A lone light flashed on and off, a last reminder of the once lively control panel that now lay in ruins, smoke swirling up from its shredded remains. Obi-Wan's face began to twitch in unison, the strobing claxon as he stirred to consciousness. He coughed, the combination of smoke and debris irritating his lungs. Suddenly his eyes snapped open. Through a half shattered view panel, Obi-Wan could see a pile of felled trees and dirt from where the skidding craft had cut a wide swath into the earth. He quickly fumbled with his restraints, realizing his mistake too late. The vessel had come to rest on its side, and as he removed the harness, he fell from his seat landing on Garen who was still seated to the side.
"Ooof." The form beneath him began to wriggle to get free. "Get up."
"Thank the Force you are alive," Obi-Wan said, hurrying to help free Garen from his tangle of restraints. He frowned upon noticing the red smear along the side panel of the cockpit. "You're hurt."
Garen pulled himself out of the pilot's chair, propping his body at the base. An angry gash cut across his temple, a stream of sticky blood oozing from the wound. He staggered once and Obi-Wan steadied him, helping him to sit down. "How bad is it?" Garen asked.
Obi-Wan took a closer look at the wound. "I think the bleeding has stopped and the wound isn't deep, but you have quite a knot. You must have hit it pretty hard."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Garen said as Obi-Wan retrieved the ship's medical kit. "Just slap a bacta patch on it and let's go."
"Do you need anything for pain?"
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, frowning. "Are you certain? Pain can be a distraction …"
"I think now would be a bad time to have my brain any more murky than it is ..." Obi-Wan touched his hand to the side of Garen's head, calling on the Force as he directed healing energy into the wound. Garen flinched at first, only relaxing as the warm currents soothed away some of the pain. "I didn't know you were trained as a healer," he said as Obi-Wan pulled his hand away.
"I am by no means fully trained. My mother was a healer, and while I was growing up, Qui-Gon strongly encouraged me to explore that heritage. Maybe I should have listened a little better."
Garen moved slowly back to the communications consol, his movements growing steadier as he gained his equilibrium. "If we have power still, we need to try to contact Coruscant."
The string of blinking lights, indicating power, were at first encouraging to both Jedi. Garen finally frowned, shaking his head. "I can't reach Coruscant."
"What about Theed?"
"I tried that also. It appears all communication is being jammed. Apparently they don't want Naboo to contact Coruscant either."
"That makes no sense," Obi-Wan said. "Unless …" He quickly calculated the number of units each of the ships they had seen in orbit could possibly have had. "They are invading the planet."
"Is that legal?"
Obi-Wan cupped his hand over his chin. "It is fuzzy."
"I thought your job on the committee had been to make sure nothing was … fuzzy."
"They shouldn't have the units necessary to mount an invasion," Obi-Wan explained. "But, they shouldn't have had that many Vultures either, and they did."
"I am actually surprised we weren't already obliterated given we both lost consciousness."
"They need to pass this off as an accident … for the Senate investigation," Obi-Wan replied. "It's a bit hard to do when the ship was obliterated."
"So I take it we should expect company soon," Garen groaned. The sound of whining, pulsating engines in the distance punctuated the statement.
"Yes." Obi-Wan nodded his head. "That, my friend, is the sound of about a thousand terrible things heading this way."
Garen opened a small cabinet, pulling two blasters from within. "Please tell me you know how to use one of these."
"It has been a while, but if memory serves, you point and shoot. It isn't terribly complicated."
As Obi-Wan took one of the weapons from Garen, he made sure his saber was still concealed at his shoulder. "Please tell me you brought your lightsaber."
The smug smile on Garen's face vanished at the sound of stilted footsteps on underbrush outside the transport. There was a pause before a muffled, digitized, "Roger, roger," was heard and the footsteps grew closer.
"Those are battle droids," Obi-Wan whispered. "It doesn't sound like there are many of them. We need to get out of here before larger units show up."
"Agreed," Garen said. "Follow me."
He had known the moment he regained consciousness. That place within his mind where he had carried her with him was empty, only raw pain left where her brightness had been ripped away. Wind whipped through his long locks of hair, tugging at it and blowing it across his face, and he was oblivious to it all, to the broken cartilage in his swollen nose, to the remnants of thick ooze drying to his face, to the smoke stinging his eyes. His body was numb because no physical pain could compare to the cry of his heart and he wondered how he could go on.
She was peaceful in death, her facial expression locked neither in panic nor fear, but in calm acceptance. It was her strength he had felt, joining with him through the Force as he and Bren'an had fought to guide the doomed craft to the ground. She had always been strong. Her eyes were now closed, dark lashes brushing against pale skin, and how he wished, one last time, to see the sparkle of life in dazzling emerald depths. Dust coated ebony locks were still twisted into a long braid as always, stray hairs escaping and sticking out at odd angles. He brushed trembling fingers over a soot stained cheek, feeling warm tears roll down his face with no reservation. Bringing his lips to her forehead, he pressed a gentle kiss as he pulled her body into his arms and held her tightly.
The Force flowed around him, wrapping its warmth like a blanket over his shoulders, but he pushed away, reluctant to receive its comfort, reticent to listen to what it was trying to say. It was so hard to understand how it could give such a precious gift only to allow it be taken away from him. Listening to the Force meant moving on, and he didn't want to leave this moment and admit she was gone. A bright light, a call for help grappled at his pain-fogged mind, but it was the sound of a muffled cry that finally gained his attention. Obi-Wan. The boy had survived.
Moving carefully, but quickly, he laid Kara's body next to Bren'an and Kai'a, brushing his thumb over her lips one more time before covering her with his cloak. Then he began to search the wreckage for his friend's son, finally finding the boy injured, but very much alive. Obi-Wan struggled, only half conscious, his face tense with pain as Qui-Gon placed a hand to his forehead.
"Sleep now young one," he soothed, sending a suggestion through the Force. "It will be okay."
It certainly wasn't the first time in his life that Qui-Gon didn't understand the Force. He wanted to pick up and leave, take the next ship he could get his hands on to Naboo and find Obi-Wan. That was the desire of his heart, yet the Force was clearly directing him to stay. How ironic that it was the same council his fellow elders had given him? He could quickly overlook that, but a direct prompting of the Force was a different matter entirely and he struggled to make sense of it. What purpose was there in waiting when Obi-Wan could be injured or in danger?
"Qui-Gon?" With a disgruntled sigh, Qui-Gon opened his eyes. Meditation was elusive anyhow. He turned to see Jun Windu leaning against the door frame. "Mace just told me."
"And you have come to make sure I don't do anything impulsive," Qui-Gon said, offering a completion to her thought.
"I came as a friend to make sure you are okay and see if there is anything I can do." Arching an eyebrow, Qui-Gon leveled a skeptical glance in her direction. She let out a light chuckle. "Okay, and Mace asked me to keep an eye on you."
"Ah, the truth comes out." The brief moment of levity passed, his smile fading to solemn once again. Jun reached forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm afraid of losing him too," he admitted.
"Knight Muln was one of Aksu's best pilots when he was in the militia. We are going to hope that they are both alive and well."
"Obi-Wan is alive – in danger, but very much alive."
"Has he contacted you?"
"No." Qui-Gon smiled again. "I would know if he had passed, Jun." He rose up off his knees, stretching to his full height. "I need to go check on Shmi and Anakin."
Jun placed a hand on his arm to stop him. He paused, looking down at her. "I am only going into town. As much as I don't like it, the Force wills me stay on Tatooine for some reason."
"I have your promise?"
"You have my word."
Garen pushed up hard on the door above him, the one that usually would exit to the landing ramp at the side of the vessel. The noise seemed to draw the attention of whatever waited for them outside and a volley of blaster fire skimmed the surface of the craft. Garen ducked down quickly.
"Should I wave white flag or something?" Garen muttered, looking up at the hatch. "Let's try another opening."
They retreated to the rear of the vessel where cargo would usually be loaded. The door was wide, but there seemed to be adequate cover for the two of them. "This should work," Garen said as he stood to the side of the opening, motioning for Obi-Wan to go to the other side. Lifting his blaster up, he asked, "Ready?" At Obi-Wan's nod, he released the controls on the door.
There were a few seconds of pause before Garen poked his head around the side. The action brought the instantaneous scream of blaster fire. Both Garen and Obi-Wan ducked around the side, firing shots when they could, careful to avoid the deluge of ricocheting bolts of energy. Out of the corner of his eye, Garen saw Obi-Wan stumble backwards, clutching his shoulder. "Are you hit?"
"It's not bad," Obi-Wan hissed, looking up at Garen with frustration etched across his features. The color of jeweled eyes shifted in a way that alarmed Garen. He had never seen this particular expression on Obi-Wan's face before, but knew that if he were to ask Master Jinn, it would be cause for concern. "This isn't working," Obi-Wan said as he started back into the craft.
"Obi-Wan … what are you doing."
There was no answer, a gathering of Force energies the only response. Garen cursed as he darted back into the ship in time to hear a light saber ignite and Obi-Wan disappear up through the side hatch. Shaking his head, Garen drew on the Force and sprung up through the hatch. He paused briefly at the sight of Obi-Wan, locked in a dance of deflecting blaster fire with his saber and cutting down the attacking battle droids, the Force eagerly rallying to his call. It reminded him of stories he had heard, since he could remember, of heroic ancestors from thousands of years ago. He lowered his blaster, allowing it to clatter to the hull of the vessel. Pulling his saber from where it was concealed in a shoulder harness, he looked at the weapon for several seconds before igniting the glowing blue blade. Sending one last call into the Force, he jumped, falling in beside Obi-Wan.
It was overwhelming at first, a slender blade moving in a fluid blur all that was standing between him and certain death. He heard Obi-Wan call, "Direct their blaster fire back toward them," and adjusted his strategy. It wasn't much different than working with training remotes, although the consequences if he missed were far more serious. Droids that didn't fall from their own ricocheted attacks were severed in a shower of sparks or propelled against trees by the invisible grip on the Force. It was soon silent, only the sound of his own panting in his ears as he looked around at the remains of the droid patrol that at first had seemed so formidable to two men with blasters.
"Glad you could join me," Obi-Wan said, clapping a hand to his shoulder.
"What the hell do you think you were doing?" Garen said, extinguishing his saber. "You could have gotten yourself killed."
"No." Obi-Wan tugged at his charred sleeve, revealing the wounded flesh beneath. "That blaster was going to get me killed."
Garen planted his hands on his hips. "I can't believe how reckless …"
"Reckless … after the way you flew that ship, you have no place to call me reckless …"
A whining in the distance paused his words, and he lifted a finger to alert Garen to the sound.
"We should keep moving," Garen said. "They are going to send more to investigate what happened to that patrol, and we don't want to be here. They are quite persistent about making sure we are dead."
"Battle droids follow orders," Obi-Wan whispered. "It doesn't make sense."
"What doesn't make sense?" Garen asked.
"The attacks … an invasion. This is an odd play for the Trade Federation."
"Do you think someone else is in control? The Sith?"
"Possibly." Obi-Wan hissed out as he flexed his injured shoulder.
"Our best option, then, is to head for Theed and warn the Naboo. Maybe we can find a way to get a message out."
"If we aren't already too late," Obi-Wan murmured.