ACROSS THE STARS
Rosé curled in a corner of her sleep couch, not caring that she was wrinkling her fine gown or catching the blankets with her high-heeled shoes. She waited silently, listening as Ruth bade Cina and Caledon good-bye, assuring Caledon that she was quite certain he would be elected the next Arcadian Senator.
Rosé curled up more tightly, wanting to cover her ears. Her father had only been dead three days, and already they were talking of ‘replacing’ him as though he were nothing more than a commodity that had lost its usefulness.
He was the best! she wanted to scream. He was one of the best Senators of our time! Why is everyone fighting over his position like he was nothing? Did he mean that little? Are politics that important?
She had no answer. She knew that Arcadia needed a new Senator, though why Cina, who had represented the Nem for the last ten years, couldn’t simply step in was beyond her. Of all those who might take Cleon Bukater’s place, Cina seemed to her to be the best, but she knew that the fragile peace between the Parni and the Nem that had remained in place for the last seventeen years wouldn’t survive it. The Parni were only now beginning to acknowledge the Nem as equals, and after dominating the planet for so long, they wouldn’t yet allow a Senator of that ancient race.
Rising slowly from the sleep couch, Rosé looked at the three small but visible security cameras, wondering if the Jedi were watching her even now. She eyed all three cameras, trying to decide how best to keep anyone from watching what she planned to do.
She could try to disable the cameras, but she didn’t really know quite how they worked, and she was certain an alarm would sound if the cameras were tampered with. She could try to slip away from their watchful eyes, but she didn’t know how much each camera took in—probably a lot, considering that they were designed to catch any intruders.
Finally, she moved towards her closet, selecting three lightweight garments and draping them over the offending cameras. Now, no one could see her, and if she were quiet, no one could hear her.
The room seemed to be closing in on her as she looked towards the balcony doors. Outside, beings sped by in all sorts of vehicles, going about their busy lives. Far below, in the depths of the city, the dregs of the galaxy—perhaps even the being who had plotted the assassinations—lived out their lives.
All of them, she was certain, were better off than her.
Rosé felt as though she were choking. Hands moving to her throat, she found the fine necklace of rare green stones that Caledon had given her when they had been betrothed. She tugged at the clasp, trying to remove it, and when that didn’t work, tore at it with anguished strength, breaking the wires holding the necklace together and sending the stones scattering across the floor.
She leaned on her dressing table, breathing hard. It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Nothing matters.
But it did matter. Looking around at all the trappings of wealth and privilege, she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep herself from screaming. Why? What is all this for? It couldn’t save my father, it couldn’t protect my mother and me, and it can’t stop the greedy politicians from fighting amongst themselves over my father’s legacy!
Angrily, she tore at the silver hair cage, ripping it off and throwing it against a wall. It clanged softly as it hit, but she didn’t notice. Her fingers worked through her red curls, pulling out the hairpins and scattering them everywhere.
She took one last look at her red, tear-stained face in the mirror before running for the balcony doors.
"Jack, please keep watch here. Mistress DeWitt-Bukater and I are going to check the building’s security."
"I don’t know that there’s really anything to worry about there," Ruth protested. "500 Republica is home to Coruscant’s most powerful. We demand the highest security."
"Nevertheless, the assassins have managed to slip through twice for your family, and several times for other Senators. It’s best that we make certain that everything is functioning as it should be and that all guards are at their posts—and call for repairs or reinforcements if they are not. In addition, if the guards are not aware of the threat, they need to be made aware of it."
Ruth nodded reluctantly, looking towards Rosé’s door. Her daughter’s despair was the most profound Ruth had ever seen, and she feared for what the girl might do. And if an assassin should come while she was away…
"My Padawan is quite capable of keeping watch and battling any intruders. He has been on minor missions alone before, and I know that he is more than able to keep her safe from any threats. And if he needs me, he can contact me immediately."
Ruth still looked reluctant, but finally she nodded. She couldn’t watch Rosé every minute, and perhaps a good night’s sleep would improve her daughter’s mood. If not…perhaps she would take Rosé to see a mind healer. To be sure, much had happened over the past few days, but despair as deep as her daughter’s could be deadly.
After Maira and Ruth departed, Jack walked around the apartment, checking the locks and making sure the cameras were working. He felt uneasy, though he wasn’t sure why, and he remembered his Master’s admonition from earlier to be mindful of his feelings and not rely too much on the feeling that something wasn’t right.
Still, he could feel Rosé’s pain in the Force, and that, more than anything else at the moment, set him on edge. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with her, something more than just the normal grief and shock over the events of the past three days, but he didn’t know what she might have planned.
He stopped in front of the small view screens that were connected to the cameras in Rosé’s room, his brow furrowing at the sight of something blue and metallic on the first screen. Another screen was almost black, with the exception of a little light that shone at the bottom of the screen. The third screen seemed to be covered with some sort of white silky material.
She covered the cameras with her clothes, he realized, peering at the screens in concern. He understood her desire for privacy, but in light of the threat she faced, why had she covered them so thoroughly? If someone sneaked in through her balcony, they would be unable to see the threat until it was too late.
He turned quickly towards her door as something hit the wall with a light metallic sound, followed by a muffled sob and the sound of feet pounding on the carpeted floor. He heard the faint whirring sound of the balcony doors sliding open, and then the clicking of high-heeled shoes on the permacrete balcony.
Jack touched the panel to open the door, only to find it locked. It took only a moment more to unlock the door using the Force, but the scattered mass of gemstones, hairpins, and clothing had him reaching for his lightsaber. He saw no sign of Rosé in the room—the sleep couch, though rumpled, was unslept in—but the balcony doors were open and the automatic lights that came on when someone went outside were shining.
Lightsaber in hand, Jack raced through the open doors, stopping short at the sight of Rosé pulling herself up awkwardly onto the low wall separating the balcony from the airspace beyond.
He quickly put his lightsaber away and moved quietly towards her, not wanting to startle her or frighten her into jumping.
"Don’t do it."
Rosé’s head whipped around to stare at him. She teetered for a moment, almost losing her balance on the narrow wall. "Stay back! Don’t come any closer!"
Jack edged closer to her, holding out his hand. "Come on. Take my hand. I’ll help you."
"No! Don’t come any closer! I mean it! I’ll jump!"
Jack made a slight gesture. "No, you won’t."
"What do you mean, no, I won’t? Don’t presume to tell me what I will and will not do! You don’t know me!"
Jack frowned slightly; the Force suggestion hadn’t worked. "Come back down."
"No! And stop waving your hand around! You’re distracting me!" She turned back towards the darkened city. "Go away!"
Obviously, Force suggestions didn’t work on her. Jack leaned against the wall casually, trying a different tactic.
"If you were going to jump, you would have done it already."
She turned her head to look at him again. "I’ll do it as soon as you leave!"
"Then I’m not leaving."
"And?" He rested his hand lightly on his lightsaber. "That will do what?"
Rosé seemed to crumple then, wavering on the narrow wall. "Please go away. I can’t stand it anymore. No one needs to know what really happened. You can tell my mother and your Master that an assassin got me and pushed me from the balcony. It’s no more than I deserve, after…"
"No. You don’t deserve it. You defended yourself and your mother, just as anyone else would if their lives were threatened."
"You don’t know what happened…"
"Not completely, no. But I know enough to understand that you are innocent. You don’t deserve to die."
"It’s for the best."
"No, it isn’t. And I won’t let you. If you jump, I’ll jump after you."
Rosé stared at him. "That’s crazy. It’s half a kilometer to the ground. Not even a Jedi could survive that."
"I know. That’s why I’m hoping you’ll come back down and get me off the hook here." He eased closer, offering her his hand. "Come on. You don’t want to do this. Give me your hand."
Rosé looked at him, wondering if she should do as he asked. Was he really crazy enough to jump after her? Did she really want to find out?
The compassion in his eyes told her the truth. He did care, and he would do as he’d said. He cared about her enough to make that sacrifice for her. She didn’t know why, but he cared. That was all that mattered. He wasn’t manipulating her, wasn’t trying to take advantage of her position in society, wasn’t angling for power in the wake of her father’s death. He was doing this for her.
Slowly, she turned completely, reaching for his hand. He grasped it firmly, giving her a relieved smile.
"Thank you," she whispered, starting to crouch down so she could climb off the wall.
It happened in an instant. Her shoe caught on the train of her gown, sending her off-balance and over the balcony into the night. Only Jack’s grip on her hand kept her from falling.
"Help me!" she screamed, her earlier desire to throw herself into the depths of the city forgotten. "Please, help me!"
Jack’s grip on her hand tightened. "I’ve got you! I won’t let go." He pulled on her hand, nearly getting over the wall before she slipped again.
Rosé screamed again, louder this time, attracting the attention of beings flying by. "Help! Somebody please help me!"
Jack saw a man angling his speeder under her, preparing to catch her, but he knew he wouldn’t get there in time. Even as his grip on her hand started to slip, he used the Force to get hold of her wrist, pulling her towards him with all his strength. With a final push from the Force, he got her back over the wall, twisting awkwardly and landing atop her just as Ruth and Maira came running, alerted by her screams.
The two women had entered the apartment just as Rosé had slipped for the second time and come running. Maira got there first, the Force adding speed to her step, but Ruth wasn’t far behind her. She grabbed Jack, pulling him off her daughter, and took the sobbing girl in her arms, glaring at the young Jedi angrily.
Maira wasn’t so quick to judge. She knew Jack, and highly doubted that he had attacked the girl, as Ruth seemed to think.
"What happened here, Padawan?" she asked quietly, her face carefully neutral. She doubted that Jack had done anything wrong, but if he had…Force help him.
Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Rosé beat him to it. Stepping away from Ruth, she wiped her makeup-streaked eyes with one hand and tried to smooth her torn gown with the other as she answered, "It was an accident."
When both Ruth and Maira looked at her disbelievingly, she elaborated, "It was. Stupid, really. I was leaning on the balcony wall and I thought I saw someone I knew in a speeder below me. I leaned forward to wave to them, and I slipped, and almost went over, but Padawan Dawson here saved me, and…and almost went over himself."
She stopped, wondering if she’d put too much detail into her lie, but she didn’t want the young Jedi who had saved her life getting into trouble because of her, and she didn’t want anyone else to know of her suicide attempt, either.
"Was that what happened?" Ruth asked, still looking at Jack suspiciously.
Jack glanced at Rosé, seeing her eyes pleading with him to agree with her.
He nodded. "Yes. Yes, that was pretty much it."
Ruth wrapped an arm around her shaking daughter. "I apologize then, Padawan Dawson. It seemed I misjudged your intent."
Jack shrugged. "You were trying to protect her. It’s what a mother does." He had seen plenty of mothers desperately protecting their offspring—even at the cost of their own lives—and knew how powerful a mother’s love could be.
"I think perhaps you should go in now," Maira suggested. "All that screaming may have attracted…unwanted attention."
"Of course." Ruth moved towards the open doors, her arm still around her daughter. "Rosé, what were you thinking? You know better than to lean over the wall like that."
As soon as the doors to Rosé’s room closed, Maira walked over to Jack, who was straightening his robe and checking his belt, making sure everything was still in place.
"That wasn’t what really happened, was it, Jack?" Jack threw up his shields, trying to protect Rosé’s secret, but Maira just stared sternly at him. "Padawan, do I have to break through your shields to get the truth?"
Jack sighed, turning his back on his Master and going over to the balcony wall to look out at the city. "No, Master. But she doesn’t want anyone to know what really happened."
"I won’t tell anyone unless absolutely necessary, Jack. I can keep a secret, but I do need to know what happened here."
Jack turned back to her, tugging nervously on his Padawan braid. "She…she was going to jump, Master. I heard something in her room and came to see what was going on…she’d covered the cameras with clothes, so I couldn’t see what was going on. I came out here, and…she was up on the balcony wall, ready to jump off. I tried to use a Force suggestion to get her to come down, but she didn’t respond to it, so I talked to her instead. She…said that I should just let her jump and tell you and Mistress DeWitt-Bukater that an assassin pushed her over the balcony, because it was no more than she deserved after what happened to the assassins who came after her and her mother…I told her that she didn’t deserve to die, and…eventually she agreed to come down off the wall, and then she slipped…that was why she was screaming, because she was dangling half a kilometer in the air. And then I was finally able to pull her back over with the help of the Force, and we fell…and that was when you found us."
"You didn’t almost go over, too, did you?"
"No, Master, though I did tell her that if she jumped, I would jump after her."
Maira put a hand to her forehead. "Padawan…Jack…"
"I meant it, Master. She needed someone who cared enough to do something like that for her." He paused. "Wouldn’t you have done the same?"
Maira walked over to the wall, standing beside him. "I don’t know, Jack. Perhaps."
"I think you would have. You care about her, too, even though you hardly know her."
"That’s enough, Padawan. We don’t need to go into the idea of suicide pacts with someone you hardly know any further."
Jack sighed, but let it go. "Master…something puzzles me. She believes she pushed the assassins out the window, but if she wasn’t close enough to touch them, how could she have? Only beings who are strong in the Force can do that…"
"I believe she is strong in the Force, but I will have to test her to find out. You’re right that that ability doesn’t come without the Force…or it’s very rare, especially in humans…but more than that, I sense that she is Force-sensitive."
Jack looked down, fiddling with a loose string on his robe. "I sensed her emotions strongly, and I don’t usually sense the emotions of non-Force-sensitives that strongly…but her emotions were very powerful. I don’t think she would have tried to jump otherwise."
"I will talk to her about it and test her if I get a chance, but I’m almost certain she is strong in the Force—she just doesn’t know it, or know how to use that ability."
She looked down at the city. The traffic had thinned somewhat with the lateness of the hour, signaling how long they had been out there.
"We will meditate on all this tomorrow, Jack, but for now it’s time to rest. Mistress DeWitt-Bukater had TC-16 set up a room for us, but there are listening devices inside so we can be up at a moment’s notice if anything is wrong."
Jack followed her through the main door of the balcony, turning with her once to scan the area before going inside.