"Hello, young man."
He blinked a few times and finally managed, despite the pain in his head, to focus on the middle-aged man bending over him.
"I'm Doctor Maethum. Can you tell me your name?"
"Where am I?" he asked instead, glancing around. It didn't look like an infirmary. It looked...different. Like a cross between a bedroom and an office, but...cosy, somehow.
"You're in my home. You ran right in front of my car last night and cracked your head on the curb when you went down. Look here, tell me how many fingers I'm holding up."
"Hmm," Dr. Maethum assented, then asked," Do you remember your name?"
He frowned. He had a name, didn't he? It was right on the tip of his tongue. He just had to remember it. Why couldn't he remember?
"Never mind. It's all right. You've had a nasty blow to the head and you'll probably be confused a while longer, but you'll mend. Why don't you sleep some more now?"
"All right." He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, the light in the room was different. His headache had also diminished somewhat. Dr. Maethum had gone, and there was a young woman sitting in an armchair across from him, glancing at a book and twisting one of her dark blonde braids around her finger. As he shifted slightly, she looked up, then smiled. "Hey!"
"Hello," he replied, his voice a bit raspy.
"I'm Rixiar. Rixiar Maethum, but you can call me Rixi. "She had an impish smile with twinkling eyes.
"I'm--uh--I still don't remember--"
"It's all right. Dad said you might not. I'll just get him now." She went to the door and he could hear her shouting down the hall. "Da-ad! Dad! He's awake!"
There was a grumbled reply, and a few moments later, Dr. Maethum came into the room, pulling a bathrobe around him. "Funnily enough, so am I, and no doubt half the neighbours, too."
"Sorry, dad, but you did tell me to call you."
"I had visions of you sneaking quietly to my bedside and shaking my arm," Dr. Maethum said.
"Oh, dad! You and your visions!" Rixi grinned and took her seat in the armchair again.
"Do you think you can sit up?" Dr. Maethum asked, turning his attention to his patient.
He managed, but leaned back against the wall with dizziness. Dr. Maethum ran gentle fingers over his head, and he winced as the man hit a sore spot. "Hmm. Swelling's gone down some. How do you feel otherwise?"
"Dizzy. My head aches, too."
"Well, that doesn't surprise me. Nauseous?"
"Rixi, is there any tea left?"
At her father's glance, Rixi hastily let go of her hair and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, dad, I drank the last cup half an hour ago."
"Well, get him some water, then. And put the kettle on while you're up."
Rixi returned almost instantly with a glass of water, and he took several swallows. It tasted nicely cool. "Thanks."
"Do you remember anything more to-day?"
He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, but the only memory he had was of being in this room in a dimmer light, talking to Dr. Maethum. That was all. He had no idea how he'd got here, where he actually was, or even what his name could be. "No."
"It's all right. It might take a while to come back."
"Dad," said Rixi.
"Hmm?" Dr. Maethum was shining a light into each of his eyes now, making him blink.
"We could call him Ben in the meantime."
"It suits him somehow. Ben Maethum."
"Not Maethum, Rixi, and stop twisting your braid."
"Well, Ben, anyway." Looking beyond her father to him, Rixi asked, "Would you mind if we called you Ben? Then we wouldn't have to shout 'hey you' to get your attention or refer to you as YM."
"YM?" he asked.
He shrugged. "I don't mind. Ben. It sounds all right."
Rixi smiled, and Dr. Maethum said, "Let me have a look at your leg. Ben."
He folded back the covers and for the first time, Ben noticed the huge bruise on the side of his left leg. Looking at his face, Dr. Maethum said, "Nothing's broken, as far as I can tell. I've got some salve here that will help it heal."
The bruised skin was tender to the touch and Ben winced again as the doctor gently rubbed the smelly ointment over it. When he'd finished, Ben said, "Um, I have to go to the--um--to the refresher."
"Refresher!" Rixi scoffed. "Where did you come from! It's called a toilet!"
"Rixi!" said Dr. Maethum sharply, and Ben felt his blush of embarrassment recede as the girl murmured, "Sorry."
"I'll take you," the doctor offered, helping Ben to his feet. He staggered, and was glad of the man's arm around his shoulders, guiding him out of the room and down the hall. When they returned, he all but collapsed back onto the sofa-bed, trembling with inexplicable weakness.
"Are you hungry, Ben?" Rixi asked. "I could make some breakfast."
Ben shook his head and reached instead for the water again. "Just thirsty."
"Well, I'd prescribe rest for you, Ben," said Dr. Maethum. "You can move around the house a bit, but only if you feel you're up to it. Otherwise, stay in bed. All right?"
"Yes." His eyes were already starting to close again. He replaced the glass on the bedside table and settled back onto the pillow with a slight sigh.
"Are you going back to bed now, too, Dad?" Rixi asked.
"No. I'm awake now, I might as well get on with the day. Let your mother sleep, though. She was up much of the night yesterday with him."
"Do you want me to stay here any longer?"
"I think he'll be all right on his own now. Ben, I don't think you'll have to throw up again, but there's a bucket here, just in case."
"All right, thanks."
"I'll check in on you later. Did you put the kettle on, Rixi?"
"Sorry, dad, I forgot."
"Well, do it now, while I shave."
They left the room at the same time, and Ben fell asleep almost instantly in the ensuing silence.
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn stopped pacing and turned eagerly towards the door as Ech-to-tha, the Mayor of Hage, entered the sitting room.
"Sorry," said the Get-tro-wen."My aides have asked at the hospital and the police station. Nobody's seen him, or if they have, they're not admitting it."
"Why wouldn't they admit it?" Qui-Gon couldn't help asking.
"Well, there's a lot of resentment here on Theosne against us. They don't understand that we've managed to civilize them and bring them prosperity. Instead, they accuse us of taking every last bit of profit from Theosne back to Get-tro-we, bleeding them fatally, so they say. There have always been protests. A lot of people would literally cross the street rather than get close to Get-tro-wen officials. They shun us whenever they can. And if they find out we're looking for someone, it would be like them to hide him from us, just to make our job more difficult. Your apprentice is human...the Theosnens are humans...dressed like them, he wouldn't exactly stick out."
The Get-tro-wen race reminded Qui-Gon of cats, cats without tails that walked upright on feet instead of paws, and had, surprisingly enough, hands with fingers (and retractable claws instead of fingernails). They were shorter and stubbier than human digits, and covered in fur, of course, but were fingers, nonetheless.
"Obi-Wan would not have wandered off on his own, something must have happened to him, "Qui-Gon said in a low voice, pushing down the irrational, unfounded fear that had plagued him ever since discovering his apprentice's disappearance.
"Could they have kidnapped him?"
Ech-to-tha considered this, then shrugged. "There's no ransom note, but that's not to say that one won't arrive. I didn't think their little resistance groups were that well organised or that bold, to tell the truth. We try to discourage that sort of thing, of course. No, we must wait and see. I personally think he might have tried to follow you last night, and got lost. I've sent out word to the patrols to keep an eye out for him."
Qui-Gon shook his head again. Obi-Wan had not been happy about the situation of the night before, when Qui-Gon had been invited to spend an "entertaining evening" with Ech-to-tha and some of the Get-tro-wen officials. They had refused to take Obi-Wan, however, as the boy was only eighteen, and the age of consent on Get-tro-we was twenty. But, disgruntled as he'd been, Obi-Wan wouldn't have wandered off just like that. Qui-Gon could not fathom what could have made Obi-Wan disappear in the middle of the night wearing only a pair of underpants. They had returned sometime in the early morning hours to find Obi-Wan's clothes still draped over the chair, his boots side by side underneath. Later, Qui-Gon had found his light saber outside the estate, lying on the ground next to the wall almost as though it had been placed there. Had he left it behind, had he met somebody who'd brought him different clothes? The thought came unbidden to Qui-Gon's mind, and he frowned.
He knew that Obi-Wan was not dead, he could still feel their bond, but that was all. It was as though his Padawan was deliberately shielding from him, and he tried again to convince himself that Obi-Wan would not have betrayed him a second time. He would not have decided to join the locals, would not have allied himself with the Theosnens, the way he'd stayed behind on Melida/Daan when he was thirteen, because he'd believed that he could help the Young end the war that had ravaged that planet. He was eighteen now, and his commitment to becoming a Jedi had only become stronger every day since that last, almost-tragic mistake. He wouldn't have done it again. Why should he? Since they'd arrived, he'd hardly had the chance to meet any of the Theosnens. They'd stayed on the Get-tro-wen side, (as though they'd had a choice,) ready to supervise the first negotiations between the Get-tro-wens and the Theosnens (the only ones, if the Get-tro-wens had their way.) No, something had happened to him, of this Qui-Gon was convinced. He just didn't know what.
"I really am sorry about your apprentice. Please be assured that my men will keep searching for him. But in the meantime, could we prevail upon you to attend this first day of negotiations? The Theosnens are already accusing me of delaying tactics because I've asked if it might be postponed until the afternoon."
Qui-Gon's heart was heavy as he reluctantly agreed, and followed Mayor Ech-to-tha out of the room. After all, this was their mission. This was the reason they had been sent to Theosne in the first place, and it would not be fair to the Theosnens if he refused. He had to do his duty as a Jedi and not let personal considerations get in the way. He would wait until the evening and then insist on searching for Obi-Wan by himself.
"Wouldn't he be better off in hospital?" The voice was female, vaguely familiar, but not Rixi.
"He's fine where he is, he just needs a little rest. All the medical help on Theosne can't cure amnesia, anyway, so there's no point in taking him there and attracting unnecessary attention."
Ben opened his eyes and glanced around. Dr. Maethum was there in the room, and with him a middle-aged woman with brown hair, not yet starting to go gray, cut short at ear level. They were looking at each other and didn't seem to notice him.
"You shouldn't have brought him here. We don't know anything about him. What if he gets up in the middle of the night and murders us all in our beds?"
"Bedec, don't. He's a nice boy."
"How do you know?"
"I know. I have that feeling that it will be all right, that I'm doing the right thing."
The woman was silent for a moment.
"You trust my feelings, don't you, Bedec? Remember that I had the feeling we should get married? And when Rixi was born, that she would survive? And all the other feelings I've had during the years?"
"Yes," the woman admitted, still reluctant, but rapidly weakening.
"Well, trust me now, then. Ben will not murder us in our beds. He is a nice boy. He might have done one or two things that the Getters would consider bad, that's all."
"You think he's a fugitive, don't you?"
"Darling, why else would he be running around in his underwear after curfew on a rainy night? He's just lucky that I was the one who almost ran him over, and not the Getters. He'd be in prison before you could say 'innocent' and we both know what that's like, don't we?"
The woman glanced over at Ben and froze just long enough for Dr. Maethum to realise that something was wrong. Turning slightly, he looked at Ben as well, and smiled. "Hello. How are you feeling?"
"Better," he replied, sitting up. "Dr. Maethum, you think I'm a fugitive?"
The woman frowned and said, "I'd better get started on lunch."
When she was gone, Dr. Maethum asked, "So you remember me?"
"Yes, you and Rixi, but not her, I'm afraid."
"That's my wife Bedec."
"And in answer to your question, I can't think of any other reason for you to be wandering the streets in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, dressed only in a pair of boxers, unless you were visiting your girlfriend and her father kicked you out. In any case, I had the feeling that you were running away from something or somebody, so I brought you in here as fast as I could, before the Getters got you."
"I don't think I did anything wrong..."
"Sometimes, it's enough to look sideways at a Getter, let alone act suspicious," Dr. Maethum sighed.
"Don't you remember? We're occupied by the Get-tro-wens. We call them Getters for short. They 'get' the best part of Theosne."
"It would be better for you to lie low for a while, especially if you can't remember what's what. Getters don't like it if you act too stupid, and they'd never believe you had amnesia. If anybody's looking for you, we'll soon hear about it. I've got a friend at the police station who can give me information on the sly."
For the first time, Ben began to wonder if anybody was missing him, and who they might be. A father, a mother, a girlfriend? Then there was a slight knock at the door and Rixi came in, holding a bulging cloth bag. "Old Lady Geard said we could have these. They should be about your size, Ben."
"How many times have I told you not to call her that?" Dr. Maethum asked.
"Obviously not often enough," Rixi replied, then released the clothing from the confines of the bag and spread it out on a nearby chair. "Trousers, shirts, pullovers, socks, underwear, even a pair of shoes."
"Thank you," Ben said.
"Was she very upset?" Dr. Maethum asked.
"No, not really. I think she was happy to find some use for it after all this time," Rixi said. "We can get more if we need it. If it all fits, that is."
At Ben's bewildered look, Rixi explained, "Old Lady Geard's grandson was executed by the Getters about five years ago. They said he was forming a resistance movement, but she swears he didn't have a thing to do with it."
"Lucky for you she never gave his stuff away until now," Rixi replied. "Here, Mum says would you hand over your underwear so that she can wash it to-day?"
"Yes, all right." Ben made no move to get undressed, however, and after a few moments, Dr. Maethum said, "If you're waiting for the show to begin, Rixi, you have to buy a ticket first."
"Oh, sorry!" With a blush that made her suddenly very attractive, Rixi turned and exited the room rather hastily. Smiling to himself, Ben slipped out of his underwear and into the clothes. When he'd finished, he felt something pulling on the right hand side of his head, and put his hand up. A long, thin braid of his hair was caught underneath the pullover, and he freed it curiously. A braid when the rest of his hair was so short?
"How do they fit? Are they loose enough?"
Ben let the braid drop and looked down at the trousers instead. They were just a little too loose and too long, and Dr. Maethum nodded approvingly. "I'll get you a belt, and Bedec can shorten the legs to-night. Well, if you're not feeling too dizzy or sick, why don't you come downstairs and have lunch with us?"
"I am hungry," Ben realised. "Thank you."
Despite his hunger, his appetite was small, and although the food was delicious, it was a slight struggle for him to even finish most of what was on his plate. He had to decline the pudding. After finishing hers with obvious relish, Rixi asked, "Dad, can he come out into the garden for a while?"
"If he feels up to it, I have no objections," said Dr. Maethum.
Rixi led him out through the kitchen door into the garden behind the house, and they sat on a bench by the wall of the house, looking out onto the wet grass. There were only a few clouds in the sky, and the sunshine made everything sparkle.
"So you can't remember anything at all?" Rixi finally asked, twisting her braid around her finger until her hand was at ear level.
"No," Ben replied.
"What's it like? Is it scary?" She unwound the braid and started over.
"Yes," he admitted. "A little. It's like...I don't know. Like I never existed until I woke up here. And yet I feel like I should remember, like it's right there, but I just can't."
"Rugged," Rixi breathed.
"Your father mentioned something about a curfew. I've forgotten all about that."
"Yeah, well, there's a general curfew from eleven at night to six in the morning. My father's a doctor, so he has special permission to go out at night and visit patients. He's even got a car. If you don't have permission and you get caught, the Getters throw you into prison and interrogate you! It's horrible, like torture! You're lucky that my father picked you up before the Getters got you!"
"How do you know all this?" Ben asked. "Have you ever been caught?"
"One of my father's friends was, once. I heard them talking about it. No, Dad doesn't let me out past nine in the evening, just in case."
"That's good," Ben said.
Rixi smiled over at him. "Old Lady Geard said you could have her grandson's bicycle. When you're feeling better, we could ride over to the ice cream shop together."
"How can anybody forget what a bicycle is?" Rixi asked, looking at him in amazement. "No. Sorry. Dad tried to explain amnesia to me, but he said every case is different. He said there's no way of knowing what a person will remember, or understanding why someone will forget one thing and not another. I guess it's possible to forget what a bicycle is, but still remember ice cream. Look, I'll show you mine."
She went to a shed at the side of the house and returned a few moments later. In her hands, she supported a metal frame attached to two wheels, front and back, with handlebars, a place in the middle of the frame to sit down and pedals for the feet. "Remember now?"
"No," Ben sighed.
"I'll show you how it works. Look, you get on like this and push the pedals with your feet, and you have to keep your balance, and then you just go!" She hopped on to demonstrate, and the bicycle carried her across the lawn to the back fence. When she returned, she extended it to him. "Want to try? Oh, no, you'd better not. What if you fell and banged your head even worse?"
"Maybe to-morrow," Ben said with a slight smile.
"I'll ask Dad." Rixi returned the bicycle to the shed. Coming back, she reached out with her left hand and ran it down his braid. "I've never seen a boy with a braid before. Maybe you come from the west? They have funny hairstyles out there."
"Maybe," Ben shrugged. He had no idea what 'the west' was.
"It's so long. You must have spent ages growing it out."
"I suppose I must have."
Rixi smiled sheepishly and let go of it. "The Getters have hair all over. They look a bit like cats to me, mean cats, not the snuggly ones. They don't have tails, but they do have ears on top of their heads, instead on either side, like we do."
She kept talking, and Ben leaned back against the house wall and closed his eyes.
Four days later, Ben had settled into the Maethum household so well that he was now considered part of the family. That very morning, Mrs. Maethum had even suggested that Ben refer to them as Uncle Fulk and Aunt Bedec, and he had accepted. He had also recovered sufficiently to walk with Rixi to Mrs. Geard's and get not only the remaining clothes, but also the bicycle to transport them with. He couldn't believe that he'd forgotten what such a thing was, let alone how to ride it, but had soon picked it up again, only falling over once or twice. Now it was Dr. Maethum's evening off, and he was preparing to take Ben down to the pub to meet some friends, as he said.
"Can I come?" Rixi asked, pleading in her impish way.
"Certainly not," replied Dr. Maethum evenly, "and stop twisting your hair. You'll stunt its growth."
"Maybe I don't want it any longer, and why can't I come?"
"Because you are not old enough."
"I'm sixteen, dad! I'll be seventeen soon!"
"As I was saying..."
"But I don't have to drink. I mean, I could just have lemonade or something."
"You never let me have any fun," the girl pouted. "It's a roaring wonder that you allow me to leave the house for school, let alone bicycle over to the ice cream shop in broad daylight!"
"I don't want you to run into a Getter patrol and get sent to prison, Rixi."
"What if Ben runs into one?"
"We'll take that chance, "Dr. Maethum said. "Come on, Ben, time to go."
When they were outside, walking along in the cool evening air, he said, "Normally, I wouldn't be taking you, either, Ben, but we have to risk it. If we can't find out who you are, then you'll need an identity disc, and I know someone who can arrange it."
"I appreciate it," said Ben. "I know you're taking a risk for me."
"Well, it's not the only risk I've ever taken in my life. You really should cut off that braid, you know. It's horrendously conspicuous."
"All right," Ben shrugged.
"I don't want you drinking anything, either, by the way. Stick to lemonade."
"If you say so, Uncle Fulk," Ben sighed.
"I do. You don't know how alcohol will affect your head injury."
"I thought you said it was pretty much healed. I don't even have a headache anymore."
"Don't take chances. If you can't handle your alcohol and you get drunk, you're ten times as likely to attract attention, especially Getter attention. Don't do it."
The pub was several streets away. Ben found himself wondering why they had not taken the car, but he looked around as they walked, and realised that there weren't any other cars on the street. Everybody was either on foot or on bicycle. Apparently, being a doctor had certain advantages. He also found himself watching for Getter patrols, but there were none, and they entered the pub unmolested.
"A pint for me, and a lemonade for him, please," said Dr. Maethum after they'd worked their way to the bar.
As the bartender filled the glasses, Dr. Maethum glanced around the room and nodded to several acquaintances. Ben also had the idea that he was looking for Getters, because he turned back to the bar with an almost imperceptible sigh of relief and asked,"Have you seen Wylan this evening?"
"In the corner," said the man, jerking his head as he placed the glasses on the bar.
"Cheers," said Dr. Maethum.
"Cheers," Ben said, tipping his glass and drinking deeply in exactly the same way. The colourless liquid was sweet and bubbly.
"Come on. "Dr. Maethum took his glass and walked to the indicated corner, Ben following a step behind and to the right of him. Three men were sitting at a table and looked to be in earnest discussion until one of them looked up and caught sight of the doctor.
"Fulk, you old sock!"
"Wylan," Dr. Maethum smiled. "Gentlemen."
"How many did you kill to-day?" one of the other men asked.
"None. It wasn't worth the bother, they didn't have anything to steal." Ben recognised that it was a harmless ritual greeting and smiled as Dr. Maethum laid a hand on his shoulder. "Wylan, I wanted to ask if anybody's missing a young man who looks like this one here."
The stocky middle-aged man rubbed a finger across his lips as he looked Ben up and down, his eyes finally coming to rest on the boy's braid. "Why do you want to know?"
"I almost ran over him five nights ago when I was coming home. He hit his head on the pavement and now he doesn't remember who he is."
"Most cases clear up in a few days, but this one looks like it's going to be permanent. We're calling him Ben for now, but I was hoping you could put another name to him."
Wylan considered him again and frowned. "There was a Getter in my office a few days ago, looking for someone with a braid like that. I didn't pay too much attention, of course, but seeing it now..."
"A Getter?" Ben asked in alarm. So Dr. Maethum's guess had been correct. He was a fugitive!
"Yes, a Getter. Looks like you're a wanted man, son. And not only that, but it seems the Jedi are looking for you, too."
"The Jedi?" Dr. Maethum asked, horror ringing clearly in his voice.
"Yeah, they're here now, and guess what? They're working for the Getters. Guardians of peace and justice, huh! If that's true, why don't they use those mind-tricks of theirs to force the Getters to give us true independence?"
"What's a Jedi?" Ben asked.
"Beings with special powers," one of the other men at the table put in, sounding both awed and mocking at the same time. "They can read your mind whether you want them to or not. Make you do things you don't want to."
"I heard they take people's babies," said the other man. "Sacrifice them to the Force in that Temple of theirs on Coruscant."
"No, they don't sacrifice them, they eat them, of course, right down to the bone."
"They carry light swords instead of blasters, that's one thing I know for certain."
"It's impossible to kill one of them."
"The question is, what did you do that they're after you?" Wylan asked, and his simple query stopped the conversation cold.
Ben shrugged, fascinated by this flow of information that also made him feel a tiny bit fearful. "I have no idea."
"He ran right in front of my car like a whole horde of Jedi was after him," Dr. Maethum said. "Luckily I wasn't going very fast or I'd have killed him straight out."
Wylan sighed and rubbed his lips with his finger again. "Sorry, Fulk, nobody's been reported missing this past week, at least, nobody who hasn't been accounted for with the Getters. I'll check the older files if you like."
"Do that. But in the meantime, I'd hate to see him end up in a Getter prison just because he can't identify himself," said Dr. Maethum.
There was a pause, and then Wylan nodded. "Come into the back with me."
They left the main room of the bar and went down a short, narrow passageway to an office on the right hand side. Throwing a gray blanket to Dr. Maethum, Wylan said, "My contact will need a holo and a blood sample for the genetic code. Hold this up behind that chair over there. Ben, you sit down and I'll find the camera."
Ben took a seat while Dr. Maethum made the blanket into a backdrop behind him. After fiddling with an unusually strong desk lamp, Wylan found the camera in a drawer, raised it, then put it down again. Frowning, he walked over and flipped Ben's braid behind his back, making sure it was out of sight. Then he went back into position, raised the camera, and said, "Smile if you want to."
He took three or four shots, then nodded. "My contact will pick out the best one. You got any blood-letting equipment with you, Fulk?"
"Coming right up." Removing a small item from his pocket, Dr. Maethum took Ben's arm and pricked the inside of his wrist, then handed the probe to Wylan. He placed it in a large envelope along with the pictures, then asked, "What name?"
"We'll say he's my nephew."
"And just Ben? Not Tiorben?"
"No, just Ben."
When everything was ready, Wylan unlocked the bottom drawer of the desk, placed the envelope inside, locked it again, then turned to Ben. "Do you play darts?"
"I don't know," he replied. "What are they?"
"Can you forget darts?" Wylan asked Dr. Maethum, his face mirroring his incredulity. The doctor shrugged. "It's possible. Rixi said he even forgot what a bicycle was."
"I thought amnesia only happened on those cheap holo series that our teenagers are so fond of," Wylan grumbled, leading the way back down the passage to the bar and asking the barman to hand over the darts. When they came, he showed them to Ben. They were long, thin metal projectiles, one end sharpened and the other feathered.
"There's the board, over there on the wall. You stand here, behind this line, and throw it like this." Wylan demonstrated, and his dart stuck in the outer ring.
"You should aim for the bull's eye," Dr. Maethum teased, "not for the broad side of a barn."
"I'm getting warmed up," Wylan protested.
"What's a bull's eye?" Ben wondered.
"The tiny ring in the middle. Here, you try."
Ben took up position behind the line and hefted the dart between his fingers. "I should aim for the tiny ring in the middle?"
He threw, and there was an awed silence from both Wylan and Dr. Maethum as they stared at the dart quivering in the exact center of the board. Finally, Dr. Maethum smiled. "Beginner's luck. Try again."
When he'd finished throwing all the darts, and every one of them had landed inside the bull's eye, Wylan groaned, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd certainly remember being able to do that, no matter what else I forgot!"
"How does he do that?" one of the other men asked. "Hey, step back two paces and try it again."
Ben did so, with the same results, and after a few moments, Wylan motioned for Ben and Dr. Maethum to join him in a quiet corner, "Ben, why don't you come down to the station to-morrow and let's see what you can do with a real weapon."
"Wait a minute," Dr. Maethum began. "Are you thinking--?"
"Why not? He's already wanted, so I'd guess he has experience. He's got the eye to be a crack shot. Who knows what other talents we'll discover? He'll be an asset to the team, Fulk, a real asset."
Dr. Maethum nodded slowly, but then there was a scuffle at the door and a voice called out, "Getter patrol!"
"Ben! Go hide in the office!" said Dr. Maethum, giving him a shove in the right direction. "With any luck, they'll stay here in the bar and not check anywhere else. Go!"
Ben raced down the hallway again and entered the office, looking for a hiding place. Through the open door, he could hear the normal sounds of the bar dwindle suddenly, and an oddly accented voice telling the men to produce their identity discs. Hastily, he squeezed under the desk, hugging his knees to his chest and pulling the chair just a bit closer. He knew he couldn't be seen from the doorway, but he'd be visible if someone came into the room. Still, aside from standing behind the door, it was the only hiding place he could think of, and he forced himself to breathe very quietly, to minimize the chance of discovery. He only wished he could stop his heart from thumping quite so hard.
After several minutes, there were footsteps in the hall, but Ben resisted the impulse to stick his head out and ask if it were all right to come out. For a moment, there was silence and he felt a distinct tingle of fear, and then the footsteps turned and went back down the hall. Breathing a gentle sigh of relief, Ben nonetheless remained where he was, afraid of moving and calling attention to himself by making an inadvertent sound. It was another several minutes before Dr. Maethum finally came into the room. "Ben? Oh, there you are."
"Are they gone?" Ben crawled out and stood up.
"For now. They were asking about you, Ben."
"They wanted to know if anybody had seen a young human male with a long, thin braid about this long. They said he might be dressed in a pair of boxer shorts, or he might have stolen clothes somewhere, and if we'd had clothes stolen in the last four days, or a bicycle, or especially a car, we should report it immediately. They said Mayor Ech-to-tha and a Jedi from Coruscant are looking for you. You must really be in trouble."
"I don't remember," Ben said, shaking his head. "I honestly don't remember."
"I know. Don't worry, we'll take care of you. But you've really got to cut that braid off. It'll give you away in an instant."
"Come on, let's finish our drinks and go. We've got to be back before curfew."
At home, Bedec got a pair of scissors out from her sewing kit and snipped the braid off, then handed it to Ben. "You can keep it, if you like."
"No, thanks." Ben tossed it into the garbage can, then went upstairs to his room.
Slowly getting into his pyjamas, he laid down on the sofa-bed and stared into the darkness, wondering what his former life had been like. Why had he grown a braid like that in the first place, if it was so unusual? And who had he been before, that the Getters and even the Jedi were out looking for him when no one else seemed to be? No mother or father had come forward yet and filed a missing person's report on anybody who even vaguely resembled him. Didn't anybody care? Didn't anybody want him?
He was lucky, he thought, to have met up with Uncle Fulk, Aunt Bedec and Rixi. They were his family now, he told himself, and the thought was warm and comforting. It felt good to know that they cared. After getting over her initial suspicion, Aunt Bedec was now always asking him if he'd had enough to eat, if his clothes were comfortable, if there was anything he wanted or needed. He'd gone shopping with her that morning, helping to carry the heavy things on his bicycle. And Rixi was always talking to him, telling him things he'd forgotten, showing him her schoolbooks and asking if he remembered enough to help her. In that way, he'd discovered that he was good at maths, computers, and other scientific or technological things, but not very good at Theosnen history or geography. They often sat together in the afternoons and studied until supper time, and he enjoyed Rixi's companionship. Dr. Maethum was away most of the day, of course, tending to patients in his surgery, and occasionally going out at night to check on emergencies, but when he was there, he acted like a father to both of them, not just to Rixi.
The next morning, Ben took the map that Aunt Bedec had drawn for him and bicycled over to the police station on his own, as Wylan had suggested. Dressed in his uniform of beige shirt and dark green pants, Wylan looked different from the night before, and Ben almost didn't recognise him until he turned around and smiled. "Ben, hello."
"Hello," he replied.
"Sergeant, I'll be gone for a few minutes on recruitment business," Wylan said to the younger man sitting at the desk across from him.
"All right, Captain."
They went down a set of narrow steps into the cellar, which was much bigger than the police station above, and included a row of cells. Through a door, there was also a small shooting range, and Wylan unclipped a blaster from the rack and handed it to Ben. "Just wait until I get the target set up, and then show me what you can do with that."
It was the same as with the darts. Ben hit the bull's eye every time, even when Wylan had him stand facing away from the target and whirl around suddenly to shoot.
"Tell me something, Ben," said Wylan after a while. "Were you scared last night, hiding there in that office, hoping that the Getters didn't find you, knowing that you didn't have an identity disc and that they could whisk you off to one of their prisons for such a simple reason?"
"Yeah," Ben replied. "I was a little scared."
"Even now, in broad daylight, you could be harassed by the Getters, asked where you've been and where you're going, forced to show the contents of your pockets or anything that you're carrying, such as a backpack, a briefcase, or even your shopping bags. If you protest, you could be arrested, or just beaten up and left there on the street as an example for the rest of us Theosnens. If you can't show an identity disc, you'll be arrested on the spot and interrogated in one of their prisons. It's not pleasant, Ben. They don't just ask you questions, they torture you. They hardly consider us sentient beings, you know. They treat us like animals that exist only to help them make a profit. Does that scare you, Ben, knowing that you could walk into a patrol at any minute and get arrested? They're already looking for you, you know, and that means you've done something in the past. Even if you don't remember, they certainly do, and they're out to punish you for it. Does that scare you even a tiny bit?"
"A little," Ben nodded again.
"Do you want to fight that fear?"
"Join the resistance that we're forming against the Getters. If we hit them where they're vulnerable, eventually they'll decide we're not worth the time and effort. They'll admit defeat, pull their troops out, and leave us alone."
"Yes," Ben decided instantly.
"You'll be a good man for it, I can tell. But there's one last thing I need to know about you."
"How much courage you have."
Ben considered this, then said, "I can't tell you what I don't know myself. I think I have courage, but I can't remember if it's ever been tested."
Wylen smiled at this. "That's the best answer I've heard yet. Well, I want to test your courage. I want you to sneak out one night after curfew, go to Mayor Ech-to-tha's estate, and spray some sort of parole on his garden wall where it'll be visible to everybody passing by. Write something like 'Getters go home' or whatever you want. If you've got the guts to do that, and you can manage it without getting caught, you'll be in the resistance with me, Fulk Maethum, and all the rest of us."
"I can do that," said Ben quietly.
"Then do it. I don't insist on to-night, but try to manage it within the next week."
"Your identity disc will be ready to-morrow. I'll send one of my kids over to Fulk's surgery with it. If the Getters ever put it through their main computer, they'll know it's a forgery, but it won't show up on an ordinary disc-reader, so you'll be safe from any casual patrols."
"Thank you, Wylan."
"Rixi," said Ben as they sat at the kitchen table, ostensibly doing Rixi's homework, "do you know where I can buy a can of spray paint?"
"Yes," she said. "I'll take you there right now, if you like."
"I can do it myself," he protested, reaching into his pocket and curling his fingers around the identity disc there. Dr. Maethum had brought it home the night before and he relished the feeling of being "official" now.
"What do you need spray paint for?" she asked.
"A secret project," he said. It was the wrong choice of words. A slow, impish smile spread across Rixi's face and she began to twist her braid again.
"If you don't tell me what it is, I won't tell you where to buy the paint," she said.
Ben sighed, suddenly understanding why Dr. Maethum was so protective of the girl. With a start, he realised that he didn't want to put her into danger, either. Of course it was very unlikely that they would be patrolled by the Getters on a sunny afternoon, but he didn't want Rixi to take the risk.
"Come on," she urged, laying her hand on his arm. "It can't be that bad that you have to keep it a secret from me."
Not knowing what to say or whether to say anything at all, Ben was silent for a moment, and then Rixi surprised him by asking, "Are you going to join this new resistance movement?"
"What if I am?" he challenged her.
"Rugged," she replied, admiration and approval more than evident in her voice. "So what are you going to do?"
"Just paint a few words on the outside of Mayor Ech--Eth--what was his name again?"
"Mayor Ech-to-tha's garden wall, that's all," he finished.
"Well, don't sound so disappointed!" he teased.
"It's not exactly what I imagined a member of the Resistance doing," she said.
"I'm not a member yet. They'll only let me in if I manage this."
"Rugged," she breathed again, then closed her book and stood up." Come on, let's go buy the paint."
"What makes you think I'm taking you with me?"
"Don't you think that it's less conspicuous if a boy and a girl buy a can of spray paint together and talk about how they're going to paint their bicycles with it so that they look exactly the same? We could act like we're going steady, and nobody will think anything of it. But a solitary young man, slinking into a paint shop, buying a can of paint, and slinking out again without saying a word would definitely attract attention. Getters just wait for that sort of thing to happen."
"I would not slink," Ben protested, "and what does 'going steady' mean, anyway?"
Rixi put her head back and laughed. "Oh, Ben, you really did hit your head, didn't you! It means that a boy and a girl have a steady relationship. They go places and do things together, always together, not just sometimes. The girl doesn't go around with other boys, and the boy doesn't go around with other girls, not even once."
"Oh." Considering this, Ben brightened. It sounded like a good idea, and not just for camouflage to the paint store. "All right, lead the way. And let's stop at the ice cream store on the way back. I'll buy you a portion of your favourite flavour."
"It's not called a portion, it's called a scoop. And I happen to have two favourite flavours."
"All right, two scoops then."
Rixi stuck her head into the living room. "Mum! We're going to the ice cream shop!"
"Have you finished your homework?"
"Most of it. Bye!" She was already moving towards the door. "Actually, Ben, as long as you're paying, I have three favourites."
"And Aunt Bedec says I'm going to eat her out of house and home," Ben grumbled good-naturedly as they exited the house and went to the shed. Rixi's giggle was the nicest thing he had ever heard, he thought to himself, and watched as her braids bounced along her back and shoulders.
They parked their bicycles in the rack outside the store in the pedestrian precinct of Hage, and Ben was so busy looking around the square and the streets leading away from it, that he didn't notice Rixi extending her hand to him until she grabbed his wrist rather firmly and made him jump in surprise.
"Stop gawking like an idiot," she said in a low voice, then transferred her hand to his. He glanced down at it and smiled, and they walked into the store hand in hand.
There were rows and rows of spray paint cans, in two different sizes and several different colours. Rixi picked up one and said, "People would really know we were going steady if we painted both our bicycles orange."
"Orange!" Ben exclaimed in horror.
"How about pink?" she suggested, reaching for another can.
"That's too girly," he frowned.
"I won't suggest blue, then, that's too boyish."
"Green," he said.
"Yellow," she countered.
He grimaced, looking over the selection, then found something he thought they might compromise on. "How about purple?"
"Purple?" she asked, looking doubtfully at him .
"It's sort of a combination of blue and pink--well, red, really. Boy and girl, together forever."
"Hmm, that sounds so romantic," she teased, and Ben felt his face suddenly flame with embarrassment. Hastily, he put the can down, but Rixi grabbed it up again. "Purple it is. Just the right colour for both our bikes."
Ben scrambled to catch up with her as she marched to the cashier's desk. After paying from the allowance that Dr. Maethum now gave him, he took the little bag containing the can of paint in his left hand, and reached for Rixi with the other one. They walked out of the store holding hands and smiling at each other.
Outside, Ben gestured across the square. "Is that the ice cream shop?"
Rixi looked, then wrinkled her nose. "They sell ice cream there, yes, but their scoops are tiny and they charge more, too. No, I usually go to the one that's closer to our house. Come on, I'll show you."
Hanging the bag from his handlebars, Ben mounted his bicycle and pedaled after her back the way they'd come. About halfway home, Rixi turned into a street he hadn't seen before, and led him to a small establishment in the middle of a short chain of shops, a pub, and a restaurant. She was already ordering by the time he'd slid his bicycle into the rack and followed her inside, and he was not at all surprised to see four scoops in her cup when the attendant handed it over.
"Do you remember ice cream?" she asked after he had ordered and they had gone outside.
"Yes," he said. They leaned up against the wall to eat.
"Do you remember your favourite flavours?"
"I suppose I must," he said, trying a spoonful of each and not finding anything that was not to his taste." I mean, I don't remember anything from before, but I must know somehow what I like."
"Do you ever wonder who you are and where you came from?"
"Yes," he admitted. "I wonder every night. And I wonder what I did that was so bad that even the Jedi are looking for me, not just the Getters."
"Speaking of Getters," Rixi said in a low voice, staring down at her ice cream. "Just act normal. Eat your ice cream and don't notice them. They're coming up the street. With any luck, they'll just walk on by."
Ben couldn't resist looking, however. They did have a cat-like appearance, with pointed ears on the tops of their heads, and flat noses in the midst of furry cheeks and foreheads, and even whiskers. He continued to stare, wondering if they had yellow eyes as well, and his steady gaze attracted the attention of the three Getters.
"What are you staring at, human!" the middle one barked, and there was not a trace of meow in his voice.
"Nothing," Ben replied.
"Hand over your identity discs, both of you! Then turn around and put your hands on the wall where we can see them!"
Rixi hastily placed her ice cream cup on the ground, produced her disc from her pocket, and did as she was told. Ben was slower, and the Getter closest to him knocked the ice cream from his hand, making it land upside down near his feet, then grabbed his disc and gave him a shove that made him stagger into Rixi, both of them almost falling over.
"I said, turn around and put your hands on the wall!" the middle one repeated. Righting himself, Ben considered shoving back, but decided it would only cause more trouble. Instead, he leaned against the wall in the same way that Rixi was doing, feeling angry and humiliated and very vulnerable.
"Rixiar Maethum. Ben Maethum," the third guard read off the disc reader. "Are you two brother and sister?"
"He's my cousin," said Rixi.
"He's an idiot," came the reply from the Getter in the middle. "Only an idiot would stare at us like that with his mouth hanging wide open. Search him for concealed weapons."
Ben tried not to shudder as the Getter roughly patted every part of his body, but had to protest as the guard removed his wallet and handed it over.
"Shut up," said the Getter, grabbing him by the hair and knocking his forehead against the wall. "Or better yet, say 'I'm an idiot.'"
"I'm not an idiot!"
"Ben!" snapped Rixi urgently.
"You're not rich, either, "the middle guard said, having counted the money that was left. "All right, give it back. It's obvious that he's got more tongue than brains, like all the other Nens."
The Getter stuffed the wallet back into Ben's pocket, then banged his head against the wall again, harder this time. "Say it."
Ben remained stubbornly silent until the third Getter suddenly came around and entwined his fingers in Rixi's hair. "Say it, or we'll hurt her instead."
"Ben! "Rixi squealed, looking frightened.
"I'm an idiot," Ben sighed, feeling more and more like one with every moment, hating himself for giving in, but determined to protect Rixi at all costs, even humiliation to himself.
"I'm an idiot," he repeated loudly, angrily enunciating every syllable.
Removing their short, stubby fingers from their prisoners, the Getters returned the identity discs, then managed to knock over Rixi's ice cream as well as they walked away. Ben pocketed his disc, then reached down to salvage what he could of the frozen treat.
"I'm sorry," he said, seeing that it was hopeless. "I'll buy you another one if you like."
"I'm not hungry anymore," she replied. "How's your head? Are you all right?"
"I'm okay," he snapped.
"It's just a little scrape. "He took a deep breath, trying not to shout at her. "I'm really sorry, Rixi. I really am an idiot. I should have done what you told me, and not looked at them. They never would have noticed us if not for me."
"Next time listen to me," she snapped. "You could get yourself arrested, you know!"
"I ought to take you home and lock you up! You're a danger to yourself and anybody who's with you!" she continued.
"I know!" he repeated, kicking himself for inciting her anger.
Without a further word, she stalked to her bicycle and got on, riding ahead without looking back to see if he were following. He managed to keep up with her, however, but was hard pressed not to ride into her back wheel when she stopped suddenly a few houses away from their own.
"Oh, come here, you idiot" she said with a sudden, unexpected smile. "I'll kiss it better."
He maneuvered his bicycle next to hers, then bent down and felt a thrill run through him from top to bottom as her lips brushed the painful spot on his forehead.
"You're not really an idiot," she murmured. "You just don't remember what's good for you."
Inhaling the clean smell of her hair and skin, Ben smiled, nuzzling her neck with his nose and lips and moving steadily closer to her mouth. He was just about to kiss her properly when she asked, "So, are we going to-night?"
"Going where?" he asked absently.
"You know!" she protested, pulling away. Automatically, she glanced up and down the street, then began to walk her bicycle towards home. "Those Getters didn't scare you off, did they?"
"No," he said, keeping up with her. "No, actually, they had the opposite effect on me."
"So is it to-night? To-morrow night would be better for me. I really should be awake for my quiz in the morning, but I could sacrifice it in the name of freedom if I had to." They walked down the driveway and Rixi opened the shed.
"What makes you think you're coming with me? Didn't you just tell me that I was a danger to anyone who was with me? I assume that means you, too."
"Well for one thing, you don't know where it is, do you?" she challenged.
Ben's face fell, and she giggled. "No. You don't."
"You could draw me a map," he suggested.
"And are you going to cycle from streetlight to streetlight, checking to make sure you're going the right way? That would be time consuming and very suspicious. You'd be sure to run into the Getters before you even got there, and when they found that can of paint, they'd toss you into one of their prisons and throw away the key! You need a guide, someone who knows the area inside out and backwards and can find a good hiding place in a pinch."
"So how often do you visit Mayor Ech-to-tha's estate?" Ben countered.
"I used to have a friend who lived a few streets away from it," she said. "I know the area. We can bicycle over to-morrow after school and have a look around. Then you'll know which way to go if we get separated in the night."
"All right, you've convinced me." Ben leaned forward slightly, wondering if this were a good time for another kiss.
"Come on, let's go inside before Mum comes out to see what we're doing in the shed so long," Rixi giggled.
They had already finished supper and were lingering over the dessert when Dr. Maethum finally came home, looking tired and worried.
"What happened to your head, Ben?" he asked after kissing his wife and sliding into his seat.
"It's just a little scrape," he mumbled.
"Dad, it was horrible!" Rixi cried. "The Getters were banging his head against the wall of the ice cream shop and demanding that he say he was an idiot."
"I was an idiot," Ben added, embarrassed. "Rixi told me not to notice them, but I kept staring. I just couldn't remember ever having seen Getters before."
"They wanted to see our identity discs, and then they told us to put our hands against the wall. Then one of them said that Ben was an idiot and they were going to teach him a lesson. They searched him for concealed weapons, Dad! Every bit of him!"
"And then they took my wallet," Ben remembered, "and when I said 'hey!', they banged my head against the wall and told me to say 'I'm an idiot'."
"And did you?" Bedec asked.
Ben glanced down to his plate. "Not the first time. Not until they threatened Rixi as well."
Dr. Maethum sighed sadly. "I was late to-day because I had to treat a young man who'd been beaten by the Getters. I had to take him to hospital with broken bones, bruises everywhere, and a ruptured spleen, that's how bad it was. As far as I could tell, he looked similar to you, Ben. He told me they'd caught him driving a car without a license--he said it was his father's car and it was an emergency--and then they wanted to take him to the Mayor's Estate for that Jedi to look at. He panicked, and tried to escape, and they beat him until he couldn't resist any longer. But the Jedi said he wasn't the one he was looking for, and the guards dumped him just down the street from my surgery."
There was a sudden, shocked silence at the table. Everyone stared first at Dr. Maethum, their mouths slightly open in horror, and then their gazes slid over to Ben.
"You be careful, Ben. I'd be no better than the Getters if I told you not to leave the house. I know you need some freedom. But be careful. If you meet up with a patrol, don't resist. They outnumber you. They have weapons, and you don't. Don't provoke them in any way. Just do what they tell you, no matter what."
"I will, Uncle Fulk," Ben promised solemnly.
"It's different when you're in the Resistance. You have weapons, you have the element of surprise, you usually don't meet them face to face. You strike, then get out quickly. But on the street in broad daylight, just think about saving your own skin, because then you can come back at night and hit them where it hurts."
"Fulk," said Bedec in a warning tone of voice. "You're not going to let Ben join the Resistance, are you?"
"It's his choice, but I'd be glad to have him there," Dr. Maethum replied. "We can't let the Getters walk all over us forever. We've got to fight back while we still can, while we've still got fight left in us, before we become a nation of slaves, both physically and mentally."
"I don't like it," Bedec said, shaking her head. "And Rixi, don't you even think of following in your father's footsteps."
"Of course not, Mum," said Rixi in a very innocent sounding voice.
The next night, Ben and Rixi waited until there had been silence from the master bedroom for a good hour, then met in the hall and moved as quietly down the stairs as they could. No one seemed to notice as they slipped out of the house and removed their bicycles from the shed, making as little noise as possible. The night air was crisp and the wind blew the fallen leaves along the streets.
"We should ride on the sidewalks," Rixi suggested. "If we see a Getter patrol coming, we can dump the bikes in somebody's garden and hide in the shadows."
Ben nodded agreement, and they set off, the rubber tires making almost no sound at all on the smooth paving stones. That evening, Rixi had covered the reflectors of each bicycle with tape, so that a stray beam of light would not be enough to give them away, and they were both wearing the darkest clothes that they owned. There was only the one busy street that they had to cross, where the Getter patrols were most likely to be, and Rixi had already marked the dark place between two streetlamps which would afford them the most cover. It had been quite fun, that afternoon, riding up and down the streets until he was familiar enough with them to find his way back alone. They'd stopped at the corner opposite the mayor's estate, close enough for him to get a good look at it, and yet not so close as to attract attention. While they'd been there, Ben had spotted a Getter patrol coming towards them from the left hand side of the estate, and instinctively, he had leaned over and kissed Rixi, locking lips with her until the three Getters had gone by, saying only, "Move along, little lovers."
Reluctantly releasing him from the kiss, Rixi had giggled, "Come on, little lover, let's do as they say."
Laughing together, they'd got on their bicycles and ridden down the street the Getters had just come up, turning at the next corner.
"Lead the way home, Ben," Rixi had commanded, still smiling, and Ben had done just that, feeling extraordinarily pleased with himself, not only for being able to do so, but especially for thinking of the kiss in time to deflect suspicion from them and for the fact that Rixi had enjoyed kissing as much as he had. It had been a wonderful afternoon.
It was a heady feeling, to be out after curfew, riding along in the dark, knowing that he was going to do something to help convince the Getters to leave the planet. It was only a small thing, but it was a first step in the right direction, and the knowledge left inside of Ben a conviction of doing something right and good. He smiled to himself as he pedaled, thinking of the day before, when the Getters had forced him to stand with his hands against the wall and call himself an idiot. One day soon, he told himself, there wouldn't be any more of that. There wouldn't be any Getter patrols in the city, or any curfew, and people could walk around without having to worry about being harassed. He was helping it come about.
They reached the estate without incident, and stopped on the same corner where they had paused in the afternoon. Ben glanced up and down the street. No one was visible, and except for the light wind, there was no sound.
"You stay here," he said to Rixi. "Keep watch. If you see someone coming, get my attention. Here, find a rock and throw it at me. Whatever you do, don't call out."
Rixi nodded, and began glancing around for a small stone. As she parked her bike and walked back to the garden of the nearest house, Ben took another look at the street, then pedaled across it and pulled the can of paint from the back of his belt. Removing the lid and shaking it, he began to spray large letters on the wall that surrounded the estate. GETTERS GO HOME. When he'd finished, he looked around again. It had begun to rain in the meantime, but other than that, there was no change, and he turned back to the wall, determined to add his own, personal message to the others who were looking for him.
He'd just finished the M in JEDI GO HOME when something hit him in the back. Turning around quickly, he glanced over to Rixi, who was gesturing to her right. There! A Getter patrol was coming slowly down the street. They were still far away and on foot, and Ben did not hesitate. Stuffing the paint can back into his belt, he leaped onto the bicycle and began to pedal madly up the street, away from both the patrol and Rixi. There was a shout from behind, and an energy bolt flew past him just before he turned the corner.
Moving as fast as he could, Ben turned the next corner to the right, then left again, crossing the busy street at a point much farther away than where they had gone over earlier. From here, Ben chose a route that would take him home, but have him arrive from the opposite direction, silently thanking Rixi for her foresight in showing him the area. He had just pulled up in front of the shed when Rixi arrived as well, panting slightly from the exertion and the excitement.
"Did you have to write 'Jedi go home' too?" she asked caustically, opening the shed as quietly as she could. "We could have been long gone before that patrol came."
"Yes," he said, "I had to."
"Did you know they were shooting at you? What if they'd hit you?"
"Then I'd be dead," he shrugged.
"It was a stun beam, so you wouldn't be dead. Well, not unless you'd broken your neck when you crashed your bike."
"Then I'd be in prison now, I guess."
Rixi kicked him in the ankle." I don't want you to go to prison, Ben!"
"Neither do I, and thanks to you, I'm not, so there."
"What do you mean?"
"Your plan for helping me know the streets. It worked. I got home all right. If I hadn't known where to go, I probably would have gone around in a circle and run right into them again. So, thanks."
"You're welcome," Rixi scowled. "Come on, let's get inside before they come by and see us arguing out here."
"Who's arguing?" Ben followed her into the house.
"I'm not," said Dr. Maethum, looming up suddenly ahead of them. Rixi gave a small shriek of surprise.
"And neither are you," the doctor continued, glaring at them. "Rixi, get to bed. You are grounded for the next two weeks. After school, you will come straight home and here you will stay. No going out, and no friends in. And Ben will not bring you ice cream from the shop, either."
"But, Dad, he needed my help!"
"I don't want to hear it, Rixi! As for you, Ben, you're old enough to make your own decisions about joining the Resistance, but Rixi is not, and will not be until she's turned twenty one."
"I say twenty one. This little escapade to-night has scared ten years off my life, lying there wondering if you're going to get arrested and interrogated. The least you can do is give me back one year of it. As for you, Ben--"
"I apologise, Uncle Fulk. It won't happen again. "Ben spoke quickly, wanting to appease the man's anger before the doctor decided to throw him out, or worse. "She insisted on coming with me, and then she did warn me of the patrol in time--"
"Patrol!" the man roared. "You ran into a patrol?"
Ben and Rixi exchanged guilty glances and then Rixi said, "He ran away from them, Dad, not into them. I've never seen anybody pedal a bicycle as fast as Ben was going. It was like he had legs of lightning, Dad! Rugged! They never even saw me, they were gaping at him so much! So don't worry! Anyway, they're probably still back there by the estate, wondering which way he went."
"I ought to take my belt to both of you," Dr. Maethum growled. "Except that I know it wouldn't work on Rixi, and you're too old for it, Ben."
"Uncle Fulk, how old do you think I am?" Ben asked, seized by sudden curiosity.
Dr. Maethum frowned at the change of subject. "Older than eighteen, but younger than twenty one, I'd guess."
"Let's say he's nineteen, Dad, and we could celebrate his twentieth birthday next week," Rixi suggested. "You'd have to let me out to buy him a birthday present, though."
"Celebrate?" the doctor roared. "You two sneak off in the middle of the night, run into a Getter patrol, almost get yourselves arrested, and you expect me to think about letting you off being grounded so that you can buy birthday presents and have a party? Rixiar Maethum, you are trying my patience with a vengeance!"
"Sorry, Dad. I was just trying to think of doing something nice for Ben. Just think how awful it would be if you woke up and didn't know when your birthday was, and nobody would know when to give you any presents!"
"Just think how awful it would be if you woke up in a Getter prison, Rixi!" Dr. Maethum almost shouted. "Think how awful it would be if the Jedi got their hands on you! The Getters wouldn't have to interrogate you then, the Jedi would just read your thoughts and know everything you know, including the fact that I'm in the Resistance, too! Then they'd come and arrest me, and your poor mother would be here alone for the rest of her life! Think how awful it would be to wake up every morning and know that it's all your fault because you snuck out one night when your parents told you not to! Or think how awful it would be never to wake up again because you've been executed! You're just too young for this sort of thing, Rixi."
Subdued at last, Rixi glanced at the floor, one hand agitatedly twisting her braid. "Sorry, Dad."
"And Ben, the next time you want to do something for the Resistance, tell me in advance, don't just sneak out. Then I can get up and make sure that Rixi is still in bed, or at least in her room."
"Yes, Uncle Fulk. I really am sorry, and it won't happen again."
"All right, go to bed, you two. We'll talk about birthdays in the morning."
As they went up the stairs, Ben asked, "Rixi, what's a birthday present?"
She turned around to stare at him. "You honestly don't remember birthday presents? Not even the basic concept?"
"Well, you do remember what a birthday is, don't you?"
"The day of the year that marks the anniversary of when you were born," Ben said slowly, half remembering and half figuring it out from the word itself.
"Right. Well, on your birthday, you usually have a party, with a special birthday cake and ice cream, and the members of your family and your friends give you presents, things you want or need. Dad and Mum gave me a new bicycle when I turned fourteen, for instance, but you've got a bike already, so we can't give you that."
"Rixi, do we have to discuss this at two in the morning?" asked Dr. Maethum, coming up the stairs behind them.
"I'll tell you more to-morrow, all right, Ben? Good night, everyone." Rixi disappeared into her room.
The next morning after breakfast, Qui-Gon Jinn went out with Mayor Ech-to-tha to survey the graffiti.
"Getters go home. Jedi go home," he read aloud, his brain automatically supplying the missing E.
"Not very original, but then I'd hardly expect a sixteen line sonnet," the mayor snorted. "And purple paint. Interesting."
Qui-Gon stared at the letters. The J in particular reminded him of Obi-Wan. His apprentice drew his J's in exactly the same way, with the end of the curve coming back around to point to the right, instead of straight up. Stop it, he told himself firmly. It was a coincidence, nothing more, a similarity caused by the paint can. Obi-Wan had not painted this message. Why should he? He was a Jedi, too.
But where was he? His apprentice had been missing for almost two weeks now, and there was still no sign of him, no word, no loosening of his mental shields. Qui-Gon had taken to walking the streets in the evenings after the negotiations, stopping in the pubs and other public places, asking if anybody had seen the boy. Nobody admitted to it. There'd been a brief flicker of hope a few days ago when the guards had told him they'd found someone without an identity disc, trying to steal a car, but although that boy had been close to Obi-Wan in height and colouring, it hadn't been his Padawan. He'd laid his hand on the young man's head, intending to use the Force to help heal the injuries he'd got while 'resisting arrest', but the surge of sheer terror that the young man had unintentionally broadcast had made him remove his hand very quickly, and then the guards had dragged the boy away.
So the Theosnens were afraid of him, a Jedi. No doubt they'd only heard the worst of the rumours flying around the galaxy, distorted out of all proportion. Qui-Gon guessed that the Get-tro-wens kept them isolated as much as possible, but there was always room for a rumour to slip through. Although the Theosnens had managed to smuggle out an appeal for help to the Galactic Senate, and the Chancellor had personally sent the Jedi to investigate, the Get-tro-wens used every tactic they could think of to stall the negotiations without seeming to do so. They also managed to make it appear, at least to the Theosnens, as though they had invited the Jedi here and that the Jedi were working for them, even though Qui-Gon was daily trying his best to negotiate a treaty that would at least pave the way for another, one that would hopefully be more fair for the Theosnens. It was extremely difficult to keep his focus on the talks and not to worry about Obi-Wan while he was there, and the Getters had refused his request to bring in other Jedi to help.
"The Nens are getting bolder, "Ech-to-tha said. "This is the second time I've found graffiti on my wall. My Internal Security Forces saw the boy on their cameras and informed the nearest patrol, but he saw them coming and managed to get away on his bicycle."
Qui-Gon had already noted that the Mayor's bodyguards, which he referred to as the Internal Security Force, did not leave the estate unless they were guarding the Mayor on official business. They did regular patrols of the house and grounds and otherwise relied on the surveillance screens. It all seemed fairly lax to the Jedi, who had seen tighter and much more complicated security systems on a dozen different worlds, but if the Mayor was content with their work, there was no need to say anything. Ech-to-tha probably had no reason to believe that anything more was necessary. Qui-Gon hoped he never did.
"Speaking of boys, have you heard anything of your apprentice?" Ech-to-tha had grown used to Qui-Gon's absences each evening until curfew.
Qui-Gon shook his head. He could feel through the Force that he would find the boy eventually, but he hadn't yet.
"Some of my advisors have wondered--this is not my personal opinion, of course--but they have wondered if he hasn't secretly joined one of the little resistance movements," Ech-to-tha said.
"He wouldn't have gone without telling me," Qui-Gon refuted him, as though stating it flatly would turn it from hope into truth.
"I have another advisor," Ech-to-tha remarked. "He told me this morning that he truly believes the Nens have kidnapped your apprentice for the sole reason of brainwashing him into helping them fight against us. I hadn't thought the Nens were that organised, let alone capable of such a thing, but he really seems to believe that they could be a threat to us."
Qui-Gon glanced sharply at him. Catching his gaze, Ech-to-tha said disbelievingly," You think it's possible, don't you?"
"It would not be impossible," Qui-Gon mused slowly. "It would require a great deal of time and probably technology or drugs which the Theosnens do not have. However, we cannot rule out the fact that they might be attempting it anyway."
"That would explain why he disappeared without a word and why there's been no ransom note," Ech-to-tha exclaimed." I'll inform the guards to keep a closer eye on the Nens and be alert for anything that even looks suspicious."
Qui-Gon nodded acknowledgement. Although it was tempting to believe this theory, he had the sinking feeling that it would not stand up to detailed consideration. It was better if he did not believe anything, if he simply waited until he found Obi-Wan and heard what his apprentice had to say for himself, but it was hard--so hard--not to think of betrayal.
"Those twice-blasted Getters!" Wylan said, glancing around the group of men gathered in the pub ten days later. They had pushed two tables together for this emergency meeting after the details of the treaty had been released that morning, and there were two look-outs at the door. "We appeal to the Galactic Senate for help, we think we're getting somewhere, but what happens? The Getters bring in the Jedi! The negotiations are a sham! We want freedom, we want the occupation to end, and they only reduce it. Reduce! What does it matter how many troops they have here! They're still here, that's the problem! We're not free, we're not independent! And whose fault is it? The Jedi's. Them and their mind tricks. They influenced our representatives, made them give in and accept it. They're as bad as the Getters. Worse!"
"We've got to do something," said one of the other men. "As long as those Getters are here, they'll walk all over us."
"Treat us like animals."
"We've got to hit them where it hurts, really hurts."
"Kill 'em all," one man muttered darkly. "Especially the Jedi."
"You can't kill a Jedi," said Wylan. "And killing is not the answer. But maybe kidnapping is."
"Who? The Mayor? The Getters have got dozens just like him. They'll write him off and replace him, and nobody will know the difference."
"His son," Wylan said, and there was silence in the group.
"His son?" Ben asked quietly after a moment.
"He's four years old," said Dr. Maethum.
"Just the right age."
"We'll lose sympathy among the people if we kill a child that young."
"We don't have a choice, men! They've got our backs against the wall! They might reduce their troops here--I say, might. But they're still controlling us. We only have a shadow government, and no say in what happens to us. All we can do is vote for representatives, who then go off and achieve nothing, because the Getters won't let them. We've seen that they'll even bring in the Jedi to help control us, manipulate our minds, so that we'll be content with less. I say, we kidnap the mayor's son and threaten to kill him if they don't send the Jedi away and re-open the negotiations. Then maybe we can get them off our planet forever!"
"I don't like this," said Dr. Maethum. "I have a feeling this would not be good."
"You don't have to go along with it," Wylan said.
"There must be something else we can do besides kidnap and kill an innocent child!"
"Killing grown Getters wouldn't get us anywhere! We have to do this."
"I'm not going along with it, then." Dr. Maethum stood up, and Ben, feeling similarly horrified, went to follow him. Wylan caught his arm as he went by. "Ben, may I speak to you in private for a moment? Don't leave yet, people, this won't take long."
They went to the office and Wylan said, "Ben, you shoot better than anybody else I've ever seen. We need you to take out the security cameras and the guards."
"I won't," said Ben. "Wylan, it's a little boy we're talking about!"
"No, we're talking about our freedom, Ben. If you don't help us, we won't be successful. We'll be caught, tortured, and executed, and nothing will change. The Getters will still be here. You're fast with a blaster and you never miss. Now, I don't want to do this to you, but if you don't come along, I might just remember that you had a braid when I first saw you, and I might just mention this to an acquaintance that I have, who unfortunately has the reputation of being a Getter informer."
Ben stared at him. "You'd turn me in? You'd hand me over to the Getters?"
"All you have to do is come along and practise your marksmanship a little. I have four children, Ben. I know that I would do anything to get them back if the Getters kidnapped them, and that's how I know that Mayor Ech-to-tha will do anything to get his son back. We will be successful, Ben, and nobody will get killed. It's going to work!"
"What do you mean, nobody will get killed? If I shot the guards, then they'd be dead, wouldn't they?"
"Oh, Ben, don't be daft. Do you really think that the Getters would allow us to have an arsenal of lethal weapons? All the blasters we have on the police force are permanently set for stun. The guards will wake up with a headache, but no damage done."
"But it's a child, Wylan."
"The Jedi are looking for you, Ben."
"You promise you won't hurt him?"
"Ben, I promise. I'll treat him like one of my own. Ech-to-tha will do anything! We'll give him back alive and kicking."
Feeling sick to his stomach, but seeing no way out, Ben nodded slowly. "I guess I don't have a choice, do I?"
"You'll be the hero of the revolution, Ben."
Dr. Maethum was waiting in the entrance to the pub as they came down the corridor. "Ben?"
He hadn't thought it was possible to feel any worse, but now he did, knowing that the doctor was going to be very disappointed with him. "I'm sorry, Uncle Fulk, I--I have to stay. I'll explain later."
The kidnapping was set for the night before Rixi wanted to celebrate Ben's birthday. Ben was paired with another shooter, to stun the Getter bodyguards and anybody else who might get in the way, and protect the third man while he grabbed the kid. Wylan would be patrolling in one of the police cars, ready to drive up at a certain time and whisk the kidnapper and the child to the location that he had chosen.
They approached the estate cautiously, and when Ben was close enough, he used a slingshot to take out first one security camera and then the other. Leaping over the wall, they raced across the lawn to the house. The back door was locked, of course, but they'd reckoned with that. Quickly pasting several pieces of paper to one of the windows until it was completely covered, the other shooter then hit it with the butt of his blaster. Instead of shattering loudly, the window fell apart with only a dull crunch, and they were easily able to push the paper-covered glass out of the way. Hoisting himself inside first, Ben scanned the room, making sure they had not been discovered, then motioned for the others to follow. The kidnapper and the other shooter climbed over the sill, and then they moved quickly through the house, looking for the boy.
It was a large house, and the search took several minutes, but at last the men found the right room and the kidnapper emerged from it holding the small Getter whelp, who yawned once and snuggled up against his shoulder in a touching gesture of trust. Grinning at the others, the man moved as quickly and yet as softly as he could, trying to keep him asleep, or at least quiet. The other shooter taped the ransom note to the door as they began their escape.
They ran into the bodyguards after they had come down the stairs and were on the ground floor again. Turning his head, Ben felt an energy bolt whizz by where his hair had been, and fired back at the moving shadows. As the other shooter led the way to the nearest exit, the humans picked up the pace. Ben swept the area from behind, but they got out of the house and even managed to reach the garden wall without difficulties.
"We're here," called the sentry from the other side. "All clear at the moment. Send the kid over first. We're signaling the car now."
Ben and the other shooter, standing on the wooden box they'd brought with them for just this purpose, heaved the still sleeping child up to the top of the brick fixture where the sentry on the other side caught him. He could hear the police car approaching and slowing down as the kidnapper scrambled over, and then the sound of opening and closing doors. It moved away, and he and the other shooter prepared to follow. Then the sentry called out suddenly, "Stay where you are! Getter patrol! Distraction plan!"
The distraction plan called for the two sentries to lead the patrol in one direction, and for Ben and the other shooter to count to fifty before climbing over the wall into the street and heading the other way. "There's someone coming out of the house," the other shooter hissed as Ben began to count. "It's the Jedi!"
Horrified, Ben looked towards the house and saw a very tall, menacing figure in a dark cloak advancing towards them, holding a green glowing sword.
"It's him or the patrol, take your pick!" the other shooter snorted.
The Jedi was definitely more frightening for Ben than a three-man Getter patrol. Scrambling hastily over the top of the wall, he landed hard on the other side in time to see the Getters shooting at the two sentries, who were splitting up at the far corner, one rounding it on his bicycle, the other pedaling straight ahead. As yet, the Getters hadn't noticed him, and he jogged across the street to where he'd left his own bicycle, leaning casually against the tree in front of one of the houses as though it belonged there. Swinging his leg over the saddle, he pushed off in the opposite direction.
He'd pedaled about three times when suddenly the bicycle stopped, jammed, and he fell over out of sheer momentum, crashing painfully to the asphalt--right in the path of a second Getter patrol. Every instinct told him to push the bike aside and get up and run, but although he tried to thrust the metal frame away, he could not. It seemed to be stuck to his leg, and he groaned with embarrassment when he realised what the problem was. To make things worse, he'd dropped the blaster when he'd fallen and it now lay out of reach.
The Getter patrol already had their weapons pointed at him, and Ben raised his hands immediately, his heart pounding with fear. One of them said, "Move away from the bicycle and kneel down."
"I can't!" he retorted, feeling not only fear but also anger at the incredibly silly predicament he found himself in. "My pants are stuck in the chain!"
Laughter rippled through the unit, and the leader gestured to one of his men. "Cut him free."
The Getter knelt down, pulled out a knife, and sliced the fabric free of the chain, managing to draw blood at the same time. Then he got up and lifted the bicycle away, and the third Getter told Ben to kneel, then cuffed his hands together behind his back and gave him a hefty kick in the leg for good measure. The leader was calling on his radio for a transport, which arrived only a few seconds later along with an entire squadron of Getters.
"The Internal Security Force reported the loss of two surveillance cameras and one infrared sensor. They were going to check on it, but have not reported back since. We suspect Nen activity inside the estate, "Ben heard one Getter report to the other. Nen? he thought, confused, then realised it was the Getter abbreviation for Theosnens. "We saw two Nens on their bicycles going that way, and managed to catch this one trying to ride away from the Estate. He had a police blaster."
"Have the estate evacuated and send in the droids to check for bombs. Take him to Interrogation immediately."
They hauled Ben to his feet and one of them struck him in the face with his fist, hard enough to make him see stars and stagger a few steps. Then they led him to the back of the transporter and lifted him up, seating him close to the cab with a guard on either side of him. After a few minutes, two more guards joined them, supporting the unconscious body of the other shooter between them, and then the door was shut and the engine started.
During the ride, Ben realised that the Getters did not know--yet--that the Mayor's son had been kidnapped. They would probably find the ransom note soon, but it had given Wylan more than enough time to get away. Wylan would know soon enough, however, that his two shooters were missing. He'd have to assume that they'd been captured and were being tortured. That meant he'd be taking the child somewhere else to keep him safe, someplace that only he knew about. Ben didn't think he'd reveal the new hiding place to more than two or three other members of the Resistance. That way, there was less chance of betrayal. Suddenly, Ben was glad that Dr. Maethum had not been part of the attempt, or Rixi. She'd wanted to come, just to watch, but both Ben and Dr. Maethum had been against it, and after giving Ben a quick kiss for luck, she'd pretended to stomp off to her room and sulk. Ben had known that she'd only been worried, however. He still remembered the feeling of her lips against his, but it was slight consolation now that he'd been caught by the Getters. He tried not to think about the fact that they wouldn't be celebrating the birthday party they'd planned for him for the next day, telling himself he didn't know what he'd be missing. But he really had been looking forward to it, if only for the promised cake and ice cream.
After about twenty minutes, they reached the prison, and Ben both heard and felt the transporter drive through three different gates before the guards finally opened up the back and everybody got out.
"This one's awake, he can go straight to Interrogation. Take the other to the holding cells."
There was nothing to see in the bright lights of the courtyard except metal walls, and no time for more than a brief glimpse. Three guards pushed Ben inside, the door booming solidly shut behind them, and guided him first to an office, where his handcuffs were removed and he was told to empty his pockets. He produced his identity disc and his wallet, both of which were immediately confiscated. After being photographed, fingerprinted, and blood-tested, he was led down the hall to a tiled-lined room which seemed to hold only two metal poles, each with a manacle on a chain hanging from it. One of the guards told him, "Strip yourself naked or we'll do it for you."
Ben found that his fingers were trembling slightly with fear as he undressed, and his eyes darted automatically to the open door. His claws extended, the Getter guard slapped him across the face, leaving scratches that smarted, and Ben kept his eyes on the floor after that, hastily shedding the rest of his clothing. One of the guards gathered it up and took it away, while the other two positioned him between the poles and fastened the manacles around his wrists.
After they had gone out and shut the door, there was only a moment's pause, and then cascades of icy water descended from the ceiling. Ben shouted in surprise, trying to dodge the freezing waterfall, but the many showerheads had been positioned to allow him no escape, no matter which way he pulled. The deluge continued for several minutes until he was thoroughly chilled and his teeth chattering from the cold, and then, quite suddenly, it stopped.
When the guards returned, they released his arms only to handcuff them behind his back again, and then they marched him, soaked and shivering, farther down the hall to a different room. This one was almost empty, and they forced him to kneel on the floor. It seemed like an eternity until another Getter entered the room and came around to stand in front of Ben, staring down at him with a stern, faintly disgusted expression on his face. After a moment, he consulted the data pad that he held, and said, "Your identity disc is a forgery. What is your real name, and what were you doing on the mayor's estate?"
Ben regarded him warily, but did not answer. Turning to the cabinet that was the only piece of furniture in the room, the Getter removed something from the top shelf that looked vaguely like two blaster-type weapons welded together, one on top of the other, and plugged the cord into an electrical outlet in the middle of that wall. Then he reached into a small box and loaded something into the top of the weapon, pointed it at Ben and fired.
The projectile entered his shoulder just below his collarbone and he cried out in pain and surprise, glancing down to see what looked like a metal insect embedded in his skin, six metal legs attached to a three-piece body. A second one struck his other shoulder, making him shout again, and the third one hit him in the stomach to form a rough triangle. Shifting his grip on the weapon from the top to the bottom, the Getter pointed it at him again.
The insects formed a red-hot field within the triangle, burning him until he couldn't help a scream, and then the Getter removed his finger from the trigger and the agony faded.
Ben was amazed to see that his chest was not black and smoking, or even bright red, but retained its original colour.
"Artificial neuro-transmitters. We call them ants, and they transmit pain. Oh, they won't damage you permanently--not at this level," the Getter said, catching his look of astonishment. "But the longer you resist, the more pain they will cause and eventually, there will be damage. Tell me your name, and then you can explain what you were doing on the mayor's estate."
Ben swallowed, trying to get rid of the sickening metallic taste of fear that had suddenly overwhelmed him, but kept his mouth shut anyway, determined to say nothing.
"Stubborn, huh? I'll turn it up a level."
Adjusting something on the weapon, the officer pointed it at him again. This time, the burning sensation was so intense that he found himself trying to scoot backwards, away from the device, as he shrieked with the agony. One of the guards standing behind him stepped on his bare foot, preventing him from moving any further by grinding the bones into the floor with most of his weight.
It was about half an hour later when the door opened and a young Getter came in, hastily saluting and handing over another data pad. The interrogation officer read it hastily, then held the pad in both hands and smacked Ben in the face with it, hard enough to make his nose bleed. "Well, now we know what you were doing on the mayor's estate, you stinking, filthy Nen! Kidnapping his son, his four-year-old son! Where is he? Where have you hidden him?"
Ben still refused to answer, knowing he'd be betraying the people that he looked on as family and friends if he did so.
And so it went, hour after hour. The Getter officer shot one ant after another into him; his arms, his legs, his back, even into the soles of his feet and the back of his head. The pain enveloped his entire body now, and the agony was incredible. Sometimes it was as though he was being burned alive, and sometimes it was a different torment, more intense, like the twisting of a broken bone, but amplified many times. Ben was no longer able to kneel, and lay curled on his side on the floor, screaming until his throat was raw. The agony no longer ceased when the officer lowered the weapon each time; instead, it lingered in his nervous system, aching dully and flaring up if he made even the slightest movement. It hurt to breathe. He was breaking. He knew it. He didn't know how much longer he'd be able to stand it, but he knew it wasn't going to be much longer.
Mayor Ech-to-tha picked listlessly at the breakfast food he'd put on his plate. "Why is the interrogation taking so long? I want my son back now!"
Qui-Gon searched for an answer which would neither patronise nor inflame the Get-tro-wen, but before he could say anything, there was a knock at the door, and a guard came in with a data pad. Reaching for it eagerly, Ech-to-tha scanned the report, then slumped back into his chair.
"It seems they found something," he sighed, "just not my son."
"What did they find?"
"Your missing apprentice. He was the Nen they caught outside the estate."
Feeling sick with disbelief, Qui-Gon reached for the data pad and read it. The genetic code from the blood sample which they'd taken from the Theosnen prisoner had corresponded exactly to the genetic code that was on Obi-Wan's identity disc. Force! He'd done it. He'd really done it. Obi-Wan had left the Order, for reasons still unknown, and had joined up with the Theosnen resistance, and this was the proof. Obi-Wan had probably even used his knowledge of the estate to sneak in and grab the mayor's son right out from under everybody's noses, including his own. Qui-Gon remembered seeing the vaguely familiar outline of a young man going over the wall and snorted to himself. Of course Obi-Wan would have got out of there as fast as possible. He wouldn't have wanted to meet up with his former master.
Qui-Gon felt his disbelief turn rapidly to anger, and tried to calm himself, but realised it would take more effort than he was willing to put into it just at the moment. Obi-Wan had not bothered to speak to him beforehand, had not even given him a clue that something was wrong, that he'd lost his objectivity, that he felt sympathetic towards the Theosnens. He'd simply waited for the first opportunity and run off, leaving everything behind him, even his light saber. He'd even put his shields up to keep Qui-Gon from finding him; he obviously hadn't expected to get arrested.
"It seems that both of my advisors were correct, after all," Ech-to-tha said.
"Both?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Your apprentice did join the resistance."
"It appears that way, yes. But appearances can often be deceiving, "Qui-Gon stated, but more to remind himself of the old Jedi saying than to instruct Mayor Ech-to-tha.
"The only question is, did he do it voluntarily, or was he forced into it?"
Forced into it? The question confused Qui-Gon until he remembered Ech-to-tha reporting to him the theory that one of his advisors had had; that the Theosnens had kidnapped Obi-Wan and brainwashed him into helping them. Using only the limited technology that the Theosnens had available, Qui-Gon had not thought it would be possible for them to force any Jedi into doing anything he didn't want to do. Now he wondered if there weren't a grain of truth in the idea he had previously thought absurd. Obi-Wan was stubborn and headstrong, that was true, but he also had a burning sense of justice that made him want to right wrongs in any way possible. After Melida/Daan, he'd tried hard not to get personally involved in conflicts, but Qui-Gon knew that the wish to do so would always accompany his apprentice. If the Theosnens really had kidnapped him--which he could not rule out, unlikely though it seemed--they might have been able to exploit that desire and actually succeed in convincing Obi-Wan to help them.
It was--just--possible. But it didn't explain why Obi-Wan's shields had been tightly in place since his disappearance. Surely he would have tried to communicate through the bond with his master if he'd been kidnapped? It didn't explain why he was still refusing to tell the Get-tro-wens where the Mayor's son was hidden, although they had been interrogating him since the early morning hours. He wouldn't have held out so long if he hadn't been perfectly convinced that what he was doing was the right thing. No. Qui-Gon had to believe that. Obi-Wan had betrayed him. Again. He had turned away from the Jedi, from Qui-Gon, and let his heart lead him elsewhere. The pain of betrayal was sharp. And it made him angry, not only at Obi-Wan for hurting him like that, but at himself for convincing himself that it could never happen again, for letting down his guard, for not seeing it coming. Surely there had been signs leading up to this decision, and he'd completely missed them all. Even in retrospect, he still could not recognise them.
"I would like to see him," he said at length, "if it can be permitted."
"I will take you there myself."
"Where is the boy? Who has him?" The Getter was becoming impatient, and had started kicking Ben for good measure, making sure each time that the tip of his boot landed on one of the ants. The kicks themselves were painful enough, but they also sent a different kind of torment radiating outwards from the metal projectiles. The puncture marks had started to bleed as well. "I'll shoot the next one into your eye if you don't tell me now!"
Reflexively, Ben squeezed his eyes shut in a vain attempt to protect them. Just then, the door opened, and three men came in, an ordinary Getter guard in a uniform, another Getter who was not in uniform, and a very tall human in a brown cloak--the Jedi. Ben hadn't thought it was possible to be any more frightened, but discovered that it was as he looked up to see the tall, long-haired man towering over him. The torture hadn't gotten them anywhere, so now they were bringing in the Jedi! He was going to read Ben's thoughts and tell the Getters everything Ben knew, including the fact that Dr. Maethum had been part of the resistance group! Ben felt suddenly nauseous and wondered if he were about to throw up from sheer terror as the Jedi glared down at him.
"Mayor Ech-to-tha!" the interrogation officer exclaimed, standing at attention. The other Getter nodded curtly in acknowledgement, then turned to the human and asked, "That's him, isn't it?"
The Jedi nodded. "Yes. That's him. May I speak to him?"
"You're welcome to try."
Kneeling down next to Ben, the Jedi clenched his hands to fists, then opened them again and asked simply, "Why, Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan? What sort of name was that? Vaguely, Ben realised it was his only chance to escape the scrutiny of the Jedi, and croaked, "I'm not Obi-Wan. You've got the wrong prisoner. All us Nens look alike to you, I know, but I'm not the one you're looking for."
The Jedi looked surprised. "Who are you, then?"
"Ben," he replied, his eyes darting to the interrogation officer, who was still fingering the instrument of torture. "Ben Maethum."
"That's the name on his identity disc, but the disc is a forgery, of course," the officer replied. Pointing the weapon at him, he asked, "Tell him your real name!"
The agony that enveloped him was worse than before, so much worse that his already fragile determination broke then and he began to shriek, "I don't know my real name, I don't remember, I've got amnesia, shut it off, please, shut it off!"
"Shut it off!" the Jedi commanded loudly enough to be heard over Ben's screams.
"Amnesia," the Getter scoffed after letting go of the trigger and lowering the device. "That's a new one!"
The Jedi was silent for a moment, contemplating Ben as he lay panting on the floor, and then he said, "I almost believe you, but I have to be sure. Lower your shields."
"Huh?" Ben didn't know what he meant.
"In your mind, the shields around your thoughts."
Ben just stared at him until the Jedi sighed softly in defeat. "I'm sorry. I have to do this. I have to know."
Ben flinched and tried to pull away as the Jedi reached out and placed a hand on the side of his head, closing his eyes at the same time. Almost instantly, he felt a touch in his mind, a slight whisper of a foreign presence there, and the feeling made him start to panic even before the explosion of pain that seemed to go on and on, never dying away but only increasing in intensity.
"Get him out of my head! Please, I'll tell you everything, just get him out of my head!" Ben screeched, fighting against the torment in his mind and trying to twist his body away from the Jedi's touch. "He's in the police station with Wylan, in the cells under the police station, Wylan's got him, make him stop, please, just make him stop!"
But the Getters made no move to do anything, and the Jedi remained, sifting through his memories at high speed until he came abruptly to the end. Ben had no choice but to endure it, and when the Jedi finally released him, he felt tears coming to his eyes and couldn't stop his body from shaking as he sobbed. It hurt. Body and mind, everything hurt.
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you, but this was the only way," said the Jedi again. He'd taken his hand from Ben's head, but now he replaced it, and Ben screamed again until he realised that the pain was ebbing away. It didn't disappear completely, but it was no longer so severe.
The Jedi stood up and addressed the Mayor. "He's telling the truth. His memories go back about five weeks, just about to the time he disappeared."
"What about my son? Is he telling the truth about where they've hidden him?"
"Thank you, Master Jinn," the Getter breathed, obviously relieved.
"What will happen to Obi-Wan now?"
"Normally, he'd be executed, but if we get my son back unharmed, I'd be willing to pardon him, for your sake, for helping us find him. It's obvious that the Nens brainwashed him into doing this. I'd have to insist that he leave the planet immediately, though."
"You are most generous, Mayor Ech-to-tha."
"Take care of him. The Jedi will be back later to pick him up," the mayor told the guards, then said, "Come, let's go find my son."
When the Jedi had followed Mayor Ech-to-tha from the room, the interrogation officer put the device away in the cabinet and took out a small instrument that looked a bit like needle-nosed pliers with slight hooks on the end, and a square, shallow bowl. Then he knelt down next to Ben and began to pry the ants from his skin. Ben gasped as the first one came away and revealed a pin as long as the tip of his little finger, red now with his blood. By the time the officer had finished, there was quite a substantial pile of them in the bowl.
"Take these and have them sterilised for next time," he instructed the guards. "And put the Nen in a holding cell and get one of the medics to look at him."
The way to the holding cell, however, led back to the shower room. At first, Ben howled at the icy water, but as it went on, he lost the will to protest, and simply bowed his head against the deluge. The end of it came as a surprise, and then the guards were unchaining his arms, handcuffing them behind his back again, and leading him down the corridor and down a set of stairs, half-carrying him because the pain in his feet and elsewhere was still enough that he had difficulties moving at all, let alone walking unaided. Here, there were rows of doors on either side. One was opened for him, and he was thrust inside a narrow cell and forced to kneel on the floor. Then the handcuffs were released and the guards went out, locking the door behind them.
The cell consisted of a metal shelf and a fixture in the corner that proved to be a kind of toilet, nothing more. Pulling himself onto the shelf and clutching his knees to his chest for a semblance of warmth, Ben tried to make sense of what had happened before. The Jedi had entered his mind somehow and had tortured him, forced him to give in. And he had. Frightened out of his wits by the mental invasion and the pain it had caused, he'd broken down, betrayed the location of the Getter child and implicated Wylan along with it. In return, as a sort of favour it seemed, the mayor was handing him over to the Jedi. He wondered vaguely what other information the Jedi had gleaned from his mind and would be telling the Getters even now. Would they be going to arrest Dr. Maethum soon? Rixi, too, for her part in the spray paint episode? Ben felt sick with dread and despair. He was also angry, both at himself for giving in, and especially at the Jedi for making him do it.
The cell door opened, and a Getter came in holding a medical bag. After gruffly telling Ben to lay down and sighing with impatience at Ben's slow movements, he roughly smeared a sort of salve over every one of the wounds that the ants had left. It stung, and Ben hissed once, but the medic merely said, "Shut up, Nen. Be grateful you're getting any treatment at all." After that, Ben gritted his teeth, turned over obediently when the medic told him to, and waited for the stinging to fade into a dull ache, which it did not do until long after the medic had left the cell.
It seemed like an eternity went by as he lay there, shivering with cold, but trying otherwise to remain as still as he could so that it didn't hurt as much, occasionally dozing off. Eventually, however, the door was opened again, and the Jedi came in. He laid a pile of neatly folded clothing on the bench next to Ben, then removed the knee-high boots from the top of the pile and placed them on the floor.
"I've brought your clothes, you can get dressed," he said.
Ben looked at them with disgust. Jedi clothes! "Those aren't mine."
"You can either wear them, or walk out of here stark naked," said the Jedi calmly.
Defeated, Ben got up slowly and began to dress, demonstrably turning away from the Jedi. At least they would be warm. He couldn't seem to stop shivering.
"You don't remember me. My name is Qui-Gon Jinn, I am a Jedi Master," the Jedi said after a moment. "And your real name is Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are my apprentice."
"I am what?" Ben whirled around to face him, barely registering the pain caused by the sudden movement as he stared at the Jedi in horror. "You're telling me I'm a Jedi, too?"
"Yes, Obi-Wan, you are a Jedi, too."
"Don't call me that. I don't want a Jedi name. I don't want to have anything to do with the Jedi!"
The Jedi was silent for a moment, then asked, "Which name would you prefer?"
"Ben," he said sullenly, pulling on the boots. "Ben Maethum."
"All right, Ben. I've spoken to a Healer at the Jedi Temple. He's heard of a treatment for amnesia. It's still in the experimental stage, but he says the results have been astoundingly good. I'll take you back to Coruscant and he'll start treating you there. He's certain that he can retrieve at least sixty percent of your memories."
"If I'm a Jedi, then I don't want my memories back," Ben snapped, although it was not quite true. He felt torn. On the one hand, he wanted badly to know who he was, but on the other hand, the thought of being a Jedi was sickening. His mind still ached dully from the mental invasion. "Just leave me here, because I'm not going to come with you and start manipulating people's minds and tricking them into doing things they'd never do otherwise."
"Is that what you think Jedi do?"
"Well, isn't it?" Ben challenged.
"We are the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy--" the Jedi began, but Ben cut him off.
"Oh, yes, and we know exactly how you do that, how you keep peace in the galaxy. You manipulate people into not wanting their freedom, accepting compromises that keep them enslaved, torturing them into betraying their friends--"
"That is not true, Ben," said the Jedi calmly but emphatically.
"You helped them torture me!" Ben shouted. "You went into my mind and forced me to tell them where that Getter brat was hidden!"
"I had expected the Get-tro-wens to merely interrogate, not to torture. I was wrong, and I am sorry that you had to suffer that. I did not help them. I went into your mind, that is true," the Jedi agreed. "I broke down your shields, which I know was very painful and frightening. I sorted through your memories to discover if you were telling the truth about having amnesia, which you were. I did not do anything else."
"You made me do it," Ben repeated stubbornly. "And I am not coming with you."
The Jedi sighed. "Obi-Wan--Ben. I know you don't remember, but you are my apprentice and I am your master. I am pledged to guide you and protect you, even from yourself. I am not going to let you stay here to be executed."
Ben sat down on the end of the bench farthest away from the Jedi and turned his face to the wall. "I'd rather be executed than be a Jedi!"
"No, you wouldn't. You really do want to remember, I can feel it. You've just heard too many untrue rumours about the Jedi, that's all. When we get back to Coruscant and you've regained your memory, then you will know that we serve the greater good." The Jedi banged on the door, and it was opened immediately from the other side.
"Are you ready, Master Jedi?" one of the guards asked.
For a moment, Ben actually believed that the Jedi was going to leave him behind in the cell, but then two guards came in and heaved him to a standing position, handcuffing his hands behind his back. He dug his feet in and resisted, falling on his knees as they tried to lead him out of the cell. One of them lifted his weapon as though to hit him over the head, but the Jedi turned around at that moment and extended one hand. "No, don't."
After that, they settled for dragging him along with them, up the stairs, along the corridor, and through the outer door into a car. He was forced into the middle of the back seat with a Getter on either side of him, and then they drove off.
"Take us to this address," the Jedi said, showing something to the driver. "The Mayor gave his permission."
"Yes, Master Jedi," came the reply.
To Ben's surprise, they stopped in front of the Maethum house, and the Jedi and the guards got out. Ben remained where he was, feeling sick to his stomach with dread. Were they going to arrest Dr. Maethum, too? He hadn't had any part in the kidnapping, but the Jedi knew from Ben's memories that he'd been part of the Resistance. He'd almost certainly informed the Getters by now. Sorrowfully, Ben bowed his head.
The Jedi bent down to look into the car. "Ben? You can say good-bye to your--family--before we leave."
Awkwardly, Ben scrambled out of the back seat, and the Jedi turned to one of the guards. "Can you take the handcuffs off now?"
The guard hesitated. "It's regulations that the prisoner be handcuffed at all times until deportation, but--uh--I could put them in front, Master Jedi."
"That would be acceptable, thank you," the Jedi nodded.
The guard released the handcuff from Ben's right wrist, then came around to stand in front of him, and cuffed them together again. Feeling only slightly less humiliated, Ben glanced up at the house, and saw the curtain of the living room window twitch. The front door opened a minute later and Rixi came out, twisting her braid around her finger and looking as though she couldn't decide whether to run out or back in again. He heard her call over her shoulder, "It's Ben! Mum, Dad, it's Ben!"
With the Jedi at his side, Ben walked up the path, and a moment later, Rixi had flung her arms around him. She pulled back when he winced with the pain, and looked into his eyes. "Oh, Ben, we were so scared! What happened?"
"I got caught," he mumbled, too ashamed to meet her gaze.
"You got caught? But they're bringing you home--oh! Are they letting you say good-bye before they execute you?"
"He's being deported, not executed," said the Jedi. "May we come in and explain?"
They went in. Ben was relieved to see that the Getter guards stayed outside, close to the car. It was strange enough having the Jedi there in their living room. Moving with quiet dignity, the Jedi sat down in the chair that Bedec hesitantly indicated, and pretended not to notice the awkwardness as everybody else sat down, too.
"You're being deported?" Rixi asked before anyone else could speak. "But where to? Are they taking you to a prison on Get-tro-we?"
"I'm taking him home to Coruscant," the Jedi said.
There was a stunned silence.
"My name is Qui-Gon Jinn, I am a Jedi Master. And this is my apprentice. He disappeared five weeks ago, I've been searching for him ever since. I wanted to thank you for taking such good care of him," the Jedi continued.
"He's--your apprentice?" Dr. Maethum asked.
"What's his real name?" Rixi asked.
Rixi bit her lip and turned her head away, making a strangled sound, and for a moment, Ben thought she was crying, until Bedec said sharply, "Rixi! You mustn't laugh!"
"I'm sorry," she giggled. "It's just so funny. Listen to it! Obi-Wan Kenobi! Obi-Wan Kenobi!"
"Rixi!" Dr. Maethum said. He looked mortified as he turned to the Jedi. "I have to apologise for my daughter."
"No apology necessary."
"Ben suits you better," Rixi said, trying to bite back her smile but not succeeding.
"Thanks," said Ben morosely, looking down at the handcuffs around his wrists.
"I can't believe you're a Jedi," she remarked, more serious now, and he could feel that she was looking quizzically at him.
"I'm not!" Ben replied heatedly, glancing up. "Rixi, don't ever think that! I don't want to be a Jedi! I don't want to be your enemy!"
"You'll always be Ben Maethum to me," she smiled, taking his hand, and he felt himself relax slightly.
"We didn't know he was your apprentice," said Dr. Maethum, turning to the Jedi. "We thought he might be a fugitive--we thought we were saving him from the J--from the Getters."
"You cannot be blamed for your ignorance in this matter," the Jedi replied.
"I'm Dr. Fulk Maethum, by the way. This is my wife, Bedec and my daughter Rixi."
"He already knows that," Ben spoke up. "He read my mind, just like you said the Jedi do. He went through all my memories. He knows everything about you that I know. He helped them torture me, Uncle Fulk! He made me tell them about Wylan!"
"I did not help them torture you, Ben," the Jedi corrected him in a quiet voice.
"It doesn't matter, Ben. The whole thing was doomed from the beginning." Dr. Maethum shook his head sadly.
"We saw it on the news," Rixi said. "The Getters took Wylan's wife and four children hostage this morning and threatened to shoot them all if he didn't surrender and hand over the child."
"And he did," Ben guessed, collapsing inwardly. "They wouldn't have known it was him if it hadn't been for me."
"Somebody else would have told them," Bedec said.
Rixi looked at him pityingly. "It's not your fault, Ben. Dad said that the Getters could torture anybody into confessing."
"I was doing all right until the Jedi came along," Ben muttered.
"I knew the whole thing wasn't going to work," Dr. Maethum sighed. "I had a feeling it just was not going to be successful. Ben--why? Why did you go with Wylan?"
Ben sighed miserably, staring down at his hands again. "I'm sorry, Uncle Fulk. I should have listened to you, but Wylan threatened to turn me over to the Jedi if I didn't help them. I felt like I didn't have a choice. I should have let him do it, though. That's where I ended up anyway. Some birthday, huh? First Getter prison and then the Jedi."
"Oh! Birthday! I almost forgot!" Rixi cried, standing up and racing out of the room. When she returned, she held a brightly wrapped box. "I guess we don't have time for cake and ice cream, but I can still give you this. It's not much. I'm sorry. I didn't know what to get you, and--and I thought you'd be here always."
Ben tried awkwardly to hold it in his cuffed hands, but it was too big, and Rixi repositioned it so that he could hug it against his chest. "Don't open it now, but when you do, think of me."
She blinked, and a tear ran suddenly down the side of her face. Then she leaned forward, taking Ben's head in both hands, and pulled his lips to hers for a long kiss.
"Ben, we have to go now," the Jedi said softly into the silence that followed.
Breaking away at last, Rixi whispered again, "Think of me."
"I will," Ben said, whispering as well. "I'll always remember you, Rixi."
Rixi ran out of the room and Ben could hear her wail of anguish even as she pounded up the stairs. Tears came to his own eyes and he squeezed them shut, unwilling to cry in front of the Jedi.
"Thank you for keeping him safe," said the Jedi, standing up now and shaking Dr. Maethum's hand.
"Take good care of him," Bedec said, reluctantly extending her own hand.
"Yes, I have a feeling that you will," Dr. Maethum remarked slowly. He laid his hand on Ben's shoulder and gave it a supportive squeeze. "Good-bye, Ben. Good luck."
"Good-bye, Uncle Fulk," Ben said faintly, standing up as well. "Good-bye, Aunt Bedec. And thank you for everything. I won't forget you."
Bedec gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and then the Jedi was already leading him towards the door.
All the way to the space port, Qui-Gon was aware of Obi-Wan. Now that his apprentice's shields were down, he could sense a steady stream of pain and fear and hatred coming from the back seat. Qui-Gon grimaced at the memory of the brutal torture and wished fervently that he'd been able to spare his apprentice that agony. Obviously, he'd been so caught up in Obi-Wan's disappearance over the last five weeks that he hadn't bothered to equate the word interrogation with torture for the simple reason that they had all believed they'd captured a member of the Theosnen Resistance and not a Jedi Apprentice. He might have thought twice about the Get-tro-wen methods if he'd only known before that they'd caught Obi-Wan! If only he'd gone outside the gates of the estate that night instead of appointing himself temporary bodyguard to the Mayor! Now he realised he'd slowly but surely been losing his focus. It was time to go home.
When they stopped next to the ship and Qui-Gon got out, Obi-Wan remained motionless where he was, and the guards had to pull him out of the car and force him up the ramp into the ship. They pushed him into one of the seats in the lounge, handed the key of the handcuffs to Qui-Gon, saluted him, and left. A bit taken aback, Qui-Gon undid the handcuffs, then invited Obi-Wan to come up into the cockpit with him for the takeoff.
Obi-Wan just glared at him, and after a moment, Qui-Gon went up alone.
Once they were in hyperspace, Qui-Gon left the cockpit and came back to the lounge. Obi-Wan had stripped off his Jedi tunics and was now wearing a purple pullover trimmed with blue, which Qui-Gon assumed had been his present from Rixi. A glance at the table showed the neatly folded wrapping paper and the empty box, and he discovered Obi-Wan's tunics flung into a corner, which made him frown slightly. His apprentice was still sitting sulkily in the chair, his arms crossed defiantly across his chest, and his expression one of anger and contempt.
"How do I know I'm really your apprentice?" he demanded. "You could be lying!"
"Jedi always tell the truth," Qui-Gon said. He frowned as he wondered what he could offer the boy as proof. All the holos and pictures he had of Obi-Wan were at home on Coruscant. "Didn't you ever wonder why the Jedi were looking for you so intensively? We're not bounty hunters, you know. I wasn't chasing you because you'd done something wrong. I was worried about you--I thought you'd been kidnapped."
Obi-Wan snorted with disbelief.
"The genetic signature from the blood sample that they took from you in the prison corresponded exactly to the one on your identity disc--your real identity disc. The one that says Obi-Wan Kenobi on it, the one that I gave to the Get-tro-wens to help them locate you."
"That's only what you say!"
"No, you didn't see the results yourself, that's true. I'm sorry. I have nothing to offer you as proof at the moment. You'll just have to trust me. I want to help you because I care about you like a son."
"I'm not your son and I don't want Jedi help!" Obi-Wan snapped, glaring angrily at him.
Qui-Gon decided to ignore this and asked instead, "Are you hungry?"
Obi-Wan continued to glare. Qui-Gon knew that he was hungry, but didn't want to admit it. Going to the food unit in the wall, he selected a meal. It appeared in the slot three minutes later, steaming invitingly, and he took it out and placed it on the table in front of his apprentice.
"Here," he said. "Your favourite."
"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked.
Qui-Gon berated himself lightly for forgetting that Obi-Wan would not remember his old favourites. "Chopped onions and apples and tomatoes, all fried with bacon and hamburger, then baked under a layer of mashed potatoes."
Giving it a cautious prod with the fork, Obi-Wan tasted it carefully, as though expecting to be poisoned, then proceeded to eat up every bite. Qui-Gon got his own meal and sat down, glancing at him occasionally. Under the blood and the bruises, Obi-Wan appeared to be in good shape. He had put on some weight while he'd been missing, Qui-Gon thought; his face seemed fuller somehow.
"What happened to your braid?" he finally asked.
"We cut it off, it was too conspicuous," Obi-Wan snarled.
Qui-Gon felt a sharp pang of regret. He should have been the one to cut Obi-Wan's braid in the ceremony that would raise him from apprentice to knight. He'd been watching the braid grow, proudly marking its progress as it reached first to the boy's shoulder, then down to his chest. And now it was gone. It would take years to grow it out again. Obi-Wan would be dismayed when he regained his memory and realised what he'd done.
"We didn't want the Jedi to find me," Obi-Wan added, twisting the knife. Qui-Gon managed to keep his face impassive as he nodded. "Your friends took good care of you."
"It's only the Getters who go around torturing people," Obi-Wan said. Finishing his meal, he stood up. "And the Jedi."
"Do you remember the ship?" Qui-Gon asked, ignoring the hate-filled comment. Without waiting for an answer, he gave Obi-Wan a quick tour. "Your cabin is the first one there on the right. Mine is right next to it. There's the refresher, and the cockpit is through there."
Without another word, Obi-Wan stalked to his cabin, found the button to open the door, and went in without a backwards glance. Feeling his apprentice's pain through their bond, Qui-Gon stood up as well, reaching for the emergency medical box and removing a painkiller cylinder from it before knocking on Obi-Wan's door.
"What?" Obi-Wan called out, obviously annoyed.
Qui-Gon opened the door. "I thought you might need this."
"What is it?" Obi-Wan had come forward menacingly, as though to physically push him away, but now he stopped and stared at the small device that Qui-Gon extended to him.
"A painkiller. See, you press this end against your skin and press this button to release it. You can regulate the dosage here." Qui-Gon barely had time to finish the demonstration before Obi-Wan snatched it out of his hand and reached for the door control.
It was only a few minutes later that the torrent of pain, anger and the beginnings of hate that Qui-Gon could constantly sense through their bond slowed abruptly to the merest trickle, and Qui-Gon guessed that Obi-Wan had fallen asleep. Entering the cabin, he stared down at where his apprentice had collapsed onto his side on top of the covers. Obi-Wan looked more at peace now than he had when he was awake, despite the bruises on his face. He was also still fully clothed, right down to his boots, so Qui-Gon gently eased them off, one by one. When he'd finished, he found the boy's cloak and spread it over him, then turned out the lights on his way out.
Obi-Wan slept almost a full day. Qui-Gon used the time to send a message to the Jedi Temple, advising them of Obi-Wan's condition. After discovering that Master Healer An-Paj had set out for the medical center on Sceotan to personally pick up the drug that would be used to treat Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon spent many hours afterwards in meditation. He had a good feeling whenever he thought of the future, and it reassured him.
The peace of the journey came to an abrupt end when Obi-Wan woke up. Through their bond, Qui-Gon felt a short-lived sense of well-being, but then came surprise and a sudden return of anger that seemed even stronger than before. Coming out of the cabin, he stamped to the table where Qui-Gon was eating his lunch.
"What was this?" he demanded, holding out the cylinder.
"A painkiller," Qui-Gon replied.
"You're lying! It was a sedative! You mind-tricked me into sedating myself so that you could come in and influence my mind while I was asleep."
Qui-Gon was surprised, but repeated mildly, "It's a painkiller, Obi-Wan."
"Don't call me that."
"I'm sorry. Ben. It really is a painkiller, you can open it up and look."
Giving him another hard look, Obi-Wan fumbled with the cylinder and finally exposed the cartridge inside, silently reading the tiny words printed on it.
"What dosage did you give yourself?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Ten," Obi-Wan mumbled.
Ten? No wonder he'd slept so long. Qui-Gon had set the dosage to seven, which was a little higher than the recommended amount for the average adult, before giving it to him. Now he said, "Never mind. You needed it."
"You mind-tricked me into taking it."
"Why should I have done that?"
"So you can influence my mind while I'm asleep. Make me do things I don't want to do."
"I didn't influence your mind while you were asleep, Ben," Qui-Gon said patiently.
"Then what did you do? I know you were in my cabin!"
"I took your boots off and covered you up. It gets cold in hyperspace. I turned off the light. That's all, Ben." Obi-Wan still looked sceptical, and Qui-Gon added, "You've done the same for me, when I was hurt or exhausted after a mission."
"I don't remember," Obi-Wan snapped.
"I know. Shall I make you some tea?"
"I don't want any stinking Jedi tea."
"You're hungry. I'll get you something to eat."
"I'll get it myself!" Obi-Wan stood up and moved to the food unit, and Qui-Gon could sense him figuring it out, then making a selection.
"Hey, Jedi," he said after a long silence.
"My name is Qui-Gon Jinn," Qui-Gon stated calmly, turning in his seat to face him. "You may call me master, or Qui-Gon."
"I'm not calling you master. I'm not your slave!"
"Then call me Qui-Gon."
"Hey, Jedi," Obi-Wan said, sarcastically emphasizing the word, "is there any ice cream on this ship?"
Conveniently overhearing Obi-Wan's curse, Qui-Gon thought for a moment, then said, "If you want something sweet, I think there's bread pudding with vanilla sauce."
"You always used to like it."
"Bread pudding?" Obi-Wan scoffed, removing his meal from the heating unit and bringing it to the table.
"With apples and chopped almonds," Qui-Gon added.
Obi-Wan gave him another glare, then began to eat. When he'd finished, he put his tray away in silence, then disappeared into the refresher. Qui-Gon went into the cockpit to check their course, which took all of two seconds, then dropped into a light meditation mode. To his surprise, Obi-Wan came and joined him when he'd finished in the refresher. He'd taken a shower and shaved, and although he was wearing that pullover again, he looked (and smelled) much better.
"Did I know how to fly this ship?" Obi-Wan asked.
Qui-Gon was astonished by the civil tone of voice that his apprentice had suddenly developed, then felt a sort of prickling in the Force around him that seemed to be warning him to be alert. There wasn't any danger, not yet, but Obi-Wan was planning something.
"Yes," Qui-Gon replied truthfully. "In fact, you flew us to Theosne. Does it look familiar?"
Obi-Wan sat silently for several minutes, staring at the console, then stood up abruptly and went back to the lounge area. Qui-Gon felt the prickling increase slightly as he considered joining his apprentice, then noticed it recede as he decided to stay where he was. Ah, he thought again. Obi-Wan was definitely up to something.
He'd better get it over with. Standing up from the pilot's seat, Qui-Gon walked back to the lounge. Obi-Wan was crouched under the table, as though picking up something that he'd dropped, and when he straightened up, he threw a punch aimed directly at Qui-Gon's chin. Sensing it coming, however, Qui-Gon ducked back instinctively.
It wasn't much of a fight. Obi-Wan's strength had yet to return completely after his torture, and he probably did not even remember the existence of the Force, let alone how to use it. Grabbing the boy's left arm and executing a few well-practised moves, Qui-Gon had pushed him face-down to the deck and sat on him before he'd been able to put up any resistance at all. Then Qui-Gon removed the handcuffs from one of his belt pouches and snapped one end around Obi-Wan's wrist and the other end around the nearest table leg, which was securely bolted to the floor.
"Get off me, you great hulking piece of Jedi scum!" Obi-Wan cried, trying to buck him off and pull his wrist free at the same time.
Qui-Gon stood up, then stepped back smoothly as Obi-Wan tried to grab his leg and pull him down with his free hand.
"Obi-Wan, listen to me," he said, selecting a point that was out of reach and kneeling down so that they were at the same eye level.
"I told you not to call me that!"
"Let me go!" Obi-Wan tugged at his wrist again.
"How much do you really remember about flying this ship?"
"No, I'm not!"
"We're in hyperspace now. If you pull us out prematurely, you could fly the ship right into a star or an asteroid, or something else, and we'd both die."
"I know that!" Obi-Wan replied petulantly, in exactly the manner that convinced Qui-Gon of the opposite.
"And even if you do remember how to fly, even if you manage to get through the Get-tro-wen space patrols and land the ship on Theosne again, you will be caught, arrested and executed before you ever reach Rixi."
Obi-Wan's face turned red and he snapped angrily, "Who said I was going back to Theosne? I could take this ship anywhere in the galaxy!"
Smiling bitterly, Qui-Gon asked, "Ben, which planets do you remember? Where would you go?"
Obi-Wan was silent just long enough, and Qui-Gon knew his theory had been correct even as the boy protested, "I wouldn't go to Coruscant, and that's all you need to know, Jedi!"
"How about Kessel?" Qui-Gon asked, knowing in advance that it wasn't a fair question.
"They don't get many volunteers to work in the spice mines there. Usually, they rely on convicted criminals."
Obi-Wan's anger increased and he struggled again, trying to pull his wrist through the cuff by sheer willpower. "You're mind-tricking me again, Jedi!"
"No. I'm merely pointing out some of the dangers involved when someone tries to commandeer a ship and yet has no idea where to go or even what's out there. Now. I'm going to go into the cockpit for twenty minutes. I want you to sit here and consider what I'm about to tell you. You do not remember how to fly this ship. You do not remember anything about astro-navigation."
"Stop trying to mind-trick me!" Obi-Wan protested.
Qui-Gon sighed. This was going to be more complicated than he'd thought. "Ben, I was stating the facts, not mind-tricking you."
"All right, I will." Summoning the Force, Qui-Gon used it to give emphasis to his words as he commanded, "I will lay down on my stomach and put my hands flat on the floor."
Slowly, obviously unwilling, but unable to resist, Obi-Wan stretched out, repeating the words as he did so. When he was prone, both palms on the deck, Qui-Gon released him, and he scrambled up again almost instantly. "Stinking filthy Jedi!"
"Did you feel the difference? You had to obey."
Obi-Wan spit in his face, and it took all of his Jedi training for Qui-Gon not to show his disgust. After a moment, he wiped it away with his sleeve and went on as though nothing had happened.
"That's what a Jedi mind trick feels like, Ben. Now that you know the difference, I do not want to hear another word about it. I will not use another mind trick on you and you will have no reason to accuse me of doing so."
Obi-Wan glowered at him in silence.
"Now, as I was saying. If you were to gain control of this ship, you would kill us both through sheer ignorance, because you simply don't remember. As I am your master and pledged to protect you, even from yourself, I refuse to let this happen. If you give me your word that you will not attack me again and try to take over, I will release you. If you feel that you cannot give me your word, I will have no choice but to keep you here for the rest of the trip. If you give me your word and break it later, I will handcuff your hands behind your back for the next three days until we reach Coruscant, and that would include mealtimes and going to the refresher. Consider the consequences before you act, Ben."
Standing up gracefully, Qui-Gon turned and went into the cockpit, ignoring Obi-Wan's angry shout of "Come back here you stinking filthy Jedi cheat!"
For the next twenty minutes, Qui-Gon stared alternately down at the console or at the blackness of space outside the viewscreen, and wished heartily there were some way to program the computer to respond only to him. But there wasn't, and therefore he was left only with the options he had just presented to Obi-Wan. Although it pained him to be so harsh, it was for the boy's own protection, after all, and hopefully, the threat would be enough. He wasn't looking forward to having to humiliate his own apprentice, but he was prepared to do it and anything else that was necessary to keep Obi-Wan from hurting himself until his memory returned.
Qui-Gon had to keep reminding himself that Obi-Wan's feelings of fear and anger were directed at the imaginary picture of the Jedi that he'd picked up on Theosne, and not against himself personally, but it still stung a little to hear those furious comments in his apprentice's voice. It would all have been easier to accept if Obi-Wan had been a stranger, but to have every kindness misconstrued as a Jedi mind trick--or worse--by the boy who would have said 'thank you, master' with a grateful smile five weeks before was almost too much for Qui-Gon to bear. Although the Jedi Master knew that he could call up almost infinite patience when it was needed, he was also convinced that Obi-Wan's antagonistic attitude would disappear as soon as he started remembering things, and therefore, the sooner they could get started on treating the amnesia, the better. He began to hope that An-Paj would already be at the Temple when they arrived.
At last, it was time. He came back to where Obi-Wan was sitting on the floor, his knees drawn up to his chest and his right arm curled around them, simply radiating resentment.
"Have you considered your answer, Ben?" Qui-Gon asked gently.
"I'll give you my word," Obi-Wan replied, refusing to look at him and obviously very angry at having to give in.
"You promise not to attack me or try to gain control of the ship again?"
"I promise," Obi-Wan said through gritted teeth.
Kneeling down, Qui-Gon released the handcuffs, and Obi-Wan stomped off to his cabin.
"Ben? We've landed at the Temple."
At first, Ben did not react. Ever since his unsuccessful attempt three days ago to take over the ship--and he grudgingly had to admit that the Jedi was right, he would have killed them both because he really did not remember how to fly the ship, although he'd hoped he'd be able to figure it out--he'd stayed in his cabin, coming out to use the refresher and grab a meal tray only when he knew that the Jedi was not in the lounge. Now, it seemed, he had to leave his relatively safe haven and turn himself completely over to the enemy by entering the Jedi Temple. There'd be no escaping them here. There'd be too many of them, for one thing, and he was no match for them, for another thing. He'd been astonished at how fast the older, bigger man had been able to move, surprised at how easily the Jedi had overcome him.
"Ben? May I come in?"
Ben sighed and stood up from the bed, then opened the door.
"Have you packed your things?" Setting down his own bag, the Jedi came in and reached for the one that had been in the cabin when Ben had come on board, then tracked down the clothes that Ben had tossed into the tiny wardrobe, folding them neatly into the carryall. He handed the bag to Ben, then went out, and Ben followed, feeling similar to the way he'd felt when the Getters had taken him into their prison. There was no escape. There was no point in even trying. He was surrounded, and he had to submit. And he was scared.
They went down the ramp and were met by a woman only just coming into middle age, almost a full head shorter than Obi-Wan and pretty, with auburn hair twisted up on top of her head.
"Leona," the Jedi said, sounding surprised. "Where's An-Paj?"
"He's still on his way back from Sceotan," the woman said. "How are you?"
"He should have been here by now. I was hoping to start the treatment immediately."
"There's no hurry, Qui-Gon. How long has it been?"
"About six weeks."
"Then one or two more days won't make any difference, will it?" Looking beyond him, the woman smiled. "Hello, Obi-Wan. That's a lovely pullover."
Ben just glared.
"I'm Leona, one of the Healers here at the Temple. Why don't we go down to the infirmary now and check you over, make sure you're all right before we really do start the treatment."
"I'm fine! And I'm not going to any stinking Jedi infirmary!"
"As you said, Leona, one or two more days won't make any difference, will it," the Jedi put in smoothly, which surprised Ben. He'd fully expected the taller man to march him straight there. "Let's give Obi-Wan the chance to get used to being here first."
"All right, if you insist, Qui-Gon." Leona smiled again. "You two can go to your quarters and get settled in, and An-Paj can do the preliminary check-up when he gets back."
As Ben followed the Jedi to the back of the hanger where there were two lifts, side by side, he decided that he didn't know which would be worse, going to a Jedi infirmary, or going to Qui-Gon's quarters.
The apartment door opened into a little entry way, and beyond it was a living room, smaller than the one in the Maethum house. A short hall led to a kitchen, a refresher, and two bedrooms.
"This is your bedroom, Ben. "The Jedi opened the door next to the kitchen, and Ben went in. To his relief, the Jedi did not insist on coming in with him, and the door shut behind him, leaving him alone. The room was small. There was a bed, with drawers that fit underneath it, shelves on the wall by the door filled with data chips and all sorts of electronic equipment, and a wardrobe. Ben glanced through it, and was annoyed to see nothing but Jedi clothing, hanging up or folded away in the drawers. He'd keep his purple pullover on! Sitting down at the desk, he stared morosely out of the window for several minutes, but there was nothing to see except buildings and air traffic in constant motion. No greenery, no gardens, parks, or anything inviting at all. Coruscant was a horrible, ugly place.
Nothing seemed familiar, either outside or in. Everything was strange, remote, or simply incomprehensible. As he sat there, Ben felt a wave of homesickness wash over him. He wanted his old bedroom back, the one with the sofa-bed. He wanted to sit at the dinner table with Uncle Fulk and Aunt Bedec, eating ice cream and listening to Rixi talk. Rixi. She was home, and he was stuck here on this ugly planet and he would probably never see her again. He missed her so much that his heart literally ached, and the merest thought of her brought tears to his eyes. It wasn't just a physical separation either, he realised. If the treatment worked, if he got his memories back, he'd be a Jedi. He'd be her enemy, and she'd hate and fear him in exactly the same way he now hated and feared Qui-Gon.
Some hours later, Qui-Gon knocked on his door. "Ben? Do you want something to eat?"
Ben scrubbed at his eyes with his sleeve and came out of the room, heading for the kitchen, but the Jedi seemed to be walking towards the door instead. Noticing that Ben was not behind him, he turned around and said, "We can eat in the cafeteria."
The last thing that Ben wanted was to sit in a room full of Jedis, but he followed anyway, unsure of what Qui-Gon would do if he refused. And he had to admit it, he was hungry.
The cafeteria was huge, but only about half of the seats were taken. The Jedi led Ben to the end of a huge buffet and said, "Take whatever you like. There's ice cream here, too, if you want, just down there."
Ben felt his heart contract as he thought of Rixi again, and after he had chosen everything else he wanted, he went to the freezer and took out two packages of ice. Just let the Jedi try and stop him! The Jedi did not comment, however, merely led the way to an empty table on one side of the room, and they sat down to eat in silence.
Halfway through the meal, a young man about his age, sporting short hair and a long, thin braid exactly like the one Ben had had before cutting it off, approached their table and swung himself into the seat opposite Ben. "Hello, Obi-Wan. Hey, nice pullover! I want one! Hello, Master Jinn, may I join you?"
"Padawan T'kar--" the Jedi said, but the boy was already speaking again.
"I haven't seen you for weeks, Obi-Wan, where've you been? Did you have a good mission?" He indicated Ben's tray with his fork. "How's your baby meat? Tender and juicy as always? Bet you've missed it while you've been away."
Ben stopped chewing in sheer horror, feeling the blood drain from his face, then dropped his cutlery and threw himself out of his chair. Landing on his knees, he bent forward and began to vomit. It was true! The Jedi really did eat babies! It was so commonplace for them that they actually joked about it!
"Is he all right, Master Jinn?" he heard the boy ask in concern.
Qui-Gon stood up and laid a hand on Ben's shoulder, which he shook off with a shudder of disgust. "It is not true, Ben. It is not baby meat. T'kar was only joking. You were eating nerf, not baby meat."
Ben felt his stomach roil even at the words, and he heaved again.
"Master Jinn?" the boy asked again.
"No, he's not all right. He's had amnesia for the last six weeks, T'kar, and he's been so thoroughly indoctrinated against the Jedi that he actually believed you. I suggest you come over here and apologise."
The boy came around the table from the other side. "Force, I'm sorry, Obi-Wan, I didn't know. I was only teasing, really. It's not baby meat. It was nerf, just plain nerf. We really don't eat babies. I apologise, but we've always joked about it, ever since you got back from Tutuapalova. I'm sorry. Please. I'm really sorry."
Ben struggled angrily to his feet, clenched his fingers to a fist, and swung. Connecting solidly with the shorter boy's jaw, he sent him crashing into a chair to land on the floor in an undignified sprawl.
"You stinking filthy Jedi!" he shouted, stomping over with the intent of pulling the boy up for another blow. "You stinking filthy baby-eating Jedi! I'll kill you!"
A moment later, his arm was caught and twisted behind his back, and a voice in his ear said, "Don't move or you'll break your own wrist. I'm only holding you, but if you struggle, you'll hurt yourself."
"Let go of me!" Ben cried, enraged not only at the other boy, but also at himself for forgetting how fast the Jedi could move, and feeling humiliated that he was in such a position again. "Let go!"
T'kar stood up slowly, holding his chin in one hand, and approached, and for one horrible moment, Ben thought that he was going to hit him back. But he only said, "I really apologise, Obi-Wan."
Then he bowed slightly. "I'll clean up the mess, Master Jinn."
"Thank you, T'kar."
To Ben's surprise, Qui-Gon let go of him then. Retrieving his wrist and rubbing it, he gave the Jedi a hard look, then stalked off in the direction of the door.
"Where are you going?" Qui-Gon caught up to him quickly.
"I'm not hungry anymore!"
"Then let's go back to our quarters. Or would you rather go to the Room of a Thousand Fountains?"
"I want to go home!" Ben shouted. "Why can't you just let me go home?"
"Because I don't want you to get killed! Because you are the most important person in my life! Because I am responsible for you and I refuse to let you get yourself executed!" Qui-Gon shouted back. The people in the cafeteria around them were suddenly silent, listening.
"Well, you're not the most important person in my life!" Ben retorted. "I hate you! You're nothing but a stinking filthy Jedi and I do not want to be around you any longer!"
Qui-Gon sighed, and lowered his voice. "Ben, you have two choices. You can have the freedom of the Temple, as long as I am with you, or I will take you to one of the cells and lock you up until An-Paj is ready to treat you. You can stay in splendid isolation until he gets back!"
"Are you going to handcuff me to the table again while I consider this?"
"If you really know what you want, you won't need twenty minutes to decide!"
"Then take me to a cell!" Ben roared.
Qui-Gon's face smoothed out and became impassive as he nodded. "All right, then. Come with me."
They went out of the cafeteria and into a lift that took them several levels down. Getting out, Ben noticed the difference immediately. The rest of the Temple had seemed filled with life somehow, even if no one was occupying a room, but here, everything felt isolated, abandoned, even dead. They walked down a long hallway that turned to reveal a short corridor with five doors set in the far wall. That was it. There were no guards, and no other prisoners. Each door looked dusty and unused, and Ben had a sudden, horrific vision of Qui-Gon locking him in, going away, and never coming back. He stopped walking, feeling suddenly cold with sweat.
Stopping in the action of laying his hand on the door handle of the first door, Qui-Gon turned around and looked at him. "Is this really what you want, Ben?"
In the cafeteria, Ben had been convinced that it was, but now he took a step backwards. The thought of being down here alone--completely alone--spooked him more than he was willing to admit. He took another step backwards, and saw Qui-Gon let go of the door and come towards him. Panicking, afraid that the Jedi would grab him and throw him inside, he turned and ran back to the lift, hitting the call button over and over again with his fist. "No! No! No!"
Behind him, Qui-Gon said quietly, "It's all right. I wouldn't want to be down here alone, either. Let's go back to our quarters."
Ben stopped pounding the wall and laid his head against it instead, feeling both ashamed and relieved.
Ben was eating bread and jam in the kitchen when the door buzzer sounded. When they'd come back, Ben had gone directly to his room, but a few minutes later, Qui-Gon had knocked gently and told him, "I've put out some bread and things in the kitchen if you want something to eat."
He'd resisted at first, but eventually, his hunger had got the best of him, and he had come out to see a loaf of sliced bread, a few pieces of cheese, and a jar of jam arranged on the table. There hadn't been any meat or sausage, and he'd found his appetite returning. Bread was good. Bread was safe. Sitting down, he'd reached eagerly for the first slice.
Now his ears pricked up as he heard someone come into the apartment, and he swallowed, then listened, wondering if it were this An-Paj that everyone kept talking about, the one who was supposed to start the treatment that would bring his memories back.
"I heard about what happened in the cafeteria," a female voice said. "Did you really lock him in one of the cells?"
"No," Qui-Gon replied." He changed his mind; he's in his room."
"Do you want to come spar with me? You look like you could use a little distraction, old friend."
"What if he runs off while I'm away? Gets lost here in the Temple, or worse, finds his way outside? Tahl, I spent five weeks searching for him on Theosne. Five weeks! If you think I'm going to let him out of my sight again--"
"Bring him with you. Tell him to run the obstacle course a few times. That'll keep him busy."
"Tahl, he already thinks I've tortured him once. How do you think he'll react if I tell him to run the obstacle course?"
"He thinks you tortured him?"
"I had to break his shields. I asked him to lower them, but he didn't even know what I was talking about. They were completely up, and tighter than anything I've ever encountered, and I had to go in and break them down."
"Oh, no," said Tahl sympathetically.
"He was part of a resistance group that kidnapped the Mayor's four-year-old son, except that Obi-Wan got caught and arrested. They tortured him for hours to get him to tell them where the boy was hidden. He was still holding out when I came along. I couldn't believe it, Tahl. I thought he'd betrayed me again, left the Order without telling anybody. They let me speak to him and all I could ask was, why? Why, Obi-Wan? And it turned out he had amnesia. Amnesia, Tahl! I wanted to believe it, but I had to be sure. He could have been lying, he could have been trying to hide from me. He was on the floor, his hands cuffed behind his back and about thirty of those artificial neural-transmitters shot into him, and I went into his mind and broke down his shields so that I could go through his memories. It hurt him, Tahl. And hurting him, especially right after he'd been tortured, was the worst thing I have ever had to do in my life!"
There was a pause, and then Qui-Gon went on. "I could feel his pain. It was excruciating, Tahl, it was almost worst than the torture, but I couldn't stop! I had to know. If he had betrayed me, I would have left him there to be executed. But he had amnesia! He hadn't left me on purpose--he didn't remember who I was. I was happy, Tahl. I was so happy that it was only amnesia! But Obi-Wan was so scared, he just--panicked. I remember, he was screaming 'get him out of my head, get him out, I'll tell you anything you want to know if you just get him out of my head!'"
"And did he? Tell them, I mean?"
Qui-Gon sighed. "Yes, he did, and he blames me. He claims I helped the Get-tro-wens torture him and that I mind-tricked him into confessing. He really believes it, Tahl. He really believes the Jedi go around torturing people, eating babies, and at the very least, mind-tricking people into doing things they don't want to do. But I had to do it. I had to know!"
"Does he know that he's a Jedi, too?"
"Yes. I told him he was my apprentice, and I told him his real name, and he said I shouldn't call him that. He said he didn't want a Jedi name, he didn't want anything to do with the Jedi. He claimed that the Jedi keep peace in the galaxy by manipulating people into not wanting their freedom. He probably believes I spent those five weeks on Theosne trying to trick the Theosnen diplomats into accepting the Get-tro-wen terms, when actually I spent the time trying to convince the Get-tro-wens to make any concessions at all! They were willing to go through the motions of negotiating, but they weren't about to actually concede anything to the species they consider as slightly better than slaves. Things aren't going to change any time soon, either. They used Obi-Wan as an excuse to get rid of me. They offered to spare his life, but I had to take him off the planet immediately, and Force knows if they'll ever accept Jedi there again."
"But he still wants to go back."
"He said he'd rather be executed than be a Jedi. Tahl, there's so much misinformation on Theosne. The Get-tro-wens have tried to cut them off from the rest of the galaxy, and although they haven't completely succeeded, there's very little that does get through, and most of that is rumours. They only know the worst that's said about the Jedi, and they hate us because they're frightened of us. Obi-Wan is a perfect example of what Master Yoda is always talking about. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. Obi-Wan is suffering, Tahl, and I'm suffering too, just watching him."
Could it be true? Ben asked himself, tuning out the rest of the conversation. He found himself believing that it might be, and instantly felt sorry for Qui-Gon. It was hard to watch someone else suffer; he knew that. He remembered how he'd felt when the Getter patrol had threatened Rixi, and how anxious he'd been to do and say whatever they'd told him to, anything to keep them from hurting her. Qui-Gon sounded like he felt the same way about--Ben stopped in mid-thought. What was he doing? Feeling sorry for a Jedi? For the man who'd tortured him and taken him away from the only family and friends he remembered? No. He couldn't allow himself to feel that way.
But he saved your life, Ben heard one part of his mind telling himself. The Getters would have executed you.
What sort of life is it without Rixi, another part of his mind asked. And anyway, he only wants me to come back and be a Jedi. A Jedi!
They don't eat baby meat.
Maybe, but they do manipulate people's minds. Think of the negotiations, Ben!
He said he wasn't working for the Getters. He said he was trying to get them to make concessions.
Oh, that's what he claims, yes. He probably knows you're listening. He's trying to soften you up.
How can he know I'm listening? And why would he lie to another Jedi?
All Jedi lie. He knows you're listening. He's just trying to lure you into a false sense of security so you won't run away from him.
Why should you run away? Where would you go? You don't remember how to fly. You wouldn't be able to get off the planet.
You'd be away from the Jedi, and that's the main thing.
He'd come looking for you. He spent five weeks looking for you on Theosne.
You'd find a place to hide, somewhere. He wouldn't find you. And he wouldn't have found you on Theosne if you hadn't got your pants stuck in the chain of your bicycle and been caught by the Getters!
Abruptly silencing the argument in his head, Ben stood up and went into his bedroom. It took a long time for him to fall asleep, and when he did, he dreamed that the Getters had come to arrest Rixi. They put her into the back of their car and drove away, and when he tried to run after them, the Jedi was there, keeping him immobile by bending his wrist behind his back. Ben awoke with a gasp of sheer terror. Rixi!
It was dark in the room, but he didn't turn on the lights, merely got dressed by feel. It was the middle of the night. The Jedi was surely asleep by now. He'd have until dawn to find his way out of the Temple before anybody came looking for him. Exiting the bedroom, he moved as quietly as he could to the door of the apartment. His foot came up against something, however, close to the entry way, and he frowned as he reached down to determine what it could be. He didn't remember the couch being so close to this wall. Then his hand touched something warm and soft, and he recoiled in shock before realising what it was. The Jedi had moved the couch and was sleeping on it now, right in front of the door.
"Go back to bed, Ben," Qui-Gon said quietly. "Rixi's fine. It was only a nightmare."
Silently fuming with chagrin, Ben stalked back to his room.
The next morning, as Ben was eating bread and jam again for breakfast, Qui-Gon came in from the living room and stood in the doorway. He looked at Ben for a moment and then said, "I heard a rumour when I was on Theosne. Somebody said that you were spying on the Theosnens and informing to the Get-tro-wens."
"What!" Ben jumped up immediately, ready to attack the large Jedi, then thought better of it. "That is not true! I'd never spy on the Theosnens!"
"But that's what I heard."
"No! It's absurd! I'm not a spy!"
"But it's a rumour. It must be true."
"It's a lie! I'm not a Getter informer! I'd never betray the Theosnens like that!"
"So the rumour isn't true."
"You don't believe that rumour."
"No, I don't believe it! Why should I? It's about me, and I know I'm not an informer! If I ever gave any information to the Getters, it's because you helped them torture me into doing it!"
Qui-Gon ignored this statement and said simply, "If you're telling the truth, then I shouldn't believe the rumour, either."
Ben gritted his teeth together with anger as he replied, "I'm telling the truth. I'm not an informer."
"So I shouldn't believe it."
"No! It's just a rumour!"
"And we shouldn't think rumours are true."
"So why do you believe all the rumours you hear about the Jedi?"
Ben stared at him with his mouth open, temporarily robbed of speech. He felt the same way he'd felt when he'd caught his pants in the bicycle chain and had fallen, his speed abruptly truncated, flat on his face at the foot of the Getter patrol. He'd been going along so well and then wham! From one moment to the next, he'd been trapped.
"I'm a Jedi, and I'm telling you the truth, Ben. The rumour is, we eat baby meat. The truth is, we don't. The rumour is, we manipulate people's minds into not wanting their freedom and accepting compromises that keep them enslaved. The truth is, that we strive to negotiate peace wherever we are sent. We act for the greater good of the galaxy. The rumour is, the negotiations were a sham and the Jedi were working together with the Getters to keep the Theosnens from gaining their independence."
Qui-Gon paused slightly for breath, then continued. "The truth is, Ben, I spent five weeks working very hard to get the Get-tro-wens to make even one concession. If they had had their way, the negotiations would truly have been a sham. They were not prepared to compromise on anything, anything at all. It was with great difficulty that I managed to persuade them to reduce their troops. It wasn't everything that the Theosnens had been hoping for, no, but it was a step in the right direction. When I give my report, the Galactic Senate will know much more about the situation on Theosne than they did before. Changes will be slow, but at least things have been prepared so that they can come about in the first place."
"Don't accuse me of trying to mind-trick you. You know it isn't true. You know how that feels, and you know you don't feel it now. Listen to what I'm telling you. The rumours are not true. There is no reason for you to run away from the Jedi. There is every reason for you to stay and get your memory back."
Ben was silent for a long moment, considering this, then remembered something and cried, "You tortured me!"
"Obi-Wan, you have no idea how sorry I am that I hurt you, but I needed to discover the truth about your amnesia and that was the only way. It wasn't torture."
"Did you do it for the greater good of the galaxy?" Ben scoffed.
"I did it to save your life. It was like the time you fell and broke your arm while we were on a mission, and I had to twist it back to its proper position and then splint it. That hurt a lot, but it was necessary. Now I want you to think about what I've been telling you. Then, maybe, you can let go of your pain and your anger and your fear. Those emotions are a heavy burden to carry when there's no need, and right now, Obi-Wan, there is no need. Just let go of them. "The Jedi seemed about to say something else, but then he turned abruptly and went back to the living room.
It was sometime in the afternoon when Qui-Gon knocked on the door of Ben's bedroom. "I've just had word that An-Paj will be arriving in a few minutes. I want you to come with me to meet him, and then we can go right to the infirmary for the treatment."
Ben glanced up from the book of Alderaanian poetry that he'd found in one of the shelves, considered the request briefly, then stood up and followed the Jedi out of the apartment. He'd been alternately reading and thinking the whole day, but had not come to any firm conclusions yet. The big Jedi had seemed sincere, and everything he'd said had sounded both logical and true, and yet Ben still baulked at believing him completely. Some of his anger had drained away, however, and he'd decided it couldn't hurt much to simply go along with things for now and see what happened next.
The ship was already settling down to the hanger floor when they arrived, and Ben watched in interest as the loading ramp was lowered. A few minutes later, three humanoids appeared. All were blue-skinned, with white hair and antennae on top of their heads, and Ben, who could not remember ever having seen anything like them before, could not help staring. In the middle was a male, dressed in Jedi tunics and trousers, but the females on either side of him were wearing what appeared to be clothing native to their home planet, brightly coloured cloths draped around their bodies and little hats perched on their heads behind the antennae. The straggling group behind them contained four more females and three or four children of varying ages. One of them, a boy, was also dressed in Jedi clothing. He broke loose suddenly and ran over to Qui-Gon, bowing low and speaking before he even came up again.
"Hello, Master Jinn, hello, Obi-Wan, guess what! My father let me pilot the ship around Sceotan three times while we were there! It was great! We got to see the ocean and everything! Did you know that there are at least five different oceans on Sceotan?"
"Yes, An-Paj, I have heard that," said Qui-Gon with a tolerant smile. Ben stared down at the little humanoid in sheer amazement. This was An-Paj? This was the Healer who was supposed to treat him?
"No, my father is the Healer," said the humanoid, looking up at him as though he'd read his thoughts. "I'm going to be a pilot! Father said I could use all the practise I could get, but then he didn't let me go around Coruscant three times. We had to land right away."
"We are glad that your father did not delay his return any longer," Qui-Gon said, gazing hard at the older male.
Letting go of his female companions, the blue-skinned alien came closer. "Qui-Gon, it's not what you're thinking."
"What am I thinking, An-Paj?" Qui-Gon asked mildly.
"You're counting my wives and wondering if I've picked up an extra one while you've been away, if I've been enjoying my seventh honeymoon while your Padawan is suffering. I haven't."
"You merely took the opportunity to combine business with pleasure?"
"It was the will of the Force, Qui-Gon. Somehow, the family to which young Paj here is bonded discovered that I was going to Sceotan and they asked if I couldn't arrange it so that we could meet there."
"Somehow?" Qui-Gon queried.
An-Paj glanced meaningfully at one of his wives, who smiled to reveal pointed teeth, and Qui-Gon nodded. "I see which force you mean."
The woman came forward, bowing gracefully. "Please don't be angry at our tardiness, Master Jinn. It's important for the children to get to know each other, and for us adults, too. Young Paj got to see his newest betrothed wife for the first time since she's been born. That makes four so far, and we also learned that number five will be coming in a few months, unless it turns out to be a boy, of course. We haven't been off Coruscant since An-Paj married our youngest sister. He's been working much too hard in the infirmary, and he needed a break. So you see, this journey served many purposes."
"I'm not angry, I'm just worried about Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon admitted.
"I know. I'd be frantic if anything like that happened to my son, too. But now that you've found him and he is safe here at the Temple, one or two days don't make any difference. No one is hurt." Smiling again, the woman turned to Ben. "Hello, Obi-Wan, my name is An-Hwaet, I am the second wife of An-Paj."
"Hello," said Ben automatically. His mind was reeling. Wives? As in--many? Not just one?
"And that is a lovely pullover you're wearing. The colours suit you well. The Jedi wear too much brown. It depresses me."
"Yes," Ben replied faintly, still reeling, but deciding anyway that he liked this An-Hwaet. She wasn't a Jedi!
"And I'm An-Paj, the husband of all these beautiful women and the father of all these beautiful children," said the man, coming forward. "I'm also a Master Healer here at the Temple, and therefore, you and I know each other quite well."
Ben was saved from having to answer that by the sound of another ship coming into the hangar for a landing. An-Paj glanced over. "Ah. There he is now. I was wondering when he was going to catch up. That's Dr. Ra-sek-mun, he's the specialist from the medical center on Sceotan who will be overseeing the treatment. As soon as he's disembarked, you can come along to the infirmary with us, Obi-Wan, and we'll have a quick look at you, then start the treatment to-morrow morning."
"To-morrow?" Qui-Gon asked. He sounded faintly disapproving.
"Qui-Gon, I've just spent several days in close quarters with six wives. I've got to sleep sometime. "The women all giggled knowingly, and Ben felt himself blushing.
"Also, whether we can start the treatment at all depends on the preliminary tests. Not to mention the fact that Dr. Ra-sek-mun is probably still on Sceotan time and will no doubt be exhausted as well." Extending his hand to the nearest wife, An-Paj moved closer to her, then leaned down slightly until their foreheads and noses touched. Their antennae curled together for a brief moment, then uncurled, and the two humanoids stepped apart with tender smiles on their faces.
As An-Paj repeated the process with each female, Ben stared in sheer amazement, then remembered his manners at last. Turning away, still somewhat dazed by the encounter, he asked, "Do all Jedi have six wives?"
"No," Qui-Gon replied sternly. "An-Paj is--an exception."
Glancing at Ben, he added more gently, "Don't be too disappointed."
"I'm not disappointed, I'm--"
"Relieved? Yes. So am I."
The shared feeling was so strong that they smiled at each other conspiratorially until Ben realised what he was doing and frowned again, then turned his attention abruptly back to the blue-skinned humanoids. After the group of women and children had moved towards the lift, An-Paj came back to stand next to Qui-Gon and they waited in silence for the doctor's ship to finish landing. The loading ramp opened with a hiss and a dull thud, and Dr. Ra-sek-mun appeared at the top almost instantly, striding purposefully down with a smile on his furry face.
Ben stopped in horror, and felt Qui-Gon's hand grip his arm, preventing him from any hasty movements. Sensing that something was going on, An-Paj looked over at him in confusion. "What is it?"
"He's a Getter!" Ben blurted out.
Dr. Ra-sek-mun's smile wavered slightly, but he came closer anyway. "Actually, I've never been on Get-tro-we, I was born on the colony world of Ta-Sobek."
"Welcome to the Jedi Temple, Dr. Ra-sek-mun," said Qui-Gon, bowing his head slightly and still keeping his hand firmly on Ben's arm. "I am Qui-Gon Jinn, this is my apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi."
"Hello, Master Jinn, hello, Obi-Wan." Getting no response except a hate-filled glare, Dr. Ra-sek-mun glanced inquiringly at Qui-Gon.
"Obi-Wan was tortured by the Get-tro-wens on Theosne," Qui-Gon explained. "I'm afraid he's been conditioned to think of them as the enemy."
"Oh." The doctor seemed faintly embarrassed. "I've never been on Theosne, either. In fact, this is the first time I've left Sceotan in many, many years. The amnesia cases usually come to us, you see, but when Master An-Paj told me about Obi-Wan, I thought it might be interesting to see if we couldn't gain better results in treating the patients in familiar surroundings. Since Obi-Wan has obviously spent his whole life here at the Temple, bar the occasional mission, it will be an excellent test of my theory. I suppose I'll be doing much more traveling if the results are as good as I hope."
An-Paj smiled and nodded. "Qui-Gon, why don't you take Obi-Wan down to the infirmary now? I'll just show Dr. Ra-sek-mun to his quarters and then we'll join you there."
They all went to the lifts together, and when it stopped for the first time, Qui-Gon propelled Ben out into a wide corridor that stretched left and right. As they went through the double doors exactly opposite the lift, Ben became aware of the smell. It reminded him of the smell of the salve that the Getter medic had smeared on his puncture wounds in the prison, and made him feel immediately apprehensive.
"We can wait here," said Qui-Gon, indicating a group of chairs set up in one corner and taking the one next to Ben. After a few moments, he added, "Ben, he's not going to hurt you."
"He's a Getter," Ben repeated through clenched teeth, folding his arms across his chest.
"He's a doctor. He's going to help you get your memory back."
Ben was silent with refusal.
"He has nothing to do with the conflict on Theosne. He's never even been there. Your focus determines your reality, Padawan. Focus on him solely as a tool and not as a Getter."
"I thought you said my name was Obi-Wan."
Qui-Gon looked surprised for a moment. "It is. Obi-Wan Kenobi."
"Then why did you call me Pada-Wan?"
"Oh." Qui-Gon smiled a little. "Padawan is the Jedi word for apprentice. I often call you that."
Ben could just imagine how Rixi would laugh at the word, as she had laughed at the name Obi-Wan, and scowled. "Call me Ben."
Laying one hand on his shoulder, Qui-Gon said, "It's all right, Ben. You'll remember soon enough."
Ben shook it off and stood up, moving to the chair farthest away from him. Although he'd briefly considered making a run for it, he knew that the Jedi would be able to catch him before he'd even reached the lift or found the stairs. He probably still had those handcuffs in one of his belt pouches somewhere, and Ben wanted the use of his hands if he was going to be around a Getter. Even if he was a doctor. Even if he was telling the truth about helping Ben get his memory back. It was better to lay low, see what was going to happen next, and not lose prematurely any advantage that he might need later. Several minutes passed in silence until An-Paj and Dr. Ra-sek-mun finally joined them again.
"All right, come on, Obi-Wan, let's see if you're fit to start the treatment to-morrow," An-Paj said, guiding them to an examining room. "Take everything off except your underwear and hop up here."
Self-consciously, remembering the shower room in the prison, Ben undressed, then sat down on the examining table. An-Paj peered intently at the small round scabs, some surrounded by bruises, that marked his body. "What are these?"
"The Getters shot me full of ants," Ben snapped, glaring accusingly at Dr. Ra-sek-mun.
"Ants?" the Getter asked, as though he'd never heard of such a thing.
"Artificial neural-transmitters," Qui-Gon put in.
"Oh." An-Paj nodded. "They seem to be healing all right. No sign of infection that I can see. Lay down, Obi-Wan, I want to take a closer look."
Feeling very vulnerable and very aware of Dr. Ra-sek-mun watching his every move, Ben laid back. An-Paj stretched out both hands, holding them flat just above his abdomen, which made him tense with anticipation, and told him, "Relax, Obi-Wan, this won't hurt a bit."
Then he closed his eyes, which confused Ben. Hadn't he just said he'd wanted a closer look? A moment later, however, he felt that awful touch in his mind again, that whisper of a foreign presence that he'd felt only one terrible time before.
"No!" he screamed, leaping up from the bed and hitting An-Paj in the face, sending the Jedi Healer stumbling hard into Dr. Ra-sek-mun. Reaching the door, Ben slapped his hand across the control to make it open. Something barreled into him from behind, however, and he fell flat on his face in the corridor, the wind all but knocked out of him. With a sinking feeling, he realised that Qui-Gon was pinning him to the floor. Again.
"Get off me, you filthy stinking Jedi!" he raged, trying to squirm his way free from both captivity and humiliation. "You liar! You're all liars, every single one of you, stinking baby-eating Jedi! Get off!"
"Ben," said Qui-Gon in that reasonable, patient tone of voice that only served to make him angrier. "Ben, listen to me."
"Let me go!"
"An-Paj was not lying to you."
"Yes, he was! He was in my head, just like you were! He was going to torture me, just like you did! He and that Getter! Let me go!"
"Ugh. Qui-Gon, what is he talking about?" An-Paj asked. His voice sounded more nasal and slightly muffled.
"Get off me!"
"I had to go inside his mind and break down his shields, An-Paj, to find out if he was telling the truth when he said he had amnesia. When he felt your mind-touch, he thought you were about to do the same thing," Qui-Gon explained.
An-Paj said something that could have been "Oh" but sounded more like another "Ugh."
"Are you all right, An-Paj?" Ben could feel Qui-Gon shift his weight as he looked behind him, and tried to take advantage of the opportunity to break free, but the tall Jedi still held him firmly.
"I'll be all right in a minute." There was a rustling sound, and then An-Paj stepped over Ben's arm and squatted down near his head. He was holding a blue-stained cloth to his nose, and after a moment, Ben realised that the indigo liquid was his blood. It made him feel faintly sick, and he looked away.
"Obi-Wan, I'm not going to hurt you. All I want to do is examine you through the Force. Now. When Qui-Gon lets go of you, I want you to get back on the table and let me finish. It will not hurt. You have my word as a Jedi. You might feel a little something in your mind as I work, but it won't be nearly as bad as you are imagining. I'm just going to have a quick look for infection or anything else that might interfere with the treatment. You can even stay seated if laying down makes you nervous. It won't take long and it won't hurt."
"I don't believe you."
"The pain you felt with Qui-Gon was him breaking down your shields. And now that they're down, there's nothing more to be broken. It won't hurt, Obi-Wan, believe me. Just get back on the table and see for yourself, all right?"
"Obi-Wan, we're only trying to help you."
"I don't want your help! I want to go home! I just want to go home!" Ben cried, turning his head to the other side so that he didn't have to see An-Paj. He only wanted to feel safe, safe from fear and pain and uncertainty, and the Maethum home was the safest place he knew.
"If you let us recover your memories, you'll discover that you are home," said Qui-Gon. "I know it's hard for you to trust us after all you've been through, but give us the benefit of a doubt. Why would we want to hurt you? I can't think of any reason. You don't have any information that we need. We're not trying to punish you for kidnapping anybody here. On the contrary, we're trying to help you, and why? Because you're my apprentice, my Padawan, and I care about you as though you were my son."
Ben was silent, recognising that he had been caught in yet another logic trap. How did the Jedi always manage to do that?
"I'm going to let you up now. Don't try to run away again."
"Or you'll handcuff me to the table, I know," Ben muttered.
"I hope that's not necessary, but I would do it for your own good, Ben." Qui-Gon stood up, and Ben drew in a deep breath as soon as the crushing weight had been removed from his chest, then got up as well. Sighing, resigned to his fate, he sat down again on the table, gripping the edge of it nervously with his hands and staring down at the floor.
An-Paj sat down on one of the chairs in the room and closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, only a few moments later, his nose had stopped bleeding. He got up and went to the sink in the corner of the room to wash his face and hands, then came back and stood in front of Ben. "There, that's better. Now. Do you remember the Force at all?"
Ben shook his head, watching the man intently.
"The Force is what gives the Jedi his power," said An-Paj. Catching sight of movement behind him, Ben realised that Qui-Gon was now standing in front of the door, ready to intercept him if he bolted again. Sullenly, he lowered his eyes.
"It's a kind of energy field that surrounds us and binds us together," the Healer continued, placing one hand on Ben's shoulder. "Some people can sense it better than others; they're generally the ones who become Jedi. We let it flow through us and it guides our actions. When we're in tune with it, it warns us of danger or tells us when something is wrong. Sometimes it can help us see the future, or the past. We can also tap into it like an energy source and use it to help us heal ourselves, or others, or give us strength when we feel weak. There. All done. You're fine."
Ben glanced up in amazement. Aside from a bit of tingling, he'd scarcely felt anything. Smiling, the blue-skinned Healer gave him a friendly nudge in the arm. "I told you it wouldn't hurt, didn't I? Next time maybe you'll believe me."
He checked Ben's reflexes, then took a blood sample before measuring and weighing him. "Hmmph, looks like you've gained a few pounds since the last time you've been here. We'll just do a brain scan next and then you'll be finished."
"How long has it been since the, ah, torture?" the Get-tro-wen doctor asked.
"About six days," Qui-Gon answered.
"Hmm. We can check for any residual damage that might interfere with the treatment. After so many days, there shouldn't be any, but on the other hand, it looks like they used quite a few of those things on him."
"The scanner's in the other room. I'll be right back." An-Paj went out and returned a few minutes later with a metal box. It opened into two unequal halves, one of which turned out to be a computer screen, and the other a control panel. In the middle there was room for a helmet attached to a bundle of wires. "This won't hurt, either, Obi-Wan. Just sit still for a moment."
He placed the helmet over Ben's head, effectively blocking his vision and much of his hearing. Ben was aware of a series of regular clicks, broken only by muffled comments and questions from Dr. Ra-sek-mun and An-Paj. At length, the helmet was taken from his head and the doctor smiled. "The computer will analyse the images over night and we'll look at them in detail in the morning. All right, Obi-Wan, you can get dressed and go home. Come back to-morrow morning after breakfast and we'll discuss the treatment then."
"Right. The brain scan is normal, any damage the--ah--ants might have left has since healed, and Obi-Wan can start the treatment immediately. Now. I shall try and explain this in terms you can understand," said Dr. Ra-sek-mun the next morning. He consulted a data pad, then smiled self-consciously. "My secretary wrote this down for me. She says I tend to get bogged down in technical expressions. Well. The memories are still there, but Obi-Wan can't get to them. We could say that communications inside the brain are blocked. I am going to give him a drug that will help open the connections and allow him to access the information again. This drug is still experimental, but we have had very good results so far."
"How many amnesia cases have you treated in all?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Six, actually." At Qui-Gon's astonished look, the doctor began to defend himself. "Total amnesia is very rare, Master Jinn. Also, we've only been working on this project for about a year now."
"And did they all get their memories back?"
"The recovery rate, as judged by the patients themselves when they left the medical center on Sceotan, ranged from sixty to seventy five percent. At the six-month follow-up, each of the patients reported an increase in the things they could remember, which helped me form my theory that being in familiar surroundings is conducive to a good recovery. Now. The drug apparently has a few side effects during the first few days, the most common one being that the patients have phases where they relive certain memories as though they were happening all over again. These phases generally last from ten to twenty minutes. Second most common was hallucinations, that is, responding to situations which were not part of their memories, and which only they could see. Two of the patients became jittery and nervous. One had difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. In contrast, another patient found it hard to wake up, even after sleeping sixteen hours or more. I remember hearing reports of nausea, but also of increased appetite. Well, the bottom line is basically that anything can happen, it all depends on the individual."
"And how long will he be taking this drug?"
"I'll give him an injection every morning for seven days. We used to do ten, but it didn't seem to make any difference after the first week."
"And will he have to stay here in the infirmary the whole time?"
Dr. Ra-sek-mun smiled. "Master An-Paj told me that Obi-Wan has been here often, but this is not exactly what I had in mind when I said familiar surroundings. He should be at home or in other places that he knew well or where he felt comfortable and happy before the accident. If anything happens that seems out of the ordinary, just call us, and we will come to you."
Ben, who had been sitting with a sullen scowl on his face, listening to them talk about him as though he weren't even there, felt vaguely relieved at that statement. He hadn't been looking forward to spending five days in the infirmary when there was nothing physically wrong with him. The smell still put him off. Still, it wasn't all that attractive being at 'home', either. It didn't feel like home to him. It felt like a prison. He was sure that Qui-Gon had slept in front of the door again last night, even though he hadn't gotten up to try and sneak out. Now that the possibility of treatment was a reality, he had to admit that he was curious about what he would remember.
Would it really be so bad, being a Jedi? Maybe the rumours were only that, rumours, and therefore false. Did Jedi really act for the greater good of the galaxy? It would be good to be part of that...if it were true. Gradually, he had found that he wanted to believe it, but held back nonetheless, craving just a little more proof. And what about this Force that An-Paj had mentioned? He'd wanted to discover more, but he was still wary of Qui-Gon and hadn't wanted to ask him. There was no chance to talk to anybody else about it. Like a jailer, the tall Jedi never let him out of his sight. The only privacy he had was in his own room, and he spent long hours staring out of the window and wondering what his life had been like when he'd lived here before. What sort of friends had he had? What sort of life had he had here? Had he been happy or had he been dissatisfied and restless? Had he really wanted to become a Jedi, or had he simply gone along for lack of other alternatives? Why did he have a master, but no parents? That blue-skinned boy had a father and a mother--six mothers!
"Are you ready, Obi-Wan?"
He nodded and extended his arm, trying not to shudder with disgust at the Getter's touch as Dr. Ra-sek-mun pressed the cylinder against the inside of his wrist. Unlike the painkiller he'd given himself on the ship, this injection felt cool and yet somehow itchy against his skin, and he rubbed the spot with his other hand.
"That's it for to-day. Feel free to walk around the Temple to places you used to go--I'm sure Master Jinn remembers, even if you don't. Don't expect all your memories to return at the same time. They won't. Expect them to come gradually and at random. It might be a bit confusing at first, but remember, seven days, eight at the maximum, and you'll be able to sort everything out."
Ben nodded again, then asked, "How long before it starts to work?"
"Well, it might be a few hours, it might take up to a day. You might not notice anything until after the second injection. It's been different for every patient so far."
"Right, well, if you need anything, just get in touch with us. Otherwise, we'll see you to-morrow."
Qui-Gon bowed and went out, and Ben followed. When they were in the corridor again, Qui-Gon said, "If Dr. Ra-sek-mun wants you to be in places where you felt comfortable and happy, we could go to the training rooms. You always loved light saber practise."
Ben shrugged, and they entered the lift. The movement made him feel suddenly sick, however, and the nausea continued even after they'd got out again. Only vaguely noticing that they were on an observation level, able to look down into several large rooms on either side, Ben tried to concentrate on not throwing up. His concentration didn't last long.
"Uh--" he began, trying to remember to say Qui-Gon instead of 'hey Jedi', but then he wasn't able to say anything at all. When he'd finished vomiting, he sagged against the waist-high wall, putting out a hand for support and breathing hard.
"You should have told me you felt sick," said Qui-Gon.
"It came on so fast," Ben murmured.
"Do you feel better now?"
He shook his head.
"We'd better go home then."
They made it just in time. As soon as the door whooshed open, Ben rushed for the refresher and barely managed to throw up into the toilet instead of all over the floor. Sweating, but cold, he rinsed his mouth out with water, then moved weakly to his bedroom and sat down, crossing his arms over his stomach. It was cloudy outside, but the window seemed awfully bright to him, and after a moment, he stood up and pulled the shade. The sound echoed loudly in his ears and made him wince.
After he'd been sick the third time, Ben returned to the bedroom and weakly stripped off his clothes, then got into bed. His body tingled unpleasantly all over and the cover of the duvet felt rough against his skin, almost scratchy, in a way he'd never noticed before. He thought back yearningly to the sofa-bed where he'd woken up in the Maethum house. It had felt smooth and somehow soothing, and he wished he were there now, with Rixi making him a pot of tea and then drinking it all herself, and Uncle Fulk checking him over, and Aunt Bedec fussing over him a little. Tears came to his eyes as he realised how much he missed them all.
When the door swished open to admit Qui-Gon, Ben moaned in protest at the way the sound went right through his head. The Jedi switched on the light, and it was like being caught in the full brilliance of the sun.
"Shut it off," Ben complained, covering his head with the duvet.
"Here's a bucket, and a glass of water," Qui-Gon told him, putting both objects in easily accessible places.
"Not so loud, please, not so loud," Ben begged.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think I was speaking loudly," Qui-Gon said, lowering his voice a notch.
"It hurts my ears. And shut off the light, it's much too bright."
"All right. I'll check back on you later." The Jedi went out and left him in quiet darkness.
"Hello, Obi-Wan, how are you feeling?" An-Paj asked.
"I should have let the Getters execute me," Ben groaned from under the duvet. "Quick and easy death. Not like this."
"I don't think you're going to die." Ignoring the boy's moan of dismay, the Healer continued, "Let me take your temperature."
Ben cried out and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, covering them with his hands as An-Paj tugged the covers away from his head. When the Healer took hold of his ear and inserted the thermometer into it, he protested again.
"Very slight fever," An-Paj reported.
"Sensitivity to light and sound," Dr. Ra-sek-mun's voice was penetratingly loud. "That's a side effect I haven't seen before."
"And vomiting every twenty to thirty minutes?"
"Well, there was a report of nausea, but as far as I remember, no actual vomiting, no."
"How long did you say the side effects lasted?"
"Most of them disappeared within three days."
"According to Master Jinn, he's been vomiting all day. I don't want him to get dehydrated, and it's obvious that he can't keep anything down. An IV shouldn't affect the treatment at all, Dr. Ra-sek-mun?"
"Standard saline solution would not interfere with the drug's effects, and I agree, we should avoid anything close to dehydration."
"Obi-Wan, I'm going to put an IV in your arm and give you fluids the rest of the night, all right?"
Ben was sick again, and when he'd finished, he had to take a few swallows of water before he was able to ask, "What's an IV?"
"It means intravenous. I'm going to put a needle in the vein of your arm so that the fluid can go directly to your bloodstream. I'll just run down to the infirmary and get what I need, all right? You can stay here in your familiar surroundings."
"Yeah." Ben lay back and arranged his arm against his eyes to shut out the glare in the room. The constant barrage of vomiting exhausted him, and he had no energy to do anything except rest between bouts.
"Are you remembering anything at all?" Dr. Ra-sek-mun asked.
"No," Ben sighed.
"To-morrow you will."
Then there was silence until An-Paj came back. Carefully shielding his eyes, Ben opened one and squinted up to see him positioning a long pole on a wheeled base next to the bucket. A soft bag of fluid hung from a hook on the top of the pole, and a long tube led down from the bag, through an electronic control box, and came out the bottom.
"Give me your arm, please. This won't hurt too much more than an injection." Angling the chair from the desk, An-Paj sat down and took Ben's left arm, then reached over and picked up a small bottle from the tray. He sprayed something on Ben's wrist, and the boy jumped in surprise.
"Oww, that's cold!" Ben protested.
An-Paj looked at the bottle and raised an eyebrow, then replaced it in the tray. "All right, here comes the worst part. You won't feel it once it's in, though, trust me."
Ben watched warily as the Healer broke open a sealed package, removed the protective cover, then slid the needle into his vein. He couldn't help giving a high, shrill shout of pain and tried to jerk away as it penetrated his skin, feeling like a fiery piece of metal boring straight through to the bone.
"Hold still!" An-Paj thundered, gripping his arm even tighter and jamming the needle in even further.
"Get it out! It hurts, get it out!" Ben demanded, trying to sit up and push the Healer away. An-Paj caught his wrist with his free hand and held him fast. "I could use some help, Dr. Ra-sek-mun."
Qui-Gon appeared in the doorway as the Getter doctor came forwards to tape the instrument of torture firmly in place.
"What are you doing to him?" he demanded, his voice clearly audible above Ben's screeches of protest.
"We are putting an IV in to keep him from becoming dehydrated," An-Paj reported through clenched teeth. "It seems the drug has made him extremely sensitive to pain."
"It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!" Ben shouted, then swallowed once and vomited suddenly. It wasn't very much, but it went all down his arm and across An-Paj's hand.
"Ugh," said the Healer. "Qui-Gon, bring us a wet cloth, will you? Dr. Ra-sek-mun, is it safe to let go of him yet?"
"Get it out!" Ben demanded hoarsely. "Get it out!"
"I haven't quite finished, no," Dr. Ra-sek-mun reported.
Recovering slightly, Ben began to struggle again. An-Paj thrust him back against the bed in a sudden, unexpectedly violent movement, and when Ben met his eyes with a surprised look, the Healer stared directly at him and said, "Sleep now."
Thump-slap. Thump-slap. Thump-slap.
Qui-Gon opened his eyes, wondering vaguely why he hadn't been informed that major construction work was going to take place near the apartment, then realised with a start that the sounds were coming from the living room. Calling his light saber to his hand was a reflex reaction, and then he was on his feet and opening the door. Halfway through it, he stopped in amazement. "Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan was bouncing on the couch. At the sound of Qui-Gon's voice, he stopped briefly to announce, "Look, I can touch the ceiling!"
He jumped up and hit his hand against the ceiling again, grinning with the achievement, then seemed to think of something else. "Watch this!"
From the couch he leaped over the table to land in one of the easy chairs, but it tipped over under his weight and momentum, and Obi-Wan crashed to the floor, banging his head against the wall with a solid thwack.
"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon ran to him. Obi-Wan had already burst into tears, holding his head and struggling to sit up, and when Qui-Gon got closer, he got shakily to his feet and threw both arms around the Jedi Master.
"I hit my head!" Obi-Wan bawled, burying his face in Qui-Gon's shoulder and shaking with sobs.
Utterly astounded, it took a moment for Qui-Gon realise what was going on, and then he remembered. Dr. Ra-sek-mun had mentioned something about the patients reliving certain memories as though they were happening all over again. He'd simply never thought about the fact that Obi-Wan would recall something as trivial as jumping on the furniture when he was younger. Unsure of the best way to react, he hesitantly returned the hug, then began to rub Obi-Wan's back with one hand. "Shhh, shhh, it's all right, Obi-Wan, it's all right."
"It hurts!" Obi-Wan sobbed.
"I know." Qui-Gon could feel the pain through their bond, but he was pleased nonetheless that Obi-Wan seemed to be feeling better in general to-day. After An-Paj had used the Force on him yesterday afternoon, he'd slept soundly through the night without throwing up once. "You'll be all right. I'll just call An-Paj and have him check you over."
He let go of Obi-Wan and guided the boy to the couch, then sat him down and went over to the comm unit. When he'd finished speaking to the Healer, he turned around to see Obi-Wan looking at him with a very confused look on his face, one hand gingerly probing the swollen part above his ear.
"It was a long time ago," he said, sounding mystified, "but it still hurts..."
"What was a long time ago?"
"I was jumping on the bed...in the creche...and I fell off, I think."
"You were reliving a memory just now," Qui-Gon nodded.
"It seemed so real."
"It was real. You were jumping on the couch, and then you tried to jump into that chair, and you fell over and banged your head."
"Oh." Obi-Wan thought about this for a moment, then said, "But I don't remember jumping on the couch, I remember jumping on the bed."
"Well, your memory is starting to come back. Dr. Ra-sek-mun said it might be like this. How do you feel otherwise?" Qui-Gon looked at Obi-Wan's wrist as the boy wiped his fingers across his cheeks and realised that Obi-Wan must have separated the IV tube from the needle in his arm. There were a few reddish-brown spots of blood on the otherwise white tape.
"I don't feel sick anymore. It must have worn off over night. "Obi-Wan covered that arm with his other one, trying too hard to act casual about it.
"He mind-tricked me into falling asleep, didn't he?"
"Yes," Qui-Gon admitted, and steeled himself for a tirade about the stinking filthy Jedi and their stinking filthy mind tricks. To his surprise, Obi-Wan said nothing, merely glanced down at the floor, and Qui-Gon could sense that he actually felt relieved and grateful for the respite he'd been given from the pain and nausea.
An-Paj and Dr. Ra-sek-mun arrived a few minutes later, and both of them insisted on having a look at Obi-Wan's head.
"No concussion, just a nasty bruise," said An-Paj at length.
"I don't think any of my other patients relived jumping on the couch," Dr. Ra-sek-mun smiled, obviously amused at the idea. Obi-Wan scowled at him.
"It could have been worse for you, Qui-Gon," An-Paj remarked.
"My daughter jumped on me this morning while I was still asleep. If he'd done the same to you, I'd be picking your ribs out of your lungs right now."
Qui-Gon felt tempted to scowl as well, but settled for a hard look instead as the Healer grinned.
"Why don't we give you the second dose while we're here, Obi-Wan?" Dr. Ra-sek-mun said, reaching for his little case.
"I hope it doesn't make me sick again," Obi-Wan murmured, extending his wrist with the face of a man going to his own execution.
"Stop, wait," said An-Paj. "I'm going to put a new IV in, just in case it does. Let me do that before we start with the medication."
Obi-Wan did not complain as the Healer untaped the needle and removed it gently from the vein, then broke open a new one and inserted it in his other arm. Stoppering the outside end and covering it with a protective bandage of gauze and tape, he said, "There. Now we won't have to have a repeat of yesterday."
"It really did hurt," Obi-Wan explained, following An-Paj with his eyes even as Dr. Ra-sek-mun administered the cylinder.
"I know," An-Paj assured him, and then they both left. After several minutes of waiting in silence, Qui-Gon finally asked, "Do you feel anything yet?"
"I feel really hungry."
Qui-Gon smiled. He knew that tone of voice, having heard it often enough on missions. Things were definitely getting better. He was already looking forward to having the old Obi-Wan back again.
"Why don't you get dressed and we'll eat breakfast in the cafeteria?" he suggested.
Obi-Wan made a face, and Qui-Gon added, "You're supposed to wander around the Temple to places where you felt comfortable and happy. Anyway, I don't think I have any bread left."
"Never mind," said Obi-Wan suddenly. "I think--I--"
He stood up and raced for the refresher, and Qui-Gon sighed in sympathy. When his apprentice emerged again, he handed him a glass of water from the kitchen. "Try to drink some of it. It's easier to throw up if you have something inside that can come out."
"I know," whispered Obi-Wan, squinting as he took a few swallows. "I should have eaten before I let them give me the next injection."
Then he dragged himself into the bedroom and the door whooshed shut behind him.
Ben lay in bed with the duvet pulled over his head in a desperate attempt to block both light and sound. His senses were so enhanced that everything hurt. Because the sun was shining directly at his window at this hour of the afternoon, the shade seemed woefully inadequate. The sheets felt scratchy and the smell of his own vomit in the room was overpowering. No matter how many times Qui-Gon emptied the bucket and cleaned it out, the stench remained, all but gagging him. Even the water tasted bad, and he grimaced every time he rinsed his mouth out with it.
Lifting the covers just enough so that he could glance out and still keep his eyes shielded, Ben saw Rixi sitting at his desk, and despite his miserable condition, he smiled. "Rixi!"
"Are you starting to remember anything yet?" Rixi picked up one of the model fighters that Ben had found on one of the upper shelves and left on his desk, and turned it over and over in her hands.
"A little bit," Ben replied. "I remember jumping on the beds in the creche."
"What's a creche?"
"Uh--where the little children live in the Temple. "Ben scratched at the tape on his wrist. An-Paj had come by earlier and started up the IV again, and the whole thing itched almost unbearably.
"What's this?" Rixi indicated the model.
"It's a Verpine fighter. I made it myself when I was about twelve. I used to have them flying around under the ceiling, but I got too old for them and put them away." Ben blinked, surprised at what he'd just said.
"What's a Verpine?"
"I don't know." The flash of memory was over.
"Do the lights on this thing work?"
"They used to, I think," Ben replied, scratching again. It didn't help.
Rixi put the model down and picked up the purple and blue pullover. "Did you like this?"
"I wear it all the time, that's how much I love it. And I always think of you."
Rixi giggled. "You're not wearing it now, though."
"It's too hot in bed." Ben stopped trying to scratch through the tape and began to pick at it instead. It hurt, but the pain was easier to bear than the itch.
"You look really awful. "Holding the pullover on her lap, Rixi twisted her braid around her finger as she looked at him.
"I feel really awful."
"Shall I make you some tea?"
"Yeah, that'd be nice."
Rixi tucked the pullover under the covers as she went by, and Ben hugged it close to his chin even though it felt even scratchier than the duvet. He had to throw up again just then, and after he'd finished, he lay back and arranged the covers across his face again. A moment later, the door opened and he heard Qui-Gon came in.
"You're not vomiting as much to-day as you were yesterday," he remarked as he reached for the bucket. "Shall I bring you some more water?"
Ben winced at the sound of his voice. "Has Rixi finished with the tea yet?"
"Rixi was going to make some tea."
"Obi-Wan, you know that Rixi is still on Theosne," said Qui-Gon gently.
"No, she was here, she was right here. She just went out to make some tea," Ben explained.
"It was a hallucination, Obi-Wan. I'm sorry."
"No, it was real. Look, she handed my pullover to me."
Qui-Gon looked pityingly at him." Obi-Wan, you probably reached out and got it yourself. Rixi was not here. Do you want some tea? I'll make you some."
"Yeah." After a moment of consideration, Ben recognised that Qui-Gon had to be telling the truth. Rixi would not have felt so at home here among the Jedi. Her voice hadn't hurt his ears the way Qui-Gon's did at the moment, and he didn't remember hearing the door slide open to announce either her arrival or her departure. As the realisation set in, he found that he was missing her even more than before.
"Stop picking at that. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Ben wondered how Qui-Gon knew that he was scratching at the tape when both his hands were under the covers, and scratched even harder for a moment in protest, then stopped when the pain became too much to bear.
With a sigh, Qui-Gon lay down on his bed and closed his eyes. It had not been a particularly strenuous day, but the weeks of worry and especially the last days of always being on his guard around Obi-Wan were starting to take their toll on him. He felt certain that he could sleep deeply to-night for the first time since his apprentice had disappeared. Obi-Wan was here, he was safe, and above all, there was no longer any danger of him trying to run away in the night. Through their bond, Qui-Gon had noticed the change in Obi-Wan; the gradual ebbing away of fear and wariness, the increasing acceptance of his situation, a certain amount of excitement about the returning memories, and a distinct yearning for more.
His apprentice was making excellent progress. The side-effects of the drug had worn off in the late afternoon, and he'd allowed Qui-Gon to convince him to go to the cafeteria for supper, instead of sneaking out of his room for bread and jam when he thought Qui-Gon wasn't looking. The meal had passed without incident, and it was only afterwards that they'd run into Garen Muln, another one of Obi-Wan's friends. Obi-Wan had suddenly reached out and shoved the young man to the floor, then accused him of hiding his stuffed Wookiee. He'd even stuck his thumb in his mouth as he stood there waiting for the return of the prized toy. While Garen had struggled to control a fit of the giggles, Qui-Gon had stepped in and quickly invited Obi-Wan to come and have an ice cream with him "while Garen is finding your Wookiee." Obi-Wan had come back to the present time halfway through his second ice, and then Qui-Gon had suggested a walk in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. They'd often gone there to meditate together in the past, and Obi-Wan had frequently met with friends by one of the larger waterfalls. Approaching it that evening, Obi-Wan had nodded excitedly, and it was obvious that he remembered the place. He hadn't said much to Qui-Gon, as he was still keeping him somewhat at a distance, but the feelings had come unfiltered through the bond and Qui-Gon had been very pleased.
He was tired now, ready to sleep, but just as he was dozing off, the door slid open and his apprentice came in. Propping himself up on one elbow, Qui-Gon asked, "Obi-Wan?"
The boy laid a hand on his forehead, looking concerned, and seemed to be listening to something. Then, quite abruptly, he turned and went out. Getting up, Qui-Gon followed him, surprised to see him seated at the comm unit talking to a Healer apprentice.
"My master is really sick," he was saying urgently. "He's burning with fever and he sort of rattles when he breathes."
I do what? Qui-Gon wondered, automatically checking his own temperature. He felt perfectly normal.
"What's his name? Where are you located?" the young girl asked.
"Master Qui-Gon Jinn," Obi-Wan said, then gave the address of their apartment. "Please hurry! We've just got back from a mission, and he's already been sick for a few days, but it's suddenly got worse!"
With a deep intake of breath, Qui-Gon realised that Obi-Wan was referring to the time they'd gone to an Outer Rim planet and he'd come back with a fully developed case of Rodian flu. He vaguely remembered staggering from the ship to their apartment, and then he'd woken up in the infirmary three days later with no idea how he'd got there. Now he knew--but that had been years ago! Obi-Wan was obviously reliving those days of worry and uncertainty.
Leaning into the picture, he said, "It's all right, I'm not sick. My Padawan is hallucinating."
"Master!" Obi-Wan cried. "You shouldn't be up! You're sick! Sit down before you collapse!"
He sat up and practically pushed Qui-Gon into the seat, hovering anxiously at his side.
"I'm fine. Really, I'm fine. Don't send anybody over," Qui-Gon told the girl. She looked uncertainly from him to Obi-Wan, obviously debating which one she should believe.
"No, you're hallucinating, master," Obi-Wan protested, then turned his attention to the girl. "Please! You can see he's delirious! He's burning up and he can hardly breathe!"
"I'm fine. Believe me, I am fine," Qui-Gon insisted. "Don't send anybody over. Get in touch with An-Paj and he will tell you that Obi-Wan is being treated with a drug that can cause hallucinations."
"Master An-Paj has already left for the evening," the girl reported, still looking uncertain.
"He's got a comlink, hasn't he? Contact him!" Qui-Gon cut the connection abruptly, then stood up and placed both hands on Obi-Wan's shoulders. "Obi-Wan, calm down. I'm fine. I did have the Rodian flu, but that was three years ago, and I lived through it. It's over now. You are remembering something that happened three years ago."
"No, you're sick, you're delirious, you need to be in bed," Obi-Wan repeated.
"Look, I'll sit on the couch, all right?" He sat down and watched with a mixture of amusement and consternation as Obi-Wan placed a cushion at one end and patted it invitingly, a desperate, worried look on his face. After a moment, he decided it wouldn't hurt to go along with his apprentice, and stretched out, closing his eyes. Obi-Wan knelt down in front of him almost instantly and took Qui-Gon's hand in both of his.
"Don't die on me, master! Please don't die on me!"
"I'm not going to die, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon murmured. He couldn't help thinking how nice it was to hear these heartfelt pleas in comparison to the hate-filled cry of "You're nothing but a stinking filthy Jedi and I do not want to be around you any longer!"
A moment later, he felt a stirring in the Force around him, and then a bolt of pure healing energy shot into him. His eyes snapped open in alarm as he realised it was coming from Obi-Wan.
"Padawan, no! Don't do that. You need your strength for yourself."
"I'm not going to let you die, master," Obi-Wan repeated stubbornly. "Just hang on until the Healers get here."
"Stop it, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon sharply. When was this memory going to end? Surely it had been at least ten minutes already? It should be over by now, and Obi-Wan should be reverting back to the present at any second, and the sooner the better. Qui-Gon was convinced that he shouldn't be exerting himself like that; it would negatively affect his own recovery. "I am not dying."
They were still arguing when the door buzzer sounded, and then Obi-Wan leaped up and raced to open it. An-Paj came in and listened briefly to Obi-Wan's frantic explanation, which came to an abrupt end halfway through the litany of symptoms. Giving the boy a friendly clap on the shoulder, An-Paj came over and stared down at Qui-Gon with a slowly widening grin on his face. "Yes, Qui-Gon, I can see that you're only a step away from becoming one with the Force."
"I was playing along," Qui-Gon explained, feeling faintly sheepish as he sat up. "I didn't know what else to do."
"Well, if the Rodian flu doesn't kill you, Number Six definitely will."
"I really do apologise," Qui-Gon murmured.
"What's Number Six?" Obi-Wan asked. The intense worry had faded from his face and from their bond, and Qui-Gon felt relieved that the memory/hallucination had stopped at last.
"My youngest wife," An-Paj explained.
Obi-Wan blushed bright red and he began to back away towards his bedroom. "I'm sorry. I really thought he was--it was so real, and now it's not!"
"Three years ago, it was real," Qui-Gon said gently. "Three years ago, you kept me alive until the Healers came, and I never knew--until now. You have my gratitude, Padawan."
Obi-Wan looked at him with that bewildered expression on his face and seemed to be about to say something, but couldn't decide what. Through their bond, Qui-Gon could feel conflicting emotions, and all of them were shrouded in sheer confusion. He kept staring at Qui-Gon as though he expected something that was not forthcoming, and after a moment, Qui-Gon asked, "What is it, Obi-Wan?"
"I--I--That's the only memory I have of you," Obi-Wan stammered, searching for words to define his feelings.
"The rest will come, Obi-Wan. Don't be impatient. Just wait."
"No, but--when I remember you, I remember that--that I really lo--cared about you and I was so worried that I would have done anything to help--and--and when I think of you now, I--I--"
"You're scared of me and you hate me," Qui-Gon stated calmly.
"Yes. No. I don't know." Obi-Wan bit his lip and looked away. "I don't know what I feel anymore--it's all so confusing!"
"It's all right, Obi-Wan, I understand," said Qui-Gon. "You can only judge according to what you've experienced, and unfortunately, it wasn't very positive at the beginning. Now you're starting to remember other things, and you see that there's a difference that you're not yet able to comprehend. But trust me, you will remember more and more and very soon, I hope, you'll understand that I did what I did because I love you. Remember what I told you about the time you broke your arm and I had to set it. If you hadn't remembered breaking it, you would have thought I was torturing you, not trying to help. It's the same principle here. I'm willing to give you the time that you need to discover these things for yourself. Be patient and grant yourself that time, too."
Obi-Wan nodded reluctantly, then yawned all at once.
"It's been a long, exciting day," said An-Paj, "and this Healer prescribes a good night's sleep for both of you. I'll see you in the morning--after breakfast. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to see my bed from the inside as well."
Knocking on Obi-Wan's door the next morning, Qui-Gon heard the usual lack of response, so he pressed the switch to open the door. "Obi-Wan?"
The room was empty. Automatically checking it again, and then heading for the kitchen, which was also empty, Qui-Gon felt himself beginning to get angry, both at Obi-Wan and at himself. His apprentice had betrayed him--again. He'd waited until the first opportune moment and then run off! If only Qui-Gon had not been so quick to replace his trust in him. If only he'd slept on the sofa in front of the door again last night. If only--
A hasty communication with the Jedi on duty at the hanger deck relieved some of his anxiety. No ships had taken off in the night at all, either with or without permission, and Obi-Wan had not been seen in the area. At least he hadn't tried to escape the planet, Qui-Gon thought to himself. Yet. But where was he? Shutting his eyes briefly, Qui-Gon reached out with the Force, letting it guide his footsteps as he walked out of their apartment and down the corridor. His apprentice was still in the Temple--that was good. He had not yet remembered how to shield his thoughts--that was even better. And he was radiating satisfaction of a kind that bordered on actual glee.
Qui-Gon arrived in the cafeteria only minutes later, but no matter how many times he glanced around, he was unable to spot his Padawan. It should have been easy enough to pick him out even if he had been wearing Jedi clothing instead of that purple pullover that he seemed so attached to, but although there were only a few people scattered around the tables, none of them was Obi-Wan.
"Master Jinn!" called out a female voice. "He's over here!"
It was An-Hwaet. Qui-Gon had forgotten that she worked in the cafeteria, as she usually stayed in the back, coming out only occasionally to add something to the buffet and take the empty serving dishes away. Now she was motioning him over to the freezer section.
"I just called your apartment, but there was no answer," she said. "Thank the Force I heard you coming, otherwise I would have notified the Healers."
What she meant was, she'd heard Qui-Gon's frantic thoughts. The natives of the planet Ossa were telepathic, an ability that helped make An-Paj an excellent healer, as he could 'feel' where his patients were hurt or sick and listen to what they were not saying. It was slightly unnerving, however, in normal conversation.
"Is he all right?" Qui-Gon asked, even more worried now.
An-Hwaet grinned. "Oh, he's not suffering, if that's what you mean, but see for yourself."
Obi-Wan was sitting on the floor, half hidden at the side of the freezer, happily finishing up an ice cream on a stick. Around him were three--no, four--empty wrappers, and he grinned happily up at Qui-Gon, a blue smear all around his mouth.
"I like ice!" he declared.
Qui-Gon felt his anger fade abruptly to something close to pity.
"I just came out and saw him sitting here with a whole handful of those things, and thought I'd better get in touch with you. His thoughts are so different. So...childlike, somehow. I thought something must be wrong."
"It's the amnesia treatment," Qui-Gon explained as he extended one hand. "Come on, Obi-Wan, get up."
He hauled his Padawan to his feet, then looked around for something to wipe his face with. Anticipating the need, An-Hwaet handed him a paper napkin, and he cleaned the ice cream off with a few well-placed swipes.
"It makes him relive some of his memories as though they were happening all over again," Qui-Gon continued as he worked. He'd just finished when Obi-Wan suddenly stepped backwards, his expression changing to a glare of disgust.
"What are you doing?" Obi-Wan demanded.
"You had ice cream all over your mouth," Qui-Gon explained.
"And all down that beautiful pullover," An-Hwaet added. "That's going to have to be washed."
"No..."Obi-Wan looked down at the blue, pink, and brown smears. Qui-Gon wondered if the sound of dismay was because of the mess, or because he would now have to take the pullover off and put on Jedi clothing.
"Would you mind picking up the wrappers and putting them in the garbage can?" An-Hwaet indicated the debris, which Obi-Wan regarded with a confused look on his face before gathering it up and throwing it away.
When his Padawan had finished the simple task, Qui-Gon asked,"Have you had anything else for breakfast?"
Obi-Wan shook his head.
"I suppose it's too late now, but you can sit with me while I eat, then."
But to his surprise, Obi-Wan grabbed a tray as well, and began to pick out a moderate selection of breakfast food.
"You just had four ice creams," Qui-Gon reminded him.
"That was years ago!"
Qui-Gon decided to let it pass. After they'd finished eating, he led his apprentice back to the apartment and in answer to the boy's quizzical look, he said, "We've got time for you to change before we go to the infirmary."
"I'll just wipe it off," Obi-Wan said, making for the refresher, but Qui-Gon caught his arm. "You've been wearing that pullover for more than a week now. It is filthy and it has to be washed. Take it off."
He could almost hear Obi-Wan wondering what would happen if he resisted, trying to calculate whether he should take the risk, and added, "The droids will take it down to the laundry and have it back by this afternoon, and then you can wear it for another week, if you insist. But you will take it off and let it be cleaned first."
"Now you look like a Jedi," said Rixi as Ben finished with the sash and reached for the utility belt. She was sitting on the bed, twisting her hair as usual. "Except all the other Jedi wear light sabers. Do you have a light saber?"
"I built one myself," Ben replied, remembering. He looked at the wall above his bed, expecting to see it hanging there, but the hook was empty.
"You built one yourself? What colour was it?"
"Blue," he replied. He thought back to the night of the kidnapping and how the Jedi had come across the lawn as they were trying to get over the wall, his light saber glowing green in the darkness. Every Jedi had a different coloured blade.
"Obi-Wan, are you coming?" Qui-Gon called through the door.
"Obi-Wan!" Rixi giggled. "It still sounds funny!"
"I didn't laugh at the name Rixiar Maethum!" Ben retorted.
"Sorry." Rixi covered her mouth with her hand, but her eyes still twinkled. "Are you getting used to hearing it at all yet?"
"Yeah, a little bit. But it still doesn't seem like my name. "He looked down at his Jedi clothes again. He grudgingly had to admit that they were comfortable and even starting to seem a little familiar now, but they still made him feel more like Obi-Wan and less like Ben. He felt as though he was being stripped of his identity without having much of anything yet to put in its place.
"You'll always be Ben to me."
"Thanks," Ben smiled, grateful for her support. "And even if I'm not wearing the pullover, I'm always thinking of you."
Rixi smiled back, but her answer was pre-empted by another call from Qui-Gon.
"I'd better go, before he drags me out," Ben said.
Coming out, he almost ran into Qui-Gon, who had apparently been about to come in. The tall Jedi stepped back and looked him over, nodding approvingly, but all he said was, "Put the pullover in the dirty clothes hamper in the refresher so that the droids will find it, and then we'll go down to the infirmary."
On the way, Ben asked, "Qui-Gon, what happened to my lightsaber?"
"You...left it behind when you disappeared from Mayor Ech-to-tha's estate. I brought it back with the rest of your things."
"Where is it now?"
"I've got it safe."
"Can I have it back?"
"Because I am afraid that you would hurt yourself or others with it during one of your hallucinations."
"What do you remember about your light saber?" Qui-Gon asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"It was blue. I made it myself."
Ben struggled to remember, then shook his head in defeat.
"It's all right, Obi-Wan. I'm very happy that you remember that much, and that you want it back. You're starting to become a Jedi again."
The words were obviously meant as a compliment, but Ben felt them like a slap in the face.
"Keep it," he snapped.
"Hello," said An-Paj. "Oh, it's Obi-Wan. I didn't recognise you without that purple pullover."
"You really shouldn't pick at this, you know," An-Paj said, taking up the scissors and cutting through what was left of the tape that now barely held the IV in place in Obi-Wan's arm.
"It really itches," Obi-Wan answered defensively. "Not all the time, not right now, just when that drug is affecting me."
"I can well imagine," An-Paj replied, sliding the needle out. "Were you able to keep anything down yesterday or to-day?"
"Yes, I ate supper, and breakfast," Obi-Wan reported.
"And four ice creams this morning," Qui-Gon added.
"Four ice creams? Then we definitely don't need a new one. The vomiting seems to last about six to eight hours, and if you're able to eat and drink normally after that, you're in no danger of dehydrating."
"Still, better to be safe than dying," An-Paj smiled.
"How are the memories coming along?" asked Dr. Ra-sek-mun.
"They're coming," Obi-Wan replied shortly, not looking at the Get-tro-wen.
Qui-Gon reported," He's relived several memories, and had a few hallucinations. It all seems to be coming back at random, as you predicted."
"Ah. Then he's right on the mark. Ready for the next injection, Obi-Wan?"
Still staring in the opposite direction, Obi-Wan extended his arm, and the doctor pressed the cylinder against it.
"Obi-Wan, you are being discourteous when you do not look at him," Qui-Gon admonished him gently." The Jedi revere life in all its forms."
Obi-Wan raised his eyes to Dr. Ra-sek-mun and said, quite provocatively, "I wish everybody in the galaxy felt that way."
"So do I," replied Dr. Ra-sek-mun, regarding him steadily in return.
"We are not responsible for the actions of others," said Qui-Gon." We are only responsible for our own. Dr. Ra-sek-mun is not your enemy. He did not torture you. You have no cause to treat him as though he did."
"I know," Obi-Wan answered reluctantly, glancing away at last." But--"
"He still looks like a Getter!" He hung his head. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I remember what it's like to be a Jedi, and--and revere life in all its forms, but most of the time, I don't, and even when I do, it all seems so far away and long ago, and the memories about the Getters are so new, and--"
An-Paj laid a friendly hand on the boy's shoulder. "It's very confusing, isn't it?"
"You still need time to remember everything, and you'll probably need even more time to come to terms with what's happened. It's all right, Obi-Wan. Don't worry about us. We understand. Now, why don't you go wander around the Temple a little bit and see what else you can remember. Take your time and let it come to you."
Obi-Wan looked towards the door, and An-Paj smiled. "Go on, then."
Obviously relieved, Obi-Wan jumped down from the table and went out, and Qui-Gon scrambled to catch up with him. He'd already gone around the first corner, and when Qui-Gon followed, Obi-Wan suddenly jumped out at him and yelled "Boo!"
It was so unexpected that Qui-Gon couldn't help being startled, and Obi-Wan saw it. His eyes lit up and he asked, "Did I scare you? Did I?"
"Yes, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon had to admit truthfully. "You scared me."
"I scared one of the masters," Obi-Wan began to chant, dancing triumphantly around in the hall. "I scared one of the masters!"
One of the masters? Qui-Gon thought. Then he realised that Obi-Wan was probably reliving a time when he'd never even heard of Qui-Gon, let alone met him, and was simply enjoying the fact that he'd managed to startle one of the usually unflappable masters. Recognising that Obi-Wan must have been quite a terror in his childhood, he found himself smiling.
Obi-Wan stopped leaping about and looked up at him. "Are you laughing at me?"
"No, Obi-Wan, I was just wishing I'd known you when you were younger. It might have convinced me to take you as my Padawan earlier than I did."
"You didn't know me when I was young? When did we meet?"
"When you were twelve, just about to turn thirteen."
"Oh." Absorbing this information, Obi-Wan looked away, then headed for the lift in silence.
It was almost lunchtime when Obi-Wan suddenly emerged from his bedroom. He stopped in front of the couch where Qui-Gon was reading and said simply, "I accept, Master, Qui-Gon Jinn."
"Accept what?" Qui-Gon asked, reaching out through the bond. He could feel the warmth of the Force radiating from Obi-Wan, but it gave him absolutely no clue as to what the boy was talking about.
Obi-Wan's happy face faded slightly as he tried again. "I would be honoured to be your Padawan. Master."
"Oh!" Qui-Gon struggled to remember that fateful day on Bandomeer when the young Obi-Wan Kenobi had offered to blow himself up to give Qui-Gon a chance to escape the mine that they had both been trapped in, and save the rest of the planet. It was then that he'd decided to take the boy as his Padawan, after having rejected him several times before. What had he said next? Did he have to repeat it exactly? It had been more than five years ago, after all. Would a different answer give Obi-Wan two sets of memories, or would he even hear the present-day Qui-Gon? He searched for words, and found with surprise that they came easily to him. "You would not have succeeded with your plan. I would have stopped you from dying for me."
Serenely, exactly as he had said it then, Obi-Wan stated, "You would not have been able to, Master."
Qui-Gon smiled, enjoying the moment of silence that followed as the Force pulsed strongly between them. It was so good to feel that positive side of Obi-Wan again, instead of mistrust, anger, hate, and wariness, or just plain having his apprentice ignore him. Eventually it faded, however, and Obi-Wan began to squint, turning away from the light of the windows. Without a further word, he turned and headed hastily for the refresher, and Qui-Gon could hear him being sick again. He came out with his hands shielding his eyes, and stumbled back to his bedroom.
Ben lay in bed, remembering. He'd been so happy when Qui-Gon had finally accepted him as his Padawan. There'd been times during the journey from Bandomeer to Phindar when he'd just had to grin to himself because it had seemed so incredible and yet it was true. He'd felt an overwhelming sense of home through the Force. He wished he felt that now. Home. He could remember it so clearly, and yet things still didn't feel like home to him here.
Other memories had come to him during the day, too, all of them having something to do with Qui-Gon. They were all so different, and yet they all had something in common. He wasn't sure how to define it. Happiness? Trust? A sense of family? That sense of home he'd felt before? Those feelings were all part of it somehow, and yet none of them exclusively. It was hard for him to think coherently when he felt so sick. Every time he got close to a conclusion, he had to lean over and throw up, or a distant sound, magnified to the point of pain, distracted him.
"I have been searching for you, too, Padawan. I am glad to have found you."
There it was again. Loving words. Acceptance. Home. The memory was so strong that he actually smiled, and then his smile faded when he realised he was yearning to experience that feeling again. That sense of belonging, of friendship, of--love. He could feel the lack of it in his life, and yet he found himself reluctant to take that last, small step of trusting Qui-Gon and welcoming him back into his life. No. He couldn't. Not just yet. He wasn't sure what he was waiting for. More memories perhaps? He just knew he wasn't ready yet.
He was still trying to get used to the name Obi-Wan.
When the side effects of the drug had worn off, and they had eaten supper, Obi-Wan had asked to go down to the training rooms. Pleasantly surprised that Obi-Wan had actually requested something, instead of reluctantly going along with Qui-Gon's suggestions, Qui-Gon had agreed, and they had walked down to the observation level again.
"I remember some of that," said Obi-Wan, leaning over the wall and watching a Master and an older Padawan sparring together. "Sometimes, when I fought, I used to imagine I was battling a Togorian pirate, or worse. And winning, of course."
Pausing, Obi-Wan gave him a quick sideways look, then added, "I remember even imagining that I was winning against you."
"Am I worse than a Togorian space pirate?" Qui-Gon asked, amused.
"It was just a daydream," Obi-Wan shrugged. He turned away, obviously a little embarrassed, and crossed the walkway to look down on another room. This was the largest one, where the initiates and Padawan learned or perfected tumbling skills. There was a multitude of thick mats covering the floor, and thicker ones piled in strategic places or leaning against the side walls. Bricks jutted out of the far wall to provide hand- and footholds for climbing, and there were also small ledges set there, seemingly at random, the lowest one about four meters above the floor, the highest a good twelve. Obi-Wan had always loved practising flips here, and Force-assisted jumps, and anything else that made him feel like he was flying.
"Master, may I show you something?" Obi-Wan asked suddenly.
Alerted to the shift in memories by the difference of the emotions that came through their bond, Qui-Gon turned to ask what, but Obi-Wan had already hopped up to the top of the wall and jumped down into the room before he could speak. Two of the girls who were working out directly below had to move aside to make room for him, and Qui-Gon heard one of them say, "It's raining men!"
"It's Obi-Wan," said the other in surprise, and Qui-Gon realised for the first time that it was Obi-Wan's Mon Calimari friend Bant.
Obi-Wan ignored her, or perhaps he didn't hear. Instead, he glanced up to Qui-Gon, his eyes shining with anticipation. "I've been practising in secret! Watch!"
He took a little run across the mats, then jumped, and it was only in that instant that Qui-Gon realised he was headed for the highest ledge, the one just under the ceiling. His heart seemed to stop for a moment as Obi-Wan shot up, and then it thudded twice as hard in his chest when Obi-Wan landed as lightly as any master and turned around to grin at him. "Surprise! I did it!"
"Congratulations, Padawan!" Qui-Gon called out, just as he had done when Obi-Wan had first shown him his newly-acquired skill. How old had he been then? Fourteen? Fifteen? It took a lot of practise to reach even the lowest ledge; it involved judging the correct trajectory and being able to levitate oneself at high speed, skills that usually needed years to perfect. He felt again the fierce pride he'd felt in his apprentice's abilities, and added, just as he had then, "Can you come down again?"
Obi-Wan placed his toes on the edge of the ledge, still grinning, but then his grin faded abruptly and a wave of sheer terror came through the bond like an electrical pulse.
"Obi-Wan, don't panic," Qui-Gon called up. He frowned. There wasn't enough room for him to land on the ledge as well with Obi-Wan standing right in the middle of it, and the next ledge over was also too far for his apprentice to reach without the Force.
Obi-Wan froze, looking down to the floor some twelve meters below. Willing him not to make any sudden moves, Qui-Gon leaped over the wall as well, landing next to Bant and the other girls, who had all stopped tumbling and were staring up at Obi-Wan in astonished consternation. They watched wordlessly as Qui-Gon leaped up to the next highest ledge, only a meter lower than Obi-Wan's, but on the other side of the wall.
Ben heard the voice, but didn't dare follow the sound to its source. He continued to stare down at the floor, realising that he'd actually meant to jump down. He'd really been about to jump to that floor, so far below. No! What had he been thinking? How had he got up here in the first place? He remembered using the Force to help him jump and land here securely, and in his memory, he had been so confident, so sure that he could do it. Now that confidence had gone. The memory of how to use the Force that way again had disappeared. If he tried to get down now, he'd fall, and even with the mats below him, he'd surely break both his legs on impact, if not his neck.
"Obi-Wan," came the voice again. "I'll levitate you off. Just relax. Focus on my voice and find your calm center."
Calm center? What was that? He remembered something...but before he could grasp it completely, he felt himself start to move upwards slightly, his feet leaving the surface and floating out into free space. Panicking, he began to scream, and then he was standing on the ledge again, not moving at all. Afraid of losing his balance and plunging over the edge, he sat down quickly against the wall, then reached out and found one of the protruding bricks for each hand to grasp. After that, he remained motionless, his heart pounding and the sweat cooling rapidly on his forehead and body.
"I was too fast, Obi-Wan, I apologise."
Without moving the rest of his body, Ben turned his head and saw Qui-Gon standing almost directly across from him on the ledge in the other corner.
"Can you scoot over a bit?" Qui-Gon asked. "I'll come to you."
"If I move, I'll fall off," Ben said, surprised that he still had a voice to answer with.
"All right. Listen to my voice. Listen to me. Ben. Focus on my voice. You can find your calm center."
"I don't know what that is! Can't you get a ladder up here?"
"We don't have ladders this high here in the Temple."
"We don't need them. We use our levitation skills instead."
"Oh, rugged! How am I supposed to get down?"
"I can levitate you down, but you have to let go of the wall first."
Ben felt his grip tighten even more than he'd thought possible at those words.
"Don't panic, Ben. Fear is a feeling. You can let your feelings move through you. The fear can leave you, and then you will feel calm inside. That is your calm center. Take a deep breath and let it out. Go on."
"I'm not panicking! Why should I panic? I'm only going to be stuck up here until I starve to death!" Ben managed to take one deep breath but let it out too quickly.
"Do it again. This time, imagine your fear leaving you with that breath."
It took several tries, and several deep breaths before Ben was able to imagine anything of the sort. A memory stirred in him, a memory of him doing exactly the same thing at some point before. It had worked then. He didn't remember the exact situation, but he remembered that the technique had worked.
"You can do it, Ben," Qui-Gon coached him. "Relax."
He breathed out. Yes, the panic was leaving him now. He exhaled again, feeling his heart slow slightly as a calm feeling settled over him. It was just like that time before! It really was working!
"Very good, Ben. Now let go of the wall. I can levitate you off the ledge and down to the floor. You won't fall. I'll be holding you all the time through the Force."
"Yeah," said Ben, but although the intensity of his grip lessened somewhat, his fingers refused to release the bricks completely.
"You'll have to trust me, Ben. I won't let you fall. I give you my word as a Jedi."
Ben shut his eyes, trying to decide if he remembered enough about Qui-Gon to trust him. As he mentally reviewed everything he'd recollected during the day, he found himself focusing on that feeling again, that sense of belonging and the confidence that went with it. Faith. He'd had it before, he knew it.
"Because you're my apprentice, my Padawan, and I care about you as though you were my son."
The words echoed suddenly in his mind and because of the memories, Ben found, all at once, that he believed them. He knew from Dr. Maethum how a father strove to keep a daughter from harm, and he realised that Qui-Gon would not have offered to levitate him down unless he knew with absolute confidence that he could do it and not let him get hurt. The older Jedi really did think of him as a son! Slowly, he let go of the bricks, then pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.
"Ben? Do you trust me?"
"Are you ready?"
Ben nodded again, and then he was already rising up off the ledge, surprised at how smooth the movement was. As he began to drift down, moving slowly towards the floor below, he had a sudden urge to uncurl and spread his arms wide. He kept them tucked in, however, not wanting to startle Qui-Gon, and a moment later, he had settled gently onto the largest pile of mats in the room. Qui-Gon landed lightly a few meters away, then hurried over. "Ben? Are you all right?"
Getting to his feet, he stopped and stared, a smile tugging at his lips.
"Ben?" Qui-Gon asked again, starting to look concerned.
"I recognise you! I remember you!" He was grinning all over now. "You're Qui-Gon Jinn! You're my master! I know you! And my name is Obi-Wan!"
In the next instant, Obi-Wan found himself crushed against his master's chest as Qui-Gon hugged him tightly. It felt good at first, but eventually, he had to mumble, "Master, I can't breathe!"
Grinning as well, Qui-Gon released him and they stood in silence for a moment, just looking at each other. Finally, this time with laughter in his voice, Obi-Wan said again, "I remember you!"
"Does it seem familiar yet?" Qui-Gon asked the next morning as they walked to the cafeteria.
Obi-Wan shook his head. He'd been so euphoric the night before after having recognised not only Qui-Gon, but also his friend Bant. They had run into Tahl later and at first, Obi-Wan had seemed to know the blind knight as well. But then he'd said, "You came to visit Qui-Gon a few nights ago. You wanted him to send me around the obstacle course while you sparred with him!" Other than that, he'd had no recollection of her, and the mention of the planet Melida/Daan had not sparked any response, either. That lack of remembrance had not bothered Obi-Wan as much as when they'd come home and he had glanced around the apartment in dismay.
"Are you sure we live here?" he'd asked.
"Yes," Qui-Gon had reassured him. "Don't you remember?"
Obi-Wan's disappointment had rushed almost unfiltered through the bond as his shoulders slumped. "No. I thought I would, but I don't. It's funny that I should remember the Room of a Thousand Fountains, but this still seems so strange to me. It still makes me wish--"
He'd stopped, glancing away, and Qui-Gon had gently prodded, "Makes you wish what?"
"It still makes me wish I were h-home. Back with the Maethum family, I mean. I'm sorry, master! I don't mean to hurt your feelings."
"Don't be sorry, Obi-Wan. It's all right. They were a family to you for five weeks. It's natural to want to be with them again."
"I miss them," Obi-Wan had confessed. "I mean, I'm glad to be back with you--now that I remember--but I really miss them, too."
"I know," Qui-Gon had assured him. "And don't worry. You'll remember everything eventually, and you'll soon feel at home again here, too."
Now, walking through the cafeteria to the buffet, they met up with Dr. Ra-sek-mun.
"Good morning," he said, then yawned suddenly. "Sorry. I'm still trying to get used to Coruscant time."
"Obi-Wan had a major breakthrough yesterday evening," Qui-Gon reported as he reached for a tray and handed it back to his Padawan, then took one for himself." He really recognised me for the first time."
"Wonderful! I knew the treatment would work, it was only a matter of time."
"I still don't remember everything, though," Obi-Wan added, making an obvious effort to be polite to the Get-tro-wen. Opening his shields slightly, Qui-Gon sent a mental pulse of approval and pride through their bond. Obi-Wan jerked, startled for a moment, then sent back a mental smile.
"You've still got three or four more injections," Dr. Ra-sek-mun said. "Remember, it doesn't all come back at once."
"Sometimes things will remain hidden for weeks, possibly even months, and then suddenly, you'll remember. At least, that's what the other patients said."
"Were they trivial things, or things that were more important?" Upon hearing his Padawan ask this question, Qui-Gon felt a another surge of pride. It was the first time he'd seen Obi-Wan taking an active interest in the treatment, instead of just going along with that long-suffering look on his face as though he were a prisoner and Qui-Gon his jailer. The boy was definitely making progress!
"Both, as far as I know," the doctor replied thoughtfully. "They didn't always tell me what kinds of things they remembered, just the fact that it happened."
"Even people who haven't had amnesia forget things for long periods of time, you know. It's quite normal that we don't remember everything all the time. Once the treatment is over, you'll be just like everybody else. Speaking of which, exactly how many injections have you had?"
"Then we're halfway through, more or less. Let's get you down to the infirmary, I'd like to do another brain scan this morning, just for my records."
"Can't I eat first?" Obi-Wan glanced mournfully towards the buffet, a familiar expression which never failed to amuse Qui-Gon.
Dr. Ra-sek-mun glanced down at the empty tray in Obi-Wan's hands, blinked, and looked at the empty one in his own hands. "Oh. Yes. Sorry. My secretary says I'm too single-minded. She's always sneaking up on me with sandwiches and cups of soup because she says I forget to stop for meals. I will have to look that word up in the dictionary one day. I'm not quite sure what it means."
He smiled at his own joke, and Obi-Wan took the opportunity to move quickly towards the fruit salad. Coming back by Qui-Gon with his tray piled high, he asked, "Master, may I sit with Bant?"
"Yes, of course, Padawan," said Qui-Gon, choosing a seat at a different table that afforded him a good view of his apprentice. Dr. Ra-sek-mun followed and sat down across from him. After one comment about how fascinating it was for him to be there and see the way the Jedi used the Force in medicine to accelerate the healing of injuries and illnesses, he lapsed into silence and ate mechanically, his thoughts obviously far away. Sometime after the Get-tro-wen had finished eating, however, he returned suddenly to the here and now, and stood up. "I'll expect Obi-Wan in the infirmary as soon as he's done eating."
"I'll bring him down," Qui-Gon replied.
Nodding, the Get-tro-wen left his tray on the table and began to walk towards the exit. Qui-Gon glanced automatically from him to Obi-Wan and saw the boy stand up to intercept the doctor. At first, Qui-Gon expected him to ask a question about the treatment, or even offer to accompany Dr. Ra-sek-mun back to the infirmary, but then he felt a burst of fury through their bond.
"Run, Rixi, run!" Obi-Wan shouted, throwing Dr. Ra-sek-mun to the floor and punching him in the face. The Get-tro-wen went limp immediately, and Obi-Wan stood up, one hand darting to the back of his belt and returning to the front again with the fingers in a curled position. He made shooting motions in two directions as he raced for the exit, and then he stopped abruptly, waving his arms a little to keep his balance. "No! Rixi! No, don't hurt her, you stinking, filthy Getters!"
Tossing the imaginary 'blaster' away, Obi-Wan raised his hands and placed them on his head, then knelt down. "Let her go. She hasn't done anything. It was me. Just let her--ugh!"
He fell sideways and backwards as though he'd been struck, then jerked again before curling into a ball, his arms protecting his head. By this time, everybody in the cafeteria had stopped eating and was staring at the spectacle, and Qui-Gon, who had knelt down to see about Dr. Ra-sek-mun, was torn between the need to help the doctor, and the desire to take his apprentice away to somewhere more private. Fortunately, Bant was already kneeling down on the other side of the Get-tro-wen. "It's all right. I'll take care of him."
"Thank you, Bant." Qui-Gon stood up and went over to where Obi-Wan was still lying on the floor, then crouched down and placed a hand on his arm. Obi-Wan flinched away from his touch, then looked directly at him, and a surge of sheer terror came through the bond as his apprentice whispered, "Jedi!"
"Get up, please," Qui-Gon said, trying to make his tone of voice sound friendly and not commanding. Obi-Wan got slowly to his feet, staring at him with loathing the entire time. Taking his elbow, Qui-Gon guided him gently towards the door. "Come with me, please."
They went out, Obi-Wan looking back one last time. After a moment of hesitation, Qui-Gon decided to head for the infirmary, and they had just entered through the double doors when Obi-Wan stopped walking. Glancing around with a confused look on his face, he asked hesitantly, "M-Master?"
"Yes, Obi-Wan, it's me. You had a hallucination, but it's over now."
"She's fine, Obi-Wan. It was only a hallucination. She was never in any danger."
"I, uh, did I hit somebody?" He glanced at his hand, then back at his master.
"Yes, you knocked Dr. Ra-sek-mun out cold."
"It's all right, Obi-Wan. You didn't know what you were doing."
"I thought I hit--I thought he was a Getter. You were there, too, master, but I didn't know you, and I was scared! I was scared of you!"
"But it didn't happen?"
"No, Obi-Wan. It didn't happen."
"Rixi didn't come to the kidnapping with us," Obi-Wan said slowly, more to himself. "And I didn't surrender to the Getters like that. And you didn't take me away for interrogation."
"Is that what you were hallucinating?"
Obi-Wan nodded and closed his eyes. "It was so real. And yet I know it wasn't. I know that Rixi wasn't with us, and I know they didn't catch us right outside the estate. We saw the Jedi coming through the garden and I went over the wall. I don't know what happened to the other man. I didn't see him again until they dragged him into the truck. The Jedi must have got him. That was you, wasn't it, master? You were the Jedi."
"Yes, I was there. I saw you go over the wall, then the other man fired at me with his blaster, and I deflected the shot back at him with my light saber," Qui-Gon agreed.
"There was a diversion for the first patrol," Obi-Wan continued, "I jumped on my bicycle and I was going to ride away as fast as I could, but my pants got stuck in the chain and I crashed right in front of the next patrol. If I hadn't fallen, I might have got away."
"I'm glad it happened the way it did," said Qui-Gon. "Otherwise I might have spent another five weeks looking for you."
Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan looked up at him in amazement, smiling slightly. "I never thought of it that way."
The double doors of the infirmary swished open and Bant came in, supporting Dr. Ra-sek-mun. When the Get-tro-wen saw Obi-Wan, he stopped altogether, then looked at Qui-Gon and asked, "Is he still hallucinating?"
"No, I'm not," said Obi-Wan.
"Good. I've seen a lot of strange reactions from my patients, but this is the first time I've ever been knocked unconscious by one." It was obviously painful for him to move his mouth, and some of his words were a bit slurred.
"I'm very sorry, Dr. Ra-sek-mun. I thought you were part of a Getter patrol trying to arrest my girlfriend. I apologise for hitting you."
"Thank you. I should get used to it, as this probably won't be the last time," said Dr. Ra-sek-mun. "Would you wait out here for a few minutes, please? We'll call you in when we're ready."
"Yes, of course," said Obi-Wan, crossing to the waiting area and sitting down while Bant helped the doctor along. A minute later, she came back alone and sat down next to him.
"He's just bruised, nothing broken," Bant reported. "Master An-Paj is already healing it. You never mentioned any girlfriend at breakfast, Obi-Wan. Who is she?"
Obi-Wan couldn't help breaking out into a grin. "Her name is Rixi--Rixiar Maethum. She's sixteen. She's funny--and pretty. We used to go out for ice cream every day on our bicycles until she was grounded. She's always twisting her hair, too, and her father's always telling her to stop it."
Putting his own hand to his head as though to demonstrate, Obi-Wan's expression changed to one of horror as he felt around behind his right ear. "My braid! Master, I let them cut my braid off!"
"I know," said Qui-Gon simply.
"I threw it away! Oh, Force, I threw it in the garbage! I didn't know, master! I didn't know what it meant!"
"It's all right, Obi-Wan--"
"I don't want to leave the Jedi, master! It was a mistake!"
Qui-Gon sat down on the other side of Obi-Wan and laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, sending a wave of comfort through the bond. "I know, Obi-Wan. And you're still a Jedi, as long as you want to be."
"I didn't want to be a Jedi when you found me," Obi-Wan murmured. His voice increased in volume, however, as he continued to speak. "I really believed those rumours. But I remember now. I know those rumours are wrong, and now I want to be a Jedi again!"
"You're not the first Padawan to lose a braid, Obi-Wan," said Bant. "It's only an outward sign. Being a Jedi is a matter of commitment, and not a matter of hair."
"Look at Mace Windu," Qui-Gon added.
Bant made a gurgling sound which was the Mon Calimari equivalent of laughter, but Obi-Wan turned a blank face to him. "Who?"
"Never mind. You'll understand later. But for now, just trust me and remember one thing. You're still a Jedi and you're still my Padawan. All right?"
"All right, master." Obi-Wan managed a brave little smile.
A door further down the hall opened and An-Paj came towards them. "Good morning, Obi-Wan, you can come in now."
"I'll talk to you later, Obi-Wan," said Bant as they all stood up, and as she headed for the door, he replied, "I'm looking forward to it, Bant."
In the examination room, An-Paj took hold of Obi-Wan's chin and turned his head slightly for a closer look. "What's this?"
"What?" Obi-Wan put a hand up and found a sensitive spot on his cheek.
"You've got a nasty bruise coming as well. Dr. Ra-sek-mun said you were hallucinating just now. Did you fall and hit your head?"
"No--I--was hallucinating that the Getters--that one of them hit me with his blaster." He pulled his tunic out of his belt and lifted it to inspect a dark blue spot on his ribs. "And kicked me. But it was a hallucination! Wasn't it, master? It didn't really happen?"
"Yes, it was a hallucination. But because your mind believed that it happened, your body reacted accordingly," Dr. Ra-sek-mun explained. "It's a rare reaction, but it's not unknown."
"If you promise not to attack me, I'll heal it for you," said An-Paj.
"I won't attack you," said Obi-Wan. "I remember you a little bit now."
"Really? What do you remember?"
"You told me you'd break my other arm if you caught me surfing down the main stairs on a metal tray again."
An-Paj put back his head and laughed. "Great Force! I'd forgotten all about that!"
"Surfing down the stairs on a metal tray?" Qui-Gon asked, watching Obi-Wan blush with acute embarrassment.
"Obi-Wan came down the stairs in the entry hall of the Temple going a little bit slower than light speed, standing on that tray when most kids would have just sat on it. Two thirds of the way down, he realised he was on a collision course with me and Number Two--I was showing Number Two around, it was her first day here after our honeymoon--and he tried to bail out. Ended up with a compound fracture of his left arm and a first-class concussion. It was the will of the Force that he didn't break his neck! Number Two wanted to take me back to Ossa, away from such a dangerous place, but Number One told her the Force needed me here to keep that poor boy from killing himself. "Still grinning, An-Paj laid his hand gently on the bruise and sent a burst of healing power towards it.
"My nephews are the same way," Dr. Ra-sek-mun nodded. "It makes my fur stand on edge, just watching them. I keep telling them I deal with brains and not cracked skulls."
"I've changed my mind, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon, watching An-Paj heal the next bruise. "I'm glad I didn't know you when you were a child."
Obi-Wan looked up, hurt, and Qui-Gon quickly smiled and added, "Look at all the gray hairs you've given me in the last five years alone!"
"What did I do?" Obi-Wan asked curiously.
"Trying to blow yourself up on Bandomeer was a good start. As for the rest, you'll remember it yourself soon enough."
"And so that you can do just that, I'll give you the next dose as soon as we've finished the brain scan," said Dr. Ra-sek-mun, reaching for the helmet.
It had been over an hour since the injection, and Obi-Wan had not noticed any side effects yet. He didn't feel sick, and the light coming in through the window did not bother him at all, even when he opened the shade and stared out across Coruscant. Turning away, he went out of the bedroom and sat down on the couch across from Qui-Gon.
"How are you feeling, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked, looking up from his data pad.
"I feel all right, master," he replied. "I think there won't be any side effects to-day."
"Master, I'd like to go down to the training rooms and see which katas I remember. I've been going over them in my mind and I'm sure I've got most of them."
Qui-Gon frowned a little.
"Please, master. Dr. Ra-sek-mun said I was supposed to go to places where I felt comfortable and happy. And you know I was always happy doing katas."
That made his master smile, as he'd known it would.
"I'm glad you remember that, Obi-Wan. All right, maybe a little light exercise wouldn't be a bad idea. But I do mean light. You've been out of it for a long time. You'll need to warm up slowly and thoroughly, and then we'll see about doing a kata or two, with a wooden bokken instead of a light saber."
"Yes, master!" he replied eagerly, and then, before he could stop himself, he blurted out, "And if I don't have any more hallucinations to-day, would you give me my light saber back so we can start sparring again to-morrow?"
"No," said Qui-Gon firmly. "We'll talk about light sabers again after the treatment has been concluded."
Knowing that his master was right did not ease his disappointment very much, and Obi-Wan let his shoulders droop in defeat. "Yes, master."
"Come on, Padawan. Show me how happy you are doing katas."
Obi-Wan did not have to force a smile, and Qui-Gon said, "I'll just clear it with An-Paj and Dr. Ra-sek-mun."
He spoke to the master healer on the comm unit, then came into the bedroom where Obi-Wan was already changing into his training clothes. "An-Paj is going to bring Dr. Ra-sek-mun to meet us there. He thinks it's an excellent idea to jog your memory and he wants to come and watch."
Ben looked up as the cell door opened and two Getter guards came in. He could see a third one standing in the doorway.
"Stand up!" they said, and when he didn't obey fast enough, one of them pulled him up by the arm and threw him against the wall. The other one handcuffed his wrists together behind his back, and then they hustled him out of the cell and into the corridor. After dragging him up the stairs and outside into the courtyard, they turned and went through the innermost gate into the wide strip between two of the three walls that surrounded the prison. A section had been cordoned off there, and he was pushed into position at one end of it. One of the guards released the handcuffs while the other joined the third guard at the other end.
"Execution time, stinking Nen garbage!" the guard told him. "Kneel down and put your hands on your head!"
"I'd rather die on my feet," Ben snapped defiantly. What did he have to lose, if they were going to kill him anyway? Giving him an angry glance, the Getter walked around and kicked him in the back of the leg so that he dropped involuntarily to his hands and knees.
As the guard went to stand next to the others, Ben struggled to stand up again, fighting against the pain and stiffness in his limbs. He saw the next set of guards leading out another prisoner for execution, and looked again as he recognised who it was.
"Rixi!" he screamed, lunging in her direction. "No! Not you!"
Three energy bolts hit him at the same time, and everything went black.
As Obi-Wan collapsed onto the mat in the training room, Qui-Gon felt a sudden emptiness in the bond between them, and dashed to where his apprentice lay. The boy was still--too still. An-Paj and Dr. Ra-sek-mun had both been standing in the door of the training room, having just arrived as Obi-Wan had lapsed into the hallucination right in the middle of his warm up, but now they rushed forward as well.
"He's not breathing!" Qui-Gon reported.
An-Paj knelt down laid a hand on the boy's chest. "His heart's stopped. Stand back. Don't touch him, Qui-Gon."
Qui-Gon had never felt such a strong Force compulsion from the Master Healer before and found himself obeying before he'd even mentally processed the request, letting go of Obi-Wan and scooting backwards. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, An-Paj lifted one hand and pointed a single finger at the apprentice A thin blue bolt jumped from him to Obi-Wan's breastbone, and the boy arched up for a moment, then fell back. The emptiness in the bond disappeared, and was replaced by a very weak Force signature.
Checking Obi-Wan's pulse again, An-Paj nodded. "It's beating again."
"What did you do?" asked Dr. Ra-sek-mun as Obi-Wan took a deep, ragged breath. "I've never seen anything like that!"
"Force lightning, for lack of a better term," said An-Paj, fumbling at his belt for his comm unit. "A small electrical shock to start his heart again."
Dr. Ra-sek-mun uttered a few words of awe in a low voice as the Healer contacted the infirmary and requested a hover-gurney as soon as possible.
"Is he going to live?" Qui-Gon asked, shaken by the experience.
"He should be fine," said An-Paj. "I can feel his life-Force coming back already. This was probably just a reaction to the hallucination. We caught it so early that there shouldn't even be any after-effects. I'm taking him to the infirmary now for observation, but I'm confident that he'll be all right in a few hours."
Obi-Wan opened his eyes, glanced around, then shut them again.
He blinked, still incapable of coherent thought, and managed to focus on the face that was bending over him.
Thought and memory returned, and he croaked, "Master?"
Suddenly panicking, he reached out, and was relieved when Qui-Gon caught his searching arm and held it. His master's hand felt strong and warm and reassuringly real, and comfort flowed to him through their bond.
"I'm alive," he stated.
Qui-Gon smiled. "Yes, Obi-Wan, you're alive. You had another hallucination."
"And Rixi's still alive."
"She was never in danger, Obi-Wan."
"It was just a hallucination. She's still on Theosne."
"That's right. How are you feeling otherwise?"
He tried to sit up, but pain exploded through his ribcage. Putting up his other hand to explore it, he said, "My chest hurts."
"You'll be fine."
Feeling electrodes and cables and seeing the machine that they were attached to, Obi-Wan realised, "I'm in the infirmary again."
"I hate it here. I want to go home."
"I know. I'll see what An-Paj has to say. Will you be all right if I just step out for a moment and look for him?"
"I'll be fine, master. You said so yourself," Obi-Wan protested, but inwardly he was confused. Qui-Gon hadn't given him that lecture about hate leading to the Dark Side the way he always did when Obi-Wan said something like that. And as he stood up now, he laid his hand on Obi-Wan's head for just a minute and smiled down at him, then turned for the door. That was another thing he didn't ordinarily do. Obi-Wan had that sinking feeling that something serious had happened and that he was going to be in the infirmary for a long, long time.
When Qui-Gon returned at last, both An-Paj and Dr. Ra-sek-mun were with him. The master healer gave him a cheerful smile. "Good afternoon, Obi-Wan. How are you feeling?"
"My chest hurts."
"Would you like to sit up?"
An-Paj reached for the control and gently raised the end of the bed until Obi-Wan winced a little, then stopped. "All right?"
"Yes, thanks. What's wrong with me?"
"Obi-Wan, before I tell you that, would you like to tell us about your last hallucination?"
Frowning, Obi-Wan glanced to his master, wondering mentally if he had to, but at Qui-Gon's encouraging nod, he obediently began to speak. "I, uh, was in the Getter prison, and they took me outside. They said it was--it was execution time. I looked over and saw Rixi there. They were going to execute her, too, even though she hadn't done anything! I wanted to save her--but I couldn't. They shot me."
"Who is Rixi?" asked Dr. Ra-sek-mun.
"The daughter of the family where he lived while he was on Theosne, before he was arrested," Qui-Gon explained.
Dr. Ra-sek-mun nodded, and An-Paj repeated, "They shot you. You distinctly remember that?"
"Yes. I hallucinated my own execution. But I know it was a hallucination. I know it didn't really happen. Mayor Ech-to-tha pardoned me and Qui-Gon took me off the planet. "Obi-Wan glanced down at his chest. "Did I hallucinate myself a blaster wound?"
"Obi-Wan, you collapsed in the training room. You weren't breathing and your heart had stopped."
Obi-Wan stared at him in wonder. "I was dead? Really dead?"
"Not technically, but it was only a matter of seconds, a minute at the most. I used Force lightning to start your heart again, that's why your chest hurts, and you're very much alive now. I don't foresee any complications, but I do want to keep you here to-night for observation."
"What would happen," asked Qui-Gon suddenly, "if we stopped the treatment for the amnesia here?"
Everybody turned to look at him in astonishment, and slowly, he explained, "I am not asking you to stop the treatment, I am asking what would happen if you did. Obi-Wan could have died because of this hallucination. Master An-Paj, you said yourself it was only a matter of seconds. I would not like to run the risk of this happening again. Before I make my decision, I would like to gather all the information I can."
Dr. Ra-sek-mun shrugged. "The hallucinations would stop once the drug has left his body completely. He would not relive any more memories. But not all of the connections in his brain have been opened yet, and those that are still closed would, in all likelihood, remain that way."
"In all likelihood," Qui-Gon repeated.
"The chance of a spontaneous recovery without the drug is less than one percent."
"What are the chances of him having another hallucination similar to this one, one that stops his heart?"
"I've never had any patient report two hallucinations that were the same. In fact, I've never seen any hallucination like this, and I'd have to say that the odds of it happening even once, let alone twice, would be--"he waved his hands, searching for the right word--"Astronomical."
"Master, I don't want to stop the treatment," Obi-Wan said. "There's so much I still don't remember."
"I know, Obi-Wan. But I don't want to risk losing you again. I will meditate on this before I make my decision."
"Master, with all due respect, I'm twenty years old. I think I'm old enough to decide for myself, and I don't want to stop."
"Obi-Wan, you're eighteen," Qui-Gon said gently.
"Eighteen? No, but Rixi and Uncle Fulk decided--" Even as he spoke, he remembered. "Oh. Yes."
"It wouldn't make any difference if you were twenty five, Obi-Wan. As long as I am your master, I am responsible for guiding you, and you have pledged your obedience to me. What is more important, a few memories or your life? I did not get you out of prison, handcuff you to the table to keep you from killing yourself, and endure six days of your sulking just to have you drop dead at my feet. I will meditate on this and you will accept my decision."
Qui-Gon's tone was harsh, almost angry-sounding, and Obi-Wan stared at him in surprise as he caught the emotion underlying his master's words. He'd never felt such fear from Qui-Gon before and the sheer magnitude of it almost overwhelmed him, making it all sink in. Qui-Gon didn't want him to die, and that was exactly what had almost happened that morning. He'd nearly died!
"I'm sorry, master," he said, feeling suddenly humble. "I--I'll stop the treatment if you decide it's best. I know who you are, I know who I am, I remember the Force and my commitment to becoming a Jedi. That's all I need, really. I can re-learn everything else."
"Forgive me, my Padawan," Qui-Gon sighed, laying a contrite hand on his shoulder. "It is very--difficult--for me at the moment to--distinguish my will from the will of the Force."
"Qui-Gon, you need a break," said An-Paj. "You've been under a lot of stress for several weeks now. You can see that Obi-Wan is fine and you know he'll be safe with us. Go home now and relax. Meditate as long as you need to, and don't come back until you're ready."
"Go on, master," Obi-Wan urged. "I'll be all right, really."
Nodding in assent, Qui-Gon left the room.
"I don't want to lose Obi-Wan again," said Qui-Gon suddenly. After leaving Obi-Wan, his feelings had been too agitated for successful meditation, and he had gone to Tahl instead. She often had a calming effect on him, and they had been drinking tea in silence for several minutes. "The drug that is helping him regain his memory is also causing hallucinations. This morning, he hallucinated his own execution. His heart stopped, Tahl! He wasn't breathing! And when I saw him lying there, I thought my own heart was going to stop. I didn't want him to be dead!"
"But he did not die," Tahl stated calmly.
"No. An-Paj used Force lightning to get his heart started again. He's in the infirmary now, under observation. They tell me that there won't be any complications. They tell me that the odds of this happening again are infinitesimal. But, small as it is, the chance is still there, Tahl. He could hallucinate something else that kills him, and An-Paj might not be around to save him. I might not be around to save him."
"It is very difficult to accept something that you do not want and which you cannot control," Tahl nodded.
"But I can control it, Tahl. I can tell them to stop the treatment. Once the drug is out of his system, there won't be any more hallucinations, and the danger will be over."
"I sense a 'but' coming."
"But Obi-Wan will be left with only the memories that he has now. It would set his training back by years, trying to catch up on everything he's forgotten. I've been wondering all day what I should do. I've always followed the will of the Force, Tahl, but now I don't know what the will of the Force is, and just at the moment, I don't want to know. For the first time in my life, I'm afraid to find out, because it might not be what I want, and I want so much for Obi-Wan to live."
There was a pause in which Tahl drank a sip of tea, and then she asked,"Have you spoken to Obi-Wan about this?"
Qui-Gon hesitated before admitting, "I did not handle it well."
Embarrassed, Qui-Gon repeated the conversation, and to his surprise, Tahl began to laugh. "You handcuffed him to a table?"
"He attacked me on board the ship. He couldn't remember how to fly it, but he wanted to take control. He would have killed himself by taking it out of hyperspace at the wrong time and flying right through a star! I sat on him, then handcuffed him to the table leg and made him promise not to try that again."
"And then he sulked for six days?"
"He was already sulking when he got on board. He didn't want to come with me, but I couldn't just leave him there to be executed."
"What did the Force tell you then?"
"Bringing him back to Coruscant was the right thing. I remember feeling it strongly. I knew it was for his own good, whether he liked it or not. But now I'm afraid that he's going to die here. Tahl, my focus determines my reality, and even though they tell me that it probably won't happen again, I can't seem to focus on anything else right now. All I can see is him lying there, not moving, not breathing--dying! That's my focus, that's my reality. And it could happen again, at any time. I need to meditate, I told Obi-Wan I would, but I don't want to."
"Yes." Qui-Gon's voice was little more than a whisper.
"Strength over fear, Qui-Gon. May I give you some of my strength to help you face your fear?"
After a long, long moment of consideration, Qui-Gon nodded. Tahl stood up and made her way to the couch, then seated herself next to him. Reaching out, she took both his hands in hers, and he could sense the Force moving through her towards him, filling him, buoying him up for a moment, and then enclosing him inside it.
When Qui-Gon opened his eyes again, it was morning, and he was lying on Tahl's couch. She had removed his boots and covered him with one of the quilts from her own bed, and he sat up wonderingly, glancing around.
"Awake at last?" Tahl asked, coming in from the kitchen with a fresh pot of tea. He watched her cross the living room, using the Force to sense any obstacles in her path, and set the pot down on the table between them, then perch on the edge of her favourite chair and lean forward slightly.
"That was a dirty trick," he said as she poured.
"I could feel the Force telling me it was for your own good, whether you liked it or not," she replied with a smile, extending the cup to him.
"Qui-Gon, be reasonable. You were exhausted, you just didn't want to admit it. You probably haven't slept well since Obi-Wan went missing on Theosne. In fact, I'd be surprised if you had slept at all. You probably spent your nights using the Force to revitalise your body while you worried about Obi-Wan. That's all right for a while, but six weeks will take its toll on you. No wonder you couldn't focus properly. You'd had enough. I'm surprised An-Paj didn't suggest admitting you to the infirmary as well, but then, there are other ways to win the battle than outright combat. He was more than willing to come over and put you into a very deep healing trance last night."
Now that she'd mentioned it, Qui-Gon did feel better, much better, and it humbled him to realise how much he'd needed it and how adamantly he'd refused to acknowledge that need without even realising what he was doing.
"Thank you, Tahl," he said.
"What are friends for?" she asked. "And don't you dare start meditating until I get back with some breakfast and you've eaten every crumb."
Leaning back, Qui-Gon smiled. "Yes, master."
It was mid-morning before he made his way back to the infirmary. Obi-Wan was sitting up in bed, almost exactly like the way he'd left him the day before, and when Qui-Gon came in, he glanced up eagerly. "Master!"
"How are you feeling, Obi-Wan?"
"I'm all right. My chest doesn't hurt anymore. How was your meditation?"
"It went very well," said Qui-Gon, looking at his apprentice. His face was serene and he radiated readiness to accept whatever his master would decide. There was no hint of pleading or regret or apprehension, simply a willingness to face the future. It made him proud and he stood there smiling until Obi-Wan asked, "What?"
"I was just thinking that you've become a Jedi again."
Obi-Wan smiled, too. "That's what Rixi said after you left yesterday. She even called me Obi-Wan, instead of Ben. I know it was just a hallucination, so it was just like me talking to myself, but it made me realise it's true. I'm me again. I even remembered how to meditate and put myself in a healing trance. I thought it would be hard, because I haven't done it for so long, but it was easy. It was like I'd never forgotten."
"That's wonderful, Obi-Wan. I'll call Dr. Ra-sek-mun for your next dose, and then we'll see what else you can remember."
Obi-Wan looked incredulous for a moment and then his face lit up. "You're going to let me continue the treatment, master?"
"Yes, Padawan, I am." Revitalized by the deep healing trance, supported by Tahl, he'd been not only able but also willing to meditate. He had only been somewhat chagrined to realise that there had been nothing to fear at all except his own fears, and the will of the Force had come easily to him, filling him with that unshakeable sense of rightness.
Obi-Wan grinned happily until, quite suddenly, his joyful expression faded into a more stoic one and he said, "I shall also take the bad news like a Jedi, master."
"What bad news?"
"That I'll probably have to stay here until it's over."
"You might not have to, you know. It just occurred to me on the way here that Dr. Ra-sek-mun said the side effects usually disappeared within three days." Qui-Gon turned towards the door. "I'll go find him and then we can discuss this further."
It didn't take long to track down the Master Healer and the Get-tro-wen. An-Paj was treating a female Padawan for a dislocated shoulder and assorted light saber burns while Dr. Ra-sek-mun watched, apparently still astounded over the use of the Force in medicine. After gaining their assurance that they would come as soon as they were finished, Qui-Gon went back to Obi-Wan, and they followed about five minutes later.
"Well, Qui-Gon, how are you feeling this morning?" An-Paj asked as he entered the room.
"Much better, thank you," Qui-Gon nodded.
"You weren't feeling well yesterday, master?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Your master was physically and mentally exhausted," said An-Paj. "Thank the Force that Knight Tahl had the presence of mind to put him to sleep and then call me. A healing trance can work wonders, even for stubborn Jedi like him."
"I'm sorry, master," said Obi-Wan, looking crushed as he realised that he was the cause for this near breakdown. "I'm so sorry!"
"Obi-Wan, it is not your fault."
"But it is, it's all my fault! I was missing and you had to look for me for five weeks! I'll bet you didn't sleep during that time! I wouldn't have slept, if you'd been missing. And even after you found me, you couldn't rest. You always had to keep an eye on me, because I tried to attack you, I tried to run away, I kept you awake at night, and--I'm sorry!"
Qui-Gon shook his head firmly at the flood of apologies, but Obi-Wan continued, "You did so much for me, you kept trying to help me and--and I spit on you!"
"You spit on me? When?" Qui-Gon honestly could not recall the incident.
"In the ship, right after you showed me what a Jedi mind trick really felt like. I'm so sorry, master!"
"Obi-Wan, that wasn't you, that was a very frightened boy named Ben who didn't know who I was or realise that I was only trying to help him."
"But I was Ben."
"You were a baby once, too, but nobody blames you for keeping your caretakers awake in the night and spitting up on them." Qui-Gon saw his Padawan's lips form a protest and then stop before making a sound. "Ben was as ignorant as any baby and I can't blame him--or you--for anything that happened. You're forgiven. Now stop apologising."
"Yes, master." Obi-Wan managed a small smile, but Qui-Gon knew that some guilt remained.
"Oh, come on, Qui-Gon, he was just getting to the good part," An-Paj put in teasingly. At the Jedi Master's questioning look, he smiled and added, "Apologising to me."
"I'm very sorry, Master An-Paj. I hope I didn't break your nose. Please accept my apology," Obi-Wan said hastily.
"It's all right, Obi-Wan. I knew you were frightened, I just didn't know of what, otherwise I would have avoided that particular situation. And it wasn't broken, so you're forgiven. Although Number Four might have had a few things to say to you if I'd come home looking like Qui-Gon here. "Both men smiled at the shared joke.
"Is there anybody else I should apologise to while I'm at it?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Padawan T'kar, but that can wait until after the treatment," Qui-Gon said.
"The boy who teased you about eating baby meat. He's one of your best friends."
Obi-Wan frowned and shook his head. "That boy was a friend of mine? I don't remember him."
"You've still got a few days of treatment left. Speaking of which, didn't you say that the side effects, including the hallucinations, generally wore off after the first few days, Dr. Ra-sek-mun?"
"Oh. Yes, I did say that. Though I have observed that the hallucinations generally lasted a bit longer than the physical side effects. Three--four days at the most."
"So, there's a very good chance that he won't be hallucinating any more. To-day is the fifth day."
The doctor considered this, then asked, "When did you have your last hallucination, Obi-Wan?"
"Yesterday afternoon, just after everybody left. I haven't had any since then."
"And his heart?" Qui-Gon turned to An-Paj.
"I've been checking the readouts periodically and I've never seen anything more normal. No anomalies at all. He's as strong and healthy as a bantha."
"So he could come home to-day?"
After some discussion, they agreed that Obi-Wan should receive the next injection and then stay in the infirmary until it had been proved that he had gone a full twenty four hours without a hallucination. Qui-Gon was pleased to see that his apprentice accepted the decision without even a mental pout, even the fact that he would be better off remaining in bed, attached to the heart monitor. When the Healer and the doctor had gone, Qui-Gon lowered himself to the chair and they sat in comfortable silence.
"Master?" asked Obi-Wan after a few minutes.
"You thought I'd betrayed you again, didn't you? I heard you mention it to Tahl when she came to visit you the other night."
Qui-Gon nodded slowly. "And for that, I must apologise to you, Obi-Wan. For a short time, I believed the worst of you, and I was wrong."
"I wouldn't have left the Jedi again. Not even knowing what I do now about the Theosnens and the Getters--the Get-tro-wens. I would have used my skills and my knowledge as a Jedi to try and help them, just as you did during the negotiations. It wouldn't have been like on Melida/Daan."
"You remember Melida/Daan?"
"Yes. I was thinking about it while you were resting. Even though it helped me become a better Jedi in the end, even though it strengthened my commitment, it was still a hard thing to go through, and I learned my lesson, master. It wouldn't have happened again."
"I know, Obi-Wan. I should have continued to believe that. I have no excuse for losing my trust in you, even for that one hour."
"I forgive you, master. You were exhausted, anyway. Five weeks without proper sleep!"
"It was all circumstantial evidence. When they told me they had arrested you outside the estate and that you had been helping kidnap the Mayor's son, I should have known you'd never do anything like that of your own free will. But your shields were up so tightly and I didn't know what was going on in your mind, and, as you say, I was exhausted. I had tried for so long not to believe it, and when all the evidence seemed to point the opposite way, I felt...overwhelmed. I should have trusted my instincts, but I did not."
"I wish I hadn't done it, but on the other hand, if I hadn't, you might never have found me. Was the Mayor's son all right?"
"Yes, he was fine. After he was arrested, Wylan told the Mayor over and over again that he'd been treating him like one of his own children. They'd played games together. The boy waved good-bye when the guards took Wylan away."
"Wylan promised me that nobody would get hurt. I thought about the boy every so often. I'm glad he's all right." Obi-Wan thought for a moment, then said, "I suppose Wylan's been executed by now."
Qui-Gon nodded. "As gentle as he was with Ech-to-tha's son, however, he was quite ruthless with you, Obi-Wan. He knew you were a Jedi Apprentice. He knew you had skills that he needed, and he was surprised at how easily he was able to convince you to put those skills to work for him."
Obi-Wan stared at him in shock and consternation. "He knew I was a Jedi all along?"
"Perhaps not all along, but I distinctly recall talking to him on two separate occasions during those five weeks, asking him about you. He had very tight natural shields. I could not determine whether he was lying or not."
"And he blackmailed me into working for him," Obi-Wan stated, feeling disgusted with himself. "I was happy to go along, you know! I felt so patriotic!"
"That was not your fault, Obi-Wan. You were like a droid that had had its memory wiped. You could only process the new information that you had been given."
"I still feel used." He sat in silence for a moment, mulling it over, then asked, "Do you think I should offer Mayor Ech-to-tha a proper apology?"
"Yes, but I think we should wait until after the treatment has been concluded. If the Get-tro-wens accuse us of undercover operations and tactics to undermine their control of Theosne, we should be in a position where we can offer them impartial proof of your amnesia. Tahl did some research while I was there. She says that Dr. Ra-sek-mun is well-known, even beyond Sceotan, for his work in brain research, and his statements carry a lot of weight. The Get-tro-wens would also tend to believe him solely for the reason that he is one of their species. They tend to be a bit arrogant like that, though they try to hide it. We'll also have to make a report to the Senate. I know they will be quite interested to hear your point of view about the situation on Theosne." "I'm glad Dr. Maethum had one of his feelings, and didn't go along with Wylan. At least he's safe."
"Dr. Maethum was quite strong in the Force. He would have made a very powerful Jedi if he'd been born in the Republic. One, I think, who might have been renowned for his predictions of the future."
"Really? You never told me that."
"I didn't want you to think I was insulting him."
Obi-Wan smiled. "But if he'd been born in the Republic, he wouldn't have been on Theosne to rescue me."
"The Force moves in mysterious ways."
"I'm starting to recognise that, master." Obi-Wan paused, then wrinkled his forehead slightly. "Master?"
"When you were on Theosne, did you really hear a rumour that I was a Getter informer?"
"No, of course not, Obi-Wan. I was trying to get you to think about what you were doing by using an example that you could relate to. It seems that I neglected to inform you that it was only an example."
"It was so easy for me to believe those rumours, master. I didn't know anything else, I didn't have any basis for comparison."
"I really believed that you were helping the Getters torture me, that you were reading my thoughts so that you could tell them everything I knew. When we went to say good-bye to the Maethum family, I was afraid you'd told them he was part of the Resistance and that you were there to help arrest him."
"I would not have volunteered that information, Obi-Wan. And because he wasn't part of the kidnapping attempt, they didn't ask."
"I'm sorry I didn't trust you, and I'm sorry I said I hated you."
"You weren't sorry then. You really meant it."
"Yes, I did. I'm sorry."
"Didn't I tell you to stop apologising, Obi-Wan?"
"Sorr--yes, master, you did." He smiled, and Qui-Gon smiled, too. Obi-Wan was silent for a long moment, and then he asked, "Master?"
"I'm never going to see Rixi again, am I?"
Qui-Gon sighed. "Only the Force can tell you that. But I believe it would be next to impossible, at least in the foreseeable future. I understand that the only time Theosnens are allowed to leave the planet is to work on Get-tro-we itself. They're even forbidden to visit the other colonies. Contact to the rest of the galaxy is kept to an absolute minimum, as you well know, and I refuse to let you try to visit her."
"I miss her. I won't forget her. But I won't let it interfere with my training."
"That's the way it should be."
"Could--could I wear the pullover occasionally? In the evenings, in my room? You wouldn't have to look at it."
"You may wear it, but only if you promise not to stay in your room the whole time. I've had enough of you hiding in there and sulking."
Obi-Wan laughed a little. "It was horrible for both of us, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was. Actually, I like the pullover. It looks good on you, just not when it's filthy with ice cream."
Obi-Wan was released the next morning after receiving the sixth dose. He couldn't help bouncing out of the room and turning a cartwheel down the corridor.
"Padawan!" said Qui-Gon sharply behind him.
"I would say something, master, but--"he grinned, not repentant at all--"You told me to stop apologising."
Qui-Gon gave him a hard look, but did not dispute the matter.
"He does that every time he gets out of here," An-Paj remarked to Dr. Ra-sek-mun, who nodded and said, "I've had a few patients who would like to do that, too."
When they got into the lift, Obi-Wan pressed the button and saw Qui-Gon raise an eyebrow at his choice of floors.
"Where are you headed, Padawan?"
"The training rooms. I thought we could pick up where we left off. I'm sure I remember all the katas now, even with a wooden bokken."
When Qui-Gon hesitated, Obi-Wan added, "Comfortable and happy, remember, master?"
"I haven't had any hallucinations for over a day now. I'm not going to drop dead at your feet."
Qui-Gon smiled. "I know."
"Trust your instincts, master, "he couldn't help teasing.
"My instincts tell me to take you home and lock you in your room so that nothing ever happens to you again," Qui-Gon teased back.
"In that case, trust my instincts, master."
"Do I want to?"
"Of course, master! They're telling me to give you a wooden bokken and let you spar with me."
"Oh, they are, are they?" Smiling, they both exited the lift and found an empty training room. After an extended warm-up period, Obi-Wan was allowed to take the bokken and run through the first kata.
"My timing is off," he said at the end of it.
"You'll soon get it back," Qui-Gon assured him.
"And there's something missing."
Obi-Wan reached for what would have been dangling behind his right ear, then lowered his hand and managed a brave smile. "I'm just used to having it flap around."
"It will grow back," Qui-Gon said.
"If I asked Master An-Paj nicely, do you think he'd teach me some of the techniques for cell regeneration that the Healers use?"
"Don't worry, Obi-Wan. No matter when you take your Trials, you'll have something there to cut off."
"Thank you, master," Obi-Wan said quite solemnly. Then, changing the subject, he took up the bokken again. "Shall I do the second kata now or would you rather spar first?"
"Second kata, Padawan."
When they returned to their quarters before lunch, Obi-Wan looked around. He could feel a smile starting, one that grew and grew until he was grinning broadly. "Master, I remember now. These are our quarters. This is where we live. I'm home!"
"Welcome home, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, smiling as well.
Obi-Wan moved around the living room, his eyes lighting on every piece of furniture, the plants on the windowsill, even the carpet. "It's good to be home again. I'm glad I remember this. I was afraid I wouldn't, because I was remembering everything else, but whenever we came back here, it still always seemed so strange to me. And Dr. Ra-sek-mun said I might not regain everything I'd lost, maybe only eighty percent."
"It's good to have you back, Obi-Wan, no matter how much you remember."
"I remember this." Obi-Wan indicated the translucent blue cup on the shelf above the holo unit. "Tahl gave it to you. She presented it to you when we got back from one of our early missions, and she said she'd broken it deliberately and sent it to Aurea to be repaired. I remember that you said you understood--but I didn't. I still don't know why she would give you such a thing, but I know you treasure it. I've never dared touch it."
"It's stronger than it looks, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon. "Tahl taught me a lesson about trust with that cup, after you'd come back from Melida/Daan and been put on probation here at the Temple. It was to remind me that I could not make again what I'd once had. A shattered cup, my shattered trust in you. But something new could be made of it, something that was stronger and more valuable than it had been before."
"Oh," said Obi-Wan in a very small voice.
Qui-Gon picked up the cup. "My trust in you has been renewed and has only grown since that day. I let it waver once, because I was tired and careless--"
He dropped the cup, then stopped its fall with the Force right before it would have hit the floor. "But I caught myself before any damage was done."
The cup leaped back into his hands and he extended it to Obi-Wan, who took it reverently.
"I shall not be careless again, Padawan."
Obi-Wan smiled, then replaced the cup on the shelf. "Thank you, master."
They regarded each other in comfortable, understanding silence, but Obi-Wan's thoughts were racing ahead, and a moment later, he suddenly began to laugh. Giving him a strange look, Qui-Gon asked, "What is it, Padawan?"
"I remember Mace Windu!" he managed to gasp.
"Bant said that being a Jedi was a matter of commitment and not a matter of hair, and you said--"He couldn't stop laughing long enough to get the name out again.
Qui-Gon let him giggle for a few moments, then finally asked, "Padawan?"
"I'm glad you remembered him now, and not in front of the Council."
"Master?" Obi-Wan asked. It was late evening and Qui-Gon had been drowsily considering going to bed. Now he looked up at his Padawan and smiled. "Yes, Obi-Wan?"
"Master--if I did something stupid, something I knew you wouldn't approve of, and, uh, I had to take the consequences, and they were really bad, and you didn't find out about what I'd done until much later, and I'd already really suffered, uh--?"
"What, Obi-Wan?" he encouraged calmly, still half thinking of sleep.
"Would you punish me?"
"If I thought that you had learned your lesson, probably not. Why?"
"Well--I remember how I lost my memory."
Qui-Gon sat up, fully awake. "How?"
"You know I wasn't very happy about being left behind when you and Mayor Ech-to-tha went out for that 'entertaining evening'," Obi-Wan began.
"Believe me, Obi-Wan, you didn't miss anything."
"Well, I would have liked to have been invited, anyway. It could only have been worse if he'd left one of his bodyguards home with me as a baby-sitter."
"I know. Go on."
"When I was getting ready for bed that night, I was sort of looking out the window and hoping you'd come home already and I was hoping you were miserable, too, and I saw people climbing up onto the wall. At first I thought it was an attack, so I grabbed my light saber and ran out. Then I realised they were just standing there, shouting at the house. They were shouting 'we wanna see Jedi' or 'we want the Jedi' or something like that. But they were kids, master, probably younger than I was. I didn't think they were a threat, even though they had slingshots, and I was feeling sort of--well--"
"Defiant? Rebellious?" Qui-Gon suggested, identifying the feeling through the bond.
Obi-Wan nodded guiltily. "Yes. Rebellious. And--I wanted to show off a little, too, I guess. I put up my shields because I didn't want you to know what I was doing. I knew you wouldn't approve, but I just felt like doing it anyway. I remember sneaking up on them, and jumping up onto the wall, and lighting my light saber as I came up. And they all screamed and started to jump off the wall, and I was really gloating because I'd scared them. It made me feel good, in a--hmm--Sithly sort of way. So I tightened my shields even more so you wouldn't find out."
"They all had slingshots and they had been catapulting stones against the house before I came, just for fun, or maybe trying to break the windows, I don't know. I think one of them must have hit me in the head."
There was a silence, and then Obi-Wan said, "I remember...sort of...I was on the ground and I didn't know where I was or what was happening. I only knew that my head hurt. I could hear somebody yelling 'run run run' and something like 'patrol' and then I started running, but I didn't know where I was going. There were other people there, too, running. The kids, I think. They were ahead of me once, and then later I heard somebody behind me, so I ran even faster, and I was turning corners, thinking I was being chased and trying to get away, and--"
"Uncle--I mean, Dr. Maethum said I ran in front of his car, but I don't remember that." Obi-Wan shrugged. "I'm really sorry, master. I shouldn't have acted that way. It was childish and not befitting a Jedi."
"Yes, it was," Qui-Gon nodded. "It was very childish, and not the way to convince me that you should be treated as an adult, like you wanted to be treated that evening. I expect better of you, no matter what the circumstances."
"Yes, master." Obi-Wan waited expectantly.
"I think that the natural consequences of your actions are more than enough punishment, Padawan." Much, much more, he thought to himself.
"Thank you, master." Although Obi-Wan's face remained serious, Qui-Gon caught a slight burst of triumph through their bond.
"You thought I'd see things your way, didn't you, Padawan?" Qui-Gon teased.
Obi-Wan grinned guiltily, and Qui-Gon had to say it again. "Welcome home, Obi-Wan."
"There, do you see the difference? There's so much more activity in the memory centers here," said Dr. Ra-sek-mun, pointing to the two images on the computer screen. It was the eighth day. Obi-Wan had received the last dose of the drug the day before and Dr. Ra-sek-mun had done one last brain scan for his records. Now he was comparing the results of the one he'd done before starting the treatment to the one he'd just finished a few minutes ago.
"Excellent," Dr. Ra-sek-mun breathed into the silence that followed as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan leaned forward and squinted at the screen, comparing the images and identifying the differences that he was pointing out. "Subjectively, Master Jinn, how much memory do you think Obi-Wan has recovered?"
"Oh, about ninety five percent," Qui-Gon replied. They had spent a lot of time in the last few days simply talking and reminiscing about experiences they'd had together. Although Obi-Wan had often reacted with a blank look whenever he mentioned something at first, a few words had usually sufficed to make his face light up with recognition.
"Excellent," the doctor said again. "My theory worked. Familiar surroundings. Unless, of course, you were using some of those Jedi healing techniques to help things along, Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "No. To tell the truth, it never occurred to me, not even when I was in a healing trance for my chest."
"Good," Dr. Ra-sek-mun nodded. "For my other patients, I mean. Imagine their disappointment if I told them they'd have to be a Jedi to get all their memory back. Right. Well. Patient healed, case closed. I'll say good-bye now. I don't suppose I'll be seeing you again. I'll probably be flying back to Sceotan before the day is over. My secretary must be missing me already, even if she is visiting her family."
There was a round of hand-shaking, thank yous, and good-byes, and then Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon out of the infirmary. He was just raising his arms above his head for a cartwheel when Qui-Gon said firmly, without even looking around, "Don't do it, Padawan."
But it was too late. Obi-Wan's feet were already in the air. A moment later, he'd barely missed colliding with Leona as she came around the corner. She moved nimbly out of the way and teased, "Let me guess. Obi-Wan's on his way out."
He lowered his arms, feeling distinctly sheepish, then moved quickly to catch up with Qui-Gon.
"When do you think the Council will give us another assignment, master?" he asked when they were out of the infirmary and approaching their apartment.
"Not for a while, I'm afraid, Padawan," Qui-Gon tempered the news with a little smile.
"Am I going to be on probation again?"
"No, of course not. Why do you ask?"
"I, uh, wasn't very happy about coming back here at first. I criticised the Jedi in front of a lot of people, master, because I didn't remember, and I was scared. And I did cut my own braid off. The Council might question my commitment, my dedication. They might be wondering if I really remember enough to be a Jedi again," Obi-Wan said in a rush, giving words to feelings that had been slowly growing in him in the last few days.
"You won't be on probation, Obi-Wan, but they might want to test you, yes," Qui-Gon agreed.
"I won't let them summon you for at least another week. We both need a little time, I think." Qui-Gon's comlink beeped, and he flicked it on." Qui-Gon Jinn."
"Yes?" came the question from the other end, too quickly for Obi-Wan to recognise the voice.
"Yes." He switched off, and returned the comlink to his belt.
"What was that?" Obi-Wan asked.
"A question and an answer," Qui-Gon replied cryptically.
Obi-Wan was curious, but knew that if Qui-Gon had wanted to answer him completely, he would have.
"Come," said Qui-Gon. "It's been too long since we meditated together. It's one of the things I missed while you were--away."
"I didn't miss it at the time," Obi-Wan said, "but now that you mention it."
"First things first, though. You need a haircut. You look like a Wookiee in the wild."
It was lunchtime when they came out of meditation. Letting his eyes remain closed, Obi-Wan took a moment to delight in the sensations surrounding him. He felt refreshed, cleansed somehow, and filled with a sense of light and well-being. His master had been right. It had been too long since they had knelt down together to let the Force flow through them, and it had done them both good. He opened his eyes.
Qui-Gon had unfastened the tie of his ponytail so that his long hair fell forward to frame his face, and he had also separated a single lock from the rest of it. As Obi-Wan watched, his nimble fingers divided it quickly and easily into three parts and he began to braid them together, a skill he'd obviously not forgotten.
"Master?" Obi-Wan asked. "What are you doing?"
"You've given me so many gray hairs since we met. I thought it was time to return the favour. "Holding the end of the braid with one hand, Qui-Gon reached for the tie with the other and fastened it, then removed a small knife from one of his belt pouches and severed the braid close to his scalp. Then he leaned forward and held the freshly cut end of it to Obi-Wan's head, behind his right ear. Obi-Wan felt a concentrated burst of the Force joining the braid to his own hair, and as Qui-Gon removed his hand, he reached up and touched it reverently.
"Master," he said formally, "I am honoured."
"It is my pleasure," said Qui-Gon, equally formally. Then he grinned and gave the braid a playful tug. "Now you look like your old self."
"I feel like my old self again. "Then he frowned. "No. That's not true. I feel different. Older."
"Those first gray hairs make everybody feel old," Qui-Gon teased, and then he sobered as well. "You've been through a lot, Obi-Wan. You're a little bit older, and a lot more mature. I felt it while we were meditating."
"It was a good learning experience for me," Obi-Wan agreed. "Even if I'm not quite sure yet what I was supposed to learn from it."
"It will take time to recognise and apply the lesson," Qui-Gon nodded. "I wonder, however, if it was not meant for me."
Qui-Gon smiled. "I have already learned something myself. However, I'm sure that you will also benefit from it."
"I hope I do, considering that it was my experience," Obi-Wan joked.
"In the meantime, Padawan, I have something else for you."
He stood up gracefully and went into his bedroom, then returned with a long, silver cylinder in his hand." I found this just outside the wall of Mayor Ech-to-tha's estate the morning after you disappeared. You must have dropped it when you fell."
Obi-Wan received the light saber with a grateful grin and clipped it to his belt. "Thank you, master. Now I really feel like a Jedi again."
"I'm glad to have you back, Padawan."
"Can we spar this afternoon?"
"Yes, Obi-Wan, I should think it's safe now."
"Right now?" Obi-Wan stood up eagerly.
"How about after lunch?"
"Well, if you think you can't beat me without the extra energy, Master..."
"Believe it or not, Obi-Wan, I also missed your impudence," Qui-Gon laughed.
They walked in comfortable silence to the cafeteria, and to Obi-Wan's surprise, Qui-Gon opened the door and motioned for him to enter first. He did, and stopped in amazement. There were balloons and streamers hanging from the ceiling, along with a banner proclaiming "Welcome home Obi-Wan Kenobi." Suddenly, he was surrounded by friends and acquaintances; Bant, Garen, T'Kar, Tahl and many others. In the back of the crowd, he even recognised An-Paj, his wives, and Dr. Ra-sek-mun.
"Reeft!"he called out happily, spotting someone he hadn't seen recently. "When did you get back?"
"This morning," the Dresselian replied. "Hey, you remember me. They told me you had amnesia."
"Had. It's over now. I've got my memory back again. And T'kar! Yes! I remember you now, too!"
"Good!" the older Padawan grinned.
"Look, I'm really sorry about hitting you--"
"You can apologise before we spar together next time. Then maybe I'll take it easy on you."
"Take it easy on me?" Obi-Wan bristled, his tone indicating that usually it was the other way around.
"Come on and sit down," Bant said, taking his wrist gently in one claw. "Come on."
They made him sit down at a table where there was a place set for one, and T'kar whipped the cover off the plate in front of him. "Here's an extra big portion of baby meat, Obi-Wan."
"Oh, yum. My favourite."
"And here's what you were looking for the other day." Garen thrust a stuffed Wookiee at him.
Obi-Wan took it curiously. "I was?"
"Oh, yes. First you pushed me down and accused me of hiding it, and then you stuck your thumb in your mouth. I've never seen anything so funny!"
But everybody around the table was nodding in agreement, even Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan felt himself blushing.
"I don't mean to sound greedy," said Reeft at his elbow, "but are you going to eat that roast nerf?"
"Give me a chance!" Obi-Wan protested, reaching for knife and fork.
"Wait, don't eat yet," said Bant, giving Reeft a little pinch. "Three cheers for Obi-Wan Kenobi!"
"A stinking filthy Jedi!" everybody shouted. The next repetition was even louder. "A stinking filthy Jedi! A stinking filthy JEDI!"
Having expected to hear "hip, hip, hooray", Obi-Wan was startled at first, but then he covered his face with his hands and slid down in his seat, too embarrassed to look up. "Oh, Force."
He was never going to hear the end of this! As the chanting gave way to cheers and clapping, he slipped under the table to hide his utter mortification and wondered briefly if there was a Force technique that could render a person invisible. He didn't have long to think, however. Almost instantly, the chairs on his side were pushed aside and three separate hands grabbed him by the ankles. Trying to shake or scrape them off, Obi-Wan snagged the nearest table leg and held on tightly as his friends began to pull. There was a tussle, but a moment later, Qui-Gon, grinning broadly, knelt down at that corner of the table and began to prise his fingers loose.
"Master, don't!" Obi-Wan protested, trying to keep his grip. "You didn't rescue me just to have me drop dead of embarrassment at your feet, did you? Master, please!"
"There is no such thing as dying of embarrassment, Obi-Wan, "Qui-Gon corrected him, still grinning and working on his fingers. "We only wish there were."
"I know what will get him! "Bant called out, kneeling down as well and scooting towards him. "He's awfully ticklish right--here!"
"No!" Obi-Wan shrieked, involuntarily letting go. Almost instantly, he was dragged out from his hiding place and pulled to his feet, and, led by T'kar, the crowd began to chant, "Speech, speech, speech!"
Still blushing furiously, especially as he realised what they wanted to hear, Obi-Wan waved his hands for silence. "All right, all right, I admit it. I'm a stinking filthy Jedi and--"
He paused for effect, then added,"--I'm proud of it!"
Much, much later, when the cheering had died down, and Obi-Wan had a chance to apply himself to his meal, Qui-Gon made his way through the crowd with his own tray and sat down across from him.
"Master," Obi-Wan said. Qui-Gon looked up, and he continued. "Thanks for getting me out of prison and putting up with me and helping me even when I didn't want it and--well--thanks for bringing me home."
Original cover design by Julie. HTML formatting copyright 2001 TheForce.Net LLC.