Chapter Twenty-Nine -- Secrets

"The Naboo system. I need to visit friends there." -- Obi-Wan Kenobi

As the Imperial shuttle made its way back toward the Emperorís Palace, Darth Vader addressed the stormtroopers a whole. He carefully spoke, chosing words full of description as he recounted how they had arrived at the Jedi Temple, how the troops had set up guards at all major points of entrance while Vader confronted Mace Windu in the Jedi Council Chamber.

Vader recounted to his men how he had defeated Windu while they apprehended a looter in the main lobby, a Corellian scumbag named Lorn Pavan who had hoped to raid the Temple and sell items on the black market.

The troopers had brought Pavan before Vader and he in turn had interrogated the thief, given him a harsh warning and turned him lose with a shaky promise to never come near the place again. Vader used the Force to send images of the thief, his apprehension and interrogation into the minds of the easily-malleable troopers, and by the time their shuttle landed later that hour, not a single stormtrooper had the slighest memory of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

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When Obi-Wan jolted back into consciousness, for the briefest of moments his mind speculated if he could have dreamnt the whole dreadful experience. He was in his quarters at the Jedi Temple, lightsaber on the table as he always left it.

But moving his body even slightly reminded his nerve endings of the beating he had suffered today, and as his mind flared back to life from sleep, the emotional shipwreck that was his life came roaring back at him, and the horror of both Vader and the Emperor revealed threatened to send him over the edge of despair.

He managed to sit upright on his bunk as his head pounded from the lump where Vader had smashed him with his own saber. He looked down at his flight suit, borrowed from a frigate captain six systems ago.

The suit was ragged, ripped and faded, very much the way Obi-Wan felt inside right now. He touched the Force with his mind, and suddenly remembered his committment to Padme, to her children and to Master Yoda. Vader had been wrong about hs life being worthless, Obi-Wan had used all his mental strength to bury the knowledge of the children deep within himself, and the dark warrior, so intent on exacting his brand of justice on his former Master had not delved far into his psyche.

Obi-Wan had failed many times in his life, but he could still make a difference. That knowledge pushed him upright on aching legs, and he grabbed his lightsaber off the table, and headed cautiously out of the Jedi Temple. He was the last Jedi to ever see the structure intact. It was razed by Imperial construction crews less than a month later.

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Obi-Wan spent that night in a Jedi safe house located four levels down and about 15 miles from the Temple complex. While more of a storage facility than an actual house, the tiny square of real estate was ideal for two reasons -- 1) it looked exactly like thousands of other units that surrounded it and 2) only a Jedi thumbprint would key the door, meaning Obi-Wan was safe here for the time being.

The safe house was one of 128 set up by the Jedi Council on Coruscantís various levels in the past 15 years. Often times, Jedi had to venture into the planetís less-savory environments, and sometimes trouble would arise.

If getting back uplevels became a problem, Jedi could go to one of the strategically-located refuges for food, water, supplies, a comlink, a place to rest, first-aid kit or a stash of credits. In the beginning, the number of safe houses had been limited, but the Council had found it prudent to build many more after the mysterious disapperances and deaths of Obi-Wanís fellow Padawan Darsha Assant and her master, Anoon Bondara, days before the Battle of Naboo.

Obi-Wan had led the investigation down into the lower levels of Coruscant, often times he had thought of it since. His first inclination had always been that it had involved the crime syndicate Black Sun, since another murder nearby that day had been a Black Sun agent, Yanth the Hutt. Now as he drank deeply of the safe houseís supply of water and chewed on its dry rations, he began to ponder if Sidiousí hand had been in those murders too.

Obi-Wan was thankful for the Jedi foresight that he had a bed to lay on, water to wash with and the first-aid kit to bandage his face and chest, but he had come here mainly for the credits. It had been the third safe house he had entered since exiting the Jedi Temple, and he felt he had secured enough currency to buy passage off Coruscant, likely for good.

While the money in the safe houses was in Republic dataries form, it was still honored throught the Empire as the galaxyís core made its switch to Imperical procedures and protocol.

Obi-Wan had four places to visit, two of them in Imperial space, the other two on the Outer Rim. He did not know how long Vader was planning on giving him to leave the Empire, but he did not want to chance it any further than necessary and endanger those who he would task with great responsibility in the days to come.

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The next morning, Obi-Wan locked down the safe house and headed for the Coruscellian Space Port. It was only the third or fourth biggest port on the planet, but Obi-Wan had no desire to go to the biggest of the Coruscantís bigger interplanetary centers because of the strong presence of the Empire. The last thing he needed at this point was some stormtrooper patrol or random bureaucrat identifying him when all he was trying to do was get away.

So, the Coruscellian was his choice, but even there he had to be wary. The central computer system matched up pilots with passengers on a daily basis to ports across the stars, but Obi-Wan was again limited by his identiy. Putting his thumb on the computerís terminal screen would likely trigger half a dozen alarms for his arrest.

He was rather reminded of Qui-Gonís dilemna on Tatooine when they had first encountered Anakin as a boy. They had landed Padmeís Nubian frigate outside a settlement there hoping to aquire replacement hyperdrive parts.

Secrecy had been of the uptmost importance, but his Master had found negoiating with the slave and parts dealer Watto nearly impossible with the dataries, considered worthless that far out on the Rim, and with Jedi mind tricks ineffective on the Toydarian psyche.

When Obi-Wan heard the necessary part had been located, he thought Qui-Gon should have simply brandished his lightsaber at the junk dealer and demanded it, they had been pressed for time. But Qui-Gon would have none of that and insisted another solution would present itself, which ultimately occurred in the form of Anakinís incredible victory at the pod races.

Now Obi-Wan realized the lesson in Qui-Gonís decisions. Wielding the power of the Force did not make a Jedi of more importance than the average being in this galaxy, it simply made him more aware, and more responsible.

Obi-Wan could have used his powers to coerce many of the pilots to give him free passage or simply relinquish their vessels to him, but to do so would be a misuse of his powers. Not so bad as slipping to the dark side through hate or fear perhaps, but definitely pride and lack of humility were at play for the Jedi who got his way by manipulating the minds of others.

Obi-Wan did use his knowledge of the Force to seek out the more honest minds of the assembled pirates and captains in the spaceportís cantina, and settled on a Sullustan downing a plate of meaty ribs.

The alien looked up with an earnest face as Obi-Wan quietly approached.

"Need ship?" the whisker-mouthed cat-like being asked in passable Basic.

"Yes, for transport."

"Passengers?"

"Just myself, no other."

"Cargo?"

"None, personal effects."

"Droids?"

"None."

"Departure time?"

"As soon as your can go."

The Sullustan did some checking on a data pad and named a price. Obi-Wan thought about bartering, then dropped the idea and nodded. He pulled the dataries out of his flight suit and handed there stacks to the Sullustan who was obviously pleased to see hard currency.

He sniffed the credit bars then looked up again.

"Me forgot, destination?"

Obi-Wan kept his voice low enough so anyone who might be eavesdropping from another table or just passing by would not hear.

"The Naboo system. I need to visit friends there."