"How much longer we got?" Panche asked, watching space race by in a blur.
"Four hours." His sister glanced at him and scowled. "Get your boots off the dash." Panche had not only his legs but half of his backside propped up on the ship's dashboard, bony appendages sprawled around the controls like freeloading ivy. Kare waited for him to obey her orders. When he did not, she kicked the closest leg and he fell fully out of his chair.
"Ow! What the hell, Kare?"
"The Ambassador will be there – do you really want him to think we tramp mud all over our entire ship?" Kare wiped muddy boot prints from the otherwise spotless dash.
"What, you think he's going to come in here to have a look?" Panche re-emerged with an incredulous expression and fell back into his seat - both butt cheeks set fully in the chair this time. He adjusted his hat and pulled a mocking impression of a posh core-worlder: "Oh, Kare, this is the most wonderful ship I've ever seen, wot! You simply must do all of my courier jobs in place of all of the many hundreds of thousands of couriers already available in the Core, you're just that good."
"Oh, shut up," Kare grouched. "Gods forbid I try to look out for this damn family."
Panche shrugged and, slowly, so Kare might not notice, toed one boot back up toward the dash. Kare didn't notice. She was frowning at the nav computer.
"Hmm?" Panche raised an eyebrow.
"There's a hydrogen cloud up ahead, we're going to have to go sublight and reroute to the Shwuy."
"Shwuy Exchange? Ugh!" Panche sank halfway off his chair. "That's going to take hours," he whined.
"There's no other lanes nearby – would you stop? Gods, mom should've smacked you more." She kicked his boots again, which were inching back up to the dash. "Make yourself useful and check the cargo's not destabilized."
"They're just rocks," Panche complained. Kare glared at him for a steady ten seconds.
"Fine," Panche groaned, hauling himself up off his chair.
As he shuffled through the door, Kare began priming the sublight engines.
"Leaving lightspeed!" she announced.
"I hear ya, I hear ya," Panche said to himself, holding onto the bulwark just long enough to let the hull jolt under him before continuing on his path toward the cargo bay.
Encased in the starry black desert of the northwestern galaxy, Kare gently steered their ship toward the beginning of the Shwuy Exchange hyperspace lanes.
"Hyperdrive needs a minute to warm up," she said aloud for Panche's benefit. "I'm going to make caf. How's the cargo?"
"Rock-like," came the answer. She rolled her eyes.
As Kare filled the caf brewer with water, her whole ship gave a sudden lurch, sending pots and cups flattering to the kitchenette floor. The hull creaked and groaned, sounds that no ship should make in abandoned space. Kare caught herself on a counter, eyes wide.
"Panche," she accused, eyes darting around in alarm. "You said the cargo was fine!"
"It's not the cargo," her brother shouted back from the bay. "Sounds like it's coming from port - did the nav show any debris alerts?"
"No - what do you mean it sounds like it's coming from port? You mean outside the ship?"
"Yeah, it-" another noise erupted from port side, metal crunching and shrieking under some weight. "What the kriff – woah, hey hey hey woah!"
Panche was interrupted by the patently clear sound of a blastershot. A thump, then silence.
"Panche?" Kare called, terror creeping into her voice. She heard footsteps. She did not hear her brother. She reached into her boot for the pistol hidden there, turned off the safety and crept around the corner.
There was a man standing over her brother's body, fiddling with the lock on the cargo bay door.
"Hey!" she shouted. The man turned and raised a blaster toward her, but she shot first. It hit the man's hand and he yelped. She shot again, and put a hole straight through the ammo chamber of his pistol.
"Bitch," he hissed, holding his injured hand. He glared up at Kare, who stood across the deck with her blaster leveled at his head.
"You know, I really wanted to let you both live," the man complained, looking tired. "Hence the, uh-" he shook the blaster he held, still smoking and useless. He tossed it away. On the floor, Panche groaned and tried to roll over. The stranger put a heavy boot on his shoulder, and the pilot moaned in pain.
"But you just had to be stupid," said the man, unaffected by the boy's agony. "Alright then," he unclipped something from his belt. "This is your own damn fault."
A sound like lightning erupted across the ship, and Kare could feel every hair on her body stand on end. She wanted to shoot, but she was frozen in place, the whites of her eyes cast pink by the garish red light.
"I say, was that a lightsaber?"
The Prince Consort's comment made Ben Kenobi turn his head to look to the door, and twelve royal heads turned to look with him. The Jedi swallowed his bite of roast enyak and politely dabbed his mouth with a napkin.
"I should think not, your highness," he told the aging prince, but even as he spoke, he could hear the unmistakable hum of a lightsaber moving through the air outside. Some of the younger diners had heard it, too, and were beginning to frown and crane their necks to peer out doors and windows. "If you'll excuse me a moment, your highnesses, your majesty," Ben bowed, his entire presence exuding a suggestion of calm and good humor. He smiled all the way to the door.
The expression dissolved as he marched down the long palace veranda. It was well past dark in Constancia's capital city. The night was overcast, clouds diffusing the light of the planet's single moon into a sleepy blue, decorated by the sconces dotted along the shape of the royal family's isolated villa. In the vast gardens and vineyard, insects sang and trees rustled. The first taste of summer rain hung in the air and with it the dormant promise of a good harvest.
Against this backdrop of serenity, the discordant hum and glow of a lightsaber were unmistakable - as was the tall, lanky silhouette that carried it.
"Anakin, I can hear that thing from across the palace," Ben approached the figure. "You're scaring people. What's wrong?"
Anakin did not look back at his master, and was staring out at the darkened valley. The wind picked up, and waves of moonlit grass shimmered beyond the garden groves.
"Something's out there," the apprentice said.
Anakin was not a skittish person. Ben glanced up at him – he'd only recently had to relearn the task of looking up at the boy – and followed his gaze. He stretched out his senses, using the Force to see his surroundings despite the dark.
After a while, he said, "I don't sense anything."
Anakin looked uncertain, not willing to trust the Force or his Master over the other. He frowned and bit his lip, a expression he'd held over from boyhood. "I swear, Master, there was something," he said.
Ben had never let his apprentice know it, but much as Anakin doubted his senses for Ben's sake, Ben, knowing Anakin's true power, often doubted his own abilities against the padawan's convictions.
The master continued scanning the distance for several more moments before he turned his attention back to Anakin's lightsaber.
"I don't know what it could be, but put that away. We don't need any more skittish royals on our hands. Keeping them civil through marriage negotiations is like herding lothcat kittens; it'll be worse if they think there's danger."
Anakin disengaged his 'saber. In the quiet darkness, his teeth showed a cheshire grin. "I thought you liked political missions, Master," he teased. Ben did not miss a beat.
"I am good at politics, padawan, but there is no law of the Force that compels a person to like the things they're good at."
"Like flying?" Anakin offered.
"Exactly," Ben said, and then frowned in consideration. "Perhaps I'm doomed to despise my own talents."
"You don't despise teaching, do you?" Anakin asked coyly. Ben's expression did not change as he said:
"You're my apprentice, I couldn't possibly answer that question."
"Anyway," Ben waved dismissively, "you shouldn't have asked; flattery doesn't become you."
"Hold on," the padawan shook his head, entire worldview shifting, "what am I supposed to make of-"
"Shh!" Ben interrupted, putting out a hand to press on Anakin's chest. Operating on years of ingrained training, Anakin shut up, but still looked offended as he looked from Ben's hand to Ben's face. He glared at his master, trying to divine the problem while simultaneously talking back with his eyebrows.
Ben paid no attention. He tilted his head to listen. Suddenly, he turned around to face the far corner of the veranda, and ignited his lightsaber.
Following his master's gaze, Anakin sensed it, too. His green saber joined Ben's blue.
"I told you there was something out there," the padawan said. There was no malice in the words, only validation.
"So you did," Ben agreed, attuning his senses. The Force darkened with a new presence that slunk toward the palace with evil intent.
"Find the guards, secure a perimeter," Ben ordered. "I'll gather up the royal families."
"Like herding kittens?" Anakin joked, even as he moved his saber into ready position. Ben's glance was made past stern eyebrows, but Anakin had known him long enough to know he was smiling beneath the shadows.
"Something like it," the master said. "Be careful, padawan."
Ben retraced his steps back into the palace, and Anakin fell into a half crouch and jogged down the edge of the veranda. He could not tell exactly how many hostiles waited for him at the garden's edge, but the Force grew darker and darker with unseen threat. He found a guard and explained the situation.
"But how many of them are there?" the man asked the Jedi, comming his superiors for backup.
"I don't know exactly," Anakin confessed. Ben would have known, but Anakin's' connection to the Force was not yet as refined as his master's. "But no matter if there's one or ten, we need a solid perimeter around the palace. I'm going to search the gardens, but they may already be there. Keep them away from the house."
"And what about you?" The guard looked at Anakin's braid, his prominent adam's apple, and his emaciated five o'clock shadow. His expression grew more concerned. "If they're in the garden…"
"I can take care of myself," Anakin assured. "You just need to keep the royal family safe."
At this mandate, the guard seemed to take courage. "Yes, sir," he saluted. Anakin wasn't sure what to make of it. He nodded awkwardly and gave a half-salute back.
"Good," he said, and set out into the moonlit grounds. Though the countryside had not lost its serene airs, the Force was taut with anxiety. Anakin's anxiety, the guard's anxiety, and, much to Anakin's benefit, the anxiety of a faceless enemy, whose malicious intent left a wake in the Force itself that Anakin now followed.
He rounded a tree, and the figure was there. It turned toward him, saw him, and froze.
"Stop right there!" Anakin shouted. It turned and bolted away. Anakin cursed and ran after it. The figure was barreling toward the house, and for a fleeting moment Anakin imagined that it would continue on into the waiting entourage of guards for an easy capture. Then, out of nowhere, three more figures appeared and started shooting at him.
"Force-damn chssk-" the apprentice flattened himself to the ground and rolled under a hedge. After a ear-ringing moment of shock, he could sense the beings start to move away. Did they think they'd shot him? Were they retreating? Were they attacking someone else? Were they going to attack the guards?
Ben would know, Anakin thought, as he often did in these situations. But he was not Ben and Ben was not here, so he listened to the Force, took its gamble and stood to his feet. He could see the figures fleeing around the corner of the house. But to where?
Anakin followed their path past the top of the main vineyard and around toward the back of the house. Once past the northwestern corner, the Jedi could see paths in the Force and the grass - they were giving the palace a wide berth. They must have seen the guards patrolling the veranda. Anakin began to hear voices. He put away his saber and fell into a crouch.
"-were only half of these guards. This entrance isn't going to work. They know we're here!"
"It has to work, and it has to be today. We'll charge it head on. We have enough firepower."
"Are you insane?"
"Are you giving up? That bitch is about to hand our country over to the enemy so she can put a pretty boy in her bed. One of them has to die."
Anakin raised his eyebrows.
"If we do this," said a third man, "it's a good chance we're not all making it back."
The second speaker - their leader, Anakin guessed - was undeterred. "It's worth the risk."
The grass rustled as the would-be assasins moved away from their hideaway to prepare for a head-on assault.
Even without Ben there to remind him, Anakin knew that there wasn't anything quite as dangerous as a violent person with nothing to lose.
And multiple allies and heavy weaponry, Anakin added mentally. Once he felt the assassins were far enough away, he stood. They were retracing their steps back to the north side of the house, the most secluded side. Anakin plowed a wide path around them, using the same shadows they were using to hide until he overtook them and watched their approach from ahead. As he paused to breathe and watch, the Force spiked an urgent gold in Anakin's mind, and he looked closer.
"Oh, no." There was a person - a little girl - walking around the house in the opposite direction. She couldn't have seen around the corner, but she was going to run straight into the armed men.
"Come on, come on, they're not that quiet." Anakin willed her to realize the danger she was in. "Move, move, move."
As the men continued sneaking closer and closer to the veranda, the girl let her hand trail along the wall as she walked, fingers tracing the grout in carefree patterns.
"Oh, come on." Anakin despaired. He didn't want to give away his position, but… he surged forward. It was something Jedi learned in the crèche and internalized as teenagers: we take care of our own. Jedi, sentients, and especially, always, children.
The men spotted him as he darted toward the house and began shooting. Anakin continued to run, steps punctuated by the whiz of blasterfire and the beat of his own personal mantra:
"Kriff, kriff, kriff, kriff, kriff,"
He reached the girl just as she stepped directly into the path of one of the attackers. The first assassin tripped on her. She screamed, and he raised his blaster and pointed toward the sound.
"Move!" Anakin grabbed her and pulled her away just in time, but it pulled him closer, too. The blaster went off, and the bolt seared through Anakin's shoulder. He couldn't help it when he screamed. The girl looked horrified, and more horrified still when the man raised his weapon for a second shot. She grabbed Anakin's hand and dragged him away.
They ran, and it took a moment of pain before Anakin came to his senses and ignited his lightsaber. He deflected the shots of their pursuers as best he could, but his shoulder was still seizing in pain.
"We have to get the guard!" he told the girl, eyes on the assassins as he maintained their defense. "They're here to kill the princess and her fiancé. If even one of them gets away, it'll be too many. What?" Anakin turned, irritated, to see why the girl was yanking on his sleeve. She said nothing, but took his hand and pulled him down a sudden flight of stairs.
They fell against a set of old cellar doors. Half underground, a massive ivy plant hung over the entrance of the steps, concealing them from outside onlookers, including the assassins.
The girl smacked Anakin's hand that held the lightsaber, unaware that every beat was painful on his shoulder.
"Ow, ow, ow, okay," he turned off his saber and winced.
Up the stairs, the assassins came closer, and closer, and then ran right past them. Their small alcove was quiet, save for their frightened breathing.
"Thank you," Anakin said eventually, looking at the girl for the first time. She had dark hair and eyes and smooth olive skin. He realized now that she was older than he'd expected - likely eleven or so - but very small. He extended his hand. "I'm Anakin. What's your name?
The girl stared at him in the filtered moonlight and said nothing. Anakin faltered, withdrawing his hand.
"Um, alright, that's okay. We need to get out of here, and warn the guard. They're going to kill a lot of people to get inside." She didn't look concerned in the slightest. "Kill people," the Jedi repeated, fishing for a reaction. "Including us."
The girl stared, and then began shaking her head. She pointed to herself, and then drew a line over her ear, and then shook her head again. She mimed it again while Anakin watched. Realization dawned.
Oh. "You're deaf," the Jedi said, and then mentally kicked himself. "Okay, okay okay…" he fiddled with his hands. He'd taken a course in Galactic Sign Language four years ago, but he'd slept through a lot of it. Well, most of it. "Okay, uhhhh…"
"My name is Amakim," he signed with difficulty. Her face lit up, and she signed her own name excitedly back, too fast for him to see. She saw his confusion and slowed down.
"Hecate," he repeated aloud for himself. "It's good to meet you," is what he attempted to sign. What he actually signed was "thank to meet this". Then, far too slowly, he tried explain the situation of the assassins, but it was to complex, his language skills not up to the task. He gave up. He pointed up the stairs and mimed a rifle blaster like the ones the assassins carried, and acted like he was shooting. Then he put his hands crown-like onto his head, and drew a quick line across his throat. Then, he picked up his lightsaber, pointed to it, waved it around, and pointed back up the stairs with a snarl.
Hecate frowned at his antics, but he was pretty sure she got the gist.
"I need leave," he signed clumsily. "Now," he pointed up the stairs.
Hecate shook her head and pulled on his arm. She threw open the cellar doors, and dragged him in after her.
Inside the palace, the alarms had been blaring for ten long minutes. The royal families of the crown princess and that of her beloved had been locked away under guard until the threat passed. As the moments ticked by, however, the threat only seemed to grow. They'd identified one hostile, then two, then four. Some of the guards reported there were six or more, but not all of them agreed.
Ben thought privately that there weren't nearly enough guards on the premises to look after two royal families at once and deal with incoming attackers. Maybe that was why they'd requested a Jedi presence in the first place. The sprawling palace villa looked small on the outside, but inside, it was a labyrinthian estate built over the centuries. Ben wasn't even completely confident that all of the entrances were secure.
"We've got reports of movements around the northwestern corner," said the captain of the guard, catching Ben's attention. "Multiple shots fired. They say they saw a lightsaber."
"Good," Ben stroked his beard. "If there's a lightsaber, no one's died yet."
"A lightsaber that disappears in the middle of a fight?" The captain replied. Ben's hand paused.
"There was a pursuit," the captain waved him over and replayed the surveillance footage. "Here, he disappears." He pointed as the holographic soldiers chased a Jedi apprentice who, very suddenly, disappeared into the darkness with his lightsaber.
"He's hurt," Ben said, watching his apprentices stilted movements as he deflected shots and ran. When the bright light of Anakin's lightsaber disappeared, the camera struggled to refocus. By the time it readjusted to the light, the soldiers were already far down their path, disappeared once more into the shadows. Anakin was nowhere to be seen.
"We need to move on them now," Ben said. "If we give them time to split up, they'll be harder to catch."
"What about your apprentice?" the captain asked.
"He's alright," Ben said. Anakin was not gifted in the art of telepathy, and their bond was not as intricate as the one Ben had shared with Qui-Gon. However, the general impression that leaked across their bond bore no sense of impending peril, only intense annoyance. And as long as Anakin was annoyed, he was not dead.
"I should probably go and get him, all the same," Ben added nonchalantly, much to the confusion of the captain. He unclipped his lightsaber and strolled out of the door. "If anyone else walks into this house, shoot them."
"Well this is just wizard," Anakin complained. He was being dragged through a pitch black cellar by a girl who could not speak or hear, while he himself had no idea where he was and could not see. The Force helped him understand that he was in a basement, and that they were underneath the central structure of the palace. He hoped more than he sensed that Hecate had a plan.
He heard voices up ahead and tensed, but Hecate pulled harder on his hand. His head told him to resist, but the Force told him to follow. He let her lead him up a slight incline into a wide, airy room. Or… not a room, exactly. There was dirt beneath his feet, and fresh air filtering in through long hallways. They stood in a round room with tunnels going out from it like spokes on a wheel, all of them slanting upwards and giving the moonlit promise of the outdoors. The voices returned, and Anakin turned to face the tunnel where they were coming from.
"You go that way. I'll go around the other side. Pick 'em off one at a time, go!" The voices split up, and while the first stayed put, Anakin could hear the jogging footsteps approach the second tunnel, pass it, and approach the third.
"Oh," Anakin breathed, eyes going wide in realization and excitement. He turned to Hecate, who he could see now in the secondhand moonlight. "Oh," he said again, and did not need to sign anything for her to understand the elation on his face. She smiled at him.
Belatedly, Anakin remembered the sign for thank you. Then, he gripped his saber, picked the hallway nearest to the voices, and charged. Hecate watched him go with a massive smile, privately hoping he'd come back so she could teach him to sign more.
"Chief! Chief! The kid's back!"
"The Jedi kid, there's a lightsaber showing up on the south wall!"
The captain of the guard peered over the surveillance tech's shoulder. The holocams struggled to capture the scene of flashing saber and blasterfire against a backdrop of black, but amid the gloom, the efficiency of Anakin's attacks was plain. He deflected a stream of shots as if they were nothing, and then turned, twirled his blade, and sliced the blaster in half.
"Damn, kid," the captain said, and looked around the room for the boy's master, but Ben Kenobi was long gone. He turned back toward the screen.
"Woah, hey, hey, where'd he go?" The tech fiddled with the controls to zoom in.
"Is it a cam malfunction?"
"Chief!" yelled another tech. "He's on the northwest side! Taking on two at once!"
"What?" The captain ran over to the other monitor. "How the hell did he get there? You sure it's not Kenobi?"
"Kenobi's on the west side, stalking this guy." He switched cameras to show Ben following after an unsuspecting gunman. He switched back to Anakin just as the apprentice pulled an acrobatic flip - it elicited several cheers and claps from the techs - before slicing both blasters into pieces. He disappeared again, and reappeared on the east side.
"How is he doing that?" asked the captain baffled. One of the older techs laughed. He'd worked in the palace since he was a boy.
"That slippery little punk - he found the breezeway!" The old-timer shook his head. "Damn, why didn't we think of that?"
Anakin was on a roll. Cutting blasters to bits was easy enough, and jabbing a lightsaber here and slashing it there certainly wouldn't kill a man, but it'd make him think twice before getting up and running away. There was only one assassin left, and Anakin had him dialed in his sights.
"You!" shouted the man, and Anakin recognized it. The leader of the pack, the one who wanted the princess dead. The Jedi said nothing, and charged. The soldier proved to be quicker and lighter on his feet than the rest, and rolled under Anakin's attacks with ease.
"You should've stayed in your temple, shoulda kept your nose out of things that don't concern you!"
"You're trying to kill me," Anakin quipped, twirling his saber in a rebound. "You think I shouldn't be concerned?"
Dauntless, the soldier drew back for a punch. Anakin ducked just in time, but there was a left hook waiting for him when he stood back up, and it hit him right in his injured soldier. He screamed.
"Oh, so Jedi do bleed," the man laughed.
"I'm not bleeding, you idiot," Anakin snarled back, and used his uninjured arm to punch the man directly in his laughing face. The assassin fell instantly to the ground. Anakin took the opportunity to divest him of his blaster and cut it in two. He kicked the trigger half away to be on the safe side. He glanced at the assassin, who was holding his face and crying. "But looks like you are," he said.
The man continued to weep. From the pain in his knuckles, Anakin assumed his jaw was fractured. The jedi shook out his hand and put away his saber. Suddenly surrounded by the quiet of the stars and crickets, he looked up. His master was mere meters away, watching with a miffed expression.
"I had that one," Ben accused magnanimously. Anakin blinked at him.
"Doesn't look like it."
"Hmm," Ben harrumphed, and Anakin wondered if he'd get a punishment for impertinence later. The master looked at the fallen soldier, who was making a half hearted attempt to crawl away, and then at Anakin.
The teenager shrugged his good shoulder. "Only a bit."
"I'll be the judge of that. Help me round these fellows up, and we'll take a look at that wound."
While the royal families poured glasses of wine to ease their frayed nerves, Ben and Anakin coalesced in medbay alongside wounded palace guards.
"A girl, you say?" Ben dabbed at the cauterized flesh with a damp cloth.
"Yeah, she took me to these passages underneath the house, that's how I was able to find all the men."
"That's very clever of her. Good job of you to take a blaster shot for her," Ben wiped a bit too hard at the wound, and Anakin stiffened in pain.
"Yeah," the apprentice winced, "that wasn't really part of the plan."
Ben shook his head, because he knew Anakin hadn't had a plan. He'd seen someone in need, and he'd helped them. Ben put down the cloth and uncapped a tub of bacta. "Having a plan is generally the place to start," he admonished. "You acted rashly. You could've gotten her or yourself killed."
Anakin ducked his head. "Yes, Master. I'm sorry. I wasn't… I didn't think."
"No," Ben agreed, and it stung. The master applied cold bacta gel to Anakin's wounds. The apprentice tried not to tense. "You may have managed to salvage a bad situation today, but you cannot always rely on your blind luck. It'll get someone killed, one day."
Anakin shrank. "Yes, master."
They sat in silence while Ben administered to his pupil's injuries. Eventually, the master said, "To answer your question, yes, I do despise teaching."
"What?" Anakin looked up at him, confused. Ben remained focused on his work.
"You teased me about disliking things I'm good at. I don't like teaching at all."
Anakin's heart sank, and he felt guilty. Ben continued.
"Teaching is hard. I myself am still a learner. It's hard to teach other people the lessons that you yourself are still learning. You end up teaching yourself, and, no matter how much you need it, it's not always pleasant. In that respect, I despise teaching." He glanced up at at Anakin's distraight expression and allowed a small smile as he returned to his work.
"Not to mention the fact that the student I've been assigned to teach is a hellion. Still, I've disregarded the lessons of my betters and grown a peculiar fondness for him." Ben wound a bandage around Anakin's shoulder, ignoring the sudden and surprised look the apprentice gave him. "And for him, I could never truly hate teaching."
Anakin tried not to smile too wide. He looked down at his hands, his left knuckles already scabbing. Of course Ben would give such a riddled answer for such a simple joke. It was one of the many reasons why Anakin admired him. "Thank you, Master."
Ben tied off the bandage and stood. "All else aside, you did well today, padawan." He brushed the boy's face in passing affection. "Rest easy."
That evening, the Jedi dined with the Queen, who gifted them a particularly fine bottle of wine – which Ben passed on to the guards, much to Anakin's chagrin. Once her role in the victory was revealed, Hecate was also invited to join the Queen's table with her father the Groundskeeper, who also acted as her translator throughout the evening. When he was given a seat beside the Jedi, he smiled upon seeing the younger of the pair.
"Ah, you must be Amakim," the man smiled and offered his hand without a shred of humor. Anakin was stunned.
"I think," Ben interrupted with a smile, eyeing the girlish admiration in Hecate's eyes as she gazed across her father at the tall, dashing apprentice, "that Anakin is regretting his poor marks in GSL class."
Amakim turned bright red and said nothing.
The five men who'd been trying to kill the Crown Princess and her beloved – now fiance – had been incarcerated overnight in the ancient dungeons beneath the palace.
Sitting with Ben in the idyllic haze of morning, Anakin gazed out at the countryside and shook his head.
"To think, all this because some people want to get married," he glanced at his bandaged hand and shoulder.
"Two royal people," Ben reminded. "Not even love is simple for royalty."
"Huh," Anakin scoffed, and shook his head again. "Another reason not to be royalty."
Ben raised an eyebrow at him. "What, were you planning on marrying a queen, Anakin?"
"Master," Anakin blushed, scanalized. Ben laughed at a joke that Anakin did not understand.
That evening, the Jedi met with the representative from Constancian Orbit Control sent to fetch the prisoners. He was a tall, stern-browed man with a heavily chewed toothpick that quivered beneath his mustache as he spoke.
"Sorry I'm late," the man said, producing a datapad and a stylus, which he handed to Ben, "It's been a hectic day."
"No rush at all," Ben smiled at the man, filling out the forms. "We've enjoyed the afternoon."
When Ben left his thumbprint and his identification came up on the screen, the OrbitSec officer gave a strange chuckle.
"Kenobi?" he observed, "Jedi Master Kenobi. You wouldn't, eh-" He glanced at Ben's face as if about to deliver an inside joke. "You wouldn't happen to be of any relation to Obi-Wan Kenobi, would you?"
Ben was nonplussed, and glanced at Anakin, who shrugged.
"I would, actually," the master said. "He's my nephew."
"Oh," said the officer. His face fell slack, toothpick drooping. "Oh, chssk."
Ben stared. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh chssk," the man said again, putting a hand to his head, eyes staring wide at the ground. "He really was a Jedi."
"Obi-Wan Kenobi," the officer implored, "He's a Jedi?"
"Yes, he is," Ben confirmed, utterly baffled. "How do you know him?"
"Oh, man… I don't… I don't know him," the man explained, now appearing sheepish. "I ran into him. This morning."
"This morning?" Anakin interjected, a smile overtaking his face. He hadn't seen Obi-Wan in over a year. "Where is he?"
"Well," the man replied uncertainly, "That's uh… that is, I didn't so much run into him as… arrest him."
"What?" Ben asked in surprise. Anakin's smile disappeared.
"Arrest him for what?" the padawan asked.
"A whole lot of things," he officer admitted. "Stealing property, immigration fraud, lying to a Republic officer, resisting arrest," he paused, "And, eh, impersonating a Jedi," he grimaced. "His ID was expired."
"Oh, Force…" Ben said, feeling a headache coming on. Anakin was dumbstruck. "And where is he now?" Ben asked.
"I don't know exactly," the officer shrugged. "Somewhere along the Byss Run, I imagine. He's en route to Coruscant."
"To the Temple?" Anakin said, hopeful. The officer winced.
"Well… no, not exactly, no."