Chapter 28

Kyatn IV was barren and desolate – not unlike Bandomeer had been when he was thirteen years old, Obi-Wan noted. Years of mining had scarred the landscape. The residents scraped by using whatever means possible. The criminal world was firmly in control. From what Obi-Wan had read, most on this world would consider ridding the galaxy of a Jedi a service – a cheerful thought. He would need to be careful.

Obi-Wan made his way down the landing ramp. The ship he had traveled to Kyatn IV on was nondescript – barely functional by uppity Core World standards, but it was just the piece of junk spacers in this part of the galaxy favored. His appearance too fit the picture. He wore dark brown leather pants tucked into his usual boots, a loose white tunic, and a long worn leather coat to complete the image. A dual holster with twin blasters hung low on his hips – purely show. His lightsaber was hidden in a concealed pocket of his coat.

Cantinas were usually the best place to obtain the sort of information he needed. Obi-Wan studied the streets that snaked out from the hangar, quickly surveying his options. An impatient tug on his coat caused Obi-Wan to look down. A young girl – she couldn't have been more than eight standard years – held her palm outstretched pinning him down with the largest, most pitiful brown eyes he had seen in years. The child was dirty, dressed in tattered clothing. Her sunken features betrayed that adequate food was a luxury to her.

"Hello, there," he said softly, disguising his accent. His usual cultured tones would immediately betray him as a Core Worlder. "And what is your name?"

The girl shoved her open palm into his face indicating she had no desire for friendly chat.

"Ah … name first, Young One."

She crossed her arms over her chest, scowling. Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow.

"Nija," the girl said before she shoved her hand forward again, roughly.

Obi-Wan reached into his coat and placed a few credits in her outstretched hand. She closed her hand around the meager treasure and scampered away. A sigh escaped the Jedi's lips as he watched the small girl disappear into a nearby building. It was doubtful she would actually receive the benefit of anything he gave. Then again, it was just as likely she would be punished if she did not bring in enough income.

The shift in the Force was subtle, a mere prickling along his consciousness. Someone had taken interest in him and was watching him. It seemed that a simple act of compassion, so rare in this part of the galaxy, might have drawn unwanted attention. Qui-Gon would be so proud, Obi-Wan thought with a wry smirk. He continued to listen to the Force, sensing a trap forming.

"I have a bad feeling about this, Crion," he murmured to the air. He imagined his apprentice would have responded with something along the lines of, "I would love, for once, to actually go on a mission where you don't have a bad feeling, Master."

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, seeking focus. His apprentice was light years away, and while he felt more vulnerable alone than he would care to admit without Crion at his side, conversing with an imaginary padawan served no purpose.

From the reception area, Crion could see that his father's office door was open, and he could hear two people talking inside – Xanatos, of course, and a sultry feminine voice. Stepping closer to the door, Crion chose a position that allowed him to catch a reflection of the inside of the office in a nearby mirror. He concentrated and listened closely, imagining that any moment his master would appear and chide him for frivolously using the Force to spy. His father and a beautiful blonde woman were intently studying datapads. Mostly they spoke in legal terms that meant little to Crion. Every once in a while, the woman would brush her hair out or her face or give the close-cropped locks a shake, but she didn't appear to be flirting. He stepped away as she stood to leave and appeared to act casual. She stopped in front of him as she exited the office, and Crion added tall to his description.

"Your father would like for you to stop eavesdropping and join him in his office," she said with a smile.

Crion breathed out a curse as she continued on her way. Yes, his master would have chastised for similar behavior, but for some reason he felt like he had just been slapped.

He took a deep breath and turned the corner, making his way into the office. Xanatos didn't look up from whatever he was reading, but said, "Have a seat," and motioned to a large, cushioned chair across from his desk. Xanatos continued to read his datapad. While it irritated Crion to not be acknowledged, he could be patient.

"It has occurred to me that you know next to nothing about what Offworld is," Xanatos said after a moment.

"It's a mining company, isn't it?" Crion quickly shot back.

Xanatos let out a deep sigh. "Let me rephrase … you know next to nothing about what I do, so I thought that today you might shadow me."

"It beats landscaping." Crion hid a smirk as Xanatos coughed, obviously trying to stay serious and keep from laughing. Crion leaned back slightly in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. It was actually something his master did, a posture that made him appear more interested and less threatening while at the same time maintaining a calm, confident veneer. "So, what exactly is it that you do … I mean, besides spending your morning conversing with beautiful blondes?"

At this, Xanatos did let out a chuckle as he continued to peruse a datapad. "I assume you mean Dryn."

"The woman who just left?"

"Dryn is my lead attorney," Xanatos explained.

"Ah, beautiful and smart … or at least I assume smart …"

Crion felt a certain amount of satisfaction when his father finally laid the datapad down. Xanatos raised an eyebrow as he took in his son's posture, and then he leaned back in his chair, copying his son.

"Dryn is indeed a beautiful woman. However, I learned long ago not to become intimately involved with colleagues or employees - not that it would be your business even if I was involved with my attorney. As for her intelligence, let's just say that I have far fewer legal problems than my competitors. She also helped me greatly in my case to gain custody of you."

"I'll be sure to thank her the next time I see her," Crion murmured dryly.

"As much as I would love to sit here all morning and listen while you take out your frustrations on my attorney's character, we do have work to do," Xanatos reminded him.

"Okay, so enlighten me," Crion offered with thinly veiled sarcasm.

"I usually spend my mornings reviewing reports and signing off on what needs my attention," Xanatos began. "Since I am certain you don't want to sit here and watch me read, I thought I would give you a chance to dig into what Offworld is. You have a data terminal over there …"

"And I am sure you have carefully chosen what I can see …"

"You have full access," Xanatos replied. "If you run into a problem – something you cannot access - let me know."

"Full access?"

"I have nothing to hide from you, Son." Crion studied his father for a moment, sensing no deception. "We have an afternoon meeting … a potential joint venture I have been working on for several months. It might be informative for you sit in on the meeting."

"Does this partner know I'll be there?"

"I don't need his permission for my son to sit in on a meeting," Xanatos said as he picked up the discarded datapad.

"Well, I think I'll look through the database and see what you are up to."

As Crion sat down at the datapad, he found himself wishing his friend Keyan was with him. There had to be uncovered tracks somewhere, and Keyan was a whiz with data systems. Then again, it didn't appear that his father made mistakes. As he started searching through current business associates, he felt a slight tremor in the Force – something his master might call a bad feeling, and Crion wondered what it meant for his day.

Obi-Wan had been to many difficult places in his time as a Jedi – Nar Shaddaa, Tatooine. Kyatn IV threatened to be every bit as difficult. Beings were suspicious, unwilling to part with carefully guarded information. What little he had gleaned had been hard won, the result of suggestion and his natural ability to set others at ease.

The Force spiked with warning as he stepped into a crowded side alley on his way to yet another cantina.

"Stop, Jedi," commanded a voice from somewhere above him.

Obi-Wan looked up to a balcony where the cloaked figure he remembered from earlier stood, a blaster trained on him.

"A Jedi would be very foolish to come here," Obi-Wan said, projecting an air of casual calm as he made note of others hidden nearby – five in total. Bystanders were obeying the unspoken command to leave the area, and it was soon only him standing in the alley, surrounded.

"Then you are very foolish, Master Kenobi," the man replied as he dropped the hood of his cloak. The man was older, judging by his sparse, graying hair. His face was leathered and heavily scarred, betraying a harsh life. There was no doubt he was dangerous, and what was most disturbing to Obi-Wan was that he exuded a sense of confidence, even when facing down a Jedi master. "Surrender. You have my word that my men will not harm you. My orders are to take you alive."

Obi-Wan quickly called his saber from his coat as he sensed blasters take aim at him. Before he could ignite the blade, however, the man lifted a small form into view and pressed a blaster firmly against her head. Nija's intense fear suddenly flooded the Force.

"Let the girl go," Obi-Wan called. "She's an innocent."

"I think I'll keep her with me," the man sneered. "I need the reassurance. I have no doubt you can best me and my men, Jedi, but it would take someone a little more cold-hearted to stand there and watch a child die."

"Like you?"

"The choice is yours," the man countered. Obi-Wan could sense those that surrounded him closing in, climbing down from their hiding spots. Equally, he could sense that his adversary would not hesitate to kill the young girl. "Toss your weapon down. Like I said, my employer wants you alive."

"And you'll let the girl go?"

"Cross my heart …" the man said with a crooked grin as he started down the stairs, girl in tow. He squatted down at the bottom of the stairs. "When she gets half way to you, roll your weapon to me."

There was the mistake Obi-Wan had been looking for. If the girl hurried once he rolled his saber away, he would have time to call his weapon back to him and escape. It was all a matter of timing.

The girl made a step forward, blaster still trained on her. "Slowly," the man said.

"That's it. Come on, Nija," Obi-Wan urged.

"Weapon," the man barked impatiently.

Obi-Wan let out a deep sigh. The trap remained. There was something he was missing – an element he wasn't taking into consideration, but he had no clear indication from the Force what that might be. He had little choice. With resignation, he dropped his saber to the ground, swiftly pulling the girl towards him with the Force. A jumble of fear and anxiety, she jumped into his arms and wrapped her tiny arms around his neck. She was shaking.

"Shhh," Obi-Wan soothed as he reached out to call his weapon back to him.

"S … sorry," the girl whispered between sobs.

"It's not your fault? It will be okay," he promised.

He felt a sharp prick in his neck, then liquid fire flowed into his veins.

"He said he'd hurt mommy." The girl sobbed as Obi-Wan dropped to his knees and released her from his hold. His mind was rapidly growing foggy – a sedative – but more than that. The fire burned, leaving cold in its path, robbing him of the warmth of the Force.

As he slumped forward, unconsciousness claiming him, Obi-Wan sent off two messages he was certain would not be received.

"Crion … Master … help."

As best he could tell, his father never stopped. They were returning to his office for an afternoon meeting, yet Xanatos was on his comlink as they moved along. Crion wondered if Xanatos had always been this driven. Not for the first time he found himself wondering what his father had been like as a Jedi apprentice.

The Force changed, a subtle shift in the tension Crion had felt all morning. It sent a shiver down his spine. He paused.

"Is something wrong?" Xanatos asked.

"I have a bad feeling … about something," Crion murmured. "In the Force …"

"Do you wish to return to your quarters?" Xanatos asked. "It isn't necessary for you to be here."

"I'll be fine …"

"Mr. Marojni," a loud booming voice called from across the room. "It's good to finally meet in person."

"It is," Xanatos voiced, though he sounded distorted to Crion, like he was underwater. "This is my son, Crion."

"Pleased to meet you," Crion murmured, suddenly feeling nauseous. The room began to spin as a crescendo of warning overtook him in the Force.

"Crion?" Xanatos asked, his muted and muddled voice full of alarm.

Does he feel it also?

It was the last thought Crion was aware of before a powerful surge of the Force ripped through his shields. He passed out and promptly fell to the floor.