Shura closed The
War of the Shells with a snap.
All’s well that end’s well. Not that it was a great surprise that the five guardsmen had saved the day again in the third installment of their tale. It had been a gripping enough read nevertheless.
Staring out across the ocean, she wondered if even Racan could find a way to make her story end well. Probably, though not without some miraculous twists in the tale. The author of the Five Guardsmen would also be able to think of a way to fix her relationship with Rhona. Not that they were really in trouble, but since the vodka incident it was - well, strained. At least Rhona had not felt the need to hide or get rid of all the alcohol in the house. It had not been necessary either. After her last exploits on that sector, Shura knew that she did not feel like drinking for a good long while.
Shura stared at the book’s dust jacket showing the five guardsmen on the Heights of Re whose crest they had singlehandedly defended against an entire army.
With a sigh, she put the book down. She tried to recall, whether Rhona had said she had the fourth volume as well or whether that was the one she was missing? If she remembered correctly it was not the last one yet. She did not want to read that one as three of the five guardsmen were killed in it.
Shura placed her hand on her stomach thinking of the two tiny babies growing in there. Sometimes she still felt uncomfortable with the entire pregnancy business but now she also felt curious about it. And she was sorry for the hell she had put these little creatures through.
Well, Rhona kept assuring her that there was nothing wrong with them.
Shura stretched. She really ought to get up and do something else than sit on her butt all day. Or perhaps she should have a nap, she thought. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the deck chair. Soon the sun would move over the house and then the porch would be too hot to sit on anyway.
Just as she was drifting off to sleep, the sound of a speeder approaching snapped her awake again.
Judging from the noise the engine was making, the person driving it was in a real hurry.
Had somebody found out she was here?
Shura jumped up and rushed into the house. Should she hide? It was too late to flee. The speeder was almost at the door already.
The engine stopped and Shura could hear somebody jumping out.
Thank gods, it was Rhona.
“Shura?” Rhona shouted again and came running into the house. She stopped as she saw Shura and clutched a hand to her chest. “Have you heard?” she asked.
Anakin is dead, Shura thought, and felt a wave of despair coming over her. Then she realised that Rhona did not look desperate. She looked worried, flushed from running and excited. If Anakin was dead, would she just stand there, and would she sweep away the table cloth that usually covered her holopad?
“No,” Shura managed to say. “Hear what?”
Rhona flicked the holo-pad on, then she turned to Shura. “He’s awake,” she said, her voice uneven. “Anakin’s come out of the coma.”
For a moment, Shura stared at Rhona trying to digest the news. She sat down on the sofa.
“I just heard and …,” Rhona started but let her sentence trail off. She had been worried of course.
Shura continued to stare at Rhona who was fiddling with the controls of the holopad.
Hadn’t they all said he would surely die? Shura thought that she ought to be happy but somehow she could not find it in her to cheer. To her, Anakin was still lost.
And what about all those injuries they mentioned?
The holopad finally sprang to live and the head of a human anchorman appeared on it.
“Thoran Novitski, minister of agriculture and environment denounced the statement by the Green Party as a concoction of wild theories and gossip. The GP blamed the recent crop plight on various planets in the Regari sector on to the use of anti-b bombs during the recent war. Mr Novitski stated that he had been assured by both military leaders and scientists involved in developing this weapon that it was completely harmless to any plant life.”
Shura stared at the anchorman whose skin was so white it looked as if it had been painted. Why was she watching this, she wondered
The anchorman was replaced by an image of a trimly-suited man, standing behind a lectern berating somebody or other.
A caption popped up at the bottom of the pad running around it.
‘Breaking News: FM Skywalker emerges from coma – Senator Palpatine to visit’
Shura frowned as she read the caption again and again as it circled round the round base of the holopad.
Of course, she thought with irritation, Senator Palpatine would visit. It was a chance of presenting himself as the best friend of the great hero of the Republic yet again.
The ranting man was now replaced by pictures from the area stricken by the crop plight, dusty fields covered with brown, withered plants, their broken stems rattling in the wind. In the background a lone figure was visible trying to root out the infested plants.
Shura sighed. She had not heard of these anti-b-bombs but she had the sickening feeling there was a connection between them and this disaster.
Was that what we were fighting for , she wondered, feeling suddenly very tired, old and disillusioned. Did we leave death and destruction behind everywhere?
“Shura,” Rhona asked from where she was sitting on the other side of the holopad. “Are you alright?”
For a long moment, Shura stared at her cousin. She did feel alright, which was probably a bad sign.
“I don’t know, I feel just confused,” Shura said. “I think the news haven’t sunken in yet. And it’s so unreal.”
There was a haggard looking woman on the news now, screaming almost incomprehensible with rage: “our own government dropped these bombs here, to protect us, they said. Look what is going on now.”
The anchorman returned to inform the audience that President Gimila had made a statement he would personally investigate the allegations and make sure the crop plight would not cause a widespread famine.
Just when Shura thought that she might as well stop watching, the anchorman looked up and apparently straight at her, “now to our breaking news. About an hour ago, confidential sources on Alma Serena reported that Field Marshall Anakin Skywalker had regained consciousness. Field Marshall Skywalker had fallen into a coma shortly after he crashed into a building on Chardri thirty-three days ago. So far Police have not been able to explain the causes of this accident. Due to the serious nature of the injuries Field Marshall Skywalker was not supposed to live. As we have reported earlier this week, management of Alma Serena Military Hospital have been keeping the status of this high profile patient completely secret. We have also been unable to obtain a statement about his current state from Alma Serena. Just now Senator Palpatine on inspection tour on Rexus IX has confirmed the surprising news that Skywalker has emerged from the coma.
“We are now going live to Rexus IX to our reporter Zoe Cox. Zoe,” the anchorman turned to his left and the head and shoulders of a young pale woman with brightly red hair and green eyes appeared. For a moment it looked as if the reporter was standing right next to him, “can you tell us what is happening on Rexus IX?”
The anchorman disappeared and only Zoe Cox was visible. She held an old fashioned microphone in her hand and behind her, Shura could see a large number of people and what looked like a fancy hotel lounge.
“As you can see, Lars,” she said, pointing behind her shoulder to the throng of people, “the banquet has just been called to an end after Senator Palpatine’s announcement. He is going to leave Rexus IX at once on his private ship to fly straight to Alma Serena.” The picture wobbled for a moment, as if somebody had jostled the camera. “Wait, there comes Palpatine,” Cox said and rushed off, the camera dutifully bobbing behind her.
A great many people, most of them media like Cox were trying to get to the same spot. “Senator Palpatine! Senator Palpatine!” various of them shouted.
Shura grimaced. She couldn’t stand Palpatine. He was a conniving, scheming bastard and she hated him for what he had put Anakin through. She also hated him for being the one who had been told about Anakin waking up. It was a stupid reaction, she knew. It was her own fault that she was not the first person contacted of any change in Anakin’s status. If she had wanted to she would be the one now on her way to Alma Serena. Though she would not have bothered with these irritating people from the media. As a matter of fact she would be on Alma Serena already. And Senator Palpatine would still be the one who announced the news to the Galaxy.
“Senator Palpatine,” Cox shouted, as she finally managed to push herself at the head of the crowd. Probably the reason she got this assignment in the first place, Shura thought. “Senator,” Cox said pushing her microphone at Palpatine, “is Skywalker now out of danger?”
Palpatine frowned and tried to make some headway through the journalists. “No,” he stated, “Field Marshall Skywalker’s condition is still critical. He’s in surgery as we speak. However, Dr Hadasht has told me that by the time I arrive he should be awake again. I will be conveying your best wishes, Ms Cox.”
“Thank you, Senator,” Cox said, blushing. What had this been about, Shura wondered. “But more importantly,” Palpatine continued and even briefly stopped and turned his creepy yellow eyes on the camera that must be hovering somewhere to his right, “we will be finally able to find out what really happened during that terrible night . We will be able to find those responsible for this accident.” He turned back to Cox, still holding her microphone at him. “Now, Zoe, I think you understand that I need to hurry.”
“Yes,” Cox stepped aside.
For a moment the camera panned on Palpatine as he strode off, impatiently waving away the remaining reporters, then it focused again on Cox, who stared absentmindedly after the departing Senator. Only when the anchorman back at the news-room audibly cleared her voice, she seemed to remember where she was.
“As you can see, Lars,” Cox stated, turning her eyes back to the camera, “it is not only the improvement of Field Marshal Skywalker’s physical condition that turns all the eyes again on the Military Hospital on Alma Serena, but also the fact that now the reason behind this tragic accident can be uncovered. Was it, in fact, just a dreadful accident or something more sinister? - This is Zoe Cox, reporting for News of the Galaxy from Rexus IX.”
“Thank you, Zoe,” Lars the anchorman said, as the image of Cox was replaced by his white face. “We are reporting on the surprising improvement of Field Marshal Skywalker’s condition. Earlier, Senator Palpatine made this announcement during a festive banquet held in his honour on Rexus IX.”
The image changed again and now showed an hall, filled with a multitude of tables covered in crystal and silver and a crowd of people obviously dressed at their best. Senator Palpatine was standing behind his place at the table on some sort of dais.
“Dear friends,” Palpatine began, “I’d like to once more stress how much I enjoyed the warm welcome I received here and how much I appreciate all the effort that was made on my behalf. Thank you very much. Unfortunately, however, I won’t be able to stay for the full seven days I had planned to remain on your wonderful planet. News just reached me that requires me to leave at once.” He paused and a smile appeared on his face. “Unlike so many other times when a politician is called away, it is not tragedy that caused my change of plans. It is not another disaster that calls me away, not another unnecessary death or impending catastrophe. No, it is good news, and I am pleased to be the first to announce it. My good friend Field Marshal Anakin Skywalker…”
Suddenly the sound cut out and the three dimensional image of Senator Palpatine just opened and shut his mouth like a fish on land.
“Do you want to hear more?” Rhona asked, remote in hand.
Shura shook her head. “No, I think this is as much Palpatine as I can stomach.”
“Yes,” Rhona agreed and switched the holo off. “Additionally, it seems we already heard all they know at the moment.”
Shura unclenched her hands, only now realising that she’d pressed them hard enough for her to have hardly any feeling left in her fingers.
Somehow she still felt unnaturally calm. She wanted a large drink, but she surely would not ask Rhona for one. She also wanted nothing so badly, then jump up, run out to her ship and fly straight to Alma Serena, to be there when Anakin woke up again. She ought to be there, not this scheming little bastard Palpatine. Of course, she knew she couldn’t go. And even if she left now, she’d still arrive there after Palpatine, who by now was already on his ship.
Shura took a deep breath and looked at Rhona who stared at her in return. Rhona frowned as if she was thinking about something very hard.
“What do you get out of this, apart from the obvious?” Shura asked her.
Rhona breathed in with something that sounded like a sigh. “First, Tosh was right, they must have stopped reconstructive surgery,” she announced. “Otherwise they would not rush Anakin straight back into the operating theatre. It also means that it must have been very urgent, nothing you could put off for a day. It’s not the best thing to put a patient under narcotics again so soon after coming out of a long coma. He’s still being treated him by the same doctor, so I guess this means he’s in good hands.” Rhona folded her hands and asked, “What about you?”
Shura made a grimace of distaste. “Apart from Palpatine behaving as if he was Anakin’s only friend, the sentence that struck me as odd was the one about finding those responsible for Anakin’s crash. - And not because that means me as well. Palpatine is suggesting that somebody else was responsible for the crash, not that it may have happened because Anakin was drunk.”
“And what on earth was with the reporter?” Shura asked.
“That was strange,” Rhona agreed.
Anakin is awake, Shura thought again. Oh all the gods, please make him get well again.
She remembered the agonising wait for Anakin to wake up after the Battle of Doom. She could remember the stiffness that crept into her limbs after sitting next to his bed for hours and hours, the strong smell of antiseptics in the room, her eyes burning after staring and staring at her husband lying in his bed, his face so horribly pale under the bandages.
He had woken up, panicking because he couldn’t see. But she had been there to hold him and assure him that it was only temporary.
Now, when he woke up again, there would be nobody there. Palpatine had said after all that Anakin would be awake by the time he reached Alma Serena. The doctor surely had other things to do than sit by Anakin’s bedside.
She ought to be there, Shura thought, she ought to go right now.
She could see herself arriving on Alma Serena, striding down the hallway to Anakin’s room. Nobody would dare stop her. - Except Palpatine and he would be there when she arrived. As would be the media. With her fake ship ID she’d probably get into the hospital without being harassed by reporters but they would be there now in force and they would recognise her.
She knew what it would be like, people shouting questions at her, asking her where she had been, why she had run away. And somebody would finally dare to ask the question they were all wondering about: “Do you have an affair with General Kenobi?” and she’d punch whoever asked. She’d never been the diplomat in the family.
“Shura,” Rhona said in a loud enough voice for Shura to realise that she probably had called her name before.
Looking at her cousin, Shura realised that she had stood up without realising it.
“You scared me,” Rhona stated, “you seemed miles away.”
Shura tried to smile at that, but she knew she failed.
“I was,” she consented, “I was thinking of going to Alma Serena.”
“That’s good,” Rhona said, “you should go, Shura. Go to Anakin, he needs you now, and you need him.”
Shura shook her head. “I can’t go,” she stated, and when Rhona opened her mouth to argue with her, she continued, “I can’t go there. I couldn’t bear the reporters there, I cannot face down Palpatine. And what if… what if Anakin doesn’t want to see me?”
That is the point, isn’t it, she told herself. You cannot bear the prospect of Anakin telling you to piss off. Or more likely he would send Palpatine to tell you that you aren’t wanted.
“That’s silly and you know it!” Rhona protested.
“It’s not,” Shura said and sat down.
She thought she’d probably die of humiliation if Palpatine told her that Anakin did not want to see her. She would not even be able to know if that was true or whether Palpatine had decided to keep them separate. Would she push past Palpatine and storm into Anakin’s room anyway? What if Anakin then told her to go to hell?
Palpatine would by then have found out all about the stupid argument and the fight and the accident from Anakin. Palpatine would know whom to blame, herself, Kenobi and the entire Jedi Order. And he would not hesitate to announce this to the reporters waiting to gobble up every tidbit of information he threw their way.
“I have to leave,” Shura stated and got up again.
For a moment Rhona stared at her, then when Shura randomly picked up one of her shirts lying discarded on the floor, she asked, “Now?”
“Now,” Shura agreed, “Anakin is going to tell Palpatine about what happened and Palpatine is going to tell the media and they are going to be after me.”
Rhona got up and walked around the holopad. “Shura,” she said, “the media already know about the argument. They know you went missing. There is nothing new that will make them look for you harder.”
Shura looked down at the shirt she was holding, she did not know what to do with it. She wanted to go to Alma Serena, she also did not want to go there or anywhere, just stay here. She suddenly longed to run home to her mother and seek comfort there, but she couldn’t do that either.
“Sit down,” Rhona told her and took the shirt from her hands.
Obediently, Shura sat back down.
Rhona sat down on the holopad and took Shura’s hands in hers.
“I have to leave,” Shura repeated. She couldn’t stay here longer, abusing Rhona’s hospitality. She couldn’t bear Rhona’s pity any longer.
“There is no need to rush,” Rhona said. “I cannot say I understand you. Why you don’t go to your husband, why you think you have to hide, but I just have to accept that. What I cannot accept is you running away again with no sense or direction. If you think you have to leave, find somebody you can stay with. Surely you have friends that would be glad to help you. And don’t worry, the media are not besieging every single person you know.”
Shura shook her head. “All the people we know are in the armed forces. I can’t go to any of them.”
How could she face any of them, now after what happened between her and Anakin?
“You have to know somebody who’s not in the military,” Rhona insisted. “A friend from school, or from here.”
“No,” Shura said.
She stared at the holopad Rhona sat on. Was the operation Anakin was undergoing over by now, she wondered. Had he survived? What if he had died now or had relapsed into another coma.
“There’s got to be someone,” Rhona insisted.
“Keeiara,” Shura said. The memory old friend from school had quite suddenly come back to her. “Keeiara Organa,” she explained to her cousin. “I haven’t been in touch with her for ages. Her husband is a high ranking member of the government, a prince as well.” Thinking of Bail Organa, stuffed shirt that he was, made her feel a little uneasy about the idea of staying with Keeiara. But Bail would be busy with his work.
“That sounds promising,” Rhona said.
Shura knew that Bail did not approve of her, but to please his wife he would agree to help her. As long as she stayed out of his way as much as possible, which would not be a problem, given the size of the Organa family’s residence.
Thinking of the splendour of Bail’s home on Alderaan, she remembered asking Bail what the ordinary people of Alderaan thought that the nobility lived in such luxury. She also remembered Bail’s reply: what was going on inside the palace was of no concern to the people outside. They valued privacy on Alderaan. That would be pratical.
Shura nodded at Rhona. “I think Keeiara is going to be happy to help.”
“That’s good,” Rhona said.
Gods, she hadn’t been in touch with Keeiara for almost two years. With the war going on and the fact that Anakin couldn’t stand her Shura just had not gotten round to visiting or even writing.
And Anakin was awake, but still in a critical condition.
Rhona smiled at Shura, pressing her hands. “I am glad you are taking the news so well, that we have a plan now. - So, what are we going to do next?”
Shura stared at the holopad. “Watch the news?”
“Are you sure?” Rhona asked, and when Shura nodded, Rhona stood up, sat down next to her and switched the holo back on.
“News of the Galaxy,” the white skinned anchorman said, “we are now going live to Alma Serena Military Hospital where Professor Cagliari is about to make an announcement on Field Marshall Skywalker’s condition.”
The story continues
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