The Gravity is a demilitarized Venator-class Republic cruiser. She's one thousand, one hundred, fifty-five meters long, and masses just under one hundred gigagrams. At the height of the war, she carried nearly ten thousand men, crew and marines. She participated in the defence of Ryloth and the second battle of Geonosis, and earned more than a few commendations for both. Now, however, she is most famous for being the home and carrier of the new Naar Order.
The Naar are, in some ways, more open than the Jedi. All of their statutes and bylaws were posted on the HyperNet for feedback and discussion well before ratification, for example. They openly accept anyone who wants to learn to use the strange set of senses and abilities colloquially known as the Force; and one doesn't even have to be Force-sensitive to join, merely determined to help make a difference in the galaxy. The statistics speak for themselves: of those trained, a staggering eighty-two percent decide to stay and join the Order. Another fourteen percent go on to join another charitable or Loyalist-aligned political organization.
Ask any Naar about their founder and leader, Anakin Naberrie, and they will talk your auricles off about the latest gossip, speculation, and actual news. Ask them about his personality, and you'll be told of a man who has deep laughter lines and is, by choice if not by blood, related to most of the Naar. Ask them about some of the weirder actions he's taken, such as getting the gene-fix even to traitors and deserters, and they'll joke, but there's a faint hint of unease that suggests
that it was, like any other public action Naberrie has ever taken, a considered plan. Ask about his current actions and whereabouts, and they will to a woman close up and stop talking.
It makes doing a piece on the human an exercise in frustration, so to say I was surprised when I checked my comms only to find a short message inviting me to come aboard the Gravity and do a piece on him, would be an understatement. That is, however, what happened.
The shuttle up to the Gravity is full, but not overflowing. I ask the person next to me, clearly one of the clones who made up most of the GAR's ground troops during the war, what his business is.
"Rotating in," he says. "Some of my brothers want out, I wanted a vacation from hunting down Hutt crimes in the Rim. What about you?"
"I've been invited to do a piece on the Naar," I say, hedging a little.
The trooper is having none of it. "You're the reporter. No one told me you're bothan."
"Is that a problem?"
"No more than my being a clone is a problem," he says. "Is it?"
"No," I say. I've met clones before; I'd mostly been a political reporter during the war, but the Senate had the Coruscant Guard. "Arya Sei'tuli."
"Wire," he says, just before the comms announce to strap in for docking.
Finding where I'm meant to go is easy: I am met in the hangar by Padmé "Amidala" Naberrie, former Queen of Naboo and then senator for the same before taking her current position as senator of the planet Naberrie. Even at seven months pregnant, she has a grace that few humans posses. The braids are distinctive.
"Isn't this a little below your pay grade?" I ask, as she pulls my luggage.
"Not at all," she replies. "It's been meetings nonstop today. This gives me an excuse to get out of the office."
"I see," I say. "And Naberrie?"
"My husband is staying out of it," she says, perhaps stressing the word husband.
"Smart man," I say.
Amidala laughs. "Generally. He's teaching right now, but he'll meet us for dinner. You have a couple of hours to get settled in."
The full complement of a Venator-class ship is seven thousand four hundred twenty-six, but a little over half of those are technicians and support crew for the ship's fighters and armaments. The Gravity no longer houses fighters, and the armaments were removed as part of the demilitarization, so the Naar get by with a crew complement of less than three thousand. The extra capacity, however, is usually filled with what the Naar call 'students,' a word that can mean anything from a Jedi on board to Float and learn control of the Dark to a history professor on long-term residence, recording the early years of the new Order. According to them, I am also a student, here to learn about the order. They aren't wrong, so I take the berth I'm offered.
It's small by human standards, just larger than the clone is was meant to house. By bothan standards, it's quite roomy, and the canopy is the kind that comes with both flat-screen and holoproj capabilities. I plug in my 'pad, and get to work. By the time my comm chimes to warn me to get ready for dinner, I have framed the first part of this article.
Whatever I expected for dinner, this is not it: there are a good two dozen people at the long table. Amidala sits at the head, Naberrie to her right and their twins to her left. To Naberrie's right are Master Obi-wan Kenobi and a couple of clones whose personal insignia I recognize. I am seated between the twins and the infamous Asajj Ventress. There are another set of twins on Ventress' other side, probably hers, and then the male zabrak who is presumably their father. More clones and students sit all down the long table, but I do not know any of them.
"Oh, don't look so frightened," says Ventress. "It's not like we're going to eat you." She she flashes me a grin full of zabrak-sharp teeth. As bothans are descendants of herbivores, this is not a reassuring gesture.
Winama giggles. Qui-gon says, "That wasn't very nice, Witch."
Ventress winks at him, but doesn't have time to say anything before Naberrie stands. Almost instantly, there is quiet. "I know you've been rotating lately, so there are a lot of new faces at the table tonight." This gets a chuckle from the clones. "We have also with us Reporter Sei, of BothaNews, whom I have invited to help take the mystery out of our mysterious mission." Another chuckle. "To that end, I want to ask you personally to make her time with us pleasant as well as successful." I have the sense that he said a lot more than the actual words, and I just didn't have context to place. "That's all." He sits with no further ceremony. As soon as he has, people begin dishing out food from the various bowls and plates scattered around the tables.
"Really, teacher," said Ventress. "Was that necessary?"
"Probably," replied Naberrie. "Sei?"
"Maybe. Can I ask if I have everyone's name right? I know you and Amidala, and of course Winama and Qui-gon. Councillor Kenobi. Commander Rex? "
"Just Rex, these days," says Rex.
" - Rex, then. And ARC Trooper Echo."
I nod, and turn my head. "Ventress?"
"Mm," says Ventress.
"No, no good," says Qui-gon. "You have to say the words out loud."
"Oh I do, do I?" asks Ventress, not apparently actually annoyed.
"Because she doesn't know you like we do," says one of the zabrak children, the yellow one.
"Ventress is fine," says Ventress. "I will let you know if you may call me Witch."
"And you are Maul and Feral?" I ask.
"Yes," says the yellow one. "I'm Feral. Maul doesn't talk to strangers."
Maul has levelled an impressively unblinking stare at me. Once he is sure he has my attention, he bares his teeth, and I discover that Ventress was indeed smiling at me a moment ago.
"Maul," says the absolute mountain of an adult male zabrak, from Maul's other side. Maul looks over and across at him, and then begins arguing with him in a language I don't know.
I blink, but before I can request an introduction, Winama asks, "Are you here to be a student too?"
"A kind of student," I say. "I'm not Force-sensitive, and I don't want to join the Naar. I just want to learn about you."
Winama giggles, and says, "I'm not a Naar."
"You're not?" I ask, surprised.
"Of course not," cuts inn Kenobi. "We Naar believe that a person has to be old enough to make an informed decision before making that particular commitment."
"Oh," I say. It's true the Naar won't take anyone younger than fourteen. I just hadn't realized that was the reason for the policy. "Can I ask questions about that?"
"You can eat," says Ventress, handing me a bowl. "Here. Passet."
It is clear that whoever prepared the meal was aware that a bothan would be at the table, as everything but the actual meat is completely vegetarian. The passet, in particular, is excellent. As I have clearly been steered away from interviewing, I ask instead about people I expected to meet, but haven't.
"Tano is not on board right now," explains Kenobi. "Taking care of some smugglers in the Rim." As the Naar don't usually care about smuggling, I surmise that these smugglers were dealing in people.
"Did you want to meet him?" asks Naberrie, sounding surprised. "He's here, but usually likes to be on third shift, Force knows why. I'd have invited him if I'd known."
"I want to meet - everyone who's been with you since, ah, OR-715," I say. The planet's location, and even its name, are a closely guarded secret. "Where you Fell."
"Oh." Naberrie seems nonplussed. "Well. We can arrange a meeting, if you like."
"Yes, please. And, ah, Grievous. If that's possible?"
"Comming is easy. Whether he'll want to talk . . . "
"I understand." The testimony of the Kaleel general was instrumental in the destruction of the Banking Clan, but he is famous for otherwise not talking to news media.
"Some of the people who went on the mission to Mustafar are on board, too," says Amidala. "But they've already talked to the news, of course."
One of the last few missions in the war, the one to Mustafar, during which Dooku was arrested and Grievous agreed to a plea bargain and Naberrie might or might not have done something unusual with a lightsaber, is a matter of public record. This is strictly and literally true: there were twelve Phase II helmets on and recording at the start of the mission, more than twenty by the end. Aside from the electromagnetic disturbance which shut them off for twelve seconds, a full reboot cycle, right over the time that Naberrie defeated and disarmed Dooku, it's all available on the 'Net from a score of different angles. Most of the people who'd been there have already given interviews, often multiple ones. "Except Naberrie."
"Well, you can always ask," says Naberrie.
"If you wish to waste your time," says Ventress. Kenobi rolls his eyes.
"What about you?" asks Echo.
"What about me?" I say.
"Well, there has to be something. Boss wouldn't have picked just any reporter for this. What's so special about you?"
"I don't know," I say. "I just got the invite."
"Huh," says Echo, and turns to look at Naberrie.
"First press conference," says Naberrie. That's all, but that's apparently also enough, because Echo, Rex, Kenobi, and Amidala all nod. I decide to review that footage as soon as possible. The conversation moves on to an anecdote about what one of Naberrie's students, a nine-year up from the Temple to do some training, did in class that day. It sounds improbable at best, but everyone else seems to take it at face value. Winama pronounces it 'wizard,' which earns a look from her father.
Later that evening, with the berth canopy down, I check the records. I was present at Naberrie's first conference, on behalf of BothaNews. I even managed to ask a few questions. None of it explains why, out of all the millions of reporters in the galaxy, I would have been picked to do this. It's a disconcerting feeling. I type this up and then attempt sleep, but sleep doesn't come easily.
Breakfast aboard the Gravity is an informal affair: the commissary loaded with different kind of baked goods, proteins, soups, and beverages. People can come and go as they please, although after about the eleventh hour they stop putting out more breakfast and begin putting out lunch instead. I take a bowl of fermented bean soup and as large a mug of kaff as they serve, and sat down to read the morning news. Nothing of particular importance overnight.
I am surprised when a clone sits down across from me. Not just a clone: Fives, former ARC trooper and veteran of the 501st, and widely regarded to be one of the few men capable of keeping up with then-Skywalker. I blink. "Good morning."
"Morning," says Fives. "Finish eating and I'll take you to Naberrie. He's doing morning meditation with the students right now. The plan is for you to shadow him, but unless you've got the Force, meditation is boring to watch. We can talk instead," he adds, giving me a look.
"Gossip travels fast amongst the Naar," I say.
He smirks. "You could say that."
"Tell me about Mustafar," I say.
"What's there to tell, that I haven't already?" he asks. "Got captured pulling a stupid strike. General was tortured, but left with the rest of us between sessions. Medic did his best, but," he shrugs. "And then Naberrie showed up to rescue us, because that's what he does."
"And the fight with Dooku?"
"Not much of a fight. He called out Grievous, and Naberrie negotiated the plea bargain. Tried to negotiate a surrender, too, and only fought back once Dooku was actively trying to kill him. But he's better than just about anyone else, with a lightsaber, so. Like I said. Not much of a fight."
"And the rumors?" I ask.
"Which ones?" replies Fives, eyes sparkling with good humor. "I can tell you, Naberrie is not a clone of Skywalker. He's just what happens when Skywalker grows up."
I sigh. "Nevermind. Tell me about the Naar. A lot of clones signed up when the war ended. I'd like to know how you made that decision."
"I made a promise," says Fives. "To keep Naberrie as sane as someone like him can be. I wasn't going to be able to do that from half the galaxy away, so I joined. The perks are nice."
This is new, to me and therefore probably to the galaxy. "To whom did you make this promise?"
"Naberrie," says Fives. "It's nice to have a CO for once who really, really believes in contingency planning. We haven't had a real Kenobi-Skywalker foxtrot since the war ended." Later, I will look it up and learn that 'foxtrot' is military parlance for what happens when a mission goes bad. At the time, I'm just confused.
"Right," I say, slowly. "And why did he need someone to make this promise?"
Fives smiles at this, like I've just said something funny. "Ask me again in a week."
"I'm asking you now."
"Yeah, but you're asking without knowing some of the more important facts."
"Am I going to be told these facts, at any point?" I ask. "And will I be allowed to report on them?"
"Yeah; that's kind of why you're here."
I sit back, astonished. Naberrie is reticent about most things, and even in Senate hearings has a tendency to change the subject when asked a question he doesn't want to answer. I finish my kaff to cover my surprise, then stand to take the tray back. "Do you know why he picked me?"
Fives shrugs. "This way."
The corridors in the Gravity are small, with self-sealing airlocks at the bulkheads. The layout of the ship is actually reasonably simple, and after a few days even the most directionless person, like me, finds their orientation. Fives leads us down the long axis, toward the hangars which used to house starfighters and now house supply and visitors ships. And, of course, the gardens.
Naar are famous for their gardens, and with good reason. They have onboard 'ponics, too, to help with oxygen scrubbing and provide fresh vegetables. The gardens in the hangars, however, are purely decorative, each hangar a different biome holding a riot of different plants. Naberrie is in a very humid one. He's holding his daughter in his lap, although she is paying more attention to whatever is displayed on her 'pad than the lesson. Surrounding them are three dozen people ranging from late teens to, at a conservative guess, just past their century. He's instructing them in something called a 'plant projection.' All around us, the flowers are blooming.
I watch for a few minutes before turning to ask Fives about it, but Fives has left. When I turn back, Naberrie's eyes are open and he's looking at me with unreadable expression. Winama is also looking, frankly curious. He holds up his index finger in the universal sign for 'wait,' and finishes the lesson. The other people open their eyes, then get up and begin stretching and chatting quietly with each other.
"Practice that; ship's library has recordings of Oph and I talking you through it, if you can't do it on your own. Dismissed." Then he stands up and walks over to me. "Sei. Morning."
"Morning Sei," repeats Winama dutifully.
"Morning," I reply. "I'm to shadow you?"
"For a couple of days. The Gravity is lighting out in a few hours."
"I thought the Gravity wasn't allowed out of Coruscant's orbit."
"Not without permission," agrees Naberrie. "We have Jedi Council permission and Ti to observe, my wife and Kretaeen are on board as the senatorial contingent, and you're here representing the media."
"Sounds like you're going to do something big, then."
"Massive," he says. "Please follow me." I do. "Next on my schedule is working with a group of younger students. They've all chosen to Fall, but are not actually that good at dealing with the Dark yet. Metaphorically, be prepared for smoke but no fire."
A day in the life of Anakin Naberrie is busy, but to my surprise, the leader of the Naar Order really does spend most of his time teaching. There are eight forty-five minute sessions, working with various age groups, from younglings who have decided not to pursue the a Jedi knighthood all the way to persons old enough to be his father. He's stern and gentle by turns, cajoling them to get a grip on themselves and their emotions, but equally willing to give praise when they do it right.
Winama only participates in the lessons that involve actual Force-use, and otherwise goes back to her pad. It's clear that she isn't actually very good at using the Force, but no one seems to mind catching her stray shots and sometimes the girl herself. I, who am used to bothan children, ask more than once if she is all right. Each time, I'm told she's a normal human six-year. The noise and activity are apparently nothing to worry about.
We sit down for lunch during the fifth time slot. "Questions?" asks Naberrie, blinking his eyes until the yellow goes away. Then he carefully unwraps a sandwich and hands it to his daughter. The second sandwich is his.
"A few, yes," I say, quickly glancing at Winama, then away. He does not answer personal questions. "Why do this yourself? One would think the leader of the Order has more important things to be doing."
"Mm. Not really. The Naar aren't like the Jedi; our obligations are not to the Senate or the Republic. Our obligations are to the Force itself."
"Really?" I ask. "But what about the philanthropic - "
"Oh, well. There is more than one way to do the thing the Force demands that I do. I chose the way that lets me make the, mm. The changes to policies that Jedi aren't allowed to complain about. Nevermind daring to do anything." He takes another bite, then jiggles his legs. "The Force doesn't really care about the difference between freedom and slavery, but I do."
"A lot of people do," I say.
"A lot of people say they do, but when it comes down to taking action?" He sighs, then shakes his head. "Sorry. I did not ask you here to have another argument about rights."
I give him a disgruntled look. "But your goal, the goal of the Naar, isn't actually the societal change you've been enacting?"
"It's a goal. It's just not the reason I had to found the Naar."
"Had to," I say.
"Chose to, also," he says. "I just wish someone else who could be the head of the order wanted the job. I keep being elected head, and I'm really in this to teach. Not spending all of my time on administrata."
"I haven't seen you spend any time on administrata," I point out.
"Yes, but you weren't following me when we were trying to get the Gravity."
"Why this particular ship?" I ask. "I thought it was going to be the Negotiatior."
"Everyone thought it was going to be the Negotiator, and then the Gravity lit in for a refit and anyone in the system with even the tiniest bit of Force-sensitivity knew. I still haven't managed to get a real answer out of the Force. At this point, I'm half convinced it was because of the name."
"The Gravity?" I ask, confused.
"That's not funny," says Winama. "Pickles." She hands them to Naberrie, who eats them.
"It's a terrible pun," he agrees. "Although the pun won't make sense until later, I guarantee it will make sense."
"You can't explain it now?"
"Patience," he replies.
"All right. Tell me where we're going."
"Ghost Nebula," he says, finishing the sandwich.
I'm surprised. "Why? There's nothing there."
"There's a cloud of gas," he replies.
"Look. You're the one who asked me here - "
"And I gave you a nice, juicy piece of information. You have to wait until we get there for more."
"Is it going to be dangerous?" I ask, instead. I was not a front-line reporter during the war for a reason.
"Not to us," he says. "At least, if you believe my calculations."
I look at the man who designed the Naberrie WALDO. "I do."
He shrugs. "Then no problem. And now we have to get going, or we'll be late."
We visit Amidala briefly so that Winama and Qui-gon can switch parents, and then head to the next lesson.
The next ninety minutes are more of the same, although Qui-gon is more engaged with the meditation. By the end, I am ready to stop. Naberrie, however, says that it's time to deal with being the leader of the Naar, and we head to one of the larger conference rooms. It's already mostly filled, with clones but also with Kenobi and Ventress and Shaak Ti.
"Okay," says Naberrie. "Let's make this short and sweet. Progress reports, go. Cody?"
"Almost finished loading all of the supplies," says a clone who is probably Commander Cody of the 212th. "We're on time."
"Picking up load and singing," says another clone.
"I don't know why you think you have to ask. You're in the gardens every day. You'd know before we do if anything were wrong."
This gets a short chuckle.
"Fine," says Ventress.
"Really? I heard there was some kind of scuffle - "
"Dealt with," says Ventress, in tones like slabs of pourstone.
Naberrie smiles. "The array?"
"Still laying the last detectors. They'll be done by the time we're ready."
"Great. New applications?"
"Six," says Kenobi. "Three AgriCorps, two civilians who just want a look around. One doctor."
"Schedule the Jedi and the doctor. Civvies can take the tour with everyone else."
"I figured; already done."
"And that is why you're in charge. Any anticipated problems before tomorrow?"
"No," says Ventress.
"Shuttles got back to Coruscant safely?"
"Yes," confirm at least two clones.
"I would like to state for the record that I still don't see the point of this," says Master Ti.
"I'm not trying to convince the Council, Ti," he says, and inclines his head towards me.
"I realize, but the math itself would be - "
"Insufficient," says Naberrie. "Alderaan."
Ti inclines her head. "The situation is not the same."
"It's not that different, either. Besides, it makes my life easier. People who aware of exactly what I can do won't try pulling shit. Not on my watch." Naberrie, then turns his attention to the assembled. "Anything else, before we break for the day?"
An unfamiliar clone raises his hand.
"The answer is still no, Hardcase," says Naberrie, which prompts general laughter.
Hardcase rolls his eyes. "Not that," he says. "Just a question. The betting pool is up to two hundred million. Are you sure you don't want to buy in?"
Naberrie pinches the bridge of his nose. "No, Hardcase. I do not want in. I have more than enough money from the printers."
"Your loss," says Hardcase, and shrugs.
"You're patenting a new kind of printer?" I ask.
"Yeah," he says.
"Why?" I ask. Surely, I think, there aren't any real advances left to made in printing.
Naberrie half-smiles. "You'll see when we get there," he says. "I really can't show you now, they aren't on the ship."
He shrugs. "We light out in eighteen hours. If you don't want to come, there is plenty of time left to catch a shuttle."
"I'll stay," I say.
There is just enough time to wash and dress for dinner, and then then another clone leads me to it. It's not the same room as yesterday. Eventually, I will realise that the first night was a formal dinner, or at least, as formal as the Naar get, to welcome me to the ship. Tonight, it's in the general mess, which means a mix of Naar students and members of the Order and clones. I'm also learning to tell clones apart even without the personal insignia: it's a matter of scars and facial tattoos and subtle changes in body language.
Naberrie is sitting with with children and Amidala and Rex. I get some food, and then walk over. "Is this seat taken?"
Amidala makes an expansive gesture, so I sit. Then I say, "So. What is the experiment, and why do we have to go to the Ghost Nebula to do it?"
"We don't. We're not doing the explosives test in the nebula," says Rex. "If it works, we produce enough radiation to sterilize all inhabited worlds for parsecs. So we're going to do it far away from any inhabited worlds."
I'm still caught up on the 'sterilize.' I say, "Is the explosive a supernova? A black hole?" These are not real possibilities, but they are the only things I know capable of the described effects.
"Neither of the above," says Naberrie, in his soft, amused voice.
"Then?" I ask. Demand, really.
"New kind of bomb," says Qui-gon. "Bad kind of bomb. But worse if we don't have it."
"Why? The war is over!"
"There will always be another war," says Rex. "He," he jerks his head at Naberrie, "wants to be banned from fighting in any of them."
"You do?" I ask. He'd been a war hero, the war hero; and then he'd had his vision, and taken the six or seven actions necessary to end the war within four months. Since then, he's fought on every conceivable front except an actual battlefield.
"Say rather, some idiot is eventually going to suggest drafting me," he says. "That is a very, very bad idea. If I feel the need to fight, I will; but I will not be forced into it."
The idea of anyone trying to force Naberrie to do anything is laughable. Something about their sober expressions prevents me from saying so, however. Instead, I say, "And this explosive will do that?"
"Well, it depends on what the Senate wants to do," says Naberrie, grinning. "Possibly there will be another hearing."
The Senate does not want another hearing. Every time Naberrie is called to the Senate Dome, the hearing goes off the rails at the first opportunity. It has, by almost every conceivable measure, been good for the Republic as a whole - stupid economic policies thrown away, unjust laws brought to light and repealed, and of course everyone remembers the slaver trial which saw Orn Free Taa to the Kessel spice mines - but even so. Very few senators, those with nothing to hide, don't fear the singular force of justice that is Naberrie when he can prove that someone has done something unethical. They do not want to have to call Naberrie back.
"Although, once again, no charges," says Amidala. "It's not illegal to wander off to a disused corner of space for weapons testing. It is, in fact, encouraged."
"We looked it up," says Rex.
"Fair enough," I say. "Where are we doing this? And will I be able to publish this?"
"We wouldn't have invited you if we didn't want the galaxy to know," says Naberrie. "We'll be doing it twelve thousand light-years above the galactic plane. Nothing there but space: we'll be able to get good footage. This is not news that should be suppressed, and in the long run, can't be suppressed. It is best to ensure the Republic deals with it now, while it is only mostly hypothetical."
"Mostly?" I ask.
"Well, we're doing it," says Naberrie. "But it's not an easily replicable experiment, even once I publish it."
"Vod," says Rex. It's a word that means 'brother' in Mando'a, and apparently in the developing culture of the Naar, 'stop being egregious.'
"Will I continue to shadow you?"
"Unless you'd prefer not to," says Naberrie. "Obviously you're free to visit the public parts of the ship. You are not a reactor engineer, so you're not allowed in engineering."
"I thought it might be more interesting to shadow Senator Amidala for a day or two."
"Well," says Amidala. "I won't forbid it, but I've been told it's pretty boring. Actually."
"Nevertheless," I say, which is how I find myself the next day sitting in an office with Amidala, two secretaries who could be her sisters, half a dozen clones, and the constantly-active Winama. The amazing thing, at least to me, is that one of the adults is always in motion with the six-year. It's some sort of game that involves getting Winama's toy armor off and tickling her mercilessly, and I find it distracting in the extreme. Amidala is almost constantly on holo with someone, presumably on the planet with which she shares her name, although a couple of times with other senators on Coruscant.
It is intensely boring, even as far as senators go. If I thought that being married to Naberrie would change her, I was very wrong.
At around noon, the ship goes blue-alert as we begin the trip to the Ghost Nebula. In a good ship, it's not more than a week. The Gravity is a very good ship. I decide to go back to following Naberrie around. At some point, he has to do lightsaber training. That will be at least a little interesting.
It's two days before he does, and even then, it's unremarkable by the standards of lightsabers. It's not a class; Naberrie doesn't teach lightsaber combat. It is still impressive to my civilian eyes, blades moving in blurred arcs of light and people moving so quickly it seems that surely someone must lose a limb. Ventress and the male zabrak, for whom I still do not have a name, are watching as one of their sons spars with Naberrie.
"I don't understand. Isn't he supposed to be the best lightsaber duelist in the galaxy?"
"No," says the male zabrak.
"He's terrible at duels," says Ventress. "Duels have rules. Duels have points. Duels have no bearing on any actual battles. He's better now, but Naberrie used to forget that in spars he's not fighting to kill."
"And you let him spar with your son?" I ask incredulously, gesturing at the two figures.
"'Let' is the wrong word," says the other zabrak.
" - we weren't properly introduced," I say. "Reporter Sei, BothaNews."
"I heard." He clearly isn't planning to say anything else before Ventress elbows him. Then he adds, "Savage."
It takes me a moment to realise that's his name. Ventress says, "You'll have to forgive him, he was raised in a cave."
"Some of us can be polite without taunting, Ventress."
"You think so, darling?" says Ventress. "From where I stand, Reporter Sei is now more curious, not less."
Savage turns to look at me for the first time, and double-takes. "Really?"
"Yes! The man Ventress liked enough to - well, procreate, at the very least. The entire galaxy has been asking for years, and now it turns out you were Naar the entire time. Why wouldn't I want to know more?"
Savage gives me a rueful look. "And you're a reporter. Ask, I suppose. I might not answer."
"How did you meet?"
"Which time?" asks Savage.
"Er," I say. I wasn't aware that was a multiple-choice question. "All of them?"
"The first time, during the war, my mother took Ventress in when she was still half-delirious from Force burn. She left again after Dooku made it clear he was going to keep hunting her and damn the civilian casualties, but that was when we met. Then, after the war, we happened to have a mission on the same planet. Mother found it hilarious."
"Ah," I say. "And you joined the Naar?"
"Dathomiri witches only train females," says Savage. "The culture is matriarchal."
"Was," says Ventress.
"Right," agrees Savage. "Was. The Naar do not like slavery, even if it's only implicit. A lot of us joined them. It's . . . good. To help other people the way they helped us."
"What about me?"
"Why did you choose him?"
Ventress shakes her head. "Choose. We each had something the other wanted."
"Then you're not - " I begin. Then I stop. Their romantic relationship, or lack thereof, is none of my business.
"Oh," says Savage, apparently reading it off my face. "No. We're raising Maul and Feral together because children deserve to know both parents, and anyway they needed more sane adults. Ventress is a good mother."
"Bite your tongue," says Ventress.
"I only speak the truth," says Savage, which earns him a glare he serenely ignores.
"They are quite impressive," I say. "What other seven-year could spar with Naberrie?"
"What other seven-year would want to?" replies Ventress. Before I can reply, she calls out, "Time!"
Both Naberrie and Maul freeze, then step back and turn off their 'sabers. Maul's, I noted earlier, is red. Naberrie has two: his own bright blue, and the red one he stole from Dooku. He hardly ever uses the blue one, and so for this match it looked for all the world like two Sith out of the stories, eyes glowing yellow and blades glowing red, trying to kill each other. Maul jogs toward the showers. Naberrie walks over at a more sedate pace.
"Everything you hoped?" he asks.
"Honestly, I can't tell the difference between a novice and a master," I say. "But it was interesting anyway. I finally got an introduction to Savage, here."
"An intriguing story," I hint.
"One that they aren't telling," says Naberrie, turning to lead us away. "Believe me. I've been asking for almost eight years."
"Ah. Naberrie, why were you sparring with a seven-year?"
"It's therapeutic," says Naberrie.
"To beat up a seven-year?"
"Therapeutic for him," amends Naberrie. This doesn't actually answer any of my questions, while at the same time spawning a few more, but I'm getting a sense for him by now. I sigh.
"I am going to stop shadowing you," I say instead.
Naberrie nods. "You have freedom of the ship, minus operational areas."
"All students do."
I go to find Master Ti, who is a friend, more or less. She is gardening with a group of clones. I'm surprised: obligate carnivores like togrutans rarely take time to learn about plants. It's entirely possible that she still hasn't, since the clones seem to be doing more, and laughing good-naturedly with her. I find myself handed a spade and a bucket and told to pull weeds if I'm staying. I'm not particularly good at it either, but I settle down next to the master.
"Oh, Sei," she says. "Hello. Good morning."
"It is? My sense of time just gets up and leaves shipboard."
"Is that why you always end up being assigned to long-term planetary assignments?"
"Mm," says Ti. "How are you settling in?"
"It's bizarre," I admit. "I understand that I'm here to break the news about whatever terrifying weapon Naberrie's devised, but I don't see why he invited any reporter if he's just going to make cryptic statements. I certainly don't understand why me."
"Because Naberrie likes to make his points with lightsabers," says Ti, tiredly.
"What?" And then, "Don't pull that! That's queensfoil. It's medicinal."
Ti mutters something about plants all looking alike, but dutifully piles soil back up around the plant. "Naberrie won't make three separate points if he can make one mean three different things. He's using you a little bit as a threat. You should take is a compliment."
I blink, slowly.
Ti smiles wryly. "Yes, that's pretty normal. It does make sense, once you begin to understand that Naberrie doesn't think on the same scale as everybody else. Getting to that point . . . well, you're in for a treat, but I won't spoil the surprise."
"Do I get a hint?"
"Sure," says Ti. "You're looking for the Darklighter Hyperfuel Company."
"Thanks. And you?" I gesture to the terraced beds.
"We're on a ship filled with Darksiders," says Ti. "Sometimes it's a little difficult to find the Light, but plants always know. Besides, it's good to have soil under my nails."
"And to work with friends!" calls out one of the clones.
"Yes, that," says Ti. "If you're going to eavesdrop, you have to participate in the conversation."
"Yes, mother," says one of the clones, to general laughter. I'm introduced in short order to Seven, Stripe, Lucky, Target, and Odd. They're all Naar who joined up when Naberrie opened the order to the non-Force-sensitive population, and they are all former 104th. They have a wide range of interests: Stripe was a medic and is actually on the design review board for Naberrie prosthetics; Target is developing into a promising artist; Odd is a programmer, and is doing amazing things with navigation algorithms. I chat happily with them until we finish weeding that room. On Target's advice, I go to one of the common Crafts rooms, in which a number of clones are making things.
It is, indeed, a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
I spend the next day trying to figure out how the Naar started running a hyperfuel company without anyone noticing and without any production facilities. The Darklighter is extremely highly regarded, providing not just ordinary hydrogen-3 but also fullerened antimatter in quantities large enough to drive a thousand Gravitys. It was founded four years ago, mainly on venture capital provided by the Jedi Order and a few planetary governments, including Alderaan but, interestingly, lacking Naboo. Their asset is listed as "experimental fuel processing," and there's an absurd number of credits attached to it for tax purposes; annual output suggests that the number is not nearly high enough. The initial capital has all been repaid. However Naberrie is doing it, Darklighter is pure profit for the Naar.
It at least explains how the Naar are funding their war against galactic injustice. If Darklighter builds another experimental fuel processing plant, they'll be able to provide fuel for a percent of the galactic market. It seems inconceivable to me that they won't. If Naberrie is taking me to break this news to the galaxy . . .
But he's not. This is a weapons test, for a weapon designed by a man who can, according to the numbers, generate and store antimatter on an unprecedented scale.
Slowly, I feel the fur on the back of my hands begin to stand.
I spend the next two days attempting, and failing, to get answers out of the Naar. They don't seem surprised by that fact that I found out about Darklighter, but they won't answer any questions, either. Eventually, I give up and go ask Naberrie.
He looks at me for a long moment before he says, "This calls for tea," and refuses to talk at all until we're both sitting in the Garden of Words, a pot of tea steaming gently between us. Even then, he sips and says, "Not quite yet. It will spoil the visual impact if I tell you ahead of time, but you're right about the fuel processing."
"You're going to have a monopoly on fuel production!"
"If I want," says Naberrie mildly. "But we are Naar. We don't do things that way."
"Yes, but - you won't live forever!"
Naberrie sips. "I'll live long enough. The Naar will not do things that way."
"And when the technology goes out of patent protection?"
" . . . you have a very mundane idea of how it works, Reporter Sei," says Naberrie. "As of right now, the only other organization in the galaxy which could replicate it is the Jedi."
"Oh," I say. The Force.
"So I'm not worried. They are not stupid enough to try a monopoly on something as political as galactic fuel production." They wouldn't be. They were active in the fall of the Banking Clan, but are fundamentally not a political organization. If nothing else, such a move would invalidate their charter. "Depending on the results of this test, I may decide that even this one is too dangerous after all, and destroy it and all of the documentation. On the other hand, I may publish it for anyone who wants to take a look."
"That much is riding on this weapons test?" I ask, sipping my tea.
"Quite a lot, yes," says Naberrie. "But based on the lithium abundance of the early universe, I'm hopeful."
I blink at the non sequiter, and pointedly refuse to ask.
Naberrie laughs. "We arrive tomorrow, Sei. I hope you'll join us in the observation garden. It's quite an impressive sight, especially the first time."
"I'll be there," I say.
The Gravity exits hyperspace midmorning, ship time. I am sitting in the observation garden with Naberrie, Kenobi, and Rex, but not Amidala or any of the children.
"They've seen it before," says Kenobi, when I ask.
"What am I supposed to be seeing?" The starfield is black and endless -
- and there is something huge blocking out the light from almost a full half of it.
"That," says Rex. "We call it the Pond."
It is kind of shiny, light reflecting off it like a still basin of water. But no liquid would be be liquid in space for long, and it's too big. "What is it? How big is it?"
"It was going to be a star," says Naberrie. "Now it's just a compact sea of liquid hydrogen and helium. It's about the size of Punyo. Little bigger." He holds his forefinger and thumb about a centimeter apart to demonstrate. Punyo is the gas giant of the Corus system. It missed out on being a star by only four percent of its mass. I stare.
"What do you need with that much hydrogen?!"
"What do stars do with that much hydrogen? We're making heavy elements. And liberating energy, of course."
I'm still staring at the sea of hydrogen. "How are you keeping it from gravitational collapse?"
"The Jedi Order has spent millennia treating the Force like some sacred trust. I refuse to believe it is blasphemous to know how it works, so I've spent time working it out. It's possible to do a lot of very interesting things."
"Yes, I - what's that?"
There's a particular type of young children's toy. It consists of a tall spindle and a series of donut-shaped pieces, usually painted rainbow colors. The goal, for the child, is to stack the donuts from largest to smallest on the spindle. The thing we are approaching now looks rather like one of those, picked out in white and red running lights. Except the children's toys are about twenty centimeters tall, and as we approach, I can see that this thing is easily ten kilometers down the spindle. Possibly closer to twenty.
"Remember when I told you that I couldn't show you the printers because they're not on the ship?" says Naberrie, as we approach. The bulk of the thing isn't changing much, despite the superluminal velocity.
"Yes," I say, wary. I already know what's coming.
"This is a Naberrie printer," says Rex.
I'm still stunned hours later, sitting in a hangar-turned-salle with Naberrie and Rex, but also Ti and Amidala and both sets of twins. The twins are sparring: Feral and Qui-gon and Winama in a running battle. Maul seems to be observing and occasionally calling out instruction or encouragement. The rest of us merely watch.
"Technologically, it's not that difficult," says Naberrie. "I'm sorry, Sei. don't know why they insist on sticking my name all over everything."
"Not difficult," parrots Rex. "It's a Naberrie printer, vod. Shut it."
"What do you print?" I ask. "Starships?"
Encouraged by the non-evasive answer, I continue. "This is - a printer? How many of them are there?"
"Eleven," says Naberrie. "Printer one only prints other printers; it's working on twelve at the moment. Two and three primarily make cartridges for normal printers. They're how the Naar were able to build Pontown and Forscythe. Four to eleven have been engaged making the detector arrays - we're docking at Six. Assuming the news is good, we'll be able to do something more useful with most of them from now on."
"Put the Kuat Drive Yards out of business?" I ask, sarcastically.
"No," says Kenobi. "We are Naar. We don't do things like that."
I gesture to the edifice, visible past the room's ion shield. I was wrong about the size. The spindle is wide enough that the Gravity could dock sideways inside, and still have comfortable clearance at either end. We have docked parallel to the axis, so as to not get in the way of the dozens of smaller, single-pilot craft, constantly flying in and out. The outbound craft are carrying something, but I'm unable to get a good sense of what it is. "Then why did you build them?"
"Because otherwise he'd have had to have monopolized every drive yard in the Republic for two years to build the detectors," says Amidala. "No one would have stood for it."
"This weapons test is the opposite of a priority," replied Senator Kretaeen. "Not while the galaxy is still recovering from the war."
"It's been eight years," says Naberrie. "The galaxy is pretty much recovered. Also you will notice we did not monopolize all the drive yards, so the point is moot."
"These detectors," I say. "What do they detect?"
"Particles and energy emissions, mostly," says Naberrie. "We'll have good coverage of the detonation event from every possible angle."
"We arrived a little ahead of schedule," adds Rex. "The array is still being laid, and then we'll head out to the test site. We won't fire for another few days yet."
"Why did we stop here at all?" I ask.
"I am patenting a new kind of printer," says Naberrie, smiling. "I thought someone might have questions, so I brought a reporter along to ask them."
I stare. "How does it work?"
"Broadly speaking," says Naberrie, "it's just a number of tokamaks hooked up in series."
It takes me a minute to process this, and then I say, "It's a Klent reactor." Another smile-and-nod from Naberrie. "You build a Klent reactor."
A Klent reactor, so named for the scientist who first proposed it, is a series of fusion-core reactors, separated by on-flow centrifuges. Why, argued Klent, should we have to rely on planetary or asteroid mining facilities for rare elements, when we know how they are made? Simply begin with hydrogen, and fuse successive elements in order to make whichever ones are needed. In addition to the rare elements, a Klent provides plenty of hydrogen-3, and if properly executed, a massive amount of excess energy. But there is no way, short of mining stars, to provide the vast amounts of hydrogen needed to fuel a Klent. Therefore, while there are a few experimental heavy-element tokamaks at various universities, a full-size series reactor has never built.
Had never been built.
"Yes," says Kenobi, clearly enjoying himself. "The plans were pulled pretty much directly from the Republic National Library, although he did make a few improvements."
Otherwise it wouldn't have been patentable. "How did you build the Pond?"
"Advanced gravitic control," says Naberrie. "I wrote a paper on the basics. It was published five years ago in the Journal of Applied Particle Theory."
"That's not the basics," I say flatly, gesturing past the ion shield.
"No, but I'm still trying to write out mathematically what I did there. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to write a change in local probability as an equation? There are about a hundred nested probability loops working to keep the Pond pond-shaped. In more, ah, intuitive terms, I made it so the Force pushes out if the Pond starts trying to collapse into a star, and pulls in if the Pond starts trying to evaporate, and always just moves energy around to damp down oscillations. It took the entire first two years after I set it up for the Pond to stabilize, and it still breathes a lot."
"Breathes?" I ask, alarmed.
"Expands and contracts in response to changes in the local gravitational fields. Shipboard, you won't notice it, but I advise not leaving a generated field region. Space around here is very, very weird."
"What he's not saying," says Rex, "Is that he managed to accidentally spaghettify a drone ship once."
"He wasn't paying attention to the way gravity was stacking," says Rex. "So we ended up with a black hole, just large enough to spaghettify a ship before it evaporated."
"Does that happen often?"
"Not accidentally," says Amidala dryly.
"It's kind of a pain to set up," says Naberrie. "And aside from being a decent test of the detectors, it doesn't really have any practical use." Then, apparently, he catches my expression. "High-element tokamaks, Sei. We get black holes all the time. Nothing to worry about."
"Right," I say, dryly. "So the Klent is just a Klent, but without the Pond it would be useless."
"That's about the size of it, yes," says Naberrie.
"All right." I take a breath. "Is there a way to make a pond that doesn't involve the Force? We know how to deal with gravity!"
Naberrie tilts his head. "An interesting problem," he says.
"No," says Rex.
"But - "
"No, vod. It's an extinction-level threat. You know it is."
Naberrie frowns, tilts his head. Then he appears to come to a conclusion and says, "Yes. Thank you, vod."
Rex shrugs. "No harm."
Naberrie turns back to me. "No."
It takes me a moment to realize he's answering my question. "Because . . . ?"
Naberrie sighs. "Wait until we detonate, and then ask me that again."
"Point and match," calls Maul, the first time I've heard him speak. He doesn't sound much like a seven-year bothan, or even a human. It might be normal for zabrak, though. The other three stop moving, turn off their lightsabers. Feral offers a hand, and Winama takes it in getting to her feet.
"Good game," says Qui-gon. "Break for showers and then discussion?"
"Meditation before discussion," says Maul.
"The fifteenth might be helpful," says Ti. Maul nods, and the four of them head out as a group, chattering friendly away.
"So then why did we come here at all?" I ask.
"Well, we needed to break the news about the printers too," says Amidala. "We decided to do it all at the same time. Simpler to arrange."
"I don't love doing news conferences," says Naberrie. For a man as much in the public eye as him, he manages to have a remarkable separation between his public and private lives. I'm not surprised to learn it is deliberate.
"Very well," I say. "When do we light out again?"
"Once the detector array is in place," says Rex. "And, well. The Pond is . . . interesting, if you're Force-sensitive."
"Advanced class only, but it's about time for that exam, isn't it?" asks Ti.
"Yes," says Naberrie. "Call it a couple of days, Sei. Not more than a week."
"May I observe this advanced class?"
"If you like." Naberrie shrugs. "But it's pretty boring, from the outside."
"Nevertheless," I say.
He didn't lie. Naberrie never does. Two days later, watching him teach a group of mixed Jedi and Naar, including both Savage and Maul but not including Master Ti or Ventress, is as boring as promised. They settle on the floor and close their eyes and Naberrie quizzes them on something only they can sense. It's clear from the questions that Naberrie is asking that what they are sensing is extremely complicated. I'm startled when they begin affecting objects in the room, using the telekinetic ability that Jedi call push-pull, and Naar perhaps more accurately call gravitics.
I did look up the paper, of course. It was rather less than five minutes before I knew I was alone on the plains, and sent it over to an academic friend of mine. Upon response, Dr. Wesan Jein of the Bothan Academy informed me that, while the scientific community is aware of the work, the general consensus is that it is too far ahead of what can be tested and scientifically proven: it is, essentially, an interesting but useless piece of theory. Upon informing her over the comm that it was written by Naberrie, she blinks and says, "Ah. That . . . rather changes things. Sei, please excuse me. It seems I have a paper to dissect."
Watching the Naar inadvertently "float" various 'pads and styli and themselves, I wonder exactly how advanced the thing the Force allows is. More than twenty-five thousand standard years have elapsed since the formation of the Republic, and we are just now getting to the point that Force-users who are also geniuses are beginning to be able to understand what they do. It is not a comforting thought. Bothans like stability, and this is guaranteed to lead to interesting times.
It is with this in mind that I ask if I could be given a tour of the printer facility. "It isn't that I don't believe you about the gravitational flexing," I explain, "and I certainly don't want to get anywhere near the reactors! But watching it print one of these detectors - who wouldn't want to watch that?"
"That's a point," says Naberrie, and blows out a breath. "All right. You know how to move in free-fall?"
"No," I say. Aside from trips to and from places, I've lived my entire life on-planet.
"Then we start with that," he said. "The agrav salle, I think."
The agrav salle is not a garden that happens to have sparring space, like most of the Naar salles. It's a room with padded floor, ceiling, and walls; and it is also a room in which the gravity is controlled by a switch on the wall. I spend some time flailing around before I learn the stride of it. Fortunately, Naberrie asked a clone named Sledge to teach me, and he's both patient and calm in showing me. Only after I've learned how, he leads me through a dense mass of service tunnels to one of the actual printer heads. I figure out partway through why it's necessary: like the Kuat Drive Yards, this massive machine could never support its own weight, and so only very small local spaces can have gravity at all.
The business part of the printers aren't even, it turns out, Naberrie originals. They're standard MHC-27 line diamondheads, one of the most common models in the galaxy. I watch them laying down a sheet of what looks like grey metal but which is probably an amazingly complex molycirc board for a while, and then turn to Sledge. "That's it? He just bought them?"
"We did, yes," says Sledge. "The MHC is the best: good for everything from microns to meters, simple, reliable. There's no reason to reengineer it, and especially not when the MHC already have a design they can't improve."
"But Naberrie - "
"Oh, well, he probably could," says Sledge. "But the Naar have more important things to be doing."
Naberrie doesn't care for profit, and so neither do the Naar.
"I see," I say, and am quiet for a while, while the printer lays out the shape, atom by atom. Eventually, it disengages, and I see one of the single-man Naar transports come and pick it up and then fly away. "What are those for?"
"The array detectors?"
"That's an array detector?" I ask. It looks more or less like the troop transports known as larties, except that instead of curves it has flat planes that meet at sharp angles. "I thought they'd be more like holocorders."
"Most of the explosion is only going to be visible as gamma- and X-rays. It has IR detectors too, but those won't deploy until it's in the swarm."
It's another little while before he says, "Are you ready to go back?"
I sigh. "Sledge. What scale is Naberrie thinking on?"
"He thinks a planet-size sea of hydrogen isn't particularly big. He thinks the printers are . . . well, useful, but a means to a goal instead of the most important technological advance since the Ruusan Reformation at least. Now he's going to set off a bomb that requires a detection array that - its size is best measured in light-minutes, isn't it?
"Light years," says Sledge.
I nod. "So what's his idea of an unreasonable size?"
"There's a betting pool," says Sledge. "Want to buy in?"
"No, thanks," I say, and mentally resign myself to yet another unanswered question. "I think I'm ready to go back now."
I do actually manage to catch Naberrie later that day, and ask him the same question. His eyes go a little distant before he tilts his head and says, "Big and unreasonable aren't the same thing, I think. I could start building deep-space habs . . . "
"Which means?" I press.
He blinks back to the present. "I'll let you know when I find the upper limit on reasonable sizes. If I ever find an upper limit to reasonable sizes. For now I have a new idea to play with. Thanks, Sei."
This is about as clear an answer as Naberrie ever gives, but I can't help pushing my luck. "What big unreasonable thing did you build?"
"A moon," says Naberrie, grinning. He winks, and then walks away.
The next day, I ask Ti about it. She is doing lightsaber forms very slowly, and has a little time to talk to me.
"I'm going to murder him," says Ti. "That's well above your clearance level, Sei; He should not have told you." And, pry as I might, I can get no further information out of her.
We finally leave Printer Six - the clones who live on and operate it affectionately call it the Randy Scandy - and head out to the test site three days later. I've resumed my tail of Naberrie, in the hopes that he will drop something interesting, but most of what he does is sit in a garden for long periods of time, working on a 'pad. Winama finds this as boring as I do, so we play dejarik together instead. Winama is a much better player, but she doesn't seem to hold it against me.
The trip out is another couple of days. We aren't headed anywhere, literally just flying up out of the galactic plane. There are no known hyperlanes up here, but we don't stop once. I ask about this.
"Oh, well," explains Naberrie. "At any given time we have hundreds of Riggies in- or outbound. The calculation time starts to be an issue with that volume, so we've got a dedicated server on-planet doing them instead. They're similar enough that it can library them, so no need for us to stop and reorient anymore. The ansible nodes do it for us."
"I see," I say. It's how new hyperlanes are discovered. It had never occurred to me that it was also a way to build a sort of jerry-rigged hyperlane, if the stars were in the wrong places to have a natural one. The initial cost must be astronomical, but if you can get someone to put up the initial cost, operating it is just the cost of electricity on whatever planet is hosting the server. And Naberrie almost certainly didn't pay to buy ansible nodes, either.
Scale, I think ruefully. "Have you made progress on these - deep-space habs of yours?"
"Won't work," says Naberrie. "Not enough energy unless you're moving tons of fullerened antimatter in each day. So now I'm working on Dyson swarms."
"Not a Dyson sphere?"
"No. There's no reason to reengineer an entire system from the physics on out when conventional building techniques and gravitics would be able to host the same number of people at a fraction of the building material," says Naberrie.
"Says the man who built the Pond."
"It would take the entire mass of several hundred Ponds to build a Dyson sphere," says Naberrie. When I check later, I'll find that, if anything, he's underestimating. "Whereas, once I finish the design work, we'll be able to start printing the swarm immediately."
"Okay," I say. "Now: why?"
"You can build a Dyson swarm. Is there any reason you should? There are plenty of uninhabited habitable planets. Why jump straight to Dyson swarms?"
I am treated to the expression of a Naberrie who is not in perfect control. I get the impression the people around him don't sense-check him much. He tilts his head and says, "Huh."
"There is no good economic reason to build one. The answer seems to be 'just for fun.'" Before I can process this, he ads, "Any more questions?"
"Yes. Are you patenting your artificial-hyperlane-building technology?"
He blinks. "You think it's patentable?"
"You think it isn't?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," he says. "I'll send a comm." He tilts his head, waits.
It takes me a moment to understand he's leaving room for more questions. "Something from the war, then. About the time when you beat Dooku. Everyone says you could easily have killed him, and I don't think anyone in the Galaxy would have argued you were guilty of anything. So why didn't you?"
"Falling was not a pleasant experience," says Naberrie. "Subjectively, it took me two decades to pull myself back together again, and I'd probably never have managed it without help. Dooku never had that help. He deserved a chance."
I nod. That answer fits with everything I know of him, except. "And you didn't teach him?"
"The man put slave detonators in my brothers. I'm not going to teach him, except in the way where I'm on constant public display. Anyway, he already knows what he has to do, if he wants balance."
"That's really not my secret to tell, Sei. He knows. He hasn't taken the lifeline. Make of it what you will."
"I'm sure my readers will," I say.
We arrive at our destination during the night. Our destination, it turns out, is quite literally the middle of nowhere. There is nothing but space dust and the occasional hydrogen atom for light centuries in every direction. In deference to the fact that the ship is still on Coruscant standard, the ship just stays where it is, waiting for the non-night-shift people to wake up and have a decent breakfast. Then we're all called to the poetry garden as the immense light shields move away.
There are a lot of us: Naberrie and Amidala and their children, of course; Ventress and Savage and their children; a bunch of Naar, including Rex and Echo and Fives and another dozen clones; Kenobi and Ti; Kretaeen; me. Naberrie holds up a hand, and the low murmur of conversation drops out. "Friends. Jedi. Senators. You all know why we're here, but I'm just going to recap the sequence of events. In a little over ten minutes, I'm going to set off the first quark bomb this galaxy has seen for at least three thousand years. Assuming my math is right, it will result in the near-total conversion of a smallish lump of uranium into various types of hadrons, leptons, and energy."
"The hadrons and leptons will be perfectly ordinary, and may even assemble themselves back into atoms. The energy will be expressed as light of various forms, which will travel outward from the detonation. The first observer shell is about one and a half light-minutes out, the second, fifteen light-minutes out, and so on. Part of the experiment is to see how far the gamma ray front travels with enough intensity to destroy the observers. We're hoping that by the time it hits the shells that are light-years out, it will have dissipated enough. We're still laying shells at further distance, but as we have well over three years to lay them, we decided to get the detonation over with.
"Therefore, as soon as the gamma front hits the second observation shell, we're going to return to hyperspace and jump past the front. It should be a little turbulent, but not outside the rated durability and shielding for this ship. We will continue to observe from there for the next thirty hours, while the front hits the third and fourth detector shells. At that point, we will be waiting for it to hit the week-out detector shell, and that isn't worth hanging around here for; so we'll head back to Coruscant. Any questions?" No one speaks. I have questions, but I'm not sure how to phrase them. In the background, someone begins calling silver alert over the ship's comm. "And it sounds like we're ready to detonate."
A screen descends from the rear wall, and a projector starts up. For now, there isn't much to see; just a starfield, emptier than the ones I know, black except for the occasional dim distant star.
Naberrie sits down and starts to glow.
I look it up later. It's not common, but it's a documented phenomenon: Jedi sometimes glow, when doing something big or complicated with the Force. Healers are most prone to it, because healers tend to have to dive in deep and do very specialized work. There are even holos, in the vast library of the Republic. Invariably, when a Jedi glows, they glow the same sky-blue as a lightsaber.
Naberrie glows Naar gold.
He doesn't do it for long, a minute or two at the most. Then the glow fades, and he opens his eyes - also Naar gold, for the moment - and says, "And now we wait."
We don't have to wait much longer. The first observation shell is only about a light-minute out from the bomb, after all. The front arrives on the screen as a static fuzz, as the gamma and X-rays, false-colored to be purple and blue, arrive. Then the transmission abruptly cuts out.
"Was that a particulate fail, or a thermal fail?" asks Naberrie.
"Thermal," calls back one of the clones, reading from his vambrace. "Particulates aren't there yet. You called it, vod."
It takes me a moment to realize that the reason the detectors stopped working was because they'd melted, the heat of just the light enough to slag them. Naberrie had predicted this, planned for it.
Naberrie nods, as the projector zooms out to the next shell, which are all observing the blank space where the detonation has in reality already occurred. "Well, we have about fifteen minutes before the next shell. Talk amongst yourselves."
Most of the people present do, except for all four twins, who get up and leave. I watch them, so I don't notice Naberrie until he's right next to me. I like to think I covered my startle well, but he smiled in a way that suggests I didn't cover it well enough. "That was a bit anticlimactic."
"Making an explosion that can't even really be seen with the naked eye in the middle of space? The way you spoke, I expected it to be more interesting."
"You want a bomb to be more interesting," says Naberrie, as if he wants to make sure he heard me properly.
"I didn't say that. I just expected it to be."
"Ah," says Naberrie. "Well, we're just starting to crunch the numbers. We'll have data on how uniform that explosion was in the next few hours, and estimates of yield in about a week. Those will probably be extremely interesting. For a certain kind of person."
Right. I take a breath, then ask. "I still don't understand. Why is this going to have you designated a war crime?"
Naberrie looks surprised, and then thoughtful. "Some background I need to give before you understand, all right?"
"The physics behind the quark bomb have all been published. I deemed it safe to do so, because the current technology level of the galaxy is nowhere near where it would have to be to use that. Peacefully or not. But Sei, you have to understand, this bomb is not a device, not a thing I built. It's not even like the Pond, which is a thing I made in a different way. A quark bomb," he finishes, "is a process, a thing I do, to an otherwise ordinary low-yield tactical fission warhead."
I stare again. I know I am, but can't help it. Finally, I swallow and say, "Any low-yield fission warhead?"
"Any fission warhead," confirms Naberrie, softly. "Yield doesn't matter." He doesn't have to be loud. After the war, the Senate had been quick to install a battery of planet missiles at the poles on Coruscant. Just in case. Meanwhile, Naberrie is expecting this gamma front to still be hitting detectors decades from now. The bulk of a planet would probably stop some of it, but not enough. Absently, I stroke my arms, trying to get the fur to settle back down.
"Why would you do that?" I ask.
Naberrie shrugs, not looking at me. "There is a way to build a quark bomb that is a device. I don't know it, but there are a few Sith star destroyers still hanging around. I know for a fact that Sidious had the blueprints for building one, and they weren't retrieved in the aftermath. Or when we arrested Dooku. I needed to know how to counter." Translation: he's worried that someone, somewhere, might have access to plans for how to build a quark bomb. Also, that this one test firing was enough for him to figure out how to prevent someone else's from working.
"Saint Naberrie," I say.
"So they call me," he says.
"No one is that good," I say.
"I know," says Naberrie. "I'm trying to make it so that whether or not I'm good doesn't make a difference. My children, Ventress' children, Ti, Kenobi, all of the Force-sensitives in here today; they also saw what I did. They can't duplicate it - the math is rather complicated - but you don't have to know much about how an aircar works in order to wreck it. That analogy is terrible. I'm sorry, Sei."
"No, no, it's fine," I say. "This is all stuff I can publish?"
"We brought you along so you could."
"Then I'll begin work on it now," I say. After all, even if it is the poetry garden, nothing says I can't write prose in it as well.
Fifteen minutes later, the front hitting the second set of observation platforms is just as anticlimactic as the first. We go to hyperspace only a few minutes later, to jump past the front. An instant after that, I am treated to the first and hopefully last time I'm ever shipboard when something energetic enough to cross the realspace/hyperspace barrier slams the ship. The entire frame shudders, and I'm thrown violently sideways and into one of the clones. He catches me reflexively, but the armor is not soft. Then we're out of hyperspace, floating in the clear space at what was the center of the explosion.
From here, the debris are visible, even to the naked eye: a cloud of retreating dust and detritus that hazes out the stars. We could be alone in the universe, for all we can see the rest of it. I shake my head at the thought, and head back to my berth. I want to get this written up before the impact leaves me.
The third shell, two hours and fifteen minutes later, is just as dull as the fourth, a little more than a day after that. By then, the computers have analyzed enough of the data to tell us that the explosion was only asymmetrical because the original warhead hadn't been a perfect sphere either, that the numbers attached to the the energy yield have a truly ridiculous number of zeros at the end. That Naberrie is just as dangerous as everyone has been worrying about.
I wait until we light out for Coruscant, and go to ask Ti. This involves first finding Ti, who has barricaded herself in a holoproj room and is on-comm nonstop with the rest of the Jedi Council. I am forced to ambush her when she comes out for food.
She looked at me, looks at her food, and looks back at me. "Not now, Sei."
"No, exactly now. We - the rest of the galaxy - we need answers."
She sighs. "Some of it is going to be classified."
"Fine. What Naberrie did to that missile - it isn't Dark, is it? It's just physics?"
"Yes," says Ti. "And therefore, a pain. We can't classify it as 'misuse of the Force,' because if there were a way to harness that energy instead of just irradiating everything . . . and we know from every kind of bomb ever built that there is a way to harvest that energy. Which means, for us, a huge headache."
"So any Jedi could do it," I press.
"In a theoretical sense, yes," says Ti. "But given that we don't even fully understand how the Pond works, the real answer is no. Not without a significant amount of extra training, and Naberrie is going to teach all of us how to counter a quark bomb, but keep the secret of how to make one to his grave."
"Unless he decides to figure out how to capture the energy," I say.
Ti puts her face in her hands. "Please don't suggest that to him. Just . . . don't."
I nod. "Thank you for this information, Ti."
Later, I go to find Naberrie. He's with Maul, meditating back-to-back with the youngling. I sit down and pull out my 'pad and fill the time by doing more of the research, making this article make sense. It's another hour or so before Maul opens his eyes, sees me, bares his teeth, and reaches over to tap Naberrie on the shoulder.
"What - oh, I see. Thanks, Maul."
Maul nods, then stands to go.
"Is he okay?" I ask.
"Maul? He has trouble trusting other people. It's nothing personal," says Naberrie. "What's up?"
"No one else in the galaxy can build a quark bomb," I say. "But you're already training people to disarm them. No one else in the galaxy can build a Klent, but you're worried about the weapons that advanced gravitic control would allow, enough to possibly scrub the entire printer project. You're thinking about how to build Dyson swarms, while everyone else is still terraforming planets."
He raises an eyebrow. "And?"
"What kind of future are you seeing?" I ask. "What kind of future are you building?"
"One worth having," says Naberrie.
I don't know what else I expected him to say. "Why?"
Naberrie sighs. "What kind of a person has my abilities, and looks out on the galaxy and the rampant issues of slavery, hunger, poverty, disease, war - and doesn't do something about it?" I am abruptly reminded that he was a Jedi; and, more to the point, he was a Jedi who'd stopped being a Jedi because the Jedi, as far as he was concerned, are ineffective. At least against problems that can't be handled with a lightsaber, which are most of them. "Not the kind I want to be, for kriffing certain."
"Ah," I say. He's a very straightforward person, in his way.
He gestures me to continue.
" . . . you asked the only intelligent question."
"Thank you," I say, and turn to leave.
The trip back to Coruscant is longer than both of the two trips out, the very long hypoteneuse of an isosceles triangle. I spend it writing, looking up various bits of history or physics or math, enjoying the Naar gardens. I'm joking with the group of clones who have become my friends when a pair of dark human hands dig into the soil next to mine. I turn, and start in surprise.
"I'm told you wanted to talk to me," says Migs Ky.
"Yes," I say. "Can we go somewhere - I can interview you, at the very least?"
Ky shugs. "After we finish with this."
We finish the seedling replanting I'd been doing, and after washing our hands settle down into one of the smaller, more private meeting rooms.
Ky was the first Jedi to join the Naar, just after Naberrie's final mission to Mustafar. He then immediately vanished for almost a year, leaving Kenobi to take the brunt of the media attention and simultaneously beginning the grand Naar tradition of walkabouts. Like many Naar, he doesn't discuss the period of spiritual contemplation and self-discovery that marks the graduation of a student into full membership in the Naar. Unlike many others, and clones especially, his didn't end with several slaver ships captured or crippled, so where he went and what he did remains a popular field of speculation.
He puts his hands flat on the holoproj table and says, "So?"
"Tell me about Naberrie."
He blinks, evidently not expecting this. "I don't really have anything," he says.
"That you know," I say. "But it is impossible to get to know someone just from knowing them. You also have to learn what other people, their friends and enemies, think. You're - Naberrie's student. His first, maybe, as far as the Dark goes. Your viewpoint will be invaluable."
But he is shaking his head. "The things Naberrie taught me have nothing to do with the Dark."
"Well. It's a pat little story for you, and I guess it's one nobody outside the Naar has heard. I met Naberrie when I was thirteen. Yoda introduced us, I mean. At the time I thought it was because Yoda was trying to give me a warning, but in retrospect . . . well. I was thirteen, about to age out of the Jedi Initiate, and none of the masters wanted to pick me."
"I was a bully," says Ky, matter-of-fact. "I didn't think so, of course, but I - was selfish in ways that benefitted no one, not even myself. I didn't see it. Couldn't see it, really. So Yoda introduced us. I tried to bully him. Name-calling, if you can believe it."
"I can." There hasn't been a name invented yet that doesn't run off Naberrie like water, but Ky was most assuredly not the only one who'd tried that strategy, before the Republic learned better.
Ky nods. "Right, well. I tried to bully him, and when that didn't work I sulked. Meanwhile, it took him about two seconds to figure me out. There isn't a place for Jedi who are bullies, and there shouldn't be, but at the time there wasn't anywhere else. You either made it as a Jedi or you went into the Corps or you became one of the people the Jedi hunt. It was pretty clear I wasn't going to make it as a Jedi and my pride wouldn't let me spend my life serving under someone who had, so that left only the one option. I didn't want to be hunted, you have to understand. It wasn't like I was looking forward to it. I just didn't see another way to be.
"Naberrie did. It took him twenty minutes to show me."
"How?" I ask, when Ky falls silent.
Ky smiles reminiscently. "Oh, well. He kicked me around a salle until I stopped pretending I wasn't a hormonal thirteen-year, and then taught me how to hear the Force instead of just listen for it."
"He couldn't have done that first?" I ask.
"No," says Ky. "Not while I was still lying to myself."
"I see. And then he dragged you to Mustafar."
"Yoda dragged me to Mustafar," says Ky. "Naberrie and I bonded on the way over how we both thought I should have stayed home. He taught me a little bit about handling a lightsaber. I met Ventress." He shrugs. "It's not really important. Anyway. Is that enough about Naberrie for your article?"
"It's something," I say, thinking of Maul and therapy and the armies of war orphans that the citizens of the planet Naberrie have adopted. "One more thing. Why did you decide to join the Naar? Once he'd shown you, you could have just walked away."
Ky says, "The Jedi asked more of me than I had to give. The Naar have never asked more than what I wanted to give, and if that changes from day to day - everyone has better days and worse ones. Having friends who chose the same thing you did, it makes a difference." His eyes are also glowing, not solid Naar gold the way Naberrie and Maul and Ventress do, but flecks and shimmers. The effect is beautiful.
"It does," I say. "Thank you."
I write letters introducing my Naar friends to some of my other contacts who might be interested in their work. Grievous, of course, denied my request for an interview in the same way he's denied every other reporter; I didn't really expect any other answer. Then I go to try Naar meditation. All I manage is to fall asleep, and wake up with leg cramps.
Winama laughs at me, then drags me over to play dejarik. I sigh, but comply. It's not an unpleasant way to pass the time. Then she drags me off to the crafts room, where we're met by Qui-gon, and I get to watch two Force-sensitive younglings assemble a mouse droid. Only when they present it to me do I realize that it is a gift. I protest that I don't have anything to give them, but Qui-gon just says, "That's not the point of presents," and that's that.
They are, if nothing else, their parent's children. The Naberries' idea of a problem is the fact that homelessness exists. Their solution thus far has been to give planets to the people who need them. That works somewhat, but most people don't want to move to the frontier and space on Core Worlds is limited. In the end, when Anakin finishes designing his Dyson swarms, they are going to solve the problem a different way. It's possible he won't have figured this out by the time this article is published. Unlikely, but possible.
I pack the droid, along with my clothes and my 'pad, in the final approach to Coruscant. It took us ten days to make the inbound trip, but combined with the outward journey and layover at the Pond, I've been gone from Coruscant almost a month. I'm more than ready to be home.
I head to the docking bay. I am met, surprisingly, by all of the Naberries, and also Ventress and Rex and Feral. I think for a moment that they've come to see of Kretaeen and Ti, but, no, they come straight for me.
"Sei," says Naberrie. "Have a good trip. Stay safe. Be well."
Amidala is much less reserved, coming forward to hug me in the Naboo style. Rex offers a much less personal Mando'a handclasp, which I take in bemusement. Ventress offers nothing. Feral, Winama, and Qui-gon all hug me at once.
"If anyone gives you trouble about the article, comm us," instructs Rex.
"And don't be a stranger," adds Amidala, as though this article is not going to make my career.
"I won't," I say, and turn to board the shuttle.