this particular place and avoided such a snafu, as it was, she hoped that the boy didn't have to pay too dearly for her blunder.
The young woman ran her hand through her hair. This was just great. Barely 48 hours into her first assignment as a program leader and she had already managed to mess something up. "What'd they do?" she asked, not sure she really wanted to know.
"The boy's been put in solitary for two weeks. They say it's a "recovery period" but you know as well as I do that it's a punishment," Kire said sadly.
Cyndi sighed. It was so unfair. "I'm sorry Kire, I should have thought first..."
The older Calamarian put a hand on her shoulder. "It's not your fault Cyndi, any of us would have done the same. I just thought you should know."
"Thanks," Cyndi shook her head. "Great start I'm making. You should have been in charge of this program Ki, not me, you've been with Hope so much longer than I have..."
"I don't want to be in charge Cyndi, it would take too much time away from my work with the kids, you know that. Besides, I wouldn't think too much about this, everybody makes mistakes. You were put in charge because they knew you could handle it, I know you can too," Kire reassured his friend.
"I suppose trying to do anything further about this would only make things worse," Cyndi said hesitantly.
Kire nodded. "You're right about that. Be careful Cyndi. You and that boy are the only two humans here; the last thing we need is people thinking that you're favoring him because of that. Being accused of speciesism is a charge we don't need."
Cyndi nodded and rolled her eyes. "That would really hamper our work." Bigotry charges were indeed the last thing they needed.
After Kire left, Cyndi tried to return to her work, but her thoughts kept floating back to that Kenobi kid.
What was a lone, human prisoner doing in Brl'yndria? Bringing the prison records on-line through her data pad again, Cyndi once more scanned the scanty info that the prison officials had allowed her. She keyed in a request for more information on prisoner 890 and, having done what she could, tried to get her mind back to the tasks at hand.
Two hours later, her pad beeped to let her know she had a message. It turned out to be the information she had requested. She had to say one thing for the X'diin. They were prompt. Opening the file she scanned through it, and felt a funny tingle run up her spine. All the particulars were there, the boy's status as an ex-Jedi, the crimes he was imprisoned for, his sentence, and, his full name.
For a moment, Cyndi couldn't quite figure out why that name seemed familiar. Kenobi meant nothing to her, but Obi-Wan... Then she heard a child's voice in her head. *"My name Obi-Wan..."* Cyndi's eyes grew wide as it came back to her. *"Obi-Wan 'enobi,"* the child lisped, garbling the last name so badly that it was rendered unrecognizable.
Cyndi sat very straight, staring at the pad in her hands. *Could it be...?*
Twelve years ago. He was four, she was sixteen. Kenobi was sixteen now, twelve years... the time frame fit.
Cyndi had sworn she would never forget that child, the little Jedi boy who turned her life around and started her on the road that had led her where she was today, and she hadn't. She wondered what had happened to get that bright, happy child from where he had been then, to where he was now and her heart twisted inside her.
Was it the same boy, was it truly? She had to know. She was very conscious of the words of warning Kire had given her only hours before, but she simply had to know, and if this boy was the same child, then she owed it to him.
Opening a comm channel, she put in a call to the head warden. He was the only one who could give permission for prisoners to have visitors while in solitary confinement.
Obi-Wan sat in the corner of the small, dark cell with his knees folded up to his chest. The medic droids had given him an injection that counter-balanced the after effects of wall, but his body still ached.
He did not mind being alone, except that it gave him too much time to think, to remember... and neither was pleasant. He also would not be allowed exercise and that, Obi-Wan knew, would wear on him. He was used to being physically active.
Cyndi looked in at him through the energy-door. The boy had his arms wrapped around his legs in a familiar posture, his forehead resting on his knees. The isolation cell was tiny at best and was barely big enough for Obi-Wan to stand up in it, or take more than one step in any direction. Cyndi couldn't imagine anyone being forced to spend two weeks in a little cupboard like that.
At a command from the guard who accompanied her, the energy-door disintegrated and Cyndi stepped into the tiny cell, it was barely big enough to hold two people.
Obi-Wan looked up, surprised by the sudden visit when he knew he was supposed to be isolated.
Cyndi's heart skipped a beat as he looked up at her. He was no longer small enough to hide behind his knees, but the body language was still the same. Obi-Wan's eyes were rimmed with red, and although Cyndi bet he would never admit it, he had doubtless been crying. But it was his eyes that made Cyndi's breath catch. Gazing into them, the woman found herself looking into turbulent blue-green oceans of expression that seemed to be locked in their own, private storm.
Cyndi knelt in front of him, laying one hand gently on his arm. "Stormy?" she asked softly.
Obi-Wan blinked. Why was that name...? His eyebrows furrowed.
*Stormy.* No one had called him that in years, and then, only one person he could think of.
Peering at Cyndi intently, Obi-Wan tried to match his childish memories with the image of the woman before him. "C-Cyndi?" he said hesitantly.
Cyndi nodded, chills running up and down her spine. "You said we'd see each other again Stormy, I mean, Obi-Wan," she corrected herself, realizing that he was probably much too old for pet names like that. "I guess you were right after all."
For a moment Obi-Wan smiled, then he looked sad again. "It seems we both have come a long way from where we were then," he said softly. "It was a different world, for both of us. I'm glad at least that your change has been for the better," the young Jedi's voice was a little hoarse.
Cyndi really wanted to know if he had in fact done the things he was committed for, but had the diplomacy to keep her mouth shut. "I just came to say I'm sorry I got you in trouble, by taking you to the clinic, I had no idea..."
Obi-Wan waved her apology off. "You couldn't know, it's okay."
"Ms. Jancy? Time's up Ms. Jancy. The Head Warden said only three minutes," the guard at the door informed her.
Cyndi gave Obi-Wan's arm another squeeze and backed out of the claustrophobically tiny cell. "I'll see you later Sto- Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan nodded, cheered a little by her visit. "Oh, and Cyndi?" the boy said right before the energy-door cut them apart again. "You're still the only person who can make it sound unnatural to call me by my real name," the teenager said with the faint hint of a smile.
"Okay, Stormy," Cyndi said as the energy field sprang to life once more.
"I'm sorry sir, but I am not authorized to give out copies of official Incident reports," the clerk at the records office on Xdiin informed Qui-Gon stiffly. The Xdiin had a most condescending manor, speaking to the Jedi as if he were a stupid child.
Qui-Gon merely leveled the fellow with an inscrutable gaze. "You *will* give me a copy of the Incident report concerning Senator T'lyn's death," the Jedi repeated calmly, with a small, almost unnoticeable wave of his hand. "It won't be a problem at all."
The Xdiini clerk nodded slowly. "Yes, yes, I guess I can get it for you, it won't be a problem at all."
"Thank you," Qui-Gon said dryly.
An hour later, Qui-Gon sat poring over the report in the room he was renting near the spaceport.
There had to be something here he was missing, some clue that could be picked up upon if only he looked hard enough...
Downing another swallow of tea the Master read the whole report over again. It didn't take too long, there wasn't much too it.
*"Senator Astor T'lyn was pronounced dead at approximately 18:32 standard time, on the third day of fifth cycle. The time of death has been ascertained to have been between 17:50 and 18:15.
The Senator was murdered just outside his chambers upon returning from meeting with the Rydarian ambassador.
It has been determined that Astor T'lyn died as a result of having his head severed from his body by what would have had to have been a pure beam of energy."
If the words weren't so damning, Qui-Gon might have been inclined to grin at the phrasing of the statement. Yes, having one's head severed from their bodies usually did result in death.
"Three of Astor T'lyn's personal bodyguards were also killed in a similar manor.
A suspect has been taken into custody.
Autopsy report attached."*
There it was, short brisk and to the point. It wasn't much help, at least not yet, but Qui-Gon carefully tucked all the facts away in his mind for later reference. Still, it bothered him slightly that all the guards had died of lightsaber wounds. Somehow it just seemed a little too... neat.
Manipulating the data pad's control bar, Qui-Gon tried to bring up the autopsy report, but the snobbish clerk at the record center must have neglected to attach it, because there was nothing there.
Qui-Gon sighed. Incompetence was a terrible annoyance. Leaning back in his chair the Jedi Master studied the ceiling. Earlier he had been over the scene of the crime again, but there was little to be gained by it. The Senator's chambers were lavish and ornate, but the cloud of the deaths that had taken place there hung heavy upon Qui-Gon as he looked the place over. There was nothing very remarkable about the layout of the suite. It had a bedroom, living area and kitchen unit and a spate of other recreation rooms that bore little upon the investigation. There were only three doors that let out of the apartment. One to the hall which Qui-Gon had entered through, one that lead out to where the Senator was killed, and the other into a beautiful garden that adjoined the committee building. Nothing struck Qui-Gon at the time, but he had stored it all away, you could never tell what might prove to be useful later.
Attempting to reconstruct Obi-Wan's actions that day after Qui-Gon had left him had proved to be an equally fruitless endeavor. The only thing known was that he had been seen heading towards T'yln's chambers at about 17:15. All in all, it had been a very frustrating day.
Ever in the back of the big Jedi's mind was the heart-wrenching image of the last time he saw his apprentice. Yes, he still referred to Obi-Wan as his apprentice in his mind, expulsion and Jedi be damned! Obi-Wan was his Padawan and the thought of him stuck in that isolated, speck in the ocean that the X'diin called a prison, thinking his Master had lost faith in him, was nearly enough to drive Qui-Gon crazy. So he had better not think about it, it would only cloud his judgement and rational thinking and that would do Obi-Wan no good. For Obi-Wan's sake, he had to put his feelings on hold for now and try to function purely practical.
Checking his chronometer, Qui-Gon rose out of his seat. Donning his long, brown robe once more, the Jedi Master headed for the door. He had an appointment to keep.
"Frankly Master Jinn, I'm not sure why you're here," Leron A'wok, former top aide to the late Senator T'lyn said politely. "The Courts closed the case. And although I am sure that it is very painful to you personally, you must admit that the evidence was more than sufficient."
"I am aware of that Mr. A'wok," Qui-Gon nodded neutrally, studying the middle-aged Xdiin from across the desk that separated them. "The courts may be satisfied, but I am not. There are still some pieces which do not quite fit together in my mind, that is why I'm here."
"So you said in your message," Leron nodded. "Well, if I can be of any help to you, I will do all I can. However I'm not sure what you think I can do for you. After all Master Jinn, I was in meetings all day and did not even learn of the Senator's death until nearly two hours after it happened."
"Yes, you said as much at the trial, that's not what I wish to speak to you about," Qui-Gon shook his head.
"Oh? Then what?" Leron seemed puzzled.
"The reason my apprentice and I were assigned to accompany Senator T'lyn to Xdiin in the first place was because he feared for his life. He claimed that someone was trying to kill him. As his top aide, I am interested in your theory about what motivated this fear in him."
Leron seemed thoughtful. "Without meaning any disrespect to the dead Master Jedi, I must confess that Senator T'lyn could be both a very irascible and very unreasonable man, I think you yourself could attest to that. Anyone who spent any great amount of time around him could. Once he got an idea in his head, it was not easy to change his mind. I know of no specific reason for his paranoia. There were some freak accidents, but nothing that serious," the former aide shrugged.
"Accidents?" Qui-Gon inquired. "That didn't come up at the trial."
"No reason for them to, I told you, they were just accidents, nothing to fuss over. A public transit that he was supposed to have taken crashed, a lift in his temporary residence malfunctioned, that sort of thing. Perfectly explainable, but T'lyn became obsessed with the idea that these were direct attempts on his life," Leron shook his head.
"So in your opinion there was no basis for his fear?" Qui-Gon asked.
"None that I know of, but you should know that although I was the Senator's top aide, I was hardly his confidant. There may well be things that I am not aware of that played a part. But I have told you all I know," Leron spread his long-fingered indigo palms helplessly. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have other business to attend to today. The Senator's death has put me in the unfortunate position of being jobless. After all, what good's an aide without a Senator?"
Qui-Gon rose. "I understand Mr. A'wok, thank you for your time."
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" the diplomat asked as he showed the Jedi to the door.
"I would appreciate it if you could authorize my request for a full copy of the incident report concerning the Senator's death, with all the relevant attachments," Qui-Gon said, successfully masking the weariness in his voice.
"Of course Master Jinn," Leron nodded. "I hope that you may find the piece of mind that you seek."
I can read your mind, and I know your story,
I know what you're going through, Oh
It's an uphill climb, and you're feeling sorry,
But we're going to find a way.
So don't surrender, 'cause you can win in this thing called life.
When you want it the most, there's no easy way out
When you're ready to go and you're heart's left in doubt
Don't give up on your faith, love comes to those who believe it
And that's the way it is.
("That's the Way it Is" by Celine Dion. Belongs to her and some record company, not me. I am doing the lyrics by memory, so forgive me if they are not exactly right.)
Cyndi made a circuit of the room around. They had had so many volunteers for their program that they had to split them up into several smaller units with different counselors assigned to each group. By no accident, Cyndi ended up with the group that Obi-Wan was in.
Right at the moment, she was overseeing her group of nearly 30 teenagers while they worked on one of the projects that was designed to give inmates who had no way of legally supporting themselves training in various different fields so that they could find and hold a descent job when they got out. Well, that is, most of the inmates were working. Some were just goofing off.
Cyndi knew it took a certain mix of patience, sternness and kindness to get through to these kids. Some of them could never be reached, would never accept the help she offered, but she would do her darndest to keep reaching to them anyway, it was her life, and it was her greatest passion.
Stopping to pause by each young person, she tried to give them all a little personal attention. She knew that in jail, after a while it was easy to start feeling like a number or a statistic, like you didn't matter and that kind of nihilistic thinking was exactly what put a lot of kids in here in the first place.
When she reached Obi-Wan's place she smiled warmly and offered the same sort of friendly encouragement that she had been giving everyone. Obi-Wan hardly needed any instruction or help, the boy seemed to be a natural with whatever you put into his hands, or at least he certainly learned fast. Cyndi bet that his Jedi background had a lot to do with that.
A tall X'diini boy across the table laughed cruelly. "Hey Ms. Cyndi, don't waste time with that loser," the boy sneered. "He's nothing but a freaking murderer!"
"Tiimo," Cyndi said firmly, giving the boy a sharp look. "Did anyone interrupt so rudely when I was with you? Besides, that sort of talk is not allowed in here." Cyndi had to bite her tongue to keep from demanding what Tiimo had done to be here that gave him the right to be so judgmental. "The past doesn't matter, we've got to focus on the present to improve the future," Cyndi said instead.
"What future? He's never getting out of here anyway, so what's it matter?" Tiimo said with well-practiced malice.
"That's enough Tiimo!" Cyndi snapped. "I will not tolerate that kind of talk. One more word like that and I'll have you put out of here. Understood?"
"Yeah, yeah," the teenager muttered.
Obi-Wan's shoulders had gone very stiff throughout this exchange although he betrayed no emotion. "May I be excused Ms. Cyndi?" he asked quietly.
"You don't have to go anywhere Obi-Wan," Cyndi was careful not to call him Stormy in front of the other inmates. "These programs are open to everyone who wants to be here."
"I know, I'd just like to be excused please," Obi-Wan requested again, his hands folded tightly in his lap.
Cyndi sighed silently. "All right Obi-Wan, you may go."
"Thank you." Obi-Wan rose quickly and left. Cyndi saw him walk swiftly into the 'fresher.
For a little while Cyndi continued to do her rounds until she was sure everyone knew what they were doing, then she left them in her assistant's hands and sneaked a moment away to slide into the 'fresher. Muffled sounds, barely audible, drew Cyndi to the rear corner of the large room full of stalls. She found Obi-Wan curled up behind a stack of buckets and cleaning supplies.
The young Jedi knew when she entered and was not surprised when she found him. He quickly wiped his eyes but did not look up. He had been in here crying like a big baby, there was no use hiding it, what did it really matter anyway?
"I'm sorry Stormy, he had no call to talk about you that way. They're just bullies, you can't let them get to you this way," Cyndi said softly, crouching down beside him.
"It's not that," Obi-Wan shook his head without looking at her. "I can ignore them, most of the time anyway," he admitted. "I've put up with bullies before. I-it was what you said..." Obi-Wan's voice trailed off. Oh Force he felt so stupid!
"Me?" Now Cyndi was puzzled. "What did I say?"
"It was nothing, really," Obi-Wan felt himself flushing. "What you said about focusing on the present. My Master always used to say that... Force! I feel like an idiot! I'm sorry Cyndi, I mean, Ms. Cyndi," Obi-Wan was miserably embarrassed.
Cyndi laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Don't be. It's okay."
"Tiimo said I'm a murderer," Obi-Wan said quietly. "Do you think I am? Don't be afraid to say yes, you'd be in good company."
Cyndi considered her answer carefully. "I don't really know what to think Stormy," she shook her head. "I know what the prison file says, but I also remember a little boy who turned my life around. Sometimes people make mistakes; sometimes the people accusing them make mistakes. How about you tell me what happened?"
"You wouldn't believe me," Obi-Wan almost whispered. "No one does. Not even my Master. Sometimes I don't even believe myself."
"Try me Stormy, please, I'm ready to listen," Cyndi said earnestly.
Obi-Wan lifted his reddened eyes to meet hers and took a deep breath. "Well..."
Qui-Gon popped the info chip in his data pad and scanned the contents. True to his word, Leron A'wok had sent him an official copy of the incident report. It read exactly like the other one. Thumbing the control that should have brought up the autopsy report the Jedi waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally a message came up on the screen: "Information requested not found, press enter for manual search or cancel to abort."
With a hissing sigh Qui-Gon punched the cancel button. Was there something to be suspicious about here, or was everyone just extremely forgetful? Maybe there was a way to find out. Calling up the records department Qui-Gon waited on hold for several minutes before someone answered him. "I'm calling regarding a file requested by Leron A'wok, the copy received was incomplete."
"I'm very sorry sir, if you'll tell me what you're missing I'll pull it up for you," the clerk said politely.
Qui-Gon did and then proceeded to wait on hold for another eternity.
"I'm very sorry sir," the clerk said when she came back on. "But the information you request is not in the system. It may not have been entered correctly or accidentally deleted. I can try to get you a hard copy if one exists, but it could take a while..."
"Thank you, I would appreciate that," Qui-Gon terminated the conversation a few moments later. So, the reason he couldn't get it was because it wasn't there to get. Why?
Picking up the comm again, Qui-Gon called Leron. Instead of the aide however, he got Leron's secretary. "I'm sorry sir," she said. Qui-Gon was beginning to get sick of hearing that. "But Mr. A'wok has gone to the auction and won't be in again until tomorrow."
"Auction, what auction?" the Jedi inquired.
"The estate auction for the late Senator T'lyn," the woman said hurriedly, as if she had better things to do with her time than answer stupid questions by nosy callers.
"Oh? And where is that taking place?" Qui-Gon decided to test her patience a little longer.
The secretary rattled off an address so fast that only Qui-Gon's Jedi recall enabled him to remember it and hung up. Qui-Gon didn't waste a second thought on the lady's rudeness, but the auction interested him. The address wasn't that far away, and he suddenly felt in the mood for a nice long walk...
"Do I hear 9,000? 9,000 credits for this lovely original Muutq? Who'll give me nine thousand? 9,000? All right, who'll make it ten?" the auctioneer droned on from his hovering dais near the front of the crowd. The repulsor lifts enabled him to move the platform around to display the wares he was auctioning to the interested bidders.
Qui-Gon hung near the fringes of the crowd, watching the proceedings. Both to remain as unobtrusive as possible, and because a crowd of X'diini was a pretty intimidating prospect. Qui-Gon was a tall man, but these people could dwarf him easily. Feeling short was not something the big Jedi was accustomed to. He scanned the crowd and saw Mr. A'wok up near the auction dais, obviously more occupied in orchestrating the affair then in participating in it.
The auctioneer sold the artwork and loaded a large and exquisite piece of furniture, which Qui-Gon could not quite make out the nature of onto the dais. It must have had some use however, because the bidding quickly escalated into nearly ridiculous levels.
"Well, that breaks me, I'm out," a X'diini behind Qui-Gon lowered his bidding rod with a good natured sigh. "Say," he said, turning his interest towards the human in front of him now that the bidding was beyond his reach. "Don't see many of your kind around here. Come for the auction?"
"You could say that," Qui-Gon deferred the question. "And you?"
"Sure, you could say it's a hobby. You can pick up some really great stuff at these auctions," the Jedi's tall, purple companion shrugged amiably.
"I'm not familiar with your customs here, is there always an auction after someone dies?" Qui-Gon inquired.
"Oh no," the X'diini shook his head, smiling at the idea. "Usually the estate goes to the heirs or next of kin, unless the deceased has an outstanding debts. In that case, they'll auction just enough to cover the debts, then the family gets the rest," Qui-Gon's companion replied.
Another lavishly expensive item was sold. "It would seem that our friend T'lyn had some pretty hefty debts," Qui-Gon observed with a raised eyebrow.
"Indeed," the X'diini agreed. "A little too rich for my budget I'm afraid. They don't usually sell such rare or expensive items; it's well over my head. Well, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find a better way to waste my time." And with that, the fellow left.
Qui-Gon remained, deep in thought. So Senator T'lyn was deep in the red hm? Interesting. Perhaps an afternoon checking out the late Senator's financial records and standing would be time well spent.
Qui-Gon strode purposefully down the pedestrian walk, heading away from the auction. His thoughts were already reaching ahead to the future, speculating, planning, and trying to sew together the pieces that just didn't seem to quite meet. Yet, even so, a part of his mind and consciousness was still focused on the present, and it saved his life.
A quick tingle of warning was all he had. By the time he heard the screech of the vehicle's protesting repulses, it would have been far too late to jump clear. Fortunately, Qui-Gon acted on the warning without questioning it and leaped out of the way just as a small hover-car careened across the pedestrian walk and smashed into an illumi-post on the other side.
For an instant the thought struck Qui-Gon that it was a deliberate attempt, but that was unlikely. If someone where trying to kill him, it would have been smarter *not* to crash their vehicle right after. The driver of the vehicle got out of the car and just stood there, staring at the crumpled front end as if he could not comprehend what in the world had happened to make it look that way. The X'diini looked slightly dazed, but to Qui-Gon it felt like there was more to it than the effect of the crash.
"Are you all right?" Qui-Gon asked calmly, walking over to the bewildered motorist. To the Jedi's utter surprise, the man swung around and immediately started cursing Qui-Gon out in terms that would curl the hair of a space pirate. Then, as quickly as it began, the tirade ended and the fellow looked confused again. "What was I saying?" he inquired. "Say, do you know where this large... thing came from? It seems to have hit my ride..."
If it weren't that Qui-Gon was now sure that this man was on something, this would have been quite comical.
The city law enforcement officers arrived in short order and the man's mood swung again, alternately cursing, weeping and acting truly befuddled as to what was happening.
"Is he all right?" Qui-Gon asked the officer who seemed to be in charge as the babbling man was secured and escorted away.
"As all right as anyone who overdoses on Fr'n is," the woman replied with a mix of irony and weariness. "Are you all right?" she turned the question around, noticing a rather nasty scrape on the back of Qui-Gon's hand.
The Jedi glanced down; he hadn't even noticed it. "Yes, just a scratch. I must have cut it on something when I jumped out of the way."
"So, our friend here almost hit you?"
Qui-Gon nodded the affirmative.
"Good," the officer immediately rethought her statement. "What I mean is, would you please come down to the station to file a report? We have a chance of keeping this guy off the streets for a while if someone was injured, or almost injured."
"Very well," Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at her candor. "Officer..."
"Thank you for your patience Mr. Jinn," Nita said as Qui-Gon finished up the last of the required forms.
After wading through the incredible amount of work involved in filing a report, Qui-Gon was no longer so surprised that Nita had acted as if she felt she had to convince him to come do this.
Qui-Gon hit the save button. "No trouble, Officer Mylanta," he assured. "Are spice problems like this common here?" he inquired in interest. From the way she had acted earlier, he was beginning to think so.
"Common?" Nita almost laughed, confirming the Jedi's suspicion. "I don't know why they bother to make the stuff illegal. It seems like almost anyone can get hold of it. Three pre-school kids died yesterday from playing around with a batch of Edina that somebody just *gave* them. Oh yes, it's common." There was bitterness in Nita's voice, but also pain. "Honestly, I don't know what they expect us to do. We can't seem to keep the spices off the streets, and we have a devil of a time trying to convict dealers and pushers, much less users like the man who almost ran you down."
"I was unaware that it was such a problem here," Qui-Gon was surprised to hear the extent of the situation.
"Oh yes," Nita said a trifle darkly. "It's one of X'diin's best kept secrets, but anyone who lives here knows it. We've got one of the worst spice problems in the galaxy Mr. Jinn."
"Excuse me Lt. Mylanta," a fellow officer interrupted, offering Nita a data pad. "The lab results on that guy you brought in." The man shook his head. "You're not gonna like it," he warned.
Apparently he was right, because Nita took one look at the results and started swearing silently under her breath.
"Bad news?" Qui-Gon observed calmly.
"Terrible," Nita resisted the urge to snap. "I'm afraid it looks like the man who almost killed you will walk with *maybe* a slap on the wrist at the most."
"Why?" Qui-Gon was once more puzzled. Her frustration at the prospect was understandable, but the reason for it was not.
"Because, the guy was on Na'dril," Nita snorted with disgust.
Qui-Gon's ears perked up. "Na'dril? Isn't that an aphrodisiac? That's not illegal on X'diin."
"No, by the hells it's not," Nita shook her head. "I wish to goodness it were." Realizing her off-world guest was not coming from the same reference point, or knowledge that she was, Nita elucidated a little further. "Na'dril's a harmless spice really, although if it's used often it can dull the senses. Problem is, once someone takes it, it clouds their systems, totally infiltrates the entire body, that's how it works, but it also renders it impossible to detect any other substance or spice that the person may be on. Unfortunately, the spice world found out about this and exploits it. You don't know how many of these cases we see. I'm sorry for wasting your time like this Mr. Jinn," she apologized.
"It's all right," Qui-Gon shook his head, his mind already whirring busily. "This time hasn't been wasted at all."
When you question me for a simple answer
I don't know what to say, Oh
But it's plain to see, if we stick together,
We're going to find a way.
So don't surrender, 'cause you can win in this thing called life.
When you want it the most, there's no easy way out
When you're ready to go and you're heart's left in doubt
Don't give up on your faith, love comes to those who believe it
And that's the way it is.
("That's the Way it Is" by Celine Dion. Belongs to her and some record company, not me. I am doing the lyrics by memory, so forgive me if they are not exactly right.)
The exercise yard echoed with the clamor of the inmates. Just as with the meals, the prisoners were brought out here in shifts so that there were never too many inmates in the yard at the same time. Automaton surveillance towers, charged electric fencing and energy shields beyond that kept the residents of Brl'yndria safely contained.
Obi-Wan kept to himself in the far left corner of the yard, stretching muscles that chafed from the restriction of his current life. Even if no longer a Jedi in title, running through the training katas was still an incredibly good way to exercise. Besides, it made Obi-Wan feel closer to... well, to what he used to be.
Perspiration rolled down the sides of the teenager's face and made his out-growing hair gather into spiky points. It felt so good. He felt so *alive*.
Suddenly Obi-Wan stopped short. A change in the feel of the Force caught his attention. The tingling in his spine told him that whatever he was being warned of, wasn't good. Turning, Obi-Wan found himself facing Vrad, Tiimo and two or three other boys who often hung with them.
"Hey, Humie," Vrad said. "Pretty neat tricks, you training to be in the circus or something?"
"Yeah, he could be the freak show!" Tiimo mocked.
Their taunts fell short of truly irritating Obi-Wan, but something else bothered the young man. There was something wrong here. He felt something different in these boys then he had on any of the other numerous occasions that they had picked on him.
Obi-Wan suddenly realized that the yard had gone very quiet. Looking around he found that most of the prisoners had disappeared, and it was still well before recall time. The remaining twelve or fifteen inmates in the yard were drifting over towards Obi-Wan. There was a deadly intent in their movements that he did not miss. Obi-Wan had a *very* bad feeling about this.
Vrad struck out and Obi-Wan dodged swiftly, flipping back just in time to dodge the sweep of another inmate's fist. They were all converging on him now, a very threatening mass with their superior height and strength. Obi-Wan felt a small trickle of panic course up his spine before he quickly quashed it and focused himself in the Force. He couldn't afford to lose his center now, that was the only way he had any hope of surviving this. A small voice in the back of Obi-Wan's mind told him that even with that, he stood precious little chance of getting out of this yard in one piece. The teenager quickly banished that kind of negative thinking.
Jumping up, Obi-Wan kicked out hard as he came down, catching two of his attackers in the gut and swinging around to nail a third with a quick blow from the side of his hand. Obi-Wan was agile, fast and well trained, but he was also vastly outnumbered, with no way to get out of the yard. A glancing blow to his shoulder spun him around and a strike to his low back sent him to his knees. Pivoting sideways and sweeping his legs quickly, Obi-Wan knocked several of his assailants down and sprung back to his feet. A blow to his face that he couldn't dodge in time knocked Obi-Wan back, splitting his lip and making the iron-like taste of blood wash around the inside of his mouth. Obi-Wan felt like he was suffocating in the press of hostile bodies. They were crowding him too close, hands grabbing at him, fists and feet flying in a deadly frenzy. The inmates were like a pack of wild woves. Once down, under that, Obi-Wan knew there would be no coming back up.
Iron knuckles found Obi-Wan's ribs. He twisted away from one set of grasping hands that sought to restrain him, only to come back up into a nasty clout to his jaw that sent him reeling.
Desperate to get some maneuvering room, the teenager back-flipped over the heads of his attackers, landing some distance away. The leap took a lot of energy, and Obi-Wan knew he didn't have very many of those kind of maneuvers left in him. Using his momentary freedom to sprint to the single set of doors that led back into the prison, Obi-Wan tried to open them. Just as he feared, but expected, they were locked. And where were the guards? Oh, Obi-Wan didn't expect them to be showing up any time soon. No, this was much too well set up and convenient for that. Desperately, Obi-Wan gave the doors a force-shove, but they stood firm, and he didn't have the time to try to work the lock. His attackers were on him again. Obi-Wan dodged and turned, rolled and struck out, but he was tiring, tiring dangerously.
Dodging backward, Obi-Wan felt himself back straight into the doors. He was trapped; he couldn't retreat anymore and the other inmates had him hemmed in on all sides. A fist caught the young human in the stomach, doubling him over. Before he could twist away another one pounded hard on his back, just above his kidneys. Strong, cruel hands grabbed and held his arms, holding the twisting, struggling youth still as the rain of blows became frenzied.
Obi-Wan tried to fight, tried to break free, but it was like struggling with quicksand, or fighting a bad dream. Repeated blows to his head made the world swim dizzily around the teenager. Blood ran down the side of his face, stinging his eyes and sticking to his hair.
A few savage blows to his midsection later, and the young man cried out at the flash of white-hot pain that knifed through his insides as several of his ribs broke with a sickening crack. Obi-Wan was slowly descending into a dark labyrinth of pain and he couldn't pull himself out. The teenager cried out as the cruel blows continued to fall, only to be met with the dark laughter of the other inmates. They were *enjoying* this, Obi-Wan realized with a shudder of revulsion.
Vrad yanked Obi-Wan's sagging head up by the ponytail on the back of his head. He sneered something insulting at the young human, but Obi-Wan's brain didn't seem to be functioning well enough to translate, or even register it. A growing detachment was coming between the young Jedi and his body, as if they were becoming two separate entities. The odd thought struck Obi-Wan that this was what a punching bag must feel like, if it had feelings... Bright flashes of light spiraled across his vision and brilliant pain seared through him as they slammed his head back against the wall, again and again.
His attackers dropped him, but Obi-Wan's legs had no more strength to hold him up and he sank down to the ground. Cold, hard horror like a lightsaber blade who's bite was made of ice instead of fire sprung to life and twisted in Obi-Wan's stomach as he went down under the seething mass of enraged X'diini.
Qui-Gon held his head tightly in his hands. A dull, insistent ache throbbed between his temples and for a few moments the back of his head hurt like all get out. The feeling receded almost the instant after it came, leaving only the dull, nagging headache that Qui-Gon could almost explain away to stress, but the sensation disturbed the Jedi Master. It was too uncannily like when he used to read Obi-Wan's feelings. He could not reach out, could not touch his former Padawan anymore since their bond had been severed, but still, sometimes, since he had been on X'diin, he would feel something, like the momentary brush of a light breeze, or the lingering fragrance of a flower that was unmistakably Obi-Wan. That did little to comfort the elder Jedi however, because the momentary instances were always shadowed and unhappy, leaving Qui-Gon with a lingering unease and depression.
"Master Jinn, are you all right?"
Qui-Gon quickly shook himself back to the present and pulled his composure back in place. Giving his forehead one last rub, he nodded. "Yes, it's nothing. A little stress I think."
Amnion Vern'al shook his head, smiling pleasantly. "If you'll forgive me for saying so Master Jinn, you don't look too well. Why is it you wanted to see me?"
Qui-Gon decided that the best course of action was probably to be entirely blunt. "Because I have been going through the financial records of the late Senator Astor T'lyn and they show that for the past several months, he made quite a few very large payments in your favor."
Amnion raised one, cultured eyebrow. "So you figure that I was blackmailing him?"
"Honestly, yes," Qui-Gon nodded, surprised that he felt no touch of guilt or fear from the man sitting across from him. The fellow actually seemed amused.
"So why do you want to know?" Amnion asked, settling back in his large, comfortable chair. "Are you a friend of the Senator's? A scandal seeker? Or do you just make it your habit to pour through dead people's bank records?" Vern'al matched Qui-Gon's candor. Beneath that polished veneer, Qui-Gon could tell there was a man that one did not want to fall foul of. Amnion reeked with power as surely as his huge, sprawling estate and five mansions spoke of his wealth.
"None of the above," Qui-Gon said calmly. If it was to come down to a battle of who could out-calm the other, the Jedi was ready. "I am investigating another matter, and I think this may play into seeing it cleared up."
"Oh," Amnion nodded slowly, understanding lighting his graceful features. "You're looking into the case of that young, human Jedi boy, aren't you?"
Qui-Gon was slightly surprised that Vern'al had put it together so quickly, but he nodded without emotion. "Yes, how did you know?"
"I make it my business to know things," Amnion said with his maddeningly glossy smile still in place. Odd thing was, Qui-Gon felt no malice behind that polished facade. "So how much would you pay me to tell you what you want to know?" Vern'al asked casually, offering Qui-Gon a light peach colored drink.
Qui-Gon refused graciously. "It depends on what it's worth," the Jedi said without missing a beat. It wouldn't be the first time he'd had to cut deals like this.
Amnion laughed. "You surprise me Jinn, I had no idea that Jedi were so... business minded."
"We have call to walk in many different circles Mr. Vern'al," Qui-Gon was tiring of their verbal sparring. "Why don't you tell me what you know, and then we'll see what it's worth."
"500 credit minimum, whatever I tell you," Amnion said, and the look in his eyes told that there would be no bargaining.
Qui-Gon nodded slowly. "Very well."
"All right then, yes, I was blackmailing Senator T'lyn. Or, I prefer to say, he was paying me for my... discretion. You see, he accepted heavy backing from the spice cartels to fund his campaign, and in exchange turned a blind eye to their activities, gave them all sorts of rights and accesses."
"From what I've heard that would be old news on X'diin," Qui-Gon cocked an eyebrow, still playing hardball.
"In rumor yes. People have been saying such things for a long time, but never with hard evidence to back up their claim. Besides, it's an election year Master Jinn, and T'lyn couldn't afford to look bad. Well, you wanted to know, now you do. I'm afraid I can help you no further, Blackmail as you call it, is not technically a crime here on X'diin, it's more of a business transaction. And I certainly didn't murder the Senator. Believe it or not, I mourned dear T'lyn's passing. After all, I lost a major source of income." Amnion seemed well versed in this business of his, easily tying up any lose ends before Qui-Gon could even think of them.
Qui-Gon forced a smile and gave a half-nod that looked ambiguous enough, but anyone who really knew him would know that it was his 'highly frustrated' expression. Of course, few people knew him well enough to know that, except perhaps Yoda, Tahl, a few other Jedi and... Obi-Wan.
Blast! Why did all thoughts keep leading back to him?
As Qui-Gon strode swiftly out of Amnion's spacious mansion, he glanced up at the sky. Not a cloud was in sight and the sun shone cheerfully. There was no explanation for the dark, heaviness that hung over his heart like thunderclouds.
He tried to think and process what he had learned. T'lyn was involved, deeply involved in the spice trade on X'diin. Surely somewhere in here there was ample reason for someone to want him dead. Finding out just who, and proving it was the part that was going to take work, and time. Time. The Jedi Master quickened his already long strides a little more. He felt strangely urgent. Somehow, he just couldn't help feeling that time was a commodity which he was running out of, fast.
When life is empty with no tomorrow
And loneliness comes to call.
Baby don't worry, forget your sorrow,
Love's gonna conquer it all.
So don't surrender, 'cause you can win in this thing called life.
When you want it the most, there's no easy way out
When you're ready to go and you're heart's left in doubt
Don't give up on your faith, love comes to those who believe it
And that's the way it is.
("That's the Way it Is" by Celine Dion. Belongs to her and some record company, not me. I am doing the lyrics by memory, so forgive me if they are not exactly right.)
"Oh, and we're going to need three more sets of Hydro-fasteners. Some of the kids got oil down into the gears of the others and they won't work worth poodoo," Kire instructed as he walked, gesturing to the data pad listing the needed items that Cyndi had given him that morning.
Kire's Wookiee companion, Kurtanga, growled her understanding. Kurtanga was in charge of supplies and was going to be making a trip to the mainland to stock up.
"Okay," Kire scanned the list. "Looks like about all, other than..." he stopped. The passage was empty, but the sound of angry voices echoed softly through the blank, grey halls. The Calamarian halted, his bulbous eyes swiveling as he listened intently. The sounds were coming from further up the passage, but muffled as if through walls. Even so, over twenty years of working in prisons had taught Kire to know the sound of when something was getting out of control. And something was. Running down the passage, the Calamarian and the Wookiee came to a halt by the doors that lead out into the prison's exercise yard. It was from the other side of that door that the sounds were coming. What was going on out there? Kire tried the door, but found it locked. Circling around, the Calamarian peered out a force-field protected window into the yard.
Swearing violently in Calmariese he stepped back. There was a near riot going on out there, and someone was in the middle of it. Kire looked around. Blast it all, where were the guards?!
Kurtanga elbowed her way to the window for a look and her face contorted into a deep scowl.
"Kurtanga, somebody's going to get killed if this doesn't stop! We've got to find the-"
Kurtanga however, had her own plans. Grabbing the crossbars on the doors, the mammoth Wookiee ripped the locking mechanism apart with one mighty pull.
Kire's already large eyes widened a little more. "...Or we could just do that," he said softly, suddenly glad that he had never had occasion to get on Kurtanga's bad side.
The small host of X'diini looked up in shock when the door in front of them was literally torn open. Surprised, and not sure what to make of the hairy monster they found themselves suddenly confronted with, the teenagers hesitated in uncertainty.
Kire's eyes swept the crowd, the X'diin were sweating, panting and spattered with blood. Red blood, not the purplish-pink color of X'diini blood. Then he looked down. "By the Force," he breathed in quiet horror.
The X'diini youths quickly re-gathered themselves and looked ready to challenge the two, lone Hope workers. Kurtanga didn't give them the chance. With a roar, the enraged Wookiee lunged forward and Kire was suddenly afraid that this whole incident was about to turn into a terrible catastrophe.
However, the young X'diini scattered quickly back before Kurtanga, most of them never having seen a Wookiee up close before, and not wishing to get any closer.
Obi-Wan was barely conscious. He blinked groggily through badly swollen eyelids at the huge, hairy humanoid that bent over him. Kurtanga woofled softly. The young human was in bad shape and his blue-green eyes were glazed and dilated wide with pain. She noticed with alarm that their rate of dilation did not change when she bent over him, blocking the light of the sun from his young face. Probably a concussion. The huge Wookiee gathered the teenager up gently in her arms. Obi-Wan hissed softly between his teeth as his broken ribs grated on each other. By now, several dozen guards arrived on the scene, quickly taking the X'diini prisoners into custody.
With a small snort, the Wookiee carried Obi-Wan back into the prison complex.
Soft, steady beeping monitored Obi-Wan's heart rate as he lay on a bed in the clinic's emergency ward. A medi-droid hovered over him. Obi-Wan had not wanted to end up in the clinic, but this time, there really was no option. The 16-year-old had already spent almost seven hours in a bacta tank. The bacta had healed many of his smaller bruises and abrasions, but the more serious ones were still visible, although much improved. The broken ribs and concussion had been tended, but would take longer to heal completely.
Cyndi resisted the urge to bite her lip. Laying there like that, Obi-Wan looked so vulnerable, so young... just like he did when he was little. No. Not quite. When he was a child, even though vulnerable, there had been a strength in his stormy eyes that said he knew who and what he was and no one could take that from him. Now she saw nothing behind his pain-leadened gaze.
No, Cyndi didn't see defeat, or darkness, she just didn't see *anything*. As if Obi-Wan had withdrawn deep inside himself and closed out the rest of the world. *"Oh Stormy,"* her heart cried. *"Did they take so much from you when they took away your Jedi-hood?"*
Kire squeezed Cyndi's hand. It wasn't the first time he'd seen something like this, but he knew it was for Cyndi.
Cyndi squeezed back gratefully. "Hey Stormy," she said softly, gently stroking Obi-Wan's short, ginger hair.
"Cyn'i," Obi-Wan whispered through swollen, unresponsive lips, his hoarse voice causing him to lisp and drop letters in a child-like way that made Cyndi's heart contract painfully. The injured boy forgot to use Ms., but there was no one there to hear them but the medi-droid, so it didn't matter anyway. "They wanted to kill me," he said softly, his voice weak, but his blurry eyes trying hard to focus on the older woman. "Wasn't... wasn't a chance happening." Speaking was becoming increasingly difficult for him.
"Shh, shh," Cyndi soothed. "It's okay, just rest."
Obi-Wan tried to smile a little. "Can't rest Cyn'i," he whispered ironically, trailing off into a painful coughing fit.
Of course he couldn't, Cyndi realized. They had to keep him awake for a while while they made sure that his concussion was completely stabilized.
"Well then just relax," Cyndi said in mock exasperation.
"Ms. Jancy? Mr. Bmun? Visiting hours are over," one of the droids informed them.
"See you later Stormy," Cindy gave Obi-Wan a quick, light kiss on his forehead before letting the droid lead them away.
Obi-Wan stared up at the ceiling. Boredom he decided, was white. Pure white like a Hoth blizzard. Cold white like a clinic ceiling. The lights were turned down low and he could feel the peaceful hum of the other patients sleeping around him. He had been given permission to sleep now that they were sure his concussion was healing properly, but now found that he couldn't. Obi-Wan wanted to toss and turn, but his battered body ached so every time he moved that the young man forced himself to lie still on his back and count the ceiling tiles. 238 that he could see in the dim light.
He was bone tired and his body screamed for rest, yet Obi-Wan couldn't sleep. It didn't make sense. He felt restless and disturbed. Underneath the hushed calm of the sleeping ward he could feel some darker, more sinister tendrils of the Force at work and it was making it impossible for him to rest. Instead, Obi-Wan decided to try to settle himself down into a healing trance. Because of his own inner turmoil, the trance was light and tenuous at best, but it still dropped his body functions down to levels that usually identified the sleep state.
As soon as his monitor showed that the young inmate was in what registered to be asleep for a human, the soft whir of a medi-droid approached his bed. Surrounded by the shadowy darkness, the droid moved with quick, quiet efficiency, doing as it had been programmed to do. Inserting a small tube of liquid into the control unit of Obi-Wan's fluid-infuser the droid pushed a button. A moment later the tube popped back out, empty. The droid retrieved it and moved away, leaving the young human in a slumber from which he would never awaken.
Qui-Gon sat bolt upright in his bed, ice cold but covered with perspiration. His heart hammered loudly in his ears and his mouth felt dry. It felt as if he had just awoken from the most horrible nightmare he had ever had, but for the life of him, he could remember no dream, nothing in his sleep which should have caused him to awake in such urgent distress. In his sleepy, not-quite-lucent state, Qui-Gon reflexively called out to Obi-Wan as he always did when something felt wrong.
Nothing. Of course nothing. Qui-Gon scanned the area, but felt no danger, nothing that should disturb him this way. Lying back down on his pillow, the Jedi Master tried to center himself. It was the second time in the past 24 hours that he had felt something he couldn't explain, something highly disturbing.
The Force swirled around Qui-Gon as if it was trying to tell him something. Something bad.
What, the Jedi did not know, but he had the horrible suspicion that it was something to do with his Padawan. *Obi-Wan,* Qui-Gon reached out, even though he knew they could not connect. Still, if he tried hard enough, maybe something could bleed through. It was all he could do.
Feeling more helpless then he ever had in his life, Qui-Gon focused all his energy into one, steady call that he could only pray reached his apprentice, and only hope would somehow help whatever situation the boy was in.
Obi-Wan floated in his healing trance, resting on a river of light, willing his body to heal. Somehow, he felt like he was getting lighter, like he was becoming part of the energy around him, beginning to fade into it. It was beautiful, welcoming, and so peaceful. Obi-Wan did not feel sorry to go, even though somewhere in the back of his consciousness, he knew that he must leave something behind to do so.
From somewhere on the far fringes of his awareness, Obi-Wan felt a ripple of something that seemed out of place. Someone was calling him. Someone he loved. He should answer, but he didn't seem to be able to do so. As he reached out, trying to find the source of the call, another sensation invaded his perceptions, one of incredible danger. The Force roiled around him, his body, which the healing trance had put him in close touch with, was screaming warnings. Something was invading it, something dark, something deadly. With an urgent push, Obi-Wan ripped himself away from the light he was disappearing into and jerked awake. Sitting up abruptly, Obi-Wan yanked the infuser tubes out of his arm without hesitation. The Force had already told him that they were the cause of his problem.
The monitors on his bed wailed alarms and the light over him switched on, triggered by the sudden disconnect of his infuser lines. Medi-droids and night-staff came hurrying.
Obi-Wan was breathing hard, struggling against the poison that had already entered his system. The room spun around him and he fell back against his pillows.
"He's going into some kind of arrest!" he heard one of the X'diini clinicians call out urgently. They worked quickly to stabilize the young man.
Someone tried to re-connect the infuser tubes, but Obi-Wan pulled away, thrashing as hard as his weakened condition would allow. One of the medics had the presence of mind to check the medication in the infuser.
"Good gods," the X'diini muttered. "There's enough Precosortiliin in this to kill a Wampa!" Precosortiliin was a painkiller. "His dosage must have been over calculated or miss-administered. Get some blood cleansers going now!"
Obi-Wan lay dizzily on the bed, watching the medics and droids buzz around him. He was weak and sick, but not enough of the medication had made it into his system to kill him. It was not his time yet. He had won this time. Yet something was definitely wrong. This was becoming far too much to be coincidence. Somebody wanted him dead. Wanted him dead very badly; and they had very nearly succeeded.
In the morning, the Precosortiliin overdosing incident was declared an unhappy accident, the result of some programming quirks and information that was not entered correctly into the main Clinic system. Cyndi didn't know what to think. Obi-Wan had told her point blank that someone was trying to kill him. She was deeply disturbed and concerned, but didn't know what to do. It didn't help that Kire had come right out and warned her that morning that her preoccupation with Obi-Wan was starting to get them all in big trouble. He was gentle, as usual, but she couldn't ignore what he said.
"Cyndi, I understand how you feel, I want to help him too! But there are seven hundred and thirty-four other inmates who need our attention."
"I know Kire! You can't say I haven't been tending to them too! You know I have!" Cyndi bit back with more vehemence then she intended.
"I know that Cyndi," Kire said, dropping his voice placatingly. "You have been doing a great job with these kids. All I'm saying is that there is talk going on among the prison officials that could damage our work here if we give it cause to grow."
Cyndi folded her arms and looked away.
"Cyndi, look at me," Kire pleaded. "It's terrible what's happened to him, and yes, it does look suspicious. I don't know what to do either. There's just no protocol to cover a situation like this. All I'm saying is be careful. Be very careful Cyndi, for all our sakes."
Kire was right of course, he usually was. But that didn't make Cyndi feel any better, or make any clearer just what she was supposed to do.
It certainly *looked* like these had been deliberate attempts on Obi-Wan's life, but why? He was already 'out of the way' if that was the issue. Why try to kill him now? That brought up the whole matter of what he was doing here in the first place, and Cyndi didn't know what to make of that either. Her heart wanted to believe the boy's story, yet it was quite a stretch logically.
Giving up on the data pads she was supposed to be working on, Cyndi took her head in her hands and leaned heavily against her desk. Who was she supposed to believe? What was she supposed to do?
Qui-Gon sat before the glowing data terminal, taping away at the keypad with one hand and the touch-screen with the other. He supposed he should feel some sort of guilt for hacking into the consular building's main computer system, but it wouldn't be the first time. Security here had actually been much more lax then it had been at the now defunct UniFy company when he, Obi-Wan and a young man named Den had sneaked in and hacked their system several years ago while trying to find out what Qui-Gon's former, fallen apprentice Xanatos was up to on Telos.
Qui-Gon hoped that since the late Senator's apartments as well as the room they had been staying in at the time of the murder, where located within the consulate's grounds, there might be something in the system that would help him.
At the trial, part of the evidence submitted had been a message sent to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's rooms the morning of the murder after Qui-Gon had left that requested Obi's presence in the Senator's chambers. It was registered to have been sent from Iyana T'yln's personal account and bore her signature code. Qui-Gon searched back to that date, and found that such a message had indeed been logged into the system. That hadn't been fabricated, but it didn't necessarily have any sinister meanings either. Obi-Wan would have naturally responded to any summons from the Senator or a member of his family, after all, they were the reason for the two Jedi's presence.
From there Qui-Gon turned to scanning the meeting schedule that day. *"Interesting,"* Qui-Gon thought, downloading the information.
Personal memos, drafts of speeches, maintenance requests, and assorted notes and reminders by hosts of different bureaucrats, aides and workers scrolled across his screen. Apparently most of the diplomat's personal data-pads tied into the main system. From his vantage point, Qui-Gon could look into the files on any of the pads that were currently hooked into the system. There was everything from drafts of legislature, to an order for a new recorder droid used to take the minutes for official meetings. Someone had apparently vandalized the old one, leaving it completely ruined.
Qui-Gon found an old memo from shortly before the Senator's death and stopped. He re-read it again, slowly. From what this said, Senator T'lyn had *withdrawn* himself from the election two days before he died. So T'lyn had no intention of running again...
Intending to jump to another screen, Qui-Gon pressed a key, but it must have been the wrong one, because instead of the memo logs, he found himself accessing someone's personal data pad. It turned out to be a fortuitous accident. When the Jedi Master read one of the files, the pieces finally began to fall in place. One by one, the mysteries started making sense, especially something that Iyana said...
Cyndi rubbed her eyes and entered yet another string of code into her data-recorder. Cataloging supplies and incoming shipments and purchases was not usually in her job description, but Shrel, the fellow who usually did this, was ill. Half the whole dang group seemed to be down with the X'iani flu. Cyndi, Kire, Kurtanga and a handful of others were working themselves into the ground keeping things running. The only bright side was that X'iani flu was a virulent, but short-lived bug. 48 hours and most all the stricken Hope Workers would be back on their feet again. Cyndi would be very glad when that happened. She intended to take a nice, looong nap.
Rubbing her eyes again to remove some of the blurryness from them, Cyndi rested her data-recorder on top of a stack of crates. However, the plastic casing of the crates turned out to more slippery than she had anticipated and the recorder slid easily off the other side, falling down among the boxes behind the wall of crates.
Cyndi swore silently under her breath and tried to push her arm between the crates to retrieve the lost item, but the space was too small. Climbing over the five-foot wall of crates with some difficulty, Cyndi dropped down into the narrow space behind. Extracting her recorder with more difficulty Cyndi leaned back against the row of boxes behind her, resting the recorder on her knees while she made sure it wasn't broken, which it wasn't.
Relieved, Cyndi leaned her head back and closed her eyes, just for a moment...
The sound of voices speaking not far away woke Cyndi up. Glancing at her chrono, the young woman winced. She had not meant to fall asleep. It hadn't been over a half-hour, but that was still twenty-five minutes that she couldn't spare. She was about to get up, when her mind registered what she was hearing and she froze.
"...Sure we should give them so many?" They were speaking X'diini.
"Yes, this has got to look real or we won't have a legitimate reason to fire upon them." the second voice agreed pragmatically. "And you're sure inmate Vrad won't spill to anyone how he really got his hands on these plasma torches and nail-guns?"
The other must have nodded the affirmative because the second speaker gave a satisfied grunt. "Good. Make sure it stays that way." Cyndi heard the scrape of boxes and the rattle of crate lids hitting the floor, then the clank of equipment being removed and the thud of the lids being replaced. "And make sure your men don't get trigger happy," the second voice, who seemed to be giving the orders, added. "They're not to open fire until the main knot of the rioters reach the front gate. And don't let them hit too many. We don't want a massacre on our hands. Just a fair amount. Keep the killings down; no more than five, but no less either. After everything that's happened it would look too suspicious if that Kenobi kid where the *only* one killed."
Cyndi's heart froze in her chest. Someone *was* trying to kill Obi-Wan! Who? Why?! With questions pounding through her head, Cyndi quietly edged closer to the crates separating her from the two X'diini on the other side. Pressing her eye to the space between the crates, she could just make out the form of... Asar Dr'l, Head Warden of Brl'yndria! She did not recognize his companion, but he wore the uniform of a top-ranking prison guard officer.
"He's already got that Humie lady from the rehab group on his side," the Officer said with a snort.
"If she makes problems, we'll have to take care of her, but I want great steps taken to avoid that eventuality, do you understand? Messing with off-worlders that will be missed is messy. Make this look real, and there won't be any embarrassing questions to answer, got it?"
Apparently the Officer did, because the voices began to recede. There was the sound of a door opening and shutting and then silence claimed the storage room once more.
Cyndi sat, frozen rigidly in place until she was sure they had gone. Then she climbed to her feet and scrambled back over the wall of crates. The ID badge on the front of her shirt caught on the way down and she had to stop, laying aside her data-recorder and standing on tiptoe to extract it.
Suddenly she heard footsteps approaching from the other side of the door behind her. The room beyond that door was another storage room with no exit save through this room. Too late the horrible realization dawned on Cyndi that the door she had heard the Warden and guard go through was not the exit door, but the door to the adjacent store room!
Nearly ripping her badge free, Cyndi made a break for the exit. The Warden and his companion re-entered the room just as the doors swooshed shut behind the fleeing woman. They didn't see who it was, but the Warden didn't like it. It could just have been someone coming in to make a delivery and then leaving, but... Then he spied the data recorder that Cyndi had accidentally left sitting on top of the crates in her hurry to get her badge free. Easily peering over the crate barrier, the tall X'diin saw that the thick layer of dust on the floor had been disturbed. Rushing to the door, he looked out, but there was no one in sight. "Tor!" Warden Dr'l rounded on his companion in alarm. "Someone was in here! Probably heard every word we said," the Warden swore and thrust the data-recorder into Tor's hands. "Find out who this belongs to, who was in here cataloging data last? Scan it for prints if nothing else, but do it and do it now! We haven't got much time!"
The Calamarian turned to see Cyndi hurrying toward him, out of breath and flushed from running, but also, from something else... "Cyndi, Cyndi what's wrong?" he asked quickly. The young woman looked quite upset.
"It's all true Kire," Cyndi gasped out, gulping for air. "They *are* trying to kill Stormy, I mean, Obi-Wan! Head Warden Dr'l and some of the guards are in on it! I just heard them planning down in the storeroom. They took a bunch of tools, nail-guns and cutting equipment, they're giving them to the prisoners to start a riot so they have a reason to fire on them and kill Kenobi. That's what they said!" Cyndi poured the whole tale out in a breathless rush.
Kire's large eyes turned deadly serious. "Calm down Cyndi, think about what you're saying. Are you absolutely *sure* about this?"
Cyndi did calm down, with a speed and seriousness that both surprised and alarmed Kire. "Yes," she was still panting slightly, but her voice was nearly perfectly calm now. "I overheard them myself Kire. I wouldn't mistake a thing like that. It was quite clear."
Kire shook his head and clicked softly in the back of his throat. "What are we going to do?"
"For all we know, the whole prison staff is in on it," Cyndi said grimly. "And I don't know how long until this riot is supposed to take place. We probably don't have much time. You've got to get out of here, off of Brl'yndria and tell someone what is going on!"
"What about you?" Kire wanted to know. "You're the one who heard it, aren't you coming?"
"I've got to warn Stormy." Cyndi shook her head, then raised her hand quickly before Kire could offer any protest, which, from the look on his face, he was about to do. "Listen to me Kire," the young woman said urgently, her emerald eyes burning intensely. "If we both suddenly up and leave, they'll get suspicious. I can cover for your leaving with some story about needing more medical stuff for the flu victims or something. But you've got to get out of here now. I'm not sure if they know someone might have overheard them or not, and you've got to get out incase they decide to stop letting people off and we all become prisoners on this miserable rock!"
"Don't argue with me Kire!" Cyndi was firm, but there was pleading in her eyes. "For once in your life my friend, please, do as I say and don't waste anymore time! There are more lives then just Stormy's at stake here. A lot of inmates will be injured, and killed if this takes place. Please Kire! Go, go now!"
For a moment Kire just looked at her. Then he gave her hands a quick squeeze. "Be careful Cyndi," he said by way of parting and hurried off.
Tor scowled deeply and thumbed on his communicator. "Warden Dr'l?"
"Yes," the other responded over the link after a moment.
"We've found the owner of our mislaid data recorder," the officer reported.
"Oh?" Dr'l's voice gained a hard edge.
"Yes, sir," Tor nodded, even though he knew his superior couldn't see him. "But you're not going to like this..."
Obi-Wan moved slowly towards the cafeteria for the afternoon meal. The medics had released him from the clinic, but he knew he was still not quite up to par.
The young human studiously tried to avoid getting near any of the other inmates. After what had happened, he was understandably hesitant to be in close contact with any of his fellow prisoners. More than ever he felt alone, isolated and lost. He had no identity, no purpose, no reason and no future. On top of that, somebody wanted him dead.
Obi-Wan had lay awake a long time last night thinking about it, wondering why he was trying so hard to stay alive. What did life hold for him anyway? Why struggle so hard to hold onto it? Why not just give up and let what would happen, happen? Yet Obi-Wan's fighter's spirit would not let him simply surrender and a small voice in his heart told him that while there was life there was hope.
He had also given a lot of thought to what had happened the other night, when that call had brought him back to reality just in time to save his life. The voice had been familiar, and Obi-Wan could have sworn it was Qui-Gon's. For some time now, the young man had been feeling soft ripples in the Force that reminded him of his Master, but he had put it down to his extreme loneliness and turmoil. Now, Obi-Wan was beginning to wonder. He almost didn't dare to hope that Qui-Gon was actually on X'diin, but he was starting to consider the idea. Could that be the reason behind the attempts on his life? Yet Qui-Gon's words and actions at the expulsion over a month ago came back to haunt Obi-Wan and snuff his hope. If Qui-Gon truly thought him guilty, why would he be here?
"Prisoner 890, you will come with us," two guards pulled Obi-Wan out of line, breaking the reverie he was caught in.
"Is something wrong?" Obi-Wan asked, although following without protest.
"You've been accused of stealing supplies from the work-room," one of the guards said simply.
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to groan. *What was it about his life lately?!* He had done no such thing of course, but supposed he'd have to wait and see this out.
The guards brought him to a familiar office and Obi-Wan was surprised to see that Cyndi was there waiting for them. She sat at her desk, near a window, which overlooked the lower corridors of the prison. Even the windows in Brl'yndria rarely looked out to see the sunlight.
"Prisoner 890, Ms. Jancy," the guards reported mechanically, pushing Obi-Wan forward slightly.
Obi-Wan was confused. *Cyndi* was the one who had accused him of stealing?
"Have a seat Kenobi," Cyndi said coolly. "Thank you gentlemen, you may go. I'll handle it from here."
The guards nodded and withdrew to wait outside.
Obi-Wan looked at Cyndi with hurt, uncomprehending eyes. "Please Ms. Cyndi," his voice was tired; he was still feeling decidedly weak. "There's been a mistake, I haven't-"
"I know you haven't Stormy," Cyndi assured quickly, her cold act dropped the moment the guards were out the door. "It was the only way I could think of to get you alone," her voice had dropped to a whisper and Obi-Wan saw deep concern and fear etched into the woman's pretty features. "Obi-Wan, someone *is* trying to kill you, and it's the Head Warden. They're staging a riot-"
The door swung open and Cyndi quickly clamed up, trying to settle back into her disciplinarian mode. A small thrill of terror shot through her when she saw it was Warden Dr'l. Five or six guards stood behind him.
Obi-Wan's senses screamed that this was not good.
"You could have knocked sir," Cyndi tried to act mildly put out. "Can I help you?"
"You should have been smarter than this Ms. Jancy," Warden Dr'l said coldly, completely ignoring her pretended innocence. The blaster that was suddenly in his hand aimed straight for the young woman's heart. "Too bad you let this young scum seduce you. Your affection for him has been quite well noted by many. Then he convinced you to help him run. No one will really blame you Ms. Jancy; you were just a victim of his mind-powers. One of those terrible things that happens when counselors get too close to their charges. So sad that you got in the line of fire too. We really tried to avoid it."
In an instant Cyndi realized what was happening. They knew. They knew that she had heard. Now both she and Obi-Wan were to die and unless Kire had managed to get away, no one would ever know the truth.
The blaster fired, but a quick burst of the Force turned the weapon aside just as it went off, sending the shot wild.
Cyndi saw Obi-Wan throw up his hand and watched the blaster jerk and misfire all in an instant, then everything became a blur of motion. Obi-Wan gave a powerful Force serge into the midst of the guards, making them all stumble back for a moment. That gave he and Cyndi just enough time to scramble behind her desk before the guards re-gathered themselves. Cyndi whipped a small, emergency blaster from her desk drawer and returned fire, felling one of the attackers, but the others were closing the small distance between them quickly.
"Cover me!" Obi-Wan told Cyndi. Rolling across the floor and narrowly avoiding a hissing barrage of blaster bolts, Obi-Wan took cover behind a file cabinet and kicked the out the window directly above him.
Taking his lead, Cyndi tossed him the blaster. Obi-Wan picked up the cover-fire while Cyndi rolled over. Neither of them had time to think about the drop, all they had time to do was leap out the window and hope. Cyndi's office was only two floors up and Obi-Wan helped cushion their fall, so neither of them ended up seriously injured, although Cyndi landed on her ankle at a bad angle. It ached, but not enough to keep her from running for all she was worth.
They were still inside the prison complex, and the guards were after them again in no time.
"This is no good!" Cyndi panted as they hesitated in a cross-passage, hearing footsteps and blaster shots echoing from both behind and before them.
Obi-Wan looked swiftly around. If attacked in mass, Cyndi couldn't hold them back, and without his lightsaber, neither could he. There had to be another way...
"Cyndi," Obi-Wan grabbed her arm, pointing to an open airshaft vent, the cover of which seemed to have been removed for repairs. It wasn't exactly original, but if a thing worked...
Obi-Wan let Cyndi go first and they both scrambled quickly into the open duct. The small shaft was almost too tight of a fit and Obi-Wan realized that he was no longer 12 and could hardly squeeze into many of the same types of places. It was fortunate that Cyndi was slight of build, or she would never have made it either. Somehow they managed to not only fit, but move swiftly down the shaft as well. The interior was coated in age-old dust and Cyndi had to resist the urge to sneeze. "Haven't cleaned in a while I guess," she mumbled under her breath.
They're pursuers must not have noticed the open vent, or at least did not consider it a possible way of escape, because five minutes later Obi-Wan and Cyndi were still moving steadily forward, interrupted by no sound but their own heavy breathing.
Suddenly, the shaft took an abrupt upward turn. Cyndi hesitated. "What do we do now?" she wondered aloud.
Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "Well, we can't go back."
It seemed an age that the young woman and the teenager inched their way up the sticky, dusty ventilation shaft. When the pipe finally leveled off to a horizontal cline once more, Cyndi breathed a sigh of relief. A warm breeze ruffled her curls, already wet with perspiration. "We must be nearing the end," she said hopefully, a growing whir nearly drowning out her voice.
Obi-Wan shook his head, feeling the sides of the shaft start to vibrate under his hands and knees. "No, they've figured out where we went. The heat's been turned on. We've got to find a way out, and soon," Obi-Wan's voice was disarmingly calm. "Soon this pipe is going to get burning hot and I don't imagine the air will be much better."
Cyndi's eyes registered panic for a moment. "We'll be cooked."
"Not if we find a way out," Obi-Wan said grimly, trying to ignore the toll that all this was taking on his still weakened body. A large turn off, from which the hot air seemed to be flowing, loomed off to their left. Doubtless, that led to the furnace. Hopefully, if they kept going like they were, they would find another outlet.
Soon the alloy beneath them began to burn their hands and the air became stiflingly hot. Cyndi reflected that it was like being trapped inside a small, dark, dirty, claustrophobic oven. She was beginning to feel closed in and frightened. Terror was trying to overwhelm her and it was starting to win. Then she felt Obi-Wan's hand rest briefly on her calf from behind. His touch was like a grounding wire, bringing down her panic and helping her focus. "Thanks Stormy," she murmured.
When the duct became unbearably hot to touch, Obi-Wan squirmed out of his shirt, a difficult procedure in such tight quarters, and tore it into pieces. Wrapping their hands and knees in the rags, the twosome pressed doggedly forward.
Finally, just when they thought they could take no more, Cyndi felt the tunnel before her give way to emptiness. Nearly tumbling into the darkened room before her, Cyndi decided she'd never been so glad to get out of anywhere in her life.
Obi-Wan slid out after her, dropping to the floor with a bit more grace. Dim glow panels along the far wall revealed that they were in some sort of maintenance room. The room was warm, but not as hot as the shaft. Cyndi ran her fingers through her wet hair, brushing the worst of the cobwebs out. That's when she noticed Obi-Wan. Like her, he was soaked in perspiration and coated in dust and webs, but he was also shaking.
"Stormy?" she asked, taking his hand and finding that he was trembling like a leaf.
Obi-Wan pulled his hand away. He was trying to get on top of the shaking, but it was difficult. He was totally exhausted from the long trek through the ventilation shafts, from helping Cyndi stay calm, from all the energy he'd had to expend back in Cyndi's office to keep the guards off them, and his body truly was not yet healed from the beating he had taken just the day before yesterday, nor from the Precosortiliin overdose after that. "I'm fine," he said confidently, but Cyndi doubted it. "We can't stay here," he added, focusing on the flow of the Force around him. "We have to keep moving, we've got to get outside the prison, off Brl'yndria."
Cyndi knew just how hard that last part was going to be, but they had to try. There were two doors out of the room. "Which way do we-" Cyndi started to ponder. She was interrupted by the sound of someone trying the handle of the door on their right.
"It won't open!" a muffled voice said.
"Then blast it in!" a second called back, from further away.
"Guess that answers that!" Obi-Wan said ruefully as they hurried towards the door on their left.
The door led to a hall, and the hall ended up leading straight to another set of doors, this time, the ones that led out to the main gate of the prison. They couldn't turn back, but inwardly, Obi-Wan knew this was the worst possible place to attempt a breakout. The prison's front gate was one of the best-guarded places on Brl'yndria.
Strangely, the doors weren't locked, but swung open easily before Cyndi and Obi-Wan. Stepping out, they immediately found themselves immersed in utter chaos. Apparently the prisoners, whether through ignorance, or through downright defiance, had gone ahead and rioted anyway and the gate area was now flooded with raging X'diini. The guards, who had been informed in the change of plans, were not nearly strong enough to deal with this kind of problem. Reinforcements were on their way, but in the meantime, mass confusion reined. The huge, force-field reinforced gates before them held the rioting prisoners back, trapping them in the courtyard between the prison, the walls and the gate.
Using the cover of the crowd, Obi-Wan and Cyndi threaded their way through to the eastern wall. "Master Qui-Gon used to tell me that if you can't use the door, the window is a perfectly acceptable option," Obi-Wan almost grinned. "Hold on Cyndi, we're going over the wall."
No one noticed them with all the other commotion, and Obi-Wan was able to levitate them both, safely over the wall before the outside, perimeter guards spotted them and they were forced to flee again.
The terrain beneath their feet was rocky and the ground, mostly made up of loose shale and uneven boulders, was treacherous. Slipping and sliding their way along, they held hands for better balance. Blaster shots followed their progress, kicking up sharp, cutting shards of rock just behind them which bit their legs and made the already difficult footing ten times harder.
Obi-Wan was beginning to see double. Although he refused to let Cyndi see it, getting them over that wall had nearly been too much. Scrambling over a boulder, he had to struggle for a moment to remember which way was up. His mind told him that this was no good, he was never going to make it like this but his heart said that he couldn't *not* make it. He had to take care of Cyndi, he had to make sure she got out of this all right, whatever happened to him.
There was only one port on Brl'yndria and it was for this that they were headed. It was their only hope of getting off the island, and if they couldn't get off the island, they were both dead.
Cyndi was starting to limp badly, her twisted ankle finally catching up with her. The shots were getting closer as their pursuers gained ground. They reached the top of a rocky outcropping and looked down upon the harbor. It was empty. For security sake, the prison officials allowed no flying craft on or off the island, only sea-craft, and also for security sake, they did not keep a boat in port, but called for one from the mainland when it was necessary. There was no way off of here, they were trapped, and they were dead.
The blaster shots caught up with them. Throwing Cyndi to the ground at the last moment, Obi-Wan gave a small cry as the shot that was meant to kill her burned across the back of his shoulders. Knowing they were exposed on the ridge, Obi-Wan gave a push that sent both he and Cyndi rolling down the hill. The hard rocks jabbed and tore at them as they tumbled, but they landed at the bottom in mostly one piece.
Cyndi sprang to her feet, but Obi-Wan remained hunched over where he had landed. A raw, blistered burn stretched across his shoulders from where the shot had grazed him and the spinning in his head had become unmerciful. The young Jedi did not think he could go on.
"Come on Stormy, hurry!" Cyndi tugged him to his feet with difficulty.
Obi-Wan tried to push her away. "No, go Cyndi! Don't stop! Run!"
"Obi-Wan Kenobi I am not leaving this spot without you, so unless you want to be responsible for *both* our deaths, come on!" Cyndi desperately half-commanded, half-begged.
Their attackers would make it to the top of the rise soon, they had little time. From the way Obi-Wan was straggling, Cyndi knew he wasn't going to make it much farther. Seeing a small cave, hidden by scrub brush, Cyndi grabbed Obi-Wan's arm and dragged him into it just as the guards topped the rise.
Cyndi held her breath, praying that they would not be discovered. Once, when he was little, Obi-Wan had kept them from being found and it saved their lives, but Cyndi was not sure the boy was up to anything like that in his current state.
Obi-Wan however, was determined to drive himself into the ground if he had to to keep Cyndi safe. Reaching out beyond his pain and exhaustion, he shielded their hiding place, planting in front of them the suggestion that there was nothing of interest there. He only hoped he was strong enough to make it work.
It must have, because the guards rushed by without even hesitating. When they were gone, the wounded teenager slumped forward, ignoring the burning ache of his mending ribs in favor of sparing the throbbing pain across his shoulders. He had thought he was tired before, but now Obi-Wan was utterly drained to the last drop. He knew that there was precious little chance of their getting out of this alive, yet strangely, he didn't feel too sorry.
"We've got to hang on Stormy," Cyndi was comforting, looking at the injury on his back and wishing she could help him. "I sent Kire for help before they brought you to me. If he managed to get off the island before they were alerted that I knew, then we've got a chance..." Cyndi's voice caught in her throat and trailed off. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry this has happened, sorry you got hurt for me, sorry that I can't do for you what you did for me when I was your age..." Cyndi had to turn away to hide her tears. She didn't think they were going to make it either.
Obi-Wan tried to smile for her. "Hey, as I remember it, you were the one who risked your neck to save me," he pointed out.
"Yes, but you saved me from something worse, you saved me from myself, from what I thought I had to be, the kind of people I thought I had to accept... I don't know how to say it." Cyndi felt a gentle touch on her arm and looked down to find Obi-Wan's eyes fixed on her.
"I understand," he said softly. "And you *have* done that for me. I lost my purpose for living when the Jedi rejected me, I lost my identity, who I am. But you made me remember that I'm a person on my own, I can still have purposes and goals, no matter where I am or who I'm with. Even if I have to die now, I'll not die lost. My only regret is Master Qui-Gon..." it was Obi-Wan's turn to trail off.
Unshed tears glistened in Cyndi's clear green eyes. Silently, she squeezed Obi-Wan's hands.
"Master Jinn," Leron A'wok nodded a surprised greeting to the Jedi upon entering his study and finding the Jedi waiting for him. "This is an unexpected pleasure to be sure, I was not informed that you were waiting for me."
"Congratulations are in order I hear," Qui-Gon remarked, rising politely until A'wok sat down and gestured for his guest to do the same.
"Ah," Leron nodded. "You must have heard of my appointment on Councilor Mythane's cabinet. Yes, a most welcome turn of events I can tell you."
"Indeed," Qui-Gon nodded. "Quite unusual to be appointed so quickly, and in the middle of an election year to top it off. It was my understanding that X'diini politicians rarely added to their cabinet so late in the election cycle," the Jedi said innocently. "And such a high position for being a complete newcomer to her staff!"
Leron looked slightly irritated, but barely showed it. "Yes, as I said, it was most fortunate. But surely you didn't come here just congratulate me. Do you need something?"
"Just a few moments of your time," Qui-Gon assured. "You see, I checked into that lift failure and transit accident you mentioned to me at our last meeting. There's no record of any such incidents at or around Senator's chambers on Coruscant in the time specified," the Master said, calmly folding his hands in his lap.
Leron's smile turned brittle. "And your point is?"
"The point is, Mr. A'wok, that they never happened. That was not why the Senator feared for his life. Nor was it merely unreasonable paranoia, although his inability to explain his fears to anyone made it seem so," Qui-Gon looked at the X'diin across from him pointedly. "So what was he *really* afraid of Mr. A'wok?"
Leron shrugged. "You seem to be the one with all the answers Master Jinn, you tell me," he said, a trifle coldly.
Qui-Gon leaned back and folded his arms. "All right, I will. T'lyn accepted money and patronage from a spice syndicate, that helped him win the last election. Unfortunately, someone found out and the Senator was going broke because of blackmail. All his accounts were deeply in the red, you know this well, you even presided over the auction of his estate to clear those debts not too long ago. Confronted with financial ruin, and perhaps a nagging conscience, the late Senator began to think that the best thing to do would be to go clean about his spice involvement. If T'lyn turned state's evidence against the cartel leaders, he knew he would probably walk without facing any time himself. His political career would be over, but he was beginning to realize that that was inevitable no matter what. Only the cartel got wind of T'lyn's plans and started threatening him, which is why he was terrified. When T'lyn withdrew from the elections, you saw your own future crumbling before your eyes, didn't you? If T'lyn went clean, it would ruin the rest of his cabinet, you would all be tainted by the scandal. The Cartel made a deal with you, didn't they? Help them get rid of T'lyn before he could talk, and they would assure that you got a position with another prominent politician, the position you hold now," Qui-Gon said, disarmingly calm.
A'wok's hands clamped tightly on the arm rests of his chair, his friendly demeanor dropped like a mask. "Master Jinn, that is the most insulting thing I've ever heard!" the X'diin exclaimed indignantly. "What proof have you to support this fantastic theory of yours? I offer you my help and cooperation, and you come up with these wild claims! I'm afraid that you're so desperate to vindicate your apprentice that you've lost your reason! You forget, that it was his weapon that killed T'lyn, besides, I was in meetings all day and did not even hear about the murder until nearly two hours after it happened, when the meetings concluded, check the attendance rosters!"
"Ah, the time," Qui-Gon remained calm in the face of A'wok's anger. "That's another thing that doesn't ring quite right. The incident report states that the time of death was between 17:50 - 18:15, when Senator T'lyn got back to his rooms and supposedly surprised his wife and my apprentice. Only problem with that is that the meetings let out earlier than expected that day. He returned to his rooms no later than 17:20, leaving at least 30 minutes between his arrival and his death. That kind of puts the spontaneous action theory out of play doesn't it?" Qui-Gon knew he was right, and the angry flush that was coming over Leron's face only served to prove him right. The Master wasn't finished yet however.
"What really happened was that you bought off the guards didn't you? They drugged poor Iyana so that she was utterly under your control and would do whatever you told her to do. You had her send that message to Obi-Wan, knowing he would respond to any summons from the Senator or one of his wives..."
**"You sent for me Mrs. T'lyn?" Obi-Wan said politely when Iyana opened the door for him.
"Yes, I wanted to talk to you. Please come in," she offered sweetly. Something about her struck Obi-Wan as subtly... wrong somehow, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was.
"I'm worried about my husband's safety," Iyana poured them both a drink from the ornate pitcher on the table, offering Obi-Wan both a seat and a cup. "I've received some... some threatening calls that I haven't told anyone about, not even Astor," she said quietly, looking down into her cup.
Obi-Wan's interest was hooked, just as A'wok had intended, making him a little less mindful of his situation. Obi-Wan accepted the cup without question, without really even thinking about it. Still, consciously or not, Obi-Wan did not drink until Iyana took a deep draft of her glass. The Jedi apprentice just sipped at his, to be polite, while Iyana talked. The drink was very sweet, and very heavy, creating the unconscious desire for more almost as soon as one tasted it, no matter how small the sip. With out even realizing it, Obi-Wan ended up drinking the whole thing. A'wok had counted on the fact that if Iyana's story kept the young Jedi's mind busy enough, he wouldn't notice what was happening to his body until it was too late, and unfortunately, it worked.
There wasn't much time for the teenager to have noticed anyway. The drug began to take effect mere seconds after his first sip. It became impossible for him to follow what Iyana was saying, as if someone were physically separating his mind from his body. A thrill of alarm shot through Obi-Wan as, too late, he detected the foreign presence in his system. The young Jedi tried to jump out of the chair, but his body didn't move. Obi-Wan was frozen in place, cup in hand, his elbows leaning on the table, and he couldn't move. Couldn't move to save his life. The drink had been drugged with the same control drug used on Iyana.
Although his body was inert, Obi-Wan's mind was still aware, although his perceptions were hazy and irritatingly confused. He saw several men step out of the adjoining rooms. Three were dressed like guards, the fourth, Obi-Wan recognized as one of Senator T'yln's top aides. All of the men wore gloves. They would leave no fingerprints, no traces of any kind that could be linked to them.
One of the guards relieved Obi-Wan of his lightsaber while another shoved the young Jedi's sleeve up and jabbed him with a hypo full of Rycaliin to wipe his memory of the past several hours, and, of what was about to happen. A second hypo of Na'dril was quickly applied to cover the other spices.
Obi-Wan felt woozy and ill from the odd cocktail of drugs coursing through his system.
"Look at me," a voice commanded, and Obi-Wan found his body obeying, his head turning until his eyes locked onto Leron A'wok. "Stand up," Leron ordered, and again, Obi-Wan obeyed. Horror overtook the Jedi as he realized that whatever they had given him, left him completely at their control. Obi-Wan began to wrestle with his un-responding body, trying to reach out to the Force to counter the drugs that held him in a helpless stupor.
Leron smiled. These drugs were worth the small fortune he knew they were worth. The Cartel backers had supplied them free, along with the necessary tailoring needed so that the person caught would respond to only one voice, A'wok's. That also necessitated that the aide actually be present to set the murder up in person, but Leron was not worried, he would be long gone before the actual killing took place and the whole little drama could unfold while he was carefully cloistered in meetings with an air-tight alibi. "You are going to wait here until Senator T'lyn comes back, when he does, you are going to kill him. Cut his head off with your lightsaber," A'wok commanded the boy coldly.
Obi-Wan struggled with the massive pressure of the control drug. NO! NO! He couldn't do this! He could not let himself kill for them! He would die first! "N-no," Obi-Wan murmured, almost incoherently.
"What was that?!" Leron snapped. Obi-Wan should not have been able to speak without being commanded to do so.
"N-no! Wo-on't k-kill!" Obi-Wan struggled with his sluggish voice, but he was quickly losing the battle, the drug was over taking him and he was not sure he could fight it again.
Leron swore violently. "Give him another shot of Tracia," the X'diin ordered, thinking that the control drug dosage had not been large enough. What Leron did not know, was that giving a double dose of Tracia was a terrible mistake. As soon as the spice hit Obi-Wan's already drug-laden system, the teenager went crazy. Too much of the spice created the exact opposite response from the drug's intended purpose. There was no way to control someone on a Tracia overdose, and for several moments the guards scrambled to overcome Obi-Wan, finally managing to forcibly restrain the struggling teenager. Obi-Wan was still thrashing, but not strategically or purposefully resisting them. In truth, it was more that his body was going wild then that he was actually fighting.
Suddenly, before Leron had a chance to truly envision the consequences of this unwanted turn of events, the door swung open. "WHAT'S GOING ON IN HERE?!" Senator T'lyn bellowed. Panicking, the guards jumped him. There was a short struggle until one of them bashed the Senator on the back of the head, knocking him unconscious. Quickly, the conspirators dragged the limp Senator away from the door and closed it, lest anyone come by and see. Obi-Wan, who had gotten lose in the chaos, had to be restrained once more as well. The guards had to tackle the teenager, pinning him down and twisting his arm hard. Obi-Wan cried out at the pain and continued struggling.
"SHH!" Leron growled angrily, frightened that someone would hear. One of the guards punched Obi-Wan in the ribs as another covered the boy's mouth to stifle his cries.
Obi-Wan was disorientated and frightened. All he knew was something horrible was happening here, but he couldn't seem to stop it, or even comprehend anymore what it was. Having once more restrained the apprentice Jedi, the guards looked to A'wok, not knowing what to do now.
Leron pressed his fingers to his temples. This was not going as smoothly and seamlessly as the aide had intended, but they were in far too deep to pull out now, so he'd just have to try to grapple with these unexpected changes. Quickly revising, but seeing no need to change the basic idea of his plan, Leron had the guards strip Obi-Wan of his belt and tunic, dumping them in the corner by the bed to be found by investigators later. Then he made Iyana change into skimpy lingerie and a light bathrobe, making sure that the little blaster she would need to kill herself with later was carefully concealed in an inner pocket of the robe. They cleaned the blood from the senator's head wound off the entryway floor, but left the signs of struggle alone. That would fit in all right.
Obi-Wan was trembling all over from the many drug reactions as Leron spread T'yln's blood on his hands. Reality was blurred and indistinct, he no longer knew what was happening, all he knew was pain and the terror of the spice induced confusion in his body.
Leron glanced at his chrono and swore. Nearly a half an hour had passed. He was going to have to hurry to get back to his meetings without being missed.
So that the guards could be free to help him with the final stages, A'wok had them tie Obi-Wan to a pillar with soft cloths, so that the cord marks would not show on his wrists. Together they dragged T'lyn outside and A'wok used Obi-Wan's lightsaber to cut the Senator's head off finishing the job. Returning into the house, he gave Iyana her exact final instructions, right down to her own suicide.
Telling the guards to set right an over turned giant plant, Leron casually shot all three of them as soon as their backs were turned. Now only he knew the specifics of what had really happened. Using the lightsaber to cover the blaster burns, he then moved the bodies around a little to look more natural. Then all that was left to do was to send the fake, recorded message to Qui-Gon, which he had taped when the Senator was in one of his tempers, set a confused and wild Obi-Wan lose to run and tell Iyana to start screaming.**
"Then you merely departed the apartment through the garden exit which lead straight to a back door in the council building, enabling you to slip right back into your meetings with no one noticing his short departure," Qui-Gon finished. "No one, except the droid that logged the minutes for the meetings that is. That's why the record droid was destroyed. That's why the autopsy records were missing, to hide the report of the bump on the Senator's head, which meant that it was probable that T'lyn was unconscious at his time of death. You didn't want anyone to get suspicious. And that's also what Iyana's dying words meant. She didn't say *"A walk through the garden,"*" Qui-Gon shook his head sadly, thinking of all the wasted life this terrible affair had brought about. "No. What she said was *"A'WOK, through the garden."* Apparently the pain of dying made that poor child lucid again for a brief moment and she used that moment to try and finger the man who had done this to her, and say how they had escaped."
Leron A'wok seemed ready to pop a blood vessel he looked so angry. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. Besides anger, Qui-Gon felt a great amount of fear in the X'diini.
"You were a little too neat A'wok," Qui-Gon's voice was still calm, but it was steely now. "It is impossible that the guards could have fought my apprentice without thinking to fire even one shot, and as a Jedi, if Obi-Wan were truly trying to kill them, he would have reflected their own shots back. At least one of them would have been killed by that."
A'wok was livid. "All very nice," he fumed. "But you still have no evidence Jedi! You can prove nothing! I tell you I had no knowledge of the Senator's death until after it happened!"
"Then why does your data pad's date log shows that the speech you gave at his funeral was written the day *before* he died?" the Jedi Master asked with deadly calm, his intense blue eyes pinning Leron to the spot. Qui-Gon showed him a copy of the last thing he found while he was hacking the system.
"You can't submit that!" Leron blustered. "You got it without an obtaining order!"
"Maybe it can't stand as evidence in a trial, but I think it will be more than sufficient to get the Galactic court to re-open the investigation, and once opened, there will be more than enough proof to convict you," Qui-Gon responded without missing a beat.
Fast as lightning, there was a blaster in Leron's hand. "Don't try anything Jedi," he warned. "Get up, and keep your hands away from your body," the aide ordered.
Qui-Gon could have easily had his lightsaber out before A'wok had a chance to blink, but the Jedi Master chose to comply instead. He let A'wok disarm him and lead him into the record room. "My guards found you in here illegally, when you resisted and killed several of them, they had no alternative but to shoot you," he said coldly.
"You did kill T'lyn didn't you?" Qui-Gon asked quietly as A'wok pushed him up against the wall.
"Of course I killed him, what choice did I have? That fat, stupid worm was going to ruin my career, my life! The world is better without him."
"And Iyana, the guards, Obi-Wan? What of them?" Qui-Gon prodded, almost harshly. This man had ended and ruined so many lives, it was disgusting.
"Necessary expenditures, just like you. I'm sorry Master Jinn, but you should not have come poking about. And you should never have come here alone." Leron's finger tightened on the trigger.
"What makes you think he did Mr. A'wok?" a woman's voice from behind them made A'wok jump.
Faster than thought, Qui-Gon snapped into action, grabbing Leron and knocking the blaster from his hand before he had a chance to damage any more lives.
"Well, this is one culprit who won't be walking on you," Qui-Gon said as Lt. Nita Mylanta strode over to his side with a smile.
"That's for sure," Nita nodded with satisfaction. "We recorded the whole thing, just like you planned."
Several officers took Leron from Qui-Gon. "Forgive me Mr. A'wok," Qui-Gon said as he took his lightsaber back from the X'diini. "But a confession is always so much cleaner than having to drag a lot of evidence into court."
A'wok knew he was caught. "Fine," he sneered as several officers clapped binders on his wrists. "You think you've won, but you haven't. You may have cleared the boy, but you haven't saved him. Do you think the cartel connections where limited to T'lyn? As soon as you started poking around here, you signed that kid's death warrant Master Jinn. He's dead, so you see, you haven't won after all." The X'diini grinned evilly. As far as he knew, the boy went down that morning. One sweet piece of victory at least in this lost situation.
Sharp horror twisted in Qui-Gon's stomach. Obi-Wan! Dear Force, no! Without another word, Qui-Gon turned on his heel and strode out of the room. He didn't pause, but went straight to the harbor as fast as he could. Air traffic around Brl'yndria was strictly prohibited, he would be shot out of the sky before he could get within a hundred kilometers in an air ship. Water traffic was another thing however. It was slower, but it was his only chance.
Just as Qui-Gon reached the harbor, another boat was pulling into dock. The Jedi was surprised to see that it's markings were that of the official prison courier ship. Almost as soon as the ship slid into its moorings and the harbor droids started fastening it in, someone jumped off onto the dock, but the person was not X'diini. They were Calamarian, and they looked about as urgent as Qui-Gon felt. Qui-Gon put himself on a direct course to intercept the Calamarian and they met at the top of the pier. For a moment, the disturbed and slightly frightened looking Calamarian seemed about to try to tangle with the big man he found blocking his path, instead, he halted.
"You-your a Jedi, aren't you?" Kire gasped breathlessly, recognizing Qui-Gon's robes and lightsaber. Besides, a human on X'diin?
"Yes, and you're from Brl'yndria," Qui-Gon acknowledged hastily. "What-"
"Name's Kire Bmun, I'm a Hope's Challenge worker from Brl'yndria prison. I've got two, two men unconscious in the cabin of the boat. The pilot and navigator, transmission from the prison, they tried to stop me, but I had to, had to get through!" Kire was still trying to calm his breathing down. Who knows what was happening back on Brl'yndria now? What might be happening to Cyndi, or the other Hope workers? "There's going to be a riot at the prison, the prison warden is setting this one kid up to be killed, and others are going to die as well. At least, that was the plan. Now that they know someone is on to them I don't know what they may do!"
Qui-Gon had a sneaking suspicion he knew who the kid was who was being set up. "Listen to me Kire," he said quickly; they hadn't a moment to lose. "There are a lot of officials who cannot be trusted. You must go to the 5th sector enforcement station and ask for a Lt. Nita Mylanta. Tell her that Qui-Gon Jinn sent you and that what you have to tell her has to do with the Senator Astor T'lyn case."
"Fifth sector, Nita Mylanta, Qui-Gon Jinn, Senator Astor T'lyn," Kire nodded. "Got it. What are you-"
"I'm going to Brl'yndria!" Qui-Gon called back over his shoulder, already running down the dock towards the ship Kire had just arrived upon. Quickly unloading the two bound, unconscious X'diini, Qui-Gon revved up the ship's engine, and keyed in for the autopilot to retrace the path it had just come. Throwing the ship into full gear, Qui-Gon pulled out of the dock so fast that the harbor droids barely had time to unfasten the holding lines they had applied. There was a rending noise as several of the fasteners popped lose under the strain and Qui-Gon sped off towards Brl'yndria.
As the ship skimmed across the choppy green-grey waves, Qui-Gon gripped the steering control as if he could physically will the craft to go faster and sent all the strength and encouragement he could to Obi-Wan. He didn't know if it could reach the young Jedi, or if the young Jedi was even still alive to be reached, but he had to try.
The water spread out, seemingly endless to the impatient Jedi Master. This was much too familiar. It brought back Bandomeer all over again. Only this time, Qui-Gon doubted he could afford to be even a few moments too late.
"Check for caves and hiding places in the rocks, they can't be far!" the guards' order carried faintly into the crevasse where the two fugitives hid.
Slowly, Obi-Wan pulled himself upright. "Come on Cyndi," he said, remarkably calm and collected for his condition and their situation. "We can't stay here. I'm spent; I can't hide us again, not from a concentrated search."
Cyndi took a deep breath. "Okay," she said, matching his calm. This was no time to panic, they needed level heads. "It sounds like they're on the other side of the ridge. We can probably slip out and double back behind those rocks without them seeing us," she said, peering out from behind their scanty brush cover. Moving fast, Cyndi and Obi-Wan scrambled across the uneven terrain. Hiding behind the rocks, they managed to avoid being spotted and work their way around to the other side of the hill. The ground slanted sharply upward and they found themselves almost crawling on their hands and knees to keep from sliding and dislodging rocks that might give away their position to the host of guards and surveillance droids that were now crawling all over the island. One their right a craggy ridge of boulders hid them from the Prison, but on their left, the ground slanted sharply down towards a sheer cliff. They didn't know where they were going, but they knew they weren't going back, so, that only left forward.
Suddenly, the ground beneath Cyndi's feet slid loose. She tried to compensate, but ended up sliding sideways instead, now heading towards the cliff. Cyndi grabbed at the rocks, but the dry shale and loose stones just continued to slide with her.
"Cyndi!" Obi-Wan hissed between his teeth in alarm, grabbing at her, but she was out of reach. Pushing off, Obi-Wan slid down after her.
Rocks scratched Cyndi's hands and the air filled with dust as her downward descent picked up speed. Cyndi wouldn't scream, but her heart leaped up into her throat as her wild slither carried her straight towards the cliff edge. Obi-Wan caught her arm, but they were both still sliding. Just as their momentum carried them over the edge, Obi-Wan managed to catch hold of one of the little scrub growths that dotted the rocky ledge, halting his descent with a jolt. Obi-Wan's fingers slid on Cyndi's sweaty, slippery skin, but at the last moment his grip caught on the chrono about Cyndi's wrist. Cyndi grabbed his wrist too, as tight as she could as she found herself dangling above the pounding surf, hundreds of meters below.
Obi-Wan's burned shoulders screamed at the strain, but he wasn't about to let go. "Cyndi, are you okay?" he hissed through clenched teeth.
"I've been better," Cyndi managed to gasp, glancing down and then regretting it. "Now would probably be a lousy time to tell you that I'm afraid of heights."
"Probably," Obi-Wan murmured, trying to pull them both back up onto the cliff. He managed to get to a semi-crouching position on the very edge of the cliff.
"You can just stop right there," a hard voice said, followed by the distinctive click of a heavy-powered blaster rifle bolt being pulled back.
Obi-Wan and Cyndi both looked up slowly. Warden Dr'l and about a dozen armed guards stood about ten meters away on the top of the ridge above them, with just as many blaster barrels staring down at them.
*"Okay,"* Cyndi couldn't help thinking somewhat dryly. *"Now's the time to panic."*
Obi-Wan drew in a deep breath. There was no way out of this that he could see, at least, not for both of them... "Cyndi, on the count of three, let go," he whispered. "I'll nudge you towards the water. Swim Cyndi, swim as hard as you can, it's your only chance."
Cyndi's eyes widened as she realized that Obi-Wan was essentially about to commit suicide in a last attempt to buy her at least a little more time. "No, Stormy!"
Suddenly the sound of a motor made Cyndi look out to sea. A boat was approaching, approaching fast.
Obi-Wan saw it too. More importantly, he *felt* it. His heart leaped with a wild joy. *MASTER!*
Qui-Gon had managed to get through the security perimeters with little trouble, pretending to be bringing Kire back per instructions. Now, as Brl'yndria loomed large before him, he felt his heart knot up. Something was definitely wrong on the island and he let his instincts guide him in his approach. Bond or no bond, this close, nothing could keep him from sensing Obi-Wan's presence. That he felt it at all was encouraging, it meant that the boy was still alive, at least, for the moment.
As he closed in on the prison isle, the Jedi Master could just make out figures on one of the cliffs jutting out over the sea. He had no doubt who at least one of them was. Pushing the craft to its highest speed, Qui-Gon headed straight for the cliff. The cliff overhung the water slightly, but it would be a tight turn at the speed he was traveling to smashing into the rocky shoreline or ripping the side of the boat open against the cliff wall.
"Change of plans," Obi-Wan said, grabbing the momentary distraction that Qui-Gon's unexpected arrival gave them. "Don't worry," he called out with a funny grin that Cyndi didn't understand. "I've done this before!"
With that, Obi-Wan let go of the bush and pushed off hard, pulling Cyndi with him. Blaster fire followed them as the surprised guards sprang into action.
Cyndi gave a small shriek that she couldn't help as they plummeted straight down. No, not quiet straight, with the combined effort of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, they actually fell a great deal sideways, as well as down, and landed hard on the deck of the ship. Obi-Wan grabbed Cyndi's shoulders, covering her against the blaster fire that exploded around them, scorching blast marks in the ship and making the water hiss and sizzle angrily.
Qui-Gon wheeled the ship around sharply, the bow scraping loudly against the cliff edge. Managing a quick 180-degree turn, Qui-Gon sped off again, heading for the open water. Obi-Wan and Cyndi scrambled off the front hull and down into the piloting helm with Qui-Gon. All of them knew they weren't out of this yet, not by a long shot. They were still in Brl'yndria's waters, and could probably expect to be blown out of the water at any moment. Sure enough, the water around them exploded in an angry shower of fire and water as Brl'yndria's huge, floating defensive cannons kicked in.
The ship lurched violently to the side as one blast took out half of the starboard bow.
"She's going to blow!" Qui-Gon warned, yet it seemed to Cyndi to be one of the most collected announcements of imminent doom that she had ever heard. She was not really sure whether it was Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon who pulled her off the exploding vessel, but one moment Cyndi was on the ship, the next, she was in the water, spluttering and coughing for breath. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon surfaced nearby.
Overhead, they heard the buzzing whir of approaching airships. The official looking black, wedge-shaped hovercraft swung into place directly above them and all three in the water took a very deep breath. There was no chance of igniting lightsabers in the water, and very little chance of surviving direct attack at this close range.
Suddenly, a side door of the hovercraft slid open and a familiar salmon face poked out. "Kire!" Cyndi shouted in joyful disbelief, her mouth filling with seawater as a result.
Another familiar face followed and Qui-Gon smiled. "Lt. Mylanta," he called up, over the roar of the hoverer's repulser field. "How nice to see you again!"
"You look a little wet Master Jinn!" she called back. "Maybe you and your friends would like a ride?"
Obi-Wan Kenobi tried to keep his breathing steady. It was not so long ago that he had stood up on this platform and had his life fall to pieces around him. Qui-Gon stood behind him and the Master's strong hands on his shoulders helped the Padawan drive away all unpleasant memories. There was no more past, only future now. The Galactic Court had officially cleared him of all charges, A'wok had predictably squealed on the drug lords he had killed T'lyn for, and all of them were looking at life sentences at least. Still, the vindication that Obi-Wan needed most had come the moment he realized that Qui-Gon still believed in him. In fact, had never given up on him in the first place. Qui-Gon had explained everything to Obi-Wan the night after the escape. How much he had hated what happened, how badly it hurt him to do it and how much he missed, and worried about Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan told everything that had happened to him as well, and in the end, they both felt much better.
Now was the moment that Qui-Gon had pushed for hardest, and the Council had, for once, quite readily agreed to. Together, Master and apprentice looked out across the vast sea of assembled Jedi in the Great hall. All the Jedi who where currently on Coruscant. Obi-Wan saw Bant in the crowd, along with Reft, Garen Muln and his other friends. They waved and gave and Bant gave him a "way-to-go" signal. The small knot of teenagers gave a whistling shout of joy that was distinctly un-Jedi-ish, but none of their Master's said a word to them.
Just that morning, Obi-Wan had bid farewell to his other friend as Cyndi boarded a transport heading back to X'diin. Warden Dr'l and the other corrupt officials had been removed and new management had come to Brl'yndria. Despite everything that had happened, Cyndi, Kire and the other Hope's Challenge workers were still intent on giving the youngsters of Brl'yndria the chance for a better future. "It's what I do Stormy," Cyndi had explained with a smile. "I really want to make a difference for those young people, even the one's like Vrad and Tiimo. If no one tries to reach them, they'll be lost forever."
Obi-Wan nodded with a smile. He understood. She had a purpose, a goal, a mission, just like him. "Take care Cyndi! And if your life ever gets a little too boring..."
"I know where to find you!" Cyndi finished for him with a wide grin. "Take care Stormy! Have a good life!"
Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan's shoulders gently and the Padawan felt the ripple of the Force move between them. Qui-Gon hadn't bothered to wait for any official ceremony to restore their bond; the two of them had taken care of that themselves almost as soon as they were back together. "Be it known to everyone," Qui-Gon's commanding voice rolled out across the large room. "That Obi-Wan Kenobi has been completely exonerated of all charges against him. He has done no wrong, and in fact, in every way has acted in a manner of which his training and his order can be proud. He is hereby reinstated into the Jedi Order. And I hereby take him, from now, until the day he achieves Knighthood, as my Padawan learner, my apprentice, *my son of the heart*," Qui-Gon whispered that last part for Obi-Wan's ears alone.
There were tears in Obi-Wan's eyes again, but this time, they were tears of sheer joy. Qui-Gon placed Obi-Wan's lightsaber, recovered from the X'diin, into Obi-Wan's hands. Running his hand over the boy's hair, Qui-Gon attached a small, braided strand of his own hair, to cover the bare place behind Obi-Wan's ear until his own grew in again. "Padawan Kenobi, with these tokens, you are officially reinstated to your rightful place in the Jedi order. Welcome home." The pride and love in Qui-Gon's eyes was enough to make up for all the pain suffered along the way, and Obi-Wan felt he could just melt into them like butter on a warm day. He felt so happy, so incredibly wonderful. Everything was right again, everything was good.
Obi-Wan's friends put up another cheer, but this time, it grew and swelled and soon filled the whole chamber as the other Jedi picked it up. It was an orderly sound, as everything the Jedi seemed to do was orderly, but it was one of genuine celebration for the safe and happy return of one of their own. Most of them didn't even know the young Jedi up on the platform, but it didn't matter. They were all family here. Obi-Wan could have sworn that he even saw the Council members smiling. At least, just a little.