Author's note: Set in the universe of Freefall, Gravity, and Cover, this is the fourth novella in the series.
Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. I am not making any profit from this work of fanfiction.
Obi-Wan's commlink went off and he gave his companions an apologetic look as he answered it.
Mace Windu's voice spoke, even more grave than usual. "Obi-Wan, are Ryn and Anakin with you?"
"Yes, they're right here."
"All three of you need to report back to the Temple right away. There was been a very disturbing development. We're attempting to contact Evinne Ardel now."
"That won't be necessary," Evinne said, leaning over to speak into Obi-Wan's commlink. "I'm here as well."
"Miss Ardel," Windu said, getting the honorific wrong again, as usual. "If you would accompany Master Kenobi back to the Temple, the Council would be most grateful for your cooperation."
"Of course, Master Windu," Evinne said, her tone betraying no hint that she'd ever been treated less than politely within the walls of the Temple.
Anakin watched as Obi-Wan tucked his commlink away. "What do you suppose that means, Master?"
"I expect it means that we are wanted at the Temple," Obi-Wan said; but there was just enough smile in his tone to let Anakin know he was playing, just a little, as much as Obi-Wan ever played.
He glanced sidelong at Ryn, who was wearing her smirk on the inside but enjoying the camaraderie just the same.
"I can't believe they asked you the Podracing question, like you were some kind of socialite," Anakin said, just to see her blush. "Commander Orun."
Evinne rolled her eyes. "These foreigners never pronounce our names right. Much less translate them properly."
"It's a military designation," Ryn said. "It suffices." She shuddered. "I"m just glad to have the interview over."
"Oh, please,' Evinne said. "You were born for the holocam. Everybody who watches that interview will be so blown away by your gorgeousness that they will fall all over themselves to agree with everything you say."
"I find that rather disheartening," Ryn said. "It bodes very ill for the ability of the citizens of the Republic to do any serious thinking for themselves."
"That's why they elect the Senate," Evinne said, only half kidding.
"To do their thinking for them" Ryn asked, not taking the joke. "Look how well that's going. You can't abdicate your responsibility to think. You can't hand the controls over to someone else and say, 'I'm sure you'll do the right thing, so I'm not even going to pay attention'. Nobody can relieve you of those responsibilities. And they're even more important in a democracy."
Evinne gave her a worried look. "You're taking this significantly more seriously than it was intended."
Ryn rubbed at her eyes. "Right. Sorry."
Anakin jogged her elbow. "Don't be sorry. Just tell us what's bothering you."
Ryn sighed and looked out at the huge, crowded concourse that formed the center of the media district. "Look at them," she said helplessly. "So much is going wrong all around us, we are standing at he brink of disaster, I can feel it, and trillions of beings are doing nothing, assuming someone else will fix the problems. It scares me."
Obi-Wan stepped forward and placed a hand on Ryn's shoulder. "I think that frightens all of us sometimes," he admitted quietly. "But all we can really do is refuse such complacency ourselves."
"At home," Ryn said slowly, "the nobles live in amongst everyone else. If you're careless or cowardly or profligate ... everyone knows. You can't hide that you've slept with the nerf-herder's second daughter, or that you only spend two days in seven actually working. People know, and they think less of you. But here ... people half a galaxy away can't possibly know hat their representatives are really doing in the capital. The best they can hope for is that the important stuff will make it to the HoloNet. which is putting an awful lot of faith in beings who today were more interested in my social calendar than in the suffering of Force knows how many beings across the galaxy." she looked up at Obi-Wan, and Anakin thought he caught the bright glint of tears in her eyes. "How do we just ... live with that?"
Obi-Wan sighed. "It's a good question, Ryn. I'm not sure I know the answer. I think for now we just do what we can, and report to the Council. Maybe they'll have something we can do."
Ryn didn't look cheered, but she nodded and trailed along after Obi-Wan. Anakin caught her eye as they walked and tried to give her an encouraging smile.
Things will be all right. We'll make them be all right.
Ryn had managed to gain a tenuous victory over her sense of despari by the time the four of them made it to the Council chambers. Siri Tachi and Ferus Olin were already there, waiting: Siri with a sense of barely leashed nervous energy, Ferus with a neutral expression that suggested he might as well be here as anywhere else.
The consummate Jedi, Ryn thought, irked in spite of herself. She met his dark eyes and smiled anyway. It's not his fault. He was born into this life, just like Anakin was born a slave and I was born into the nobility. How strange that what that really meant, for all of them, was that all the decisions that mattered had been made for them, before they could even speak.
No. I won't believe that. That's just despair talking.
Except ... Ferus had no idea what a family was, what it meant to be tied by birth and blood to a group of people, all your life, to come from them and leave a part of yourself behind when you died. Anakin's past on Tatooine would be with him, one way and another, all his life. And Ryn - well, in theory, Ryn had more freedom than either of them. She could walk away from all of this tomorrow and be a free agent. But if she did that, her House would collapse, the dozen or so families who depended directly on her for their survival would be suddenly landless, lordless, and homeless, and the gap in Loreth's power structure might well cause an instability that would put thousands more at risk. And there was her mission to the Jedi Temple: it had nothing to do with her personally, but trillions of lives were at stake, and if she failed, who exactly was going to take her place?
So: we're all stuck. So what? Don't be such a baby.
Anakin was giving her an odd look; her grim mood must have been transmitting. She gave him a tight smile and a tiny shake of her head: I'm fine.
Anakin looked unconvinced, and Ryn couldn't really blame him. Yeah, I don't believe it, either.
And there was no point in trying to fool Anakin, even if she wanted to. he knew her far too well, and since they got back from their undercover mission, their bond was stronger than ever, enhanced by the days of relying on each other, of communicating in half-spoken thoughts. Probably the amount of time they'd spent in physical contact, snuggled close for warmth, hadn't hurt.
Right now, though, they needed to pay attention to Master Windu, who was preparing to brief them. With an effort Ryn stilled her mind and focused on the Korun Jedi.
"Forty-five minutes ago, the ship entering from Borsana Prime was destroyed in an explosion as it reached the docking area," Windu said solemnly, and suddenly Ryn didn't have to work to pay attention. "The investigation is only just beginning, but we do suspect sabotage. It may be difficult to prove, as reports suggest there isn't much left of the wreckage. Under the circumstances, you will obviously not be able to travel to the Borsana system on its scheduled return trip this evening, so new arrangements are being made. We should be able to get you offworld within the next planetary cycle." His gaze swept the group. "I don't need to remind you how important this mission is. It is essential that the Jedi get to the root o the conflict and secure a peaceful resolution. Meanwhile, this illegal weapons trafficking has got to stop."
There were so many problems with that speech that Ryn didn't know where to start. And in the end, it didn't really matter. Because she was going to go along with it anyway. She was going to help the Jedi negotiate a peace settlement between that would probably keep two ruthless dictatorships in place and enforce an anti-weapons legislation whose alleged purpose was to prevent this kind of violence but whose ultimate effect was to restrict the right to arms to the few who could afford to deal in the black market.
How did this happen? How did things get so mixed up that now I'm actually participating in a Jedi "peacekeeping" force?
What if Anakin is right, and the Jedi are the galaxy's only hope?
The alternative was that she was a sellout, for not just agreeing but actually wanting the Jedi to intervene and stop this madness. Even if it meant that the Borsana system was subject to outside interference.
Because what was happening on those two planets right now was not freedom and self-rule.
But she had a feeling that might not be what the Jedi left behind, either.