Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. I am not receiving money for this fanfiction. If you think it's canon, you're wrong.
Author's note: This is the last chapter of Cover. I urge (okay, beg) you to check out the sequel, Flawed. :)
But Obi-Wan was not the first to discover them. before the afternoon was out, a team of bounty hunters sweeping the area converged on their position.
"Seeker droids," Anakin spat, leaning back from the window as the search narrowed in. "It's the only way they could have traced us here. They must have our biosignatures."
"Whatever they've got, it's effective," Ryn said grimly. "And they're pretty damn serious about wanting us back. Two slaves couldn't possibly be worth this much. It has to be the docs."
"You're probably right," Anakin agreed, still watching. "Which means we have to get out of here and get this information into the hands of the Jedi."
"If we hit the streets again, we might be able to lose ourselves in a crowd," Ryn suggested doubtfully.
"What crowd?" Anakin asked. "This isn't exactly the part of Coruscant where you wander out for an evening stroll."
"I've never heard of a neighborhood so seedy it doesn't have a bar," Ryn said. "They'll have something."
Anakin took one last glance out the window. "Let's go."
But the bounty hunters were watching all the exits. On the ground floor - or what passed for it, here - they could sense enemies in every direction.
Ryn slumped against a smooth gray wall, her face, sheened with sweat. "Do we try the roof?"
"They're bound to have someone up there, too," Anakin said. "And we're unarmed."
Ryn grinned fiercely. "The best way to get weapons is to take them from the enemy."
"Are you suggesting we take on guys with blasters?"
"Well, if you're not busy."
Anakin rolled his eyes. "Plan?"
"Just keep them distracted with Force-pushes. I'll take care of everything else."
"I'm not going to let you fight them alone ..."
"Anakin, I can do this. In fact, I've done this. I'm good at this. I just need you to keep them off-balance and let me do my thing. Please?"
He'd never been less enthusiastic about any plan, ever. But she seemed awfully determined. And they were supposed to be a team. "Yeah. Okay."
"Right." That fierce grin again, then she turned serious. "Let's go left. The guys down this way are nervous."
They broke into a jog, and as the bounty hunters came into view, Ryn yelled, "Now!" and Anakin blew them back with a Force-push that knocked them halfway across the alley, and they never had a chance to recover because the first one to struggle to his knees got Ryn's foot in his face as she jerked the blaster out of his grip, and as she landed left she kicked with the right foot, knocking the second man's blaster from his hand, and Anakin snatched it out of the air with a quick Force-pull, and just like that they were both armed and dangerous.
"Not even hard," Ryn remarked as Anakin came up beside her to survey the cringing men. "I think you two should consider a new career choice. Immediately. Leave all your gear, walk away, and we won't shoot you."
They looked panicked, and then they did as she said. Watching them go, Anakin made a face. "You know they're going to double back and rejoin this gang, right?"
"Of course they are," Ryn said. "But it buys us a little time and saves us having to kill them. I'm trying to do this the Jedi way." They disappeared between buildings. "Time to run."
So they did.
In the meantime, Obi-Wan's day had not been going well. In the morning he had been summoned to a Council meeting during which it was abundantly clear that the Council members were still very uneasy about the unauthorized assignment his Padawan was on, largely because it was sure, as they said, to cause all manner of unrest in the Senate. Privately Obi-Wan thought the Senate was getting far more rest lately than it had any right to; but he forebore to mention this to the Council. He had a feeling they wouldn't like it.
But Qui-Gon would have.
His day was further disrupted when he received a comm from Quinlan Vos, informing him that both Ryn and Anakin had escaped, possibly with sensitive information, and were being pursued with orders to take them, dead or alive. Preferably dead.
It did not improve his temper when a Padawan in the Temple's comm center delivered Anakin's urgent message more than an hour after it had been received.
Arriving at the address the Padawan had provided to find the area staked out with bounty hunters of the most disreputable sort and no sign of either Ryn or his Padawan anywhere was an appropriate, but unwelcome, sequel.
Stretching out with his senses, filtering for signs of his wayward apprentice, Obi-Wan allowed himself a brief niggle of irritation. Anakin, where in the blazes are you?
Leaning against the side of a battered structure while his companion tried to determine what sorts of danger lay inside, Anakin tapped Ryn's arm and said, "Obi-Wan's nearby. I can feel him."
Ryn opened her eyes, slightly unfocused. "Good. I don't think we'd better go in there." She jerked her chin at the building. "I'm picking up a lot of aggression and there's some kind of an orgy going on."
"Sounds like a weekend in Mos Eisley," Anakin joked; but despite the good humor, he was worried. "I can't get a fix on Obi-Wan's position. Somewhere above us."
Ryn didn't point out that that left, roughly, a kilometer-wide margin of error, straight up. Instead she cocked her head as though listening, her face tight with concentration. She looked distinctly ... worried. "We've got trouble," she whispered, eyes staring at something Anakin couldn't see. "Closer than Obi-Wan."
"That doesn't sound good," Anakin muttered. "More bounty hunters?"
"I don't know. They're not very focused, so I'm guessing not. But it's only a guess."
"I don't know, but they're angry and they're headed this way."
Also not good news. "How many?"
"I can't tell." He could see the dim fires of frustration burning in Ryn's green eyes. "They don't feel like anything I've encountered before. All I can tell you is that they have a lot of aggression and they are ... hunting."
Just great. "Which way?"
Ryn looked bleak. "They have us surrounded."
"You know, you are not improving my day."
Ryn smiled faintly as she checked the charge on her stolen blaster. "Sorry."
Anakin sighed. "I guess this is as good a place to make a stand as any."
"We have a chance if we're quick," Ryn agreed.
She didn't sound entirely convinced.
But when the first shot flared through the alley, Ryn was quick, snapping off a return shot before the bolt had passed.
"Got him," she said as she dropped to a crouch. Three more bolts flared from that direction, and four or five from the other, and the two of them ducked and returned fire.
"You got one," Ryn said, glancing down at her blaster. Anakin wasn't looking, but her tension told him everything he needed to know.
Ryn leaned out a few centimeters and fired a single, deliberate shot before slamming herself flat against the wall. "Got him. We're better shots."
"But they've got all the cover," Anakin said, frustrated. "I haven't seen anybody."
"Your eyes can deceive you; don't trust them," Ryn intoned, managing a not-bad Kenobi impersonation while she fired again. Her blaster clicked and she hissed through her teeth. "Empty."
Anakin fired past her and as he leaned back she said, "Cover me."
What? "No! Ryn -"
But then the surviving thugs charged into the alley, and his objection was rendered moot.
They came from both directions at once, and Anakin dropped to one knee and returned fire to the left while Ryn somersaulted over his head and attacked to the right. There was nothing he could do for her that he wasn't already doing, so Anakin set his teeth and delivered return fire and Force pushes until finally - it took less than three seconds but it felt like a lifetime - he could risk a glance over his shoulder, where Ryn had somehow managed to dodge the incoming fire and snatch a blaster of her own, presumably from the man lying prostrate at his companions' feet, and before Anakin could do anything to help her she threw herself into a high-arc backflip, still firing, so that by the time she landed again - on the balls of her feet, her execution textbook-perfect - she had marked hits on both ends of the alley.
She flattened herself against the wall opposite Anakin and looked at him as if to ask: now what?
But if that was the question, Anakin didn't know the answer, and the Force was answering his demands but not offering any guidance.
"What do they want?" he yelled at Ryn, hoping the empath had some ideas.
But Ryn tossed him a distracted look, leaning out from the wall to fire three bolts in quick succession. "Us dead."
Three helmeted alien warriors dropped, and Ryn pressed herself against the wall again as their companions tried to take revenge. "I think something's wrong with them!"
Like what? Anakin wondered. He fired another bolt meant to disable, not to kill - it wasn't efficient, but it was the Jedi way - and found that it had no effect; the dropped warrior continued shooting from the ground. "Kriff."
He shoved him against the wall with the Force, which mercifully caused him to lose hold of his blaster. Anakin reached into the Force again to snatch it away, figuring every blaster the enemy didn't have was an improvement.
"I'm running out of tricks here!" he told Ryn, but she held out one hand with a "gimme" motion, and Anakin tossed her the spare blaster.
She flicked her gaze upward. "I'll cover you," she said. "You remember what you translated?"
It took a painful second for him to realize what she meant: that the only way out was up, and that one of them might not make it.
Anakin shook his head. In the first place, he might be able to Force-leap to safety, but Ryn would never make it. She might be a more skilled acrobat than he was, but her grip on the Force was far too tenuous to trust on such a critical maneuver. In the second place ... she had that look in her eye. Anakin had a bad feeling that Ryn was planning to sacrifice herself so he could get away.
We did that holo already, he thought irritably. Plus I know you promised Obi-Wan you'd come back in one piece this time.
There was no point in saying not a chance, because Ryn had already felt his refusal.
"One of us has to make it back!" she reminded him, wedging herself behind a drainpipe as a kind of cover.
Anakin caught her eyes. "We both do." He jerked his chin toward one end of the alley. "Just like last time," he said.
Of course, last time - when they'd escaped the abandoned building - there had been only two opponents, and no one had been shooting at their backs. But they took a deep breath and then moved in perfect synchronization as Ryn spun out into the middle of the alley, firing with both blasters and Anakin leapt out to meet her, ducking under her fire. Anakin fired one way and threw the Force another, and Ryn whipped around and burned a path straight through the line while he fell in behind her.
The enemy was aggressive but badly organized. They fell back under Ryn's assault even more decisively than from Anakin's Force-push. So as Ryn concentrated her fire on the center of the line and waded in, Anakin focused on doing what Ryn couldn't: keeping the attackers off-balance and confused with the Force as she gave up firing and went hand-to-hand in the close quarters. She spun her blasters around to smash butt-first into faces and joints, and she was making good progress; but then three of the aliens bore down on her, and she couldn't possibly fight them off without room to maneuver, she was too small ... Anakin called on the Force and threw them backward with all the strength of his desperation, and they flew a couple of meters through the air, smashing into their companions and leaving an open pocket for the two friends to charge through ... and then they were clear, sprinting down the alley, hotly pursued by blaster bolts.
"I don't understand," Ryn gasped as they ducked down a side passage even more disreputable than the alley proper. "It's like they don't have thoughts at all, just aggressive impulses. They don't feel ... sentient."
"Maybe they're mentally ill," Anakin suggested. He winced when he heard how that sounded. "I mean ... like a brain injury, or something. There's a part of the brain that controls anger, right? Maybe that's overwhelming everything else."
"They can't all have the same injury," Ryn panted. They'd gained a substantial lead, enough to take another turn, unseen. "But maybe some kind of drug."
"There's definitely something wrong here," Anakin agreed. They could sort out what it was after they got back to the Temple. In the shadows of an empty doorway they bent over, hands on their knees, catching their breath. "We could really use Obi-Wan about now."
"He has to have sensed that fight," Ryn said. "How could he miss it? So surely he's getting closer?"
"I hope so," Anakin said. He reached out in the Force, searching for his mentor's presence. I'm here, Master. Any time now would be good ... He looked up and met Ryn's concerned eyes. "I think we'd better start climbing again."
Seven stories and four rickety buildings later, Anakin glanced down and made eye contact again. "He's close."
Ryn, hanging from a windowsill by her fingertips, just nodded. "'S good," she mumbled distractedly. It had been a long couple of days - following a long couple of weeks, really - and her movements were growing weaker and less precise. She concentrated fiercely, pulling herself up to the next handhold, and then stretched up, so Anakin could take her hand and haul her up onto the ledge he'd found to perch on.
She flopped flat on her back beside him. "So when you say close ..."
"If we just lie still, he should come straight to us."
Ryn nodded wearily. "That's the best news I've heard all day." She squinted up at the narrow chink of sky visible between buildings. "Well, night. Whatever."
Anakin had to agree. He reached out and took her hand without looking, feeling her fingers lace through his, and found that he didn't really need to say anything, because Ryn already knew. Tears clouded his vision then, but Ryn squeezed his hand silently, waiting while he got his wayward emotions under control, and then they were quiet, just the two of them, lying hand-in-hand and looking up at the stars.
The Force whispered, and Obi-Wan drew his speeder closer to the side of the building. Even sensing Anakin's presence, he gave a very unJedilike start as two figures suddenly sat up and swung their legs over a narrow ledge, almost invisible against the side of the building.
They both looked considerably the worse for wear, but there was no mistaking his Padawan's bright smile, or the easy way Ryn leaned into him. He could tell from the look on her face that she was teasing him.
Obi-Wan pulled the airspeeder into a hover just below their perch. "I suppose it would have killed you two to stay put," he said severely.
They looked at each other, then at Obi-Wan, and shrugged in unison. "Well ..."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Never mind. You can tell me all about it on the way back to the Temple."
Breaking News. Dateline: Coruscant.
The HoloNet News received a tip this morning that the well-known businessbeing Ziro the Hutt is under investigation concerning allegations of illegal slave trading here on Coruscant. Jedi Padawan Anakin Skywalker and Lorethan Commander Ryn Orun, diplomatic attachée to the Jedi Temple, sat down to talk with us.
HNN: So you both claim to have witnessed the illegal slavery first-hand?
Orun: We went undercover as slaves in Ziro's brothel, after interviewing a number of slaves who had recently escaped his personal dwelling here on Coruscant.
HHN: And your findings supported the allegations?
HNN: Do you expect the Senate to take action?
Skywalker: Now that the evidence is being made public, they can't afford not to.
Orun: Public support can make all the difference. We urge your viewers to contact their Senators and let them know that it is time to take action on the illegal slave trade, before more lives are destroyed.
HNN: Commander Orun, this isn't the first time you've spoken out against slavery. During last year's Podracing Championships on Malastare, you participated in an anti-slavery protest, geared at Hutt-controlled worlds. Can you tell us why this cause is so important to you?
Orun: Slavery is a terrible thing. It ruins lives. I've witnessed its effects for myself, and I cannot deny the opportunity to do something about it.
HNN: Padawan Skywalker, can you tell us the Jedi's offical position on slavery?
Skywalker: Slavery is illegal in the Galactic Republic and immoral everywhere.
HNN: Commander Orun, the Podracing Championships will be starting again later this month. Will you be attending?"
Orun: [laughs] No, I expect to be busy pursuing my duties with the Jedi Council.
The evidence Padawan Skywalker referred to is currently marked "classified," pending a decision from the Senate Committee on Core-Worlds Crime, which has been meeting in closed sessions all week. A source close to the committee says we can expect more details over the next few days.
Obi-Wan and Evinne were waiting for them when they left the news set.
"Did you make the Senate look like slime for not taking action?" Evinne asked, as the four of them fell into step together.
"We took the high road," Ryn said virtuously. "But after they interview Cam and Marath ... I think the Senate will have to act. How's Revin?"
Evinne grimaced. "He woke up, briefly. Master Che insists he spend another day in bacta, just to be sure."
"I'm just glad Master Vos was able to stage a breakout at the last minute," Anakin said. "Once the news story broke, Ziro would have killed the slaves, rather than be caught redhanded."
Evinne didn't say what they were all thinking: that far too many had died in the breakout anyway. Instead she deferred to Obi-Wan, who said, "In any case we won't have time to worry about it. The Council has analyzed the data and determined that your hunch is worth pursuing. They are sending a team to Borsana to investigate."
"Us?" Anakin guessed, eyes bright with anticipation.
"Us," Obi-Wan confirmed. "And Ryn will be accompanying us."
"I will?" Ryn blinked. "Oh. Okay."
"Evinne is coming, too," Obi-Wan said. "She has agreed to set up a base of operations and act as a touchstone with the other Jedi team."
"Who?" Anakin asked hopefully.
"Siri Tachi and Ferus Olin," Obi-Wan answered, with a warning glance at his Padawan. "Anyway, I doubt we'll be seeing much of them. If all goes well, we should be in and out in just a few days."
Ryn sighed. "I wish you wouldn't say things like that. It always gives me a bad feeling."
They decided later, during the mission debrief, that this was the moment when things began to go wrong. Or, as Ferus put it, "It all started when the ship blew up ..."
The Rynverse Novellas (in order): Freefall, Gravity, Cover, and Flawed.