Obi-Wan sailed through the entrance to their quarters and leaped over the couch for the sheer joy of doing it. Bounding into the food prep area, he found his Master where their bond had told him he would: seated at the small table where they took their meals, with a collection of ancient dip pens with long wooden handles, an assortment of inks gathered from what were surely exotic places if the labels on the bottles were any indication, and a stack of weathered-looking parchment nearby. Leaning across the table, Obi-Wan grinned.

"Congratulate me."

"Congratulations," Qui-Gon murmured, rinsing a pen nib before setting it to dry and selecting another to slide into its holder. "For what?"

"I passed advanced quantum mechanics." Grabbing a chair, Obi-Wan turned it around and plunked himself down, stole an appa-fruit from a nearby bowl. "You won't get the test scores until tomorrow morning, but I know that I passed." He gestured expansively across the table. "Master, what are you doing?"

"Careful, you're dripping. I am preparing for our next mission."

"By praticing your writing?" He laughed softly. "Are they sending us someplace primitive again?"

"No. Far from it. We are going to Dalcarta."

Obi-Wan pondered that bit of information for a moment while polishing off his fruit. "Never heard of it."

"I'm not surprised. They just joined the Republic."

"Then another Master/Padawan team has completed the preliminary investigation and submitted their application to the Senate?"

Qui-Gon nodded.

"Then the work is done. Why are we going there?"

"To deliver what I am writing. Or, rather, what I am creating."

Obi-Wan went to his Master, braced a hand on his shoulder and peered down at what the older man was working on.

"'The Central Senate of the Unified Republic of Planets hereby grants your most courteous and humble petition...'" His eyes scanned onward in search of something more interesting after his brain stalled on the boring rhetoric. "' declare to all and sundry that Dalcarta is now a member of our esteemed Republic, granted every right and privilege regarding commonwealth and trade, able to enter into agreements with other members of the Republic...' etc., etc., ad naueseum. Master, have you turned scribe?"

"For the moment, yes. Careful of the ink, it's still wet." Setting aside his pen, Qui-Gon pushed back from the table. "You're quite right, another Jedi team visited Dalcarta some months ago. The Senate approved the petition a few days ago, and Dalcarta's ruling family then informed Master Sorn that their ancient culture dictates that physical documentation be archived for all official dealings. Master Yoda recommended that Sorn ask me to create the documents and deliver them, as he and his Padawan will be otherwise occupied during the celebration which begins three days hence at the Summer Palace on Dalcarta."

"So you're creating their history even as we speak. Complete with...." Obi-Wan fingered a strip of sealing wax. "Archaic seals and signitories?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "I've been at it all afternoon, but this is the last one."

Picking up the pen once more, he returned to the task at hand. Settling into a nearby chair, Obi-Wan braced his chin on his arms and watched the fine calligraphy take form. He looked appropriately solemn when his Master cursed softly and crumpled a piece of the precious handmade paper, beamed when the offensive words were finally set aside to dry.

"Where did you learn to do this?" the younger man asked.

"From a master scribe long passed into the Force," Qui-Gon answered, closing up the inks and cleaning the pens, "else Yoda wouldn't have told Sorn to see me about all this. Master Ki painted my face as an amusment and an honor the evening of the day Master Yoda chose me as his Padawan--for luck, he said. He gave me a warrior's jagged blue lightning streaks and a scholar's golden spirals, and then told me in all solemnity to work hard and I'd be able to live up to the power he'd just called to enter me.

"He lived just long enough to see me become a knight, and after the ceremony told me that he had planned to take me as his Padawan if Yoda had passed me by. He used the Padawan meditation garden in the east wing every morning, so I saw him frequently. Always, he was practicing this delicate writing on some bit of paper he'd managed to find. The forms that flowed from his fingers were beautiful to me, so much so that I thought it was a kind of magic.

"I watched him for a long while before I dared to ask my Master if I could perhaps learn to do that. Yoda gave a non-committal grunt and peered at me with that ever-present scowl between his eyes, but next morning, after my meditation, Master Ki handed me a lead stick and a pad of Initiate's paper. He had me to kneel beside him, and my lessons began."

"With a lead stick?" Obi-Wan said, incredulous.

Qui-Gon nodded and sprinkled a fine powder across the last piece of parchment, then tapped off the excess to seal the ink. "I had to learn the shapes and slants of the letters before he would let me practice with a pen. It's been quite a few years since I did anything of consequence like this with what he taught me. I fear that I'm long out of practice."

Obi-Wan surveyed the collection of graceful pieces. "It's still beautiful, Master. They should be well-pleased."

Leaning across the table, Qui-Gon slid a long arm over his Padawan's back and hugged him tight. "Congratulations for passing your class. As we've both things to celebrate this night, and as I have commandeered the table, shall we go out and brave the commissary for evening meal?"



//Forty cycles,// Obi-Wan reflected, balling his fingers into fists and standing braced like a coiled spring where he stood, staring at the battered and half-destroyed ship that had limped her way through normal space to deliver them, finally, on a wing and a Jedi's prayer, to Dalcarta. //It's only been forty cycles since we shared that meal, good company, and much laughter. We were happy and he was laughing... He was alive and well, just forty cycles ago.//

Obi-Wan stood alone in the nearly unbearable dry-desert heat of the spaceport, waiting for permission from the inspecting authorities to once more board the crippled ship. Sweat trickled between his shoulderblades, his cloak and the searing wind wrapped him up in a tangle of suffocating brown cloth.

Dalcarta had the dubious distinction of being hotter than many planets on the outer rim, including Tatooine. Qui-Gon had told Obi-Wan that night was day to most of the populace, as they hid in dwellings half-submerged in the shifting sands in an effort to escape the soul-draining heat. Food was grown underground in hydroponic pods, with sunlight fed carefully through a network of mirrored shafts. Indigenous animals were kept only as pets--a finding that had delighted Qui-Gon when he'd discovered it. The planet had never known war, and Obi-Wan had put forth the theory that this was because no one could possibly get up the energy to fight during the day. As for the nights, Master Sorn's Padawan had insisted that they were simply too beautiful for anyone to sustain any hostility toward anything.

Obi-Wan had looked forward to exploring the planet. Now, he couldn't think past getting back on that ship, to find Qui-Gon and ascertain what, exactly, had happened. Regardless the heat, Obi-Wan was so cold that he couldn't stop shivering, for the bond he shared with his Master had been dead for the past thirty-six cycles.

He hadn't slept on the trip out, thought he'd never sleep again. Barely three cycles into the journey, three of the stabilizers had blown at the same time and the ship had been thrust out of hyperspace and directly into an asteroid field. The shields hadn't been strong enough to deflect the incoming debris--some of it had been the size of small planets, and the pilot of a necessity had dedicated his efforts to coaxing his shuddering, non-responsive ship in between and around them, while Obi-Wan worked frantically to stabilize what could not be stabilized and give them just a bit more control.

They had done a good job, but not good enough. They'd managed to best most of the field, when a half-meter chunk of rock bounced off a much bigger specimen and doubled back on its course to slam through the hull guarding the passenger quarters.

They'd lost oxygen and air pressure immediately, with ten different species screaming in terror, Qui-Gon feeling them, and leaving Obi-Wan at work on the bridge. Fifteen clicks later, the training bond had snapped, sending a splintering agony through his mind and blackening his vision. He nearly threw up on the deck, so deep was the pain. The roaring in his ears was nothing compared to the seering agony squeezing his heart.

//He's gone,// Obi-Wan had thought to himself. Gasping against the pain, he'd shoved back the trauma, erected the thickest shields he could to keep it at bay, and continued working. His hands knew what to do; what else could he do, but let them flow with the Force. The asteroid field was still a threat, but a glance at the pilot's monitors told Obi-Wan that they were no longer losing air or pressure. Was that Qui-Gon's doing? //Master?...//

Silence, as cold as space, met his query. After that, he didn't ask again. In time, the asteroids had been left behind and Obi-Wan had coaxed the shaky life-support system into accommodating their needs just a few cycles more. He ascertained that the hyperdrive was indeed blown until considerable repairs could be made, then checked out the sub-space engines. They drifted in space for a cycle while he worked, with the passengers growing more agitated and more worried by the minute, but Obi-Wan knew he wasn't capable of soothing their worries any more than he could his own. So he erected one more shield -- this time between him and them -- and concentrated on making sure the sub-spacers would get them safely to Dalcarta. Eventually, he was able to tell the pilot to set course for home, they'd see the spaceport in an estimated thirty-two cycles. Nodding, the pilot had set the course and informed the passengers that he was sorry for the delay, they were back on course and would arrive approximately a day later than scheduled. Many thanks were due the Jedi in their midst, without whom the repairs would not have been possible... etc., etc., ad infinitum.

His duty done, Obi-Wan left the bridge and headed with all purpose back through the ship to the last place he had felt Qui-Gon's presence. Weaving his way through an assortment of Corellian merchants, Toydarians on holiday, and suspicious-looking Dugs who were far from their home planet, Obi-Wan only half-heard the murmured thanks and snarling criticisms. Obviously, for some, his rescue had come too late. //Believe me, I know.//

The mental trail ended at a set of blast doors, which were of course locked down to preserve the rest of the ship from suffering the same fate as the foyer beyond. Laying a hand on the door, Obi-Wan felt the ice-cold metal. Bracing his forehead on it, he closed his eyes and remembered what the bond had told him before it had shattered. Through Qui-Gon's eyes, he had seen the blown hull, and the unforgiving mound of solid rock which had imbedded itself in the far wall. He heard the roaring out-rush of air, felt the vacuum of space suck at his robes. His Master's shields had slammed down then, and because the blast doors were down Obi-Wan knew that the Jedi had succeeded in his mission. But there had been no way for him to get back once the doors had come down. Space was an unforgiving opponent and its rules were simple: if one was ill-equipped to survive in its vacuum, one died. Obi-Wan knew all too well that there had been no time for Qui-Gon to don a protective spacesuit, much less to have taken any sort of oxygen supply with him.

Knowing all of this, Obi-Wan had simply sank down before the blast doors, buried his face in his hands, and wept.

"You can go back onboard now. And gentle Jedi, I am sorry." Someone laid a hand on his arm while a quiet Dalcartian voice interrupted his thoughts. Obi-Wan blinked into the doe-eyes of a young woman who smiled at him sadly. "Not knowing your wishes, we have left your Master undisturbed."

Nodding his understanding, he tried to voice his thanks, but his voice came out as little more than a croak. He hadn't the energy or the desire to fight it. Her hand slid away from him when he stepped forward, forced one booted foot before the other on their journey back up the ramp and into the interior of the injured ship.

Obi-Wan blinked in the ship's ambiant half-light, made darker to him after he'd been standing in the bright sunlight. His eyes felt gritty and ungrateful; he'd not slept on the journey here,and doubted that he would be able to sleep for some time to come. He knew that no one else was on board, and his boots whispered across the smooth deck as he made his way to the back of the ship. All was as he'd left it, with one notable exception: the blast doors had been ripped away. The resulting maw seemed to mock him; what business had the living among the dead, even if the dead was one's Master?

He stepped carefully across the threshold, avoiding the shrouded bodies lying crumbled nearby--victims of the loss of air and vacuum which slammed them across the room and battered them against the gaping hole into space. None of them carried the right Force-signature; none of them were Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan had to circle the room before he found his Master, literally on top of the blast door controls, where he'd lashed himself via his obi while he'd forced them to close. He was slumped, lifeless, over the controls, and Obi-Wan lifted back the long silvered hair to see that his master's skin had become a sickly gray.

Sobbing, Obi-Wan shoved the body back and worked frantically to free him. Sliding down with the dead weight of Qui-Gon's body, Obi-Wan landed on his butt with his Master's head and torso in his lap. Great heaving sobs overtook him while he sat, stroking back the thick mane. The blue eyes were closed, forever now.

"Master... no. Not like this. And besides, where would you go that you wouldn't take me with you? Why didn't you take me with you?" He shook Qui-Gon's body a little and listened for the answer, but there was none. "If you've gone into the Force, why can't I hear you?"

He sobbed and he railed. Begged and pleaded and demanded. Tried to strike a bargain and make any promise in the world if Qui-Gon would just come back -- just for a moment -- and let them see each other just one more time.

"We didn't even get to say good-bye," he told the Force, swiping away the tears only to have them intrude again. "We didn't even get that much. Please let him come back... just for a few moments?"

But there was no reply. No one would walk before him now, leading the way into his future. Obi-Wan knew the truth of it now; it wasn't as Master Yoda had said, a Jedi didn't survive death. He didn't manifest through the Force, didn't appear to those who loved him. After death, there was... nothing.

Nothing but silence.


Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan shielded himself against his grief and straightened his cloak. Looking around the cabin that had been his and Qui-Gon's last shared quarters, he made sure he'd missed nothing, that the single satchel they'd brought was sitting close to the door, that Qui-Gon's cloak lay folded across it–as it always had, and never would again. Gathering the packet of documents Qui-Gon had prepared, Obi-Wan exited the small room and he paused before the nervous official where she hovered in the corridor outside. Her brown eyes stared up at him, pleading for his cooperation, while her skin was three shades paler than it should have been. Holding a data-slate in one hand, she twisted her long black braid with the other hand and looked as though she might begin chewing on the end of it at any moment.

"My name is Seleka, and I've never had to take care of anything like this before, gentle Jedi. Please forgive me if I, as you say... walk on your feet?"

Obi-Wan spared her puzzled glance, and then nodded. "Step on my toes?"

"Yes, forgive that too, please." She gave an abbreviated bow. "I've just received word from our highest level that we are not to release any information on either the accident or the deaths until after the festivities are concluded," she relayed miserably. "A death is a very bad omen for our people, so we're going to stay silent, with apologies to your Master's spirit." Another bobbing bow of apology followed and another deep breath before she rushed into the rest of her bad news. "I've made arrangements for the victims to be taken to a deathhouse nearby, and if you'll just sign here I'll see that your Master's body goes with the others."


She blinked and closed her mouth, only to open it again. "No? He must go somewhere, he cannot stay here."

"I want him taken to the Palace, to whatever rooms they've assigned to us."

"The... Palace?" Seleka gawked at him, growing even paler, if possible. "You wish to take the dead to the Palace?"

"My Master and I were scheduled to meet with the vizier later today. I will keep that meeting, and my Master will go where I go, just as he did in life."

Her brown eyes grew black with alarm. "You can't take a corpse into the palace!" she squeaked. "It is unseemly, it is disrespectful to the Ahn, to the spirits of the Palace! And it is–it is messy!"

Obi-Wan nodded sadly. "But that is where he will go, all the same."

"At the very least, you will be expelled, and I will lose my station here. At worst, you will be arrested! Our traditions demand that no eyes fall on a corpse after the third hour of death. And to take-- take *that* into the Royal House? No, gentle Jedi, you will *not*."

Stepping back into the cabin, Obi-Wan snatched up his Master's robe and then whirled back to wave his hand before the girl's face. "We will wrap my Master in this."

She took the thick material and looked puzzled. "Your Master will be wrapped in this?"

"You will find transport for me, and we'll bundle my Master into it, along with the luggage." //What am I saying? And by the Sith, what am I doing? The Council will skin me for this, and my Master isn't luggage!// he thought to himself. //I'm not leaving my Master alone, that's what I'm doing.// "Pack him in with the rest of my things."

"We will pack him in with the rest of your things," Seleka said woodenly, still staring at the garment in her arms.

Obi-Wan waved at her again. "You will forget Master Jinn's death and lose the paperwork pertaining to it."

"There is no paperwork pertaining to Master Jinn's death."

"No record will be kept of his passing."

"No record..." She blinked and shook her head. "But there must be records. We have records for everything, it's required."

He waved his hand again. "No records ever existed for this because it did not happen."

"No records... none," she repeated obediently.

Sliding the data-slate from her fingers, Obi-Wan erased the report he'd given earlier on his Master's death. Tracing the communications link backward via the slate's connection with the central computer serving the planetary government, he retrieved the pertinent messages that had been sent, then quickly programmed the slate to send another, private message to the computer's processor dictating that all reports of the Jedi Master's death were to be erased. The information was erroneous, he informed the computer, the pertinent entries were to be purged.

He knew from experience on other information-fanatical planets that most governing officials couldn't stand any report being erroneous; the documents would be stricken from the record in almost hysterical haste. //So much for your traditions where the death of Qui-Gon Jinn is concerned.//

Handing the data-slate back to Seleka, he gathered the satchel and escorted the girl to the gangway. "You will secure my transport now. Then you will bring back a hover-sled and help me move my Master's body. You will do this quickly, and discuss it with no one."

She nodded and moved down the gangway.

//How easily they are convinced,// he thought to himself. //So many beings are like children, wanting guidance. Wanting to be told what to do to make everything all right. No wonder you cautioned me not to attempt this sort of manipulation very often, Master. It cuts through the red tape and the grief most effectively, and would definitely be habit-forming.//



Qui-Gon's body was shrouded with not only his cloak but also with a tarp that Seleka managed to locate.

//What have we here, independent thought?// He snorted to himself as he unrolled the tarp, realizing that the young woman didn't want the dead Jedi problem to stick around any more than did the live Jedi.

"Here's some liquid cable that might help." Seleka handed Obi-Wan a pressure cannister containing once he'd rolled Qui-Gon's body into the tarp and Force-lifted it onto the hover-sled.

"Thank you," he said gratefully. He sprayed the cable around the tarp until Qui-Gon's body resembled nothing so much as a huge, bulky, unidentifiable something beneath the wrappings.

"Your transport is waiting, gentle Jedi." Seleka met his gaze then, bowing slightly.

Obi-Wan felt sympathy alongside her nervousness, knew then that his mind trick had very much worn off; she would remember all of this encounter. Only the Ahn knew what she'd do with the memories. He didn't want to manipulate her any more; he'd just have to take his chances. Tossing the satchel onto the sled, he spared a moment to give the young woman a hug.

"I'm very sorry for all the trouble we've caused. Believe me, it wasn't supposed to be this way." He swallowed against the anguish that threatened to close his throat and ducked his head when she hugged him back.

"Safe journey, then, for you and for your companion's journey into the Great House of Ahn," she murmured against him, all delicacy and softness when Obi-Wan's heart cried out for the touch of a mountain of a man who used to loom beside him and engulf him in hugs so tight that he couldn't breathe. His Master's presence had always been as solid and safe as the bond they'd shared, but all of that was gone now.

"You, too," Obi-Wan managed. Turning away, he pushed at the hover-sled to start it going, then concentrated on guiding it across the landing dock. Blinking fiercely against the tears that were threatening to overwhelm him, he shoved his grief deep.

//Now's not the time or the place,// he growled to himself. //Just let me get through this mission. There will be enough time afterward to take out what hurts and let it demolish me.//

The Dug driving the transport was uninterested in his passenger's cargo, and Obi-Wan used what remained of the liquid cable to lash the sled to the back of the transport. His attention was commanded when he felt the hovercraft sink as the weight of Qui-Gon's body made the small craft sink.

"Cas chua *yooka*," he snarled at Obi-Wan, who translated easily, 'That'll cost you extra.'

Obi-Wan didn't argue; he paid and climbed in at the front of the sled to keep an eye on it. It wouldn't do to have it come undone and drop down through the airlanes. One in-flight disaster was enough for his Master's passing.

They made the journey as quickly and safely as Obi-Wan could have desired, through the excruciating heat of the desert and across the Royal City, until they were stopped at the cool service tunnels that served the palace. Obi-Wan climbed out to tell the solemn guards who he was, and that he was expected. A brief communication with whoever was stationed on the other side of their comlink, and they were on their way again. The Dug weaved the transport easily through the roomy tunnels until they leveled off into a service area where no one looked twice at the arriving Jedi or his strange luggage.

Obi-Wan was met by a respectful guard who snapped to attention and helped him release the hover-sled. The Dug was dismissed with a hefty tip being paid by the palace guard. A few minutes later, and Obi-Wan found himself and his troublesome cargo in a suite of cool, dark rooms deep inside the palace.

"Welcome to Dalcarta, gentle Jedi." The guard bowed solemnly before he backed from the rooms, closed the doors behind him, and left Obi-Wan alone with his problem.

Running a hand through his short-cropped hair, the Jedi stared at the hover-sled and wished he'd awaken from the nightmare he'd found himself in for the past three days. Shoving at the conveyance with what was fast approaching resentment in the middle of his fatigue, he Force-guided it into the sleep chamber and parked it at the bottom of the huge bed that he should have been sharing with Qui-Gon. It would have looked so very welcoming to both of them after cramped and cold quarters on the ship. Qui-Gon wold have enjoyed the luxury of accommodations that suited his size, as well; now, however, the chamber merely looked empty.

Falling into a nearby chair, Obi-Wan rubbed the bridge of his nose and stared at the bulky bundle that didn't resemble his Master at all. Technically it wasn't his master anymore. Technically it was now a large, heavy, awkward inanimate object. It looked exactly like what it was, except that Obi-Wan's heart didn't see it in those terms.

"This is wrong, Master! So wrong...." Not only his death, but his bringing the body with him. Wrong also, because in a matter of hours the body was going to become an even bigger problem.

But first things had to be served first, and that meant the duty that had brought him and Qui-Gon to this miserable planet in the first place. Obi-Wan had to get through the scheduled meeting with the vizier and present the accursed documents to him, her or it. After that, he might be able to explain his Master's incapacity and beg out of additional functions. With any luck, he'd be on a ship back to Coruscant before morning.



The vizier turned out to be a growly Dug who had the habit of scowling at everything while caressing his glittering nose-beads, and cartwheeling over himself to get anywhere. He burst into Obi-Wan's guest suite a few clicks later, all but howling for the Jedi, sniffing around the guest quarters, and nailing Obi-Wan with a beady black glare until the Jedi very nearly confessed to having a corpse in the bedroom.

"Where is Jedi two? Two they sent, one I see."

"My resting. He was not feeling well after the journey."

The Dug snorted, sending his nose-beads a-clattering. "Feeling well he is not," he agreed. "Maybe feeling dead is he?"

Obi-Wan schooled his features past the shock and started to reply, but the Dug waved him to silence.

"We know the fate of your Master, young Padawan," the vizier said in heavily accented Basic, "know where he lies," he added, waving a foot toward the closed door behind the Jedi. "Strange are Jedi, sleeping with the dead. But strange are Jedi, anyway. All Jedi." He snorted and shrugged, or at least Obi-Wan assumed that was the purpose of the twitching of the almost non-existent shoulders.

"Prepared we are to ignore your ignoring the customs of this world, if capable you are of successfully completing the duties we require. Two duties were set before Deadmaster: to give me the papers you brought so that our entry into the Galactic Republic might be archived, and to attend our festivities beginning at moonrise. You do this." He poked a toe at Obi-Wan chest, then pointed with it at the door. "Not Deadmaster."

Obi-Wan offered a formal bow. "I will do this, gentle vizier."

The Dug held out his hand, which was a vision of too-big knuckles and overgrown fingernails. It was, by far, one of the ugliest appendages Obi-Wan had ever seen. Delving into the voluminous sleeves of his cloak, Obi-Wan withdrew the elegantly rolled and formally be-ribboned and sealed packet of manuscript. The Dug snatched it from him, tearing at the ribbons and sniffing at the seals. Noises of either satisfaction or deep suspicion--Obi-Wan wasn't certain which--rumbled from the being.

The Jedi waited patiently, feet braced and hands folded in his sleeves. He watch the long head sway from side to side during the examination, mildly intrigued by the beads' sway and clatter as the Dug wove back and forth, faster and faster on his hands. He fully expected the vizier to turn on him and announce that the papers were not in order--

//Help me.//

Obi-Wan flinched at the weak but undeniable mind-touch and snapped his head around to stare at the sleep-chamber door, which was firmly closed as he'd left it. His heart pounded at the shock of that touch, and he missed the growled demand from the dignitary before him.

Slamming his feet -- hands -- whatever he stood on -- upon the floor angrily, the Dug demanded Obi-Wan's attention.

"Who prepared these?" he repeated irritably, sliding an oily finger down the side of one parchment, which rolled up against him as if to protest his touch. Obi-Wan hoped that finger was cleaner than it looked, for the idea of having his Master's final works smudged by that grubby-looking digit was abhorrent.

"A master scribe, well-trained in the calligraphic arts," the Jedi answered quietly, his attention once again focused on the moment before him. //My Master is gone, he is one with the Force, the bond is gone, and I'm hallucinating. Yes, that's it. I am–//

//Help me...// There it came again, weak, but *there*.

//Gods, I've gone crazy. I can't help you, Master,// he answered as a headache began throbbing behind his eyes in time with the racing of his heart. //You're dead, you should have gone into the Force. Are you stuck?//

The Dug leaned over the papers and peered at them, his lower lip slinking out in a pout below narrowed nostrils that spoke of irritation. "I should meet this scribe. Who is he?"

"He was my Master."

"Ah, Deadmaster? Convenient. He is dead, we cannot talk?" The chin lifted, eyes narrowed.

//Let me out.//

Obi-Wan shivered and clamped down against the touch of that voice. "No, I don't think so."

"Who trained him?"

"A... Master Ki. He died some years ago."

//It's hot, and I can't breathe, Padawan. I can't move.//

//Of course you can't. You're *dead!* And you don't *need* to breathe!// he snapped back at the voice in his head. //Oh gods, I *am* going mad. Please let the Dug leave before I lose it in some noticeable way.//

"Only Dug do this work," the vizier challenged, poking a ragged, dirty nail at the elegant calligraphy. "Deadmaster was no Dug. You lie, Jedi."

"Master Ki was a Dug. He taught my Master in your style."

The vizier growled at the papers, rolled them up and cast aside the ribbon that had bound them. "Ah. Almost Dug work, then. Impressive work. Almost. Festival begins at moonrise. Be there, alone," he emphasized. "No Deadmaster at celebrations. You mingle with our people, give a good showing of yourself. Tomorrow we release you and Deadmaster. You take the body at dawn and be on your way." He nodded and his beads clattering, clearly satisfied with this plan. "Yes, I say nothing. You say nothing. Deadmaster is merely sick and resting we say. He should keep until dawn. No one knows about Deadmaster, agreed?"

//OBI-WAN!!// The bellow reverberated so loudly through his mind that the Padawan in question winced and staggered forward, certain that the vizier himself had to have heard it.

"Agreed," he ground out against the pain, not really caring if his reply didn't follow the conversation. "Thank you for... inviting me."

The Dug grunted and poked him with the papers. "Didn't sleep much on the journey?"

Obi-Wan supposed the creature was smiling at him, but it looked more like a smirk. He shook his head.

"Fretting over Deadmaster won't make him live again. Five cycles before festival. You rest. Jedi must look good tonight."

Obi-Wan managed to nod in agreement as the mind touch grew more forceful. //Obi-Wan, help me! NOW!//

Clutching his precious documents in his feet and not seeming to care that he crinkled them in the process, the vizier wheeled across the room on his gnarly hands, shoved through the chamber doors, and slammed them behind him. Obi-Wan lunged for the door into the sleep-chamber and flung it open, bounding across the tile to stand next to the wrapped lump of his master's corpse.

"Master, I'm sorry," he explained hesitantly. "You died, and I don't know how to help--"

The waterproof cover began to shiver, then to tremble even more strongly. Eyes widening in disbelief, Obi-Wan stared at the transport sled. The trembling became more pronounced.

//Post mortem electrical discharge,// his brain raced to supply the information. //Yes, I've seen that. Energy stored in the muscles is released, making them contract.// Obi-Wan had even seen a body sit up once, and the witnesses had to be feeling just as he did now. //Yes, that's all this is. Nothing more.//

The muscle contractions increased until the bundle was fairly convulsing before him.

//OutoutoutoutoutoutoutOUT!// chanted the frantic voice in his head.

Obi-Wan's mind refused to process coherent thought any longer. This was just too far outside his realm of experience, and too much of a shock when it was added to everything else he'd endured since that hyperdrive had died. He'd had no sleep, and no food, his Master was dead, and all logic now fled. All clear thought fled. But his feet, for some insane reason, inched him closer to the frantic activity beneath the tarp. Was this some sort of Force transformation that Obi-Wan had not heard of? Joining the Force had always sounded like such a peaceful process....

Obi-Wan was within a few inches of the now-writhing body, which was still firmly enshrouded in the he tarp and liquid cable. Muffled sounds could be heard from within, while the mental litany that begged for freedom took on a tone of fast-rising anger.

"M-master, please, rest quietly," Obi-Wan whispered. "You should go into the Force now--"

He halted his advice in mid-sentence when a new sound emerged from the struggling cocoon -- the very familiar sound of a lightsaber being activated. Obi-Wan threw himself backward just as the green blade rose up through the tarp to slash its way through all of the bindings. Roaring up through the wrappings, the scorched and melting cable and the singed cloak, came Qui-Gon Jinn.

Obi-Wan thought that his heart was going to burst, so hard and loud was its pounding. He stared, somewhere between shocked and terrified at the giant of a man brandishing the lightsaber: his hair was wild and his blue eyes blazed with fury in a dead gray face. A string of soulful invectives that Obi-Wan had never heard before accompanied the apparition's emergence from the shattered cocoon. Once his feet were once more firmly on the ground, Qui-Gon whirled and glowered at the mess that had imprisoned him. Next, he rounded on his Padawan.

"Why in the name of the Force did you stuff me in there?"

"...Master..." Obi-Wan whispered as though from quite a distance.

"You tied me up!" the newly animated body ground out in a rough parody of his Master's voice. "You tied me up, wrapped me up, and left me there. WHY?"


"I suppose that I should be grateful you didn't stuff me beneath the bed for storage."

"I didn't think you'd fit," Obi-Wan said plaintively.

The Master gaped at him and gasped for air. "Obi-Wan, I expect a better explanation than that. I couldn't see or breathe in there. It was hot. It was confining. It was uncomfortable. It is against the Code to suffocate your Master."

The tall Jedi took a step forward, which Obi-Wan answered by retreating, his green eyes huge and his own face now ghostly pale in shock. "M-master, you don't need to breathe. And--and they couldn't know you were here, and I couldn't let you go to the deadhouse--"

The blue eyes blinked, easing back on the fury they contained.

//His eyes make an interesting contrast to the blue of his lips,// Obi-Wan noted absently in the corner of his mind still capable of coherent thought. //And his hair tie is missing. He'll be disappointed; it was his favorite.//

"Obi-Wan, are you all right?"

"I'm sorry, Master. I was doing the best I could. Nobody told me how to handle this sort of situation, and I tried to let the Force guide me. I think this is what it said to do, and I'm going to take you back to Coruscant in the morning, so you'll have proper Jedi honors for your sac...sacrifice."

"Honors? Sacrifice?" The voice was gentler now, and the eyes were not quite so murderous, but looking a little concerned. "Padawan, what are you talking about? And have we missed the ceremony here?"

"No, it's in ab-about five cycles. I'll see it done and we'll leave in the morning. You can wait here."

"Wait? I'll be ready by then."

"No, Master, you can't go."

"Why not? Obi-Wan, you are making no sense. Explain this from the beginning. Please." His Padawan was now trembling visibly and was absolutely colorless. Qui-Gon took another step forward, and Obi-Wan retreated two more steps toward the door.

"I'm really sorry I couldn't stabilize the shields on the ship," the younger man said. "I tried, but I couldn't, and you died, and they won't let a dead Jedi attend the ceremony. They can't look at you because you've been dead more than three cycles. M-master, please put down the lightsaber. "

Startled, Qui-Gon looked down at the still humming lightsaber clutched tightly in his very blue fingers, then back up at Obi-Wan. He thumbed the control and the glowing blade hissed out of being. "Dead? I'm not dead. I'm talking to you right now."

"You..." Obi-Wan fell back against the open door and edged around it as though to put the bulk of it between himself and the apparition of his Master. "You were dead."

"I most certainly was not! I was in stasis."

"You were *dead!*" Obi-Wan argued, abandoning the doorway and backing into the suite's reception room, further away from the thing that was still stalking toward him. "You're *still* dead! You're all gray and... and ugly, just like before. You're dead!"

"Obi-Wan, I've never been beautiful, and of course I was gray! You're gray as well when there's no oxygen in your blood. Do you not recall the lessons I gave you, not five seasons past, on suspending all bodily functions when the emergency warrants it?"

"Yes, but.... Master, you didn't look that gray, then."

Qui-Gon halting his stalking and frowned. "Why are you avoiding me? Come back over here."

"Um... I'd rather not, if you don't mind." Obi-Wan stared across at him with wide and frightened eyes. "How do I know you're my Master?"

"How do you... Oh, gods, this is unbelievable." Qui-Gon fell into the nearest chair and glowered at his Padawan. Gasping for breath, he held up a shaking hand and peered at it. It was still mostly gray. "You're right about one thing: I haven't fully recovered. Give me a few minutes."

Obi-Wan hovered nearby for a moment before settling on the floor against the wall, wrapping his arms around himself, and shivering. He never took his eyes off of his Master.

What little energy Qui-Gon's adrenaline rush had given him to escape the tarp had vanished. He sagged against the seat cushions and panted as his body desperately absorbed the oxygen he'd so long denied it. Taking a moment, he took stock of how he felt: fatigued and in pain, he had a terrible oxygen-deprivation headache, was overheated from being swaddled in waterproof coverings, and was still wearing a heavy cloak which only added to his complaints. Beyond all of that, rather than leaping to his aid, his Padawan was staring at him as though.... Qui-Gon couldn't think of an analogy, but Obi-Wan looked distressed, in any case. His eyes had shadows beneath them, the bond between them felt... fatigued... and now the young man was trembling. Something was very wrong here.

//I don't look well, either,// Qui-Gon decided upon further scrutiny. His muscles ached and those that didn't were trying to cramp as his blood struggled to return to them. He couldn't breathe properly yet, and his time sense was totally blown.

"Obi-Wan, where are we?" he asked gently, trying to coax his Padawan back onto the path of rational thought.

"Palace. House of Ahn. Guest quarters underground. Interior, two exits off of the main corridor, no outside windows," Obi-Wan replied, his eyes still huge and staring.

"Thank you. And how long have we been here?"

"A very little time. We've five -- no, perhaps most of four cycles until the festivities begin at moonrise. And the vizier has the documents which my Master prepared."

"Good," Qui-Gon wheezed. "I think that rest might be a good thing for both of us during these cycles. Then we can finish up this mission." He gestured abstractly. "You'll have to carry it, Padawan, as I'm not going to be completely recovered by then."

That brought the younger man shooting onto his feet. "But you can't go to the festival, Master. It will be a horrible insult. The dead do not attend festivities here."

Closing his eyes, Qui-Gon whispered a prayer to the Force. //Grant me patience, please.// "Obi-Wan, I'm not dead. I was just in stasis. Not dead."

"Dead," the Padawan contradicted obstinately. "There was no bond. It was gone."

"Gone?" Qui-Gon blinked at that. //If the bond was gone, if Obi-Wan was deprived of his connection with me for the first time during his apprenticeship... No wonder he's upset. // But...I was merely in stasis. The bond doesn't end because of that."

"It did. For three days, Master. You were GONE."

"Three days?" He blinked, considering that information. "Obi-Wan, I didn't mean for you to think that I was dead," he continued, more gently than before. "I went deeper into stasis than I had before, but I had to be sure that the ship would reach the docking bay and fresh atmosphere before I came up again, or I *would* have been dead. I had no idea that our bond would collapse with my doing this. It must have been a terrible three days for you."

Obi-Wan nodded, though he still didn't look convinced.

"Is it back now? Can you feel it now?" Qui-Gon asked.

A moment's looking inward, and then Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes, Master."

"So I'm not dead now, am I?"

He hesitated. "Perhaps not, but you still look awful."

"So do you. Have you slept recently?"


"Since we spoke last? And have you eaten?"

"No, Master. There was much to do and I... I didn't think of it." It sounded like the excuse it was, but it spoke volumes of the pain beneath it.

//He's seen to the mission and to me-- in his own, strange way-- but he hasn't seen to himself for three days,// thought Qui-Gon, //because he thought me dead.// Closing his eyes, Qui-Gon considered what needed to be done.

"Obi-Wan, we're going to sleep," he decided. "Come here and help me out of this chair," he requested in his most commanding Master voice.

Rising hesitantly from the floor, Obi-Wan crossed and held out his hands for the Master to pull himself upright. After gaining his feet, Qui-Gon held onto Obi-Wan even more tightly. Sliding a hand across his Padawan's shoulders, he guided him beneath his arm and slowly began walking him toward the sleep chamber.

"Obi-Wan, I'm here and I'm alive. All is well. Now it's time for us to sleep."

"Yes, Master."

Obi-Wan shivered slightly but leaned into him, and Qui-Gon took that as an encouraging sign. Pushing the younger man down to sit on the side of the bed, the Master laid a hand across his eyes. "Sleep now, Padawan."

Obi-Wan didn't even have time to record the use of the Force, or to object to it, before his eyes closed.


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