Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Only Human
Part 1

When Master Cabrie Elthwen arrived on Hoth, Lieutenant Felix Iresso expected her to be another halfhearted gesture of the Republic and Jedi order in support of this distant battlefield that hardly anyone understood the importance of. When she, with only the support of her small crew, single-handedly took out threat that his own men were too worn down―too terrified to face, he reconsidered. Master Elthwen was more than just a scholar and galactic spectator like so many other Jedi he had met. She was a warrior who took action without hesitation, but without lust for blood or glory. She did what was necessary. Felix knew that with every measured word she spoke that Hoth mattered to her. His men mattered to her. He mattered to her. He found himself asking more and more of her, and yet she always agreed to go deeper and deeper into danger for him and his men with the same calm assurance that she had introduced herself with when she first arrived on the planet.

When it was all over and Hoth was safe from Captain Valon and his White Maw at last, all he could think about were all the things that could be possible if only this Jedi master would continue to collaborate with him. He asked for a transfer under her command, and she agreed and welcomed him onto her ship without hesitation. The only questions she had asked were what his skills were and what he hoped to get out of serving alongside a Jedi, and that was all. That was more trust than anyone in the Republic military had given in him years, and yet she seemed to think he deserved it.

Cabrie kept odd company on her ship: a stoic Trandoshan hunter who practically worshiped her, a self-absorbed scientist seemingly along for the ride, a twitchy Twi'lek revolutionary who hadn't yet figured out his revolution was over, the most cheerful protocol droid he had ever encountered, and the entire Rift Alliance council. She treated them all fairly and with respect, and yet held herself distant from them all. She would always keep them briefed on her next assignments, occasionally asking for council―though more often than not he suspect it was for their benefit than hers. She hardly ever needed advice from misfits like them. Cabrie kept her own council.

As Felix traveled with Master Cabrie in her work for the Rift Alliance and the Jedi Council, she never ceased to amaze him. Every decision she made was quick, decisive, and confident. When Felix asked her about it, she replied, “With the Force as my compass and a good sense for what is right, there is no need to waste any time or worry on deliberation. I always know what I need to do.” Her connection to the Force was not like he had seen in any other Jedi he had met.

Master Cabrie rarely refused a plea for help, even when it led them out of their way and was sometimes even infuriatingly just with their enemies who begged for her mercy. Yet, she killed with the efficiency of a soldier when she had to. Cabrie never seemed to be afraid, uncertain, or angry. The only times he ever saw her smile was when it seemed to be for the benefit of others, and that worried him, though, at first, he could not put a finger on why.

Felix respected the Jedi Master he served―he was in awe of her. He watched her back as they fought together with more intensity than anyone else he had ever served beside. He praised her merits to complete strangers he met in their travels, and defended her when anyone doubted. All the while, the woman he traveled with remained a distant mystery to him. Something about Cabrie drew him to her, he wanted to know so much more about her.

Unfortunately, the crew had little productive to say on the matter. To Qyzen, she was the Scorekeeper's Herald―whatever that meant. Zenith only saw her as the brilliant strategist that rescued Balmorra from the Empire, and Felix already knew that. He read the Republic military dossier on her as soon as he heard there was a Jedi assigned to him on Hoth. The Rift Alliance council could only tell him other things he already knew about Master Cabrie's virtues and successes. Tharan Cedrax, a little distracted as he always was, had only to say that she clever, generous, and beautiful before turning back to that blasted gadget he was always working on. Felix didn't bother asking C2-N2. He swore that droid was programmed to only speak in florid compliments. The only person who might have something productive to say would have been Cabrie's frequent companion, the Jedi Knight Finley Tuering, but he had not seen Finley in the weeks since Hoth.

Tharan's comment, flippant though it was, awakened a dangerous realization within Felix. Jedi Master Cabrie Elthwen was beautiful. This yearning to know her better was more than that. All this while, he had been repressing his admiration, telling himself that those were improper thoughts to have about a Jedi Master. But every time he pushed those thoughts away, something she would do or say would bring them back even more strongly. He had heard that Jedi could read minds, and that thought shamed him. If Cabrie had any idea what he was thinking, however, she gave no sign of it.

Trying not to think these thoughts, Felix filtered through the security feeds and transmission records of the Defender as he did every night now. After what had happened with the imperial spy living among them, he didn't trust any of the Rift Alliance delegates―or really anyone on this ship besides the virtuous Jedi Cabrie. He heard footsteps approaching the cockpit and knew it had to be Cabrie herself. She made a point of checking in with everyone on her ship every evening they were all aboard.

He rose from his chair to greet her and saluted, “Master Elthwen.”

“Lieutenant Iresso,” she bowed to him, her green eyes neutral as ever. “Checking the security of our ship?”

He nodded, “And nothing looks out of the ordinary tonight.”

“Good to hear it. I would hate to have more reason for distrust on my ship,” she replied, the moved to sit down in the seat next to the one he had just vacated.

Is that a comment aimed at me? He wondered. Taking her cue, Felix sat back down, somewhat apprehensively. It was not Cabrie's habit to stay and exchange more than a few sentences every night. “What's on your mind, Master Jedi?” he ventured.

“At the moment?” she responded frankly, “How am I supposed to keep five high-ranking delegates happy on one increasingly cramped star fighter in the midst of an unpredictable journey across the galaxy as we try to keep the Republic and Sith Empire from descending into another state of all-out war.”

Felix whistled appreciatively. “Though, seriously, I don't know how you put up with that bunch of civilians cluttering up this ship and always asking you for favors,” he sympathized. “Why don't they take their council to some more stable location?”

“As I understand it,” Cabrie replied, “They like it here, and they like having me close. Keeping them happy is my duty.”

“Having them here is a security risk to you,” Felix observed, “I shouldn't have to remind you that, Jedi Master. But flying around with you is a security risk to them. What are the Jedi going to send you off to do next? Take out the Emperor single-handedly?”

“No, that's Finley's job,” Cabrie replied with her usual dead-pan frankness that made Felix wonder just how serious she was actually being. And if it was true, she just trusted him with one of the highest level secrets the Jedi Order kept for their war plans. The level of trust she gave him straight away from the first day was baffling.

Neither he nor Cabrie had anything more to say on the subject, but she remained sitting where she was. Clearing his throat to break the pause, Felix commented, “Tharan was just bragging to me that you are the youngest Jedi Master in the order right now, and the Bar-saint or something like that.”

“Barsen'thor,” Cabrie corrected with a small sigh, “Herald of the Order. I wouldn't be a Jedi Master if not for that, and if my position with the Rift Alliance didn't necessitate it.”

“Oh, I am sure you are being hard on yourself,” Felix protested.

“Lieutenant, I am a full three years younger than you,” she replied dryly, “And the next youngest master, currently, is just about your age. They don't make Jedi Masters as young as me, especially when I started my training as old as I did.”

“You really are something special then,” Felix complimented. “You're not like any other Jedi I've ever met. It amazes me how the same Jedi order can turn out so many one-trick-eopie who are hardly more useful on the battlefield than a solider like me, and then a real jewel like you manages to rise out of the same training and save the galaxy.”

“I set food on Tython only once as a youth,” she replied, avoiding the specifics, “The rest of my training was carried out in the field by my master on the edge of Sith space. I did not return to Tython until just before I was knighted, to face my trials. My education was hardly ordinary.”

“And you are hardly ordinary yourself,” Felix praised, but this failed to elicit the smile he had hoped from her. “Though, the way Tharan brags about you is the same way he brags about his degrees and that generator thing he is working on, like you're something that he's done himself.” The moment the words were out of his mouth, he regretted his phrasing. Suddenly worried he offended her, he dared to make eye-contact, but the expression on her face told another story entirely.

“You didn't...” he stammered in disbelief. “I thought Tharan got all his entertainment from that hologirl.”

Cabrie looked away. “It seems that he does, after all,” she muttered to the floor.

“What? He treated you like one of his experiments?” Felix felt his temper rising. Come of think of it, he had noticed the way Tharan sometimes watched Cabrie while she never reciprocated. “What is he still doing on this ship?” He started to stand to go do—who knows what, but Cabrie seized his wrist with a strength that surprised even him.

“That was months ago,” she argued, fixing her piercing green eyes on him, “He earns his keep here. We need a medic on board.”

“Really? With you as a healer?” he demanded. “Doesn't he have any respect for you?”

“In his own way,” Cabrie tempered. She looked away again and spoke more softly, “Don't blame him, Felix. I was lonely.”

He relaxed back into his chair and Cabrie released his wrist. “You? Lonely? Everywhere we go there are more people wanting to talk to you than you could ever have time for,” he marveled.

“Try being the youngest Jedi Master in the order, the first Barsen'thor in over five thousand years, and the one person everyone keeps looking to to save the planet—the whole Republic some time,” she replied dryly, “And if you still can't figure it out after all that, ask me again.”

“I'm sorry,” he apologized, “I didn't meant to...”

“Don't worry,” she responded, “I know you meant well.”

“You really do have a lot on your shoulders,” Felix replied, “But I was assigned to you to be your support. I may not be the Barsen'thor, but I can still be of more help than monitoring security feeds. Just let me know when you need a hand with anything. It seems like everything they ask you to do is world-shaking important.”

“You'd be surprised,” she smirked, “It wasn't that long ago that I rescued a crate of stuffed animals for a full grown man from a rackghoul-invested village.”

“That's why I like serving under you,” Felix pointed out, “You take the needs of civilians and the military seriously.”

Suddenly, Cabrie stood up. “And it is pleasure having you to rely on in these dark times,” she said, returning to her usual enigmatic phrasing. “Thank you for your hard work.” With a respectful bow, she turned and left. Felix did not even have time to salute her before she was gone. He wanted to kick himself for pressing too far into her personal life. That was hardly professional or even respectful. He doubted she would stay long for casual chats again any time soon.

- Next Part -


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