“No more excuses, Master. I want to hear the story, and I want to hear it now. Spill.”
“But Anakin, the ship—”
“Has another four Standard hours of hyperspace travel before we’re due to reach Coruscant.”
“No buts. We’re in hyperspace. There’s nowhere for us to go, nowhere for you to hide, and absolutely nothing in the galaxy better for you to do than to tell stories. To me.”
“I’m sure I could think of someth—”
“Oh… Oh, very well. You win – that smug expression is unbecoming, Anakin!”
“Apology accepted. So, er, where would you like me start?”
“How about the beginning? Beginnings are always good.”
* * *
Draboon was the least popular colony world of the old Mandalorian Empire. After less than a day, Obi-Wan could already see why.
The climate was brutally frigid and dry, and desertification caused by planet-wide strip mining meant that there was dust everywhere. Dust, which got on and into absolutely everything and made cleanliness a distant memory. If it weren’t for the unusual concentrations of lapis in the planet’s crust, no one would bother trying to live here anymore.
For the purposes of keeping the young Duchess Satine Kryze safe, however, these features made Draboon ideal. There were two in particular: First, the mining industry was supported by intraplanet migrant labor which would gather, as if by magic, wherever a new source of lapis was found to be ripe for exploitation, moving on only when that source had been exhausted. Mines opened and closed constantly; the churn of the workforce from camp to camp meant that nobody knew anybody. And second, purely on a practical level, it was awfully hard to recognize anyone under the requisite 5+ layers of clothes the environment necessitated.
Nobody, in short, was likely to recognize the political fugitive in their midst…or the two Jedi Guardians Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi whose responsibility it was to protect her.
And to decrease that likelihood even further, Qui-Gon had decreed that they would split up upon their arrival at the designated mining camp, with Qui-Gon posing as a middle-aged widower and Obi-Wan and Satine – or “Ben” and “Tina” – as a newly engaged couple. Both parties would seek employment. Then, after a week or so, the lonely widower would meet the happy couple “by chance” and strike up a friendship, thus giving the three of them an excuse to remain in close proximity and regular communication.
In the meantime, though, Obi-Wan and Satine were on their own and left to make their own decisions.
Like, for example, where to locate their shared jurta. Obi-Wan thought it best to live in one of the most densely populated areas around the mine – the better to hide in the proverbial crowd – whereas Satine preferred the relatively isolated flatlands on the south side of the pit.
“I have a bad feeling about the south side,” Obi-Wan said. “There’s just something…not quite right about it. Besides, hardly anyone else has placed their jurtas on the south side. Maybe they know something we don’t.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Ben,” Satine replied. Her tone of voice was calm but firm; she was used to being obeyed in her previous life. “They’re just avoiding the south side because it gets less sun exposure. The less time we spend around people we do not have to, the less likely that any of our accidental stumbles will be noticed.”
“Your stumbles, you mean. I don’t make stumbles.”
Satine’s eyes narrowed dangerously at Obi-Wan’s ill-chosen jest. “As you say. But if I’m the one at risk of a stumble, then I ought to be the one to decide where I have it. I hope you don’t mind not having as much sun as anyone else!”
Obi-Wan shrugged and expelled a long-breathed sigh. He knew this was a fight he wasn’t going to win. “Oh, I’ll be fine – don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll make up for the lack of quality sun exposure on another mission to a different planet at some point in the future.”
It took the better part of six hours to erect the jurta – at least two hours were wasted on bickering – and when they were done, theirs looked rather more misshapen and less, well, tall than others at the site, but it would have to suffice.
Obi-Wan left Satine to put the finishing touches on their jurta’s interior while he called on the pit foreman. He needed to take a job at the mine – any job – in order to maintain their covers as a young couple eager to establish themselves and save credits for their wedding. Fortunately, what with civil war siphoning off the able-bodied for the battlefield, there were plenty of jobs going spare, and Obi-Wan had an offer practically before he was finished saying his assumed name.
He and the foreman were just about to shake on it and draw up a contract of employment when the ground gave a violent lurch. And another. And another. The shaking wasn’t stopping.
“What is that?” Obi-Wan asked. “An earthquake?”
The foreman swore a colorful string of obscenities too quickly for Obi-Wan to fully parse.
“Lads must’tve hit a venom-mite nest,” the foreman explained.
“Er, pardon, but what are venom-mites exactly?”
“Colonial arachnids living underground near the best lapis veins. Each one’s the size of your fist. Nasty bite. The venom can kill in minutes if you get bitten more than once. Tendency to swarm on the surface when their nest is disturbed.”
“Yup, good thing they almost always run south. Keeps casualties to a minimum. Nobody likes living south of a pit because of the risk of venom-mite swarms – hey, where’re you going?”
“My sincerest apologies – if you’ll excuse me—”
Obi-Wan began to run.
With Force-assisted speed, he managed to make it back to Satine and their jurta ahead of the swarm…but only just. She was standing at the jurta’s entrance, staring at the fast-approaching red wave of chittering venom-mites behind Obi-Wan, her face perplexed.
“Run! You have to run!” Obi-Wan shouted.
Satine obliged admirably, to the very best of her abilities, but it became quickly, painfully clear that running was not her strong suit, and running while wearing 5+ layers of clothing with hems which dragged impractically on the ground resulted in a pace that was more like jogging. Or speed-walking. If Obi-Wan didn’t do something, they were going to be swamped!
So, he did something. He scooped Satine up into his arms like a groom carrying his blushing bride over the threshold of a new matrimonial jurta, and he ran. He ran like death itself was hot on his heels, which, to be honest, it kind of was.
Ultimately, Obi-Wan was able to outrun the venom-mite swarm. He was not quite able to outrun that little hooked rock, embedded in the frozen ground and half-hidden by Draboon’s infernal dust, which caught on the toe of his boot and sent him stumbling forward. Satine went flying out of his arms and landed hard.
“Ouch. I think you broke my backside,” she groaned when she’d finally regained breath enough to speak again.
* * *
“So? What happened after?”
“I’m – I’m, ahem. Well. We continued with the mission, although Satine was rather badly injured. She still has the scar, as she says.”
“And, er, she was furious at me for dropping her. Understandably so. And, er, erm…she ordered me to kiss it and make it better.”
“A kiss? Like, a real kiss?!”
“Was she your first?”
“Aww, that’s cute – hey, wait a minute. You said she ordered you to kiss ‘it’…? As in her injury? Obi-Wan, where exactly was she injured?”
“My goodness, would you look at the time—”