Ivan charged down the deserted corridors of Tipoca City, the urgency of the Force pulsing around him. He was running flat-out, his breath coming out in harsh ragged breaths, but still he pushed himself forward, trying to gain more speed, sensing that Obi-Wan was in trouble and there was not a moment to lose. The gleaming white walls were a luminescent blur in his peripheral vision.
Ivan drew on the Force for assistance, feeling its energy enhance his stride, launching him forward with more power than his body alone could generate. Far behind him, he could hear heavy footsteps pounding out a rapid rhythm. He didn't need to look back to know it was Qui-Gon, for the Force was with the Jedi Master as well, propelling him forward at the same break-neck speed.
So close. They were so close to Obi-Wan. Ivan could feel his Master's distress in his mind as if it were his own, and he ran toward it as if his own life depended on it. The corridor curved to the right and then, thank the Force, Ivan spotted the double doors that led out onto a landing platform. Through the misty rain outside he could see the dark outline of a ship, of an unusual shape he did not recognize.
Too impatient to wait for the doors to open, Ivan lifted his hands in the twin gestures of Jedi compulsion, and parted the doors as he flew toward the exit. A few moments later, he was out in the driving rain, skidding to a halt, his eyes squinting through the mist to catch any glimpse of his Master.
A brilliant flash of lightning bathed the landing pad in white light. When it faded, Ivan saw that the landing pad was deserted, save for the ship parked near the edge. No, not deserted. A movement at the edge of the pad attracted his gaze. A man climbed clumsily up and over the low guardrail, slipping on the wet surfaces, and began to make for the boarding ramp of the ship. He was wearing helmet and armor, the same gear Ivan had seen in Jango Fett's quarters.
Ivan's hand flew to his lightsaber, and in one graceful motion he had the green blade activated as he leaped unerringly toward the bounty hunter. Thunder boomed around him, filling the air with vibrations and drowning out all other sounds. Ivan felt the rumbling deep in his bones, but he never took his eyes off Jango Fett as he charged, the Force lightening his steps so that he bounded over the wet deck effortlessly.
Jango's attention was caught by the movement; his helmet turned in Ivan's direction, and the green glow of Ivan's blade was reflected in his T-shaped visor. Visibly startled, the bounty hunter paused only a moment before turning back toward the boarding ramp and putting on a fresh burst of speed. It seemed he wasn't interested in a fight. Too bad. The fight was coming to him. Ivan was going to reach him before he got away.
Or he would have, if it weren't for the ship's cannons.
He felt the explosion a moment before it happened, but there was no time to alter his momentum. Instead, Ivan launched himself up into the air, just as the percussive force of the ship's cannons hit the deck beneath him. An intense wave of heat blasted Ivan mid-air and sent him flying like a rag-doll.
He came down hard, slamming into the low guardrail and crumpling into a heap on the deck. By some miracle, his lightsaber landed only a short distance away. Clinging to the guardrail for support, Ivan staggered back to his feet and called his lightsaber hilt to his hand. He squinted through the rain and saw Jango Fett disappear inside his ship.
Ivan cursed to himself, but he wasn't about to give up. He tensed his muscles, preparing for one last desperate spring, although already the ship's door was sliding shut, when he heard a faint cry behind and below him that gave him pause. Ivan turned and looked over the guardrail, and what he saw made him freeze in horror.
Obi-Wan was far below, laying on his belly at the very edge of the dome, feet dangling over the edge. He was scrabbling at the slippery metal with his fingertips, but he kept slipping further down. His hands were bound together by some kind of cord. Even worse, there was an ugly gash on his forehead, and blood streamed down one side of his face. He looked at Ivan and shouted something that Ivan couldn't quite hear over the roar of the waves below.
Trying not to panic, Ivan looked around frantically for a rope, a pole, something, anything that he could use to reach his Master, but there was nothing at hand. Behind him, the engines of Jango's ship revved, preparing for takeoff. Obi-Wan shouted again, and this time Ivan was just able to catch his words: "Beacon! Beacon!"
It was clipped to Obi-Wan's belt, the homing beacon Master Daroon had given him. Ivan could just see it on the side of his belt. But still he hesitated, not wanting to leave his Master alone in such a predicament.
"Beacon!" Obi-Wan shouted again, a tone of desperation in his voice, and against his instincts Ivan knew he had to obey. His hand snapped out, and with a tug of the Force, the beacon broke free of Obi-Wan's belt.
But even as the device flew up to Ivan's right hand, he was dropping his lightsaber down to Obi-Wan with his left. It slid down the steep incline, and Obi-Wan lifted up his fingers just enough to grab the hilt. He activated the green blade in one swift motion and plunged it deep down into the lip of the dome. Hot slag gushed up against the hilt where the plasma blade had melted through the durasteel, but Obi-Wan hung on tenaciously and his sliding halted.
Satisfied, only then did Ivan turn swiftly and run full-speed toward Jango's ship. Already it was rising heavily into the air, thrusters flaring bright. Ivan wound up and threw the beacon with all his strength. With an audible thunk, it latched onto the hull and spread its flaps, activating a signal.
The ship rose into the air and its wings swiveled into flight position. With a roar of engines, Jango's ship blasted up and away.
Ivan dashed back to the edge of the landing pad and leaned far out, grasping onto the low guardrail for support.
Obi-Wan had vanished.
Horror-stricken, Ivan could only stare at the spot where his Master had dangled just a few moments ago. A red-hot score in the skirt of the dome marked the place where Ivan's lightsaber had punched into the metal… and then slowly cut down through the lip of the dome like a hot knife through butter, aided by the weight of Obi-Wan's body. The fiery trail went all the way to the edge… and there it ended.
"Master! Master!" Ivan howled, but the gusting wind threw his words back at him mockingly. Frantically Ivan scanned the area, hoping against hope that Obi-Wan had managed to climb up in another place somehow, but he was nowhere to be seen. Fear tore at Ivan's throat. He climbed onto the guardrail and balanced there precariously, trying to see down to the rough sea below, fearing to catch a glimpse of a white tunic in the dark water, but all he could see were the white breakers on the waves as they churned and swirled in an endless dizzying pattern.
"Obi-Wan!" Ivan shouted. He fought an irrational desire to throw himself down the incline, knowing that even if he ended up wherever Obi-Wan had gone, he would then be in no position to help. Instead he jumped back down to the landing pad and tried to feel for his training bond with Obi-Wan, and in his distress he unconsciously tore his fingers through his hair.
Nothing. He felt nothing.
He scolded himself that the reason he felt nothing was because he was too frightened and distracted to focus properly, got angry with himself for losing control at a time like this, and after taking several slow steadying breaths he finally forced himself to calm down.
Trying again, he reached out to Obi-Wan. This time, he thought he felt his Master's life force through the tumult of his own emotions. But if Obi-Wan had gone down into the water, he wouldn't have much time left before… before…
Ivan spun on his heels to run back inside, and as he did so, his boot hit something lying on the deck. It was Obi-Wan's lightsaber. Ivan scooped it up and sprinted back inside, back into the pristine corridors of Tipoca City, and ran with all the strength he had left toward the turbolift doors. He had to get down to the lowest levels… before it was too late.
As he plummeted in a freefall down to the heaving seas of Kamino, it occurred to Obi-Wan that it would have been a really great idea to equip his belt with a grappling hook of his own, back in the Temple.
The next thought that crossed his mind was that he still had Jango Fett's grappling cord tangled around his arms.
Ah, well. Any port in a storm.
In a flurry of movement, he unraveled the cord and freed his arms, caught up one end of the cord in his right hand and threw the rest of it with all the strength the Force could lend him towards one of the metallic catwalks flashing past him as he fell.
A solid hit. The tip of the hook embedded itself into the underside of the catwalk, and Obi-Wan had just enough presence of mind to anchor his grip on the cord with the assistance of the Force. Even so, it stung his palms deeply when he jerked to a sudden stop, but he managed to keep his grip.
There he dangled, soaked to the skin in the driving rain, several stories below the landing pad, with his prey hopelessly out of reach. If only Master Dralig could see him now.
Obi-Wan pumped his legs forward and back, and his body began to swing like a pendulum. Once his arc was long enough, he dropped, somersaulted, and landed lightly on his feet on a catwalk below. In moments he was inside the lower dome and punching the button in the turbolift that would take him back up to the landing pad.
The ride was swift. Obi-Wan fought for breath and held out hope that Ivan was managing to delay Fett's escape, and that they would catch him yet. When the door swished open, he barreled out… and nearly crashed headlong into his Padawan.
"Master!" Ivan nearly shouted at him. "In the name of…!" He broke off and hunched over, pressing one hand against his heart, looking both elated and surprised. "How in the galaxy did you do that?"
Obi-Wan ignored this and started to run past him, back out into the rain. Ivan quickly reached out and restrained him. "No good!"
"Where's Fett?" Obi-Wan gasped.
"Gone. Blasted away. He'll be in hyperspace by now."
"Don't worry. I tagged his hull. We'll find him. We'll know the moment he comes out of hyperspace."
Obi-Wan sagged, then leaned up against the wall, fighting to catch his breath. He pushed his wet hair back out of his eyes, and winced as his fingers brushed the bloody gash in his forehead. "Ah! Blast it!"
"Here. Sit down," Ivan ordered. "Let me take care of that." He was already removing the obi wrapped around his waist and folding it up into a makeshift bandage.
Knowing better than to argue with Ivan when he went into healer mode, Obi-Wan slowly slid down the wall into a sitting position. His boots squeaked loudly on the wet floor.
"Just relax," Ivan murmured, kneeling beside him and touching Obi-Wan's forehead gently. "How exactly did this happen?"
"Really... shouldn't butt heads... with someone... wearing a helmet," Obi-Wan panted.
Obi-Wan laughed weakly as Ivan inspected the wound, his eyes intent. "It isn't bad," he said after a few moments. "Not too deep, just a lot of blood. Hold still." He pressed the pad of cloth against the cut. Ivan's eyes slid shut and his face relaxed, and then Obi-Wan felt the familiar sensation of Force-healing warmth emanating from Ivan's hand through the cloth. He gradually relaxed, watching the stone he'd given Ivan swing back and forth on its chain hypnotically, and felt the pain slowly ebb away. There were times he was very grateful to have an apprentice skilled in healing, and this was one of them. Come to think of it, there were a lot of times he was grateful for that. Ivan liked to tease him about being one of the most injury-prone Knights in the Order. Obi-Wan's favorite retort was that it wasn't his fault the Council liked to give him the most dangerous assignments. Although technically, in this case it was Qui-Gon who had been given the dangerous assignment.
Suddenly Obi-Wan's eyes popped open.
"Where is Qui-Gon?" he asked.
"Don't know," Ivan said. "He must have reached the landing pad just after I did, but we got separated. I haven't seen him since."
"What?" Obi-Wan sat bolt upright.
"He couldn't have engaged with Fett," Ivan said quickly. "I would have seen if he had. I'm sure he's fine, wherever he is. Here, hold this tight." Obi-Wan held the cloth against his cut, and Ivan took out his comm and signaled Qui-Gon.
They waited, but there was no response. Ivan started to look worried.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes again, and reached out through the Force-bond he shared with Qui-Gon. Their bond wasn't as prominent in his mind as it once had been, but it was still there, and if Qui-Gon was in trouble he should be able to sense it. But though he tuned his full awareness to the bond, he felt no pain or distress coming from his former Master. Wherever he was, he was well. For now. Obi-Wan opened his eyes and told Ivan as much.
"You know..." Ivan said slowly. "I wonder if he boarded the ship. He ran outside just as the ship's cannons went off. That clone boy would have been in the cockpit, distracted; he was targeting me. And Jango Fett was focused on me, too. Qui-Gon could have slipped aboard without being seen."
Obi-Wan blew out a breath slowly. "They didn't know there were three Jedi here. Taun We never mentioned him to Fett. If Qui-Gon managed to escape detection..."
"...he must still be on board, hiding," Ivan finished. "He'll be able to listen for information, or wait to see where Fett goes and who he meets with when he gets there."
"Clever," Obi-Wan said, and he couldn't stop the grin that curved his lips. "Dangerous, but clever. This way he'll probably get more information, and better, than if we had questioned Fett on Coruscant. He isn't the type to break easily."
"But the Council wanted us to arrest him right away," Ivan said. "Won't they disapprove when they find out Qui-Gon decided to follow him instead?"
"Perhaps," Obi-Wan said quietly. There was a time when he, too, would have objected strenuously to Qui-Gon taking such a liberty with the Council's instructions, and especially to the way he had done it - on the spur of the moment, rather than as a cool, calculated decision. Qui-Gon had always operated that way. The best way to follow a plan, Qui-Gon liked to say, was to never make one in the first place. How Obi-Wan had hated that philosophy as an apprentice. But over time he had come to see that Qui-Gon's genius found its best light in this way. He was impulsive, not reckless, and however much Obi-Wan might object to his methods, he couldn't deny that they worked.
Obi-Wan glanced at Ivan. "If Qui-Gon does get valuable information, the Council may give him a lecture on the matter and then leave it at that. They've done it before. They're not unreasonable. They do allow a little leeway, sometimes, for Jedi like Qui-Gon, who operate in... unorthodox ways, but still stay true to the spirit of the Code."
"So, does that mean we don't have to obey the letter of the law anymore?" Ivan quipped, smiling.
"No, you and I are stuck," Obi-Wan said wryly. "I'm too afraid of Master Windu to go astray, and he knows it."
"I don't blame you one little bit," Ivan said with a shudder.
Obi-Wan smiled, and then began to heave himself to his feet, still holding the makeshift bandage against his forehead. Ivan quickly put a hand under his elbow to help him up.
"We better get back to our ship," Obi-Wan said. "We'll return to the edge of the system and wait for the homing beacon to send back a signal the moment Fett's ship comes out of hyperspace." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, waiting for a wave of dizziness to pass. "Assuming he doesn't have a hull charge that's zapped it off already."
"Way to look at the bright side, Master," Ivan said.
"This planet depresses me," Obi-Wan said. "I need to see some sunlight."
"Well then, let's hope Fett went somewhere sunny," Ivan said. "By the way, did you lose my lightsaber? I picked up yours outside."
"Safe and sound," Obi-Wan said, unclipping Ivan's lightsaber hilt from his belt. They exchanged weapons.
Obi-Wan glanced at the bounty hunter's landing pad through the rain-streaked doors. There were still strewn about on the deck several of the crates Fett and his clone had been loading onto their ship when Obi-Wan had interrupted them.
"Vanya," Obi-Wan said suddenly, getting an idea. "Do me a favor and go out and look in those crates." Ivan nodded, and jogged back out into the rain.
It had occurred to Obi-Wan that after their tense meeting, Fett must have feared he would soon be pursued by Jedi, which was no laughing matter even for a bounty hunter as skilled as Fett was. What was so important for him to bring along that he would delay his departure to load it up?
Ivan came back in then, shaking raindrops off his robe. Obi-Wan looked at him expectantly.
"They're empty," Ivan reported.
"Empty?" Obi-Wan repeated, surprised. "All of them?"
"All of them," Ivan confirmed. "Why?"
"He stopped to load up empty crates...?" Obi-Wan murmured. Then it dawned on him.
"No," he said out loud. "No. No. No. Kriff it!"
"What?" Ivan demanded.
"He wanted us to catch up to him," Obi-Wan said vehemently. "He was waiting for us."
Ivan's brow furrowed. "He wanted to kill us before we could expose him as Amidala's assassin," he guessed.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "He left before he knew for sure whether I was dead. He didn't kill you. He just wanted to get away. But he wanted us to see his ship before he left. He wanted us to track him. Which means..."
Obi-Wan let his words trail off, but he could see by the haunted look in his eyes that Ivan understood perfectly.
Qui-Gon had just walked into a trap.
TO BE CONTINUED