A simple, relaxing mission, Obi-Wan Kenobi thought derisively to himself. The Jedi Council had told them they'd simply be representing the Jedi at the Annual Senatorial Ball on Sullust. An evening of dancing was supposed to have been their reward for a series of grueling, dangerous missions that had left both master and padawan drained and in need of recovery. Nothing could have been farther from the truth! They'd scarcely arrived at the great ballroom when Yirrit, one of the two Sullustan senators in the Galactic Senate, had immediately asked them to follow him. Once he'd been certain that they were in a place where they could not be overheard, he had told them that he'd recently come into information that would prove that his fellow Sullustan senator and some other Senators from neighbouring systems were corrupt, taking bribes and swaying votes.
Senator Yirrit had asked for their protection in getting the information personally to the Chancellor. Of course, Obi-Wan's master, Qui-Gon Jinn, had taken him very seriously, and had guarded him personally while they'd made arrangements for the Senator to "disappear" that very evening. Obi-Wan hadn't even had the chance to see whether there were any human females at the ball, let alone dance with them--they had spirited Senator Yirrit away to a non-descript rental house in another city, and although a small handful of people from his office that knew he had gone, only the Senator himself and the two Jedi knew where he was. Now they were keeping a low profile while waiting for an undercover Jedi transport to arrive on Sullust and contact Qui-Gon, and the waiting was not easy to endure.
"Boy, bring me my case over there, would you," said Senator Yirrit, motioning to the briefcase by the stairs. Obi-Wan frowned. The Senator was closer to it than he was. Why couldn't he just stand up and get it? But at a glance from his master, he stood up from the table and picked up the briefcase, then extended it to the Senator. The Sullustan took it without a word of thanks and opened it up. "Hey, while you're on your feet, boy, get me a drink of mineral water."
Obi-Wan went into the kitchen, wondering why his Sullustan friends back at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant never seemed as obnoxious as the Senator did, then discovered that all the bottles of sparkling mineral water were now empty. He sighed, then came back to the living area." There isn't any more mineral water, Senator."
"Well, go out and buy some!" the Senator snapped, his huge black eyes narrowing somewhat.
"You can get a couple of bottles from that shop just down the street," Qui-Gon agreed quietly, handing him a credit chip. "They should still be open."
Obi-Wan nodded and left the house, glad to get outside, or as much outside as a person could get on Sullust. The Sullustans lived underground in artificial lighting which only changed from day into night and back again at regular times. The buildings were no more than three stories high at the most, leaving plenty of space between their flat rooftops and the lights attached to the ceiling of the underground cavern, and there were plenty of open markets and small shops. He walked down the street to the one Qui-Gon had mentioned and found four bottles of sparkling mineral water and a few small snacks that he and his master both liked. Purposefully, he did not buy anything else for the Senator. If the Sullustan felt the need for anything, he'd surely make himself known.
Obi-Wan did not like Senator Yirritating, as he had privately begun to refer to the Sullustan, and was glad of any excuse to leave the house and get away from him. The Senator was arrogant and bossy, and considered Obi-Wan a mere child, though useful enough for menial labour. He was polite--barely--to Qui-Gon, because the man was a Jedi Master, but he still disagreed with everything Qui-Gon said. Loudly. Obi-Wan wondered how long before the neighbours would start to complain. The Sullustan had no idea of how to deflect attention from himself, simply because he was used to being the center of it, and seemed to expect it at all times.
Returning with the heavy bag, keeping his Force-enhanced senses alert for anything out of the ordinary, Obi-Wan was dismayed to hear the loud, chittering voice of the Senator even outside. Someone was going to hear and recognise him, then wonder what the Senator was doing in this house. From there, it was only a short step to his enemies finding out where he was. Obi-Wan knocked twice, then twice again. There was a pause as Qui-Gon scanned him with the Force, then opened the door.
"We've got to go back," Senator Yirrit repeated, frowning as Obi-Wan went by to the kitchen. "We have got to go back. I cannot leave the planet without that hologram."
"You will not leave this house," Qui-Gon said sternly and with enough volume that Obi-Wan could hear him even as he took the bottles out of the bag and opened one. "It is for your own protection. If that hologram is so important, then -we- will get it, not you."
"But I'm the only one who knows where it is!"
"You can tell us. But going back to your office would be putting yourself in danger unnecessarily. If your enemies succeeded in killing or kidnapping you, what would happen to the information that you want so badly to give to the Chancellor himself?"
The Sullustan looked as non-plussed as his large jowels would allow, and he seemed to be salivating at an increased rate. Reaching out, he took the glass that Obi-Wan was extending to him and took several swallows, then grimaced. "You incompetent imbecile! This isn't the kind of mineral water I usually drink!"
Obi-Wan bit down an angry retort and replied diplomatically, "I'm sorry, Senator, it was the only kind available in that shop."
"Then find another shop! This has much too much iron in it. It tastes horrid and it's not good for my kidneys."
"I'm sorry, Senator."
"That would almost be another reason for me to go back," Senator Yirrit told Qui-Gon with a long-suffering sigh.
"You would risk your life for another brand of mineral water?" the tall Jedi inquired, raising one eyebrow as he indicated the glass.
Salivating even more, and wiping his mouth on a handkerchief a few times, Senator Yirrit finally nodded. "All right. I understand that we must all make sacrifices for the good of the Republic. I'm more than willing to do my part. I just didn't understand how difficult all this was going to be. Here, I'll give you the code to open my desk. It's in the second drawer on the left, in the back compartment. I'll give you that code, too."
He sat down and entered both codes on a datapad. "Here's my personal codeword as well. The guards will know it comes from me, and let you through."
Qui-Gon nodded, then handed the datapad to Obi-Wan, who perked up immediately. This was a great chance to escape Senator Yirritating for hours!
"You're not letting the boy go, are you?" the Sullustan asked incredulously. "He's hardly more than a baby!"
Obi-Wan bristled. Baby? He was sixteen! And he was taller than the Senator--he'd reached Qui-Gon's chin already!
Giving him that 'Master' look that never failed to wither any protests, Qui-Gon said, "If you'd prefer, he could stay here and guard you while I go."
"Guard me? You'd leave me in the hands of a young one? No, no, send him, by all means," the Sullustan sighed, shaking his head sadly. "I suppose it won't exactly be the end of the Republic if he botches -this- assignment. We've still got most of the proof here with us. It'll -probably- be enough to indict the others. But that hologram would cinch it."
"He won't botch the assignment," said Qui-Gon. "I would trust him with my life, and so should you."
"Hmph. I should call my office and tell them he's coming, just to make sure they let him through, codeword or not." He reached for his comlink, but Qui-Gon placed his hand on the Sullustan's wrist. "Be careful. Don't talk too long. Signals can be traced. And if they ask where you are, tell them simply that you are safe. Nothing else."
"I'm only talking to my Aide! I trust Jerrup!"
Qui-Gon stared him down again, and after a moment, the Sullustan nodded, then lifted the comlink to his mouth. "Jerrup? Yirrit here. Listen, I've forgotten something in the office and I'm sending the little Jedi over to collect it. Make sure he's allowed entry."
Obi-Wan distinctly heard the Aide squawk, "That baby? Can we trust him to get here and back?"
"I don't have any other choice."
"Senator, what have you forgotten? Tell me and I'll bring it to you. There's nobody else listening, you can tell me where you are. We've worked together for years. You know I'm trustworthy, more so than some Jedi boy you've only just met."
"The Jedi says to tell you only that I'm safe. Nothing else." Senator Yirrit looked up as Qui-Gon made a quick horizontal motion with his hand, then said, "I have to go now. I'm not allowed to talk very long, either." He switched off, then walked away from them and sat down on the couch, reaching for his briefcase again. Relieved to be getting away, Obi-Wan reached for the nondescript poncho that was not instantly recognisable the way a Jedi robe was, and pulled it over his head as he walked to the door. Qui-Gon accompanied him. "Be careful, Padawan. Remember our lessons in stealth."
"Yes, master. Thank you for letting me go. I'm really glad that you're staying with Senator Yirritating and not me."
Qui-Gon gave him a scathing look of disapproval and in a hard tone of voice, he said," I seem to remember a young man who did not appreciate being called Oafy-Wan and I'm sure the Senator would not like to hear his name twisted in such a fashion, either."
Obi-Wan cringed inwardly and had to use all his discipline to keep his gaze directed to his master's face, instead of looking away. "I'm sorry, master."
"I do not want to hear that or any other expression of disrespect for the rest of our mission, Padawan."
"No, master. I just wish he'd stop calling me a baby. I'm sixteen!"
"Yes, you are sixteen and you are a Jedi. Act like it and prove the Senator wrong. A Jedi is patient with and respects every other being in the galaxy. You'll be called worse things in your life, often by people you are helping. Ignore their insults, don't let them undermine your focus."
"I don't have to remind you about the importance of our mission. Jedi are the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, and there is no justice where there is corruption. We must help expose it wherever we can, even if it means dealing with--difficult beings."
"Yes, master." Obi-Wan felt his face flaming with shame.
"May the Force be with you, Padawan."
"And with you, wan-Wan bowed automatically, then turned around and went out of the house. The locks slid shut behind him.
They had rented a speeder for emergencies and Obi-Wan leaped in, settling himself in the pilot's seat without the use of his hands, as he often did for fun. Pulling out the street plan of the city, he chose a roundabout route that doubled back on itself a few times, and checked often to make sure he was not being followed, then took the busiest expressway to the next city. Once there, he worked his way to the Senator's Estate, also doubling back on himself several times, and parked the speeder a few blocks away. This was all more routine than it would be on the way back--he'd be in more danger of being tailed then. From there, he walked, observing the buildings that he passed and planning a return journey that could include jumping from one rooftop to the next in a zigzag pattern, or even from ground to rooftop and back again--anything to confuse the Senator's enemies and make it impossible for them to keep up with him, if needs be.
The guards at the Senator's Estate gave Obi-Wan a sceptical glance when he approached, but they had obviously been warned that he was coming, because after he had given them the codeword, they all but ushered him into the grand house. He easily managed to convince them that he did not need to be escorted to the Senator's office. It would only attract attention. Obi-Wan preferred to use his Jedi skills to get there unnoticed by the staff that still went about their daily duties even in the Senator's absence.
He had opened the second drawer on the left and removed the holo from the back compartment, but suddenly he sensed that the door to the office was about to open. Hastily, he stuffed the holo into his tunic pocket just as Jerrup, the Senator's Aide, came in. "Ah, Jedi, there you are. The guards informed me that you had arrived. Can I help you find whatever it is the Senator is looking for?"
Obi-Wan shut the drawer. "No, thank you, I have it already."
"Are you sure? What was it, anyway?"
"It's all right," Obi-Wan said easily, drawing on the Force for emphasis as he stood up. "I'm sure you've got work to do, and I have to return now."
But Jerrup remained impervious to the suggestion and Obi-Wan had to hide his dismay as the Aide fell in at his side, escorting him out of the office and down the corridor to the front exit when he'd been planning to slip out the back.
"Where are you going? Perhaps I can give you a lift part of the way?"
"No, thank you," Obi-Wan replied as they went outside.
"No, of course not, what if somebody were following me, trying to find him?" Jerrup stopped a few steps away from the door and managed a Sullustan-type smile. "Look, I just want you to know that I appreciate everything you Jedi are doing to keep the Senator safe."
He extended both arms, and Obi-Wan let the Sullustan take his hand in a hearty gesture of thanks, trying to diplomatically forget that he'd heard the Aide refer to him as a baby. Just then, however, he felt a sharp pinprick in the back of his hand. Jerking his arm away in surprise, he looked down at the tiny drop of blood forming on top of the skin.
A scant moment later, his vision blurred and his knees buckled, but Jerrup caught him and began to drag him towards the speeders that were parked nearby. Obi-Wan tried to resist, but found he had almost no control over his muscles--or the Force. The Sullustan plopped him into the passenger seat of the nearest speeder and pulled the safety belt over his shoulder and waist, probably more to keep him from collapsing sideways than to keep him safe in an accident. Then Jerrup walked around the front of the speeder and hopped in on the other side, starting the engine and moving the speeder without haste towards a side exit that was not guarded. It opened at the touch of Jerrup's thumb on a reader, however.
They didn't travel far, but ended up in a completely different neighbourhood anyway. During the short ride, Obi-Wan tried desperately to at least sit up, but could only manage to flap his hands or jerk his legs around a bit. Really like a baby, he thought morosely to himself as Jerrup picked up his arm by the wrist and laid it back in his lap with a condescending sound. He could not access the Force, either. It seemed to hover elusively some distance from him. The speeder stopped outside a building that had obviously fallen into disuse, although there were two serviceable swoops parked close to one corner, and Jerrup got out and banged his fist on a solid metal door. When it opened, he motioned two other Sullustans out.
"That's not the Senator," said one of them in surprise.
"No, it's the Jedi, the young one," Jerrup announced. "Bring him in."
The two dragged Obi-Wan out of the speeder and dragged him by his arms and legs into the building. Obi-Wan managed to lift his head once, but it soon flopped down again of its own accord. Still, he'd seen enough to realise it had been a factory of sorts, with workbenches at intervals, and machines along the walls.
"Strip him down. He's got something on him that the Senator was most keen to take off-planet," Jerrup said. "And then we can ask him where the Senator is."
They sat him on the floor against one of the machines and the taller Sullustan pulled Obi-Wan's poncho, boots, belt, and tunics off, handing them back for the shorter one to search through them methodically. After shaking the boots out, emptying the contents of the belt pouches onto the floor, and groping through the tunics, the small Sullustan finally found the hologram and handed it over to Jerrup. The Senator's Aide tucked it away in a pocket of his own with a very pleased expression, then glanced down as Obi-Wan struggled to keep himself from collapsing sideways.
"Give me that pair of binders," he said to the smaller Sullustan, using one of his digits to indicate something outside Obi-Wan's range of vision. "That shot I gave him is wearing off. He should be able to talk soon."
But to Obi-Wan's surprise, Jerrup did not fasten the binders around his wrists. He pulled Obi-Wan onto his back and clamped the restraints around his ankles instead. Stepping back, the Sullustan pressed a button on the workbench. There was a grinding noise from above, and Obi-Wan looked up to see a small box moving along a track on the ceiling. There was a hook attached to the box, and when it was close enough to his feet, the Aide stopped the movement and pressed another button. The hook began to descend on a length of strong cable until it was only a short distance above the floor.
Making another attempt to draw on the Force, Obi-Wan concentrated on the binders, willing them to spring apart, but they did not. The Force remained distant, impervious to his efforts to bring it nearer. Picking up his legs by the binders, Jerrup looped the short chain over the hook, then straightened up. Obi-Wan expected him to reach for the controls again, but instead he reached out towards the workbench opposite. The smaller Sullustan hastily handed him a length of very rough rope, which Jerrup threaded through a piece of nearby equipment which looked like part of a speeder engine, then tied the ends to Obi-Wan's wrists. Only then did he place his thumb on the button. The cable shortened, the hook ascended, and Obi-Wan's feet went up with it until he was dangling completely upside down, the weight of the engine stretching him so tightly he thought his arms or legs would be pulled from their sockets.
"Tell us where the Senator is, and where he's hidden the rest of his information," Jerrup said.
Obi-Wan was silent, even though they began to beat him on both his back and his chest, but as the torture went on, an insidious thought began to creep inside his mind, punctuated by the blows that he was receiving and Jerrup's demands that he tell them where the Senator was. He ignored the questions, but it was harder to ignore his own thoughts.
--take revenge on the Senator for the disparaging remarks--
--by telling them where the safe house was located--
--and letting them torture the Senator instead of him--
--but Jedi did not seek revenge--
--especially not for meaningless words--
--and he'd never be able--
--to look Qui-Gon or himself--
--in the eyes again.
There was a pause, a welcome break in the rhythm of the blows, and he reached out to the Force, trying to access it, but only succeeded in clenching his hands into fists. Well, that was progress, anyway. The drug really was wearing off, just as the Sullustan had said. He only had to be patient for a little while longer. It was hard to concentrate through the pain, but he was managing more coherant thoughts already. It really wasn't worth giving in because of a few easily-forgotten insults. Qui-Gon was right. He would be called worse things in his life, he might as well get used to it, and concentrate on the bigger picture. He should focus on the fact that he was helping to eradicate corruption.
"We'll have to try something else," Jerrup announced. He was salivating profusely, and wiped his mouth on a handkerchief, tucking it away again just like Senator Yirrit did.
Thinking of Qui-Gon made Obi-Wan wonder exactly how much time had passed, and if his master was expecting him yet.
"What about this?" asked the taller Sullustan, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and waving something about that looked like a piece of thick plastic hose, neither completely stiff nor completely flexible, about the same circumference as Obi-Wan's thumb. "I've cut a slit in it."
"Give him ten and then we'll see what he says," Jerrup nodded.
The lashes came thick and fast, and Obi-Wan couldn't help screaming at this new torment. He was starting to shiver a little; the first sign of shock.
"Where are you hiding the Senator?" Jerrup asked, reaching down slightly to grab Obi-Wan's braid close to where it joined his head. He sounded impatient now, which surprised Obi-Wan. He'd thought that anybody who had to deal with Senator Yirrit on a daily basis would have at least as much patience as Qui-Gon, perhaps even more. But maybe Jerrup saved it all for the Senator. Now he pulled the Jedi slightly closer to his face and when he spoke, saliva sprayed out of his mouth all over Obi-Wan. "Where is he?"
When Obi-Wan did not answer, Jerrup released him, letting him swing. Obi-Wan was mentally searching for his connection to the Force. He could feel it getting closer, but it was still too far away, and the pain made it difficult to concentrate at all. The cold of shock was more noticeable now, too.
"Another ten," said Jerrup sharply, patting his mouth with his handkerchief.
The blows came even more rapidly than last time, and Obi-Wan lost his concentration in the midst of his screams. When they'd finished, however, Obi-Wan closed his eyes briefly and tried again to regain his focus. He remembered a training exercise he'd often had trouble with, keeping his concentration and using the Force to levitate objects while his Master had tried to distract him, sometimes by tickling his feet with a feather. But there was no time to dwell on the past and he'd only sabotage himself by thinking of previous failures. He simply had to succeed now. The Force was definitely closer than it had been. Just a little bit further!
"Don't you have anything to say, Jedi?" Jerrup asked impatiently, using the handkerchief yet again. "You can end this pain right now by telling us where the Senator is."
Obi-Wan knew better than to believe they'd simply let him go. He had to escape, or he'd end up dead. Dead--the word stirred something deep inside him, the beginnings of an idea...
"Let's use some of these other tools," the smaller Sullustan suggested, reaching slightly across the workbench to indicate something that Obi-Wan could not see from where he hung.
"Yes, let's," Jerrup snapped. He pressed the button that lowered the hook, then stopped just as the piece of engine settled onto the floor of the factory. Obi-Wan couldn't help exhaling loudly as he was relieved of the extra weight and his shoulders were no longer in danger of being dislocated. It made the pain in his ribs seem all the more powerful, however. Picking up a saw from the workbench, Jerrup crouched down in front of Obi-Wan and positioned it next to his left wrist. For one horrible minute, Obi-Wan thought that Jerrup was going to cut his hands off completely, but the Sullustan merely severed the rope and straightened up again.
Dead...he couldn't get the word out of his head. Obi-Wan watched Jerrup put the saw away, wondering if it was going to be the will of the Force that he die to protect Senator Yirrit and keep his enemies from finding him before he'd exposed their corruption. If it was, then so be it, but he didn't want to go out without a fight. More urgently now, he reached for the Force, willing it to flow through him. It was coming back, he could feel it now, sluggish and slow but definitely there. He could think more clearly now.
Jerrup's fingers moved across the controls, and the box that held the hook trundled along the track in the ceiling, bringing Obi-Wan closer to one of the workbenches. When he was within arm's length, the Senator's Aide then pressed the button that raised him into the air until his head was just higher than the workspace. Obi-Wan used the opportunity to glance around. As he'd hoped, he saw something farther away that did not appear to be bolted to the floor, and moved his fingers slightly. The swoop exhaust pipe that had been leaning precariously against one wall wobbled for a moment or two, then finally fell backwards. All three of the Sullustans turned around to see what the noise was. Finding nothing threatening, they turned back to Obi-Wan.
Well, that hadn't been a lot of help, Obi-Wan groaned inwardly. It had only proved that his control over the Force wasn't complete yet. He'd have to be patient even longer now and hope he didn't die before the effects of the drug wore off enough. Die. There was that word in his head again.
Jerrup grabbed him by the wrist, interrupting his thoughts, and placed his hand palm-up on the table, then motioned for the taller Sullustan to hold it in place. He had just reached for a hammer and nail when he was interrupted by a chirping sound. Quickly laying the tools aside, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a comlink." Jerrup here."
"Have you found out where the Senator is?" came a voice that Obi-Wan did not recognise.
"No, Senator," Jerrup replied.
Senator? Obi-Wan wondered, then realised that Jerrup was talking to the other Sullustan Senator, the one that Yirrit claimed was corrupt.
"But we do have the younger Jedi and he's just about to tell us where Yirrit is," Jerrup replied. Obi-Wan ignored the Sullustan's pointed look as he considered the connection; Jerrup was no doubt well paid by the other Senator to make sure that Yirrit was not informed about certain--activities, or to report information that Yirrit would rather keep secret. He was certainly doing a good job--Senator Yirrit did not only -not- suspect anything, but he also trusted Jerrup with his life.
"Well, may the Force be with you, then!" the other Senator replied sarcastically, then snorted, "Jedi. The only good Jedi is a dead Jedi, but make sure he vents his information first. We've got to get that proof away from our do-gooder friend before they smuggle him off the planet."
Dead Jedi, Obi-Wan thought contemptuously. If only he could convince them that he was dead, maybe they'd go away and leave him alone long enough for him to free himself--yes! That was the plan! He'd have to have full control of the Force to pull it off, but as soon as he did, he could put himself into a hibernation trance and slow his heartbeat down enough that they'd think he was dead.
"Yes, Senator." Jerrup switched off and put the comlink away, then reached again for the tools. Instinctively, Obi-Wan tried to pull his hand away, but the Sullustan held him too tightly, and a moment later, Jerrup had nailed his hand to the surface of the workbench. He screamed, trying to keep himself still as the Sullustan let go of his wrist.
"You have something to tell us, Jedi?" Jerrup demanded, pulling him by his braid again. Obi-Wan resisted as the motion tugged at his hand and sent bolts of torment up the nerves all the way to his shoulder.
"No!" he screeched, both as an answer and a plea. For an answer, Jerrup leaned over and began to wiggle his thumb ever so slightly. Obi-Wan screamed even louder, clawing at Jerrup with his left hand, but the smaller Sullustan caught it and bent his wrist back on itself until he stopped struggling.
The comlink chirped again, and Jerrup reached immediately for a roll of wide tape. Ripping off a piece and slapping it over Obi-Wan's mouth, he reduced the Jedi's cries to grunts so muffled that the comlink would not pick them up. Only then did he reach for the small instrument. "Yes, Senator, what is it?"
"Has that Jedi baby left there yet?"
Jerrup was no less surprised than Obi-Wan to hear Senator Yirrit's voice. Glancing over at the Jedi who hung upside down in front of him, Jerrup quickly caught his composure again and said, "Why, no, Senator, he hasn't been here at all."
"Blast that boy. I knew we shouldn't have sent him. Unreliable."
Obi-Wan made an indignant sound. He was being tortured here, risking his life for that Senator, and Yirrit was calling him unreliable!
"He's probably got lost, Senator. You know those humans don't have our innate sense of direction."
"Does the Jedi know you're calling, Senator? Is he worried about the boy yet?"
"What? No, no, he doesn't know. He's in the refresher upstairs just at the moment, otherwise I wouldn't have dared even think of calling you. But he doesn't look worried. Jedi never do, you know. He just says he trusts the boy to get back before the transport lands to pick me up."
It was good to hear that Qui-Gon had such trust in him, even if the Senator didn't.
"You won't want to wait much longer, will you, Senator? You'll be leaving the planet soon." Jerrup said, motioning unnecessarily for the other Sullustans to be silent as he passed the handkerchief over his lips. "Look, I'm all alone in my office just now. Nobody's listening. You can tell me where you are, and I'll bring you whatever you need. You know you trust me, Senator."
No, Obi-Wan cried out mentally. Don't trust him, Senator! Don't tell him where you are! Qui-Gon, hurry up!
But there were no background sounds of Qui-Gon coming down the stairs, not that the comlink would transmit a noise that quiet anyway, and to Obi-Wan's sheer dismay, the Senator actually began to describe the location of the hologram in his desk and then the location of the safe house for Jerrup. Realising that the damage was done, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and concentrated on the Force, sending a quick burst of it towards his master. Qui-Gon had to be warned that something was not right, that he should be alert! If only Jedi were able to communicate in words through the Force--but they weren't. This was the only way to signal his master. He hoped it would be enough because he knew that as soon as the Senator stopped babbling at Jerrup, the Sullustans would want to kill him and then head for the house. He wouldn't have long to convince them that he was dead already before they pulled out a blaster to make sure.
Inhaling loudly through his nose a few times and then stopping suddenly, Obi-Wan then made his body relax completely, slowing down his heartbeat and his breathing until he was hanging utterly motionless, not even his chest moving. At the same time, he pulled his conscious mind inwards as far as he dared, wanting to at least hear what was going on around him and therefore not quite daring to enter the deepest stage of the hibernation trance. Everything seemed very far away, even the pain in his hand, and he was only vaguely aware of Jerrup thanking the Senator and promising to bring the hologram right away.
As though it were a conversation in another room, he dimly heard Jerrup saying, "Well, Jedi, we got the information without you."
There was a pause, and then Jerrup asked, "What, has the little Jedi baby fainted?"
The smaller Sullustan moved his fingers around to the inner side of Obi-Wan's wrist and then let go of it suddenly. "I can't feel a pulse!"
"He can't be dead," Jerrup snarled. "We haven't hurt him enough. Broken ribs, maybe, but that shouldn't kill him."
As though through many layers of thick blankets, Obi-Wan felt Jerrup shaking his injured hand. The pain was so distant and so dull, however, that he was easily able to ignore it and remain totally limp.
"What if he suffocated?" the taller Sullustan asked.
"His nose was free!"
"He's been hanging upside down a long time now. That kills you eventually."
Jerrup placed his hand on Obi-Wan's chest, feeling around for a heartbeat, then snapped in a very defensive voice, "I asked my friend at the medical center so I'd know how long we could keep him like this! We're still well within the time estimate that she gave me. It should take twice as long as this for a being to die from hanging upside down!"
"Maybe it's different for humans," the smaller Sullustan snapped back.
"Shut up!" Jerrup shouted. He removed his hand from Obi-Wan's chest just before Obi-Wan's heart gave a single beat. "It doesn't matter now. We got what we wanted in the end."
There was another significant pause and Obi-Wan could imagine them all standing there, staring at his 'dead' body. Then Jerrup said coldly, "I never thought it would be so easy to kill a Jedi. That might just make it easier for us when we meet the next one. Come on, let's go. I know where the Senator is. Let's get him and get that proof, otherwise we're going to be the dead ones next!"
Obi-Wan listened to them go out. A moment later, he heard the sound of the speeder engine outside the door, loud at first, then fading away into the distance. Bringing his consciousness back to its normal position again, he found himself panting through his nose with the pain that also returned. But there was no one to hear, and he opened his eyes and looked at the nail in his hand. His first priority was to free himself and find his comlink to warn Qui-Gon, and so he concentrated on the nail, trying to pull it out with the Force. As before, the agony made it difficult to focus, but he gritted his teeth and gave it everything he had.
After an eternity of two or three moments, the nail popped out and he could lift his hand away. Force, but it hurt! Obi-Wan found that he was shaking all over and had started to keen involuntarily through the tape covering his mouth. Reaching up with his left hand, he ripped off the strip, gasping as it came away. Glancing around, Obi-Wan then turned his attention to the controls of the hook, mentally pressing the correct button. The hook glided down, taking him with it, but he had to stop once and concentrate on the piece of engine he'd been tied to, sweeping it away so that he didn't land on it. When he was able to lay his left forearm flat on the floor, he stopped pushing the button and focused the Force towards the binders around his ankles instead.
As soon as they popped open, his legs fell down. Obi-Wan wasn't as capable of controlling them as he'd hoped, and he landed hard on his knees and shins, the jolt of the impact sending additional torment through his battered torso. For a moment, he knelt there, weak and dizzy, then drew on the Force for strength and balance, and managed to crawl over to where they'd dropped his things. The lightsaber was missing. He thought Jerrup might have picked it up, perhaps when they'd gone out. And the comlink had been crushed just enough to be worthless, probably by one of the Sullustans stepping on it. Obi-Wan carefully blocked out his initial feeling of frustration and searched for another way to achieve his objective. He could find a public com system and contact Qui-Gon that way.
Pulling his tunics back over his head with slow, careful movements, using the Force to dull his pain as much as he was capable of, Obi-Wan buckled the belt loosely around his waist, then pushed his feet awkwardly into his boots. Then he straightened up somewhat and staggered to the door of the factory. He was prepared to walk all the way to where he'd left the speeder, if he had to, despite his aching body and shoulders and the throbbing in his palm. He could look around for a PCS booth on the way. But by some miracle, the Sullustans had left both swoops behind, and just looking at them made Obi-Wan's heart suddenly feel light with relief. Swoops were fast and agile, and best of all, they reminded Obi-Wan of a certain fact he'd learned the day before.
The Sullustans lived in huge underground cities with artificial lights. Between the framework that held the lights and the ceiling of the caves was just enough room for a Sullustan maintainance worker to ride a swoop through, if he kept his head down, in order to reach those lights quickly and easily which needed to be repaired or replaced. There were markings on the framework to tell them where they were. Obi-Wan knew that he had a good chance of actually beating the Sullustans to the safe house if he rode one of those swoops through the maintainance channels. He'd be able to push the swoop to its highest speed and not have to worry about any traffic--it was late in the day and all the maintainance workers had no doubt gone home already. There would be no time to look for a public com system to tell Qui-Gon he was coming, but if he got there before the Sullustans did, it wouldn't matter.
Swinging his leg slowly and awkwardly over the seat of one of the swoops, Obi-Wan used his left hand and a bit of the Force to work the controls. At first, he kept his right hand close to his chest to protect it, but soon realised he'd have to extend it for balance. He rested the side of his wrist gingerly against the hand grip, then released the brake and guided the swoop along a steep path upwards until he found one of the maintainance hatches between two of the huge light panels. He had to transfer his use of the Force from self-healing and controlling the pain to overriding the security lock, but didn't allow himself to moan as the panel slid back to admit him. Pushing the swoop through and ducking automatically, Obi-Wan pointed himself in the right direction, switched on the headlights, then jammed his foot onto the accelerator and held on as tightly as he could.
The swoop shot forward like a blaster bolt. It was so natural for Obi-Wan to surrender himself to the Force when he was flying that he all but forgot about the pain in his body and his hand. He was aware of every pole that connected the framework to the ceiling of the cave and kept his swoop on a course that led between two rows of them, reading the markings as he flashed by. Keeping his speed, he dodged to the left several times, moving the swoop from one corridor to another in order to reach the narrow part where one cavern ended and the next one began.
From there, he braked once for a sharp turn to head in the direction of the neighbourhood where the house was located, then picked up speed again until the markings showed him that he was only a few poles away from where he needed to be. Slowing down, he began to glance around for an access hatch, and spotted one a little to his left. Letting the swoop hover over it, he brought the Force to bear on the security lock, then dropped through, almost directly onto the roof of the shop where he'd bought the mineral water. It only took a few seconds to guide the swoop down the street to the safe house. Seeing Jerrup's speeder outside sent a wave of despair through him, but he parked the swoop next to it anyway and dismounted stiffly.
The door to the house was open and Obi-Wan walked through, fearing that he'd come too late. It must have taken longer than he'd thought to free himself, he thought unhappily, and he shouldn't have wasted time by getting dressed. Two steps into the living room, he saw and heard several things at once. With his Force-enhanced senses, he could distinguish the sounds of blaster fire and light saber hum from the upper story of the house, and at the same time, he saw Jerrup standing next to the Senator, threatening him with the hilt of Obi-Wan's own light saber and demanding, "Where is the other information, the other proof of corruption that you have? Tell me, or I'll switch this thing on and it'll go right through your precious bladder!"
"I--I'll show you, it's--it's here, I'll show you--!"the Senator stammered, gaping at his Aide and no doubt trying to process the fact that he had been betrayed by someone whom he'd trusted so much. As soon as he caught sight of Obi-Wan entering the room, his eyes and expression changed from fear to relief and hope. Jerrup turned to see what he was looking at, and stared at the Jedi in sheer astonishment for a moment. Then the blaster fire from above ceased abruptly, and Qui-Gon began to come down the stairs. Obi-Wan recognised that he'd taken care of the other two Sullustans and was now checking for any other danger. Looking panicked at the sound and obviously unwilling to engage a Jedi Master in a fight, Jerrup let go of the Senator and rushed towards Obi-Wan. Pushing him out of the way, Jerrup managed to not only knock him backwards into the wall, but also to savagely attack Obi-Wan's injured hand with the hilt of the light saber, and then he was gone, disappearing out the door. Briefly paralysed by the explosion of pain through his body, Obi-Wan had no chance of stopping him. He was only vaguely aware that Qui-Gon had pushed past him in pursuit of the Sullustan.
"You fool!" Senator Yirrit finally hissed. "You let him get away! You didn't even fight back--some Jedi you are!"
Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut in despair, pulling his injured hand around so that he could hug it next to his body and cover it with his good arm. It was true, he'd let Jerrup get away. He could hear the speeder start up and roar away down the street even now. He'd had the perfect chance to grab him, to fight back, and he hadn't done anything. His connection to the Force had ceased at the moment the Sullustan had attacked him. So much for his concentration! Feeling suddenly very cold and very weak, he murmured, "I'm sorry, Senator."
"Where have you been all this time, boy? Why didn't you get the hologram and get back here?"
"I--uh--"Obi-Wan said again, shivering now as he searched for words. "I'm sorry, Senator--I--"
"If you worked for me, I'd fire you for incompetence! You just don't seem to understand how important these things are!" Senator Yirrit screeched, spraying saliva in Obi-Wan's direction as Qui-Gon came back in, much more slowly than he had gone out. "I betrayed myself because of you! If you'd been there and got the hologram, I never would have had to call Jerrup in the first place! I never would have had to tell him where I was if you had only done your job!"
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon was asking for an explanation.
"Master--sorry," Obi-Wan mumbled. It was an effort to speak, it was taking all his energy just to stay upright. There was darkness around the edges of his vision. "Wasn't fast enough--to get here before they did--to stop Jerrup--sorry--"
"You might think you're sorry now, but when I get done with you--"the Senator began, stepping forward menacingly, but before he could reach out, Obi-Wan felt his knees give way and he collapsed.
Qui-Gon reached out and caught him in a rough hug, then lowered him to a sitting position. As his master's arm went across the welts on his back, Obi-Wan moaned in protest, trying weakly to pull himself away from the agonising touch. He ended up leaning sideways against Qui-Gon's chest, then cried out as Qui-Gon jarred his injured arm by shifting slightly. A moment later, his master had pulled up the back of his tunic, making him shiver even more.
"I think Obi-Wan understood quite well just how important that proof was, "Qui-Gon said in a very calm and yet somehow fierce voice. "I don't think he has -anything- to be sorry for."
The Senator was silent.
"Run upstairs and find Obi-Wan's robe, will you, Senator?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Uh--yes. Just--a moment."
As Senator Yirrit began to climb the stairs, Qui-Gon asked quietly, "Jerrup tortured you?"
"I didn't--tell them--where he was!"
"I never thought that you did." Qui-Gon smiled and Obi-Wan relaxed a little at the affirmation of his master's trust in him. Pulling the back of Obi-Wan's tunic down again, Qui-Gon sent him gentle waves of healing power that dampened the pain somewhat.
"Senator Yirrit is his own worst enemy. He is eager and impatient to do what's right," Qui-Gon went on. "But--there will be time to talk later. We are no longer safe here."
Obi-Wan took a deep breath and nodded with understanding. Coming down the stairs again, Senator Yirrit extended the brown robe awkwardly with one hand while pressing his handkerchief to his mouth with the other one. Qui-Gon pulled the robe around Obi-Wan's shoulders as gently as he could. There was something about the colour that was different than Obi-Wan remembered, but it was too much effort to tell the Senator that it was actually Qui-Gon's. It didn't matter anyway. He was grateful for the warmth.
"Here, I got this, too," the Senator said, extending a medical emergency box that he'd clamped under one arm.
"Thank you," Qui-Gon said as he took it. "Pack everything that you need, Senator. We have to leave as soon as possible."
"To take him to the hospital?" the Sullustan asked quietly.
"No, to find another hiding place until the transport arrives. Jerrup might well come back with reinforcements." Qui-Gon opened the box and took out a tiny jar of bacta salve, looking at it doubtfully as though afraid it wouldn't be enough.
"But--but he's hurt."
"Yes, and if Jerrup finds him again, he will kill him. He might be expecting us to take him to a hospital. "Moving one flap of the robe away, Qui-Gon flipped up Obi-Wan's tunic again and began to rub the salve across the welts on his back, continually sending waves of healing power with every movement. Obi-Wan shivered visibly, making small, hurt sounds that would have been agonised screams if not for the Force. Bacta healed, but it was not a painkiller.
"Where are we going? Where else can we hide?"
Qui-Gon was silent for a moment, considering the options, and Obi-Wan said, "Master--above the lights."
"What?" Qui-Gon put the tunic back down, then reached for Obi-Wan's arm. He looked curiously at the small wound, but it was obvious that he'd decided to save his questions for later. Gritting his teeth as Qui-Gon dipped his finger into the jar again, Obi-Wan couldn't help crying out as his master applied a large dab of salve to each side of his injured hand, nor could he prevent himself from whimpering a few times as Qui-Gon began to bandage it. Only when his master had finished with the first aid was Obi-Wan able to speak again.
"The space--above the lights--the way I came--"
Frowning when he realised Qui-Gon didn't understand, Obi-Wan tried again. "Maintainance--the roof of the cavern--"
"Yes, of course!" Qui-Gon exclaimed, pulling the robe back around his Padawan and giving his shoulders a gentle hug. "Good idea, Obi-Wan."
"Access hatch--above the store."
"Yes. Very good, Obi-Wan. I'm going to get up now, I have to get a few things ready before we go." Qui-Gon helped Obi-Wan move slightly so that he could lean one shoulder against the wall, then got to his feet and started towards the stairs.
"What are you going to do about--?"Senator Yirrit indicated the ceiling, obviously worried about the two dead bodies upstairs.
"I'll inform the local authorities before we leave the planet," Qui-Gon said. "Now pack your things."
When they had gathered everything together that they intended to take, Qui-Gon shook out a second robe, which Obi-Wan recognised as his own, and placed it over his Padawan's shoulders on top of the one that was already there.
"Better?" he asked quietly.
"Uh huh," he affirmed. Qui-Gon touched the top of his head briefly and smiled down at him, then straightened up.
"Right, then. You'll be coming with me, Senator--"
"What about him?"
"We don't have the landspeeder any longer, we have a swoop. We can fit two people on it, but not three. I'll take you to the hiding place, then come back for Obi-Wan."
"No, you have to take him first, he's hurt!" Senator Yirrit exclaimed, moving his handkerchief across his lips again.
"You are in more danger here alone than Obi-Wan is," Qui-Gon said. "You'll be safe enough for fifteen minutes up in the maintainance channels. They won't know you're there, and nobody will be able to gain access to it without the security codes or the Force."
"'S'okay," Obi-Wan said, forcing a weary smile. "I'll--play dead."
"Senator, we must go now," Qui-Gon said, looking worriedly down at his padawan. The remark had obviously been too close to the truth for his liking, but he added, "Obi-Wan will be all right."
Reluctantly, Senator Yirrit allowed himself to be escorted out to the swoop, and Obi-Wan shut his eyes for a few moments in the ensuing silence. But leaning against the wall was rapidly causing the dull ache of his mistreated shoulder to flare up into actual pain, and he let himself slump in the other direction until he was able to lie down on the floor and roll carefully onto his stomach. That hurt, too, but not as badly as laying on his back would have. He was still cold, despite the two cloaks, and gathered up the feeble remains of his strength to start a healing trance.
The next thing he knew, Qui-Gon was kneeling next to him. "Obi-Wan?"
Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan tried to get up, but pain shot through his body and he groaned. He didn't know how long he'd been out, but his entire body had become very stiff and every movement was an effort rewarded by agony. Gently, Qui-Gon helped him get off the floor, pouring Force energy into him, and eventually, he was able to stand upright.
The overhead lights had been turned off and streetlights were the only illumination now. Obi-Wan almost stumbled into the swoop, and Qui-Gon held him steady as he battled weakly to get his leg over the seat. A moment later, his master had mounted the swoop in front of him and started the engine.
"Hang on, Obi-Wan!"
Obi-Wan was only vaguely aware of them heading away from the house in the opposite direction of the store and finding a different access hatch than the one he'd come down. Qui-Gon was taking his own advice about not being seen in the same places too often. Then they were up in the maintainance area and had stopped close to the walkway where Senator Yirrit was sitting next to one of the poles. The Sullustan scrambled to his feet as the swoop stopped, and reached out to help Obi-Wan off, but unfortunately, he caught the padawan by his injured hand.
Obi-Wan screeched and pulled away, almost falling off the swoop on the other side, but Qui-Gon was there to catch him. Carefully, he guided his padawan to the place next to the pole and helped him sit down, then took a seat next to him, offering his leg as a pillow.
"What happened to your hand?" Senator Yirrit asked as Obi-Wan struggled to get comfortable.
"Jerrup--put a nail--through it," Obi-Wan reported.
"A nail?" Senator Yirrit looked sickened to the point of nausea. Staring fixedly at the padawan as though trying to see the injury through two layers of bantha wool cloaks and a gauze bandage, he slowly brought out his handkerchief to wipe his mouth. "And--and what else did they do to you?"
"Hit me--with--a crowbar. Whipped me--" Obi-Wan did not tell the Senator that Jerrup had set everything up for -him-, but to judge by the expression of sheer horror on the Senator's face, he had just realised it anyway.
"Don't talk, Obi-Wan. Save your strength. I'll help you into a healing trance now. We don't know how long we'll be waiting," Qui-Gon said quickly. He plainly did not want the Senator, who had started to twist his handkerchief around his other hand, to dwell on Obi-Wan's injuries and how they might have been inflicted on him instead, if not for the Jedi. Just then, however, Qui-Gon's comlink beeped, and he removed it from his belt pouch.
"Yes?" he asked, not identifying himself by name.
"You have a shipment of refresher tanks headed for Alderaan?"
"No, I have two shipments of refresher tanks for Corellia."
"We can take two. Docking bay FH-7."
"Two shipments, docking bay FH-7,"Qui-Gon nodded.
"What was all that about?" Senator Yirrit asked as the Jedi master tucked his comlink away. "Refresher tanks going to Alderaan or Corellia?"
"Special code," Qui-Gon said, shifting himself out from under Obi-Wan and up into a kneeling position.
"I spoke of two shipments, that means two passengers. I'll be sending Obi-Wan back with you. By disagreeing with them about the destination of the shipment, I was informing them that everything was all right otherwise."
"I've never been referred to as 'refresher tanks' before," the Senator stated, alternately twisting his handkerchief in his hands and patting his mouth repeatedly.
"Can't--imagine--why not," Obi-Wan murmured in disbelief. Even though Senator Yirrit showed no signs of having heard, Qui-Gon frowned down at his padawan.
"I don't know whether to be insulted or 'flushed' with pride," the Senator went on, grinning briefly at his own joke, but his hands were still working nervously at the square of cloth. "I'll wait here while you get the boy over to that docking bay."
"No," Qui-Gon said, motioning to the swoop. "We'll do it the same way again. Obi-Wan stays here and you come with me now. It won't take very long and Obi-Wan will be fine."
"Are you sure? He looks a bit drained to me. Get it? Refresher tank? Drained?" He started to laugh, but it sounded harsh and forced somehow.
"You have been through a lot and you are very close to hysteria, Senator. The sooner you are safely on your way to Coruscant, the better you will feel," Qui-Gon said with a little wave of his hand.
"Yes, the sooner I'm safely on my way to Coruscant, the better I'll feel," the Senator repeated, swinging his leg over the seat.
Still kneeling, not making any movement to get up, Qui-Gon said gently, "Stay here, Obi-Wan. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Yes, masser, "Obi-Wan slurred.
Qui-Gon placed a hand on his shoulder, lingering for a moment with a worried look on his face, then finally got to his feet and went to the swoop. Obi-Wan watched for a moment, then shut his eyes, but he was no longer in any position to concentrate on a healing trance, and the pain did not allow him to sleep, either. He simply lay there, opening his eyes occasionally and glancing around. After the sound of the swoop had died away, it was very quiet in the maintainance channels--eerily quiet. Obi-Wan tried incoherently to tell himself that he was glad to be away from Senator Yirrit's bothersome chatter and that he should be enjoying the silence, but the truth was, he'd rarely felt so alone or so vulnerable. In his present state, he knew he'd scarcely be able to fight off even a rat, and he wished fervently that Qui-Gon would hurry up and come back. It was a long and painful time until his master returned, parking the swoop right next to him so that he wouldn't have to walk more than a step or two to reach it.
"Still alive?" he tried to ask jokingly as he knelt down next to his padawan.
Obi-Wan wanted to reply, but only managed an inarticulate sound.
"I was worried about leaving you here, but I knew I could trust you not to wander off or do anything stupid," Qui-Gon said, sending him a burst of energy through the Force. "I wasn't so sure about the Senator. He was too close to a nervous breakdown. Right, then, let's get you up."
If anything, Obi-Wan was even stiffer than before, and the agony of movement made him groan several times.
"I'm sorry it hurts, Padawan. I'd put you to sleep, but I don't want you to fall off while we're flying," Qui-Gon said grimly, picking up Obi-Wan's leg and dropping it on the other side of the seat. Keeping hold of his Padawan's good arm, pulling it around his own ribs, he sat down in front. Obi-Wan leaned forward against him, resting his head on his master's back, then closed his eyes. For him, the journey was a never-ending sequence of being pushed back slightly and falling forward again, or occasionally leaning to one side, the pain in his ribs increasing and decreasing by turns. When they left the maintainance channels, they dropped vertically through the hatch into the docking bay below, landing directly in front of a loading ramp. Obi-Wan didn't bother to look at the rest of the ship as Qui-Gon put an arm around his waist and lifted him off the swoop, then supported him the rest of the way.
There was a corridor. Then a door. He was being lowered facedown onto a narrow bunk. Someone was pulling his boots off. There was a gentle touch, which he felt both physically and mentally. And then there was only darkness, warm and comforting darkness.
From one moment to the next, Obi-Wan became aware of somebody shaking him, and the pain that shot through his torso and hand was excruciating.
"Stop," he managed to croak, and to his surprise, his tormenter did.
"You're alive! Thank the Force!"
Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan looked up to see Senator Yirrit bending over him, and could not suppress a groan of dismay.
"I thought you were dead! You weren't breathing, I couldn't feel your pulse." Senator Yirrit stopped and looked at him. "But you're all right."
"Yes, I'm fine," Obi-Wan affirmed. Being diplomatic never counted as lying.
"Here, let me help you sit up," the Senator offered, seeing that he was trying to move.
"No, thank you, I can manage," he said hoarsely.
The Senator put his arm around him anyway and pulled, then let go again quickly as Obi-Wan screamed.
"Sorry, I seem to have hit a sore spot," he said.
Obi-Wan waved his good hand weakly to indicate he accepted the apology, and waited until the explosion of agony had slowly died away before unclenching his jaw.
"Can I get you anything? Some water?"
Astonished that the Senator was actually offering to do something for him, instead of demanding that Obi-Wan get up and get -him- something to drink, Obi-Wan managed to answer, "Yes, please."
The Sullustan pressed the button that left the door in an open position as he went out, and Obi-Wan could hear him call down the corridor, "Master Jinn! Bring me that bottle of water and a cup, will you? Our little Padawan is awake."
Obi-Wan cringed at the phrase. A moment later, Senator Yirrit came back with a bottle in one hand and a cup in the other, stopping halfway across the room to pour a generous amount. Obi-Wan took it carefully in his left hand and drank deeply, feeling vaguely tempted to spit it out and exclaim, "This isn't the kind of mineral water I usually drink!" just to see how the Senator reacted to getting a taste of his own medicine. But when he lowered the cup, he saw Qui-Gon standing in the doorway and was glad he hadn't really considered being so rude.
"Thank you, Senator," he said. "Master? I thought you were going to fly our own ship back?"
"I traded places with the co-pilot from this ship." Qui-Gon came into the room. "How are you feeling, padawan?"
"He's feeling fine now, all things considering!" Senator Yirrit answered before Obi-Wan could even open his mouth.
"All things considering?" Qui-Gon asked mildly.
"Really, Master Jinn, I thought you would have taken better care of him! You kept telling me he was fine," Senator Yirrit said accusingly, rounding on the Jedi Master, "but when I came in here just a minute ago, he was only a whisker's breadth away from certain death!"
"He was?" Qui-Gon looked wonderingly over to Obi-Wan, who rolled his eyes dramatically.
"I couldn't see him breathing, I couldn't find a pulse. Thank the Force I managed to shake him back to life!"
"I thank you for your concern about my Padawan's wellbeing," Qui-Gon said, looking him in the eyes with complete sincerity. Obi-Wan wondered just how long the Senator had waited while trying to feel his pulse, maybe as long as one second. While a healing trance did slow the heartbeat, it was nowhere near as reduced as in a hibernation trance.
"It's the least I can do for what he's gone through for me." Senator Yirrit said. "Now why don't you tell him what you told me?"
"About what, Senator?"
"About what will happen to Jerrup. I'm sure our little padawan will be as happy to hear it as I was."
Qui-Gon did not look convinced, but replied patiently, "No doubt Jerrup will experience the natural consequences of his actions, though the Force has not revealed to me whether Sullustan Security or his employer will reach him first."
"His employer. Definitely. He'll be stringing Jerrup up and putting nails though both of -his- hands and beating the kriff out of him..." Senator Yirrit sighed contentedly at the thought, then pulled out his handkerchief to pat delicately at his lips. "Would you like some more water?"
Obi-Wan accepted a second cupful, but the sound of the gurgling liquid made him realise he was going to have to stand up soon. Having already experienced the Senator's help once, he was determined not to suffer it again, and cast about for an excuse to get the Sullustan out of the cabin.
"Senator?" he asked. "Could you ask the pilot how many more hours before we reach Coruscant?"
"I just did," Senator Yirrit beamed, happy to be of help so promptly. "He said ten hours and forty five minutes."
Obi-Wan tried not to grimace visibly, but Qui-Gon seemed to realise what was needed. Crossing the room, he sat down on the bunk, turning slightly to face Obi-Wan, and said, "Senator, would you excuse us, please? I need to initiate a special Force technique to ensure that my Padawan really is all right--after what you told me."
"Special Jedi stuff, huh? All right." Senator Yirrit walked to the door, then turned around. "I'll be back later to check on him again, though."
Force forbid, Obi-Wan thought fervently as the door swished open, but Senator Yirrit didn't exit completely. "And when you're done with that Jedi stuff, go get our little Padawan something to eat. He must be starved!"
When the Senator had finally gone and they were alone in the small cabin, Qui-Gon laid his hand on Obi-Wan's head and sent him a steady, concentrated stream of healing power through the Force, diminishing the pain at the same time.
"Thank you, master," Obi-Wan sighed.
Qui-Gon helped him to the refresher and back, then guided him back to sit down on the bunk once again. "Will you be more comfortable on your front or on your back, Obi-Wan?"
"It all hurts the same," Obi-Wan frowned, but decided to try it on his back this time. The bacta salve and the healing trance had taken the sting away from the welts, and it was no more uncomfortable than lying on his stomach. "Master?"
"Will you stay with me? Or at least make sure Senator Yirrit--"he stopped, making doubly sure that he did not say "yirritating", then continued--"doesn't shake me again?"
Qui-Gon smiled slightly and glanced around for the single chair in the cabin, then pulled it closer. "Of course, Padawan."
Relaxing a little in the assurance that he was truly safe, Obi-Wan said, "Master, do you know what really hurts?"
"Jerrup tortured you half to death for information and then Senator Yirrit voluntarily told him everything he wanted to know."
"Yes. Exactly. I almost feel like all this was for nothing!"
"If Jerrup had got the rest of the proof that the Senator is carrying, then it would have been for nothing. But you managed to stop him, and so it was all right."
"No, I didn't stop him. I came into the house, that's all I did. Senator Yirrit was right, I let him get away. I didn't fight back."
"Senator Yirrit told me you saved his life by distracting Jerrup just at the right moment." Qui-Gon transferred something from his belt to Obi-Wan's. "And he was so distracted he dropped this."
"When did he say that? I only remember hearing something about me being incompetent," Obi-Wan protested, touching his light saber possessively with his left hand.
"That was before. After he got over the shock of it all, he started to see things differently," Qui-Gon explained, but Obi-Wan had no doubt that his master had helped the process along quite vigourously.
"Oh, so that's why--"Obi-Wan struggled to find words for the things he had perceived instinctively but was only now consciously realising.
"That's why he worries about you now. He has become very protective of you."
Protective? Despite the pain that Senator Yirrit had caused him, Obi-Wan supposed that Qui-Gon was right. "That's a very diplomatic way of putting it, master."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Yes. I've had a bit of practise over the years. Did you want something to eat, by the way?"
Obi-Wan shook his head slightly. "No, not really."
"The Senator won't be happy to hear that. He already thinks I don't appreciate you."
"What?" Obi-Wan was shocked. "Master, how could he think that?"
"He's accused me of trying to get rid of you," Qui-Gon reported with a hint of amusement in his voice. "He's threatened at least three times to report me to the Council for leaving you in danger twice on Sullust, and for not checking up on you every ten minutes here on the ship, and now here I am, not forcing a three-course dinner down your throat. A clear case of Padawan abuse. No wonder he felt obliged to sneak in here as soon as my back was turned."
Obi-Wan smiled weakly, but then something occurred to him that made his skin crawl with horror. "You don't think Senator Yirrit will come in here and insist on feeding me, do you?"
At Qui-Gon's thoughtful expression, he exclaimed, "Quick, master, help me back into that healing trance! No, a hibernation trance, a really deep one! Don't wake me up until we're back at the Temple and Senator Yirritating is--somewhere else--forever!"
"Obi-Wan. Is that any way to treat a friend?"
"Master! Shouldn't you be asking -him- that? Friends like these are worse than enemies! I obviously didn't know what torture was until Senator Yirrit--"At Qui-Gon's frown, he stopped just short of saying 'yirritating' again, then continued, "tried to help me sit up just now."
"He means well, Obi-Wan. He is just...eager. And impatient."
"I know. I just don't think I've ever met anybody who's done so many wrong things for the right reasons."
"This might be the first time for you, but it will definitely not be the last. Jedi meet many kinds of beings who do things for many different reasons. You must learn to deal with all of them diplomatically and without prejudice. Trust in the Force. Remember this experience, how everything almost went wrong and yet turned out all right in the end."
"Everything, master?" Obi-Wan asked. "Oh, well, I suppose you're right. The healers can always break my ribs again and set them properly, and the harm won't be permanent. At least -they- use anaesthetics."
Qui-Gon chuckled and reached out to place his warm, comforting hand on Obi-Wan's head. "Go to sleep, Obi-Wan. Senator Yirritating will be gone when you wake up, I promise you."
"Master!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, trying not to laugh. The pain caused by the convulsive movement of his chest drove tears to his eyes. "You said 'yirritating'!"
Qui-Gon looked surprised for a moment and then he smiled. "I'll have to ask the Healers to let you stay an extra day or two in the infirmary. You've got Foot-In-Mouth Disease and it's contagious!"
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