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Your albatross, let it go

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Carann takes a deep breath, then jumps.

It’s not out of fright, or because she needs to gather herself; she just wants the lingering taste of high-altitude air in her lungs as long as possible.

Here on Coruscant, that means the deep-space exhaust fumes that have drifted down, the metallic tang of the wind rushing over skyscrapers, and only the barest hints of smells floating up from the lower levels and traffic lanes. The Jedi Temple has its own rooftop smell, of course, contributing hints of water and growing things to the ever-drifting mix of smells.

She hasn’t climbed the Jedi Temple tonight.

The Shipyard Spires are tall and under-monitored, just like Carann likes them — all the time in the world to hear nothing but the wind roaring in her ears, no pressure of eyes or attention, nobody else’s breath mingling with hers, all strange tastes and scents. Everything high up is distant.

But she’d promised Kallei that she’d be there in time for the meeting, so she’ll be there in time for the meeting.

So Carann takes a deep breath, wraps the quiet and the safety around herself tight, then jumps. It would be easy even without the Force, a belay-cord anchored tight at the top of the spire; with the Force, she barely has to think about it.

The wind combs through her hair, and the sounds and echoes around her change as she descends; clanging that was only distant sounds and vibrations comes into clarity, and the voices of beings start to fill the air.

Her cord is about to become taut; Carann boosts herself up with the Force, lessening the change in momentum, then presses a button on her harness and tells the cord to drop her again.

It takes a gratifyingly long time to get down to the ground.

The shipyards taste like metal dust and old paint; much better than some of the lower levels, with strange liquids and biological aftertastes. Carann sneaks out through shadows she’s grown familiar with. The temple hasn’t held much for her, these days; only the Force knows why she’s decided to stay.

The sad thing is, that’s true. Of all of Shmi’s strays, Carann is maybe the only one who isn’t that tied to the idea of being a Jedi. But she listens to the Force, when it tells her that a structure is unsteady or her grip is unsure; she listens to it when it whispers to her that somebody is watching, their eyes sharp and pressuring on her. So she listens to it when it tells her that she has a role to play, here in the Jedi Temple, even though she would honestly rather go find new heights to enjoy.

She knows all the secret ways in and out, now; most initiates know one or two, and most padawans know more.

Carann isn’t a padawan, and she’s only sort of an initiate, but she knows every foothold on the temple’s walls, every crack in its foundations.

Well, maybe not every crack. She’s never gone into the deep temple, to where the lights aren’t powered any more and where there’s the weight of all those centuries pressing down. Deep places are not her strength.

But regardless, she still knows all the ways to sneak into the temple, so into the temple she sneaks. It’s easy, really; with all of the knights and masters off at war, she barely even has to watch for anyone watching her come in.

But that also makes her wonder why Kallei’s called this meeting, because Kallei should be off at war too, with Master Windu — or maybe even on her own, now that she's been knighted.

They meet in Shmi’s garden; dark, this time of night, but not as dark as some other places in the temple. The tatooinian plants are used to a cycle that involves twin suns, light bending over the horizons to create a dark twilight rather than a true night.

Carann is one of the last to arrive, as usual. She takes a few deliberate steps over and sits in the chair that’s been left for her, next to Sienn.

Sienn gives her a grin, her lekku swinging. "You're late," she whispers.

"I'm on time," Carann retorts. "Not my fault if the rest of you expect everything to start early." Then she glances around and frowns. "Is this everyone?"

"It is," Kallei says, her arms crossed. "This isn't a meeting for everyone — only the older strays."

Carann slides her fingers over the bright yellow sash she uses for a belt, a reminder that she does belong here. Everyone in this room belongs here, however outcast any one of them might feel.

"Why?" Sienn asks.

"Because this isn't something any of the younglings should have to deal with." Kallei looks out over the garden, over the strays. There aren't many of them, maybe a couple dozen between the ages of fourteen and twenty. "The war is still going strong — Jedi are dying, clones are dying, civillians are dying. Everyone is scattered out across the galaxy, doing their best to try and defend the Republic, doing their best to save lives as the Separatists try to snuff them out. No, the Republic isn't perfect, yes, this is a simplification of a complicated issue, but none of that is the point I'm trying to make right now." She takes a deep breath. "Everyone is scattered out across the galaxy, and if the Separatists make it as far as Coruscant, the Temple will be mostly defenceless."

Carann hears the mutters echo across the garden, as everyone realizes Kallei's point. All she can think is, oh, that makes sense.

"I'm going to be shipping out again in a week and a half, but until then, I'm going to do my best to help organize us into… not quite a guard, but I guess… a watch?" Kallei sighs. "I should have prepared this speech more in advance. But there are holes in Temple security — Carann can attest to that," she says, and suddenly Carann can feel all of their eyes on her.

Instead of shrinking, though, the way she usually does when people look at her, when she can feel their attention on her, prodding at who she is — now she stands up. "There are definitely a couple of places a determined assassin could get in," she says. "But we can plug those holes, and tighten Temple security."

Kallei is watching her with knowing eyes — that one, Carann thinks, learned too well from Shmi. "You know the Temple the best, but… Carann, I know how you prefer to be alone. Are you okay being the one to organize this? We can always try working with the Temple guards."

Carann shakes her head. "The guards have never patrolled everywhere in the Temple, and now they're stretched thin helping to guard the prisons and the Senate." She meets Kallei's eyes. "Whether or not we actually come under attack, I can help make the Temple safer."

Kallei gives her a slight, wry smile. "Thank you. I'd offer to try and acquire a list of the current guard rotations for you to work around, but…"

Carann matches her smile. "No need." She does a bit of quick arithmetic in her head, then glances back at the rest of the strays. "Well… you all know how you work best. We're going to need about forty teams of at least three, and that means we will have to pull in some of the younger strays, maybe even some initiates, but at least one of us per team. Sienn, I'd like your help to organize a schedule so people can sign up for shifts and I can tell them where to go."

Everyone is still watching her, but they're nodding along, and she can feel the respect and the surprise as their eyes press in on her; honestly, she's just as surprised. All of that had come out so smoothly. But this is what she does, isn't it? She finds the empty places, the spots that don't have eyes on them.

And once those spots are filled, she'll find more, and fill them, and find more. She'll put the strays and their eyes in the unwatched spaces, and any intruder who tries to get into the temple will have to go through them.