Vernice Ashdal

From As Long As There Is Hope
Excerpt by Jemmiah
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"Well, hello again." Vernice smiled casually. "I was hoping we might meet."

"What are you doing here?" Jemmiah frowned as she closed the door behind her. "Rusa's supposed to relieve me here."

Vernice noticed that the girl looked suddenly shocked as if some appalling idea had occurred to her, blood seemingly rushing from her face.

"Not Rusa too…" he voice trailed off.

"Sorry?" Vernice puzzled. "I don't understand."

"It doesn't matter." Some of the strength seemed to return to her voice and the Corellian limped purposefully towards the table. "I was just taking some food up to one of the guests. Some strange kid with freaky hair."

"Oh, him." Vernice stifled a laugh at the description of what was undoubtedly Obi-Wan. Kenobi had a slight vain streak to his nature that he tried to bury deep down but it frequently surfaced. Quite how the padawan would react to the description applied to him she wouldn't like to say. "Yes, I believe I have seen him in passing."

"He seemed normal enough," Jemmy sat down, wincing as pain radiated from her ankle, "Considering some of the weirdoes you get here."

The master stared at her for a moment, taking little time to home in on the source of her discomfort.

"What's the matter with your ankle?" she enquired.

"How did you know there was anything wrong with it?" Jemmy shot back. "This place is getting stranger by the minute! If you aren't some kind of magician person then what are you? How did you know?"

"I could see the pain in your face." Vernice said simply. "Just like I can see the sickness you are trying to hide from everyone else. You must know you can't hide here forever."

Jemmy made a big show of looking at her ankle.

"How did you injure yourself?" Vernice persisted. "Did you fall?"

"I didn't injure myself. That kriffing Keleskladt did it for me!" Jemmiah hissed as she viewed the discolored and swollen flesh near her foot. "I heard it go crunch. I thought he'd snapped it."

"Will you let me take a look?" the jedi asked her. "I won't hurt you, I promise. I might be able to make it a little less painful to walk on."

The Corellian regarded her suspiciously but carefully moved around so that Vernice could get a better look at the damage, unsure what the older woman was planning to do without the aid of any bandages, first aid kit or even the ubiquitous bag of freezing ice. Vernice viewed the injury for a moment from every angle before speaking.

"Do you know what the force is?" Vernice asked her, not taking her eyes from her ankle.

"Sorry?" Jemmiah made a show of not understanding. "The what?"

"Force." Continued Vernice in a calming voice. "It's what I am using to heal the damage to your leg. You've got other bruises too, haven't you?"

"Maybe." Jemmy admitted. "A few. But what's this force stuff?"

"The force exists around us. It lives in us and in all things, and in the things we create too. We can't see it, but for those who recognize its existence we can tap into it and use it in our everyday lives."

She could see a mixture of confusion and mistrust on Jemmiah's face and smiled inwardly. She hadn't exactly won her over yet.

"So you can heal me with this invisible stuff?" Jemmy's voice held a degree of skepticism.

"To a certain extent, yes." Vernice nodded. "I can help speed up the natural regenerative process a little, but I'm certainly no healer." She eyed the child surreptitiously. "Have you heard of the Jedi?"

Jemmiah wracked her brains, some stray memory tugging at her thoughts. "Yes," she replied, desperately trying to remember. "We used to play at Jedi when we were small. My brother tied me to a tree and told me he was gonna rescue me." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Then he left me there for half a day in the pouring rain."

"I didn't know you had a brother." Vernice looked surprised. "Is he on Corellia?"

"No, ma'am. He's dead." Jemmy shrugged.

As Vernice quietly continued to heal the girl as best she could Jemmiah started to piece things together, including the strange happenings that she would normally not be able to account for, straight from one of Nadine's ghost tales. Jemmy had wondered briefly if she were going mad the more her illness progressed but now…

"That's how you made the plate float in the air!" Jemmy stated confidently. "You used this force thing, didn't you?"

"Yes that's right." Vernice replied, concentrating on her healing.

"So, where's your laser whatsit?" Jemmiah frowned, making a sweeping movement with her arms to mimic the use of a sword. "I thought you were supposed to have one, or am getting mixed up with something else?"

"No, you are correct." Vernice answered after a moment. "I do have a sabre. But I don't have it with me because that would just attract attention to who I am. And I could really do without that right now."

"I'll bet!" Jemmy's eyes rounded.

She paused for a moment.

"You're not the only Jedi here, are you?" she whispered.

"What makes you say that?" Vernice looked up sharply from her ministrations and met Jemmiah's eyes.

"Because that boy I was telling you about, the one with the strange hair?" she spoke in an almost idle, carefree way as if secretly pleased that she had uncovered some big secret. "He mind-whammied Keleskladt when he was beating up on me. Else I'd have had broken ribs for sure." Jemmy rubbed at her painful, bruised side as she remembered. "Am I right or am I right? Is he another one? Are there any more here?"

Vernice was mightily impressed but not entirely sure how much she should give away. More was resting on this outcome than their own safety. Depending on how this episode ended lay the lives of many, many people. Everyone in this pit of degradation was in a lot of danger, that much was obvious to Vernice now. Giving away Qui-Gon's identity was not something she imagined he would approve of, yet the man had requested the opportunity to meet and question the child himself. Her mind thus turning, she hardly noticed Jemmiah's quiet voice.

"You can trust me." She said in a shy voice. "I've got nothing left to lose."

"I know that." Vernice replied after a moment had passed. What exactly was she to say? How much should she divulge?

"I've decided to help you." Jemmy continued carefully. "But you've got to promise me something."

"And what is that?" Vernice felt her breath catch slightly as she waited for the reply.

"If you've got a way out of here you've got to leave as soon as you can. Things might get a bit nasty here for a while once they realize you're gone. Maybe we can make it look like you've fallen off the cliffs or something." Jemmy frowned, not certain how to make up a viable excuse that Merdan would swallow. "But you'd better get out of here quick smart. You and the funny looking boy and anyone else you've got here. Merdan will find out soon." She swallowed slightly. "He finds out everything eventually."

"I give you my word." Vernice grasped Jemmiah's small hands. "But I also have a condition. You come with us."

Jemmiah didn't react in the way that Vernice expected her to. There had been perhaps a momentary flicker of excitement and hope but it was soon extinguished by the realities of the situation they faced. Instead Vernice sensed resignation and a certain amount of irony from the girl.

"I'm sorry, I can't." Jemmy replied finally.

"But you have to!" Vernice insisted. "Don't you see? You will die here!"

"I know." Agreed Jemmiah. "I've known that since the day I arrived on this planet. But I can't leave without the others, it just wouldn't be right. If you took me with you you'd have to take the others too and you can't do that, can you?"

"No." Vernice shook her head. "No we can't. There's nothing I want more than to help but that's not possible."

"I know." Jemmy agreed, looking far wiser than her childlike face suggested. "And that's why I can't go."

"Please reconsider." Vernice begged. "Don't you want to leave?"

Jemmiah twisted at her hair in agitation, not knowing how to answer. Of course she wanted to leave. She wanted it more than anything. To have this escape route placed before her but then to find it closed off was almost so intolerable as to make her cry, but she never cried in front of grown ups. Infact she rarely cried at all.

"I've dreamed of nothing else for five years." She hung her head. "But I won't go without Nadine and the others. They deserve it more than me. They've been here longer. Merdan gets rid of those that look too old. He says it’s bad for business."

"But you are sick." Vernice reminded her. "Surely that entitles you to as equal a chance as Nadine?"

"That's not how things work here." Jemmy answered with a tired attempt at a smile. "I'm sorry but I can't go with you."

Vernice felt utterly astonished and bewildered at the rejection of her offer. She knew that she would have to get Qui-Gon on her side somehow to affect a turnaround in fortune but one way or another Vernice vowed she was taking the girl out with her, even if she had to hit her on the head and drag her away. Somewhat drastic perhaps but it wouldn't be the first time she had done it. Dex still claimed he had the lump on his head to prove it…

"How does the leg feel?" Vernice asked, breaking the silence that had grown between them.

"Tingly." Jemmy said in a surprised voice. "Warm. It's not as bad as it was."

"Good. That means it's working." Vernice frowned to herself. "Although maybe not as well as I had hoped. Nevermind, I'm afraid it's the best I can do."

"That's okay." Jemmy looked down at her ankle. "I didn't really expect anything." The Corellian regarded her silently for a moment. "What is it you need to know?"

"Remember that person I mentioned? The one I was looking for?" Vernice asked her. "I'm here on official business. The Chancellor has sent myself and two friends on this mission. The person who is missing is very special to him. Her name is Inga Calton. We are trying to find out what happened to her. Can you help me?"

Jemmy stared at the floor. "The envoy?"

"Yes!" Vernice exclaimed in an excited voice. "The envoy! Where is she?"

"She's at the bottom of Kilmartra's cliff." Jemmy answered.

"What?!?"

"I remember her." Jemmiah cast her mind back a matter of weeks. "She had honey colored hair and really pale skin. I saw her from a distance. She refused to work with the other women and Merdan thought she might be more trouble than she was worth so Keleskladt got rid of her. Then she was dug up again and thrown over the cliff side so that nobody would find her."

"Are you sure?" Vernice felt an almost crushing sense of defeat at the news. It was no more than she had been expecting and yet she had still hoped…

"I'm sure." Jemmy shuddered as she recalled the burial detail earlier that day.

That was it then. Their task was done. Valorum could take whatever action he deemed necessary, if any, but there was nothing left for herself, Qui-Gon and his padawan to do now other than escape. If only there had been some evidence though to link Merdan with the death of Inga Calton, some definite proof…then surely the senate would go to war against places like the settlement here on Nargotria.

"Jemmiah, I need to get hold of some proof of Inga's death, or at least that she was here. I know, I believe you," Vernice held up her hand to stave off the scowling protest, "but if Valorum is going to free these people we need some kind of evidence for what is going on here. Is there anything you know of that might help?"

"I…I don't know." Jemmy stammered at the thought of what she was about to suggest. "But I have to clean and dust Merdan's office tomorrow morning. I might be able to look through his things, but I think he has most of them locked away."

"Don't take any risks!" Vernice urged her.

"Like I said, I've nothing to lose now." Jemmiah tried to calm the sudden pounding in her heart. "I'll see what I can do for you. It might not be much, depending on how much time I have."

The door clicked open and a rather surprised face popped round the door.

"I'm sorry I was late." Rusa eyed the two as they sat beside each other, jumping with a guilty start. "I got delayed…"

"Vernice was just keeping me company. I hurt my ankle." Jemmy displayed the swollen foot to Rusa.
"Looks sore." Rusa frowned as she bent over to examine it. "You need to get some ice on that."

"I already have." Jemmy replied. "Thanks anyway. I'd better go to bed now. No doubt there will be a mountain of chores tomorrow and I want to make an early start."

She pushed herself up off the bench, using the table as her lever and tentatively limped back towards the direction of the door. Pausing to nod to both women, Jemmiah took her leave of the kitchen and hobbled off to her bed.

"Good kid, that." Rusa offered as she watched her leave. "It's a terrible shame her being stuck here."

"Yes." Vernice agreed, not wanting to think about the risk the girl would be taking on their behalf tomorrow. Sometimes there seemed to be no justice in the galaxy, no rhyme or reason. How could she just sit back and leave her there like Jemmiah had demanded?

"Yes, It's a terrible shame."