by ardavenport

- - - Part 3

Obi-Wan started awake. He heard nothing in the strange room but his own breathing and his Master's, and the shifting movement of his body and the blanket on the sleeping platform. And the distant chirps and buzzes from outside. The tiled ceiling above was gray with natural light. Turning his head, he saw the sky brightening to a cloudless blue through the narrow windows. It was almost morning.

His leg hurt. Testing it, he moved it a tiny bit and flexed his toes poking out of the bottom of the brace. The pain had dulled to a soreness that told him it was beginning to heal on his own. But he would be glad when they returned to the Jedi Temple where the medical droids could greatly accelerate the process.

Another long heavy breath drew his attention.

Next to him, his Master lay on his side, his features pale in the dim light. Normally, Obi-Wan found his Master awake before him if they were sharing the same sleeping area on a mission. But he now sensed the weariness in the older man. Even a Jedi could not indefinitely draw on the Force. The needs of the physical body eventually took precedence, though Obi-Wan sensed that his Master had been nowhere near the limits of his body's strength. But he was still tired and quite thoroughly asleep.

Tired as well, Obi-Wan yawned. His Master did not have a broken leg to keep him wakeful when he needed rest.

Qui-Gon's arm draped over the blanket covering him. He lay so close that Obi-Wan could feel his body heat, smell the faint staleness of his breath. Normally, he might have edged away from such an intrusion on his personal space, but they had just spent a day and night in even closer proximity. Obi-Wan was too tired to care about the minor inconvenience. And he had drawn badly needed strength and stability from his Master. He was content to remain close to that serenity for now.

Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan let himself drift into the moment. They had found sanctuary, safe away from the dangers below. The sounds of morning from outside slowly increased. In the distance the low roar of the Ha-Rarrum rumbled like thunder. Memory shivered through his thoughts and he sheltered in the calm presence of his Master next to him. It mattered little that his Master's calm was the serenity of unconsciousness. He chose that moment and let it become his reality.

Until a new sound at the edge of his perception resolved itself into the low hum of a ship's engine, coming toward them.

It was the ship coming from the Jedi Temple that would take them back to Coruscant.

Obi-Wan did not stir. He really could not get up to greet them, anyway. But his Master remained oblivious, quiescent. There was no threat, no disturbance in the Force to warn about a danger that was not arriving. Obi-Wan opened his eyes. Qui-Gon remained unmoving, features relaxed.

When a shadow passed over the lightening sky through the windows, the engine sound reached a peak before powering down. Obi-Wan prodded his Master's shoulder.

"The ship from the Temple has arrived."

The dull, slightly aware and mildly annoyed look in Qui-Gon's deep blue eyes changed instantly to full wakefulness. He rolled away and threw off his blanket in one motion. Obi-Wan saw him duck down onto the floor and them pop back up to sit on the sleep couch with a boot that he first tried to put on his right foot and then on his left. After pulling on the second boot, he was up and out the door without a backward glance.

Grinning, Obi-Wan pushed himself up into a sitting position. He stuffed Qui-Gon's pillow behind him along with his own. His lightsaber was on a stand next to the sleep couch next to Qui-Gon's. He used the Force to call the rest of his things to him, boots, robe, belt, clothes. The sides of the boot that Qui-Gon had sliced off his leg flopped around his hands and he tossed the pair of them back onto the floor before putting the clothes on.

He had just put his belt and lightsaber back on when heard multiple footsteps returning.

Wearing just pants, boots and open undertunic, Qui-Gon came back into the room, followed by two Jedi, a hairless Uardra and a nearly hairless Human. The artificial lights came on.

Obi-Wan caught himself staring at the Human, Mace Windu, and looked to Qui-Gon who was putting on the rest of his clothes. The Council certainly had to be very displeased about their mission for them to send one of its members to pick them up.

"Greetings young Obi-Wan," Windu said in a low pleasant voice. "I was just telling Master Qui-Gon here that I have already spoken to the Prefect and expressed the Council's displeasure about his government's deception. And that they will be hearing from the Senate of the Republic about it."

"Our task here is completed," Qui-Gon finished, sparing Obi-Wan any need to answer.

Obi-Wan hastily began unfolding the brown fabric of his robe to find the sleeves. The Uardra - - her name was Nyrin, but he did not know much more about her than that - - silently came over to help him put it on.

"Your delay reporting in did cause the Council some concern," Windu went on.

"It caused a great deal of concern for us as well," Qui-Gon observed, putting on his belt and using the force to retrieve his lightsaber from the stand. It flew a little close to Nyrin's face and she silently scowled toward Qui-Gon.

"Regrettably our escape pods landed some distance apart and a much greater distance away from this observation station," Qui-Gon finished.

"I gather that the indigenous beings here gave you some trouble," Windu noted.

"Even more regrettably, yes. We were pursued for the entire journey." He sighed, effectively covering up a yawn that Mace Windu apparently did not notice. He finally picked up his dark brown robe and shrugged it on. Then he came around to Obi-Wan's side of the sleeping platform.

"Do you need help, Master Qui-Gon?" Nyrin asked politely, stepping back.

"No," Qui-Gon answered as he lifted Obi-Wan, who held on with an arm over the larger man's shoulders; his immobilized leg stuck straight out. "And it would be best if both of you remained wary, in case some of the indigenous beings return for our departure." Windu nodded and they left the room.

Nyrin preceded them with Windu following. Their footsteps echoed in the dimly lit stairwell, going down the many stairs of the tower, getting closer and closer to the ground level. Held aloft in Qui-Gon's arms, Nyrin's back below on the stairs, Obi-Wan felt queasily as if he were always falling forward. But Qui-Gon was holding him up. He might fall, as he would with the Force, but he was safe.

Qui-Gon's warning proved correct when the exterior door slid open, letting in the new daylight.

Six Ha-Rarrum loitered around the ship. Several more paced in the long grasses beyond.

The largest of them, a female and likely the highest ranking, stood closest to the ship and apart from the others, her eyes gleaming with deadly intelligence. Standing, the Ha-Rarrum were only a little taller than Qui-Gon Jinn or Mace Windu, but they stood on four powerful legs, capable of great bursts of speed. Their broad shoulders and chests supported two forelimbs with sharp retractable claws and large heads covered with a think mane of hair that covered their backs and parts of their legs. Grays and golds and pale greens unevenly spotted grays and golds or pale greens their tough skin with colors like the tall grasses of the plains. The large female that faced them now had a dusty golden mane and body mottled with long patches of pale brown.

Opening her jaws wide, she exposed her long white fangs and teeth. A low crooning filled the air, deep and loud enough to feel in the body. The others joined in with voices of slightly different tones in an oppressive chorus.

Obi-Wan clenched his teeth and then consciously relaxed. Qui-Gon's grip on his back and under his legs remained steady and unchanging, his posture undisturbed, but Obi-Wan sensed a controlled wariness in him and the other Jedi.

Standing on either side of them, Windu and Nyrin drew their sabers, bright blue and purple blades hissing into life, but the low thrum of the lightsabers seemed puny and overwhelmed under the powerful drone of the Ha-Rarrum. Obi-Wan's free hand gripped his own saber on his belt.

He focused on the Force. Inside him, around him, in the others, in the plains and the Ha-Rarrum. Stronger than any one of them, a psychic voice lower and more pervasive than any other.

The Jedi stepped forward, toward their ship. The Ha-Rarrum switched their long, tufted tails and paced in place. The Jedi continued.

The Ha-Rarrum lunged forward. Windu and Nyrin took defensive stances, sabers wheeling before them, protectively circling with their backs to Qui-Gon.

The six Ha-Rarrum fell upon the carcass of their fellow, the one felled by Qui-Gon the night before. Only small insects had found it since then and it was mostly intact, except where Qui-Gon had cleaved it nearly in half.

With three landing on each side, the Ha-Rarrum tore the body into two halves and dragged the remains away into the long grass. They heard low snarling as the beings snarled and snapped at each other, apparently arguing about who had first turn.

Without waiting for the others, Qui-Gon strode forward to the ship while Obi-Wan warily looked to either side of them. The entry ramp lowered as he approached. The female Ha-Rarrum snapped at a fellow and then lifted her head to glare at them contemptuously through the grass. She did not like them being there. They were unattainable meat, an irritant that would be dismissed as soon as they were gone. She lowered her head and sank her teeth into the carcass.

Still circling, Windu and Nyrin maintained their defensive postures, but none of Ha-Rarrum even glanced their way again. Qui-Gon went up the ramp first. Windu and Nyrin followed, extinguishing their sabers as they went up. The ramp closed, cutting off the natural greens and browns outside and sealing them into artificial whites and silvers, and the safe smell of technology.

Nyrin rushed forward to the pilot's seat. The steady standby operating hum of the cabin increased as the engines powered up. Windu took his place at the co-pilot's seat. Qui-Gon lowered Obi-Wan down into one of the passenger seats and then sat down as well.

Buckling on his restraining straps, Obi-Wan felt the familiar wavering change in the interior gravity as the ship lifted off. The sky through the forward viewports quickly darkened from morning blue to twilight to the black of space and unwinking stars. Obi-Wan sighed into his seat. Though his stiffly bound leg was uncomfortable and sore and forced him to sit forward in his seat, he felt the planet and his recent fears receding from him. The act of physically moving on always deepened a sense of emotionally leaving things behind.

A beeping from the com broke the calm, demanding attention. Nyrin activated it. The miniature figure of Prefect Ulahoo appeared. Behind Windu, Qui-Gon straightened and opened his mouth, but Windu's hand shot up, the gesture silencing him.

"Prefect," Windu began immediately, "you will be happy to hear that we have rescued Master Qui-Gon and Padawan Kenobi and we will be leaving for Coruscant immediately."

"Of coarse," the politician spluttered. "We have begun picking up the delegates as well. Their status has been restored thanks to the heroic acts of the Jedi," Ulahoo continued placatingly as Windu unsympathetically listened.

Obi-Wan stared past Windu toward the planet they now orbited with its clouded atmosphere and oceans and land masses beneath. Somewhere far below, on one portion of one continent stretched the immense plains that they had left. Obi-Wan doubted that he would ever see them or their inhabitants again in his life. Feeling comfort from that thought, he looked toward his Master, who still sat tense in his seat, intent on breaking into Ulahoo's narrative though Windu showed no signs that he would give his permission.

It's over, Obi-Wan thought intently. We're finished. It suddenly seemed desperately important to him that his Master know this.

His dark blue eyes turning toward him, Qui-Gon seemed to hear his thoughts. A moment later, his furious expression melted. Obi-Wan felt relief flow through him as Qui-Gon's earlier calm detachment returned, the same calm that he had clung to for so many hours on the plains. A gentle smile curved Qui-Gon's lips and he sat back in his chair, folding his arms before him into the opposite sleeves of his robe.

"We are gratified that your purposes have been served," Windu interrupted a long string of praise from Ulahoo, arguments that any Senate censures were unnecessary. "And I, and the Jedi Council, do not believe that any further intervention on our part will be required.

"This communication is ended," Windu finished. Nyrin cut the com. "We're leaving," he said with a glance toward the others. His expression eager, Obi-Wan nodded, while Qui-Gon serenely inclined his head.

The ship shot out into space, into the blackness and stars, leaving the planet behind.

~~~~~ O ~~~~~ O ~~~~~ END ~~~~~ O ~~~~~ O ~~~~~

(This story was first posted on tf.n: 29-May-2008)

Disclaimer: All characters and situations belong to George and Lucasfilm; I'm just playing in their sandbox.