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View Full Version : [FIN]The Adventures of Jolee Bindo


Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 09:30 PM
Please feel free to leave comments here (http://www.lucasforums.com/showthread.php?t=161263). Thank you.

This is set shortly after the end of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Various characters and some dialogue have been adapted from the game.

The story is done, but I'm currently revising it, so chapters 17 and on will change slightly from time to time.

Thanks to everyone who commented--I appreciated the support, suggestions, and great ideas that you contributed. You helped me make it a better story. I enjoyed writing this and I'm glad you all enjoyed reading it.

Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 10:00 PM
The Adventures of Jolee Bindo
as told to Jae Onasi


Chapter 1: The Assignment

I stood before the Jedi Council on Coruscant, trying to remember Master Zhar’s teachings of the Jedi Code to calm the nervousness that seemed to well up unexpectedly and unwanted. Today was the day I would find out if I would be able to continue my training as a Jedi. If I wasn’t selected by a Jedi as a Padawan, I knew I would either return to Onderon or be sent to Telos to help with the Restoration Project. I was already much older than any other apprentice. I had been living on Onderon as a servant in the Queen’s household when Master Kavar discovered my Force affinity and petitioned the Council to waive the age limit. However, that exemption wouldn’t last forever.

“You thoughts betray you, Apprentice,” growled Master Vrook, “Your fear radiates from you.” Master Vrook was always the curmudgeon, but his ability to teach lightsaber and Force skills were unsurpassed. He was a tough teacher, but fair.

“Mind your teachings, Jae,” Master Zhar said calmly, “Let the emotions ebb and the peace will return.” I felt the encouragement from him. A Twi’lek Jedi master, he was my first instructor at the Academy, just as he was for many of the apprentices. He was known for his patient and supportive teaching.

I took a deep breath and willed the emotions to subside, repeating to myself the words of the Jedi code, “There is no emotion, there is peace….” The anxiety would do nothing to help this situation, and so I let it go.

“You have made great strides in your training since I first met you,” Master Kavar said, approvingly. “Your healing and saber skills are much stronger and your mind control is more focused.” He had discovered my affinity for the Force. What I had thought was just a talent for healing had turned out to be something much greater than I could ever have dreamed.

Master Vandar, “You have learned much in a very short time. That is why we have called you before us.” His species was diminutive but long-lived, though Master Vandar was only in his 400’s. He was extraordinarily gifted in the Force, even among the Masters. He showed great wisdom in teaching Force skills and strategy.

“A Master has agreed to accept you as Padawan.” Master Vash said. She was one of the younger Masters, but showed an ability in mediation that went well beyond her years.

I was elated, but my joy was short-lived when she announced, “Master Jolee Bindo has decided to take you as his student and teach you more of the ways of the Force.”

Master Jolee Bindo was a hero of the Star Forge Battle and recipient of the Republic’s highest honor, the Cross of Glory, along with Masters Revan and Bastila and their companions. He had left the Jedi Order some time ago, but after the defeat of Darth Malak, Master Revan convinced him to return. Master Revan thought the Council could benefit from Master Jolee’s unique experiences both in and out of the Order. The Council gladly welcomed him back, and, deeming his skills worthy of any Master Jedi, they awarded him that title. He agreed to take Padawans for training. However, he had developed quite the reputation among us apprentices as a Jedi who rejected a Padawan as quickly as accepting one. The Padawans were usually returned summarily to the Council with such terse comments as “She’s more fearful than a Wookie on his first hunt in the Shadowlands,” and “His pride is about to make his head explode. I won’t be responsible for cleaning his remains out of the ventilation systems after he aggravates the wrong person with his overbearing attitude.”

Master Vrook commented, “He is not as disciplined in training Padawans as I would like. Nevertheless, we feel Master Jolee and you complement each other in personality and skills. The two of you could become a strong team as you grow in the knowledge of the Force.”

“The decision is also yours,” Master Zhar added. “You may accept or decline his offer. We do not force anyone to enter into a teacher-student relationship. However, the Council feels this would be best for both of you.”

I reflected on all this for a moment. There were no other Jedi I knew who could take on a Padawan at this time. The Order was growing, but there still never seemed to be enough masters. I allowed my thoughts on Master Jolee to flow freely. I had no sense of turmoil telling me that this would not turn out well. I merely sensed strength and purpose in a merging of our paths—and a swirl of activity. We certainly wouldn’t be hermits meditating all day.

“Ah, your insight does serve you well,” Master Vandar observed, “Already you see how this path could be, but be mindful that the future is always in motion. Many paths you may yet follow.”

Master Kavar leaned forward in his chair and smiled, “You can see that it is the Force guiding your paths together, can’t you?”

I considered their words and made my decision. “I am honored that the Council has selected me for further training, and I am grateful for Master Jolee’s offer to take me as his Padawan,” I answered with no small degree of gravity. “I will work hard with him to learn the ways of the Force so I can become a worthy member of the Order.”

Master Vash noted with a nod of approval and a smile, “Yes, I do not sense that you will be the 11th Padawan that he abruptly returns to us.”

I raised an eyebrow at that one. I knew there had been several before me, but 10 others? She continued, “We have also noticed that you have great knowledge of history, and we need to make use of that skill. Many of the records of Master Jolee’s adventures were lost when Malak destroyed the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine. One of your tasks, in addition to your training, will be to talk with Master Jolee to reconstruct these records. His contributions in and out of the Order are significant, and we cannot afford to lose that wisdom and knowledge.”

I nodded my agreement at this task. History was a pursuit I enjoyed.

Master Zhar followed, “Jedi I’iwi leaves tomorrow for the same sector, so you will have time to gather your possessions and say your good-byes to your fellow apprentices today.”

Master Vrook added, “You will find him at times abrupt and impatient, but he nonetheless deserves your respect. He’s a crusty old man, but has a good heart.”

I immediately quashed the thought that Master Vrook obviously would be more acquainted with that attitude than anyone else would. Apparently, I didn’t stop that thought quickly enough, however—I caught faint smiles on the faces of both Master Kavar and Master Vandar.

Master Kavar stood along with all the others, walked over, and handed me a light brown Padawan robe. “The Queen wanted to make sure I gave you this as a gift from Her to remind you of home.”
I had been in Her service before leaving for Jedi training, but I had one of the minor servants. Her gift touched me deeply. The robe was well constructed of a sturdy material and had subtle but very intricate detailing around the collar. “It is exquisite. I am very honored by Her gracious gift. I will always think fondly of Onderon and my Queen when I wear this.”

After I had donned it, he embraced me warmly, and said, “We welcome you to the Order, Padawan Jae Onasi!”

* * *

I debarked from the shuttle and squinted into the bright sun, enjoying the warm breezes on my face and the faint perfume of flowers in the air mingling with the other scents of the planet. Every planet had its own unique scent, and this one was unusually attractive. Throngs of people bustled about, some focused and business-like, others loudly and excitedly greeting their arriving relatives or friends. I searched the platform for Master Jolee. Not seeing him, I stretched out in the Force to see if I could feel his presence.
I found him.

He was standing right behind me.

I turned around, not quite erasing my startled look. He looked taller in the holovids, but otherwise everything else was just as he appeared there—dark brown eyes and skin, bald, mostly gray beard. The holovids never quite caught the essence of the eyes, though—his showed intelligence, the weight of his myriad experiences in life, and a bit of crinkling at the sides showing he was no stranger to the humor in life.

“Well, it’s about time you finally noticed I was there,” Jolee snorted. “I was beginning to wonder if Vrook had sent me some kind of Force-blind idiot. Your first lesson: Always be aware of your surroundings. Sometimes things come from your blind side, and enemies certainly will exploit that.”

This was my introduction to the man who would both delight me with his wit and frustrate me to no end with his gruff ways.

I could only manage a rather meek “Yes, Master Jolee,” as I absorbed that lesson.

He continued, “Come, you’ve had a long flight. I’ll take that,” he said, taking some of my gear out of my hands. He noted my surprise. “What? Just because I’m supposed to be some master Jedi type, I can’t help a tired Padawan and carry a bag? Come on. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch good traffic back to our quarters and our dinner won’t have burned. And don’t stand there with your mouth half open. The flies around here taste terrible.” He screwed up his face in mock distaste. I couldn’t help but laugh, and off we went.

When we arrived at his quarters, he showed me my room and set my gear down. “It’s not big, but it’s comfortable. You unpack and I’ll finish dinner.”

“Thank you, Master Jolee, this is very nice,” I replied. It was indeed nice—larger than most quarters I’d lived in, with solid, comfortable furniture and a small office off the spacious bedroom. A large window overlooked a nature preserve with a small brook meandering between trees filled with colorful birds, and the scene was very peaceful.

“Every time you say ‘Master’, it makes me want to look around for someone else like Vrook. I’d rather you just called me Jolee.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

Jolee rolled his eyes in mock dismay, “Well, granted I’m old, and I’ve certainly earned the title of ‘Sir’ and some respect, but if we’re going to be working together closely in tough situations, we can dispense with some of the formalities. I certainly know a lot more than you about the Force and I’m going to teach you a lot of about it, but we’re both Jedi. Unless,” he added with a bit of humor in his eyes, “we’re in front of the Council. I think Vrook likes to see the Padawans virtually grovel at the feet of their Masters. Play it up then.”

I grinned at that.

“While you’re at it, throw that Padawan robe in the refresher. It needs it,” he said. I quickly inspected my robe to make sure I hadn’t soiled it somehow. He went on, “What, you think I’m complaining about some smell or a little dirt? I’m not making inferences about your hygiene, you know. I just happened to notice you’re scratching your neck a lot where the collar is rubbing. It’s a new robe, and if you run it through the refresher a couple times, it won’t be as stiff. We Jedi get into plenty of uncomfortable spots. You may as well have a comfortable robe. Now, when you’re done putting your stuff away, find the kitchen. You don’t need the Force for that—your nose should be good enough. A Jedi who depends just on the Force and forgets his own senses is a fool.” He walked off to finish the meal preparations while I put away my belongings.

After we had finished a good dinner, I told him about the project that the Council wanted me to do during my training with him. “Why in the world do you want to talk history with me? Books aren’t going to teach you Jedi skills. You should be out making history, not standing around chatting up old men! You’re not getting any younger, you know.” Jolee protested at the request to chronicle his adventures as a Jedi.

“Well, a lot of people could learn a lot of things from your experiences,” I offered.

Jolee grunted, “Humph. A lot of people could learn a lot of things if they just opened their eyes long enough to look around and really see what’s going on in the world, too, and I don’t see that happening.” He leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin while considering the proposal. “Well, if you’re willing to listen to an old man’s tales every now and then, I suppose I could humor you with this little project of yours. However, I’m going to do it on my timetable and talk about what I want to talk about. You can do that when you get to my age, and you’ll just have to deal with it.” He then went over, sat down at his workbench, and proceeded to look over one of his projects.

I was willing to go along with his decision, given that I really had no other choice. So I waited for him to start a story. And waited, and waited, and waited.

When I tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn, he looked up. “You still here? My throat is dry, and you need rest after a long trip! I’ll have something for you tomorrow.”

“But, sir…” I began to argue.

“Don’t give me that ‘Sir’ stuff. Out! Shoo!” and with that, I was dismissed for the night.

Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 10:27 PM
Chapter 2: The Story of Apprentice Sitor

The violet blade of Jolee’s lightsaber hummed perilously close to my right ear. I barely ducked out of the way and quickly turned as we battled through our fourth practice run. We both had shields on, but that didn’t alter the realism of the duel one bit. Jolee whirled the blade around to try to hit my left arm while I was still slightly off balance. I stepped out to regain a more stable stance and parried his lightsaber just in time, but he anticipated that move, and in the blink of an eye, was moving to strike my right leg. I dropped the blade down quickly to catch his. My turquoise blade hummed as I circled it up to gain control of his blade, nearly succeeding in making the saber slip out of his hands. He deftly slid his blade over the top of mine to escape that catch, and drove the blade straight in toward my chest. I brought my blade to center quickly to deflect the attack, barely in time, and our blades crackled as they struck each other. I kept my blade pressed against his, hearing the electric hiss as the blades touched, trying to find a weakness in his stance. Suddenly, my saber gave way as he quickly pulled his blade down under mine while stepping left. With my blade too far over to my left, I realized my right side was wide open, and he slashed my right leg as quickly as that thought crossed my mind. Even with the shield on, the impact still smarted. I stepped back out of the practice ring, frustrated and breathing heavily. I found a towel to wipe the sweat out of my eyes and off my face. Jolee had just a sheen of moisture on his forehead and looked like he hadn’t been doing anything difficult. I was drenched with the perspiration from all the fighting.

Jolee went over to the bench to take a drink of water, “Diluvian water,” he told me, “it’s the best kind in the galaxy. Of course, it means visiting an ice cold planet to get it, but some things are worth the sacrifice.”

I smiled weakly at that. He then walked back over to where I was sitting on the ground trying to stretch out my legs so they wouldn’t stiffen up from all the practice and the strikes where Jolee got through my defense. He sat down on the bench next to me.

“You’re getting better. At least I’m not nailing you in one shot without you so much as even starting a block anymore,” he noted, approval in his voice.
I thought I had learned some decent lightsaber skills at the Jedi Academy. That was until I sparred with Jolee the first time and got repeatedly tagged on the very first shot. Sometimes, to my chagrin, I got hit before I even was able to get out of the ready position." He took another sip of water and continued, “You still aren’t allowing the Force to guide some of your strikes, though, and you’re on the defensive too much of the time. If you let the Force flow through more, you’ll be able to anticipate my moves better. Of course, that just means I’ll have to get sneakier in my attacks, you know.” He patted my shoulder and got up off the bench. “Come on, let’s take a break from this and work on those shooting and lightsaber throwing skills.”
We went to the shooting range and picked up a blaster pistols.

“I can understand being familiar with a ranged weapon, but why do you want me to develop an expertise?” I asked.

“My master told me when I was a Padawan, ‘Your lightsaber is your life, and without it you are defenseless.’ He was right. But you never know when you might need a backup,” he answered with a mischievous grin as he hefted the blaster.

“Has anyone told you that you’re just ornery sometimes?” I replied, smiling.

“I was born ornery. I never gave my mother a moment’s rest, I’m sure. Probably one of the reasons she sent me to the Jedi,” he retorted, “You need to get on with that shooting. You think you’re so young that you can waste all day doing nothing? Go on now!” I sighted on the target and started the practice.

Once Jolee was satisfied that my marksman skills were, as he called them, sufficient for that day, we worked on throwing lightsabers. I tossed out my saber, guided the blue-green blade around the target, and directed it neatly back to my hand. I was pleased that my throw equaled Jolee’s in length.

“Nice throw, good control. Always keep your eye on that saber, Jae. The moment you take your eyes off of it is the moment it’ll fly back and cut your head off.”

He nodded for me to keep going, and then proceeded to do just about anything to distract me while I continued throwing my lightsaber. At one point, he actually jumped in front of my line of sight. It took all my Force ability to deflect the lightsaber and then will it back into my hand before it sliced both of us. I felt a flash of anger at what appeared to me to be an incredibly stupid maneuver. I tried to calm that burst of rage, silently repeating to myself the words of the Jedi code before I said to him, “Jolee, jumping in front of a flying lightsaber is not exactly what I’d call an intelligent maneuver.”

Jolee looked amused. “You have to be prepared for the unexpected in combat. And, if you really believe I was in any danger from that, you have a lot to learn, missy. I’m a master, remember? While that doesn’t make me invincible, it does mean that I’ve learned a few tricks. I was dodging weapon attacks long before your mother put your first diaper on you. Battles are very unpredictable things. They’re noisy and full of distractions, and nothing is going to be static long enough for you to study it in detail like a dejarik game. Sometimes you’re just going to have to trust your instincts and feelings and review the details later. Do you know anyone who’s going to say to themselves, ‘hey, there’s a Jedi throwing a lightsaber my way. I think I’ll stand still to make it easier for her to hit me!’? Well, OK, maybe Gamorreans might be dumb enough to do that, but everyone else is going to scatter, create mass chaos, or get in your way. Jedi or no, when the battle ends, you’ll be standing there recovering from the adrenaline rush and marveling that you survived the fray. Now throw that blade a few more times before we find some dinner.”

As I tossed my blade out and then caught it on its return, Jolee commented, “You know, all this saber-tossing reminds me of this apprentice named, what was it--Sirot? No, that’s not it. Sotor? No, no…Sitor, that’s it, that’s the one. Well, here we were on Coruscant, and I got saddled with teaching this green apprentice Sirot some lightsaber skills. He grew up on T’lon, where they all cut their teeth on blasters, and he just thought his souped-up Baragwin disruptor pistol was the greatest thing since sliced tsookie worms. We’d been practicing the throw lightsaber technique, and he decided after one lesson that he was now an expert. Do you think he listened to me about always watching for the returning lightsaber? Well, we ended up over in the Eloni cantina--great food, better Juma juice, they need a new Bith accordion player--and we walked in on just the biggest cantina fight I've seen in a decade. Blaster bolts flying, bartender ducking, people getting tossed over tables, heh-heh, good Juma getting wasted--good challenge for an apprentice Jedi to deal with. Anyway, about 4, maybe 5 Rodians saw us and decided we were going to ruin their fun and they started shooting. Junior Jedi threw his saber--beautiful distance, nice arc, got about 3 of those Rodians, not bad for an apprentice. But then the blaster-brain thinks he's got enough time to shoot the other 2 with that crazy disruptor while he’s waiting for his darn lightsaber to return. He got a few rounds off, and forgot about the saber for a moment. Suddenly, it was flying around crazy, and I had to duck and roll to get out of the way. He didn’t see it return till it was in his face. He ducked, but not quite fast enough, and managed to cut off the tip of his nose. Vandar, of all the Jedi, chewed me out for letting that happen. Actually, I think it improved Sitor’s appearance. Made him more distinguished looking. He never shot off a blaster while carrying his lightsaber again, I guarantee it.”

“You must be joking,” I said incredulously.

“Do I look like a comedian? Sometimes there’s more humor in the truth. I don’t plan on giving you made-up stories for that little task of yours, you know. Now, it’s time for something to eat. I know a fine cantina around the corner. It’s a hole in the wall place, but it has some of the finest food this side of the planet. Let’s go.”

I smiled as I hooked the lightsaber to my belt and put on my robe. I left the pistol on the gun rack.

Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 10:57 PM
Chapter 3: Jolee’s First Mission


We had been hiking in the nature preserve for our exercise that day when Jolee stopped short.

“Did you feel that?” he asked quietly.

“I feel the creatures around me, and I can feel a small disturbance, but I can’t pinpoint it.” I replied in hushed tones.

“Well, it’s about time you started noticing those things. Young people never notice the tiny details, but I have hope for you yet,” he said, not unkindly. He continued, “The disturbance is over a ways in those bushes.”

“Ah, I can sense it now. It’s a small animal—a bird, I think, that’s been injured,” I stated, stretching my Force sense more.

“Good, your Force sense is improving. That sense can save you a lot of trouble one day, because it’ll give you a little warning before something attacks. That bird is an Arkalian warbler, to be precise, and those birds are very rare. We need to save this one if possible,” he noted.

“I didn’t know you could identify specific species through the Force,” I said, a bit surprised.

“If you know the specific fauna of the planet well, usually you can. In this case, I happened to use my ears. You have 5 others senses besides the Force, you know, and I’ll remind you to use them, thank you very much. I heard the warbler call over in those bushes. The Arkalian warbler song is unique, and it stopped the same time as the disturbance started. Nothing magic about that,” snorted Jolee. “See if you can find it without terrifying the rest of the creatures, please. I could do it, but then you wouldn’t be learning anything, now, would you?” and then he sat down on a log. “I’m going to sit here and meditate or whatever a Jedi’s supposed to do when they’re waiting around for something to happen. Now go, and don’t kill anything in the process.”

Right then, I swatted a fly that had bit me on the neck. I grinned at the timing while Jolee rolled his eyes in mock dismay and made little ‘shoo’ motions at me with his hands.

I walked as quietly as I could to avoid disturbing the other animals and tried to radiate calm as I approached so that I wouldn’t startle the bird. As I came near the bush where it was perching, I stretched out my senses more, and I could feel its pain and terror. I surrounded it with feelings of calm. Realizing the bird would be better off if it was sleeping while I approached and handled it, I ever so slowly entered its mind and carefully willed it to sleep. When I located it on a branch, its eyes were closed peacefully. I picked it up gently and brought it over to where Jolee was sitting. I sat down on the log next to him and began examining the beautiful bright blue and green bird.

“What a gorgeous bird. The coloring is incredible,” said Jolee in a hushed voice, “nicely done putting it to sleep, Jae. Your compassion serves you well. Not to mention if it was awake it’d probably have a little bird heart attack at all our handling.”

I inspected its broken wing and cuts; a predator must have caught it briefly. I closed my eyes to start the healing trance. As I ‘looked’ inside the warbler, I could see the ragged edges of the bones and tissues. I started healing from the deepest layers and then worked my way out, beginning with the wing bones. I knit them together as best I could, trying to make the edges smooth. I felt the muscles and other tissues heal, and then finally the skin. After inspecting the warbler for any other wounds or illnesses, I handed it back to Jolee.

“Kavar was right when he said you had a gift for healing. It takes some masters and most Jedi a lot longer to accomplish the same type of healing, but it took you only a few seconds,” he commented, as he looked the bird over carefully, “you did a good job finding all the injuries and caring for them. I’d smooth the bone just a little more to optimize his flight.” He closed his eyes for a moment, and I sensed the bone edges smooth out even more.

“That was fast,” I commented.

“I’ve had a lot of practice over the years. Too much practice, I’d say,” he retorted. When he was satisfied, I returned the bird to a safe branch and slowly started to wake it up as I backed away. While returning to Jolee, I saw a shadow start to creep over me, and I suddenly felt the ravenous hunger of a creature. His hunting instincts were active and he had his prey in sight…I turned suddenly and saw the Terrien mountain cat crouch on his powerful legs and launch himself at me. He was a huge cat, probably several hundred pounds—much larger than most of his species. He was easily 12 feet long, and had the sharp claws and rows of 4-inch long needle-like teeth typical of his kind. In less than a heartbeat, the turquoise blade of my lightsaber flashed, lighting up the shadows under the trees. Remembering Jolee’s admonition not to kill, at the last moment I enveloped him in the most powerful stasis field I could create and then jumped to the side with all my might. I rolled on the ground and then sprang up immediately into the ready position, lightsaber flashing. When I looked back, the cat was frozen in mid-attack, claws extended, mouth wide open for the kill, only inches away from where my head had been just moments before.

Jolee came running as I tried to catch my breath. He grinned, “You got him just in time, I’d say, or I’d be pulling pieces of you out of that stomach of his.” He circled the still-frozen beast and peered into its maw. He touched the tip of one of the teeth. “Still sharp,” he noted, “and this one needs some dental work. Talk about bad breath, whew!” he shook his head in distaste as he finished his inspection. Before the mountain cat could recover from my stasis field, Jolee stunned the cat into a deep unconsciousness and then called the nature preserve rangers to inform them of what had just happened. “We’ll wait here for you, then,” he replied to them and then signed off. He nodded at me, “they should be here in about 10 minutes or so. We’ll stay here to make sure kitty doesn’t get any ideas about waking up, though he should be down for a good few hours or so.”

We both sat down to wait.

“You know, this reminds me a bit of when I was in the Exar Kun war. I was a Padawan, and another Jedi, Elorri’ani, was assigned with me. The war had just started, and it was my very first mission. Our job was to locate as many temples as possible on the surface of the moon circling Yavin IV. Exar Kun had these Dark temples hidden so well in the forest that the only way to find them was through the Force. Once we marked them, the Republic could bomb the sites. Elorri’ani was great at easing by guards and slaves. His skill with stealth was amazing, and sometimes I lost him myself. However, he had the worst luck with the creatures on that moon. Kind of like you and the cat here. I don’t know if he just smelled yummy or what it was, but the animals always seemed to sense he was there and then attack the poor man thinking he was an easy lunch. I don’t know how many times he got attacked there and how many times I had to heal him, but I sure got a lot of practice,” he chuckled, “By the time I was done with that mission, I was able to heal as well as my master.”

He went on, “We managed to sneak by a couple of guards, not that they were that observant, mind you, since they were convinced they couldn’t be found. We were working our way down a narrow hallway of the tomb to set the final locator beacon. We made it to the center of the temple and entered a large room when a Dark Jedi finally spotted us. I knew right away we were going to have trouble—that Dark Jedi virtually oozed Dark side power. If he wasn’t a Sith Lord, he should have been. He sauntered over our way, smugly looked us up and down, and said ‘Today is a good day to die,’ or something equally inane. I’ll never understand why the Sith can’t get more creative with their threats. Anyway, he ignited his lightsaber for the battle, and we got into our ready stance. He attacked, and we battled for several minutes, lightsabers flashing furiously. He was powerful, I tell you, and we were having a tough time keeping up. Neither of us could get any advantage. The best we could hope for was to wear him down enough for one of us to slip through his defenses to hit him. Then he started to hit us with Force Lightning. My shield absorbed some of it, but it threw me back and I couldn’t move for a few moments. Elorri’ani did better, and deftly bounced the lightning straight up off his blade. Unfortunately, the lightning bounced off a large hive of Yavin bees high up near the top of the temple. Normally, Yavin bees are innocuous, and I tell you, they make some of the finest honey in the galaxy. We’ll have to pick some up next time we’re out in that sector. Well, these bees didn’t take too kindly to having their home fried, and out they flew in a huge angry swarm. Elorri’ani looked up briefly, saw the swarm coming, gave that ‘oh no, not again’ look, but gamely kept fighting. That Sith Jedi was so arrogant he didn’t even bother to glance at what Elorri’ani had just looked at. Elorri’ani and I managed to get a field up around ourselves just in time to hold them off. The bees flew down and started stinging everything in sight—us, guards, this Dark Jedi, maybe even tried a droid or two. When the rest of the hive fell down from the top of the temple on top of that Sith Jedi, the bees really got unhappy. If we hadn’t been fighting for our lives, it might have been funny—picture an evil Jedi covered with honey and pieces of hive, dancing around trying to get the bees out from under his armor and robes. Suddenly he started choking and wheezing, and collapsed right in front of us. Turns out this mighty Dark Jedi happened to be terribly allergic to bees. He was dead before we could do anything. We set the beacon and ran out of there, passing I don’t know how many guards swatting and running away from the bees themselves. The Republic hit that temple dead center a couple hours later, and they gave us both some kind of medal for heroism for ‘maximum utilization of available resources’. I think they should have given the bees a medal while they were at it. Somehow some general noticed this and decided we needed more responsibility in the war—oh, the rangers are here.” He got up and explained the entire story of the Terrien cat to them.

One of the rangers spoke, “This is the cat we’ve been trying to catch for awhile, and he’s eluded us every time. He’s attacked several people, and we needed to get him out of the preserve. We appreciate you notifying us right away. We’re going to transfer him to a zoo so he can’t attack anyone anymore.” The rangers sedated the cat so that he’d be unconscious for some time, and placed him in a containment field for the transfer. “Thank you again, Master Jedi,” the ranger said, “you’ve saved others from serious attacks and maybe even death.”

“Padawan Jae here did most of the work. She’s the one who really deserves the thanks.” Jolee replied.

“We’re very grateful, Padawan,” he said, turning to look at me thankfully. I smiled and nodded pleasantly to acknowledge their gratitude. They left in the transport.

“Now where was I again?” Jolee asked.

“You’d just finished the story about the Dark Jedi and the bees, and how a general was going to give you more responsibility,” I answered, helpfully.

“Well, that general’s boring anyway, and I’m hungry. Let’s go back into the city and find a bite to eat. I’ll tell you more later about how I got more involved in the war,” he said, turning onto a path to hike back out of the preserve.

When we returned to our quarters, there was an urgent message waiting for us.

“This should be interesting,” Jolee said as he called up the holovid. We watched as the figure of Master Vandar appeared on the projector.

“Master Jolee, the Council requests both you and Padawan Jae to return to Coruscant at your earliest convenience. We have a matter of vital importance to discuss with you.” The message was short and Vandar’s figure disappeared from the projector.

“I wonder what that’s all about,” I mused. I could sense the swirl of activity approaching.

Jolee looked at me with a smile and a touch of excitement playing in his eyes. “We’ll find out what it is soon enough, but I suspect we’re not going to have any quiet days for awhile. Gather your gear, we’re leaving immediately.”
We left for Coruscant on the very next transport.

Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 11:14 PM
Chapter 4: The Lesson on Feeling Surroundings

As we settled into the plush seats of the transport ship to Coruscant, I asked again about Jolee’s experiences with a general after his first mission.

“If I’m going to work yapping my lips for your little project, you have to work feeling the Force on this ship while we travel. A Jedi gets soft sitting around doing nothing,” he ordered, shaking his finger.

I grinned my assent and went to work feeling the ship and her passengers while Jolee told his story.

“Well,” he mused, “our little mission caught the eye of General Motani. She had a keen eye for finding talented people to handle special missions. Why she felt Elorri’ani and I fell into that category after the bees did all the work, I’ll never know. Nevertheless, she arranged for us to be assigned to her command. My master agreed the military experience would be most beneficial, so off I went to a cushy assignment as some general’s pawn, or so I thought until I hit her training center. I felt like I was in boot camp all over again. There’s nothing like an Echana general to really make you feel like a complete idiot in the dueling circle.”

“The Echani are incredible warriors—I can only imagine what it was like sparring one of their generals,” I commented with just a bit of wonder.

“Well, you know how those master chefs can dice up a 3 foot long Manaan tuna in about 45 seconds? Let’s just say I felt like one of those tuna for a very long time. A very diced-up dead tuna. After our first duel, she declared that I’d be a worthy opponent—for her seven-year-old daughter.”

I couldn’t suppress the chuckle that escaped, picturing a tiny Echani girl besting a Jedi.

“I see I’ll have to put you in your place with some Echani stances at our next sparring practice,” he snorted in mock annoyance. “We’ll see if you can even get one hit in after that.”

I smiled. He would do just that, too, and I’d be healing more than a few bruises after those sessions. While I continued to listen to his story, I concentrated further on the ship and the people around me—a tendril of darkness curled around the edges of my awareness. There was no way to track it because it was too faint, so I decided to be patient and let it reveal itself. Instinctively, though, my hand reached for my lightsaber Whatever the threat was, it wasn’t ready to strike just yet, so I willed myself to relax until the moment arrived and serenely placed my hands back in my lap.

My movement did not escape Jolee’s notice, but he went on as if he saw nothing. “Her weapons skills saved my behind more than a couple times, but the time I remember best was when we infiltrated the hidden base on Ossus.”

“Wasn’t the planet destroyed, though?” I asked.

“This was before that sun went ‘poof!’” Jolee replied, waving his hands out to mimic an explosion. “It wasn’t all that long ago, you know.”

The darkness continued to creep deeper into my consciousness, and slowly its form started to coalesce. It was one or two men, planning something, but I couldn’t yet determine who they were or what the plan was. I discreetly scanned the crowd but could not see anything amiss. I noticed Jolee scanning the group as well, but he made no indication that he found anything.

He went on with his story, but I could sense he was also thinking about the impending problem that we would have to face, “Exar Kun had set up a hidden base on Ossus in an attempt to spy on the Jedi. The Republic found it. Our job was to infiltrate the base, find any information and Force-users that we could, and destroy the base if necessary. Even General Motani was involved in case we could find anything on Exar Kun or Ulic Qel-Droma. We suited up in camouflage, and we were inserted near the outskirts of the base along with Motani’s Elite Forces team members. Motani and I had to take out a couple guards while some other soldiers cracked the code to get inside. We then were supposed to go in, do reconnaissance, download whatever information we could, take out or incapacitate any Sith we could find, and get out as quickly and quietly as possible.”

“You make it sound like it didn’t go quite as planned,” I interjected. There was a heavy sinister anticipation in the air around us, now. It was definitely two men, somewhere forward of us, planning some kind of attack.

“Shush! Didn’t anyone tell you not to interrupt your elders? You’re right, it didn’t go as planned. No military plans ever stay the same once they feel the heat of battle. Anyway, Motani and I made it in the base, along with another pair of the Elites. They split off from us to go look for the energy and shield generators, and we went to look for the central control for the computers to see if we could break in and download any intelligence. Motani had seen more than a few battles—you could see it in the way she walked, scanning everything and maintaining a heightened awareness of her entire surroundings. I kept searching out through the Force, and we made a pretty good team that way. I learned a lot about feeling my surroundings just by following her around. We found the main computer, cracked the security codes, and while Motani downloaded the information, I kept an eye out for any strangers trying to give us a warm welcoming blaster bolt. Thinking she had a few more minutes, Motani elected to upload a spy program, piggy-backed to one of their mundane systems so no one would be able to find it. One of their Jedi found us and tried to make his way by us in stealth mode, but I caught him at the last moment. I guess he must have had some smarts because he elected to try to escape instead of face a Force user and an Echani general. I know _I_ would have been a little uptight facing an Echani general. Well, Motani wasn’t quite done uploading the program, so I chased after the Jedi. That was my mistake.” Jolee paused and took a sip of his Diluvian water.

“How was that a mistake?” I inquired, “when it was one-on-one odds?”

“It was one-on-one odds, at least until I rounded two corners chasing the guy and ran right into a nice little nest of soldiers. There were about 10 of them and just one of little old me. I powered up my shield, but they had some pretty heavy duty firepower,” Jolee answered.

“That’s not good odds even for a Jedi. What did you do next?”

“I did what any self-respecting new Padawan would do in that situation. I turned and ran! Never go for ten-on-one odds when you can skip back to your buddies and even things up. I figured an Echani general would about cover it in the odds department. I just about flew back to her. I don’t know if she was just done uploading the program or heard me coming with what sounded like a herd of banthas behind me, but she was ready. We teamed up, and swords and blaster bolts started flying. It was like a regular fireworks show! Heh-heh! I managed to make pretty quick work of two of them with what I thought was pretty good lightsaber technique—it only took me a couple strokes to deflect the blaster bolts and close on them, and then a few more swings of my saber finished them off. That’s when I noticed that Motani had already gone through five of them without so much as breaking a sweat. She carried an Echani double vibro-sword, and it was a sight to behold. She didn’t fight with that sword, she danced with that sword. Another four soldiers had her surrounded. The blade whirled faster than the eye could follow, and in the next moment she attacked one soldier in front of her, whirled the blade a little and caught the guy behind her, and then rotated it quickly to get the last two. Talk about efficiency of motion. We got out of there fast after that. I would have been a little bit of scorch on the floor if she hadn’t taken out all those fighters,” Jolee concluded.

“So, did the upload program work?” I asked.

“Worked like a charm for the longest time. We got a ton of information on where Exar Kun and Ulic had bases along with their plans for continued conquest. We even programmed in a few fake bases, and then took out their troops when they arrived thinking it was one of our real bases. It was a fabulous deception. Once one of their computer gurus caught on to what had happened, I ran the ‘mother’ program.”

I inquired, “what did the ‘mother’ program do?” with a smile playing across my face.

Jolee answered, “well, it shut down the failsafes and overloaded the reactors. The place went up in one giant lovely fireball, and that was the end of that spy base. Too bad Exar Kun wasn’t conveniently visiting the facility right then. That would have changed the history books for sure. But just as their computers all locked up, the display on every single screen read ‘Your mother is a schutta and your father is bantha poo-doo.”

I could barely keep from guffawing. Only the brewing darkness quelled my mirth.

Jolee sniffed the air faintly, “Yep, I can smell the anticipation and fear, they must be about to attack.”

“I haven’t been able to figure out what they’re going to do, yet.” I stated.

“Most of us can sense things well, but it takes time to get enough of a handle on thoughts to predict their future plans in detail,” Jolee replied, and then added almost silently, “I’m going to head towards the front. Play along, and hopefully we’ll be able to stop this before it starts.”

Jolee dropped into what I called his ‘best old man imitation’, hunched over a little and shuffled into the aisle, following the 2 men up front who had gotten up. They were striding purposefully towards the pilots. Jolee walked right up behind one of the men and asked where the refresher was. I shook my head at his daring. The two men were obviously military-trained—they walked with a certain confidence and held their arms away from their bodies as military men used to carrying weapons often do. In fact, I thought I detected a small bulge of a weapon under each of their dark jackets. The look on their faces was battle-hardened and not pleasant. Suddenly, I realized they were smugglers or hired assassins, bent on taking over the ship. I searched the small group of travelers. There were a couple of Twi’lek men, dressed in business outfits and preoccupied with their work. A large family sat nearby, relaxed and chattering happily about the vacation that they were just starting. They were debating vigorously and loudly about whether to go on amusement rides first or swim when they arrived at their destination. A second small family sat away from the others. This family was quiet, nervous. The mother’s eyes darted everywhere in fear, and the father sat tensely upright. The small girl played at their feet with her doll. A couple seats away from them were 2 men in dark suits, but they also must have been military, with their short hair, muscular build, and alert eyes. They sensed the disturbance only moments after Jolee and I did. It occurred to me abruptly that they were guarding the family, and their full attention was now on the thugs that were talking quietly with the pilots. I decided enough time had elapsed so that I could join Jolee up front and hopefully put a stop to what had to be the planned abduction or assassination of the little family.

“Jolee? Jolee? Where did you go?” I asked, making my voice carry through the small transport. Good, I thought to myself, I now have the attention of both of the family’s guards and one of the thugs up front. I got up and walked towards the front. As I approached, I could see the other thug with a small blaster pistol discreetly pressed against one of the pilot’s heads. The pilot’s hands were frozen above the controls.

“Eh, what was that?” Jolee said, emerging from the refresher and pretending to have not heard me calling.

“I was beginning to wonder if you had wandered somewhere you shouldn’t, Jolee. I wouldn’t want to disturb that nice little family over there,” I said, nodding in the direction of the family and the two guards. Jolee’s eyes showed that he caught my meaning that they were the probable targets.

“I’m going to go say hello to the pilot. We pilots have to do that, you know,” he replied in his best doddering voice, and shuffled over towards the pilots. The thug who had been watching me slipped his hand under his jacket and sauntered over as Jolee approached.

“You both ought to go sit down,” he said, coolly but with a faint tone of menace in his voice.

Jolee pretended not to notice the undertone. He beamed at the thug, and said cheerfully, “I came to see if one of these fine pilots flew with me in my squadron.” He clapped the thug on his back, startling the man, who obviously expected Jolee to take notice of the hint of the blaster peeping out from under his jacket and obey his order.

The other thug was not so subtle. He looked at Jolee with his dead eyes, and sneered menacingly, “Old man, I think you better listen to my friend before I decide to shoot you. This fine pilot decided he had a hearing problem, and I really don’t like that.” With that, he fired a shot into the pilot, who immediately slumped forward against the controls, throwing us off course wildly.

“Get down!” ordered one of the family’s guards, blaster in hand and targeting the thug who had just killed one of the pilots. Jolee and I ignored him and ignited our lightsabers. We pressed towards the assassins as the guards started shooting at the thugs.

“Deflect those bolts down, Jae, or we’ll be sucking space when the hull gets breached,” Jolee yelled over the noise. “I’m taking ‘Ol Meany here” he said, motioning towards the man who had just killed the pilot. “Call me old man, huh?” he muttered, swinging his lightsaber swiftly into action.

Peering over to the other would-be killer, I sensed a conflict—he didn’t want to hurt that family’s little girl, I realized. I said to him, “You have a choice to do the right thing right now and put the weapon down.”

“Shoot them all!” screamed the other assassin. Shrieks erupted from both families and the Twi’leks, and there was a flurry of activity as they all dove towards the floor trying to escape the imminent danger.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Jolee trying to ease himself in front of the remaining pilot to try to shield him. I took up a position between the killers and the family, hoping to protect them from any stray shots. The family’s guards recognized us as Jedi, but must have been too excited to stop their own attack on the killers. One of the guards fired towards the thug I was challenging, but missed, and the bolt flew towards the remaining pilot. Jolee deftly deflected it down and returned to his standoff with the killer. The other guard fired towards the killer as well. The thug shot at me, but my deflection skills held firm, and the bolt bounced harmlessly down off my saber blade. I made a tight circle with my blade, and suddenly the hand holding the blaster was severed. The thug grabbed his arm as the pain lanced up it. He howled in agony, eyes screwed shut.

“Hold your fire! We’re handling it!” I yelled over at the guards, who either didn’t hear me in the excitement or chose to ignore me. Jolee deflected some more blaster bolts they fired in the direction of both their opponents and us. The killer saw Jolee occupied momentarily and looked over at the family. I followed his eyes and saw with horror that he had a bead on the little girl, who had stood up when she heard all the commotion. I could see her large brown eyes wide with fear and her mother trying anxiously to pull her down out of harm’s way. The killer fired. I saw the bolt flying, and willed the speed to intercept it before it could hit the child, almost making it. My jump provided an opening for the guards, who wasted no time taking advantage of it. They fired, and the thug I had been fighting dropped to the ground, badly wounded. One of the bolts blasted off of his armor and hit the remaining pilot, who collapsed in pain. Jolee neatly deflected a shot from the killer before cleaving him in two. Both parts and the blaster dropped to the ground in a steaming heap.

“Blasters down, now!” Jolee’s voiced boomed through the small ship. With the would-be assassins now laying on the ground, the guards complied and started checking over the families. Jolee looked over at me on the ground and ran over, with great concern in his eyes. “You’re hurt, lass,” he murmured sympathetically. He found a medpac and applied it.

The medpac helped the pain but only slightly. My leg felt like it was on fire and I grit my teeth, trying to will the pain away so I could enter the healing trance I badly needed. It was incredibly difficult to concentrate with the knifing pain and everyone else’s fear swirling around like a thick fog. “I think I’ll be OK. I tried to jump and deflect the blaster bolt that nut shot at the little girl. I misjudged a little, and the bolt hit my leg,” I grimaced and continued, “Is the little girl all right?”

“The girl’s just fine, but she’s scared, like everyone else. One pilot’s gone, and the other pilot’s injured, but I should be able to heal him enough so we can finish the flight to Coruscant—we’re almost there. The families look fine, if scared. One of the Twi’leks took some collateral fire but it’s very minor. I took out the killer, and it looks like one of the guards got this other one after you, uh, disarmed him.”

“Geez, Jolee, I can’t believe you just said that. That’s sick.” I groaned and laughed and immediately regretted the action because the pain became agonizing when I moved.

“Someday you’ll be that irreverent. Use your healing skills. The healing trance won’t work as well right now because of your injury, but it should hold you until we get to the planet. I have to go do some healing on the pilot so we can bring this transport in safely,” he got up from his crouch and went up to front of the ship to do just that.

The world faded out as I entered the meditation state for the healing. The bleeding slowed and then stopped, and some of the tissues started to close around the wound, when suddenly I felt the flicker of life in the assassin that I had fought. My concentration broke and I leaned over to examine him. Indeed, he showed faint signs of life.

“Jolee,” I called out, “he’s still alive, but I don’t know if he’ll make it.”

Jolee came quickly with another medpac, the last one, and applied it to him. “I don’t know if he’ll make it either, Jae. I don’t have enough energy to keep the pilot and ship going and heal this one, too. I have to go back up front right now or we won’t be able to land this thing safely,” and he returned quickly to the pilot.

There was the flicker of life, and something else—a faint touch of goodness that still lit his heart and had to be saved. I knew he couldn’t kill the family. I rolled over slightly to his side, biting off a cry of pain so that I didn’t disturb Jolee from his concentration—we would need every bit of his attention if we were going to land safely. The roll dislodged one of the clots in my leg and it started to bleed, but I thought it would be slow enough that I could expend some of my energy to keep him alive as well. I closed my eyes in meditation, and concentrated on keeping the faint light of his life glowing….

Sounds wafted through the darkness. Doors opening. A little girl, crying. Jolee yelling, “we need medics, now!” Dozens of feet running, equipment clattering, many voices suddenly speaking all at once. “Her condition is critical. We need the life support equipment now!” “I don’t know how she did it, but he’s going to make it after all.” I smiled at that last one as the sounds faded to nothingness.

Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 11:32 PM
Chapter 5: Talin Kayl

The darkness completely enveloped me. I drifted weightlessly through it, and saw a light far away. It seemed to beckon to me, warm and inviting. Far away I could hear faint voices through the silence. I couldn’t understand them. They sounded so strange, like murmurs of a river. One voice seemed to carry a little farther, and I strained to hear it.

“Jae, it’s me....” it faded in and out. Confused, I moved towards it. Another voice joined the first, drawing me closer.

“Jae, come to us you must. Not ready are you to merge with the Light.”

I knew those voices, my mentors….

“That’s right, Jae, we’re your friends. We want you back with us. We need you here. Come back to us, please.”

Jolee! My friend, my master. I heard other noises intruding urgently and it irritated me.

“The life signs are still very unstable, but she responded positively to you both. Keep talking to her. It might be our only chance to save her.” I wanted to hear my friends instead.

"Back to us now you must come. Care for you we do. Wish for you to be with us we do.”

Suddenly, a shimmering figure appeared before me. I had never seen him before, yet I felt like I always knew this man who obviously was a Jedi Knight. He was taller, but height was hard to tell in the murkiness. His hair was dark, but his eyes were a piercing blue that lit up his face. There was a strength in his countenance and form that showed even in his spirit self.

“I thought you might be a little lost in all the dark,” he said, gently. His caring spirit radiated out around him.

“The man still lives, doesn’t he? I didn’t feel him joining the light,” I said.

“He lives,” he answered simply.

The news released the burden that weighed on my soul. I felt free again. I asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m Talin Kayl. I’m here to help you find your way back. Take my hand, and I’ll lead you out now.” He warmly stretched out his hand, reaching for me in the shadows.

I looked longingly at the warm light, but knew in my heart that my destiny was not leading me there now. I put my hand in Talin’s. There was controlled power in his hand, yet he did not grip mine to coerce my compliance. He would respect my decision if I let go of his hand, but I held on. Together we walked back to the world we knew.

“Life signs are starting to stabilize, Master Vandar, Master Jolee. Now the kolto will be able to do its work.” I saw Talin’s form start to fade.

“Don’t leave me!” I called to him, fearing that the darkness would overtake me.

Talin smiled. “I’ve been here the whole time. We’ll be near when you awake. Rest, now.”

Finally, I felt a blissful sleep come over me.

* * *

The noise was not loud, but brought me gradually out of sleep. The kolto was starting to drain from around me out of the tank. I sank down with it, too weak to stand.

Two 3MD droids came to assist. “Your strength will return as the effects of the kolto wear off. It should only be a few more days,” one of them said. I could hardly lift my arms to put on the fresh dry robe they brought, and one of the droids helped with the soft, tan clothing before they carried me over to a nearby bed.

One of the droids inspected my leg where I had been hit while the other droid reviewed some of the monitors on the bed. The extensive wound had completely filled in, and there was fresh skin entirely covering the injured area. Only the pink color of the new skin and the fine lines marking the edges of the injury gave any indication that anything amiss had ever occurred. I slowly moved my leg for 3MD as it requested, feeling the stiffness but no pain. I was amazed that such a simple action could be so exhausting. I laid my head back down on the pillow, my auburn hair still damp from the kolto.

“You did a nice job healing the wound,” I noted, my voice hardly more than a whisper from the weakness. “It doesn’t look like it will even have a scar.”

3MD commented, “Thank you. Your wound has not caused any permanent damage and your leg should recover full function shortly. It is important for you to rest now. You lost a great deal of blood when the damaged large artery re-opened and the wound started to bleed heavily. It will take a few days more for you to recover.”

It finished its examination and pulled a light blanket up over me. My eyes felt heavy, and I gave way to sleep once more.

After some unknown time had passed, I heard the 3MD droid speaking quietly. “She will recover fully, Master Bindo. She is awakening now, if you wish to visit briefly.”

Jolee peeked his head around the door, and seeing I was awake and waving for him to come in, smiled broadly and walked through the door. “You’re up! I didn’t want to disturb you if you were still sleeping.”

“I’ve been sleeping so much, I think I’ve slept half my life away. How long have I been here?” I asked him, trying to sit up a bit. Even that little effort was tiring, frustrating me somewhat.

“About 10 days. Lie back. I’ll pull a chair over so you don’t have to crane your neck up.” He brought over a chair and sat down. “How are you feeling?”

“Better than when I got out of that tank. I’m just very tired, and I still can’t get that awful taste of kolto out of my mouth,” I answered, making a face and swallowing against the dryness. My mouth was still parched, which didn’t help get rid of the taste, either.

Jolee grinned, “Yes, it is rather like having a mouth full of tach fuzz, isn’t it?”

I made a mental note to ask him later about his apparent personal experience with both kolto and tach fuzz.

His demeanor changed and became more serious. “Your injuries were a little more extensive than either of us thought when we were on the ship,” Jolee stated, the concern of the last week and a half crossing his face, though he tried to suppress the feelings quickly.

“The people on the ship—they’re all OK?” I inquired.

Jolee recounted the story to share the details he had learned. “Everyone is fine except for the would-be assassins and that one poor pilot. The Twi’lek recovered nicely; he was only slightly injured. The large family is fine—none of them were hurt at all. The pilot, Inali, came out of the kolto tank about 4 days ago and should be going home tomorrow. I didn’t know if he was even going to make it to Coruscant because of how bad his injuries were, but he has a strong spirit and so he pulled through. He’ll make a good Jedi, actually, if cranky old Vrook can be convinced to take in another older apprentice. He’s strong in the Force.”

I smiled at the thought of Jolee and Vrook verbally sparring over the possibility of taking on an adult apprentice.

He went on, “The two men who tried to seize the ship were merceneries hired to take out the smaller family. Apparently, that family was being transferred to Coruscant on the same charter as us so that they could testify against a particularly vicious Exchange boss on Telos. That boss is bad—practically eats children for breakfast, and with the family’s testimony, the Republic should be able to step in and do something about it finally. The authorities are still trying to figure out how these two assassins managed to slip by all security to board the transport. The man I took out was beyond hope.”


“That explains why the family was so nervous,” I said. “You know, the hunter I was fighting couldn’t kill the girl. He carried the blaster like a seasoned warrior but the good in him wouldn’t allow him to murder a child. I just couldn’t let him die.” I declared, rather emphatically.

“You won’t get any arguments from me on that—I understood what you did, even if some of the other Jedi here don’t necessarily agree—they think you risked yourself unnecessarily.” Seeing the incredulous look on my face, he held up his hand to forestall any arguments. “Never mind them, you did the right thing. I just wish I had the strength to keep you from all this, but if the pilot wasn’t conscious to help me bring in the transport, we would have crashed,” said Jolee, the regret spilling out.

“Jolee, you had to save the pilot and the ship. There was no other choice or we wouldn’t be here having a nice little chat. I didn’t think the injury was this bad, either,” I observed, patting his arm lightly to show I understood.

“The blaster bolt hit one of the large arteries in your leg, but you had healed it enough that it had stopped bleeding when I went over to see how you were. When you turned over to help heal the merc as well, you started bleeding again heavily. You lost a lot of blood before I realized what you had done,” he added, a bit apologetically.

For a moment, I thought his eyes glistened with tears. The sight of a fellow Jedi laying unconscious in a large pool of blood must have been very painful, even for someone who had seen as much of life and death as Jolee.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Jolee. You had to save the pilot and the rest of us on the ship. I had to save that man,” I stated, simply.

Jolee swallowed back the lump in his throat and changed the subject, saying, “Well, it’s a good thing you did save him. His name is Miron, by the way. He came out of the kolto about 3 days ago, and he’s here under guard. He was a hired gun for that Exchange boss—Miron’s Republic ex-military from the Mandalorian Wars. Once he realized what the Exchange wanted to do to the little girl and her family, he thought better of it. He’s decided to become a witness against this boss. He knows a lot about the Exchange on Telos that can seal the case for the Republic.”

“Miron’s a marked man whether he testifies or not—I’m glad he’s doing the right thing,” I responded.

“Protected he will be,” said Master Vandar, entering the room and walking over to my bedside, “Testify he will, and from the Exchange, hidden he will be.”

Jolee made a move to vacate his seat for him, and Vandar made a motion with his hand indicating Jolee should stay seated. Behind Master Vandar was the man I had seen in that terrible darkness--Talin Kayl. He was indeed tall, perhaps a good 8 inches above my own height, and I wasn’t a short woman. His dark brown hair was nearly black, and those same piercing blue eyes I had noticed in the nether world studied my own light blue ones. He wore the plain brown robes typical of many Jedi Knights, but it did not hide his muscular form. He stood with an air of confidence, almost superiority. I tried again to sit up to greet both my new visitors. My body betrayed me, and I could barely raise my head up, much less achieve a sitting position.

“You don’t need to get up for us. Your recovery will take longer if you don’t allow yourself time to heal.” Talin said. His voice was carefully controlled, neither too loud nor too soft, and there was an underlying power in his speech. However, I sensed a faint condescension in his manner, and a touch of displeasure about something, though I could not identify it.

“You were the one I met in the darkness. I appreciated your assistance,” I thanked him.

“I wasn't sure if you'd remember after all you've been through, but my name is Talin Kayl. It's a pleasure to meet you finally. I’m honored I was able to help,” he replied formally with a slight bow.

“Quiet, please,” Vandar commanded, holding his hand up to silence us all. He placed his hand upon my forehead. His green skin was well wrinkled and slightly rough, but his touch was gentle. He flexed his hand one time to adjust his fingers into a comfortable position on my head, closed his eyes, and began to concentrate. I felt a wave of warmth pass through me, and abruptly, some of my strength returned. He removed his hand, gave a small sigh, and with a little smile, opened his eyes again. “Better you feel, no?” he asked.

“Much better,” I replied, now able to push myself up to a semi-sitting position.

“Good. You'll stay here another day or two, and when you are recovered, Jolee and you will come before the Council.”

Jolee raised his eyebrows in question. Vandar turned to him, saying “Master Jolee, the Council wishes to see you in one hour. Come, Jedi Talin, and leave Padawan Jae to rest now.” Vandar smiled at me once more, and then he turned and left.

“Hopefully, we will meet again soon under more pleasant circumstances, and certainly less risky,” Talin said smoothly, with a slight smile.

His faint tone of disapproval, though carefully masked, was unmistakable, almost as if he were chiding an apprentice for getting into trouble, and I viewed him curiously. His tone and attitude seemed at odds with the person that I met in that murky other-world. I sensed our next meeting would occur soon.

“Thank you again for your help,” I stated, not having the energy to take offense. Indeed, I was very thankful for his rescue.

“You're welcome,” he replied, leaving the room.

Jolee watched both of them leave. He sat back in his chair and pensively rubbed the beard on his chin. “Well, that was interesting,” he said, finally. I tilted my head a little in question, and nodded for him to continue.

“Talin reminds me a bit of Andor,” he mused.

“The same Andor you told me about whose arrogance caused him to get himself killed and yet alter the political course of an entire sector for centuries to come?” I asked.

“Will wonders never cease!” Jolee exclaimed with a grin, throwing his hands up in the air and waving them around as if he were rejoicing. “A young person who actually takes time to listen to her elders! You make me proud, Jae,” Jolee pretended to wipe tears of joy from his eyes.

Chuckling, I waved a hand, motioning for him to go on.

“Yes, that Andor. Talin has that same supreme sense of self-confidence that Andur had. If he’s not careful, it’ll be his downfall, too. Andor had a way of making you believe that he knew the right path without a shadow of a doubt. I remember one little story,” he said.

I shifted a bit in bed to make sure I had a comfortable position and settled down to listen. No one ever knew how long Jolee’s stories could be.

Jolee pretended to be offended. “I’m hurt! I said it would be a ‘little’ story,” he sniffed, holding up his finger and thumb close together to indicate it was indeed supposed to be very short.

He went on, “Andor and I were apprentices about the same time, and during our lightsaber construction class we both were assigned components and crystals for our lightsabers. Well, Andor dozed off briefly during the instructions—he’d been out a little too late the night before romancing his then-girlfriend Nomi. He woke up in the middle of the lecture, but he didn’t realized he’d missed anything. Well, he missed the most important part, which is how to set the central crystal properly so the blade extends out straight. I knew what steps he had missed while he was inspecting the inside of eyelids, and I tried to tell him how to place the crystal. Andor was true to his personality, though, and set the crystal according to how he felt it should be. Then, rather than having one of the masters double check it to make sure the blade wasn’t going to shoot out sideways and kill him, he decided to ignite it. Well, he got his first lesson on humility that day. Just as I was walking over to him to tell him to hold off on igniting his saber, I suddenly saw the blade come out at a diagonal. Actually, that was pretty good considering he'd missed three-quarters of the instructions. The edge of the blade hit the emitter, and it made the emitter overload. The entire lightsaber just about exploded in his hands. He tossed it away instinctively, and it fell under a window. The sparking set one of the curtains on fire, and suddenly all we could hear were the fire sirens. Then the sprinklers went off and water poured down all over us. Andor had a fantastic head of hair—thick, brown, and wavy, and he liked it arranged just so. However, that beautiful head of hair was no match for the fire suppression systems, and the next thing I saw was Andor running around in frustration in his soaked robes, with his hair just plastered to his head. It was an amazing sight, I’ll tell you.” Jolee chortled.

“It’s a wonder he didn’t get expelled from the order for his pride,” I noted.

“He probably would have, but the masters sensed his destiny swirling around him even then and knew he had to stay. However, he had to do some penance, and ended up cleaning all the apprentice dorms for the next 2 months. His pride calmed down, at least for a little while,” Jolee finished.

“Do you think Talin is in danger of following in his footsteps?” I asked, still amused at the idea of the proud Andor scrubbing floors.

“Like Andor, I think he has a great destiny,” Jolee declared. “I just hope it doesn’t involve falling into reactors and blowing up ships again.”

Jolee got up from his seat and put the chair away. “I suppose I should go see what the Council has for me now. I’ll come bore you with more history tomorrow.” He stood by the side of the bed and gave me a gentle fatherly squeeze on my shoulder. “I’m glad to see you’re doing better. I was worried for a bit there. I’ve grown rather fond of you, you know.”

I briefly laid my hand on his to show the fondness was mutual and said, “Thanks. What do you think the Council is going to say?”

“Hopefully nothing annoyingly effusive about how ‘great it was’ that I’ve ‘changed the course of history on Telos by saving the pilot and delivering the family safely.’ Sometimes they just go overboard when a simple thank you is more than sufficient,” he responded. “Now be a good Padawan and rest,” he gave a little wave as he left the room.

Feeling suddenly very tired, I laid down to sleep off the rest of the kolto effects. The image of the self-satisfied Talin Kayl crossed my thoughts briefly before I dozed off.

Jae Onasi
08-02-2006, 11:51 PM
Chapter 6: Mik’oth

“Your wounds have healed fully, but you must not overexert yourself for several more days, Padawan Onasi,” the 3MD droid stated, as I finished dressing--finally--in my own clothes to leave the medical facility.

“I’ll follow your orders, 3MD,” I replied.

“I’ll make sure she follows those orders, too, 3MD,” Jolee said, striding into my room.

The 3MD droid turned to face us both, and said, “I’m relieved to hear that, Master Bindo. Jedi, and Padawans in particular, have a tendency to disregard the advice of medical droids.”

Smiling, I answered, “I promise to behave. I don’t believe I want to see the inside of a kolto tank ever again.”

If a droid could grin, I believe 3MD would have had one on his face right then. Jolee and I left the facility and got into his speeder.

“A little bright for a Jedi, isn’t it?” I ribbed Jolee about the shiny red speeder.

“Since when have I ever been that average Jedi?” grinned Jolee, putting on some sunglasses and starting the speeder.

“Where are we off to today?” I asked.

“We have to be at the Jedi temple in 3 hours to meet with the Council—they have a mission for us. So, I thought we’d go check out the Eloni cantina and see if they finally got a new Bith accordion player,” Jolee smiled widely. He drove through parts of Coruscant that I’d never seen before. Coming from a much less urbanized world myself, the wide varieties of architecture and non-stop activities of vehicles and sentients still fascinated me, even after spending a couple years here as an apprentice.
We arrived shortly at the Eloni cantina.

Jolee smiled, “Just a little warning. Mik’oth is the owner. He’s a Twi’lek, and hopefully he’s here. He is very well connected in certain circles that we might consider rather shady, and his help on certain issues can be invaluable. However, he is a bit, shall we say, on the smarmy side.”

He opened the door and motioned for me to go through. I cocked an eyebrow in question about Mik’oth, but said nothing. The inside of the cantina was a well-lit, colorful place, obviously designed for amusement, and I thought, likely some wild times. The Bith band was already playing some upbeat music suitable for the lunchtime crowd that was beginning to gather. I had the distinct feeling that some of the oddly placed artwork was there on the walls to cover some gouges from blaster bolts. There was even a small slice in one of the pillars, as if a lightsaber had hit it.

“It’s the Lekku-less Wonder!” someone exclaimed loudly towards us.

We both turned towards the sound, Jolee grinning broadly, “why, I thought I recognized the voice of the Tail-headed Tornado! About time you got a new Bith accordion player,” Jolee and the Twi’lek owner of the cantina embraced warmly, smacking each other on the back several times.
“Where are my manners?” Jolee said, “Let me introduce you two. Mik’oth, this is Jae Onasi. Jae, this is my good friend Mik’oth. I’ve pulled Mik’oth’s lekku out of more scrapes than he cares to admit.”

Mik’oth was a bright blue Twi’lek with two long lekku projecting out from his head, wrapping around his neck, and then extending down his back. They moved adroitly in concert with his speech. He dressed in a very expensive dark navy suit and tailored white shirt with a vest dotted in a large number of round, multi-faceted, brightly colored gemstones that glittered with every move he made. Several large-stoned rings adorned his fingers. For all his obvious wealth, however, I sensed a cheerful, if worldly, Twi’lek.

He took my offered hand, shook it warmly and then held onto it gently, looking me up and down, admiringly, “What a lovely creature you’ve brought to me, Jolee. Such gorgeous long auburn hair and striking blue eyes. Her skin is perhaps lighter than some of my patrons’ tastes, but my, such a lithe yet deliciously feminine body! You are a dancer, aren’t you, dear?” Mik’oth beamed at me.

I was not sure whether to blush furiously at his rather frank appraisal or laugh at his over-the-top question. Minding my feelings, I managed to keep the blush to a slight pink on my cheeks while chuckling a bit.

“Oh, stop, now, you old Twi’lek. You’re embarrassing Jae. Go twine your lekku around some other poor girl, she’s my Padawan,” Jolee waved a hand at him in mock offense. Looking over at me, he pronounced, “Now you know why I call him a Tornado. His mouth goes so fast it’s like a whirlwind swirling around you.”

"I'm pleased to meet you," I said with a smile.

“I’m honored to have such a lovely Jedi grace my humble cantina. Occasionally, we let this old coot in, too. Come in, come in, sit down,” Mik’oth motioned to a table with a nice view of the cantina floor and waved for one of the buxom servers. Her clothing, what there was of it, did not leave much to the imagination. “Bring 3 of those new Ryloth beers that we just got in yesterday, my dear,” he said to her. She smiled at us all and immediately left for the drinks.

“I bet you’ve had those in your basement for 10 years and are just trying to pawn them off on us,” Jolee quipped.

“Nothing but the worst for you, my old friend,” Mik’oth retorted happily. “So what brings you to my lowly establishment?”

“I want to find out about the Exchange boss on Telos, Naren Norelden, whose mercs almost took out my Padawan, here. They got through all security with blasters entirely unchallenged to try to assassinate a family that was going to testify against this boss. I’m sure the Republic will take care of him after they get out of their interminable conferences, but I’m concerned he’s going to become more dangerous. We need to get him to justice before he tries to kill more little girls and their families,” and Jolee briefly recounted the events on the ship as the server brought the beers for us to savor.

Mik’oth’s eyes widened as he looked over at me. “Beautiful and courageous, eh? The Jedi really messed up when they stuck you with this bald old fox,” he smirked. Then he appeared to reconsider, “Or, maybe not. You’d be too much of a distraction for a man young enough to care.”

Jolee rolled his eyes and then winked. “I may be old, but I’m not dead, Mik’oth. What are your thoughts on this Naren?”

Still peering at me with obvious pleasure in his eyes, Mik’oth answered seriously, “The Telos boss is bad, but he’s not the worst of the pack. He thinks he’s top kath hound, but he is an upstart looking to expand territory. He is making some of the other bosses very distressed by trying to unite some of the younger hothead bosses against some of the more established but less violent ones. He is extraordinarily charismatic, though, and has attracted an unusual number of followers. This one has done some nasty things to more than just one family or child,” Mik’oth looked at Jolee and leaned towards him to speak more quietly, “his predations are not limited to humans, either. One of my cousins was a victim of his. I won’t be sorry, Jolee, if you were to exact a bit of ‘Jedi Justice,’ as it were,” and he left the implication heavy in the air between us all.

“It would be more appropriate for us to try to rehabilitate him,” I stated seriously.

Mik’oth threw back his head and laughed, “Rehabilitate! Oh, you are witty, too!”

Jolee commented, “Mik’oth, you know we have to try to work these things out, so Jae’s right. We’re not trying to make more work for ourselves, you know.”

“Ah, well, I suppose you’re right,” Mik’oth replied, sighing. “I’ll see what I can dig up from my sources and get back to you. In the meantime, it is my duty to make sure you are properly fed after the slop they gave you in the medical facility. I am bringing some prime Rylothian beef and the best steamed Mon Calamari root vegetables. Jae, you’ll have to ask him about our little escapades in the Ukatis system, where we liberated funds from the rich to give to the poor. What a time we had together. Of course, now I’m a much more respectable man than that.”

Jolee just chortled at that. Mik’oth threw us a backwards glance and grin as he went to tell a server to bring us the meal.

We indulged in this fine treat while Mik’oth floated from table to table, garrulously greeting guests as if they were long lost friends, even if they had been in for breakfast that same day. In the middle of raising another bite to my mouth, I suddenly stopped, fork poised in mid-air. My senses tingled with the danger suddenly entering the cantina.

“I noticed it too,” Jolee murmured, looking around with one hand near his lightsaber.

Apparently, Mik’oth had a preternatural sense for danger as well—he was already behind the bar looking for something, likely a blaster.

“There,” I discreetly pointed out the small group of mercenaries to Jolee.

“Blast it, I was just starting to enjoy my steak!” Jolee groused while pulling his lightsaber off his belt.

At just that moment, one of them threw a grenade, and pure sound energy radiated out from it, nearly deafening me before I could use the Force to shield the sound and blunt the volume. We got up to meet them in battle. The mercs noticed our purposeful movements in the middle of the screams and wild activity of attempted escapes and targeted us. Their look of recognition and subsequent sneers told us that we were the prey.

“Look sharp, Jae. If he’s got one grenade, he likely has more,” Jolee cautioned, “Be ready to do the breath control techniques in case he throws a poison grenade at us so that you don’t breathe anything in.” We had been practicing breath control for a few weeks now, and I was able to let the air in my lungs sustain me for about an hour before I had to start breathing once more.

One of them opened fire with a heavy blaster, and Jolee closed on him, neatly deflecting the blaster bolts aimed at him harmlessly into the ground. I concentrated on one of the other brutes, who was reaching back to throw something, and I realized it was another grenade. I had to cross the ground quickly, and jumped in the air to close the distance rapidly. He tossed the grenade just then. Seeing it in mid-air, I ignited my lightsaber, and brought the aqua blade down to cleave the device in two before it hit the ground. Two pieces of grenade fell quickly and harmlessly to the floor and scattered under some tables.

The jump brought me within striking distance of the would-be grenadier. He pulled out his blaster, and got into a good stance to fire upon me, just as another mercenary turned to train his sights on me also. I swung my blade back up, then out a bit, and whipped it around to cut off the barrel of the blaster just in time before he fired.

Jolee made short work of his opponent, and ran over to assist me. He engaged the closer of the two men, who pulled out a vibroblade and made a well-controlled attack at Jolee. Jolee parried the man’s attack, sparks flashing off the surface of the two blades. He stepped slightly out to the side to take advantage of the opening and attacked, slicing across the mercenary’s middle. His opponent, unable to deflect the blow in time, immediately fell to the ground.

My opponent dropped his useless gun and whipped out a long dagger. It was obvious he was no stranger to knife fighting, and he made several quick slashing motions towards me, trying to find an opening in my defense. I dodged one attack and blocked another, but when he came rushing with the third attack, I sidestepped him and brought the lightsaber blade down on the arm holding the knife. His arm fell to the ground and the knife skittered across the floor. The thug looked at the stump of his arm and collapsed to the floor in obvious agony, and the battle was over.

Mik’oth came over to the one still living, his face purpling with rage, grabbed him up by his shirt, and said, “Why are you doing this? Talk!”

The man sighed, still in considerable pain, but stayed silent.

Jolee stared at his eyes, and gave a subtle wave of his hand, “You feel safe from the Exchange here. You want to talk to us.”

The thug’s eyes glazed over, and he parroted, “I feel safe from the Exchange here. I want to talk to you.”

Jolee said, pleasantly, “I thought you’d feel that way, lad. Now tell us who you are working for.”

The injured man replied, “Naren Norelden.”

Jolee went on, “What does Naren want with us?”

“Revenge for killing one of his top men and saving the family.”

“Why is Naren trying to grab Exchange territory?” Jolee asked.

“He’s trying to build a separate branch of the Exchange for himself, so he can be the top kath hound, but he’s too stupid to see he’s being used.” the man answered.

That made Jolee stop and think a moment, and then he continued, “Who is using him?”

“He’s, ah,” he answered, and then he suddenly collapsed in death throes, and a faint green tint suffused his skin.

“Jae?” Jolee looked at me with a questioning glance to see if there was anything I could do with my healing.

I touched his forehead and stretched out in the Force. He was gone. “I think it was a poison that took him. His injuries didn’t cause his death.”

Mik’oth chimed in, “It’s crystalline anithe. It will activate under certain radio frequencies and cause a rapid death just like this. It’s the green skin tint that gives it away.”

Jolee jogged to the door to see if anyone else was out there. I stretched out to feel the Force at the same time. Neither of us saw or felt anything.

“There may be no one nearby. If they implanted the transmitter along with the poison, they may have activated it remotely,” continued Mik’oth, explaining the rest of the mechanism of the man’s death. I gently closed his blank eyes.

Jolee returned to us, speaking to someone on his comlink, “Yes, we’ll make sure to have the authorities send the bodies to the temple.” He closed up the comlink, and said, “there’s something dark behind all this, and hopefully the autopsies will give us some information and insight.”

The authorities arrived very quickly, and after Jolee gave them some instructions, they shuttled the bodies over to the Jedi temple for further examination.

Mik’oth circulated among the patrons who were not able to leave when the shooting began, making sure everyone was all right.

“We’re supposed to stay for some questions,” Jolee informed me.

“Come with me,” Mik’oth beckoned to us, having finished checking on his patrons. “We’ll sit over in my office.”

He looked at me with a pleasantly critical eye. “I daresay, my dear, that you indeed are still recovering—you’re shaking like a leaf. You may not feel much like eating right now, but I think you do need a little something. I’ll go get a few things and tell the authorities we’re here.”

He made me sit down at a small table in his office overlooking the cantina, and then he disappeared. My stomach roiled a bit from both the attack and my sudden extreme fatigue. We saw him speak briefly with one of the police, and then shortly after that he returned with some steaming dishes.

“Eat, Jae. Start with the soup—it’ll soothe your stomach a bit,” Jolee commanded, ladling some soup into a bowl for me. “I know you don’t feel like eating much right now, but you’re looking a bit pale, and you’ll need the energy, especially since you are still recovering. Our meeting with the Council will be coming up after we leave here, and it’s not going to be brief.”

I lifted a spoonful of soup for a taste. It was savory, with just a hint of warmth from the spices. After several sips of soup, I had recovered sufficiently to enjoy the rest of the meal.

“Since you didn’t get to finish the steaks for which my little cantina is famous, I brought you another,” Mik’oth said, handing me a fresh plate of food. “Jolee, should I regale this charming young Jedi with a tale of our exploits, or should you?”

“Are you kidding? I already missed out on the first steak, I’m taking advantage of the second. You talk, I’ll eat. I’m going to correct your numerous mistaken interpretations, however.” Jolee picked up another bite of steak.

Mik’oth settled down comfortably in the leather chair that he pulled out from behind his desk. “Let’s see, how we got involved in the Ukatis system might make a good yarn.”

“Don’t forget to tell her how we met,” Jolee piped up.

“Hush, eat your food. You show disrespect for my steak by not enjoying it. I’ll get to that part,” Mik’oth retorted. “Now where was I. Oh, yes. I had some close family in the Ukatis system, and when I heard about the interdiction of the system, I knew I needed to act.”

Jolee snorted, “You call a fifth cousin twice removed close family? Come on, you saw a business opportunity.”

Mik’oth sniffed dramatically, “Twi’leks consider all family to be close. I won’t deny that the possibility of a new business outlet was rather attractive. But we digress. The King of the Ukatis system blocked all trade in order to keep an iron control over the population. If the people were starving, they were going to be preoccupied with finding food instead of creating uprisings. My cousin was one of the starving, and I had to help him. We devised a plan to, ah, redistribute the wealth so people wouldn’t die from a lack of food and medical supplies.”

“You robbed from the rich to give to the poor, eh?” I noted, grinning.

Jolee jumped in, “well, if they’d actually been caring people instead of spoiled, selfish aristocrats, they would have gladly given up some of that wealth to help the little babies and children.”

“Yes, they would have. Now let me continue,” Mik’oth wagged a finger at Jolee. “I had accomplished several ‘liberation runs’ when I got detained on the planet by an enforcer.”

“And Mik’oth didn’t know I had arrived discreetly on the planet to reconnoiter the situation for the Jedi,” Jolee interrupted.

Mik’oth ignored the interruption with a smile and went on, “The enforcers are not known for their gentle natures. Their physical ‘ministrations’ could be rather intense. Mine was a typical brute, but showed a little more humor than the average enforcer. He decided to have a little fun at my expense, and he paraded me through the streets before tying me by my lekku to a tree to swing in the breeze. After awhile, I guess my incoherent utterances must have bored him, or he decided he had another victim to beat, and so there I was, left tied to the tree for everyone to view. Of course, no one dared untie me, for fear of angering the enforcers.”

“Except me, because I was too young and brash to concern myself with such consequences,” Jolee added, “I waited til dark, and then climbed up the tree to release him.”

“Do you know what he said to me, after I’d been up there the better part of the day? He said, “Hi, I’m Jolee Bindo. Do you need help or do you just like hanging out?” Mik’oth stated dramatically, rolling his eyes.

“Jolee, you didn’t!” I exclaimed, smiling at how very outrageous his question had been.

“I did. I think he would have clobbered me for that if he’d been able,” Jolee commented, grinning.

“Jolee rescued me, and when he found out what I was doing, he smuggled me aboard his ship and dodged 3 enforcer ships to get me out of the system. He brought me here to Coruscant to speak before the Jedi Council about the situation. Of course, I perhaps neglected to state that we had freed some aristocrats of their excess wealth and brought in some badly needed food to the impoverished lower classes while we were there. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship—Jolee with his expert piloting skills, me with my inside contacts, it was nearly unbeatable,” Mik’oth finished with a slightly nostalgic sigh.

“Looks like the police are ready for us, Jolee,” I observed.

We informed them of what happened with the mercenaries and gleaned information from the forensic investigators. Mik’oth joined us as we prepared to leave the cantina and return to the Jedi temple. He had a small package for me.

“Onderonian willek juice cheesecake. I thought you might want a little taste of home,” he said, and then in an exaggerated whisper, added, “I’ll warn you, though, the chef does not go light on the sauce. One bite might be enough to affect the faculties, you know.”

Jolee shook his head, grinning, “You old schmooze. You’re just trying to get in Jae’s good graces.”

Mik’oth beamed in my direction, “Of course I am. It never hurts to be in the good graces of a Jedi as lovely as your delightful Padawan. Jae, if you ever decide to dump this old man and the Order, you will come and be a dancer here, won’t you, my dear?” He looked at me with such artfully innocent eyes that I could not help but laugh.

“If I ever decide to be a dancer, Mik’oth, you’ll be the first one I contact,” I replied, with a teasing wink.

Jolee could only shake his head in amusement. “Come on, Jae, I need to get you out of here before he piles it on any higher.”

Mik’oth sighed, “Yes, and I do have to get back to the clean-up. Now that the authorities have completed their investigation, I need to make preparations for the evening crowd so that today’s income isn’t a complete disaster. I’ll let you know if I hear anything else going on in the Exchange. And Jae, do please come back and grace my cantina with your charming presence, preferably often. You can come with or without the Lekku-less Wonder, here.” He waved us out.

We got into the speeder, and Jolee eased it into traffic. I commented, “Mik’oth is quite a unique character.”

Jolee would have doubled over laughing at the understatement had he not been driving, “That he is, Jae, that he is.”

“We’re going to have some very interesting information for the Council. I just hope they don’t lecture me about the excess action so soon after my release from the medical facility,” I noted.

“Don’t worry,” Jolee said, putting the sunglasses on once more, “that’s what a master is there for—to keep Padawans out of trouble with the Council.” We drove off towards the Jedi temple for our meeting.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 12:08 AM
Chapter 7: A Mission

We stood waiting outside the Council chambers for our meeting. Stepping over to peer out the window at the famed Thousand Fountains in the courtyard below, I took a deep breath and straightened the collar on my robe once more.

“That’s about the 20th time you’ve adjusted that robe,” Jolee observed, “you’re not nervous about talking to these masters, are you? You’ve been here before.”

“Yes, actually I am,” I admitted. It was pointless to be dishonest with a Jedi, particularly a Jedi with whom one had a Master-Padawan bond. Such Force bonds allowed those connected to sense each other’s feelings and sometimes even thoughts. Picking at my robe, however, made my apprehension quite obvious to anyone.
Continuing, I said, “These Jedi are the premier of our Order, and I don’t want to make a bad impression. I’m concerned about what they’re going to say about the transport incident, and I admit I’m a little excited to finally be going on a mission.”

“Jae, I have great faith that you will do well, and I’ll handle the transport issue if it comes up, don’t you worry. Remember, every single Master in that room was a Padawan at one time. It’s not like we become Jedi Gods when we reach Master rank, you know. We all put on our robes the same way. It just means we Masters have been in so long we don’t know what else to do but be good Jedi.” He stole a wicked grinning glance my way, “At least you have the option of cantina dancing."

Exasperated, I tossed my datapad playfully across the antechamber towards his head. The datapad stopped in mid-air as Jolee easily levitated it. Suddenly, he pushed it back hard at me, and I was expected to catch it in mid-air. Just as I was about to draw it into my hand, however, it froze, suspended above the ground, and then flew away. Talin Kayl caught it. He walked towards me to return it and stood close enough that with his height I had to look up at his face.

He held it out for me to take, saying with a slight upturn to his lips, “A rather plebian use of your skills, don’t you think?”

Silently, I took back the datapad from his hand. Being chided was not something I was expecting.

Jolee walked over towards us to greet him. “Jedi Talin. How are you? I assume you’re going to the same meeting we are?”

“Master Jolee,” Talin smiled thinly at him and then turned his gaze back to me. “I was just returning your Padawan’s datapad to her and reminding her that our power is a gift to be utilized appropriately.”

“So sure are you that we were engaging in rather useless levitation when in fact we were practicing levity?” Jolee responded coolly with one eyebrow lifted in question. “A good diplomat knows some things are not always as they appear.”

Rebuked, Talin nodded to Jolee. “You're right, Master Jolee. I momentarily forgot this most basic lesson in diplomacy. Please forgive me, Padawan Jae.”

“No offense taken,” I replied.

Talin went on, “I've been called before the Council for this meeting, as you both have.”

The two large ornately carved wooden doors of the Council chambers swung open. I took a deep breath and composed myself.

Winking, Jolee whispered to me, “Jae, don’t forget to play it up for Vrook,”

Arranging the most innocent doe-eyed look on my face that I could muster, I said, “How would it be if I prostrated myself at your feet?”

Jolee just shook his head, “No reverence for elders. What is the galaxy coming to? Come on, let’s go see what task they have for us today.”

The three of us entered, though I followed slightly behind out of respect for Jolee’s rank of Master. Talin followed slightly behind him as well, I noticed. He may have been rather self-righteous, but at least he showed respect for Jolee’s long experience as a Jedi. As we silently approached the small circle of Masters, Talin and I bowed our heads slightly to them. Apparently, some of the Masters were occupied with other assignments, for there were only four in the room today—Masters Vandar, Vrook, Kavar, and Vash.

Master Kavar had a look of pleased relief, and noted, “Jae, I’m very happy that you look so well healed after the transport incident. Your injuries caused great concern.”

“Thank you, Master Kavar. I'm feeling much better. I have to give credit to Masters Jolee and Vandar and Jedi Talin for their healing assistance. I don’t believe I’d be standing here without them.”

Talin nodded slightly towards me, acknowledging the thanks.

Master Vrook then added with a slight frown, “Still, it is important for you to take extra care. We do not like to lose any of our Order, and we do not have so many Jedi that we can risk ourselves needlessly.”

Jolee came to my defense. “Vrook! We already talked about this several days ago. We would have done the same exact thing in that situation. None of us could allow another person to die if we could help it. I find no fault in her actions,” he argued.

Master Vandar held up a hand, staying any further discussion on the matter. “We have already agreed her actions were correct. There is no further need for debate.”

“I would respectfully disagree with the Council that the matter should be closed,” Talin spoke up.

“Oh, you know the Council’s mind so well that you can question their decision?” Vandar asked, challenging Talin’s audacity in questioning the Council.

Talin stopped a moment to collect his thoughts in order to express himself appropriately, “I mean no disrespect to the Council and I accept the judgment of this body in matters regarding members of our Order. However, I think Master Vrook brings up an important point. I agree completely with the Council that her decision was entirely appropriate. The execution of that decision is what caused this unfortunate incident.”

Jolee interjected, “My Padawan is my responsibility, Jedi Talin. Any fault in her training is mine.”

Talin answered, “I do not mean to impugn your efforts, Master Jolee. Her skill in healing and her other Force powers have increased exponentially while under your tutelage.”

Much as I disliked being the object of such discussion, I had to admit to myself that Talin did have a gift for diplomacy. He mixed careful language with a considered attempt to forge a path that would connect both Vrook’s and Jolee’s opinions, combined with the certain brashness in just knowing that his path was the correct route through the challenge.

Talin continued, “But while her skills are indeed improving greatly, I believe there needs to be more balance in the development of her Force powers and her fighting skills in order to minimize the risk of future incidents such as this. Training with someone who is a lightsaber specialist could be very beneficial in rounding out her education as a Padawan.”

Master Vandar asked Jolee, “We seek your thoughts on this matter.”

Jolee and I both knew Talin was right on that matter. While Jolee fought well with a lightsaber, it was not his area of expertise, and my lightsaber skills were, well, at a Padawan level.

Jolee considered his response, and said with a bit of a smile, “Jedi Talin speaks with a wisdom greater than his years, which is quite refreshing to see in someone that young. However, we would have to be assigned here to Coruscant to get the extra training.”

Master Kavar added, “What are your thoughts, Jae?”

“I have no desire to fault Master Jolee’s training. I've learned a great deal in a very short time. However, after catching the blaster bolt with my thigh instead of my lightsaber, it's obvious that I could use further instruction in lightsaber use. I have absolutely no desire to have such a personal experience with the kolto tank ever again,” I commented. Knowing chuckles could be heard among the Masters. Apparently, they had also had a similar experience with kolto.

Master Vash added, “We appreciate your candid thoughts in this matter, and we had come to a similar conclusion.”

Master Vandar went on, “It's for this reason we called the three of you before us. We have need of your skills.”

My heart sped a little in anticipation of my first real mission, though I tried to concentrate on maintaining my calm.

Master Kavar delineated the mission for the three of us in the manner of someone very experienced in doing military briefings. “You must find out what is happening with the Exchange on Telos. We sense there is something greater and darker behind Norelden’s maneuverings, and we need to find that underlying force. We also received a request for a meeting with one of the leaders of the planet Li’adin, which is past Telos in the Outer Rim. Their culture is quite reclusive, and so their request is rather unusual. They have mentioned concerns about time vortices forming near their system and have asked for assistance in determining the source. We need to learn the nature of these phenomena and why they are occurring. We have prepared a detailed report for you and have downloaded it to your datapads.”

In his typical gruff voice, Master Vrook added, “We have sensed a connection in the Force between the formation of these vortices and Norelden’s increased activity. You must find out what is happening and put a stop to his illegal activities before they destabilize Telos and the rest of the sector. We will provide you with a small ship so you may travel discreetly. And we do expect you to take care,” he finished, looking pointedly my way.

“We have decided to assign Talin to you for the duration of the mission, Jolee,” said Master Kavar. “His diplomacy skills can be very helpful with the people of Li’adin, and with his considerable skill with a lightsaber, he will be able to provide some advanced instruction for Jae.”

“And benefit Talin will from the Force skills of Jae and the wisdom of Jolee,” added Master Vandar.

I glanced at Talin. From the touch of surprise in his blue eyes, I could tell that he had not anticipated being included in the mission, but when he glanced my way, he gave a little smile. Apparently, he thought this was a good thing. I just hoped he wouldn’t become an insufferable instructor.

“There’s never such a thing as too much help. I think I can teach this lad a few tricks,” Jolee grinned.

“I am honored at the confidence you place in my skills,” Talin said to the Masters, bowing his head slightly once more. “I will take care to provide an appropriate education and in turn learn what I can.”

“Very well, your transport is ready as soon as you are,” Master Kavar said.

“I’m not leaving until the food stores are full and the food replicator is cleaned out. I can’t stand that simulated stuff.” Jolee said.

“We are aware of your culinary penchant, though why we accommodate it I do not know. Nevertheless, we arranged for the appropriate supplies,” Vrook commented.

“Good. Then we can leave as soon as we gather our personal effects,” Jolee answered.

“May the Force be with you,” Master Vandar intoned.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 12:25 AM
Chapter 8: Jolee Becomes an Apprentice

The Accipiter was a fast, sleek ship, and while she was not as big as a freighter, she nonetheless had more than enough room for 3 people and the requisite astromech droid. She was meant to be used more for diplomatic missions, but she had enough armaments that she could defend herself well in a fight. While the accommodations were not extravagant, they still had an understated elegance. The bow of the ship had the cockpit, of course, and a spacious common room for meetings. In the common room, pale aquamarine tinted the interior walls, and the comfortable light tan and ivory furnishings invited long sittings. The galley that sat just off the common room was large enough to seat four comfortably or six if they got cozy. The pantry was nearly filled to overflowing with Jolee’s food stores, though I had no qualms about using the replicator.
Farther back, the two modest crew quarters on one side of the ship were separated by a small refresher. Jolee and Talin decided to share the larger of the two quarters, and I placed my effects in the other room. The other side of the ship boasted a large multipurpose room that could be sectioned off as needed. The hyperdrive compartment and droid docking station filled the stern. R4-T3, our astromech droid, was recharging. The hold underneath the main deck carried the extra supplies, and the retractable gun turrets were located in the lower portion of the wings.

“The Jedi have learned to travel in style,” Jolee commented, looking over the ship after taking her into hyperspace. “This is a lot better than that bucket of bolts they gave me about 30 years back.”

“I suppose they have to have transports that work well for diplomatic missions as well as the less savory escapades,” I replied, following him through the various rooms, “and I can’t blame them for not giving you a shiny new ship if they knew you were hanging out with someone like Mik’oth.”

Talin joined us and informed us, “Comfort can be paramount in diplomacy. Some of the negotiations can take hours, and one could be sitting in the same spot for the entire time. The more comfortable people are, the less likely they are to be overly aggressive, too.”

“Oh, this will do nicely for lightsaber practice,” noted Jolee, looking over the multipurpose room with approval. “You can’t have too much space. Let’s get some shielding up. I’m not too interested in sucking space from a breached hull if one of the lightsabers goes flying.”

We quickly adapted the multipurpose room for practicing lightsaber combat and dressed in clothing appropriate for a long workout—sleeveless shirts, but all of us were wearing shorts instead of the usual pants which Talin claimed didn’t allow proper analysis of stances and foot position.

Jolee sat off in the corner, stating, “I’ll just sit here and referee this time.” He watched with great attention.

“Let’s see what you’ve learned so far,” Talin said, igniting his green lightsaber and holding it tip-down in a casual position.

I got into my ready stance and ignited my saber, the turquoise blade glowing.

“Stay just like that and don’t move,” Talin directed.

He walked over to where I was frozen in place, and gently pushed back one of my shoulders, forcing me off balance. I stepped back to catch myself.

“If your stance was strong, that wouldn’t have happened—you would have maintained your balance. Set your feet wider—shoulder width side-to-side and front-to-back.” His blue eyes caught and held mine, “If your stance is weak in a fight, you’re dead. Simple as that.”

I fixed my stance immediately while he took a few steps back and set himself solidly.

“Ready?” he asked.

Nodding slowly, I raised my shield and brought up my lightsaber.

He lowered his saber from the ready position, looked at me, and lectured, slightly vexed, “You’re unsure and you’re hesitant. This is a powerful weapon and you have to have 100% commitment when using it. Anything less than that and you may as well put it away and never use it again, because there’s no such thing as partial commitment to a lightsaber.”

I leveled my gaze at him, and said coolly and quite resolutely, “I’m very ready,”

Suddenly, the attack was on, far faster than anything Jolee had done. I barely caught the first blow in time and could only instinctively fight off the rest of the raining blows. Talin pressed the battle relentlessly with attack after attack while I fought in a completely defensive mode—I couldn’t find an opening to attack because of his speed. He whirled his blade around towards me while I tried to circle out of the way. He anticipated that move and cut me off, extending the blade out to stop my movement, and then in a flash whipped his blade around to within inches of my face. I deflected that blow just in time, and slid my blade down the length of his, finally seeing what I thought was an opening in his defense. He stepped sideways to dodge the blow and then slid his blade back down mine, right into the center of my chest. I deactivated my shield and saber and bent over to catch my breath, wiping the sweat of my face. While it seemed like a long match, it had only taken a few minutes.

Talin, who hardly appeared to have been working, shut down his lightsaber, and mentioned with a look of disappointment, “We have a very long way to go to make your skills passable. I think we need to start with your forms instead.”

After completing my first form, he began his critique, “You should have stepped out farther here, and blocked lower in move 12. On move 20, your lightsaber should be angled more, yours is not angled enough. Let’s do this one together.”

We practiced that form for the next 45 minutes, until he was satisfied that I had performed all the movements in order, in the correct stance, and with sufficient power to attack or block blows. “Your form should improve with continued practice,” he finally declared. It was the most positive thing he had said the entire practice.

Jolee got up from his spot in the corner. “It looks like this has been a solid practice session. Now, I think it’s time I went and made some dinner. Both of you need to clean up before joining me so I don’t have to smell Geonosian stinkbug scent over the fragrance of my fine sauce. Jae, you can come help me when you’re finished. Talin, just a reminder, Twi’lek moths are more attracted to honey than they are to Devaronian poison.” He went off to prepare the meal.

After silently gathering my things, I headed towards the refresher across the way.

Talin called out, “Jae, hold up a minute.”

I stopped and then turned to face him with a guarded look. “The practice was very thorough, Talin.”

He sighed, “Jolee was right.”

Drily, I commented, “He does have that maddening quality about him, yes,”

Talin chuckled, and then more seriously said, “I was a bit harsh in my criticism.”

There were numerous responses I could have said to that, but then I chose the frank answer, “It was rough.”

“Several of my friends have been seriously injured or killed because they didn't give adequate attention to their lightsaber skills. I don’t want any of my students going through similar experiences, and you’ve already had one brush with death,” he commented, “but I’ll try to include some honey, as Jolee puts it, in my instruction.”

“I’d appreciate that,” I said with a small smile, and we both went our separate ways to freshen up for dinner.

* * *

The spicy fragrance wafting from the galley encouraged me to rush to dry my hair and dress, and I joined Jolee quickly to help with dinner. He prepared a simple meal but added some exotic touches. Talin followed shortly thereafter and we all sat down for the meal.

“Blue milk?” Talin asked Jolee, arching his eyebrows in question.

“It’s from Tatooine,” Jolee answered. “Makes you grow tall and strong. Well, maybe you shouldn’t have too much. You grow any taller and you’ll be eye-to-eye with Wookiees.”

Talin smiled broadly and began eating. There was some silence as we enjoyed the meal, and after sating our appetites a bit, Talin dabbed at his mouth with his napkin and suggested, “Since we’re going to be traveling together for awhile, I would like to suggest that we get to know each other better.”

“Fine idea, lad,” Jolee agreed. “Let’s start with something easy, like how we all came to the Order. I do like a good story. Talin, since you’re the first to put down the fork, you get to talk first.”

“I’m afraid my story is not terribly interesting,” he replied. “I was born on Alderaan in the House of Kayl. Many in my family are groomed to be ambassadors. We seem to have an uncanny knack for adapting to different cultures and negotiating through difficult situations, probably because many of my family are low-level Force adepts. However, the Jedi found I had an unusually high affinity for the Force, and my family considered it a great honor to send me to become an apprentice in the Order instead of following in my family’s footsteps.”

“Who took you as a Padawan?” I asked.

“Vrook did at first, which is where I learned all my lightsaber skills. He was an unbelievably difficult taskmaster, but I finally mastered his teachings. Once the Council learned I had a talent for and an interest in diplomacy, I was tranferred to Vandar for training in the art of using words instead of a lightsaber, though I still practiced with Vrook a great deal,” Talin answered. “When words fail, a lightsaber is an excellent backup tool. How about you both?”

Jolee, chewing, motioned for me to go next. I took a deep breath as the memories came flooding back and began my tale, “I was living on Onderon and serving in the Queen’s household—never as one of the high level servants, but I enjoyed the work just the same. I developed a talent for healing at an early age, but I never realized that it was the Force at work. All I knew was that when someone was sick or hurting, I had the ability to take away some of the pain and make them feel a little better. Master Kavar discovered that ability.”

Talin, discerning there was more, commented, “There must have been something more that made Master Kavar take notice of your Force skill, and then be so absolutely convinced of it that he was willing to prevail upon the rest of the Council to take in a 22-year-old apprentice.”

A lump rose up in my throat and I swallowed hard against it. I thought that time would erase some of the old wounds, but several images would be with me always. Talin and Jolee both waited patiently as I collected myself.

I found the words, finally. “There was one very bad day. It started out with the Queen walking through Iziz to the Parliament so she could give an address there. I was assigned lady-in-waiting duty, so I was in the entourage. She was talking to Master Kavar, who had arrived from Coruscant for her address. The Queen is a well-loved figure, and not surprisingly, there were crowds along the route. So, we didn’t see the small guerilla group that infiltrated the crowd. We knew about some growing unrest among the Separatists, but never expected such a bold attack in broad daylight with thousands of loyal subjects watching. We rounded a corner, and I saw them nearly the same time the Queen’s protection team did.” I stopped and closed my eyes, remembering the overwhelming chaos of sounds of screams and soldiers shouting instructions, the smell of smoke and burning flesh, the sight of blood everywhere, holding Roben’s singed head, one eye swollen shut, in my lap as he struggled to breathe….

When I could continue, I was relieved that at least my voice held steady, even if my hands were not, “I don’t know if it was grenades or something else, but there were 3 or 4 explosions right in front of us. Several more went off down the road. The protection squad literally jumped on the Queen to protect her while the rest of the guards and the police in the crowd took off to capture the attackers. Master Kavar stopped briefly to make sure the Queen was OK and then ran after the attackers with his lightsaber blazing. They captured some but not all of the bombers. I saw several of the soldiers lying on the ground, and I ran over to see if there was anything I could do. One was already gone, another was hurt but not badly, and I was able to heal him easily. The last one barely lived. I turned him a little to help his breathing. It was Roben, and he was hurt so bad. I held his head in my lap while trying to concentrate on easing his pain and saving him. All I remember next was Kavar kneeling next to me and placing a hand on Roben. He looked at me and said something about needing to leave, it was too dangerous to stay out in the open. I told him Roben would die if I left, and he needed my help. ‘You’ve taken away his pain and done more for him than anyone else could, but his wounds are too severe for him to survive,’ Kavar said. I had to save him; I couldn’t leave him. Kavar picked me up, threw me over his shoulder and ran off to get us away from the blaster fire. I looked back at Roben, and I could see his spirit leave. Maybe I imagined it, but he waved at me and smiled.”

I got up suddenly to take my plate over to the cleaner so they wouldn’t see the tears that threatened to spill out. I thought briefly about how ridiculous it was to try to hide such a thing from two other Jedi. The emotional wave passed, and I turned around to lean against the counter. “Kavar came to me shortly after that, and told me I was strong in the Force, that I needed to train as a Jedi. The Queen encouraged me to go, and since I no longer had anything to keep me there, I decided that the training would do me well, and I had something to contribute to the Jedi. So, here I am.”

“Who was Roben?” Talin asked quietly.

“My fiance,” I replied.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and while I expected a diplomat to immediately say the correct thing in such situations, I sensed it was genuine and not just for show.

“Jolee,” I said after a bit of an awkward pause, “perhaps you should tell Talin how you came to the Jedi. I need a good story right now.” I looked at Talin with a bit of a smile, “If I didn’t know Jolee, I’d never believe it.”

Jolee cleared his throat and sat back comfortably into his ‘story-telling’ mode. “I grew up on Coruscant, and while I wasn’t a bad kid, I did have a knack for finding trouble. I about drove my mother crazy. I loved speeder racing and hated school. Can’t tell you how many times I outran the truency patrol. Of course, a little skill in Force misdirection didn’t hurt in making them miss seeing me. I didn’t know just what that ability was at the time. I just thought I was extraordinarily lucky.”

“There’s no such thing as luck in the Force,” Talin noted with a slightly superior tone.

“Well, I know that now,” Jolee retorted. “Jedi here, remember? Some time when I was around 9 or 10, I noticed a Jedi that would walk the same route to and from the Jedi temple from time to time. He always seemed distracted, so my friends and I decided on a dare to see if we could get that Jedi’s lightsaber.

“It wasn’t one of their brightest plans,” I stated to Talin.

“Shush, you. Whose story is it, anyway? I’ll have you know that some of those friends actually turned into contributing members in society,” Jolee answered back.

“And how many of them spent time in Juvenile Rehab for, um, inappropriate acquisition of items?” I asked innocently.

“Let’s see—Jaren, Isith, Padrin, Alina, yep, that pretty much covers it,” he said, ticking off the names on his fingers. “That’s not the good part, though. We watched that Jedi, figured out his schedule, and made our plans. The five of us pretended to be playing ball and not noticing where we were going, just your typical kids. We ran right into him, bowled him over, I grabbed his lightsaber, and then we ran like the wind. It didn’t take him long to figure out his lightsaber was gone. I kept running, and just when I thought I’d escaped him, I skipped past an alley, and suddenly there he was, right in front of me. I swear he rose up out of the ground or something. He dragged me into the Jedi temple by the scruff of my neck. I would say he was just a tad indignant.”

Talin looked at me and commented, “You’re right. I don’t believe this.”

“But wait. There’s more.” I assured him.

Jolee shook his head and sighed, “No respect for elders, always interrupting them….Where was I again? Oh, yes, dragged into the temple, and before the High Council, no less, for discipline. His eyes just about popped out of his head when Vandar announced that I was strong in the Force and needed to be taken in as an apprentice.”

Talin looked at Jolee with more than a little suspicion, “Wait a minute. Just who was this Jedi?”

“Vrook, of course. I remind him about it every time I feel his pride needs a little pricking,” Jolee applied.

Talin gave Jolee an incredulous look before putting his head in his hands. I thought he was quite upset until I saw his shoulders shaking in mirth. When he could control himself again, he said, “You do realize that I will never be able to view my old master in quite the same way ever again, don't you?”

Jolee could only flash him a wicked smile.

Suddenly, the ship shuddered and an alarm rang through the rooms. Jolee got up calmly, and sighed, “Something’s just knocked us out of hyperspace. So much for my hopes of a good night’s rest. Let’s get to the cockpit and see what little adventure awaits us.”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 12:43 AM
A New Threat

The swirling tube of light that was the visual manifestation of hyperspace had resolved back into individual stars by the time we arrived at the cockpit. T4 was already linked to the navicomputer to triangulate our location. We didn’t need to see the translation to know we were in the middle of nowhere, but T4 finally determined we’d come out of hyperspace several sectors shy of Li’adin. Far below us off the starboard bow was a freighter, being harried by about 8 small fighters that had scattered themselves all around the ship, shooting at her.

“Sith fighters, and they don’t see us yet. I’m going to position us between the sun and those fighters and dive in fast, but that’s the only time they won’t see us,” Jolee pointed out, “you two get to the gun stations and strap in. This is going to get bumpy fast.” He patted the control console, “Ok, baby, let’s see what you’ve got.”

The Accipiter turned smoothly and accelerated quickly under Jolee’s skillful hands.

“All right boys and girls, here we go,” he called out with excitement in his voice. He seemed almost to be enjoying this.

I was pressed back in my seat as our speed abruptly increased again, and I watched the monitor carefully so I could shoot as soon as I acquired a target. The Accipiter spun down towards the targets, and suddenly Talin and I both had acquired our targets and were busy shooting at them. Talin got the first one, I hit the next two. He fired again, and a fourth fighter exploded in a ball of fire. Two fighters of the remaining group disengaged from the freighter to take us on as the greater threat. They started shooting, and our ship rocked a couple times with the concussions.

“Talin, make sure those shields stay up or this is going to be a really short fight,” Jolee called out. He flew tightly under the freighter and brought us up on the other side, turning over.

I fired and missed my third, but Talin caught him just before he could fire on us again. We flew right through his still-glowing dust. The rest of the fighters turned to meet us in battle, and suddenly we had a fighter coming in from above and below us, with the last one firing on our stern. The ship vibrated as another bolt hit us, and a warning signal beeped loudly. Talin’s hands flew over the controls for the shields.

“T4, check that shield generator in the stern, I think we’ve got a loose connector,” Talin ordered.

T4 quickly rolled aft to find and fix the problem.

“Let’s hope that’s the only problem we’ve got. Hold on!” Jolee yelled out.

I lurched forward hard in my seat as he hit full reverse and the Accipiter immediately decelerated. Now I was very grateful for the restrictive straps, but discarded that thought quickly to concentrate on the small ships we were battling. The fighter that was behind us suddenly zoomed past us, and I tracked him all the way. As soon as he was in my crosshairs, I fired, and that fighter was suddenly nothing more than an orange fireball.

“Nice shot, Jae. Let’s get the rest of these fighters quickly,” Jolee said with excitement.

The two remaining fighters nearly collided with each other and peeled away at the last moment, but both flew into Talin’s sights, and with a couple more shots, the fighters were gone in glowing balls of fire.

I let out a yelp of triumph; Talin smiled. Jolee grinned back at us, eyes bright with the success. Then he turned back to contact the ailing freighter.

“Accipiter hailing freighter 2278, come in freighter,” Jolee transmitted. There was only silence from the heavily damaged ship. There were a couple holes near the cargo section and several electrical lines sparked wildly in various spots around the ship.

Jolee called again unsuccessfully. “We’re going to have to board the freighter to see if anyone needs help,” he decided. “Those Sith fighters are like Dagoban mudsuckers. One all by itself isn’t going to do much damage, but you get a bunch of them and they can just suck the life right out of you. Jae, go to the emergency hatch and prepare to link it with their hatch. Let’s just pray it’s not damaged. Talin, come be an extra pair of eyes for me here. I don’t relish the idea of bouncing our wing off of their ship if something suddenly gives way.”

Not that Jolee needed the help—he finessed the Accipiter against the freighter, and after several more minutes, I was able to dock our ship to theirs with the emergency connector. The indicator signaled that the other side of their hatch was pressurized, and so I prepared to open both.

“Stop!” Talin called out. “What are you doing?”

Holding my hand above the control, I said, “I was about to open the hatch.”

“You’re assuming there’s nothing dangerous on the other side. Are you prepared if we’re not welcome? If you’re not, that would be a fundamental error,” he stated, rather severely, holding up his lightsaber.

Silently, I pulled my lightsaber from my belt, feeling both foolish and rebuked at the same time over such a simple mistake.

Jolee came back to the hatch area, but out of direct line of sight of the hatchdoors and pulled out his lightsaber as well. He didn’t miss the stern look that Talin gave me, but ignored it to deal with the more pressing issue of preparing for whatever was on the other ship.

He gave an order to T4-C3, “Guard the hatchway while we’re gone. Don’t fire on anyone unless they fire on us, we give the signal, or they try to board our ship.” T4 beeped his understanding and waited for us to go through.

He motioned for me to open the emergency hatch, and there was a hiss as the pressure between the two ships equalized. We could hear warning sirens as their door swung open. There was an acrid smell of burned plastic and smoldering wire insulation permeating the ship. I stepped through the link onto the other ship and moved to the side to make room for the other two, lightsaber raised but not ignited. The ship was lit only with the emergency lights, so it was dim on the vessel. Only a sparking wire here and there added some flickering light and the irregular buzz of shorting electricity. Other than the emergency signal, there was no sound of life anywhere on the ship. I stretched out with the Force for any lifesigns and found only one faint one near the cockpit of the ship.

Talin followed onto the ship behind me, and said in low tones, “Watch yourself, there’s death on the ship,” and he scanned the area carefully, alert for anything unusual, and then stepped in front of me to take point and move cautiously towards the stern.

Jolee brought up the rear and looked over the ship, “Hmm, bad karma on this ship. Feels strange, too. Reminds me of some of the sensations I got about 50 years back during the Exar Kun war, but I can’t place it. Let’s find that one person and see what the problem is.”

We moved forward, carefully watching for any signs of danger, and other than a broken wire whipping around wildly, we encountered nothing unusual.

When we got to the cockpit, both Talin and I stopped short in horror. Talin, being a diplomat and therefore not experienced in medical issues, could be expected to have that kind of reaction. Being a healer, though, I thought I had become immune to most of the kinds of pain and suffering that a being could experience, but I had never seen anything like this before.

Two people lay on the ground, twisted strangely in what must have been an agonizing death, and one more still lived, barely, leaning back in the pilot’s chair. All three were completely covered in blisters, the skin bleeding in the numerous places where it was raw. I went over to the pilot, whose breathing was frothy and labored. His lungs were badly damaged by whatever this terrible affliction was. I tried to touch him gently, but even a feather touch must have been painful, because he moaned aloud. I entered the healing trance but knew there was not much time left. Still, if we could get even a few moments to talk to him….

He woke up finally, and I concentrated on mitigating his pain as much as possible.

He looked at me and gave a slight smile, cracking the skin by his lips, “Thank you,” he said in a barely audible voice.

I smiled kindly at him.

He turned his eyes, nearly swollen shut, towards his comrades. “Friends?” he questioned through the harsh breathing, wanting to find out how they were.

“They’re in no pain now,” I murmured sympathetically.

He sighed his relief.

Jolee, recognizing the man’s impending death, went directly to the point. “Who was chasing you? Who did this to you? What happened?”

The pilot turned his head shakily towards Jolee. “We escaped…a Sith,” and he paused frequently for rasping breaths, “He…wants to change…time. Wants help…from Kun….We found…this,” and he weakly held out what appeared to be an old holocron.

I took it from him to examine later.

The man continued haltingly, “Sith…did this” and he waved feebly towards his face, indicating the affliction, “but…he couldn’t…stop us. We jumped…hyperspace. And now…we’re…finally free.” He shut his eyes, and I felt his spirit leave to join the Force.

Closing my eyes, I used the Force to investigate this terrible disease. It was not caused by any chemical, pathogen, or natural phenomenon. They had been affected through the Force by something horrendous.

“Jolee, I think this is a Force attack, not an actual disease. I’ve never seen anything this awful” I commented, disquieted.

Jolee nodded agreement, “I think it’s a very unusual Force power, too, but I’d like to have a master healer confirm it to make sure we aren’t contaminated with something ourselves. I wouldn’t relish bringing something like this anywhere else. You two check out the ship, and I’ll go back to ours—I don’t want something funny happening while all three of us are on a derelict ship.”

Talin and I searched the parts of the ship that were still pressurized and thus accessible while Jolee went back to the Accipiter to ensure security there and to contact the Jedi temple. We found nothing more of importance, but we downloaded the flight and navicomputer data for T4 to evaluate.

“That’s it,” I said, as the datapad beeped that the download was completed.

“Let’s get back to our ship. I find this place most disconcerting,” Talin commented, scanning the freighter for anything else unusual.

When we returned to Jolee, we found him speaking with the holo of one of the healing Masters. Master Vandar stood next to him.

“Here’s Jae, Master Supat. She should be able to give you more details,” Jolee stated.

Stepping into the range of the holo link, I bowed slightly to the masters.

“Please describe the condition for me,” Master Supat asked in a slow and deep voice typical of most Ithorians.

“It looked almost like a skin blistering agent that completely covered him, but it affected his lungs as well—they were filled with fluid. His skin was cracked oddly in between blisters. The slightest touch created tremendous pain, and I found it very difficult to turn off his pain centers for some reason,” I reported. Those images would be burned into my memory forever.

Master Supat steepled his fingers and tapped them gently against his lips in thought. “There were three of them? All in relatively similar condition?”

“Yes, two were laying on the ground, and the third man was in the pilot’s seat.”

“Describe the body positions,” he told me, his brown eyes intent with thought.

“The two on the ground were lying in awkward twisted positions. The pilot’s positioning was upright—he was trying hard to breathe, but he still was bent over to the side a little.”

“I will know for sure when the freighter is towed back to a secure place and I can do a thorough investigation personally, but it appears this is indeed a rare Force technique, Force Scourge. I have not seen this technique used in a long time. It is extremely difficult to defend oneself against this technique, but it can be done. I will research the appropriate meditation and defense techniques and transmit them to you, since I believe you may have need of such information in connection with your current mission,” Master Supat said gravely.

Master Vandar added, shaking his head back and forth, clearly not happy with this turn of events, “Mmm, not good news. This is a powerful technique, and few are strong enough to use it. Only a Sith Lord has the power to employ it.”

Master Supat instructed, “you must stay where you are in quarantine until we can confirm that this is not a communicable disease. I wish to be 100% sure that it is a Force attack and not something else. It should only take a few days.”

“We have more information about the merceneries,” added Vandar. “We confirmed that they were Telos Exchange, and it was crystalline anithe that killed the mercenary. They're connected to Norelden's organization through his lieutenant, Antin Thorn.”

“Mik’oth may have more information on Thorn. I can contact him if you wish,” Jolee suggested.

“Yes, he may have information for us,” Vandar agreed. “We'll contact you as soon as we know more on this new attack.”

“We’ll investigate the area without breaking quarantine to see if we can find out anything about the freighter and why it was here. We’ll await your instructions,” and then Jolee signed off from the transmission.

T4-C3 rolled by on the way to do some maintenance tasks.

“T4, come here, please. I have some data for you to analyze,” I stated. He rolled over to me, and I placed the datacard into the appropriate slot. He issued a series of beeps in response, letting me know it would take time to do the analysis.

“I understand. There’s no rush. We’re staying put in this area for a couple days,” I replied.

Sitting down on a couch, I turned over the holocron in my hand, inspecting all its sides, noting all the unusual markings. It glowed and was faintly warm. “What do you make of this?” I inquired, handing the holocron to Jolee, who had joined me in the common area to relax after all the stress of the latest events.

Talin sat down in one of the chairs opposite my seat.

Jolee looked at the holocron with a critical eye, turning around. Suddenly, he looked up at both Talin and me with great surprise.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“Well, the obvious answer is a Jedi holocron, but you’re smart enough to figure that one out already. The question you’re really asking is ‘why does Jolee look like he just got stunned by an electric eel.’ I’m surprised because I realized I recognized this holocron. The only problem is this holocron was supposedly lost when Ossus was destroyed,” Jolee concluded. "It's not even supposed to exist anymore."

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 12:57 AM
The Vision

The mist swirled around and then suddenly cleared as the tall Sith Lord strided into view, red lightsaber flaring in the dark and casting an angry glow on his sneering face. His black cape billowed and disappeared into the darkness surrounding him. My lightsaber seemed to ignite of its own accord.

Jolee and Talin stepped out of the gloom to join me. We attacked him, but it was like the slow speed when one is underwater. The Sith Lord struck down Jolee as if he was nothing more than a gnat to swat, and then attacked Talin through the Force. Talin writhed in the agony, falling over and twisting on the ground, horrible blisters breaking out all over his skin, howling in pain. The Sith Lord threw back his head, laughing at our pitiful attempts at attacking him. He stared at me with glowing amber eyes, wolf eyes, predator eyes.

“Join me,” he demanded.

My heart pounded in fear, but I remembered the Jedi code, calming my emotions. I managed to gather my courage, and say to him simply, “No.”

“Then you will all die!” He started cackling once more, and struck all of us with his Force Scourge power. Suddenly there was unendurable pain tearing through our bodies, and we screamed out our agony.

A different noise broke through the relentless waves of anquish.

“Jae, wake up!”

That made no sense, and the Sith Lord was still there, jeering our feeble attempts to escape his awful hatred.

“Come on, Jae, it’s just a dream!”

But it wasn’t a dream. I could see the Sith Lord striking viciously back and forth at Talin and Jolee with his blood-red saber. I tried to block his blows with my lightsaber.

“Good heavens, she’s strong. Talin, hold her arm down so she doesn’t keep whacking me in the head!”

“Believe me, I’m trying!”

I had to fight, to save my friends.

“Blast it, you slip her a strength stim in her drink? I think I’m going to have to break out a medpak and give her something to stop this—ow! When did you start teaching her unarmed combat? That was one nasty kick!”

“Let me try something else…JAE, WAKE UP!” Talin yelled loudly inside my mind.

I sat up in bed abruptly with a gasp, suddenly wide-awake with my heart pounding and sweat drenching my nightclothes. I wiped at my eyes with a trembling hand. As the fog of the nightmare faded, it slowly dawned on me that Talin was tightly clasping my other arm while Jolee had a lock on my ankles, restraining my legs.

“Glad you’re back here with us on the ship,” Jolee commented with a bit of a smile, sitting up and releasing my legs. The concern in his eyes slowly faded in relief. “After what we saw on that freighter, I was beginning to worry that something more than a nightmare was going on.”

Talin eased his grip on my arm and asked, “Are you all right now?”

Slowly, I nodded my head, “I’ll be fine as soon as I wake up all the way and get those horrible images out of my head.” I gave one last shudder over the nightmarish pictures that still flooded my mind.

Jolee looked over at the chronometer on the wall. “I’m going to go make some coffee. It’s early yet, but I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep after that. You have a mean kick, Jae.” He pointed to his upper arm, which had an ugly bruise purpling up.

“Oh, I am so sorry, Jolee. I didn’t mean…” I started to say in dismay.

Jolee cut me off with a wave of the hand. “Of course you didn’t mean it. Wildly thrashing about in a nightmare is not something most of us volunteer for, you know. Is it something you can talk about? You'll probably feel better if you get it out of your system,” he said.

“I need to wake up more, first, and get my addled brain back together. I’ll join you after I get cleaned up,” I replied. My soaked nightclothes were starting to feel clammy, and I found the the scent of fear that permeated the room rather unpleasant.

He left the room to go make the coffee.

“I didn’t hit you, too, did I?” I asked Talin.

“You started to, but I caught your arm before you could land a serious blow,” Talin replied with a small smile, standing up, “We’ll have to work on proper punching techniques in one of our sparring sessions. I'll leave you to change. I imagine you'll find yourself much more comfortable once you have on dry clothes.”

Some time in the refresher and a dry robe did much to improve my mood, though the disturbing images still played at the edge of consciousness. The smell of coffee drifted to my room, and I decided some caffeine would be most welcome. In the galley, I poured myself a cup.

“Refill?” I asked Jolee and Talin, holding up the pot. Jolee held up his mug for more; Talin declined. Then I joined them at the table.

They both looked at me expectantly.

Taking a calming breath, I described the dream, leaving out the more graphic details. “A Sith Lord attacked us all. He was tall and dark-haired but I couldn’t see the color well, and he had these garish yellow eyes. It was dark and hazy so I wasn’t able to see much of his other facial features. He struck you down, Jolee, and used Force Scourge on Talin. It was not pleasant.” I stopped briefly at the disturbing images, but gathered my thoughts quickly to go on. “He wanted me to join him, and when I told him no, he attacked all of us through the Force. Somehow, I managed to strike back. He was winning the battle, I’m afraid,”

“Well, if your response was any indication, you were giving him one hell of a fight,” Jolee commented, wryly. “Still, I think this is something we need to meditate on once we finish the morning sparring session. It could be a vision of the future. Of course, it could just as easily be nothing more than a bad dream. Indigestion can do that sometimes, you know.”

A chime in the common room indicated an incoming call. Jolee got up from the table. “I put in a call to Mik’oth to check on Antin Thorn. I bet that’s him now.”

I grabbed my cup of coffee and followed Jolee. Talin joined us in the common room to hear the call. I was about to warn Talin about Mik’oth, but then decided with a smile to myself that he should have an unadulterated experience with this unique Twi’lek.

“Ah, you Lekku-less Wonder! How are you today, my good friend?” Mik’oth exclaimed joyfully. His garb today was no less colorful than the other day when we met him, and today it featured a bright red and yellow vertically-striped vest, a heavy necklace, and large rings with stones that matched the vest.

“Same as always, Tail-Headed Tornado!”

“Ah, that means you’re in trouble yet again,” Mik’oth quipped.

Talin was able to control his emotions enough that his face held a bland appearance, but I could see in his eyes the incredulous look mixed with humor.

Jolee chuckled. “Mik’oth, let me introduce Talin Kayl. He’s joined my little party.”

Talin gave a small formal bow. “It's a pleasure to meet you,” he stated.

“Good! Someone with proper decorum. Maybe your manners will rub off on the Wonder here. I’m Mik’oth, proprietor of the Eloni Cantina. Jolee and I go back quite a ways, except Jolee goes back farther.”

Talin couldn’t help but smile this time.

“Ah, and my favorite lovely Padawan! Come closer so I can admire your beauty more, my dear!”

Grinning, I stepped a little closer. “Flattery will go a long way, Mik’oth, but Jolee’s convinced me to remain a Jedi.”

He shook a finger at me, and replied, “I still hold out hope that you will come and dance. I have the perfect costume in mind for you,”

“I have no doubt I would be stunned at the amount of exposure I would receive,” I noted, dryly.

Talin stifled his laughter enough that it came out as a cough. Jolee merely grinned.

Mik’oth feigned a hurt look, “Oh, my dear, I would never do anything more than provide certain, ah, enhancements so that one can fully appreciate your charms. Some things are best left to the imagination, you know.”

Jolee finally interrupted, to my relief. “All right, before we’ve completely descended to sewer level, how about giving us some news on Antin Thorn?”

Mik’oth sighed dramatically, “I suppose we do have to come back to business. Thorn’s been in the Exchange for about ten or fifteen years, and has worked his way up the ranks quickly to become one of Norelden’s top lieutenants—some say the brains behind Naren’s movements. Thorn fought in the Mandalorian wars, and there’s rumors he was involved somehow with Malak’s army, but no one knows for sure yet. He definitely has a lot of experience with the seedier side of things. He’s quiet and very effective at what he does, according to my sources. Someone to watch out for.

“Oh, by the way, Norelden’s taken over another sector of the Exchange. That puts him at a little over a third of the Exchange controlled by him now. It’s making some of the bosses very nervous—the balance of power has definitely shifted in Norelden’s favor. There’s some rumors of shortages of weapons, too. The prices have skyrocketed on the black market.”

“Anything else we need to watch out for?” Jolee asked.

“Just your backs. Something very strange is going on out Telos way. Now I have to get back to my more legitimate activities, so I’ll let you go and contact you again if I hear anything else.”

“Thanks, old friend. We’re heading out to Telos as soon as we finish our business on Li’adin,” Jolee replied.

“Hopefully, I’ll have something more for you soon. I do so enjoy chatting with your lovely Padawan,” he waved good-bye, mainly at me.

Jolee shook his head and said pointedly but in a friendly tone, “Bye, Mik’oth,” and broke the holo-link.

"Mik'oth is quite an experience, Jolee" Talin commented in supreme understatement.

“I think I’ll go get suited up for sparring,” I said. Maybe that would give me enough time for my cheeks to stop burning.

* * *

Parry left, push blade down/side, swing blade cross center, return, I thought rapidly to myself, gritting my teeth against the oncoming flurry of blows from Talin.

He stopped briefly. “No, no, that’s not quite right. Try it again.”

I got back in position, and repeated the sequence a second time.

“No, still not right. Do it again.”

A third and fourth time went about as well as the first two. Talin frowned in thought, cocking his head a little, evaluating the sequence in his mind.

“Jolee, please come here and stand in for me. There’s just something not quite right but I need to see it from a different vantage point.” Talin requested.

Jolee got up into the ready position and ignited his lightsaber.

“Go slow the first time,” Talin instructed. Jolee attacked, I ran through the form sequence one more time, hoping to do it perfectly this time.

“That seems to be fine. Now go full speed, Jolee,” Talin said, and he watched every move intently.

Jolee came at me full throttle, and I could tell something was off that time.

“Ah, now I see it. When you push down, your blade tip is dropping," he mimed with his hands. "Try again.”

We ran the sequence again, but I made the same mistake once more. Talin frowned and just motioned for us to start again. I knew that run felt wrong, too, but couldn’t quite figure out when I was dropping my blade.

“Stop,” Talin finally said, with a look of frustration slipping across his face before he caught himself. "Let me show you."

He walked over behind me, and to my surprise wrapped his arms around mine and took hold of my hands. He moved arms, hands, and lightsaber with me, saying “Like this—parry, then this—hold the blade up here, don’t let your hands rotate,” and he tilted my hands so my wrists bent in the proper form, “and finally slice across center, then return.” He released my hands. “Now try it just like that.”

There was a sudden rush of feeling that I had not experienced since being held by Roben, whose arms had been equally strong. I was quite unsure how an innocent touch by this man, whose irritating self-sufficient attitude bordered on pride, could elicit such a response. I stepped out of the ring briefly, walked in a tight circle to catch my breath and recite the Jedi code to myself to calm the adrenaline wave. When I returned to the ready position, I noticed Jolee’s sharp eyes were following me, but he kept a neutral face.

He raised his eyebrows and asked “Ready?”

“Let’s go,” Talin instructed, waiting. I was relieved that he apparently hadn’t noticed the emotional burst.

Jolee attacked once more, and this time I finally got the sequence correct. I raised my hands in triumph, smiling.

“Better,” Talin commented. “All right, let’s see what you can do now at full speed,” and he stepped in and took over Jolee’s place.

He came at me fast, and I barely kept up but still managed to do the proper form. After repeating it perfectly a number of times, Talin finally appeared to be satisfied, and I sat down on the bench next to Jolee and leaned back, briefly closing my eyes against the fatigue, breathing hard.

“Good practice. You always work hard. Reminds me of my wife. She worked hard like that, too, when she was learning lightsaber techniques,” Jolee commented casually.

“You were married?” I opened my eyes and sat up, looking at him in surprise.

Jolee grinned. “You know any other way of getting a wife?”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 12:58 AM
Jolee’s Wife

“Why didn’t you tell me you were married?” I asked Jolee.

“You never asked,” he replied, “and it’s something that brings up a wealth of memories, some that are very, very good, and some very, very bad. It’s not something I feel like discussing with people I’ve only met yesterday.”

“And the Council allowed this?” Talin asked, eyebrows raised.

“Sometimes it’s easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission,” Jolee said with a wink, “I didn’t exactly give them much of a choice. Of course, love didn’t give me a choice, it just happened. Something that wonderful happens once in life, if you’re fortunate. I wasn’t going to throw that away for some silly rule that I thought was probably written by someone who was too scared to really live life.”

“What was she like?” I asked, fascinated at Jolee’s revelation.

“Oh, Nayama was a wonder,” he answered. He had a wistful look in his eyes, and a little smile on his lips as he remembered her. “Smart, determined, willful, she was a fireball. Gorgeous black hair and these deep brown eyes that made you want to do anything she asked, and I mean anything. Fabulous body, mm-mmm,” he shook his head back and forth in appreciation. “Strong in the Force, too, very strong, which is how she was able to shoot down my ship on Ukatis. But that’s another story. I loved her the moment I set eyes on her. She, of course, took a little convincing, but I eventually won her over,”

Talin commented dryly, “I’m almost afraid to ask what that entailed.”

“Yes, well, after she got over the fact that I had kidnapped her, our relationship developed quite nicely. Our love was a beautiful thing, better than anything I’ve experienced before or since. Everyone should be so lucky.”

“Kidnapped.” Talin stated, the amused disbelief playing across his face.

“Hey, it was the only way I was going to get her to come with me at the time. I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder, and ran for the ship. If I hadn’t, she might have been killed by the other Ukatis enforcers for allowing my escape. They don’t take too kindly to failure.”

The proximity alarm chimed.

“The towship?” I inquired.

“Probably, let’s go see.” Jolee answered.

Indeed it was the towship, and it didn't take long for them to hook up the freighter to take to Master Supat. We were about to go back to the discussion of Jolee’s wife when the proximity alarm again went off, but this time in warning mode. Running back to the cockpit, we saw a small group of the same Sith fighters we saw previously, but this time they were accompanied by cruiser about four times our size.

“Hmm, bad karma. That’s a civilian cruiser, probably Exchange. Wonder what they’re doing hanging around with Sith fighters. Talin, get those shields up and start entering hyperspace coordinates to Li’adin,” Jolee ordered.

“What about the quarantine?” Talin argued.

“The quarantine’s not going to matter if we’re nothing but glowing spacedust, now get going! Jae, get on those turrets and hold those fighters off. I don’t want them getting that freighter or us.”

Jolee contacted the towship. “You’ve got the freighter hooked up, now get out of here! We’ll cover you!”

“Yes, sir! We’re already on our way."

They didn’t need any further encouragement. The towship started to accelerate rapidly while pulling along the freighter. Several fighters broke formation, some going after the tow ship, some flying over to shoot at us.

Jolee moved in between the cruiser and the towship. “Talin, maximize the shields above and behind us. We’re going to take some hits, but we can take more than that towship can.”

The Accipiter sped up to combat speed, closely following the towship. It didn't take long for me to acquire a couple targets, and two of them disappeared in puffs of red-hot dust.

The cruiser retaliated by shooting at our ship, and several of the bolts hit home, rocking the Accipiter.

“T4, make sure those stabilizers are locked down, and get ready for the jump,” Talin directed.

T4 gave a series of whistles and beeps and rolled aft to inspect the stabilizers and prepare for hyperspace, rolling to the side slightly as another blast rattled the ship.

Jolee’s eyes were intense with concentration but calm, rapidly scanning across the heavens, taking everything in at once. “Talin, let me know as soon as those coordinates are punched in.”

“I’m working on it. The shields are holding, but if we take too many more hits they’re going to start losing power."

Jolee wove our ship back and forth, avoiding most of the bolts. “How are we coming on those fighters, Jae?”

Two more fighters exploded beneath us. I was about to reply when Jolee quipped, “That’s a good enough answer for me, Jae, keep it up.”

Using the Force, I focused on the next fighter. I knew before he was centered in my sights where he would be and was able to fire the moment his ship was centered in the mires.

“Looks like we have two more fighters, Jolee,” I noted. The adrenaline was making my heart beat rapidly in excitement, but I focused on staying as calm as the other two appeared.

The towship disappeared abruptly as it entered hyperspace. Now free of the task of protecting that ship, Jolee corkscrewed the Accipiter around, and I hit another Sith ship. The flames swirled around us as we flew through the super-heated dust. The last fighter turned and flew towards the cruiser, which was closing on us at a fast clip. Jolee pulled up to peel away from the cruiser, and suddenly our ship rocked as a tractor beam caught us.

“Give me all the power she’s got, Talin,” Jolee ordered.

“Done, but I don’t know that we’ll have enough power to get away,” Talin said.

“That’s not my plan.” Jolee turned the nose of our ship towards the cruiser.

“You’re not going to fly towards the cruiser!” I exclaimed.

“Old smuggler’s trick. Jae, target the landing bay. Talin, target the emitter for the tractor beam. Start shooting on my mark, and make them count. Here we go, people!”

We went from full reverse to full thrust in mere moments. The cruiser loomed frighteningly large as we hurtled towards it, accelerating rapidly.

Jolee waited until the landing bay doors were open. “Now!” he commanded.
Talin, using the Force fully, took out the emitter in one shot. I laid down a stream of blaster fire on the landing bay, and explosions rocked the other ship. Released from the tractor beam, Jolee pulled the ship up. I held my breath, willing us to not hit the cruiser, and we skimmed the surface of the other ship, barely avoiding the gun turrets and antenna.

Jolee chortled and patted the control panel lovingly, “Heh-heh, she’s a fine, fine ship. We’ll get out of this yet.” He red-lined the speed to take us away from the cruiser as rapidly as possible.

More explosions could be seen traveling away from the initial burst in the landing bay. I saw two more small flares of fire and glowing smoke, and then the entire ship exploded in one large ball of fire, with smaller bursts of glowing dust mushrooming out from the the center.

“Now that’s how it’s done!” Jolee exclaimed in triumph.

Talin sat back in his chair, closing his eyes in relief and smiling. I cheered at our success.

“Now we just have to get out of here before they figure out how their ship disappeared,” Jolee commented with a grin.

* * *

When we found a safe place to stop and wait for Master Supat’s findings, we took the time to catch up on some badly needed meditation. Jolee and I sat in contemplation in the common room, lights dimmed. We concentrated on learning the complex techniques of defending against the scourge power. The holocron, which had been placed on the small table between our chairs, started glowing brighter, and then there were whispers of instructions, just at the edge of hearing. I looked over at it in faint surprise.

“Concentrate through the Force, Jae, and it should come in more clearly,” Jolee instructed, eyes closed in his meditation.

Closing my eyes once more, I relaxed and allowed the Force to flow through. The murmuring of the holocron became louder, and we began hearing about the defense against Force Scourge….then the visions started again, as vividly awful as the nightmare. Jolee struck down, Talin writhing in pain, his skin ravaged. I shivered and my heart pounded as I stood against the Sith Lord….

I blinked open my eyes to make the images stop. Breathing hard, I leaned forward in the chair, laying my head in my hands, rocking back and forth.

“The future. It’s the future I’m seeing. Ah, blast it, I don’t want it to be true. I can’t stand to see either of you dying.” I sat up again as the disturbing images faded.

“The future is a very fluid thing,” Jolee said, reassuringly. “It may happen that way, it may not, and navel-gazing isn’t going to get you anywhere. Truth is, Jae, that most of us Jedi aren’t going to die peacefully in our beds. We all know that we’re called upon to do some of the most dangerous things in the galaxy. Most of the time we succeed, thank the Force. Sometimes we don’t. You’re going to lose more people you deeply care for and maybe even love, like Roben, and you’ll have to make peace with that at some point. Focus on the here and now, and really live life like there's no tomorrow. When tomorrow does come, you’ll be grateful to have another day with the ones you care about. Suck the marrow out of life.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it,” I replied, rather morosely.

“Of course it doesn’t. Do I look like I lead the cheering section for death and destruction?” He looked at me, eyes crinkling along with a smile.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at that, though the sadness took much longer to dissipate.

The holovid link rang. It was the call we had been waiting for the last couple of days. We’d managed to find a suitable place to conceal our ship while we waited to hear if we could break quarantine, but knowing that more fighters could burst out of hyperspace at anytime while we sat around waiting was putting us all a bit on edge.

Master Supat’s sonorous voice filled the common room. “I have examined the bodies carefully and have run a number of tests. It is indeed a Force attack, and not a natural condition that is transmissable.”

I felt a mixed sense of relief and unease at his words.

He continued, “It is, as I feared, Force Scourge. This is a very powerful technique, and I have transmitted techniques for you to learn and meditate upon. It may be your only hope against this power.”

Jolee announced, “The pilot gave us a holocron when we were on the ship. It addresses Force Scourge as well. I have to tell you, Supat, I thought it was destroyed when Ossus burned up.” Jolee held it up and rotated the small pyramid around so that Supat could get a better view of it.

Master Supat tapped his fingers together in thought. “Yes, it was one of the holocrons we thought was lost to the supernova. I have seen this one before, and in fact based some of my instructions to you on the information I had learned from it long ago. It must be the will of the Force that it has surfaced after all this time. I am unsure how or why it has returned, but I sense danger in its mere presence. You must take care to learn the techniques completely. Vandar and I will contact you if we have any further insights.”

“Any news on the cruiser?” asked Jolee.

“It was, as you suspected, an Exchange ship, registered to Vogga the Hutt but listed as stolen. Why it was accompanied by Sith fighters, I do not know. We can only conjecture that Norelden has somehow allied himself with them.”

“With our little sojourn here, we’re going to be several days late to Li’adin,” I told Master Supat.

He smiled in return. “Do not concern yourself, because the Li’adans do not conceive time as we do. All will be well. In fact, I think you will find them quite intriguing.”

Talin joined in the conversation, bowing to Master Supat. “Is there anything I need to know that can help in developing our relations with the Li’adans?”

“There is little that we know of this very reclusive system and its sentients, but I shall transmit the transcripts of our latest communications. You may be able to glean additional information from them.”

“I'll do my best to represent the Order and the Republic well.” Talin bowed once more to end his portion of the conversation.

“Then I shall leave you to your tasks. May the Force be with you,” and his image faded from the holovid.

Jolee’s eyes lit up. He clearly enjoyed the adventure. “Well, lads and lasses, next stop, Li’adin.”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 01:45 PM
Li'adin


The Li’adans contacted us as we approached the system. There were three humanoids on the holovid link. All three were more pale than I was accustomed to on either Onderon or Coruscant, and their skin had a light amber cast to it. All three had sparse hair in varying shades of dark brown, with large eyes to match. They wore blue outfits of varying shades in a light fabric that fluttered in the wind, just as in previous contacts with the Jedi or Republic, I observed.

“We are Kiol’ad, and we welcome you to our system,” they said to us warmly, each placing his hands together in unison almost as if in prayer. Their speech pattern was one of the more unique I had seen in the galaxy—each saying a word or short phrase as part of the total sentence, as if completing the others’ thoughts. It came out as ‘We. Are Kiol’ad. And we. Welcome. You. To our system.”

Talin appeared non-plussed by their unusual form of speech. “We are honored to be the guests of Li’adin,” he said formally, placing his hands together also.

“Please maintain. Your current course. We await. Your visit eagerly.” It was dizzying to switch eye contact back and forth between each speaker so abruptly, even though I had been prepared for it by our review of the holovid transcripts. The link faded out.

“T4, do a passive scan of the system.” Talin directed. He turned to me. “Why wouldn’t we want to do an active scan?” he quizzed.

“It could be considered a provocative action, and we don’t want to appear to be attempting to spy.” I answered.

“Ah, you studied then. However, we still need some information, and a passive scan is better than nothing.” he said, appearing satisfied with my answer.

“Their speech pattern is hard to follow,” I noted.

Jolee added, “It is a little crazy to go back and forth from one person to another. Almost gives me a headache,”

“Try thinking of it as one person talking, not three. Look at them as a group, since that’s how they function, not as three individuals,” Talin suggested.

“So, what did you notice during that brief interchange?” he asked me.

“Ooh, I love a good quiz,” Jolee interjected, “so long as I’m not the one required to give the answers. I did my time in school already, thank you. I’ll just read your notes later. I’m going to go study that holocron some more while you and Jae hash out the boring points of diplomacy.” He went to the galley. Shortly thereafter, the smell of fresh caffa floated on the air.

“I have a feeling we’re going to be studying awhile, and I’d like some caffa to go along with the quiz. And you?” I asked him. He nodded no.

“So, what were your findings?” Talin asked, waiting for an answer when I returned. I sat down to think, looking over the top of the steaming fragrant liquid at him.

“There were three of them together, yellowish skin, brown hair—all different shades, brown eyes—more similar in color. All were dressed in different shades of blue in a lightweight material. They’re tall and stocky. They appear to be healthy—there was no indication of illness or weakness, and they were standing without difficulty. They placed their hands together when greeting us just like in previous contacts. It’s windy and they appeared to be outside in it, there were a few clouds in the sky. They must be connected mentally somehow in order to speak the way they do. The plant life surrounding them has large long leaves with a blue-green color—could be because their sun is bluer than other systems. Their building architecture is rounded with light colored walls and dark roofs.” I answered.

“An adequate start, and your observation of health will complement my information. While we're here I’d like you to continue watching for health or medical matters, since that's your forte. However, you missed quite a bit.”

“And what would that be?” I asked, sighing inwardly at what was likely going to be yet another lecture on my lack of appropriate skills.

Talin closed his eyes a moment and looked at the pictures in his mind. “Kiol’ad is a trio, and I agree with your assessment of mental connectedness or possibly some type of Force skill. They were too far away for me to feel for that. The central man drives the conversation and said the most, we’ll call him the primary man of the group. He was wearing the lightest blue of the outfits. The youngest of the three stood to his right and wore the darkest blue. The colors and shades may or may not be pertinent. There was subtle braiding on the shoulders of all three, and the primary man had the widest braiding, though the difference was small. The outfits loosely cover everything but their hands and heads so we are not entirely sure about their anatomy, other than it’s humanoid. I saw no evidence of weapons, though small knives and such are easy to conceal in such loose clothing. Their skin is a sallow color, which could be a reflection of a species developing on a blue-sun planet. It could also be some type of appearance-altering chemical. Their hair is dark and sparse as you noted. That may be personal taste or something else. That’s just Kiol’ad.”

“Just Kiol’ad?” I asked with a hint of irony.

“There’s plenty more, I assure you. The call did indeed come from outside—you could see the effects of the wind on their clothing and watch the clouds rapidly floating by in the deep blue sky. However, they weren't standing at ground level. They were on a balcony that overlooked some kind of pastoral scene, though those details were unclear—you could catch the perspective of height, however. Why they chose to call from outside, I don't know, but it may be significant. The buildings are all constructed with smaller windows, are all connected, and the structures have smoothed or rounded edges. There are no sharp edges or corners on any of the buildings—that could be a reflection of taste, though it’s a strong possibility that they're
built that way because of the weather. Every transmission we’ve received has shown the same windy weather. All the buildings and roofs are the same color. This could be one complex of buildings in a particular architectural style, or it could be that the Li’adans value uniformity. There was no evidence of any transports. Either they are out of our view, or the Li’adans don't use them, which could be interesting. Also out of view were any other Li’adans, animals, and other fauna. As for the flora, there were five potted plants, all the same apparent type, all with long, shiny blue-green leaves and no flowers. The pots are in the same light color as on the building exteriors, and have a simple raised design on them.”

“I suppose you’re going to tell me what color the soil in the pots was,” I commented.

“Nearly black,” he said with a small smile.

T4 brought back the data from the scans.

“Thanks, T4,” I said, taking the datapads from him. Talin picked up the solar system information, and I chose to study the map of their planet.

After inspecting the data for a few minutes, I looked over at Talin. “Why is it so important to have encyclopedic knowledge of these people, anyway? Isn’t that something for the researchers and xenobiologists to investigate more fully? I thought it would be enough simply to be polite at this point.”

Talin sighed, as if he were a frustrated teacher trying to educate a dense student. “I was hoping you would have a greater understanding of some diplomacy. You have to observe everything in first contacts, because you never know what’s important and what’s not right away. Maybe they just like ivory colored flowerpots, and maybe ivory colored flowerpots can only be owned by people of certain rank. We don’t want to do something that is unintentionally offensive. Now please review that map—I’ll need a summary of it shortly.” He continued to review the datapad T4 had given him for any other useful information.

Frustrated with all the condescension, I stood and set the map down. “Are you always this arrogant, or is this just one of your good days?”

That got his attention. “What in the world are you talking about?” he asked, cocking his head at me in question, eyes intent on mine. He kept a neutral face.

“You’re always critical. You make it sound like you have graced my presence by teaching me lightsaber skills or anything else for that matter. Nothing I do is even acceptable in your view, much less any good. And your language is so, so….” I stopped, searching for just the right word.

“Sophisticated?” Talin said with a bit of a smirk.

I leveled my gaze at him. “Try pompous. Or haughty. Or maybe bombastic. I’m not entirely sure how you manage to fit your head in this ship with the rest of us.” I finished in annoyance.

Talin, maddeningly, just chuckled. “You might be correct in some of your assessment, though I haven’t measured my head circumference recently to give you an accurate answer. Now since you are being so frank in your appraisal, perhaps I'll share what I’ve learned of you in turn.”

“No doubt I will be spellbound by your brilliant insights,” I retorted. I recognized that the conversation, as well as my emotions, were spinning entirely out of control and silently recited the Jedi Code to calm my irritation.

Talin paused a minute to consider carefully his response. He seemed to evaluate every word for a proper nuance before finally speaking. “You are a Padawan, and have Padawan level skills. You need a lot more training for those skills to develop properly. If I drive you hard, it's simply because you have a great deal of potential, a diamond in the rough. Despite what you think, I’d very much like to see you succeed in your training, because I think you'll be a great asset to the Order. You history at the Jedi Academy, which I reviewed by the way, indicates you may have an issue with letting people get anywhere close to you, likely because you lost Roben. Your self-conscious reaction to Mik’oth’s flirting leads me to think that you, for reasons that are unclear, are uncomfortable with others noticing either your physical attributes or your beauty.”

“I wasn’t aware Jedi were supposed to even notice such things,” I noted coolly.

Talin, to my chagrin, just threw back his head and laughed. He held his hands out to his sides and replied with amusement, “How could I not notice? I haven’t stopped being a man just because I put on a Jedi robe. We spar together daily in just enough clothes to keep us all decent, but shorts and tight shirts don’t exactly leave a lot to the imagination. It would be a mistake for you to consider yourself unattractive.”

My cheeks colored. “Men!” I fumed, grabbing my caffa cup with the intent to escape to the galley.

Jolee entered the common room with an amused look on his face, having heard a good portion of our exchange. He quickly looked back and forth between the two of us in scrutiny as if making some kind of evaluation and then said to me, “Yes, yes, all we men think about is women’s physiques and finding the quickest way to the bedroom. I’ve heard it a million times, believe me.” Then he grinned. “Of course, I’ve flirted about a million times, so I probably deserve it. However, we men do think about other things, occasionally. Like our stomachs and the latest standings in swoop-bike racing or maybe hunting and killing something. Now if you two are done with your verbal sparring, we should get back to the business of looking over the information on the Li’adans. You never know when we might need that knowledge. And usually it’s some obscure bit of data that is the most useful, not the obvious stuff.”

Talin put on a professional mien and picked up another datapad to review. I let the ire flow out and the calm return, and took up the map once more to glean what information I could from it.

After several hours of study, Talin had found a lot of useful information, and we all worked on memorizing whatever we could.

Jolee decided, “I need to do a little meditation to plant all this stuff in my brain. Information tends to fall out of it too easy at my age. Come with me, Jae. And you, Talin?”

“I’m going to finish the last of these transcripts, and then I think I’ll practice that new Force form you taught me, Jolee. I need to work some of the kinks out of my neck before we arrive at their planet. I’ll be along in about 20 minutes.”

“Don’t neglect studying the techniques against that scourge,” Jolee reminded him.

Talin nodded his agreement and returned to his notes. Jolee and I went to the sparring room and sat down in comfortable positions to reflect upon the material we’d just learned. We closed our eyes.

After a few minutes, Jolee broke the silence. “You ever have any other men in your life besides Roben?” he asked, deceptively casual.

“What?” I said with some surprise, eyes popping open to look over at Jolee, who still had his closed in serene contemplation.

“You’re too young to have hearing problems, you know. Or you’ve got that ‘Young people never listen to their elders’ disease again. I was asking if you’d ever had any other serious relationships besides Roben,” he said, now watching me.

Nodding my head no, I said, “Roben and I were very good friends for a long time before we realized we were in love. We cared a great deal for each other, did so many things together, and shared the same ideas and feelings about life.” I smiled at the good memories. “Even my house mother approved, and she was as strict as they come.”

“House mother? Ah, you lived in the palace complex I take it.”

“So did Roben. He lived in a dorm nearby, so we got to see each other often. Of course, Telma watched over ‘her girls’ as fiercely as a maalras protects her kittens. She’d scrunch her face up in a stern look at the boys if we even held hands. And with all the cameras everywhere in the palace, Telma would have had our heads if we did anything to get in trouble.”

“Hmmph. I sure hope you at least gave the poor boy a kiss.”

I looked over at him and smiled, though I could feel some redness creeping across my face. “I may not have gotten around much--”

Jolee raised an eyebrow, questioning the ‘much’ in a supremely understated manner.

I couldn’t hold the blush back anymore. “--but I’m not that naïve. Right after he died, Kavar convinced me to join the Order, and no serious relationships happen there.”

“Remind me sometime to teach you how to sneak around a bit. No matter how many cameras there are, you can always find a little dark room somewhere.” He put on his best wicked smile.

“Jolee!” I leaned my head back against the wall and closed my eyes, hoping the pinking of my cheeks would subside soon. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

He took on a little more serious tone. “Look, it’s my job to watch out for your development as a Jedi, be that Force abilities, mental, emotional, or physical. I can tell you it’s probably time to let Roben go and live life fully—it’s too short not to appreciate it completely. If Roben was as special as you say, I doubt he’d want you to keep pining for him. But that’s something only you can decide. Now, I don’t plan to give you an instruction manual on dealing with men—you’ll be able to figure that out all by yourself just fine when the time is right. It’s better if you discover some things on your own. What all this does tell me is that I should keep an extra sharp eye out for all those unsavory types who might want to take advantage of your inexperience in the relationship department. Like Mik’oth,” he finished with a broad smile.

“Add Talin to your list while you’re at it.”

“Yes, well, Talin may or may not create a problem,” Jolee mused with an inscrutable look. “I don’t imagine he’s had a serious relationship. He’s pretty intent on toeing the line that the Order has drawn. I suppose we’ll just have to see what happens.”

“You know, I don’t believe the subject of people’s love lives ever came up once while I was at the Jedi academy.”

“Since when have I been anything but an iconoclastic Jedi? You’re not the average ‘grew up in the Jedi academy’ Padawan, either, having that ludicrous ‘don’t form attachments’ belief thrown at you every day. Anyone who’s even partly alive knows that’s not true. All this nonsense about avoiding love is such foo-foo.”

Talin walked in, apparently ready to work on his Force form. I dearly hoped he hadn’t overheard the entire conversation.

“But if you allow love, it can lead to passion, and that can lead to fear and rage and the dark side. Do you want to condemn Jedi to the dark side for the sake of a fleeting emotion?” Talin argued.

Jolee replied, “Love doesn’t condemn you, it saves you. Passion may lead to the dark side, but love doesn’t. They should be teaching Jedi how to control their passions while being in love, not shun it. We shouldn’t avoid the greatest things in life just because they come with a few complications.”

“That is an interesting argument that I had never before considered,” Talin said, though it was apparent that he was not entirely ready to believe it.

“I’m chock full of interesting arguments that the Order hasn’t considered.” Jolee responded. “Now let’s get working on that Force form, Talin.”

“I think I’ll go work some more on the scourge defense. I’m having trouble getting my mind wrapped around the entire technique,” I said, getting up to return to my quarters.

“Don’t force it—it’ll come to you eventually,” Jolee assured me.

“I’ll take your word for it, then.”

“Good. I haven’t lived this long to spout false reassurances.” Jolee said, pulling out his lightsaber and shedding his robe to begin working with Talin.

Back in my room, I sat on my bed, meditating as Jolee’s comments played through my mind.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 02:21 PM
The Story of the Sandstorm

“You will maintain current course,” an automated mechanical voice warned us as we made the final approach to the planet. “Deviation from your course will activate planetary defenses.”

A pinpoint opening appeared in the glowing planetary shield and gradually expanded to allow our ship to fly through into the planet’s stratosphere.
As Jolee flew the Accipiter further into the atmosphere of Li’adin, the ship started bucking in the wind.

“Strap in, boys and girls, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he said. Talin and I both pulled on our belts as Jolee returned his attention to maintaining control of our spacecraft.

“Well, our data did say that since the planet rotates at a slightly faster speed than normal, we'd likely encounter greater winds. I guess we've just confirmed it,” Talin commented. We watched the wind whipping the white clouds into unusual swirling patterns below us.

The holovid link chimed, and Talin, taking the lead in communication with the Li’adans, opened the link. It was Kiol’ad once more. I found after watching the holovids of their communications many times, I had become more comfortable with their constant switching of speakers, and so I was able to follow them without noticing it quite so much.

“There is a windstorm that has developed on your direct route to our facility. We are sending instructions to divert you around it. Please do not attempt to fly through it—the wind speeds can approach tornadic levels that are more than strong enough to shear the wings off of some ships,” Kiol’ad warned.

“Thank you for your instructions. We will comply,” Talin answered, downloading the information.

“Our reception party awaits you with great anticipation. You should arrive in about a half hour,” Kiol’ad finished.

“We are eager to finally meet you,” Talin replied with a carefully modulated voice. He had fully entered ‘diplomat mode,’ his demeanor showing detached attentiveness. The link faded out.

Jolee commented, “I don’t sense any dishonesty, though they’re hard to read. Still, we need to be careful. There’s a darkness working its way here.”

Stretching out my feelings, I sensed the beings and then found the darkness Jolee spoke of. “It’s not the Li’adans, though. It’s something else, but I can’t find it.”

“I agree—but I think the Li’adans are actually the targets,” Talin concluded.

“Well, we may not be able to do a first contact with blasters hanging off our belts, but I think we need to keep our lightsabers close,” said Jolee.

“Normally, I'd avoid anything that could be construed negatively in a first meeting, but with all three of us sensing something wrong, I'll grudgingly agree to this exception as long as we keep it discreet,” Talin said.

“You know, this wind reminds me of a time when I was on Tatooine,” Jolee said, starting a new story. He caught the look Talin and I shot each other. “What? Bored with my stories already? You would do well to listen to your elders, you know. Anyway, now where was I? Oh, yes, Tatooine. Mik’oth and I had decided to set down on Tatooine to exchange some of the rare items we, ah, acquired from the Ukatis for some medical and food supplies.”

“Why Tatooine? It’s in the middle of nowhere,” I commented.

“It was closer than Nar Shaddaa and a little quieter. We couldn’t just walk into the middle of a Coruscant jewelry shop and say ‘Here, we want to sell these things we stole from those prissy, selfish aristocrats on Ukatis’. You can just imagine the comments the Council would have about that. Vandar would probably sprout new hair out of his ears.”

“It’d be very interesting, to say the least,” I said, musing about all the possibilities, all of them involving some level of humor.

“Well, we had just finished trading some items in this little out-of-the way shop owned by a couple Jawas when the worst sandstorm blew up. The Jawas offered to give us shelter till it blew over. Anyone walking outside right then would have been blown away into the desert and sand-scoured. Sheltering there was fine with us, because these Jawas somehow always got their hands on some of the most unusual items you’ve seen this side of the galaxy. Well, just as they’d finished securing the windows and were about to bar the door against the storm, in walks this nasty looking Rodian. Short fellow with big bug-eyes, slimy-green skin and a blaster rifle the size of his bad attitude.”

“Bounty hunter?” Talin guessed.

“Yes. The Ukatis apparently decided we had caused enough trouble for them that they put a price on our heads. This Rodian somehow managed to track us to Tatooine, though how, I’ll never know. Pure luck for him to walk into the shop right when he did. He’d given up the search for the day and was just looking for a place to wait out the storm. He immediately drew his rifle and said something silly about collecting on his bounty.”

“What happened then?” I asked.

“I was getting to that, if you give me half a minute. Young people never like to wait,” Jolee said, shaking his head. “Anyway, the Jawas dove for cover. Mik’oth looked at me and said ‘Who’s turn is it? Yours or mine?’ I told him ‘I think it’s yours.’ ‘Good. You get him. I think I'll just stay out of the way.’ I sighed, pulled out my lightsaber, and attacked. He squeezed of a shot that ricocheted around the room, and then I sent his blaster rifle flying. A card-carrying, lightsaber-wielding Jedi wasn’t going to stop him from trying to get his bounty, however. The Rodian and I ended up in one nasty little brawl after he dodged my attack and got inside my defense. He knocked me to the ground, and my saber went flying across the room. He was good in hand-to-hand combat, really good, and I thought I just might have met my match. He was all over me like the bad scent of bantha fodder. Nothing I tried to do to get him off me was working. At one point I think I yelled out for Mik’oth to give me a little help, which of course meant he continued to stand there watching me do all the work. The Rodian had me in some kind of head lock when I noticed Mik’oth step over by the exit. Just as he was about to slam my head up against the door, Mik’oth pushed it open. A particularly nasty gust blew up right then, and suddenly one very surprised Rodian and I got sucked out the door and right into the storm. That ended that head lock, heh-heh,”

“So you were just flying around in the middle of a major sandstorm? How did you survive?” I asked, eyes wide.

“We got separated and it only took moments before I couldn’t see the Rodian anymore, much less hear him screaming over the roar of the wind. Of course, I had my eyes pretty much shut with the blowing sand and all, so I guess I couldn’t have seen much anyway. I don’t know if it was the Force or what, but I stuck my hands out blindly and suddenly caught hold of a metal rod. I grabbed on for dear life and shimmied down it as quickly as I could. Turns out it was the flagpole for the cantina. I was able to hunker down in the alcove of the door until things died down enough that they opened the cantina back up. I was sitting at one of the tables with a drink, picking sand out of my teeth, when a very dejected Mik’oth walked in holding my saber like it was memorabilia, looking to drown his sorrows.”

“I’m sure he thought you were dead,” Talin noted.

“You’re right, too, he did. When I called out his name and waved to him, he nearly had a heart attack. Then he put on this huge smile of relief and about killed me bowling me over trying to hug me. Let me tell you, that smarts when you’ve had your skin sandblasted away.”

“That’s Mik’oth…. I don’t suppose they ever found the Rodian?” I asked.

“Nope, though one of the sandcrawlers out in the Dune Sea seemed to have an unexplained sandy slime-spatter on it. Some bits of clothing of a suspiciously similar color to what he’d been wearing were stuck in a bunch of the gears.”

“Jolee, you have some of the strangest experiences” Talin said.

“You live long enough, you’ll have your own little collection of strange stories, too,” Jolee cheerfully retorted.

“Looks like we’re getting close,” I said. The city suddenly came into view as we broke through the cloud deck.

Watching it below as we approached, I tried to observe everything, partly expecting another Talin quiz, partly in fascination at being one of the few people from off planet that had ever had the opportunity to set foot on this world. All the ivory or tan colored buildings were in the same rounded architecture that we had seen previously, and many were connected to other buildings, the covered arcades spoking out in a spider-web pattern. In the larger ground bridges, we could see transports speeding along. Likely, there were numerous tunnels below ground further connecting the city.

Jolee brought our craft down, landing in a large bay. We exited the Accipiter as the roof extended back over the bay.

“Wait, where did I leave my key?” Jolee asked as the hatch locked. He patted around his robe frantically. “Ah, there it is,” he said with relief, pulling it out of an inside pocket. “Sometimes you forget these things when you get old, you know.” Then he grinned mischievously.

Talin regarded him with a touch of taut frustration; I smiled.

Jolee clapped Talin’s shoulder lightly a couple times. “Lighten up, Talin. The fate of the universe does not rest on you having the perfect first-contact meeting. They don’t strike me as beings who will get offended if you accidentally look at them cross-eyed. Every now and then it’s OK to make a mistake—I think it would be a pretty darn boring place if we were all perfect. With any luck, we’ll sit around and chat a bit, maybe share a little supper, and have a completely uneventful meeting.”

Talin smiled fractionally but settled back into his impassive but attentive expression as a small group of Li’adans arrived. Kiol’ad led the small entourage that was clumped in twos and threes. “Just follow my lead,” he said, looking at both of us to ensure we fully understood.

“Don’t do anything to get ourselves into trouble. Got it,” Jolee cracked.

Talin lifted an eyebrow faintly at Jolee but otherwise elected to ignore the quip as the Li’adans approached us.

“Welcome to Li’adin,” Kiol’ad smiled, placing his hands together in greeting. The rest of the entourage followed suit with the same motion.

Placing our hands in a similar fashion, we greeted them. Talin took the lead as our ‘primary.’

Kiol’ad made some introductions. “I am Chief Minister Kiol’ad. This is our second, Elin’ad.” Kiol’ad’s primary pointed to the group of three women. Then pointing to two groups of two men, he introduced them as Izah’an and Aklar’an.

Talin introduced us in turn, “I am Jedi Talin Kayl, and this is Jedi Master Jolee Bindo and Padawan Jae Onasi.” Jolee and I nodded in greeting to everyone.

“Please come with us. We will find a more comfortable place for our meeting.” Kiol’ad led the way through a short series of enclosed walkways that led away from the small spaceport. I made a mental note of the route as we walked along. The tops of the walkways were made mainly of clear plasteel, letting in the blue-tinted sunlight that filtered through the clouds that floated swiftly by.

“Your people have a unique style of architecture,” Talin noted pleasantly as we walked along. “Not very many cultures base their building designs on curves both inside and out. I also noticed that none of your transports travel outside.”

“Both the architecture and our transportation are reflections of the fierce storms we experience,” Elin’ad said, speaking for the first time. The voices in her group of three brunettes were all alto, with almost a musical quality to the lilt of their speech. “Our buildings are designed to withstand very high winds. Also, certain times of the year we can safely travel outside without fear of a rapidly developing storm. Then you will see many of our people enjoying the outdoors. During the stormy seasons, however, the weather and the winds can become violent with very little warning.”

We arrived quickly at our meeting room and Kiol’ad ushered us all in. “Please, let us be seated,” Kiol’ad said, motioning for everyone to take their ease in the comfortable chairs.

“We're pleased to be guests of your people,” Talin opened.

“Likewise, we are pleased that you made the trip to our system to be our guests. We hope that you will enjoy your stay here. We have prepared rooms for you, and we would be honored to have you join us for dinner tonight,” Elin’ad offered.

“We're delighted to accept your gracious offer,” Talin replied.

“While we wait for dinner we could discuss your concerns,” I suggested.

Talin quickly shot me a look and ever so slightly shook his head ‘no’. Too soon to ask! I could hear his thoughts enter my mind clearly. Somewhat chagrined, I kept my peace, letting Talin handle the rest of the conversation. After a moment, it dawned on me that I had actually heard his thoughts. I looked over at him, working to keep the surprise off my face. He was looking intently at Kiol’ad and Elin’ad, and if he did notice my expression, he gave no indication.

“We mean no offense at the directness of Padawan Onasi’s question. She is merely eager to learn of any difficulties quickly so that we can provide aid as soon as possible,” Talin said, trying to smooth over any possible insult they may have taken at my apparent breach of diplomacy.

Kiol’ad smiled at us. “I fear Jedi Kayl may worry that we would somehow be offended at Padawan Onasi’s abruptness. Since we don't experience time in the strictly linear, unidirectional fashion that you do, it would not matter whether that question was asked now or in a hundred years.”

We digested that bit of information, trying to grasp the idea of a species that could experience life anywhere on the time continuum.

Kiol’ad continued, “However, for your sake and ours, it is best if we conducted our business with alacrity. In that, Padawan Onasi has rapidly opened the door of this discussion.”

A feeling of some vindication briefly flitted by, but I knew it would be short-lived. Talin did not show it, but I knew he was not happy, though I could sense he was relieved that it had turned out apparently well in spite of the potential problems my little comment could have created.

Kiol’ad motioned for Aklar’an, the scientists in the entourage, to speak. Both of the men had the same sparse brown hair that Kiol’ad had. They said to us, “We need your help finding out what is causing time vortices to form in our system. We know the earliest ones occurred approximately 40-50 years ago, but they have increased dramatically in the last few months. Lately, the time swirls have been producing unusually large numbers of gravitophotons, and these particles are starting to slightly alter the gravity balance in our system. Already it may be causing our storms to become even more severe and more frequent. A protracted storm season could seriously affect our growing season. Since only the Unjoined are able to leave the planet and the vast majority of those are children or young adults awaiting the Joining process, we really have no one with adequate levels of education who can leave and study this phenomenon.”

“There is one Unjoined who conceivably could help us since he is a scientist. However, Dycen’a is, well, unstable, as often happens to our few adults who remain Unjoined with others. He has disappeared recently,” Kiol’ad added.

“How can we best help you, then?” Talin asked.

“We need you to go to the coordinates of the time vortices and research these phenomena. Since you are Force users, you may be able to sense the time signatures better than those who don’t perceive the universe as you do. If you also can determine the whereabouts of Dycen’a, we would be most grateful. We are very concerned for his safety.”

“Any information you have that we could review would be most helpful,” Jolee stated.

“We will download the information to your datapads,” Aklar’an stated. “This is the synopsis of the data that we have gathered over the past few months. Please, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.”

Izah’an apparently was in charge of making sure we were comfortable. The tall black-haired, dark-eyed men said, “Your quarters are ready for you. We have arranged for dinner to be served at 7 pm so that you have time to refresh yourselves after your long travels.”

We followed Izah’an to a suite of rooms that overlooked a courtyard filled with colorful plants and trees with palm-like fronds. Each of us had a bedroom that was larger than the multipurpose room on our ship. All three were filled with large, comfortable furnishings. The plush carpeting throughout the suite seemed to swallow the sound before it could even escape the deep pile. I put away my travel gear and fell backwards on the bed, stretching out on the luxurious linens, closing my eyes and exhaling in comfort.

There was a knock on the door, and before I could answer, Talin opened it slightly and popped his head in. His disapproving tone told me everything that his carefully controlled facial features did not. “I would have a word with you in the main room,” he snapped. As abruptly as he had entered, he left.

Sighing, I reluctantly made my way out to the common room to face Talin.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 02:29 PM
Dycen’a

Standing as tall as my height would allow, I walked calmly into the main room of the suite, trying to keep a serene look on my face. Remain calm, I reminded myself.

Talin was walking slowly back and forth, the index finger of one hand casually tapping the side of his broad jaw, the other hand resting across his chest and holding onto the opposite elbow. He had regained some of the control over his anger, but his eyes still flashed their displeasure.

“What do you think you were doing there? What possessed you to ask for potentially sensitive material like it was just a cup of tea?” he demanded, waving his hands around for emphasis.

“Trying to get information. Apparently, you seem to think that I nearly brought us to the brink of intergalactic war by simply asking for a little data. It just seemed right to ask them then.” I stood with hands on hips and kept up a determined look.

“‘It just seemed right?’ So you’re now an expert in first-contact diplomacy?” His tone was scathing.

“I am keenly aware that I don’t have the same diplomatic expertise that you do, but I did happen to pick up a few things in the Queen’s Court. She expects courtesy and discretion from the people who serve her. So yes, I have developed a bit of skill, and yes, I could sense that it ‘just seemed right’ at that point,” I retorted.

“What if you offended them by being so abrupt? Were you ready for the consequences? We don’t know what could make them angry and we sure don’t know what they’d do if they did become angry. You might be willing to put yourself or even me at risk, but I can’t believe you’d be willing to put Jolee in danger,” he said with an edge to his voice.

My mouth dropped open in surprise. “I would never do anything to put either of you in danger. What is your problem? Somehow, I can’t believe that you’re angry just because you didn’t get first crack at asking for that information.” I narrowed my eyes, and I sensed something deeper disturbing him. “There is something….” His mind snapped shut as he realized I could sense his feelings.

Jolee sauntered into the room, and seeing both of us sporting dark looks, decided a little advice was in order. “You both need to get control of yourselves. We’re guests. Your voices may be carrying to places farther than you expect.” He looked up at the ceiling briefly and circled a finger around as if pointing out hidden monitors.

Both of us realized at once we had forgotten that it was highly likely that our suite was being watched. That realization cooled our tempers as quickly as a Hoth winter.

Jolee went on dispassionately, “Jae, Talin was leading our team, you should have followed that lead. First contacts can be tricky and things can go very wrong, very fast. You’ll learn more just observing Talin than you will from any holovids on diplomacy. Watch him and learn. Talin, you need to look at this situation for what it is, not what it could have been. Things don’t always go as planned. Fortunately, it worked out just fine. Now I’d like you two to get over whatever it is that’s getting under your skins.”

I looked over at Talin and decided to swallow some pride. “Jolee’s right, I shouldn’t have jumped in, and I hope you can forgive me.”

“And I shouldn’t have snapped. It was neither kind nor professional.” He exhaled the irritation.

Jolee seemed satisfied. “Good. That’s over. I hate it when you young people have spats. It gives me a headache. Now, Talin, something’s bothering you, and I’d really like to know what’s got your shorts in knots.”

Talin sat down on the edge of one of the chairs and rested his elbows on his knees. “I made the same mistake Jae did one time—jumped in too early on some delicate negotiations. My master and I were trying to work out some differences between two families. When I asked what I thought was an innocent question, one of the families got very upset and accused the other family of hiring us to take their side. A fight broke out right there at the table. My simple interruption caused the escalation of a family feud for about eight years. A number of people died, and it’s something I have to live with the rest of my life. I don’t wish that burden on anyone. I can’t make those kinds of mistakes again.” he finished, his somber eyes connecting with mine.

I caught the shadow of pain that they held because of the feud.

“Lad, we all make mistakes, sometimes bad ones. The Force isn’t going to keep us from doing something idiotic from time to time. One of the hardest things to learn is how to forgive ourselves when we do something wrong,” Jolee advised.

“Believe me, I know,” Talin replied.

Jolee said, “Fine. Maybe you can pay attention to my advice, then. Let’s go get ready for dinner.”


*****

“That should do for the dinner,” Talin said when I came out from my room in a dress rather than the more sedate Jedi robes.

“Glad you approve.” I couldn’t quite suppress the irony, but I smiled a bit to take out the sting.

“What Talin’s trying hard not to say is that you look lovely,” Jolee said with a wink.

A chime at the door indicated some of our hosts arrived. Izah’an smiled as they entered the room and saw us prepared for their dinner.

“We are so delighted that you are joining us. I must say, Padawan Onasi, that your dress is quite elegant and sets off your features perfectly,” they said. “Please follow us.”

“Now they know how to give a compliment,” Jolee looked sideways at Talin, elbowing him.

We headed out towards the center of the small city, which was only a short walk away. Izah’an pointed out various interesting sights and entertained us with little stories of the people and history. Looking up at the sky, I noted to everyone, “Looks like the clouds are getting really dark out there. I wonder how bad the storm will be.”

Izah’an looked up through the clear ceiling, assessing the quickly gathering dark clouds and flashing lightning with an experienced eye. “It looks like it may be a bad one, but our building designs are more than sufficient to protect us, I assure you.”

“You can hear the wind starting to howl even through the heavy walls,” Talin observed.

“It will be loud for about fifteen minutes, but this is a very fast moving storm. It should be over in about a half hour,” Izah’an said. “With luck, we’ll be able to enjoy some fresh air during our dinner.”

“Oh, I’m not concerned, I enjoy a good storm,” I grinned.

“Then Li’adin will not disappoint you,” Izah’an said with a smile.

We turned and entered a long corridor.

“Uh-oh,” Jolee stopped. “I think we just found that darkness. There go our dinner plans again.”

A Li’adan in some dark robes stood alone in the corridor. The flashing lightning reflected off his face, giving him a malevolent look. In one fluid movement, his hand moved to a spot in his robe, and suddenly a lightsaber snapped on, its orange blade hissing.

“My master will be pleased to hear that I found you. He was very unhappy when he learned that his prized holocron had been stolen by some common slaves and then fell into the hands of some Jedi. I’ll be delighted to bring back not only the holocron but your heads as well.”

Izah’an gasped. “Dycen’a! We’ve been looking all over for you! We’ve been terribly worried something had happened. Please, put down the weapon.”

Dycen’a sneered, “I’ve been with my Master, learning my true potential as a Single. That’s not something our leaders ever discuss us losing when we Join with others.”

Izah’an pleaded with him, “You can’t mean that. Aklar’an was meant for you and you for them. They need you to be fully complete, and you need them.”

“I can and do mean that. Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to be Separate? I determine my own destiny. I will use this power to show others what it’s like to be Separate and not limited by the silly beliefs of the Triads. I will free all of us and lead us into a new way of life,” Dycen’a said.

He drew himself up tall with superiority and smirked at us.

“Dycen’a, listen to yourself. This isn’t sane talk.”

“I’ve already convinced many Singles that they should experience their full power and not have it watered down by Joining. I would help all Triads and Diads to see their true potential as Singles. Once you are Separate, you will understand and join me.”

“Many of us would die if Separated,” Izah’an said, shocked at what Dycen’a was saying.

“So they would. No matter. Those of you strong enough to survive would find your lives improved. Your only choice right now, Izah’an, is whether you will join me and live or whether you’ll stay with these Jedi and get struck down after I destroy them,” Dycen’a warned them, malice in his voice.

Jolee spoke up. “Dycen’a, we don’t want to fight. You’re not strong enough in the Force to survive a battle with us.”

He said it without an ounce of pride. Dycen’a was strong in the dark side, but not enough to take on Jolee, much less the three of us combined.

Izah’an’s primary made a move to call for help on his comlink. Before he could say a word, the orange lightsaber flicked across the corridor, and he suddenly fell to the ground in agony, the comlink and several of his fingers gone. The blade turned and hit the second man. The lightsaber just glanced off him, hitting the side of his face and shoulder, but it was enough to cause serious injury. The second of the twosome collapsed next to his primary. The mental anguish from his primary was so loud I had to put up an immediate block.

Jolee, keeping his eyes on Dycen’a, said, “Jae, take care of Izah’an. We can handle this.”

I didn’t need any further encouragement to help them, and concentrated on easing the pain of the injured duo.

Dycen’a closed to attack Jolee and Talin, lightsaber blazing to match the fierce lightning flaring overhead. He struck from above, slamming his blade down savagely towards Jolee’s head. Jolee’s blade caught it with ease, and he deflected it down and away. Talin, seeing the opening, counterattacked with a slash to his midsection. Dycen’a dodged at the last moment before unleashing a fierce flurry of blows that kept Jolee and Talin busy parrying and counterstriking for a time.

Talin seemed to learn his opponent’s technique with every move he made, however, and began anticipating Dycen’a’s moves. He quickly gained control of the fight, and in a blur of speed delivered a number of blows with dangerous grace that Dycen’a could barely deflect in time. Jolee threw in some probing attacks, pressing Dycen’a back, watching intently for the opening in Dycen’a’s defense that would finish the battle. Dycen’a retreated against the onslaught and finally ran out of room, back to a wall.

Talin held the tip of his lightsaber millimeters from Dycen’a’s chest. “Drop your lightsaber, now,” he ordered.

Dycen’a’s eyes lasered their hate through Talin and Jolee. “Fine,” he snarled, deactivating his lightsaber and tossing it away in rage.

I breathed a sigh of relief that both Jedi were unhurt.

“Are you going to come with us quietly?” Jolee asked.

“I’ll go. But not quietly.” He jumped a good 5 meters into the air, well out of range of Jolee or Talin’s lightsabers, flipped over in the air, and landed. He willed his lightsaber to fly to his hand and then took off running towards us, Talin and Jolee in pursuit.

Standing to protect Izah’an, I ignited my lightsaber.

“You can’t escape, Dycen’a. There’s nowhere else to go,” I said to him calmly.

Izah’an’s primary stood holding his hand, hoping to convince Dycen’a to give up the fight.

His eyes narrowed and his lips thinned into a smug smile. “Of course there is,” he said in a dangerously quiet voice.

I realized what he was thinking just before he threw the lightsaber at the ceiling, creating a jagged circle in the clear plasteel. I dove over the more injured half of Izah’an to shield him from any falling objects. The wind roared furiously as a hole ripped open in the ceiling, debris suddenly flying everywhere. It nearly lifted me off the ground, and I could hardly breathe as it sucked the air out of my lungs. My hair flailed my face and I held onto it with one hand to keep it from lashing my eyes. An alarm sounded because of the breach, but I couldn’t hear it over the furor. I looked over towards Dycen’a, who jumped through the hole to escape.

A gust blew Izah’an’s primary right after him. Talin grabbed for Izah’an’s feet as they were blown by, but he couldn’t reach them in time. He jumped after Izah’an to rescue him. Jolee, crouched low and bent against the wind, ran to where I was half-kneeling, half-lying. He held onto the two of us and tried to cover more of the injured man. Time crawled, and then sped up again as a number of hands grabbed all three of us, placed us in a transport, and sped off towards the infirmary, sealing the corridor behind us until the storm could pass. Wiping the grit from my eyes and pushing the tangled mess of hair back off my face, I looked over at both Izah’an’s second and Jolee to assess for any more injuries.

Jolee caught my look of concern. “I’m fine. Don’t think he is, though. What have we got going here?”

“He’s been hit in the face and shoulder. I don’t think the facial injuries were bad, but the shoulder wound is deep and may have hit some vital structures,” I noted clinically.

“You’ve got it OK? As soon as this storm dies down a little more, I have to go with the search teams to look for Talin and those two Li’adans.”

I nodded. “I’ll work with their medical people and get him fixed up.”

***

Washing my hands after I was satisfied that Izah’an’s second was stable and healing well, I was alerted to the approach of an emergency team by the clamor of rattling equipment and their loud voices giving treatment instructions. I cocked my head to listen and heard the controlled urgency in their speech that indicated the situation was likely critical. The doors to the infirmary burst open, two teams rolling in two stretchers, Jolee following behind closely with a grim expression on his dirt-smeared face. He caught my eyes and a sick feeling filled my stomach.

“Oh, no,” was all I could whisper, despair welling up.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 02:41 PM
The Emergency

My heart stopped for a moment.

Only two stretchers, not three....

Izah’an’s first was in the main stretcher, moaning in pain. The other unconscious man was under an oxygen breath mask and covered in blood, mud, and equipment. The flood of relief I felt when I saw it was Talin was tempered by great concern when I realized he was seriously injured. One of the emergency workers held up the infusion bag that had a line running from it to Talin’s arm and another held on to some equipment as they rushed past the doors. I quickly joined Jolee as he followed the stretchers into the emergency area.

“What happened?” I asked him, watching the emergency teams transferring both men to the brightly lit treatment bays and hooking up monitors and instruments. The alarms for critical values started sounding from the monitors in Talin’s bay. The med team scurried around setting up equipment, taking samples, and doing the initial scans to find all the injuries. They spoke back and forth with clipped voices edged in worry.

We walked briskly towards him, and Jolee filled me in. “When we found them, he was curled up around Izah’an’s first. Talin must have caught him right after they blew out of the corridor. The storm carried them some distance, and they hit a building about eight meters up—you could see the marks on the wall. They fell down the side, and Izah’an’s first landed hard on top of him. I’ve done some healing just to get him to this point, but we’re going to have to work together to stabilize him.”

I scanned the displays and watched the values scroll. “Oh, Force, these are bad,” I said, after seeing nothing but critical numbers.

Jolee laid a hand on my shoulder. “Stay calm. Getting adrenaline-addled isn’t going to help him. He’s the one with the problem, not you. I know this isn’t the first time you’ve been through something like this.”

The flashbacks returned with a vengeance. The explosion. Roben on the ground. Cradling his head and trying to heal him. Seeing his spirit leave. I closed my eyes and shook my head, trying to clear the images.

“Look at me, Jae,” Jolee commanded. I had no choice but to comply. He looked in my soul for a moment and then caught my eyes. “He’s not Roben. Talin’s got more than a chance, as long as you don’t keep standing there gawking at the past. Now, move. Focus. You’re a professional, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

I took a deep breath, recited the Jedi code to calm myself, and stepped into the controlled chaos in Talin’s bay.

Talin labored to make even a shallow breath. Bandages were stained bright red, and his leg was lying at an abnormal angle on the bed. One of the Li’adans finished the scan and put the results up on the monitor. Tarm’ad, the triad of doctors who was treating Talin, looked over the images, which showed a number of injuries ranging from the most serious to very minor.

Jolee pointed at the images of Talin’s fractured spine and collapsed lung. “We have to heal those before he can go into the kolto.”

Tarm’ad said, “All the tanks are in use right now, and there’s no one we can pull out at the moment.” They called over a duo. “Eron’an, tell surgery to be ready for two cases.”

“Jolee, if you can work on his collapsed lung, I’ll tackle the internal bleeding and that spine fracture,” I said.

When Tarm’ad looked momentarily confused, Jolee explained, “We’re going to heal the most serious injuries as long as our Force powers hold out to try and get him stable.”

“He’ll have a better chance of surviving if he still needs surgery after we’re done,” I added.

“Just tell me what you need and when,” Tarm’ad said. “While you’re doing that, we’ll work on putting his shoulder back in place and sealing all those deep lacerations.”

“Fix the breathing and the bleeding, I always say,” Jolee said.

He started concentrating on healing Talin’s collapsed lung while I worked on bringing the torn edges of the artery together, ‘watching’ them heal from the inside out.

“Bleeding’s stopped,” I told Jolee.

Jolee nearly had Talin’s lung healed when he regained consciousness, dark eyelashes fluttering against his ghostly pale skin. I had to drop out of the healing meditation to calm him when he started moving around.

“Heart rate’s spiking,” Eron’an said. His heart was beating dangerously fast from shock.

“Sedate him. Now,” Tarm’ad ordered.

I leaned in close to him and gently put my hand on his. “Talin, you’re hurt bad. We’re healing you right now. Hold still for us.”

He nodded slightly and closed his eyes again.

“Talin, hang on just a little longer. I’m almost there,” Jolee said.

Alarms went off as Talin gave a little shudder and stopped breathing.

“His heart rate and BP just bottomed out. We’re losing him,” Eron’an announced.

“Damn it, Talin, don’t you give up now. I’m almost done fixing that lung,” Jolee said. “Jae, go get that boy. Tell him I said he’s too damn young to die.”

I closed my eyes in meditation and drifted over to that dark, quiet between-world. The shadow-valley between life and death strips the soul to its essence. There are no masked emotions, no lies, and I felt a sudden roiling of my feelings as I looked around, anxious to find him and bring him back before it was too late.

“Talin,” I called out, finally seeing him.

He looked around, the confusion coloring his aura.

I walked up to him. “Talin, come back to us. You can’t leave.”

He pointed towards that warm, bright light, “They don’t seem ready to take me just yet, but I want to be with them. People I love are there. It hurts too much where I was, and I can’t go on anymore.”

“Jolee says you’re too damn young to die.”

Talin smiled, but his eyes kept their weary look. “Jolee’s a funny man. No one’s too young to die. Children die. Babies die.”

“But we still need you here with us. Don’t let go,” I urged.

“There are other Jedi.”

“Not other Jedi like you, Talin. You’re special. And you’re our friend.”

He looked over at me, surprised. “I thought you were angry with me and didn’t care.”

“Frustrated is a better word. Friends get frustrated with each other sometimes. Yes, I do care about you.”

“It’s more than frustration. You use that to keep me away.”

I didn’t want to answer, but I was afraid he’d let go if I didn’t keep talking to him to draw him back.

“I’m scared,” I said after some time. “Every one I’ve ever loved has died. My parents are gone. When Roben died, I felt like my soul was ripped in half. If I love, I lose, and I don’t want to feel that way ever again. Now you’re trying to leave, too. Jolee and I will do everything we can to heal you, but you’re the only one who can decide to return.”

“I didn’t know you felt that way.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone before. So what’s your reason?”

He tilted his head, confused. “What do you mean?”

“That arrogance. You’re only that way with me.”

“Because you’re beautiful, talented, and have a strength of will I’ll never have. I have feelings I never imagined having, and I’m not sure what to do. Keeping you at arm’s length keeps us both safe. I don’t want to put either of us in a difficult situation. But I don’t think it will matter now, anyway.” He turned towards the beckoning light, slipping fast.

“Talin Kayl, you just look at me right now,” I commanded, the sharpness in my voice surprising even me. He looked back to me, silent. I continued, “You have to fight this and come back to us. You’re too strong to run from life when it gets hard. Besides, Jolee would miss you a lot, and so would I. Maybe it’s selfish, but we want you in our world.”

He gave me a small smile. “You’re starting to sound like him.”

“He grows on you after awhile.”

He smiled wider. “Like a fungus.”

“I’ll make a pact with you. When we get back and you’re well, we’ll both deal with our problems. I’ll stop pushing everyone away when they get close if you’ll drop the condescension.”

He mulled over his options.

I hardly dared to breathe as he tried to make his decision. I held out my hand to him. “Come with me, please. I’ll help you get back.”

“It’s going to hurt a lot when I go back, isn’t it?”

When I heard him use ‘when’ instead of ‘if’, I allowed the tiniest bit of relief to trickle through me.

“It will, but not for too long. We’re trying to do everything we can to get you healed fast. I’ll stay with you as long as you need.”

He took hold of my hand, and I smiled as the relief flooded in.

“I’m going to hold you to that pact,” Talin said, and we walked away from the darkness together.

The change from the silent, dim netherworld to the glaring lights and cacophony of monitor alarms and loud talking was jarring, and I snapped out of the meditation.

Ilan’an called out, “He’s breathing again, rapid and shallow.”

“Glad you got him back, Jae. Lung’s healed; I’m going to tackle some of those other fractures.”

Tarm’ad listened to Talin’s breathing. They looked almost amazed in their pleasure. “Lung sounds are much better.”

“Heart rate’s a good sinus rhythm. BP and O2 sats are coming back up towards normal,” said Eron’an.

“Better,” I said, breathing out a bit in relief. “I’ll work on the vertebrae now.”

“You used a ton of energy trying to get him to come back. You burn yourself out trying to heal him completely and I’ll be very upset,” Jolee said, looking up from his work to make sure he had my complete attention.

“I’ll stop before I exhaust myself.”

I meditated and brought the edges of the vertebrae back into alignment. The fracture lines filled in and set. Jolee and I worked on the rest of the injuries until I was shaking from the effort to use the last of my Force strength.

He looked up as we finished the work on Talin’s broken bones. “You’re done. Sit down before you fall down.”

I sank into the chair and looked over the monitors. Some of the values were now out of critical ranges and moving back to normal. “He’s starting to stabilize, Jolee.”

“Looks like he’s not going to need surgery, either,” Tarm’ad said, looking over the latest scans. “All the major injuries are healed. Impressive.”

The decrease in everyone’s intensity level was almost palpable. The staff moved briskly instead of frantically, and the volume of the noise dropped to a more normal level.

“Nice job,” Jolee clapped me on the shoulder and then caught me when I nearly tipped off the chair. “You’re beat. Stay here while I go check on Izah’an.” He washed up and walked over to the other bay.

Talin started to stir and tried to remove the oxygen mask. I took his hand and held onto it gently to keep him from taking it off. He was too weak to pull away to reach his face.

“Talin, leave the mask on, you need the oxygen right now. You’ve been hurt badly, but you’re going to be OK,” I reassured him. “They’re pulling glass out of your back, so you have to hold still.”

He settled down, not making a move to remove his hand from mine.

Jolee returned to us after some time and noticed Talin was more responsive.

“How’s our favorite patient?” Jolee said, looking down at him.

“I feel terrible,” Talin said weakly, his voice barely above a whisper.

“You look terrible, too,” Jolee said, “but you’re past the worst of it. They only have to pick out that glass now. Just how many windows did you crash through?”

Talin mustered the energy for a half-chuckle before it quickly turned to a wince, “Oh, it hurts to laugh. One or two. Izah’an?”

“You did a good job protecting him. He’s going to be just fine. He had a couple of broken bones and a concussion, but he wasn’t nearly as bad off as you were. You broke pretty much everything you can break.”

“Hit several buildings hard. Last fall got me.”

“Jolee, what happened to Dycen’a?” I asked, looking over at him.

“The Li’adans think he was swept away in the storm and likely died. I’m not so sure. We would have found something by now if he’d been killed. I think he’s somehow survived and is hiding. However, he’s not anywhere near here right now, or we’d feel it. It’s going to make a very interesting report for the Council, that’s for sure.”

Kiol’ad and Elin’ad entered the infirmary, worried looks mirrored on all their faces. They conferred with Damen’ad and Tarm’ad to get a report on all the patients and then came to speak with us. Tarm’ad returned to the task of finding and removing all the glass and debris from Talin.

I joined them in that task, taking gauze to clean some of the facial wounds of the debris.

“You don’t have to do that. I can wash my own face,” Talin said, embarrassed at being unable to do the simplest tasks but too weak to stop me from helping.

“I’m making sure you don’t have anything stuck in these cuts. Besides, you’ll be a lot more comfortable if you don’t have all this grit and dirt drying on your skin. Now you just rest and let me do my job.”

“All right,” he said, closing his eyes.

Kiol’ad came in, and seeing Talin with his eyes shut, said quietly, “We heard the good news that Jedi Kayl will recover.”

Talin heard them, opened his eyes, and tried to raise his head.

“Talin, hold still, please,” I said to him. “Tarm’ad’s still working. Jolee will take care of things for you.”

Elin’ad smiled gently, saying, “We don’t worry about protocol and negotiations in the infirmary.”

Jolee said, “We’re glad Izah’an made it, too. I was concerned when he was blown out the window. That storm was unbelievable.”

Tarm’ad looked up from their work. “We don’t know if Izah’an would have survived without both Jedi helping with their healing. We’ve learned some very interesting treatment techniques.”

Kiol’ad looked at both of us and said, “We’re thankful to have you here and grateful for all your help. When everything has settled a bit, we’d like to hear what happened in more detail, especially about Dycen’a. Is there anything you need?”

Jolee looked over at me. “I think my Padawan needs to go change.”

I had one of the disposable ER gowns on over my outfit, which had been stained with blood and dirt. I realized I was starting to feel the chill of the damp dress.

“I didn’t notice,” I said, looking down at it for the first time since before the attack.

Jolee noted dryly, “I gathered that. You really have to stop dressing up in evening gowns when you go heal.”

I wrinkled my nose to make a face at him for that quip.

Ilan’an brought some scrubs for me. “Please, take these. You need something dry until you can get back to your quarters.”

I made a move to let go of Talin’s hand to go change when he abruptly gripped mine tightly. “Please, don’t go,” he pleaded. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

Looking down at him, I saw the vulnerability in his exhausted face and felt his fear at coming too close to death. I smiled, gently squeezing his hand back.
“We won’t leave you alone. I’ll be right back, I promise. Jolee will stay with you while I change,” I reassured him.

Talin let go reluctantly. I changed and returned quickly.

“I think he’s asleep,” Jolee said quietly, nodding towards Talin. “Elin’ad is going to take me back to our suite so that I can clean up and change. I can’t stand smelling like bantha schutta. Then I’m going to have a little chat with Kiol’ad and Elin’ad. They need to know about Dycen’a training as a dark Jedi. I shouldn’t be too long. Call me on the comlink if something happens.”
He turned and left with the Triad leaders.

“Well, now we’ve got all that glass,” Tarm’ad said, satisfied at the work.

They spread an anti-infective over his back and then covered it with a large dressing. Talin woke up from the cold of the medication.

“They’re done now, Talin,” I said.

He nodded in relief, but he reached for my hand for reassurance anyway.

“You’re going to be just fine. I’ll stay with you as long as you need.” I said, giving his hand a slight squeeze.

He finally relaxed completely and fell into a deep sleep, breathing evenly. I sat down in a chair next to his bed to keep a vigil.

* * *

“Jae, wake up,” Jolee said in a subdued voice. “You neck is going to get stuck like that.”

His eyes still managed to crinkle in amusement, though the fatigue remained from all the healing and fighting he had done earlier.

Rubbing the gritty feeling from my eyes, I lifted my head up from the top of the chair. Apparently, I had been in that position for quite some time, because my neck was nearly fused from stiffness. I rotated my head a bit to loosen up the muscles, and remembering where I was, looked immediately over at Talin’s bed to assess his condition.

Jolee followed my eyes over to him. “He’s improving quite a bit. Looks like all his vital signs have stabilized in the normal ranges. He’s sure got a death grip on your hand, though.”

“He was scared. I guess he felt he needed to hold onto something familiar.”

Jolee patted my shoulder a couple times. “You’re a good lass. Sometimes it’s the simplest gestures that mean the most to our friends. It reminds me of Nayama’s cocoa chip cookies. Which reminds me of food, which you haven’t had in awhile.”

I looked over at Talin, who was in a deep sleep, recovering nicely. My stomach gave me away by growling loudly. “I suppose I could eat a little something and nap while he’s asleep.”

“Of course you can eat and sleep,” Jolee snorted, “because I’m going to sit here by Talin and make you rest. Heh, you know, this Jedi master thing grows on me. It’s kind of fun ordering around you young people.”

I could only manage a tired smile at his wit. I relinquished my chair and sat down at the little table where he’d left a small dinner tray.

He said, “Nayama used to take the finest Ithorian cocoa chips—best in the galaxy, maybe the universe—and make these cookies. They were the finest smelling cookies, but they tasted just awful.” He scrunched up his face in distaste. “In fact, she was a terrible cook. Somehow, she managed to burn or ruin just about any dish she touched. I had to learn how to cook in self-defense or I would have starved. She loved those cookies, however, so I always ate a couple and encouraged her to make more.”

“If you didn’t like them, why did you want her to make more?”

“Because every time she made them, she’d bring me a plate and put a little kiss right here on my head,” he said, pointing to the center of his forehead. “She never did that with any other dish she made. I would have eaten a bucket of bolts to get that little forehead kiss. It was a tiny thing, but it meant a lot to me. It was one of the ways she showed me she loved me. I bet you’ve had some little thing like that that meant a lot to you.”

“Roben and I had this little hand signal we’d give each other to say ‘I love you’. We weren’t always able to speak to each other in the Court if we were busy with our particular duties, but we could make our little sign to each other subtly enough that it wasn’t noticeable to anyone else. And my housemother, Telma, had this little couch in her office where could sit. If we had a bad day, she’d come sit down on that couch next to us, put her arm around us, and give a little motherly squeeze. It didn’t matter how bad the situation was, that little hug somehow seemed to make everything all right.”

“Heh, Telma sounds like a fine woman.”

Talin gave out a short sigh. Both Jolee and I looked over towards him. I scanned the monitors quickly for any abnormal readings and was relieved when they continued to remain normal. When I looked back at him again, his eyes were open slightly and he appeared to be in no distress. His lips turned up slightly, which was as much energy as he could muster for a smile.

His voice was barely above a whisper as he asked, “Do you people ever stop talking long enough for a guy to sleep?”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 03:05 PM
The Story of Reeca

“Feeling any better, lad?” Jolee asked.
“Still rotten, but better,” Talin breathed quietly.

“‘Better’ is better, we’ll take it,” Jolee replied. “You should be up and back to normal in a few days.”

“Wish I could believe that,” Talin said, eyes closing slowly.

Jolee chuckled slightly, “When you’re planting flowers, it’s hardest to imagine their beauty when you’re up to your eyeballs in the poo-doo fertilizer.”

Talin just shook his head slightly and sighed.

“That’s very…picturesque,” I noted, lifting an eyebrow in irony. A yawn escaped before I could stop it, and Jolee looked me over with a critical eye.

“Talin, I’m sending Jae back to our suite, and I’ll stay here.”

I protested, “Jolee, I need to be here in case--”

“No, you need to go rest. The masters who are strongest in the Force don’t have unlimited healing power, and neither do you. We all have to sleep sometime. The only one who I’m convinced doesn’t sleep is Vrook, and look how crabby it makes him. There’s a Li’adan outside who will take you back to your room." When I made no move towards the door, he added, “They now also have these amazing new-fangled devices we call comlinks,” Jolee said dryly, displaying his. “It’s a novel concept. We can talk to each other at any time if we have an emergency. What will they think of next?” Jolee said with an acidic drawl, though he tempered it just a bit with a smile.

“Go. Sleep.” Talin made a weak dismissal motion with a bandaged hand.

I crossed my arms and stated, “Fine. But I’m going to come back as soon as I get a short rest.”

“You must be really tired,” Jolee said. “You sound like a two year old. All you need to do now is stomp one of your feet. Get going.” He made a circling motion for me to turn and then pointed at the door.

I sighed, turned, and made sure not to stomp on my way out.


***

The dream tendrilled like one of the poison vines of Dxun, trying to strangle any good around it….
The Sith Lord laughed loudly, watching my attempts to block his lightsaber blows, a look of haughty disdain darkening his face. Jolee was there, lying on the ground, struck down in battle. Talin, lying on the ground next to him, twisted by the horrible plague of blisters. Those same blisters covered my hands, but I couldn’t stop fighting. I had to save my friends. I watched in horror as the Sith Lord raised his lightsaber to bring it crashing down on my head, realizing my block would never reach up in time to protect me from being killed…

I woke up fully in a start, taking a moment to realize I was in my room in the suite, the dampness from the sweat trickling down my neck and making me cold. I had only slept a few hours, but the dream made my heart race, and I knew it would be a while before I could get back to sleep. I found some caffa in the galley and picked up the holocron from the pile of Jolee’s datapads of notes. Turning it over in my hands in study, I thought about the dream and the masters’ mantra, ‘the future is always in motion’. Maybe studying the holocron could make a difference. Sitting down on a sofa, I started the meditation.

***
The shift in the air and the light weight draping over me woke me up. Jolee had come back to the suite, and had covered me up with a blanket.
“Well, I was trying not to wake you up,” he said.

“Talin’s OK?”

“Sleeping like a baby. He’ll be that way for a while—his body is starting to heal itself now. Tarm’ad promised to call us if he woke up. I came back to get some shut-eye before I fell asleep walking. I was surprised to see you out here, though. I didn’t know you’d taken to sleeping on the sofa with holocrons and caffa. No wonder you’re having strange dreams lately.”

Brushing the hair out of my eyes, I said, “I wasn’t trying to sleep, I was trying to meditate.” I pointed at the holocron.

Jolee sat down across from me. “Using the Force at full bore is pretty exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to channel that much power. Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for real sleep, and your body lets you know that by checking out for a while. Even masters don’t meditate forever. So why were you out here trying to study the holocron when I told you to rest, hmm?” He tried unsuccessfully to put a strict look on his face—the frown was there but the eyes contradicted it.

“It was that nightmare vision again. You’re down, Talin is lying on the ground with Scourge, and I’m battling the Sith Lord and can’t get my lightsaber up in time to make the block. It woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep right away. I thought if I came out and studied this holocron some more, I might be able to change something or at least stop the dream.”

He rested back in his chair and considered the situation for a few moments, rubbing his chin. “I don’t think you’ll be able to stop the dream. The Force is funny like that. Once it gives someone a vision, it usually doesn’t make it go away until it’s completed.”

“Oh, wonderful,” I said, too tired to stop the sarcasm. “I can’t wait for more sleepless nights.”

“No one ever promised you lots of beauty sleep when you’re a Jedi, you know,” he grinned. “Still, the future is pretty fluid. Just because you see it one way in a vision doesn’t mean it will be that way. You never know what might change it. Studying the holocron may not do anything, and then again, it might just be the thing that saves everyone. I’d rather bet on it helping, and the knowledge is never wasted. And since we seem to be in a lightsaber battle, we’ll make sure we study solid technique. It’s always good to be prepared for these things. You know, this reminds me of this lass, Reeca. It’s a good story, but I need some tea first before I tell it. Doesn’t matter what planet I’m on, damn infirmary air is always dry.”

He went to the galley, and came out with two cups of hot tea, handing one to me. I sat up to sip the fragrant drink, watching the steam making lazy swirls upwards.

“Alderaan grey tea. Supposedly helps people to relax,” he said, sitting down with his cup. He continued, “Reeca and I were made Padawans about the same time. Fine girl. Brilliant scholar. Always had her nose stuck in holocrons. Last I heard, she was one of the master archivists in the Jedi library on Coruscant. Anyway, she kept having this vision that she was falling off a cliff or something, landing face up on a ledge 100 feet below and dying. She did everything she could to avoid high places after that. Finally, her master made her go on a hike in the mountains with him. He took a couple of us Padawans along for exercise and herb training or something like that. ‘You can’t run away from destiny’, he told her. If it was going to happen, the Force would make it happen. If not, at least she’d get over trying to escape her destiny all the time.”

“I take it she didn’t fall off any cliffs during that trip, then?”

“No, Reeca did fall off a cliff—it really was her destiny that she saw in her dream. The future didn’t change that much from the vision. We were walking on a narrow path, and I was leading. I stopped short to keep from stepping on a snake. She kept going, ran into me, and lost her balance. I tried to grab her to keep from falling, but I couldn’t catch her in time. She fell off the side of the cliff and landed on a ledge about 100 feet below, just like in her vision.”

“How did she survive, then?”

“Well, she put in extra study on levitation techniques. Probably studied till her eyeballs fell out, knowing her. All of us used our levitation skills to stop her fall, but she really didn’t need it. She’d managed to stop her fall pretty well by herself, and she just floated above the ledge for a few moments catching her breath. Once she got up and realized she was still with us in the land of the living, she pulled out one of those monofilament lines and made her way down the rest of the cliff. She beat us to the campsite and was sitting in front of a nice little fire by the time the rest of us made it back. I’ll say one thing for her, she was definitely prepared. She didn’t even have a scratch. Her master made a point that night to discuss teamwork, how fluid visions can be, and the value of study. I’m not quite sure why he kept looking at me every time he mentioned the word ‘study’. I didn’t skip that many of his classes.”

“I doubt that there’s any super-secret Force power to protect us from a Sith Lord, though.”

“Ha! That’s a good one. No, I don’t know of any anti-Sith powers, or I’d be using them myself. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to come up with a couple different strategies that will stop this guy in his tracks.”

The tea must have been working, because I could no longer suppress the yawning.

“Hey, my stories aren’t that boring, you know,” Jolee said.

“I think it’s the tea. You must have spiked it with something to put me to sleep.”

“Now would I do anything sneaky like that?”

I grinned back at him without a response and headed to my room.

“I’ll wake you up if anything changes,” he promised.

* * *

Much later that day, I found Jolee in the galley sipping caffa and studying the holocron.

“Why did you let me sleep so long?” I asked.

“Maybe because you needed it?” he retorted, lifting his eyes to me.

I shot him a dark look. “We need to go see if Talin’s OK. I should have been up hours ago to check his condition.”

“Tarm’ad called me a couple times with reports. He’s doing fine, and he’s still asleep. I didn’t see any point in waking you so you could watch him snore. However, I know you won’t be satisfied until you see your patient for yourself, so let’s go.”

We arrived quickly at the infirmary, and Jolee and I walked over to Talin’s room. I was relieved to notice that he was starting to wake up, and all the monitors showed normal or near-normal values.

“Hey, how are you feeling now?” I smiled down at him.

“Do you know how many times I’ve had to answer that question today?” he asked, his face scrunching up in an irritable look.

Jolee chuckled a bit. “Well, if you have enough energy to be grumpy, you must be doing better.”

Talin snorted. “Yes, I feel better. I still feel rotten, but it’s better than yesterday when all I could do was lie here like a beached jellyfish, while everyone did everything for me. And to me. Have I mentioned how much I hate doctors and hospitals?”

“We’ll try not to take it personally,” Jolee replied dryly, giving Talin’s arm a very gentle pat of reassurance.

“Roll over on your stomach so I can check your back, please,” I said. Talin complied. I gently removed the dressings.

“That tickles,” he protested.

“Healing skin is very sensitive, and I’m trying to use a light touch so it doesn’t hurt,” I noted clinically, looking over all the many cuts and bruises that were starting to heal. “Well, with the combination of Tarm’ad’s treatment and my long rest, I think I have plenty of Force energy to heal this very quickly,” I said, looking pointedly at Jolee.

Jolee beamed at his success.

Talin looked over at Jolee and asked, “How long?” His sharp ears had caught the slight emphasis on ‘long’.

“About 14 hours.”

“Good. You needed it. I suppose I’ll allow you to heal, then,” Talin decided.

“Imperious today, aren’t we?” Jolee drawled.

Shaking my head while smiling at that, I ordered, “Hush now, all of you. I need to concentrate.” Focusing on his back and using the Force, I saw each cut and bruise heal.

Talin shifted his shoulders a bit after I finished, testing for sore spots, and then turned over, sighing. “Ah, it feels good to lie on my back. Much better. Thanks.”

Jolee rechecked all the other injuries to make sure healing was complete. “You and the doctors did a good job, Jae. Talin, I think you’ll be out of here in a couple days.”

“I don’t plan on being here that long.”

“Now, Talin….” I said, raising an eyebrow.

Elin’ad entered the infirmary in brisk strides. They stayed a respectful distance outside Talin’s bay until he saw them and waved them in. “You’re making amazing progress,” they said, smiling wide with pleasure.

“I’m feeling much better today. Thank you,” he replied, managing some cheerfulness.

“Master Bindo, we’d like a moment with you, if you don’t mind,” Elin’ad said.
They left the room, though we could still hear the conversation.

“Certainly. Is there something I can help you with?” Jolee asked, cordially.

“It is a matter that requires urgent attention. We’ve found Dycen’a.”

“Where is he?”

“He just broke through the planet’s shields in a small scout ship. Your ship is the only one fast enough to stop him before he can jump to hyperspace. We’d like to request your assistance in catching him.”

Talin heard the request and looked over at me. “I need to get up and help.” He struggled to sit up.

“You need to rest.”

“I am not staying another night in any infirmary.”

“Talin, no--” I tried to stop him from getting up, knowing what would happen when he got out of bed too fast. Never underestimate Jedi speed. Or determination, I reminded myself.

“Oh, blast it,” Talin said through teeth grit in frustration.

Tarm’ad and I each grabbed an arm when his legs refused to hold him up after he stood, and Jolee rushed back in to help. Some of the monitors started flashing warnings as Talin’s vital signs fell precipitously from his efforts to get up too quickly. His face went white as he nearly lost consciousness. We immediately got him back to bed, and I concentrated in the Force while Tarm’ad injected medication to stabilize him. I tried not to fidget as I waited for the vitals to stabilize and breathed out in relief when they started to climb. A few minutes later, the glassy look left his eyes as he became more alert.

“Jedi or no, it takes time to heal from injuries as severe as yours. You have to stay in bed until you’ve recovered,” I urged him.

He scowled. “Stop looking at me so concerned.” He thought for a moment, and the frown disappeared as he looked at me again. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise. I just hate being incapacitated, and I hate not being able to help you.” His shaky voice told me the bravado was merely a cover.

Jolee locked eyes with Talin. “I don’t appreciate a scare like that because you have some kind of inferiority complex about accepting help. You’re not going to be able to help us if you’re collapsed on the floor. Next time you try to do anything that these four don’t approve, I’ll have you shipped back to Coruscant in a med pod for the masters to heal you there. Is there anything unclear about this?” He kept a bland tone, but the look on his face was as severe as I had ever seen.

“None whatsoever,” Talin sighed, defeated. He laid his head back and closed his eyes, lips tight in frustration, knowing there was nothing he could do to help.

“I’m glad we’ve got that straight, then. Jae, I’m going to see what else Elin’ad has to say about catching our favorite Sith apprentice. We’ll leave as soon as possible.”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 03:23 PM
The Capture

I turned back to look at Talin, whose lips were set in disappointment. “Jolee and I are going to head out in a couple minutes. Do you need anything?”

“No.”

“You’ll be in good hands here. Tarm’ad has excellent medical skills,” I tried to reassure him.

“I know. I’ve watched them at work,” he said quietly, looking away.

“I know you want to go, and it’ll be good to have you back when you’re healed. We made a pretty decent team against all those Sith fighters.”

Talin blinked and focused, then looked at me. “I don’t think you’re going to end up in any kind of duel with Dycen’a being out in space, but, please, you have to listen to me on this in case you do.”

“I’m listening. I’ve learned to have a healthy respect for your lightsaber skills.”

“Dycen’a is very predictable in his fighting style. He’s still new to lightsaber dueling. Even though he uses the dark side to enhance his power, it doesn’t make up for his inexperience. He almost always does flurries, and he uses a lot of the same moves. It didn’t take me long to figure out the forms he uses because they’re so simple.” His agile hands traced the patterns in the air, highlighting the best attacks and countermoves.

I watched intently, determined to memorize every scrap of information. “I’ll make sure to tell Jolee.”

“Mind your stances, too. Stay with the basics--dramatic spins are for holovids. Remember to watch his eyes.”

His urgency surprised me. I laid a hand on his arm to calm him. “Talin, you’ll be fine. We shouldn’t be gone long, and I promise we won’t leave you here.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about. I want you to come back safe.” He held my gaze as he laid his hand on top of mine. The warmth spread from him and flowed through me. No, not again, not those feelings. ‘There is no emotion…’ Jedi training is supposed to stop this—Jolee can’t be right! I can’t risk that heart-splitting pain again when I lose someone…him….

Jolee’s knock on the door caught our attention. Talin held on to my hand a moment longer, reassuring me with that warmth.

“Ready?” Jolee asked evenly.

“Talin was telling me about Dycen’a’s fighting style.”

“Yes, I can see that,” he replied, desert-dry.

I couldn’t stop the flush from spreading across my cheeks, and I turned quickly to Talin. I shook my finger in a feeble attempt to appear stern and in control. “You behave while we’re gone. I’m going to ask Tarm’ad about everything when we get back.”

“Go. Catch him and come back safe. May the Force be with you both.”

* * *

The Accipiter streaked away from the planet as we raced to catch Dycen’a.

Jolee settled into the pilot’s chair after scanning the instruments. “Here’s the plan, Jae. We want him alive and his ship’s too small to board. We’ll have to disable it and force him to land.”

“He doesn’t strike me as the surrendering type.”

“No, he’s not. We’ll probably have to fight him if he comes down uninjured.”

“Talin gave me some pointers about his dueling style just before we left.”

“Don’t know about you, but I don’t recall any styles that involved holding hands with your enemy.”

“Jolee!” I sputtered, heat flushing my face as he grinned. “It’s probably caregiver syndrome. Patients sometimes get infatuated with people who save them. I’m sure it’ll go away when he’s better.”

“What’s your excuse then?”

“Very funny. He was depressed about not being able to go with us. I just thought he needed a friend then.” Jolee looked at me dubiously, cocking an eyebrow. I crossed my arms over my chest. “Why would I encourage that? The man drives me absolutely crazy with his overbearing attitude.”

“Sure. Remind me to play pazaak with you more often. I’ll make a million credits watching your face give away all your secrets.”

“I’m trying to be serious!”

“Look, I don’t know what happened when you had to go bring him back from death’s door, but you gave him a reason to come back. I felt the shift in both of you. Something might happen, something might not, but as long as you both are happy, I’m fine with however it works out. What I do know is that denial is bad, especially for a Jedi. You may as well put a blinking sign above your head that says ‘Jedi lying to herself here.’”

I sat back and closed my eyes. The images of the last few days raced across my vision as I considered what he said. “I don’t know what to think. I’m still trying to sort everything out. So much has happened just in the last two days. I can’t even begin to understand how he can drive me up a wall with his arrogance and yet attract me all at the same time. I never expected to have any feelings like that after Roben. With the Order’s rules on attachments, I hoped that I wouldn’t ever have to deal with it again.”

“Now that’s an honest answer. All I can tell you is that the Order isn’t an escape hatch from life. If you try to run away instead of really living it, you’re going to miss out on so much. Besides, the attraction thing doesn’t have to make sense. Sometimes it just happens. I fell in love with the woman who shot down my ship. Does that make any sense? Of course, she was gorgeous and had fire in her spirit…but I digress. Things sort themselves out with time.” He tapped another button on the control panel and adjusted our course. “Now, tell me what he said about those fighting styles. My mouth is getting dry from all this lecturing.”

Jolee sat back in his chair as I explained, occasionally nodding or asking me a question to clarify a point. “That boy’s good. He caught a couple things I missed. Let’s hope we don’t have to put it to use.”

The proximity alarm beeped as Dycen’a’s ship appeared on our screen. We received silence to our hails to turn around and land. Jolee maneuvered our ship behind him, flying in fast.

“Don’t hit anything critical like the cockpit. We want him to land in mostly one piece,” Jolee ordered.

“Got it. He’s firing!”

Jolee rolled our ship, dodging the blaster fire. I locked in on the engines and shot several rounds. The first round hit the shields. They glowed brightly for a few moments, and then died out. The next rounds hit the ship.

“One of his engines is flaming out,” I said.

“Well, now he doesn’t have a choice about landing. Track him.”

Dycen’a’s ship turned back towards the planet. Li’adan fighters scrambled as we both entered the atmosphere.

“Li’adan control, call your people off. We need Dycen’a alive,” I called.

“We’re ordered to fire,” Control replied.

“Son, that boy’s ship is already flaming out. Just follow him down with us. Unless you feel like explaining yourself to Kiol’ad, who wants him alive if possible.” Jolee keyed off the comm and grinned at me. “Always feel free to take high officials’ names in vain when dealing with the military.”

After a long pause, the comm crackled loudly with a terse reply. “Kiol’ad has ordered us to leave him to you. However, we will shoot him down if he deviates towards the city.”

“Understood. Out,” Jolee replied. He keyed off the comm. “Like he has control over his fighter right now.”

The fighters moved into an escort formation, and we maintained our pursuit. Dycen’a’s ship glowed as it hurtled through the atmosphere, then leveled out. The top exploded off. Jolee pulled up sharply to avoid the debris.

“His ship’s breaking apart!”

“No, he’s ejecting, that damn fool. There’s hardly anything to breathe this high up. Stay on his signature. I’ll circle around.”

Dycen’a was a miniscule blip on the sensor as Jolee turned to follow him. What was left of Dycen’a’s ship broke apart into large chunks that fell in a rain of fire. Dycen’a’s speck on the monitor disappeared. I scrolled through the different sensors, trying to pick up his signal again. “I lost him, Jolee.”

“It’s the heat and debris. Confuses some of the instruments. They can’t tell us everything, anyway. You have to trust your senses, too.”

Jolee landed near the spot we felt Dycen’a was most likely to land. Once on the ground, he surveyed the terrain. “Hmm, forest and fields. If I were a smart Sith, I’d probably hide in the woods somewhere. All the animal activity makes it easier to cloak his signature.”

“Who said he was smart?”

“Well, you’re learning to be sassy now, aren’t you? Never underestimate Sith. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they do something new and sneaky. Now, look around and see if we can find anything of his.”

We worked our way across the field, searching for bits of evidence to tell us where he landed.

“There’s a parachute over there.”

“Now we can find his trail.” Jolee slowly paced the area and stopped to finger a tall stem of grass.

“What is it?”

“A broken stalk and the start of some faint tracks.”

“I don’t see much of anything.”

“Look for the alterations in life force in the area. The damaged brush gives a subtly different Force signature. Helps if you’ve learned Wookiee tracking skills like I did. Saved my hind end in the Shadowlands more times than I care to count. Keep alert in the woods—you’ll probably feel the dark side presence before you see him, but not much before. Watch everything.”

We followed those faint tracks far into the forest. We approached a glade, the dark side energy chilling the air. Jolee stopped and cocked his head to listen. I sensed the fear in the animals that skittered away. My heart started to pound in anticipation, and I took a deep breath to suppress the adrenaline. I felt for his presence. He’s there, he’s moving…. Jolee’s lightsaber snapped on a moment before mine.

A breeze brushed across my face. Dycen’a swooped down, lightsaber lit. “Jolee!” I called, ducking a powerful slash.

Dycen’a’s orange saber blazed as it wheeled over my head. Then he drove his blade in hard. I caught his attack and slid my lightsaber down its length. I grazed his chest before he dodged to the side. He grunted with the pain, and his face darkened in fury. His blade blurred with his flurries and I fought to keep up with the rain of blows. When he slashed at my legs, I dropped my blade tip down. His whirling blade stopped but it shot right back at me. The heat burned through my tunic sleeve and singed my arm before I snapped my saber up to stop his attack. Dycen’a’s eyes lost focus for a moment. As I slashed, a wall of Force energy hit and I flew back. The impact with the tree knocked my breath out. Dycen’a jumped towards me. He raised his lightsaber high and chopped down.

Jolee’s saber caught his attack mid-swing. Their blades locked together, and I twisted out of the way. Dycen’a broke loose and attacked Jolee. Their blades crackled loudly with each blow. Jolee sped up his attacks as I joined him, pressing Dycen’a back. Our blades spun and then scissored on Dycen’a’s lightsaber. It flew out of his grasp. He stopped, holding up his hands. I turned off my lightsaber, breathing heavy.

“It’s over, Dycen’a. We don’t want to hurt you,” Jolee said.

“Come with us quietly,” I added, slipping into his mind to persuade him.

He repelled the attempt and glared at me. “I’m not going to live life Joined. You’ll kill me, or you’ll die trying.”

“Why do all the Sith say things like that?” Jolee sighed.

Dycen’a’s eyes narrowed and he smiled thinly. His Force energy flowed. I heard a loud crack and looked up. “Jolee, jump!” I leaped to the side as a large branch crashed down. The smaller branches raked across my back and arm.

Dycen’a leaped away. His lightsaber flew to his hand and he dashed off into the forest.

“Jolee?” I pushed aside leaves, searching frantically. I found him lying under part of the branch, eyes closed. “Oh, Force!”

One eye popped open, then the other. “I’m fine. Just a little stuck. Help me with this branch.”

I breathed out in relief. I helped untangle him and then pulled him up. “He ran off that way,” I pointed.

“Let’s go.”

We sprinted after Dycen’a and gained on him as he crashed through the forest. Then Dycen’a stopped short, arms circling wildly to stop his momentum. He had come up on a deep ravine. He turned to face us, igniting his lightsaber. Jolee and I stood side-by-side, our sabers snapping on again. Dycen’a stepped into an attack stance and started swinging wildly. His blade crashed against ours. My arms shook from the effort to drive back his blows. Jolee circled his blade in towards me, then snapped it back away. Dycen’a slashed sideways to block. Jolee abruptly whirled his blade back under in a feint. Dycen’a’s blade kept flying away, leaving his side exposed. Jolee and I struck him down, and he collapsed at our feet.

Jolee picked up his lightsaber as I kneeled down. “Life signs are still there, but really weak. There’s a lot of damage, too much for me to heal.”

Jolee put a stasis field around him. “It’s too much for both of us. He’s going to need Master healers. Let’s move. We’ll put him in the med pod and send him to Coruscant as soon as we can hit space. The Council will want to talk to him anyway if he survives.”

We double-timed back to the ship with the Li’adan. As we left the woods, I looked up. The sun was gone. Dark clouds filled the sky, lightning flashing.

“Sky looks bad,” I said.

“Let’s move it. I’ve already been through one storm. I don’t want to be in another.” We crossed the field and reached our ship quickly. Jolee started up the ship while I secured Dycen’a in the med pod and activated its stasis field.

“All set?” he asked when I rejoined him.

“The life signs are staying stable.”

“Good. Let’s get out of here before that storm hits us and does something nasty.”

I thought about what the storm would do to the wreckage. “Jolee, turn around. We have to go back.”

“It’s generally not a good idea to fly towards the danger, you know.”

“If that storm hits the ship debris, any evidence will be destroyed. We have to try to get the nav’puter and find out where he’s been.”

“I hate it when you young people are right. Look, you’ve got 5 minutes to find whatever you can, less if I have to call you back.”

Some of the remains were still smoking. I searched through the wreckage and found what was left of the cockpit. The winds started to howl, and the black clouds were lit up with non-stop lightning flashes. The sprinkles of rain turned to drenching sheets.

“Jae, we have to leave now. Sensor shows a tornado coming.”

“I found the nav’puter!”

“Leave it! We won’t be able to fly out of this if we don’t leave now!”

“I just about have it!” The instrument was stuck. I pulled out my lightsaber and severed it from the wreckage.

“Get on the damn ship, Jae!” Jolee ordered.

The booming thunder made it almost impossible to hear him. I crouched low against the wind and flying debris. A meter-wide piece of metal whirled through the air. I threw up a force field. It bounced off, just missing my head. Then the wind intensity dropped, and I realized the ship was blocking the gale. I ran up the ramp into the relative safety.

“About time you decided to listen to me and get back here,” Jolee groused, lifting the ship off the ground. “You look like a drowned tach.”

“Try Wookiee. Drowned tach doesn’t do it justice,” I said, trying to wipe away the rivulets of water pouring down my face.

“Punch in the coordinates for an orbit. We’re going to fly straight up to get out of this storm,” Jolee said, hanging on to the instruments with both hands.

The fierce winds rotated in small funnels around us. The ship bucked as Jolee tried to gain height. “Hang on. We’ll get out of this yet.”

Lightning lit the sky ahead of us. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. “Oh, Force. Jolee, look. That can’t be what it looks like…”

Jolee uttered several expletives.

Bearing down on our ship was an enormous tornado.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 03:50 PM
(Thanks to Jiara and Emperor Devon--your help with the beta-reading is much appreciated.)

Chapter 18: Tornado

“Hang on; it’s going to get rough. This tornado’s right on top of us and I don’t have enough room to maneuver. We have to get above the storm to escape,” Jolee said.

The winds grabbed hold and rocked the ship. Jolee’s hands gripped the controls, fighting to keep us airborne as the furious gales slammed us up and down. My fingernails bit through fabric where I grabbed the armrests too tightly, and I breathed deep to fight back the fear as the ship bucked again. I shouldn’t have stayed out so long. I shouldn’t have risked our lives for a couple of pieces of a broken starfighter.

“Jae, block those emotions. I can’t afford the distraction,” Jolee growled over all the noise of debris peppering the ship. He hit another control when the ship started to roll violently. It corkscrewed a few more times before Jolee could slow it down to shaking turns.

I compressed the terror into a tiny nugget and hoped it would be enough to allow Jolee to concentrate. His eyes were riveted to the displays, and he said nothing. An alarm sounded, warning of extreme structural stress, and I felt the vibrations down to my bones. I fought to press the fear back down again and block the adrenaline surge.

The ship shuddered. One of the compartment latches broke free, and tools flew out into the cockpit like miniature missiles. I froze them all in mid-air. One hovered a few centimeters from Jolee’s head, and I held on tight through all the shaking. Please, let this end soon….

The skies lightened abruptly. We broke through the top of the storm into the clear stratosphere where all weather stopped. I looked at the cloud deck below us, its puffy white innocence belying the deadly winds that roiled below.

“Heh, good girl! Knew you could do it,” Jolee said to the ship, patting the edge of the instrument panel. Then he looked up and saw the hydrospanner suspended just above him. “Jae, were you planning on whacking me with that thing if we crashed?”

I giggled and breathed the rest of the anxiety away. I used the Force to fly everything back to the compartment, then locked the latch down tight.

“Show-off,” Jolee snorted. “And make sure it’s latched tight this time.”

I grinned and then scanned the instrument readouts. “Ship integrity looks OK.”

He studied his readouts and nodded agreement, then looked at me. “What do you think the odds are of surviving a Class five tornado like that one?”

“After what we just went through, I’m betting it’s less than flying through an asteroid field.”

“The answer is it doesn’t matter as long as you survive.”

“Oh, Jolee…” I just shook my head in amazement.

“Let’s get back to the capitol. I’ll contact the Li’adans and give them the short story on what happened. And for Force’s sake, go get some dry clothes on before you leave a giant puddle all over and catch cold or something like that.”

* * *

We landed, and the emergency teams scrambled around the ship, searching for any danger. Finding none, they released the Accipiter to the repair crew. Kiol’ad and Tarm’ad came aboard to evaluate Dycen’a and get more information. Jolee spoke with Kiol’ad while I took Tarm’ad to see Dycen’a.

“The injuries are pretty extensive. Jolee and I agreed we don’t have enough power to prevent multiple organ failure during healing. It’ll take a couple of Masters to heal him properly.” I sighed. “I wish he’d surrendered instead.”

“I don’t believe it was in his nature. He needed to be stopped. We found his base, and there were tens of Singles there, some severely injured or damaged in some way by Dycen’a. We think it took a remarkable restraint to keep him alive, actually,” Tarm’ad said, peering at one of the wounds and then looking at the monitors. “Looks like a very stable stasis field. This should hold him well as long as you leave soon for Coruscant.”

“We’ll have to leave Talin here, then.”

“He’s healed enough to go with you,” Tarm’ad said. When I raised my eyebrows in surprise, the Triad continued, “He was the model patient while you were gone. We were able to free up a kolto tank, and he didn’t even complain when we put him in it for awhile.”

Jolee overheard us as Kiol’ad and he came to see Dycen’a. “Will wonders never cease. The boy actually listened to reason, then.”

Tarm’ad smiled. “He is rather strong-willed, but he did well.”

“‘Strong-willed’ is not the description I’d use,” said Jolee.

Tarm’ad’s smile broadened. “We’ll send him to you shortly, along with your belongings, so that you can be on your way.”

After Tarm’ad debarked, Jolee said, “Jae, show Kiol’ad what you found running around in that damn storm that nearly killed us.”

Kiol’ad’s eyes widened. “That was one of the worst storms we’ve had in years. You were out in it? You’re lucky you weren’t killed.”

“I had to go out. It was the only way to find out where Dycen’a had been. I found the navicomputer, and this object. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I handed him a slim metal cylinder.

Kiol’ad pressed a tiny button, and a display flashed to life. “Ah, good, it works. This is a timestreamer. It maps out time with great precision. All events are referenced to these instruments.”

“That’s a pretty fancy chronometer,” Jolee said.

“Rather like that, yes, but far more detailed, and it works in multiple dimensions. Our species has the ability to make limited transfers extra-dimensionally in time. The timestreamers prevent the formation of time paradoxes. We know exactly when we leave a particular dimension and exactly what time we return. Most curious that he would have one of these on a ship. We’ll have Aklar’an process both instruments for data.”

“Can non-Li’adans use it?” Jolee asked.

“No, only those who can make the transfers in time.”

“So we have to worry not only where Dycen’a went, but when he went.”

“Precisely. We’ll contact you shortly,” Kiol’ad said, and then left the ship.

I watched various thoughts play across Jolee’s face. “So, what are you thinking?”

“A lot of things. Let’s get Talin settled, and once we get going we’ll all talk to see if any of my ideas make any sense.”

* * *

Talin eased his tall frame down onto the sofa with a sigh. “It’s good to get out of that infirmary bed. I don’t know what it is about those things, but they’re never comfortable.”

“You look a lot better. The kolto did you good,” I observed, handing both Jolee and Talin some mugs of caffa before sitting down on the sofa with a cup of my own.

“I hate the taste of that stuff. No matter how tight a mask they put on, somehow it always works its way in.”

“It’s awful, I know. I’m glad I don’t have to do that again.”

“Why would you have to do that again….just how did you get hurt?” Talin’s eyes narrowed as he frowned at me.

“I’m fine, it was all minor. You can’t even tell where I healed. Your fighting tips were very helpful, by the way.”

“Yes indeed, the fighting tips were quite useful. However, Dycen’a wasn’t the main problem, was he, Jae?” Jolee said.

“What’s worse than a Sith apprentice, except maybe his master?” Talin looked back and forth at Jolee and me.

Jolee replied, “She ran out into a Class five tornado looking for little souvenirs in the wreckage of Dycen’a’s ship. Thank goodness it was actually something important instead of a caffa-maker.”

“Great, Jolee. I’m glad you broke it to him gently.”

“When we get back to Coruscant, I’m going to ask the other Masters if impudence was added to the Padawan curriculum recently. I think I missed that somewhere in Jedi Master training.”

Talin looked at both of us in disbelief, then concern. “Why would you do anything so insane? You could have been killed! Didn’t I tell you to come back safe?”

“Talin, we’re both fine, and you need to stay calm right now.” I put a hand on top of his briefly to transmit tranquility and pointedly ignored Jolee’s amused look. “Going after those instruments was our only chance to get some answers on Dycen’a’s whereabouts. Kiol’ad has Aklar’an reviewing the information in both the navcomputer and the timestreamer.”

We filled him in on the rest of the events.

Talin brought out a datapad. “While I was stuck in bed, I looked over the data that Kiol’ad gave us at our first meeting. The vortices have been appearing in this system and near Ossus. That has to be connected to what you’ve found.”

“Why go back in time to Ossus?” I asked. “Oh, wait. The Scourge defense holocron was from the Jedi Library there, wasn’t it?”

“The Jedi managed to get some materials out of the Library before the stars exploded, but we still lost a lot of items,” Talin said.

Jolee sat back in his chair, stroking his chin in thought. “That holocron was supposed to have been one of those lost items. Here’s my theory. Dycen’a was apprenticed to a Sith Master and went traveling around in time to steal items for him. Somehow, he was able to slip in and out of the Jedi Library, though we’ll probably never learn how.”

“Dycen’a and his Sith Lord had to meet up from time to time so he could deliver whatever he got from Ossus and get his training,” I said. “If we can find out where he’s been going, we may be able to narrow down the location of his master.”

Jolee nodded. “Now you’re using that brain of yours. When we get to Coruscant, we’ll check with the Master Archivist to see if any other items were missing instead of confirmed destroyed at Ossus. If Dycen’a has been time-hopping for this Sith and stealing holocrons, we may be up against something far more dangerous than we anticipated.”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 04:29 PM
Thanks to Emperor Devon and Jiara for the betas.

--------

Chapter 19: The Xi-ro Form

“We have the data from the navcomputer and the timestreamer, and we’re sending you the information as we speak,” Kiol’ad informed us the next day. “It appears Dycen’a has made frequent trips, though why he has gone to Telos, Ossus, and Nar Shaddaa, we don’t know.”

Jolee cocked his head slightly. “Telos and Ossus make sense. But Nar Shaddaa?”

“We were curious about that as well, and thought you might have some thoughts on that.”

“Hmm, none at the moment, but when we find something out we’ll make sure to contact you. Was there anything from the timestreamer?”

“There are frequent instances of travels in time, and they coincide with the vortices. Dycen’a was the only one who could have done this. Since he can no longer cause these swirls, the gravitophoton count should drop and our planet’s weather system will hopefully return to a more normal state.”

“We were happy to help with that mission,” Talin said.

Kiol’ad nodded. “We’re happy to have that help. We gave you all the data on his travels. We’re not entirely sure what to make of the rest of the information. Perhaps you’ll have some insight.”

“We think Dycen’a was working with an Exchange boss on Telos. The travel information might give us some clues on where to find him,” I said.

“Good. If we find out anything more here on Li’adin, we’ll make sure to forward the information to you.”

Talin added, “We’re very grateful for your help. If there’s anything we can do, please ask.”

“Just look in on Dycen’a for us when you get to Coruscant. The Jedi Masters believe he will live. Any information we can learn about his activities will be very helpful.”

“We’ll do that,” Jolee said.

“We have found your visit both enlightening and enjoyable, in spite of the difficult circumstances. We hope you will return to us soon, as we now consider you part of the Li’adin family. May your time and travel be enjoyable,” Kiol’ad said, bowing slightly as the holovid image faded.

Talin downloaded the information onto several datapads. “I’d like to evaluate the data from Aklar’an right away.”

“That’s a good plan. We’ve got a couple of days before getting to Coruscant. No sense wasting it playing Pazaak,” Jolee said.

“I’ll miss out on practicing my Pazaak face, you know,” I said.

Jolee snorted as he handed me a datapad. “You’ll need a lot more practice than one or two evenings.”

Talin raised an eyebrow. “Do I even want to know what this is about?”

“Ask Jae sometime. Less play. More study. It’s been a long few days already playing in a couple bad storms, fighting a Sith a couple times, mending you, and getting the ship repairs finished. I’d like to get something constructive done on this before my eyelids get other ideas.”

We spent several hours poring over the data before Jolee called us all back together. “Let’s do a quick review and then call it a night.”

I pulled up a holomap of the region. “This point in Li’adin space is the planet itself. This spot over here in space is where the vortices always appear.”

Talin furrowed his brow, studying the datapad. He added his information to the map. “I’m starting to see a pattern in his travels. He occasionally went to Nar Shaddaa, but most of the time he went from Telos to the vortices and back. He started to return to Li’adin itself more frequently starting about three months ago, probably for recruiting Singles.”

“Can we find out how far back in time he went? Did he go back in time to Ossus, too?” I asked.

Talin scrolled through the timestreamer information. “Those are very interesting questions. Ah, here it is. He did go back in time about 45 years. We can double check in the archives for any reported anomalies around Ossus and the other planets then.”

“I wonder just what he was doing on Telos for Norelden. We need to find this crime lord,” mused Jolee, looking from the datapad to the map and back.

“Aklar’an gave us his ship registry. Maybe we can see when and where he stopped. That might give us some idea,” I said.

“We also need to find out what he was doing on Nar Shaddaa. By the way, is that registry a legit number?” Talin asked.

“I doubt it. We’ll search through the normal channels of course, but I’d be surprised if he was using the same number once he left the Li’adin system. If it’s not the same, we can ask Mik’oth to help us track it down,” said Jolee. Then he grinned. “I’m quite sure he’ll be delighted to see you again, Jae.”

“No doubt. Maybe I should tell him I bought a dancer outfit. Do you think he’ll prefer something with sparkly blue sequins or a rainbow one with strategically placed flashing lights?”

“I don’t think anyone will care what it looks like as long as the coverage is the bare minimum,” Talin smirked.

Jolee chuckled. “Talin, you’ve obviously recovered completely.”

“You men….” I rolled my eyes, and then smiled slyly. “You know, Talin, Mik’oth does have a Ladies’ Lounge. With your manly physical charms, I’m sure he’d find a place for you with no trouble.”

“I have an out. I’m a terrible cantina dancer.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I never meant to imply you’d be dancing.” I got up from the table and gave him a wink.

Talin blinked, opened his mouth, and then closed it again.

Jolee burst out laughing. “You walked right into that one, lad.”

“Goodnight, boys,” I called out as I headed to my room for the night.

***

The Sith Lord sneered, “You’re not strong enough to kill me, Jae. And I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to turn you.” Jolee was lying on the ground motionless, eyes closed. Talin, wracked with pain, was moaning weakly on the ground, twisted with the horrible plague. The Sith Lord drove his blade down for the attack, and we began our duel. He matched my blows, our lightsabers whirling furiously, blades snapping together. He feinted a blow to my leg, and when I moved to defend, he raised his saber high to bring it down on my head. Too late to block!

My heart raced as I awoke with a gasp. A few deep breaths did nothing to restore calm, so I went to the galley for some tea. I sank down into the common room sofa with the hot drink, hoping my shaking would abate quickly.

Talin padded silently out of his quarters. “You OK?” he asked.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t. I was meditating and felt the emotion wave. Was it that dream again?”

“Yes. Jolee’s still asleep?”

“Snoring away. Do you want me to wake him?”

I nodded no as a violent shiver overcame me.

He caught my mug of tea as it slipped. “Your hands are ice cold,” he noted, trying to warm them in his for a moment. “Let me go get a blanket.” He returned and placed it around my shoulders, then sat down next to me on the couch.

“We’re not supposed to fear,” I said in a tight voice, huddling under the cover.

“No, we’re not supposed to allow fear to control us. No one said being a Jedi made us immune to feeling it.”

I shivered again at the vivid images. Talin frowned in concentration for a moment, and I wondered if I had somehow done something wrong.

“Come here,” he said as he put an arm over my shoulders, drawing me in close. I had another spasm of shaking as I laid my head on his shoulder. He adjusted the blanket and then held me tight to calm some of the trembling.

“I can’t sleep. That awful vision will return.”

“You have to sleep sometime. I’ll stay so you don’t have to worry about those nightmares.”

“I’d be keeping you up too late. You won’t be able to rest yourself.”

“I spent way too much time resting last week. Besides, you saved my life. At least let me repay the favor a little by sitting here.”

“What would the Council say about this?”

“Have you ever seen them complain about a Jedi helping someone? Besides, I’m not worried about the Council, I’m worried about Jolee. He’d shove me out the airlock if I left you alone shaking like this.”

“We wouldn’t want Jolee to do that.”

“No, we wouldn’t. You’re almost doing me a favor by letting me sit here.”

I gave him a half-smile at that ridiculous logic and settled against him. We lapsed into a comfortable silence, and the trembling started to calm down.

“I’m glad you decided to stay,” I said after awhile.

He gave my shoulders a little squeeze. The shivers stopped, and I was finally able to slip into a deep sleep, free of the visions.

***

“Caffa’s hot,” Talin said as I walked into the galley that morning. I poured a mug and joined the two men sitting at the small table.

Jolee looked up at me from his breakfast. “Something wrong with your room? You like hanging out on the sofa a lot lately.”

“My room’s fine. I had the vision again,” I replied, sipping slowly on some of the steaming liquid. The heat counteracted the chill from the memory.

“I know this isn’t your idea of a good time, but describe it again for me,” Jolee said, sitting back in the chair. “Give us every detail you can see this time, even the tiniest ones. I’m missing something in the other descriptions, and it’s sitting in the back of my head nipping at my brain like an irritated oller. Ever been nipped by an irritated oller? Those pointy little teeth aren’t dangerous, but they’re sharp enough to be really annoying.”

I sat back and closed my eyes, visualizing the scene. “I can’t see any room details. Everything looks dark and foggy around us. Jolee is lying on the ground, still. Talin is on the ground in severe pain, twisted up from the Scourge, blisters everywhere. Then the Sith Lord appears. He’s human, but it’s too dark to make out his features very well. All I can see is dark hair, a pale face, and eyes glowing with hate.”

“What is it about these Sith and glowing eyes? It’s like a bad holovid,” Jolee said.

I grinned and continued, “Then the battle starts, and the Sith Lord and I trade blows. After awhile he feints for my leg, I go for the block, and he comes at me from above. Since my blade is down, I can’t defend myself. It stops just as I realize he’s going to slice me in two.”

“Hmm. Go through the battle sequence move-by-move if you can. I think there’s something more there,” Jolee said.

“Let’s see…” I pictured the vision in slow motion. “The sequence is rather long.” I went through the set of attacks and defenses.

Talin copied down every move on a datapad as I called them out. He took a few moments to review the entire sequence. “I think I see the pattern. You said in this section here that he’s striking at your head. Show me how he’s doing that.”

Standing up, I pantomimed the moves.

Talin looked back at the datapad again, and pointed to a different sequence. “Here, on this attack. Show me that one.”

He watched closely as I stepped through the stances, mimicking that series of blows. Talin’s eyes widened in surprise as he and Jolee looked at each other. “That’s the Xi-ro form he’s using.”

“Looks like it to me, too.”

“What’s the Xi-ro form? I’ve never heard of it,” I asked.

Jolee said, “It’s a rare form. Doesn’t surprise me you haven’t heard of it.”

“Master Vrook’s the only expert in it. Not very many other Jedi know it.”

“Why would this Sith Lord use an obscure form?” I asked.

“Could be any number of reasons—his master was an expert in it, he wanted to use a form few others have seen to gain an advantage, maybe he just likes the name. However, it narrows the field of people considerably for us. Now we know he’s had Jedi training along with his Sith teaching, and he’s part of a select group. That is, unless Vrook’s started teaching a bunch of students that form,” said Jolee.

“He only teaches it to the lightsaber specialists,” Talin said.

“Then add Master Vrook to the list of people we need to talk to on Coruscant,” I said.

Jolee ticked off the list of people on his fingers. “Yes, Vrook. Then Supat to check on Dycen’a and you two. After that, Telos port authorities and possibly Mik’oth. Finally, Vandar about the information we’ve found and those visions.”

“Oh, not the visions again,” I groaned.

“I’m glad to see you’re cultivating a mature attitude about this. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love listening to complaining. Let’s add it to the Padawan curriculum and have more of it.”

I smiled slightly and then sighed. “All right then, let’s see if we can get an appointment with him first and get it over with quickly.”

“That’s better.”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 04:58 PM
Thanks to Emperor Devon and Jiara for the betas. :)

----------------------------------------------------

Healing

“He will recover,” Master Supat stated as we watched Dycen’a float unconscious in the kolto tank several days later. The Ithorian Master adjusted some of the settings on the tank and then swiveled his head around to us. “The only reason he survived your attack was your immediate stasis field. It took five master healers to stabilize him. He’ll likely have some permanent damage, but it shouldn’t be too debilitating.”

“When will he able to tell you anything?” asked Jolee.

“A few more days, and then we’ll be able to question him.”

“He was apprenticed to a Sith Lord. He’s bound to know something. Let us know when you find out anything, Supat. I need to go talk to Vandar a bit, so I won’t hold you up any longer. I know you wanted to see Talin and Jae as well,” Jolee said.

“I did. Come with me, please,” Master Supat motioned to us to follow him.

“Meet me in my quarters in three hours,” Jolee instructed us, and we nodded.

Master Supat evaluated me briefly and declared, “All minor injuries, which you healed well.”

Talin was leaning against the wall waiting to see the Master healer next. He crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. “Master Supat should know that you acquired those injuries in a Class fifty tornado.”

“The scale only goes up to five, Talin,” I laughed.

“Li’adin’s a special case. Their tornadoes start at five and go up from there. Were you planning on letting him know any time soon?”

“Sure, when he asked.”

“Is he supposed to divine that through the Force? He can’t help you properly if you don’t tell him anything.”

Master Supat turned to look at Talin, lifting an eye ridge wryly. “I didn’t need to ask. Jolee already gave me a report of what happened on Li’adin. He knows that Padawans have a tendency to understate their injuries.”

“He knows this, eh? How well?” I asked.

“Quite well. I saw him often enough here when he was a Padawan. He tried to tell me one time that his rib fractures were ‘just a couple bruises’ and that he could go back and finish his lightsaber practice with one of the other Padawans—Andor I think.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Talin shook his head slightly.

“Because it’s Jolee,” I grinned.

“Master Supat, is there a cure for ornery old Jedi?”

He snorted in amusement. “There is no cure for Jolee. He is terminally ornery. Now come, Talin, let me take a look at you.” Talin sat down for the evaluation. “A good healing, Jae. Usually I find something that needs adjusting, but not today.”

“Jolee did a lot of it.”

Talin captured my gaze. “Jolee’s not the one who rescued me from becoming one with the Force. You did.”

“Hmm, Jolee was not very descriptive about that. Please tell me what happened,” Master Supat said.

I stood there until Talin looked away to Master Supat, then I found my voice. “When Talin’s vitals crashed, Jolee and I could feel the ebb in the Force. He told me ‘go get that boy’, so I went. I found him wandering, and I told him it was not his time yet. We cared about him and wanted him to come back. He decided to return.”

“That was all that happened?”

“Yes.”

“That was extraordinarily risky. The two of you already share a small connection because of your injury, and that connection likely grew stronger with this incident. If Talin decided not to come back and you couldn’t break the link, you would both have been lost to us.”

“There was no acceptable alternative, Master Supat. He would have died if I hadn’t gone, and he is too important to the Order--” I stopped. Talin arched one eyebrow. “—and to Jolee and me.”

He smiled slightly in satisfaction.

Master Supat said, “Indeed. Every Jedi is important. Such powerful experiences can create Force bonds. Has that happened?”

“A bond has formed to some degree. We haven’t fully explored the extent,” Talin replied, looking over at me.

“What do you think, Jae?”

I regarded Talin for a long moment. So many different feelings! “I can feel the link, but I’m unsure what to do.”

He acknowledged that with a fractional tilt of his head.

“Hmm. Well, it’s not like you’ve had much time to assess it. While you’re in your meeting with the other Masters, I’ll find some data on Force bonds for you. How is your study of the Scourge defense going?”

“Slowly. Too slowly. I’m concerned that I won’t master it in time.”

“Let the Force guide your learning and it will come more easily. We are researching the Scourge itself, and we might learn something more once Dycen’a has recovered enough to speak. With all of us working together, we will stop it. Now, I declare both of you healthy. Do try to stay out of harm’s way, though that is rather like asking a Selkath to stay out of water.”

We both replied, “Thank you, Master Supat,” then gave him a slight bow as he waved us kindly from the room. We walked out of the Jedi Temple’s infirmary, away from the clinical scents and bustling activity.

“We have some time before meeting Jolee. Do you want to go anywhere?” I asked. The vague feeling of being watched crept through my consciousness. I looked around quickly and saw nothing unusual.

“What’s wrong?” Talin said, eyes darting around, searching for trouble.

“I don’t know. I just had a sudden feeling that someone’s watching us, but I can’t find the source.”

“I didn’t sense it. Maybe it was someone in the infirmary.”

“I don’t know. I only felt it for a brief moment.”

“We’ve been dealing with some very dangerous people. Do you want to go to Jolee’s quarters to wait? It might be safer.”

I glanced around another time and reached out with the Force to find the source, but the feeling was gone. “I’m not sensing anything now. I’d like to see a little of Coruscant. There’s so much to do here, and never any time to do any of it during the apprenticeship. I’ll keep an eye out, though.”

“Let me show you the public gardens at my family’s compound, then. A couple hours’ tour won’t do it justice, but it’ll get us away from anything remotely medical. Especially the smell.” Talin wrinkled his nose so dramatically in distaste that I laughed. He grinned. “Come. It’ll only take a couple minutes to get there.”

* * *

I gazed at the profusion of colorful blooms, breathing in the aroma of moist earth and perfumed flowers. “This is exquisite.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that look of amazement on you before.”

“It’s an Ithorian masterwork. I’ve never seen so many different varieties from so many different planets.”

“I think the gardener studied on Ithoria for awhile.”

“Beautiful.”

“Yes.”

A breathy quality in his voice made me look up at him. His eyes were on me, softness in the blue. I couldn’t breathe--the desire to care battled the fear and the old ache. We stood like that for a long moment.

His quiet voice broke the spell so I could breathe again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m just not sure how to handle all these emotions.”

“The Council’s stance?”

“That’s part of it.”

“Neither of us can deny the bond that formed, nor can the Council.”

“No, we can’t,” I said, giving him a small smile that he returned.

“I won’t ask for any more than you want to give.”

“I appreciate that.” We walked in silence for a bit.

“Do you want to see if there’s anything from Onderon?”

“I’d like that, yes.”

We followed a tiny stream through the various displays until he found the right section.

“Oh, my…” I said as I caught sight of the Onderon blooms, one with perfectly transparent red petals. Roben loved these, too…I pushed the pain away.

“What is it?”

“A glassflower. The petals become clear as they mature. They’re very difficult to grow off Onderon, and here there are so many.”

“You should have it, then.” He reached down to pluck one.

I held a hand out to forestall him. “Talin, I don’t think--”

“Hush. I’m family. I’m allowed to pick a flower at least once a year, particularly if it’s for someone special.” He grinned for a moment as he handed the glassflower to me.

“Thank you. It was—is—a favorite.” I looked down at it, swallowing hard against the lump that formed in my throat.

Talin tipped his head slightly, looking confused. “Was? Ah, Roben.”

I nodded, watching the clear flower petals rotate as I turned it in my hand. The trickling of the little stream filled the silence. My vision blurred as the tears started to well.

“There was nothing you could have done differently. Master Kavar couldn’t save him, either.”

“I know. It was his time.”

“Look at me. Oh, Jae,” He gently brushed away the tear that escaped. “Why do you do this to yourself? If Roben was the kind of man you’ve described, I know he wouldn’t want this.”

“You’re right, he wouldn’t.”

“What would he want?”

I turned to watch the water bubble over the rocks. Talin put an arm around my shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. “He’d want me to stop pushing people away because I was scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Scared of getting too close and then losing them.”

“Them?”

“Jolee…” I took a deep breath. “You.”

He drew me in closer. “I can’t promise I’ll be alive in fifty years. I can’t even promise five minutes. I do know that some things are worth the risk of that pain of loss, and I know I’d like to spend time with you, know you better, make you happy. Tell me, would you rather have had time with Roben or no pain?”

“Roben, of course.”

“So, you’d do it all over again?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t miss the joys in life because you fear the pain.”

I watched the light glint off the glassflower petals. I buried my nose in the blossom and inhaled the sweet scent, then lowered the flower into the stream. It bobbed up and down as the water carried it away out of sight. My hands trembled as I wiped the last of the tears away. I exhaled away the emotions except one. “Do something for me, Talin,” I whispered.

“What’s that?”

I looked up at him. “What you’ve been dying to for the longest time. Kiss me.”

Hope and uncertainty flashed across his face. “Jae, are you sure--”

I brushed my fingertips against his lips to silence him. “I’m sure.”

His mind touched mine and the wave of warmth washed over me. He leaned closer for the kiss, and my heartbeat quickened.

The scent of the garden changed abruptly. It was that ozone smell that follows on the heels of lightning strike, the smell of the superheated air around a lightsaber, and it filled the area. The hair on the back of my neck rose. “Talin, down!” I grabbed him by the back of the head to pull him out of the way. A blade of angry red light slashed through the now-empty space. I dodged to the side and ignited my lightsaber. “He’s Sith!” I whipped my blade around, catching his. Talin ducked and rolled, then came up with his saber lit.

The Sith and I locked gazes, blades crackling as we pushed against each other. His eyes sparked his hatred. “My master doesn’t like what you did to Dycen’a.”

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 07:13 PM
As always, I am grateful for betas from Emperor Devon and Jiara. :)

--------------------------------------------------

Chapter 21: The Chase

“Your master is going to be very disappointed,” I said, stepping out and shoving the Sith's crimson blade to the side. It melted through one of the metal rails and sliced effortlessly through some of the shrubs. The superheated wood smoked and burst into flames. Sentients screamed and scattered in all directions.

He wheeled around and charged with a flurry of blows, pressing me back away from Talin, who had rolled away to escape. Our sabers blurred into circles of light, humming a lethal cadence. So fast! Focus, focus.... He swiped at me and the tip of his blade nearly grazed my hip as I twisted away. The Force became a flood, slowing my racing heart, pushing away the wave of fear. I countered his blow, circling my blade down to trap his. We strained against each other's strength, our sabers moving back and forth as we fought for control. My arms shook with the effort.

He narrowed his eyes, a predator smiling over his prey. “You're wearing down. I'll have you in a moment.”

Talin ran to us and drove his blade down toward the Sith, who stopped it just before it sliced into his head. Their sabers crackled together. Talin whipped his blade down for another attack. I slashed my lightsaber around, snapping through the rain of attacks. We pressed him, and he retreated, sweat breaking out on his forehead.

Two more focused on us! “Talin, duck!” I jumped away, rolling as blaster bolts peppered the ground where we were standing, making plumes of dirt and plants. “Snipers!” I shouted over all the noise.

“Stay with me on the one with the saber. We'll take them all together,” Talin called back.

The Sith leaped at me. I jumped up and ran to put him between the shooters and me. Talin deflected the rain of blaster fire with small arcs of his lightsaber and dashed to my side. He launched a hail of blindingly fast blows. The Sith took quick angry breaths as he struggled to keep pace with both of us. Talin attacked his head, drawing his guard up. I slashed at his side, making a surgically clean cut completely through. His eyes widened in shock and then rolled back as he dropped to the ground in two halves. The shooters backed away, still spraying us with red bolts. I threw my lightsaber after them, dropping one. The surviving sniper turned and ran.

“Nice throw!”

“Better be. Jolee made me practice it enough.”

Talin grinned back and we sprinted off after the gunner. I turned the corner and ducked back as a blaster bolt hit the wall above my head, showering me with chunks of debris. I felt for him with the Force. “He's running again, Talin.”

“Let's go! Keep your guard up in case he does something funny.”

I took a quick look around the corner and saw him running away. We followed him to the end of a landing pad. He stopped short and looked over the edge at the chasm below, eyes darting about.

“There's no escape,” I said to him.

“We don't want to hurt you. Just drop the blaster and we'll take you in safely,” Talin added.

“Look, it's a long drop from here,” I said.

“You're old enough to have heard of jetpacks, sweetheart.”

“You jump from here and you'll be jumping into all that speeder traffic. It'll be suicide. Let's stop all this right now. We can protect you,” I urged him.

He laughed. “Sure. Like I'm supposed to believe anything a Jedi says.” He activated his pack and shot off a line of cover fire. Talin and I snapped our sabers around to deflect the bolts. One of the energy rounds ricocheted and hit his pack, sending him spinning down, away from the platform.

I sucked in my breath in fear. “He's going to get killed in all that traffic!”

“Jae, don't--” Talin held out a restraining hand.

I jumped, using every bit of Force power to span the distance. Time slowed as I flew through the air reaching out for him. I caught him around the neck. He grunted at the impact as we twisted wildly through the air, and then he blinked. “What? How? Damn Jedi.” The shocked look lasted a moment before he grinned. “Any other time, sweetheart, you could be my wildest fantasy.”

“Any other time, you still wouldn't be my type.”

His eyes widened and he inhaled sharply. I looked back. A speeder raced towards us, lights flashing in warning. I twisted to the side to shift our weight, and the pack turned. A line of speeders screamed by. I pulled down on the pack to dodge more aircars.

“Land this thing! Now!” I shouted over the wind.

More speeders flew towards us, and I leaned against him to tilt us away. One of the vehicles grazed the back of the pack and sent us spinning across the lanes of traffic, speeders beeping and dodging around us, creating chaotic swirls. My stomach lurched, and I fought to regain control and slow the spinning.

“How about I kill you first?” His free arm reached for the lightsaber I'd clipped to my belt.

I concentrated, feeling the Force rush out towards him. I worked through the dark recesses in his brain and found the right center. His body went limp and his head lolled as the Force knocked him unconscious. “How about 'no'?” I muttered, reaching for the controls. The button was melted where the blaster bolt had hit the pack. It jerked again as I tapped my comlink, and it nearly slid out of my hand. “Jolee! I have a little problem here....”

Jolee's voice crackled from the tiny speaker. “Let's see. The scenery's not romantic enough. No, wait. Talin's terrible at smooching. Remind me to give him some pointers later.”

“Jolee, I'm hanging on to a merc strapped to an out-of-control jet pack! I need some help here!”

“You know, that's not one of your brighter ideas.”

“Come on! We're in the middle of traffic and we're about to crash into a building....Oh geez, it's the Senate!” I twisted again to avoid another speeder.

“That'll make their day more exciting. Don't worry, you can't hurt it.”

I leaned back to slow the dizzying spin. “Jolee! How do you stop a jet pack with broken controls?”

“Can you open the panel above the controls?”

I looked at the side of the pack and pulled up the plastic door. “Got it. I see a couple power chips—one of them is shorting—it comes on and off.”

“There's a spare chip at the very top. Pull the bad one out and put the spare in.”

“Great, so I can have no control instead of partial control while the chip's out?”

Jolee snorted. “Where'd you learn to be sassy like that?”

“You.”

“Hehe, you have a good teacher. Just trust your old master and do what I say.”

I pulled on the shorting chip. It broke off in my hand. The pack went out, and the sniper and I plummeted down. “I have a BIG problem. The chip broke off in the socket. I can't get the new one in!”

“Well, use the Force, dammit. It's not there just for you to throw things at Talin's head. Feel the air around you, just like Reeca did. Imagine decreasing gravity and making the air thick so it slows you down and acts like a pillow.”

I closed my eyes and felt the air rushing past me, wind whipping my hair on my face. The molecules seemed to rush in under us, cradling us as we fell. Our descent slowed. We fell hard to the ground in a graceless heap. I blew out the breath I'd been holding and wiped the sweat streaming down my face.

“You know, an update would be nice so I don't worry that you're a messy splatter on the ground,” Jolee called over the comlink a few moments later.

“Sorry, Jolee. I had to catch my breath. We're down. We missed the building, and the sniper's out cold.”

“Congratulations on surviving Coruscant traffic. I'll come with help.”

After assessing the soldier for injuries and finding nothing serious, I sat down to regain my spent energy. Jolee and the emergency transports arrived at the same time.

“You made it down in one piece. Good job,” Jolee said.

“It wasn't a pretty landing.”

“You're alive. What more do you want? You're not hurt, though, right?”

I nodded no. “I'm fine, but I had more close calls than I like.” I tilted my head towards the soldier, now surrounded by medical and security personnel. “He'll be out for awhile. I stunned him hard.” Jolee raised an eyebrow. “Well, he compared me to his greatest fantasy. What was I supposed to do?”

Jolee chuckled, then glanced away for a moment. “Look, Talin's coming. I'll let you two chit-chat. I'm sure he'll want to convince himself that you're not imminently dying. Then let's grab Handsome here and get him back to the Temple.” Jolee walked over to the emergency team to give them some instructions.

Talin hurried to me. “You okay?” He held out a hand to help me up off the ground.

I took it, giving it a subtle squeeze. “I'm fine. It was scary, but we're all in one piece.”

He kept possession of my hand as he looked me up and down, then nodded relieved agreement. “You don't look hurt, thank the Force.” Then he smiled. “I'd hate it if I never had the opportunity to fulfill your request.”

I grinned up at him and pushed the damp hair back out of my face. “I'll need a good cleaning, first.” I glanced over at Jolee, who I caught looking at us, amusement dancing in his eyes. I gave Talin's hand one last squeeze before slowly pulling away. “We don't need any prying eyes, either,” I said, tilting my head a fraction towards Jolee. “I hope he won't be mad.”

Talin looked over at Jolee, who had looked away and made himself busy with the sniper again. “I have a feeling he's not going to mind too much.”

“I don't know how he's going to react to the news. This affects so many things.”

“I wouldn't wait too long. He's not an idiot, and it won't take him long to figure it out.”

“I'll tell him soon, don't worry,” I sighed, and we followed Jolee back to the Temple.

* * *

We stopped at the medical facility briefly to discuss the shooter and his injuries and report on the Sith and the merc. Master Supat absorbed all the information and returned to his work, but not before cheerfully needling us with a comment about how quickly those Selkath got back into the water. We walked to Jolee's quarters to await the call to meet with the Masters.

His window offered a view of the courtyard of the fountains. I gazed down at all the water making airy dances, trying to center myself.

“You're going to wear out your collar pulling on it like that,” Jolee said.

I glanced down at my hand and let go of my robe, then turned to the two men. Jolee sat back, making himself comfortable on the soft couch. Talin sat straight in a chair, legs crossed, hands draped elegantly over one knee. “I'm just concerned about what they're going to say about the vision. I imagine they'll want to know what happened in the Kayl Gardens, too.”

“Is that all?” Jolee asked. “You seem kind of nervous for someone who's just had a bad dream and a little scuffle with a Sith.”

I glanced at Talin, who gave me a tiny nod.

Jolee lifted an eyebrow at him and looked back at me. “You know, if there's something you need to tell me, now would be a very good time.”

The door chime rang. I answered it and motioned in a fidgeting youngling gripping a holodisk in both hands. “Master Jolee! A messenger brought this to the temple for your padawan. He said it was urgent.”

“Come in, son. Jae, let's see that disk.”

“What is it?” Talin asked.

“Someone sent me a message. I hope it's good news,” I said, putting the disk into the player. I clicked it on and inhaled sharply. It was the black-robed figure of my nightmares. My stomach roiled.

Jolee asked the young boy, “Son, is the messenger still here?”

“No, Master Jolee. He delivered it, said it was urgent, and left immediately.”

“Did you notice anything else, son?” Jolee asked.

“He was from Coruscant Messengers, least that's what his uniform said. His badge said his name was Im'ran. But that was odd, Master Jolee.”

“Why was that?”

“It is a Twi'leki name, but he's human. He didn't speak like a Coruscanti, either,” the youngling replied.

“Very good observations, son. Run and tell security we'll need the vids from his stop here to see if we can find any other clues,” Jolee instructed.

“Yes, Master!” The boy scampered out, closing the door behind him.

Jolee stood and walked over to me. “Jae, how about you quit staring at that thing like it's about to bite you, and play the transmission?”

I pressed the play button. The shrouded figure's voice was grainy. “Good day, Padawan. I see you met my minions. I'll get down to business. You've taken something of mine, and I was rather fond of it. I'm quite angry about that, but I've decided to show you some mercy. Bring the holocron to Telos Citadel Station, and I'll allow you to continue your pitiful existence.” The shrouded figure's grainy voice had a sinister softness that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Jolee snorted. “Oh sure. We believe that.”

I managed a tight smile at his quip and glanced at Talin. He frowned in concentration at the tall image.

The Sith Lord continued, “If you try to chase me, I will hunt you, and when I capture you, I assure you that you will wish you were dead. Instructions are on the datacard. My agent will contact you in two weeks. Don't keep me waiting.” The image faded out.

Jolee rubbed his chin, then said, “My, he's cocky. This guy must be nuts if he thinks we're just going to go to Telos with our hands in the air saying 'Hey, Mr. Sith Lord, come and get your toy, we trust you.'”

Talin grinned, but a shiver rippled down my spine.

Jolee looked at me and put a hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Jae, take a deep breath. A little fear is healthy—helps us keep our edge. A lot of fear's no good. Makes you stand there paralyzed like an Ithorian on spice. Trying to get a spiced Ithorian to do anything but stand around staring into space is about as easy as convincing a Cathar to go vegetarian. You just have to accept the fear's there and let it flow out. Focus on what your next action should be, not the fear. The Force will tell you what to do and when to do it.”

I nodded and took a deep breath.

The comm beeped. “Master Jolee, Talin, Jae--the Council would like to see you in a few minutes.”

Jolee said to us, “About time. They've been missing all the fun discussing some useless mumbo-jumbo, no doubt. Let's go.”

At the High Council doors, I adjusted my robe once more, smoothing the folds in place.

Jolee leaned over and said quietly as we entered the chambers, “Don't forget to play it up for Vrook.” He winked and I grinned in return as we went in to meet the Masters.

Jae Onasi
08-03-2006, 07:17 PM
Thank you Emperor Devon and Jiara for the betas!

------------------------------------------

Chapter 22: The Meetings

“Come, please,” Master Vandar motioned to the three of us. Masters Vrook, Kavar, Vash, and Supat sat in their customary places in the circle of chairs. Sunlight streamed through the lofty windows that soared to the top of the spire. The rays glinted off metal, warming the amber carpet and ivory colored furnishings, lighting up everyone except Vrook. Jolee strode past the tall white center stone and we followed, stopping in the center of the group of Jedi. We all bowed slightly to them.

“Happy to see you, too,” Jolee quipped at the stern Master.

Vrook waved a hand irritably. “Let's get to business. Master Jolee informed us of the visions you've been having, Jae, and Talin's claim that this Sith Lord is using the Xi-ro form.” Vrook scowled at Talin. “Any good student of mine would remember how little it's used, and how very unlikely it is that any Jedi is still using it, much less a Sith Lord.”

“I understand your concerns, Master, but it's the only possible conclusion I can make for that particular pattern of moves,” Talin said.

Kavar noted, “Enough Jedi fell to the dark side in the last forty years that it's entirely possible that form has been passed on. Not that many have ever learned it, however. We might be able to track the Sith Lord this way.”

Vrook snorted. “We'll see. Show me this form, Jae.” I wove through the complex pattern, lightsaber whirling. I stopped and repeated moves as Master Vrook directed. He rubbed his chin in thought, then said, “Well, it is Xi-ro as you thought, Talin.”

Jolee said, “I don't like this one bit. Xi-ro's a dangerous form. Nasty, nasty moves. Hard to defend against, too, since the high-powered strikes come so fast.”

“Jae's form is terrible, too, though to be fair, she's only learned it through a vision. Jae, you'll work with me on it, then.”

“I'm not sure how long we're staying, Vrook. We just got a summons from our nemesis to return his toys.” Jolee held up the holodisk with the message.

Vandar pressed a button on his chair and a holoreader appeared. “Let's see this message, please.”

Jolee walked over to the reader and inserted the disk. The faceless black-shrouded figure appeared. He laughed low, oozing evil. A chill ran down my spine. “Really, Jolee, I would have expected you to remember such a simple message....”

Images flashed before me. The Sith Lord laughing low. Toying with parts of the disk. White flash!

I ran to the holoreader and slapped the control to eject the holodisk. I grabbed it and dashed to the window, holding my hand up and sending a wave of the Force out. The tall window shattered, and I threw the disk away as hard as I could. It exploded in a brilliant white light. The sonic force rattled the windows and pounded through us as I ducked. Then there was silence, and I opened my eyes again and saw only a large cloud of smoke. There was no damage to any other structures. I let out a deep breath in relief and turned back to the other Jedi. Worry flickered momentarily through Talin's eyes as they met mine. I smiled slightly at him and looked over to Jolee. He walked over to me, looking me up and down.

“I'm fine,” I assured him.

“Quick thinking, there. I could kick myself for not anticipating a trap like that,” Jolee said.

Vrook got up and joined me on my other side. The breeze fluttered our robes as he squinted up into the sky and then peered at the courtyard below. “Hmph. Looks like everyone is safe and there's no other damage. Next time, Padawan, just open the window.” He walked back to his seat, sitting down and arranging his robes around him while.

Jolee rolled his eyes. “Vrook, you have a funny way of saying thank you to someone who just saved you from a butt full of shrapnel.”

I choked back a laugh and grinned at Jolee, who grinned back. “Actually, Jolee, I 'saw' the Sith doing something to the disk and then the explosion. I thought I'd better get rid of it before it blew.”

“Well, the message he sent on the holodisk told us he wanted us to meet him on Telos. Obviously the real message is 'I want you dead,'” Jolee told the group as we returned to the center of the room. “We know he's working out of Telos. We need to fly out there and see what we can find.”

“I'm sure my uncle would like to help, too,” I said.

Jolee quipped, “I'm sure Carth will want to lock you up in a stateroom to keep you out of harm's way, too.”

Kavar sat still, frowning thoughtfully before looking at me. “This Sith Lord is aggressive. He acts and uses Xi-ro aggressively. Defense is often lacking when someone is constantly on the attack —use that to your advantage.”

Vash nodded agreement. “You need to go quickly to Telos and take him out before he can do any more damage.”

“I have a contingent from Dantooine arriving in a couple days, so I can't go to Telos to fine-tune Xi-ro with you,” Vrook said. “Talin will go with you then. His skills in Xi-ro are adequate enough to teach you. However, you will have to work hard with him to learn it well, Jae.”

“Yes, Master Vrook. I have plenty of incentive, believe me.”

“I'm sure you do,” Jolee drawled. I shot him a sideways look which he ignored.

Vandar turned to the Ithorian healer. “Master Supat, any information from your patients?”

He slowly shook his large head. “No, not much. Dycen'a will be in kolto for several more days. The only thing we could get from the mercenary, even after his mind was opened, was that he'd been hired by Norelden and the Exchange on Telos.”

“That meshes with the information our science team has gleaned from the data you brought from Li'adin,” Vash said to us. “Dycen'a made jumps in time to just before the Ossus supernova. He also made stops at Li'adin, naturally, as well as Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa, and Telos. We sorted the data and cross-checked it with all ship dockings to see if there were any other ships coming in at the same time--he had to have met with this Sith Lord. We didn't find any matches, but there were about 20 suspicious registries. You should be able to find more about the Telosian ones, at least, when you meet with Captain Onasi.”

“The Sith Lord probably changed his ship registry,” Jolee mused. “Mik'oth might be able to help with that, too”

“For a price, no doubt,” growled Vrook.

“I'll tell him to send you the bill,” Jolee retorted, and Vrook rolled his eyes.

Vandar said, “We'll interview Dycen'a as soon as we can, but don't delay leaving for Telos for that. Jae, you'll study Xi-ro with Vrook while here the next couple days, and then with Talin on your journey. All three of you must concentrate on the Scourge defense. We'll contact you with any additional information the moment we have it. All of us sense great danger with this Sith Lord, but everything is still shrouded in darkness and the future is very unclear. Use great care when you contact him. May the Force be with you all.”

We bowed and left the Council chambers.

Jolee rubbed his belly. “I'm starving. I think we ought to take a little trip over to the Eloni Cantina.”

“Talin's in for a treat,” I grinned.

Talin lifted an eyebrow. “Oh? Should I be concerned?”

I grinned even wider. “You'll see.”

“I think I should be scared now.”

“Fear leads to the dark side, Talin,” I said.

Talin shook his head before smiling. “It's never a dull moment with you two.”

* * *

As Jolee opened the doors of the Eloni Cantina, the music pounded and the laughing chatter rushed past us. The gem-colored lights whirled and flashed as we stepped into the warm, night-dimmed main room and searched through the crush of sentients for Mik'oth. We found him and waved when we caught his eye. He waved back, then pressed his way past the patrons of many different species. There were Zeltrons in neon colors, brightly-dressed humans and Arkanians, and the sensual Twi'leks in glittering outfits as they all danced on the dance floor or moved around their tables or the main bar. He smiled and said a few words to many of them before he finally reached us.

“Ah! Lekku-less wonder! How wonderful you're here! What kind of trouble do I need to extricate you from this time?” Mik'oth exclaimed over all the noise.

“Ha! I'd have to rescue you!” Jolee retorted, giving the blue Twi'lek a bear hug.

Mik'oth looked over at me and his face lit up. “My favorite Padawan! Come, let me greet you properly!” He took both my hands and made a great show of kissing both cheeks loudly. “My cantina is blessed with your beauty. I hope you're staying for awhile, though I might have to beef up security to keep your many admirers at bay.” Talin looked at me in amusement and I just shook my head at Mik'oth, smiling broadly.

Jolee said, “Mik'oth, this is Jedi Knight Talin Kayl. Talin, Mik'oth.”

Talin bowed slightly to the Twi'lek. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“My pleasure, to be sure. Friends of the Lekku-less wonder are always welcome here.”

Jolee looked Mik'oth up and down. He was wearing a shiny navy suit with glowing green stripes, and sported fluorescent green rings, vest, and a silk tie to match. Jolee said to him, “You're dressed sedately today.”

Talin coughed back a laugh.

Mik'oth gave him an airy wave. “Well, you know, when the tax man comes, you have to dress conservatively to make a good impression. I decided to turn off the dancing light feature on the stripes and just go for a solid glow to avoid looking gaudy. But you didn't come here to admire my superb taste in clothing.”

“I never underestimate your ability to make an impression with your wardrobe,” Jolee grinned.

Mik'oth tucked my arm under his, patting my hand. “Come, my dear, only the best table for you. Everyone should see how blessed we are with your presence.” He started to weave his way through the brightly-dressed crowd of sentients who were laughing, drinking, or dancing to the fast-paced music.

“Mik'oth, a more secluded table might be in order. I have some business for you.” Jolee sniffed the air and closed his eyes in appreciation. “A little of whatever that amazing food is that I'm smelling would be terrific, too.”

Mik'oth was the master of the Twi'lek pout. He sighed dramatically. “All right, if I have to squirrel you away, we'll use my office suite. You know the way, Jolee. I'll go find us some dinner.”

Jolee led us up to the far more sedate office seating area, done in deep, understated tones and rich fabrics. A large, extravagant desk filled one corner with only a few datapads breaking the smooth surface. The darkened mirrored windows lining one wall allowed a discreet view of the main room below while maintaining privacy. Brightly colored Twi'lek art hung on the other walls, preventing the room from being somber. Jolee sat down on one of the small dark leather couches. I sat across from him on another, and Talin slid into the space next to me. “Mik'oth will just have to settle for sitting with Jolee,” he said to me.

“He'll be disappointed,” I smiled.

“No doubt he will.”

Mik'oth walked briskly into the office, closed the door, then perched on the sofa next to Jolee, fingers laced over a crossed knee. Jolee settled back into the couch, an arm draped over the back, and looked back and forth at Talin and me. “So, what really happened? I've been around the galaxy enough times to know that when a man and a woman go walking around in romantic gardens, it's not generally to study pollen measurements.”

I put my head down in my hand. “Nothing happened,” I groaned.

“Nothing?” Mik'oth asked incredulously, eyes wide.

After I shook my head, Jolee sighed. “Talin, you take my Padawan into a beautiful garden and nothing happens? What is wrong with you, boy? Are you waiting for Hoth to thaw or something?”

Talin flushed and cleared his throat. “Well, the Sith happened before anything else could.”

Mik'oth had a confused look on his face, so I explained the events at the garden.

Jolee said, “I suppose that does put a bit of a damper on things. Then we had the meeting with the Jedi Masters.”

“Oh, they're just beyond stuffy with their silly rules that suck the joy out of life,” Mik'oth replied. Then he looked over at the Talin and me for a long moment. We glanced at each other and looked back at him. Mik'oth rolled his eyes. “Oh, for heaven's sake.” He got up and walked over to us. “Give me that hand, Talin,” he commanded, holding out his. Talin slowly raised his hand and Mik'oth grabbed it. He pointed at me next and waggled his finger for me to give him my hand as well. He made a great show of putting our hands together. “Now, stay that way,” he ordered. He returned to his perch on the couch.

I felt the warm flush creep across my cheeks and looked at Talin, who returned my gaze with a small smile.

Mik'oth sighed to Jolee, “Ah, young love. It's a beautiful thing.”

“Maybe it will be, some time this millennium,” Jolee snorted.

“Well, now, you didn't come to my humble cantina for me to solve Jedi love problems, Jolee. Tell me why you're here.”

“I have something for you, Mik'oth,” Jolee said, pulling out a datacard and handing it to him. “We can't get any information through official channels. The ship registries don't match anything in the government records, and we have about 20 each to go through from Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa, and Telos.”

Mik'oth slipped the card into a datapad. “Obviously they're not going to match anything. You avoid 'official' entanglements by using a false registry. The Senate could clamp down on this kind of thing. Of course, then our good galactic citizens would learn about their little jaunts to their mistresses or spice resorts. So, they'll never enforce the rules. All the better for us, then!” Mik'oth skimmed the data. “Most sentients make the mistake of only using one fake registry. It makes them very easy to track. The true professionals have multiple registries and change them often. I'll have my contacts nose around and see what they can find out. Let's enjoy dinner in the meantime.”

Later, one of the well-built, scantily clad serving girls brought us all caffa and handed a datapad to Mik'oth. He waggled his eyebrows at her as he thanked the green Twi'lek girl, and she winked as she left the office. Mik'oth reviewed the data. “Well, aren't you lucky. Three ships fit the data best.”

“That's lucky?” I asked.

Mik'oth peered over at me. “You're lucky that it's only three. Two are from Telos, one from Nar Shaddaa. Looks like the Telosian ships have docked at Norelden's base several times. The Nar Shaddaan ship is part of Vogga the Hutt's 'unofficial' fleet.” Mik'oth handed the datapad to Jolee.

I nodded understanding. “Ah, stolen.”

Mik'oth poked Jolee in the ribs. “She learns fast, in spite of having you for a master.”

“Hilarious, Mik'oth. It's a wonder you never survived stand-up comedy.”

Mik'oth made an obscene hand gesture at him. “How was I supposed to know those Rodians had no sense of humor after their credit clips disappeared? I ran out of jokes to tell them.”

Jolee chuckled. “On that note, we need to get going. We have a lot to do before leaving for Telos. We appreciate the help very much.”

Talin and I got up, fingertips lingering together a moment longer before we reluctantly dropped hands.

“Sometime you'll have to come in just for pleasure rather than business, you know.” Mik'oth turned to me, took my hand, and kissed my cheeks once more. “As always, my dear, you are welcome here. Talin, you'd better watch out for her. I get very upset if any of my ladies are treated poorly.”

Jolee nodded his head gravely. “Trust me, Talin. You never want to see an angry Mik'oth.”

Talin gave the Twi'lek an indulgent smile before looking at me. “I assure you, I'll give you no reasons to be concerned.”

* * *

Jolee slipped the Accipiter out of Coruscant's orbit and turned it over to autopilot for the duration of the hyperspace jump.

“I need to meditate some on the Scourge defense, and you two need to work on Xi-ro. I’ll leave you to the sparring for now and join you later.”

Jolee went to his room to relax, and Talin and I went to the sparring room.

“All right, let’s work out the sequence slowly,” he instructed. “It starts with defending the left side head, then circle the blade over and attack the leg, then thrust to the chest....”

We worked on the sequences over and over until each move burned itself into the muscle memory.

“There are still a few rough spots as we get farther into the form.”

“I'm trying not to miss that one block.”

“Trying won't do any good if you miss that block with the Sith Lord, damn it. Let’s work on those in particular, full speed.”

Once again the lightsabers glowed, swinging around with loud hums, crackling with an electric hiss as they came in contact with each other. Talin attacked relentlessly with fierce quick slashes. As fast as the Sith Lord.

“You're slowing down. Move it, Jae! I know you can do better than that!”

I grit my teeth and increased my speed again to keep pace as we repeated the form over and over, lightsabers making fiery arcs of light. The image of the Sith Lord striking down on me flashed through my memory, and I turned the wrong way, missing a block. I ducked instinctively.

He yelled “No!” as he pulled up his saber to keep from slicing across my back. It skimmed just above my head and shoulders, then there was silence. I reached for the back of my neck, feeling the fire of the burned skin.

“Oh Force! Are you okay? Let me see!” he exclaimed. He dropped his lightsaber, grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled the neck down and away, then shoved my hand aside to look at the injury.

“Talin! You're choking me!” I gurgled, trying to pull the neck of my shirt off my throat.

“Oh! Sorry!” He gave it some slack and I could breathe again.

I'm fine, Talin. You didn't hit me.”

“I pulled up as soon as I saw you missed the block, but I almost didn't make it in time. You've got some pretty good burns just the same. I’ll go get Jolee,” he said, turning to leave the room.

“No! I’ll be fine in a bit. As long as I'm not dying, all he’ll do is give me guff about learning the hard way and tell me to heal it myself.”

Talin chuckled, relieved. “That he would. At least let me help. I can’t heal like you or Jolee but I might be able to take away some of the pain.”

I nodded, and his hands cooled the fire in my skin. “You have more skill than you give yourself credit for,” I sighed in relief and reached back. The blistered skin had smoothed out and returned to normal. “I think you've healed it completely.” I put my hand on top of his.

He turned me around and gathered me into his arms tightly. His voice was roughened with emotion, “You have no idea how close I came to hurting you badly. Maybe even killing you.”

Circling my arms around his waist, I returned the embrace. “I know how close it was, but we powered down our sabers for sparring.” I looked up at him and saw his anguish. I assured him, “I’m all right, now. So are you.”

His blue eyes, darkened with emotion, held mine. The worry in them gave way to a longing look. He brushed a stray lock of hair off the side of my cheekbone with the back of his hand, and I closed my eyes, savoring the gentle touch. He leaned down, and with a gossamer touch his lips met mine for a brief kiss. My heart beat faster and I sighed deeply as the pleasure shivered through me. He kissed again, this time with an insistent passion that made it hard to breathe.

“Jae, I have a thought on this Scou--” Jolee walked into the room, looking down at a datapad.

Talin and I both stopped and looked over at Jolee. When I made a move to break away, he tightened his arms around me, saying softly in my ear, “Please, stay.”

I relaxed in his arms as Talin cleared his throat.

Jolee looked up. Open-mouthed surprise was followed by a knowing half-grin, half-smirk. He snorted, “About damn time. Carry on!” He turned on his heel and quickly left the room.

I laid my head down on Talin’s shoulder and dissolved into laughter. Talin chuckled, arms still around me.

“I’ve never seen that particular look on his face before,” I said once I caught my breath.

“You know, I was thinking that we should really follow his instructions.” He tipped up my chin with his hand and captured my mouth with his once more, holding me close.

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 07:35 PM
Telos


The days in hyperspace passed quickly with all our studies on the lightsaber form and Scourge defense. Talin and I sat down for breakfast the morning of our arrival to Telos to review plans for the day, holding hands while eating and reading datapads.

Jolee found some caffa and joined us. A bemused look crossed his face when he noticed our hands, fingers lightly interlaced. He picked up another datapad, took a sip of his drink, and in a nonchalant voice asked, “So, are you fooling around yet? If you’re not, you should be.”

Talin looked up at Jolee, having enough control to keep his face passive save the raised eyebrows. Having just taken a sip of caffa myself, I nearly spit it back out, tried to swallow, and ended up choking on the hot liquid that ran down my throat the wrong way. Both Jolee and Talin tried pounding on my back to make the coughing spasms die down. I wasn’t sure if that made things better or worse. My eyes watered as I tried to clear my throat.
After three inarticulate gurgles, I managed to exclaim in between more coughs, “Jolee! What kind of question is that?”

“A really personal one, because I’m old and worldly enough to take great delight in making young women blush furiously while choking on their caffa,” he replied with a wide grin.

Talin merely smiled at Jolee and put an arm around my shoulders in sympathy at Jolee’s teasing.

“You can be just as bad as Mik’oth.”

“I know. Maybe even worse.”

“A padawan needs some secrets now and then. I might not tell you even if we had.”

“Kind of hard to miss on a ship this small.”

“I think I want to wake up and realize this entire conversation is just a bad dream.”

Talin smiled once more, and then his brows knit into a more serious look.

“Got something on your mind, son?”

“Actually, yes, since we’re on the topic of relationships. I’d like you both to hear me out.” He took my hand in his once more.

Jolee said, “This is beginning to sound rather serious. It’s a little early to propose to my Padawan, don’t you think?” The grin turned to a look of pleasant attentiveness as he listened to Talin.

“Our relationship is still a bit too young yet for the marriage discussion, and I have something else in mind. Now, we all know that the Council is going to be quite displeased at the idea of Jae and me pursuing any attachments.”

“You have no idea how much I look forward to seeing the look on Vrook’s face. But that’s just a bonus to knowing the two of you lovebirds are happy. We can deal with the Council difficulty when we reach it, and I don’t have a problem leaving the Order again if they make a big fuss about it. You both already know how I feel they should not be discouraging love. But I’m interrupting like any other old man. Go on.”

Talin continued, looking at me, “Jae, I thought the last thing I ever wanted to do was leave the Order. But I’d do it for you in a heartbeat.”

I swallowed hard against the lump that rose in my throat from all the emotions flooding up, squeezing his hand tightly.

“I don’t think it will come to that. They can hardly refuse you with all the other fine examples like the Sunriders and the Harradins,” noted Jolee.

“Nevertheless, I want to stay in the Order and be with the one I have come to care so deeply for.”

“I share those same feelings. While I, too, would leave if I had to, I don’t want to, and I think they need to keep every Jedi they can. It will be difficult, but I know we could stay together and stay in the Order at the same time.” Talin squeezed my hand in return, peering deep into my eyes, a pleased look softening his angular features.

“Here is what I suggest,” Talin said after clearing the emotion from his voice. “I would like to ask you, Jae, if you would consider a formal relationship, and you, Jolee, if you would approve. We don’t, strictly speaking, need anyone else’s approval—you are your own woman, Jae, and I am my own man. If you agree, we should also speak to Carth and my family. We’ll need their support and guidance if we have to make some difficult decisions, and I don’t want them to be surprised if something happens.”

“I’ll agree with this. I think it’s wise to go slow and sort things out carefully.” I leaned over to place a happy kiss on his lips, which he returned with pleasure.

“You two won’t get any argument from me. I knew you’d be doing something like this pretty much the moment you both laid eyes on each other. Well, maybe not exactly then, but definitely from the moment you had your first little spat.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“What, and ruin the surprise? When you get to my age, you get your amusement where you can, you know, and watching the sparks fly between the two of you has been quite entertaining. If it didn’t work out, no one was the wiser, well, except me. No, you had to figure it out for yourself. Talin, I like how you think. Never hurts to have family support when you’re making hard decisions.”

A chime rang, indicating that we were nearing the end of the hyperspace run.
“Well, Telos, here we come.” Jolee said.

* * *

“I’m going to meet with my uncle in about an hour, and I’ll take our information and go over that with him,” I informed Jolee.

Jolee nodded agreement, “Sounds fine, Jae. I’ll meander over to the cantina to see if there’s anyone there from the old days who can put me in touch with the Exchange there. If not, I may have to drink a few people under the table. Remind me to pack the alcohol inhibitor stims.”

“If it is all right with you, Jolee, I’d like to accompany Jae.”

“You don’t mess around when there’s work to be done, do you, lad?”

“It’s better to get things done and settled quickly.”

“Sounds good. Meet me in the cantina when you’re done, but if I’m in the middle of something, find another table unless I wave you over.”

* * * *

We arrived at the Eye of the Osprey, in full robes, both of us holding our hands together, tucked under the sleeves.
Captain Onasi greeted us formally, standing tall and military-stiff, as we waited to board his ship, “Request permission to come aboard, Captain!” I smiled at him.

“Granted. Welcome to the Osprey.” He smiled back and gave me a quick wink that his staff couldn’t see from their vantage points.

“Captain Carth Onasi, may I present Jedi Talin Kayl?”

“How do you do? I’m honored to have two Jedi aboard my ship.”

“The Jedi Council sends their regards,” Talin said in a pleasant tone.

“You’ll have to send them my greetings in return. Is Jolee joining us?” Carth inquired.

“He’s conducting his investigations, but he said he’ll join you for dinner,” Talin replied.

Carth gave us a knowing smile. “He’s checking out the cantina, isn’t he? Or should I say the dancing girls? He may put on the ‘old man’ act, but I think he’s probably more active than some of my youngest ensigns.”

I laughed. “You know him well, then.”

“Come. Let me introduce the two of you to my senior staff.”
Carth introduced us to his subordinates with the propriety appropriate to his rank, and we greeted each officer politely. Once in his quarters, however, he picked me up, swung me around once in joy, set me back down, and kissed both cheeks. I laughed aloud at the exuberant greeting.

“You get prettier every time I see you, Jae. How is my favorite niece?” he said, pushing a rebellious strand of dark hair away from his deep brown eyes.

“I’m doing just fine. You look well, too. How are you? And how is Dustil?”

“I’m the same as always. The Navy keeps me busy. Dustil tells me the masters are pleased with his progress, and I’ve made a point of keeping in close contact with him. I have to make up for a lot of lost time.”

“He’ll make a good Jedi, and he enjoys hearing from you more than you know. He doesn’t harbor that anger anymore.”

“Being a Jedi seems to suit you, though I heard you were hurt a few months back. I was on a mission, and I didn’t receive the news until you were nearly fully recovered.” His forehead wrinkled in concern.

“They tell me it was bad for a bit, but I have no side effects otherwise. I did receive your hilarious card and flowers, by the way, and I appreciated it very much.” I decided to change the subject. “I heard that congratulations may be in order. Should we prepare a reception for a new rank?”

“I’m still thinking about it. It’s quite an honor, but it’s a tremendous responsibility. There’s so much to oversee here on Telos, too, and Lieutenant Godsey is retiring as Security Chief on Telos station in about nine months. I hate to leave him in a lurch trying to break in a new captain so soon before retirement. My XO is one of the best. If I leave, it’ll be hard to train a new one.”

“Carth, a project of this magnitude won’t be done for decades. Lieutenant Godsey, if he’s a good man, will adapt just fine to a new captain. You can’t stay at the rank of Captain forever, any more than your XO can stay a Commander. Besides, you could still oversee the project as part of your duties as Admiral. You just won’t be forced to deal with all the little daily details.”

“You know, Admiral Dodonna said something remarkably similar to that. Then again, the Onasi women have always shown greater wisdom than the Onasi men,” Carth smiled widely. “Come, sit,” he said, offering us a choice of seating. I chose the couch, and Talin sat down next to me, with just enough distance to be circumspect.

“You received our transmission, Captain?” Talin asked.

“I did, and my XO, Commander Aichon, has already been making some very discreet inquiries about Norelden’s role in the Exchange over the past year. In fact, he’s on Telos station right now investigating quietly. He should have some information for us at the mess tonight. We also checked on the ship registry, and not surprisingly, we came up with nothing.”

“We have three other illegal registries that may have been used here,” I said, handing Carth a datacard.

“I’ll have to check on that. We probably won’t have anything before dinner, though. It’s not the Scythe, however. We found it floating in space, heavily damaged. We had to scuttle it because the damage was so bad.”

“There’s also the matter of the Force Scourge,” Talin said.

“We’ve had nothing here on the ship at all, though we heard rumors about it happening a few times on Citadel station. My medical officers were in a frenzy trying to get any information they could get because they thought it was some new terrible disease. They’re horrified that a Force power can do that, but they’re relieved it’s not something communicable. They worried about the possibility of an epidemic.”

“I know we were concerned when we first saw it,” I said.

“Did you have anything else for me or any questions?”

“Yes, Sir, I do,” Talin said, taking my hand in his. “I would like to talk to you about getting to know your niece better.”

Carth lifted his eyebrows in surprise and looked over at me. “The Jedi Council is OK with this?”

“We’re waiting to tell them,” I said. “We’re still trying to sort everything out ourselves. We don’t plan to hide it from them, though.”

“Jolee knows, I take it,” he said.

“He thinks it’s wonderful, actually.”

“Why does that not surprise me? He was thrilled about Revan and Bastila, too. You look happier than I’ve seen you in a long time.” When I smiled back at him, his eyes crinkled happily and he grinned. “Well, Jedi Talin, you’re going to have to tell me all about yourself. I’ll warn you, though, that there are very few men who will meet my standards for my niece.”

I shook my head slightly in amusement. When Carth saw my smile, I knew he had already approved.

* * *

Talin and I entered the cantina, the power of the loud music nearly making me take a step back. Numerous sentients of at least seven or eight different species filled the tables and booths, and the bartenders were busy preparing a colorful variety of drinks for the patrons. We found Jolee at the cantina sitting with an arm around a Twi’lek dancing girl while enjoying a juma juice. We slid into the booth with the two of them after he gave the high sign for us to approach. She got up and waggled both her lekku and fingers at Jolee, smiling coyly over her shoulder as she walked away.

“You two just ruined a perfectly good time. We were having a wonderful talk.”

I snorted my disbelief. “Since when did dancing girls become conversationalists?”

“They can be very conversational, depending on the subject.” Jolee winked. “Did Carth say anything interesting?”

“We filled him in on what we’ve found so far. The ship registry was not used here, either, and he’s going to check out the registries Mik’oth gave us. He said that the Scythe was found drifting and it was destroyed. He also mentioned his XO has been conducting some discreet investigations on the Exchange here,” I replied.

“I was talking about the two of you, but thanks for the mission update.”

“Captain Onasi is quite protective of his niece, I learned. After a thorough interrogation, however, he grudgingly approved.”

“He liked Talin.”

Jolee signaled for the server. “A round of willek juice for us, please.” He turned back to us, saying, “I found one of my old contacts here. She’ll be along shortly.”

A green Twi’lek strolled over to our table, sultry eyes on Jolee. She had the voluptuous grace of a dancer, though she wore far more clothes than any Twi’lek dancer I had seen. Her age, approaching Jolee’s, didn’t detract as it might for some, but merely enhanced her appearance by giving her a worldly and experienced air.

“Why hello, Jolee,” she said in a low melodious voice that had seduced more males than she could probably count.

“Hello, darling.” Jolee gave her a quick kiss on the cheek in greeting, and they shared a warm knowing look. “Meet my little party. De’layn, this is Jae and Talin. I’ve worked with De’Layn before, and she can be trusted completely. She has, ah, connections to the Exchange here.”

We stood to greet her, and then made room for her to join us. Jolee ordered a drink for her as well.

“My little group of ladies is in the business of gathering information,” she said, looking at us with her enticing eyes, leaving unspoken the methods they utilized. “Well, Jolee, I understand you have an interesting problem.”

“We certainly do. We have a Sith Lord to track down, and we think he’s connected to Norelden’s operation somehow. We’ve got three different illegal registries to sort through. We had a time-traveling Li’adan who was picking up little souvenirs off of Ossus and bringing them back to our time, and we don’t know what or how many. He ran around traveling between Coruscant, Telos, and Li’adin, in between his little jaunts back in time. We took him out on Li’adin, and when we sent him back to Coruscant, the masters couldn’t save him.”

Jolee’s lie about Dycen’a was so smooth I nearly believed it myself. The Council wanted the Sith Lord to believe Dycen’a was dead, and so they had carefully ‘leaked’ news about his ‘demise’. They hoped the Sith Lord might show himself without an apprentice, and it eliminated assassination attempts on Dycen’a.

“We’d heard about a Sith apprentice being captured and dying,” she nodded.

“We came across a derelict ship that had escaped from somewhere around here. Inside were three people who had been hit by a Force power that looked a lot like plague. And just to make our last few weeks more interesting, we’ve also had a few brushes with some mercs and a dark Jedi. Two of them came from Norelden’s outfit.”

“Norelden’s not your Sith Lord. Someone in the organization might be, but he’s not. He has absolutely no Force skill whatsoever,” De’layn said, relaxing back against the seat, sipping her drink.

“Any ideas who, then?”

“None at the moment, but it’s someone connected to Telos. One of my ladies is on the inside at the main hospital, and there has been some hush-hush activity going on there the last few months. Plague was one of the words bandied about. Anyone connected to it immediately learned to stay silent or was silenced. Let me see the ships’ registries.”

“Dycen’a’s ship was destroyed. These were the registries that seemed to match the times when his ship was on Telos or Coruscant. We’re hoping that if we can figure out which ship it is, we can look for other ships that docked around that time and see if there are any links. Dycen’a had to be meeting with someone.”

She frowned elegantly as she reviewed the data. “Vogga’s ship is out. None of his ships have been docking here for several months. Everyone would have thought it very odd if a ship with the Hutt’s registry docked for no apparent reason. He and Norelden had a bit of a falling out about prices, you know. That leaves the Scythe and The Measure of Fujita. I think it may be the Fujita but I’m not one hundred percent sure. I may be able to find something more definite for you this evening. Perhaps you could join me for dinner, Jolee?”

“Unfortunately, my dear, I already have a previous engagement for dinner.”

“Then come for a nightcap, darling, and we can discuss it leisurely.” De’layn said in a purring voice, placing a hand over Jolee’s. “While your two companions are charming, I’d like to have a tête-à-tête to discuss some discreet matters. I can arrange for some entertainment for you, Jae and Talin, since I am so rudely stealing away Jolee.”

Talin said, “That’s very kind of you, but it won’t be necessary.”

“I thought you’d never ask, De’layn,” Jolee said with obvious pleasure in his eyes. “And yes, I have no doubt my charges can find something to do with themselves for an evening.”

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 07:59 PM
Ship Registries

“So, just who is De’layn?” I asked, looking over at Jolee with a raised brow as we left the cantina to make our way back to the Osprey for the dinner with Carth.

“She’s a female Twi’lek, attractive I might add, who is in charge of an information business. She has cultivated some unique connections.”

“I mean, how do you know her?”

“Well, why didn’t you ask that? Pfft. Young people these days just don’t know how to ask the right questions. Always asking one thing when they really mean another.”

I waited for an answer for quite some time before looking at him and saying, “Well?”

“Oh, De’layn? Here I thought you’d get distracted by Talin’s blue eyes and forget all about the question so I wouldn’t have to get a dry mouth telling you the story. I hate how you young people complain about how boring my little tales are.”

“I’ve never complained about any of your stories.”

“Hmm, well, you’re right. I guess I’ll tell you then. De’layn was a fellow apprentice at the academy.”

“Ah, that explains how she knew without a doubt that Norelden had no Force affinity,” Talin noted.

“You really are in love, if you managed to actually concentrate on what she was saying and not be distracted by her gorgeous looks.”

Talin replied in a dry tone, “I find I have more than enough distraction without adding anything further, thank you.” He looked over my way with amusement.

I shook my head with a bit of a smile, sighed at the two of them, and circled my hand to motion for Jolee to go on with his story.

“Oh, yes, you did want to hear about De’layn. She is talented in the Force, and was just about made a Padawan. During training, Iridian plague hit her home planet, and she ended up losing everyone in her family except her two youngest sisters and a younger brother. She decided to leave the Order and take care of them. One of her Force skills is finding information that eludes everyone else. It’s made her a ton of money, and she probably has a better life now than she would have had as a Jedi, to be honest. She invited me over to talk about her little brother, who isn’t so little anymore. In fact, he’s a grown Twi’lek now, with a family and all. I’m his godfather.”

“Godfather? You were going to go to her place for a nightcap to discuss family ties?” I asked.

“Let me guess. You thought that just because I gave a beautiful Twi’lek with an incredibly sexy voice a wink and a smile that I’m running over to her place to jump in bed with her after dining with you? You two have your minds so far down in the sewer that the rakghouls would have to dig them out of the Taris undercity. Sheesh. Not that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind, you know, but we’ve been good friends too long. She’s going to fill me in on the latest family gossip.”

“Then I guess--” I ducked just in time—the blaster bolt was so close to the top of my head that I could feel the air move. Our three lightsabers ignited simultaneously as we spun around to face our attackers. There was a squad of mercenaries running towards us.

“Oh, Force, De’layn! She may be in trouble!” I yelled over all the noise of blaster bolts hitting or ricocheting off the metal plates, deflecting three shots in rapid succession before I cut down the shooter.

“She’s a Force user. She’ll be fine. Concentrate!” Jolee urged as I ducked another blaster bolt that came much too close for comfort. I could feel the heat and smell a sweet-smoke odor as a tiny bit of my hair singed.

Jolee had to raise his voice to be heard above the screams of several people who were running frantically or diving out of the way of the battle.

Talin strode with single-minded focus into the fray, deflecting bolts and slashing through our attackers, seeming to make nothing more than tiny flicks of the wrist to make his lightsaber flurry through the air. His saber almost seemed to take on a life of its own as it moved in his hands.

Jolee’s skill nearly matched Talin’s, and he took out almost as many of the mercs as Talin did. I was happy to stop a couple of them and not get hit myself, though I did notice it was getting easier to anticipate attacks and make the proper moves.

The three of us cleared out the squad of mercenaries in a very short time and without injury. I ran over to the civilians who were lying on the ground to make sure they were uninjured. One man had received a glancing hit from a blaster bolt and had a burn on his arm. He was surprised as it disappeared in moments as I healed the injury, and then he breathed his relief from the pain.

“Thanks,” he said, his fear still palpable. “I’ve never even seen a Jedi before. Well, except on the holovid movies, you know. I didn’t know you stopped to help like that. I mean, people like me and all.” His face reddened.

“What’s your name?” I asked, giving him a gentle smile as I radiated calm, checking him over for any other injuries.

“Jaxin, ma’am,”

“Jaxin, I was a servant at a royal court before I joined the Order, and most of us come from very humble beginnings. I’m honored that you allowed me to help you. Now if that arm bothers you, make sure to go to the infirmary right away.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am,” he said, getting up and backing away a few steps before turning to walk away, nearly floating over the floor, face beaming his pleasure.

“That was well said,” Talin said with frank approval.

“I guess some of your diplomacy lessons are finally starting to stick.” I looked back at him with a discreet smile.

We walked back over to Jolee who was trying to raise De’layn on his comlink, to no avail.

“Carth?” I called on mine. “We’re going to be a little late for dinner….”

* * * *

“You’ve acquired some powerful enemies,” De’layn commented when we found her coming out of the small spot she had hunkered down in to protect herself from the firefight. At her feet were two dead fighters, with the clean fine lines of burns characteristic of a lightsaber attack.

“Are you all right, dear?” Jolee asked, the worry wrinkling his forehead and filling his eyes, followed by relief when he saw she was uninjured.

“Of course, Jolee. Just because I left the Order doesn’t mean I’ve stopped practicing certain skills.” She smiled and held up her lightsaber. “They never asked for it back, you know.”

Jolee grinned, “You always were resourceful.”

“Now this is very interesting,” she said, picking up one of the dead fighter’s blasters. “It’s Republic issue. I wonder why one of Norelden's men is carrying this?”

* * *

I was new enough in the Order that I was still surprised at the power of the two little words, “Jedi business.” That term virtually eliminated the need to deal with any bureaucracy. The presence of Captain Carth Onasi, decorated hero of the Republic, helped that much more.

“You look like you made it through this scrape just fine,” Carth said, peering over at me to make sure I was all right.

“Not a scratch.”

“A little singed hair, though,” Talin said with no small amount of disapproval, the frown tightening his lips. He held up the lock so that I could see the small area that had been blackened from the heat. “That should not have happened. We’ll have to work more on blaster bolt deflection techniques.”

The subtle and brief touch of his hand on my shoulder was his expression of worry for me and took some of the sting out of his critical tone.

“We found this on one of the mercs, Carth,” Jolee said, handing over the blaster to Carth before he could comment.

“Interesting. It’s definitely Republic issue, and it’s new. This merc looks too old to have just gotten out of basic training with a new blaster, only to join the Exchange. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but this may come from the batch that was stolen not too long ago. The Republic was sending us a small shipment of replacement arms to us, and the ship was pirated. We thought it was Norelden, but had no real proof until now.”

“This may help both our investigations, then,” I suggested.

“Undoubtedly it will. We’ll have Commander Raxton join us along with Commander Aichon. Raxton is my deparment head of intelligence. We’ll let the authorities take care of the rest of the work here and talk over dinner in a more discreet setting.”

We headed back to the Osprey.

Both commanders met us for dinner, with Carth making the introductions. After a simple but hearty meal, we attended to business.

“We understand things got a little exciting today,” Aichon said. He was dark-headed with green eyes, and was taller than Carth by several inches, almost too tall for the ship. He had to duck slightly as he went through doors. He exuded a quiet competence as he worked with Carth.

Jolee replied, “Well, if you count a squad of mercs exciting, then yes, I guess it did. I prefer my excitement to come in other ways.” He gave a little lopsided grin that made the officers laugh.

Talin maintained the neutral pleasant look that he did so well as he explained, “Jolee had a meeting with a colleague at the cantina. She left before us, or she would have been caught in the middle of the firefight rather than the periphery. As it was, they attacked us very shortly after we left. It was fortunate that it was still early in the evening and there was not as much traffic in the corridors as there would later in the evening. There would have been many more casualties otherwise.”

“We don’t know if we were followed, or if someone saw us in the cantina and reported in to Norelden’s people,” I added.

Raxton spoke in a smooth manner, “We received information of a possible hit today, and I informed Commander Aichon. Regretfully, my sources couldn’t get enough solid information in time to put out any warnings.” He had a face and quiet voice that would not be very memorable and few mannerisms that would make people immediately recognize him. His brown eyes refused to reveal what was behind them. His brown hair and not-quite handsome features spoke ‘nondescript Human.’ He was perfect for intelligence work.

Carth handed him the blaster we had found earlier. “Is this part of the shipment we were supposed to receive?”

Raxton examined it carefully. “Yes. The serial number matches up with the inventory list we received. You said one of the mercenaries had this on him?”

“Yes. My colleague recognized him as one of Norelden’s people,” Jolee answered.

Aichon took the blaster when Raxton offered it to him and looked it over critically. “This is just further evidence of Norelden’s activity. Why is he after you three, though?”

“He’s been after us ever since we stopped an assassination attempt, but especially after we took out his apprentice Dycen’a. We’re still waiting to get useful leads from him—his injuries were too severe for the other masters to extract information right away,” Jolee said.

“I heard that Dycen’a had met his demise,” Aichon said.

Jolee answered, “That’s the party line we’re passing on the street. We want to avoid any more assassination attempts on Coruscant. It’s much easier if he’s ‘dead,’ you know.” Jolee made sure to make eye contact with everyone in the room. “I know I don’t need to say to this fine group that outside this room, he needs to stay dead.”

Talin stayed silent for a beat, and then added, “We have Dycen’a’s ship registry that he was using when traveling to Telos and Coruscant, which we gave to Captain Onasi.”

“We know it’s not the Scythe, since that ship was destroyed. We were trying to learn if it was one of Vogga’s ships or the Fujita,” Carth said.

“Vogga’s ships haven’t been docking here in recent months,” Raxton replied, sitting back comfortably in his chair, hands laced on the knee of a crossed leg. “He and Norelden had a falling out, and after Vogga lost a few ships he decided it would be wise to back out of operations here until the two of them could work things out.” Raxton leaned forward and tapped the datapad sitting on the table. “It can only be the Fujita.”

Carth said, standing up, “Let’s find out who he was meeting. Find me every ship that docked at Telos station near or at the same time as the Fujita. Meet me here for a report tomorrow at the same time.”

The two officers responded simultaneously, “Aye, sir.” They left the room.

As we prepared to depart for our ship, Carth stopped us. “Jae, I don’t like scares, especially with family. Stay out of trouble.”

“Aye, sir,” I smiled and gave him a sassy wink before placing a familial kiss on his cheek.

Carth shook his head and looked at Talin. “Did I mention the Onasi women have a force of will that can be challenging to contend with?”

“I’m beginning to discover that, sir.”

* * *

Jolee prepared to leave for his meeting with De’layn. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Come to think of it, you probably shouldn’t do anything I would do. Ah, well, then, just have fun. Don’t wait up for me.”

“Watch yourself out there,” I told him as he opened the hatch to leave. He melted into the darkness with only a little chuckle to mark where he was.

Talin closed the hatch after him, locking it. Walking over to where I stood, he wrapped his arms around me. He rested his cheek gently on my head as I nestled against his shoulder.

“So what else is Captain Onasi going to tell me about the Onasi women?”

I opened my mind to his, and the waves of emotion washed over both of us, warm and inviting. I reached up to gently pull his head down to mine and let the meeting of our lips be my answer.

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 08:13 PM
The Story of the Firaxan


“We’re meeting with De’layn again,” Jolee announced the next morning.

“I certainly hope it’s at a different cantina. I’m not looking forward to another episode like yesterday."

“Yeah, blaster fire does tend to have a bad effect on your hairdo. Thank goodness I don’t have much to lose.” Jolee rubbed the top of his bald head and grinned.

“What has she learned?” Talin asked.

“She has a contact in Norelden’s organization, and he’s going to meet us to discuss some of the recent happenings. He thinks there’s something bad going on, and he’s thinking of getting out.”

“If he’s seen with us, he’ll be out his life instead,” Talin warned.

“I’m betting a certain captain could help us out.” Jolee looked over at me with a smile. “I have a plan.

“I think I’m learning to be scared of your plans, Jolee,” I said.

“Your faith in me is underwhelming.”

I grinned back at him. “Count me in.”

* * * *

“Sure, I would love to help out,” Carth said. “What do you have in mind?”

Jolee delineated his plan. “Well, I was thinking that you have a little problem with a sailor named Rineldo who has gone AWOL a long time ago, maybe when you were still a normal person and not a captain of a big ship.”

“I shudder to think what your opinion will be of me once I make admiral.”

Jolee grinned at Carth’s quip and went on, “One of your men sees him in the cantina, calls you, you come and make a big production of how long it’s been, Admiral Dodonna will be glad to see him in the brig, you might consider airlocking him, blah, blah, blah.”

“Do I look like the kind of guy who would airlock someone?”

“Well, come to think of it, no. You’re too damn nice. Make something up, then.”

“We’ll need to know how long he’s been with the Exchange and on Telos. If we’re going to do a little play-acting, we have to make it good.”

A little later the cantina, the three of us met up with De’layn, who had found a table before us.

“Jolee, dear, do come sit next to me,” she said in her sultry voice.

“I’m delighted as always. Carth has the information,” Jolee said, sitting down next to De’layn.

Talin and I sat down oppposite them and looked around the cantina. A small Bith band played some quieter music as background, suitable for a room that was not filled with people. We discreetly noticed a couple of off-duty sailors, one of whom was twice the age of the other. They walked in and found another table in a corner where they had a good view of the room. They ordered a round and appeared to be chatting like any other off-duty service members. It took me a few moments before I realized I recognized one of them.

“Carth must think this is really important, because he put Raxton on the team,” I observed. “His disguise is pretty good.”

Talin said, “Not surprising, considering how badly they have been trying to break the Exchange open on Telos and eliminate any threat of Sith involvement.”

Jolee continued, “De’layn, you get to go do a little flirting with your contact. We’re just going to sit and talk a bit here first before you pretend like you have to find the refresher. Jae, you’ll stop and chat with those sailors a bit, and after you leave the table, they’ll get up and ‘discover’ he’s an AWOL sailor. Now, I have to get something to drink—all this talking makes my mouth dry.”

“Where are my manners? Would you like me to order the same for everyone?” De’layn pointed to her drink. Talin and I nodded yes.

Jolee answered, “No, just juma for me. I never drink anything blue and fizzy before dinner.”

“Always the jokester.” She turned her eyes to us and smiled. “You should have seen him when he was a Padawan.”

“Please, do tell us.” I said, leaning forward to capture every last detail.

“You’re not going to tell them that story, are you?”

“Why of course I am, my dear.”

“I’m never going to live this one down.”

She began, “Jolee, Mik’oth, and I had a night off one time, and we decided to go see a new holovid that came out. We went out to dinner, had a few drinks, and before you know it, those two were quite sauced.”

“De’layn had to help the two of us walk, as I recall. The three of us meandering down the sidewalk must have been quite the sight.”

“We finally made it to the theater, and sat down. Actually, Jolee collapsed down.”

“I must have had a defective chair.”

“Uh-huh. Just what did you do to the chair, Jolee?” I asked.

“Well, let’s just say I sat down a little too hard, and the seat dropped out under me, but the sides stayed put. I ended up sitting with my arms just about over my head resting on the arm rests, though I could sort of swing my hands around a bit.” Jolee demonstrated his position in the chair. “I couldn’t figure how to get out of there, and I thought I was comfortable, so I decided to stay that way, kind of folded up.”

De’layn continued, “He was happy there, we were happy that he couldn’t get up at all to go wander anywhere, life was good. We were watching some kind of horror holovid. What was it about again, Jolee?”

“It was a show about a killer firaxan. It’s a pretty good holovid, actually, but I think we ruined it for some people by laughing all the time. I’m surprised we didn’t get kicked out.”

“Some time in the middle of the holovid, the firaxan came up to attack one of the minor characters. Jolee got Mik’oth good there.”

“So what did you do?” Talin asked Jolee, a mild smile on his face.

“Picture a giant firaxan who has eaten several of the extras already. Here he comes again, mouth wide open and full of huge razor-sharp teeth, taking up the screen. He was about to chomp down on another poor soon-to-be-dead minor character. I got a wild idea. Just as the firaxan’s teeth bit the guy, I grabbed Mik’oth’s leg.”

“Oh, no, you didn’t!” I said.

“Oh, yes, I did. It was hilarious. He screamed ‘I’m being eaten! I’m being eaten! I'm being eaten!’ and then he nearly wet himself. Ever hear a Twi’lek scream like a gizka that’s just been stepped on?”

“No, and I hope I never do,” Talin said.

“There was just a little problem with that, though,” De’layn explained. “Some Twi’leks emit certain pheromones when they experience extreme emotions. Mik’oth must have created a huge cloud of them. That generally would not have been a problem because there were only a couple Twi’leks in the theater, and they were the only ones who could have a reaction to the scent. If they had been far enough away, they might not have even been affected.”

“However, sitting right in front of us were a couple of Twi’leks, one of whom was about as pregnant as you can get and still not have the baby in your arms.”

“I think, Jolee, that she was actually a week overdue at that point. The pheromones made her go into labor, and it was her fourth child so we knew things would happen fast,” said De’layn.

Jolee went on, “We were about to call for an ambulance when the male Twi’lek, her husband, informed us in no uncertain terms that we were not going to call the authorities and that he was going to take her to her doctor for care. I told him that baby was about ready to come out and insisted that she needed help now. Well, he was immune to our persuade attempts and insisted with his blaster that we were not going to call anyone, and that now we were going to come with him while he got his wife to safety.”

“And you went with him?” I asked, surprised.

“We could have gotten out of the situation easily enough, but we knew that the baby was coming very soon, and her dear husband didn’t have a clue about what to do. We couldn't abandon her to whatever he had in mind,” De’layn said.

“We got in the back of his transport with her and used the Force to sober up and help her with her pain. It was a very nice transport, I might add, with plush seating and gold plating on anything metal, wet bar, linens, about as richly appointed as it gets. Husband drove like a maniac to their home, calling the doctor and everyone else he could think of while weaving around and dodging traffic. The baby decided he couldn’t wait any longer, and out he came, right into De’layn’s hands.”

“He was a handsome little thing—had the cutest lekku, too. The only problem was that he didn’t want to start breathing, and then the mother started hemorrhaging,” De’layn smiled at the memory of the baby, and then frowned at the images of a severely bleeding mother.

“Here we were, still in the back of the transport while all this is going on, and the idiot husband refuses to listen to us telling him to stop at a hospital. Mik’oth held the mother’s hand, I worked on the baby, and De’layn focused her Force powers on stopping the bleeding. When we got to their mansion, the doctor met us with his bag, took one look at all the blood and me using the Force to breath for the baby, jumped in, and ordered the husband to get over to his hospital immediately. He told me to keep doing what I was doing while he worked on saving the mother’s life. You have no idea how relieved I was when the baby finally started crying a few moments later.”

“We all smiled at that one, including the husband. We got to their hospital, mother and baby were rushed inside and all turned out well after a few hours."

“What could possibly be more important than stopping at the nearest hospital?” Talin asked.

“He was one of the senior leaders of a crime syndicate on Coruscant with ties stretching all over the galaxy, and he knew the authorities were looking for both his family and him. He didn’t want his wife to give birth in a holding cell,” De’layn replied. “‘His’ hospital was private and the staff there knew how to keep quiet.”

Jolee continued, “The doctor explained to him how we had saved both his wife’s and his son’s lives. This crime boss was so grateful that he just about offered us the entire planet in thanks and asked us what we wanted.”

“So what did you ask for?” I inquired.

“Mik’oth and I looked at each other and said, ‘Help with stopping the Ukatis blockade.’ ‘That’s it?’ he asked. We nodded yes. He said, ‘Done.’ About three days later, a packet arrived for us at the Jedi temple. It was full of juicy and very detailed gossip about the Ukatis king, his ties with a rival crime ring, and what he was doing to his people. The Senate was forced to act after that. They sent in the cavalry and broke the blockade. Then they captured the king and brought him up on charges of crimes against sentients. The crime boss also gave all three of us more cash than we knew what to do with. When we tried to refuse, he told us that refusing his gifts would offend him, and offending him had rather nasty consequences. So, we decided to invest it and use it for our favorite charities and pet projects.”

“You single-handedly broke a system blockade because you played a practical joke on Mik’oth?” Talin could not contain a chuckle.

“Well, when you put it that way, that’s pretty much how it went,” Jolee replied.

“I can’t believe it."

“I can’t believe I’m going to have to write this up for my history project. How in the world am I going to write‘Jolee got plastered, scared the bejeezers out of Mik’oth who passed enough pheromones to send a woman into labor, which eventually led to the Ukatis king being deposed’ in a way that is inspirational to future Jedi?”

“I'm sure you'll do just fine,” Talin said, putting warmth and reassurance into his voice and gave my hand a tiny squeeze. I smiled back.

Jolee looked at De’layn and said, “Aw, aren’t they cute?”

De’layn gave Jolee a small indulgent smile. Her eyes shifted abruptly to the door. “Riki is here.”

“OK, people, here we go,” Jolee said, eyes bright with excitement.

Riki ordered his drink and sat down at one of the more secluded tables. De’layn got up, smoothed down her close-fitting dress, brushed her lekku back, and put on her seductress act. She walked slowly, hips swaying, ordered a drink at the bar, and then pretended she had just noticed Riki. She glided his way, smiled brightly and said a few words. He looked her up and down with appreciation and a certain longing look, and then he motioned for her to join him. She batted her eyelashes at him as she settled slowly into the booth, and he waved to the server for another round of drinks before turning his attention back to De’layn, gazing at her in rapt attention.

About ten minutes later, Jolee motioned to me. I stood up from our table and walked over to the Republic sailors.

“Good evening, gentlemen. Always good to have a Republic presence in a cantina. It makes me feel safer,” I gave them an admiring but vapid smile.

“Thank you, ma’am. I was wondering if you had tried the same drinks as they have,” Raxton asked, turning only his eyes to indicate Riki and De’layn and asking in this coded phrase ‘are they the ones?’

“Yes, I especially recommend his drink,” I replied with the code that told them that it was indeed Riki.

“It’s very kind of you to stop by to talk to us, ma’am. We’ll have to give your recommendation a try.”

“Keep up the good work, sailors,” I said, moving on to the refresher lounge.

Not too many minutes later, De’layn came through the lounge door. She went to the mirror to check her outfit, and I joined her.

“I have some news. Riki has good evidence that points to just who the Sith Lord may be in Norelden’s organization.”

“It can’t be Norelden himself, since you said he has no Force ability.”

“Riki is pretty sure that it is Antin Thorn, his second-in-command.”

“Now we just have to make sure it’s him and figure out a way to draw him out,” I said.

We heard the commotion of some shouts and a table falling over outside the lounge door.

“It sounds like the Republic’s men have found their AWOL sailor,” De’layn noted dryly.

“I hope that they don’t play too rough with Riki.”

I opened the door to the lounge, only to be assaulted by the cacophony of flying blaster bolts and more falling tables.

“We’d better go help,” I said, and both of us pulled out our lightsabers.

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 08:19 PM
Searching for Thorn’s Ship

De’layn and I ran towards Jolee and Talin, who were fending off several mercenaries holding vibroblades. Raxton was behind a table, picking off other mercenaries. At his feet were Riki and the other sailor, dead. The Bith musicians had scattered into hiding. The bartender popped up from behind his bar from time to time to squeeze off a round from his blaster, missing his targets more often than not. We had to dodge his ricocheting blaster fire more than once. There were eight more mercenaries—the three trading blows with Jolee and Talin, and the other five hunkered down behind more tables, trying to shoot at all of us.

“De’layn—I’ll take the big blond over there,” I yelled over the noise of blaster bolts and crashing furniture.

“I’ve got that green Twi’lek behind that table.”

I jumped over behind the blond, who was focused on shooting at Jolee and Talin, taking him by surprise. My lightsaber hummed towards him, dropping him with one blow.

De’layn ran towards the Twi’lek merc, deflecting blaster fire before engaging him in a duel so short it was almost a one-shot.

The other three thugs dropped back and regrouped after seeing their companions cut down so quickly, and we followed after them. Raxton picked off one of them with sniper skill. The other two tried to pull out their vibroblades, but their lack of practice made them slow. I whirled my blade twice before one of them fell. The other fighter decided to surrender, putting his hands up just as De’layn was ready to strike him down, her blade stopping only centimeters from his head.

I looked over towards Jolee and Talin. Their opponents had more skill and so the battles had taken a little longer, but all three were down on the ground, one dead and two injured. The smoke hung heavy from the ceiling but was starting to clear as De’layn and I put away our sabers and walked over to Jolee and Talin.

“What is it about you ladies going to the refresher together? Both of you missed all the excitement,” Jolee said.

“Jolee, dear, we had more than enough excitement saving you from being shot by these brutes over here.” De’layn pointed at the ones we had taken down.

Jolee inspected my work and then said to me, “You took them out fast. Good. They can’t attack you back if they’re down.”

“Thanks. What happened while we were gone?” I asked.

Raxton joined us at that point, holding his arm. “I noticed the mercenaries drifting in one or two at a time during the meeting with Riki. When Jer and I went over to Riki to ‘arrest him for being AWOL’, Riki pulled a blaster.”

Jolee added, “Riki shot at Jer and Raxton, and Raxton had to fight back. Once the blaster fire started, the mercenaries joined in.”

I looked at Raxton still holding his arm. “Do you want me to look at that for you?”

“No, no, thank you. I’ll be fine, it’s very minor. We need to get these three into custody so we can question them. Maybe we can find out more information.”

“I wonder how these mercenaries knew about this meeting.” Talin asked, steepling his fingers and then tapping them together in thought.

Raxton replied, “It could have been anything that tipped them off. Maybe they followed us from our ship, maybe they just saw you in the hallways, and maybe Riki decided he wanted a little backup. This is a small community, so intelligence would travel fast. Norelden is so well organized that he could probably field a small army in a day or two. Sending out a squad immediately would be no trouble at all for him.”

“The information from these three and the ship registries should give us a pretty good idea where to go next,” Jolee stated.

“My team is working on the registry information as we speak. When you meet the Captain tonight, I should have some solid data for you,” Raxton said.

De’layn added, “I’ll go back to my office and see if any of my contacts can shed some light on this.”

The authorities arrived, and Raxton spoke with them to arrange for the arrests and questioning of the survivors.

“Let’s go back to our ship for a bit. I can’t stand the smell of smoke in my robes,” Jolee said.


* * *

The three of us sat in the common room at the table, reviewing the events of the last two days.

Talin said, “Jolee, I know you hold De’layn in high regard, but I have to be frank about my suspicions. Any chance she’s involved in Norelden’s organization? Even though she fought with us, you have to admit the attacks have been rather convenient, and she knew about both meetings.”

“I’ve known her too long. If she’s the leak, then I’m young with a full head of hair again. I’d have tried to get the information through other routes if I had any suspicions, and I don’t.”

“What’s the possibility that she’s being used by someone in the organization? Could some kind of double agent be feeding her bad information or getting intelligence from her?” I asked, sitting back in my chair a bit to think.

“There’s always that possibility, but De’layn isn’t a brainless twit. She’s a master at teasing out information and using it in the right places at the right time. I think she’d recognize if someone was trying to blow stardust her way,” Jolee answered. “She knows how to keep her mouth shut. Well, except for that damn firaxan story. But I forgive her for that.”

Talin frowned and shook his head as if trying to clear a thought.

“You don’t trust me, then?” Jolee asked, tilting his head in question but not offended.

“I trust you. I’m not ready to trust her,” Talin replied.

“Something just doesn’t feel right,” I added.

“Hmmph. When you go poking around a Sith Lord’s home planet, not a whole lot is going to feel right. I suppose I should be happy that you both are actually using those brains of yours to think this time. If I didn’t know her so well, I’d probably feel the same way. All I can tell you is it’s not her.”

* * *

“All right, if De’layn is right, Jolee, then we know that Thorn is our prime suspect.” Carth said at our meeting that night.

“If De’layn says it’s Thorn, then it’s Thorn,” Jolee said, as sure as I had seen him sure of anything. “She’s never been wrong yet.”

Commander Aichon put a data chip in the projector, and the results were displayed for all of us to see. “This is the list of ships that have docked around the same time as the Fujita.”

“That’s a pretty big list,” I said, scanning through the dozens of names. "There’s no chance that Thorn or Norelden are listed as the owner or captain of any of these, is there?"

Aichon tapped that in, and no ships were displayed. “Good thought, though. You never know when someone might make a mistake. We’ll have to do this the hard way, then, and weed things out.”

Carth said, “Let’s pull out any ships that have only been here once at the same time as the Fujita. I’m making the assumption that Thorn wouldn’t switch ships every single time.”

That whittled down the list by about two-thirds.

“I’m pretty sure he’s not one of those folks who likes hanging out with others. Can you see a Sith Lord sitting in a seat next to a mother with a crying baby? He’d probably fry the poor kid.”

“Jolee, that’s terrible,” I said, wrinkling my nose in distaste.

“What do you expect from a cranky old man?”

“Uh, I haven’t received any reports of electrocuted children,” Carth said. The corners of his lips twitched up but he was otherwise serious. “Take out all the larger transports.”

“And take out any major merchant ships,” Jolee said. “He might have a bigger ship, but if he wants to get around discreetly, he’ll have to use a small ship. Otherwise, too many people will know his business.”

Another fifteen ships dropped off the list, leaving nine ships left.

“At least this is a little more manageable,” I noted. “Can we rank them according to number of times they were present when Dycen’a was here, too?”

“Sure.” Carth punched in some data, and the names rearranged themselves. Two ships had docked every time that the Fujita had come in.

Talin asked, “Is there any way to confirm that Thorn was on Telos station during any or all of these times?”

Aichon tapped in some information on his datapad. “Raxton’s gathered some good intelligence, but I doubt it’s 100% complete. We can’t know everything, even if Thorn and Norelden receive a lot of our attention. Let’s see….” He frowned in concentration as he watched the data come up on the screen. “OK, here it is.”

“Cross-reference that to our list,” Carth ordered.

“Aye, sir.” Aichon said, putting another data chip into the projector. This time, only one ship remained.

Carth sat back, brushing a strand of hair back out of his eyes. “So, it’s most likely the Rapid Vengeance.” He looked up some other data. “It’s not docked on Telos right now. Aichon, any chance we can get some info from Norelden’s group on just where Thorn is and when he will be back?”

Aichon smiled. “That’s the kind of challenge Raxton relishes, sir.”

“Good. Let’s get it done, then. Jolee, as soon as I know anything, I’ll contact you,” Carth said, standing as the meeting concluded. “Jae, I’m not going to tell you to stay out of trouble--I know you won’t listen. So, I’ll tell these two to keep you out of trouble instead.”

“Very funny,” I replied, as we kissed each other good-bye on the cheek.

“Don’t worry, Carth. I’ll make her work so hard practicing, she’ll forget all about trouble,” Jolee assured him with a grin.

* * *

Jolee wasn’t joking about the practice. After spending several hours of study on the Xi-ro form and meditation on the holocron, we worked on blaster bolt deflection. Three practice droids swirled and flew around as I concentrated on deflecting the energy bursts. The sweat started to drip into my eyes as I worked to repel all the bursts in time, turning this way and that, dodging the floating droids.

“Don’t just watch them, Jae, feel them. You can sense the energy the moment they shoot, even before you see it,” Jolee yelled over all the noise.

I opened my mind to the Force as much as I could, trying to feel for the energy signatures. As soon as I had deflected a number of the little blasts effectively, the droids sped up.

Talin stopped the droids a few minutes later. “You’re working harder at this than you have to. Don’t swing your blade over so far. The only bolts you have to deflect are the ones that are going to hit you. Don’t make big swings with your arms if a little wrist motion will do. Keep it fluid, not choppy.” He did a quick demonstration with his saber before turning the droids back on.

I practiced for several more minutes before the holovid chime sounded. “Got it,” Jolee called out, leaving the room.

For a few more moments, I managed to maintain control before I thought of what that call might represent. “Ow, ow, ow, stop!” All three droids hit me as my concentration broke. They stopped and returned to a ready position when I gave the order to cease.

“What happened there?” Talin asked, with a bit of a frown. “You let your concentration break.”

“The call happened.”

Talin tipped his head and his brow wrinkled in momentary confusion. “I’m missing the significance. Why would you let a little call distract you?”

I took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off my forehead. “It’s not the call itself. It’s that it might be the call about Thorn, and we’ll be heading out.”

“Ah, I see,” he answered, walking over to take me in his arms.

“I’m all sweaty,” I protested.

He held tight anyway. “That’s OK. I know you carry the burden of this vision, and I can’t take that weight off you. But I’ve been working hard with the holocron, and so has Jolee. I’m not going to let him take you from me.”

Jolee came back and seeing us, said, “If you both need a few minutes….”

“No,” I said, breaking gently from Talin's embrace. “Tempting as that is, if your lives could depend on something I have to do right, then I need to get back to work.” I looked over at Talin. “Thorn’s not going to take any of us without a fight. I intend to give him one hell of a battle.”

Talin smiled his understanding.

Jolee said, nodding in approval, “Controlling passion, mature attitude—good. Not that I’m worried about you. Now, if you were both hormonal teens, it’d be a different story.”

“Who called?” I asked.

“It was Carth. Raxton apparently found Thorn’s ship. It’s due to dock in three days.”

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 08:24 PM
Capturing Thorn

“Raxton’s found the route Thorn is using to get to Telos. We’re going to intercept his ship when he drops out of hyperspace and approaches the system in two days,” Carth said in his briefing the next day.

The officers and senior enlisted were gathered around the table, all eyes on their Captain. “I don’t want his ship anywhere near the planet. It’s a small one, but we’ll have Special Ops going in to secure it.”

I picked out the Ops team leader immediately. He had wolf-eyes that ached for the hunt, and the set of his hard-edged features made me glad to have him on our side.

“Bernecki, do you need anything for your team?” Carth asked him.

“We have all our equipment, sir. We’ve studied the ship diagrams and photos of Thorn that Commander Raxton gave us, and we’re finishing up our attack plans with Commander Aichon. We’re ready, sir,” Bernecki answered.

“Good. We’re going to ambush and then tractor the Vengeance in. I want gunners in place just in case their people decide to do something stupid as we haul them in,” Carth said.

“Yes, sir,” answered the Weapons commander.

“Helm, Engineering, Communications—I know we’re in good shape, but I want to know if there’s anything that could give us trouble if we’re running over 100%.”

The three department heads indicated all systems were go.

“Ops will go in first,” continued Carth. “The Jedi will go in with them. Watch for traps. I want to take Thorn alive, but if you have no other choice, you have the kill order. If he’s a Sith Lord, guns may not work too well on him. You’ll need the Jedi to take him out.”

“Aye, sir,” Bernecki replied. “No offense sir, but will they be able to keep up?”

Jolee’s grin slowly spread across his face. “The question you should be asking, son, is if you can go fast enough to stay ahead of me.”

When Bernecki looked dubious, Carth said, “Trust me. I’ve fought with Jolee. You won’t have any worries about the Jedi.” He looked around the room, and then asked, “Any questions?”

Everyone indicated no.

“Good. Keep me updated on any status changes. We’ll finalize all plans tomorrow. Dismissed.”

* * *

Talin’s lightsaber flashed against mine as I blocked and then circled the blade up quickly, trying to dislodge his hold on my blade. We were back on our ship the evening before the mission, practicing some of the fine points of the Xi-ro form, but the movements felt stiff and slow. I tried to speed up my defense to compensate and got soundly smacked when Talin’s blade hit my shield.

Jolee sighed from the edge of the room. “Jae, you’re trying to force it too much. Think river, not dam.”

I nodded and got back into the ready position, trying to relax, trying to feel the Force flow more freely.

Just as Talin stepped in for the attack, Jolee called out, “Stop, stop, stop.”

We pulled back from each other and returned to our ready positions.

“You know what, we all need a break,” Jolee decided.

“I need to practice this sequence more to get it down,” I protested.

“You’ve been working on it how many weeks now? If you don’t know it by now, you won’t in the next few hours. Go do something fun and get your mind off tomorrow. For heaven’s sake, do something lovey-dovey—I hear the Ithorian vivarium is nice. Life’s too short not to enjoy it.” Jolee took both of us by the arm and shooed us off our ship.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, looking back at Jolee standing in the hatch.

“I’m going to go visit De’layn, of course. We didn’t finish our little chat about my godson.” He grinned and waved us off. “Don’t come home early.”

Talin and I walked off down the corridor, our hands slipping together almost as if they had their own minds.

“Any place you want to see?” Talin asked.

“You pick. Last time I picked, we got attacked.”

Talin grinned down at me. “I didn’t appreciate their interruption.”

“I’m sure we can make up for it.” I gave him a coy look.

“Ah, Jae, you know how to make me laugh,” he chuckled, putting an arm around my shoulders briefly as we walked along.

“I hope that’s a good thing. I hate being the butt of jokes.”

“That’s a very good thing, dear.”

My heart skipped a moment and I blushed at the word ‘dear.’ “I think I like how that sounds,” I said quietly.

He lifted my hand to his lips and brushed a kiss over the top. Even his eyes smiled at me. “Good. I liked saying it.”

We toured the vivarium, admired the Ithorians’ work on Telos, and talked about those things that might normally be meaningless except to two people wanting to learn more about each other. Anyone watching would have seen a smiling couple holding hands, looking at each other with that special softness, and speaking in those low tones that meant the conversation was reserved for only them.

Talin found the quiet spot he had been looking for—a secluded place where we could sit and be alone, uninterrupted. We had a view of the vast blanket of stars arcing over us, and they sparkled the magic of the evening. I slid my arm around Talin’s waist as he put an arm around my shoulder and drew me in close.

“Jolee was right. I needed a night off.” I relaxed against Talin’s shoulder.

“How often is he wrong?” Talin stroked my hair, and then with a feather touch, traced a line down the length of my neck and over my shoulder. He leaned in close, his breaths coming rapid like mine. I shivered a bit at the pleasure of his touch.

“Not very often.” I closed my eyes and held him tight, meeting the passion of his kisses. I willed time to slow down so we could share this bliss just a little longer.

* * *

“De’layn is missing,” Jolee announced when he returned to our ship the next morning.

His frowning dark eyes and set lips emphasized the depth of his worry. I’d never seen him pace the floor before.

He continued, “I looked for her most of the night, but no one seems to know anything. I have a bad feeling about this.”

Talin and I glanced at each other, sharing the same suspicion. Jolee caught our look.

“Damn it, she’s not cavorting around with a Sith Lord. She’d never betray me like that.”

“It’s a little convenient, that’s all,” I said.

Jolee stopped pacing for a moment, forehead furrowing as an idea struck him. “It is convenient, isn’t it? Somehow, the mercs knew to follow her. But how? Did Thorn have her com bugged? I’d love to know how he got that info.”

“They might have been ordered to keep her under surveillance and followed her anywhere,” Talin said.

“De’layn can spot a tail a kilometer away and shake it without a second thought.”

The call from Carth stopped our discussion. “We’re leaving in half an hour to meet Thorn’s ship. Be on board in ten minutes, please,” he said.

“Will do,” Jolee answered and then signed off without mentioning De’layn to Carth. “I just hope De’layn will be all right while we’re gone.”

* * *

The wait for the Rapid Vengeance was anything but rapid. The three of us meditated during the wait. I tried not to disturb the others when my distraction broke the meditation state, but after the third time, Talin finally took my hand. His strength bolstered my focus and the calm returned for both of us.

“Jae,” Carth’s quiet voice and his light grasp on my shoulder broke through the focus. “It’s here. Meet me on the bridge in 5 minutes.” He strode out of the room, occupied with thoughts of the mission.

“Jolee, Talin,” I called out to the other two in a hushed voice to avoid startling them.

Both opened their eyes immediately. We made a quick check of our equipment and left for the bridge.

“Captain, there’s no response from their ship,” the Communications officer, Z’yan announced.

“Give them the warning once more and then tractor them in,” Carth ordered.

Z’yan hailed again, “Rapid Vengeance, stand down and surrender. We will fire if you attempt any other actions.”

Carth gave them some time to acknowledge the hail, and when they remained silent, he said to Aichon, “Looks like we’ll need Ops to take their ship. Tell them to be ready in about 15 minutes. We’re sending a shuttle over.”

Aichon replied, “Aye, sir. Bernecki’s in the ready room with his team. I’ll let them know to gear up.”

“Bernecki’s been looking forward to a good challenge for a long time,” Carth grinned at Aichon.

“Here’s his chance to prove his boasts, sir,” Aichon answered as he contacted Bernecki.

The shuttle docked with the silent ship. One of the team members sliced the lock on the hatch of the Vengeance and then stood back as it opened.

The Ops team ducked into the ship one by one, covering each other as they slipped through the hatch, leaving behind some members to guard the shuttle entrance. We followed after the team boarded, their normally quiet armor and weapons making muffled noises in the eerie silence of the ship. The ship looked absolutely normal, except for having nobody on board. The Ops team split into two smaller groups and moved rapidly through the small ship, darting in and out of doors, hyper-alert for any enemies.

That odd death scent curled its way into my nose as we approached the bridge with one of the teams.

“Jolee,” I said, “someone’s been using Scourge here.”

“I smell it too,” he said.

“The Sith Lord may be in there,” I said, swallowing my fear. He gave me that 'no kidding' look, and I realized with some chagrin that Jolee had already figured out the obvious.

“Jae, if he’s there, we fight. It’s not like it's your first battle. Relax, let the Force flow. And stop gulping your air. You look like you’re doing a beached Selkath imitation. It’ll give you a nasty stomachache later on.”

I chuckled at that image and relaxed. Talin gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze of encouragement.

Jolee motioned for Ops to back away from the door to the bridge. He stood off to the side as pressed the switch to open the door, prepared for an attack.

The sickly-sweet smell of the dead crew was nearly overpowering. Even the battle-hardened Ops members who had seen plenty of death felt the effects, several of them mouth-breathing to avoid retching. All three of the victims were completely blistered and nearly unrecognizable.

“Master Jolee,” we heard Bernecki call over the com. “We need you in the cargo bay.”

We ran back. Jolee stopped short and swallowed hard. Lying on the floor covered in the horrible blisters and cracking skin was a Twi’lek, struggling to catch her breath.

“Oh, De’layn,” Jolee sighed his heartache, shaking his head slowly, eyes glittering as the tears welled up. He rushed to her, kneeled and cradled her head in his lap.

“Jolee. I knew you’d come,” she wheezed through the pain.

“I called the corpsmen,” Bernecki announced.

I knelt down and started healing while Jolee held her.

“De’layn, what happened? Where’s Thorn?” he asked.

“Thorn captured me to get to you. He’s on the bridge. Said he wanted to go find Dycen’a. Wouldn’t believe me when I said he was dead,” she swallowed to try to moisten her throat enough to speak and closed her eyes against the agony.

“Everyone on the bridge is dead,” Jolee told her.

“Oh, he got them, then,” she tried to open her eyes wide to stay conscious, but her lids kept dropping. I held on to her life force as I applied the techniques we had been working on for so long to heal the damage from the Force Scourge.

“Did Thorn escape before you went to hyperspace? We were waiting for him when his ship dropped out.”

“No, the Sith Lord did.”

“What do you mean?” Jolee asked, distracted by his concern for De’layn’s critical condition.

Talin’s eyes widened as he put all the pieces together. “Jolee, Thorn’s not the Sith Lord. It’s someone else.”

De’layn nodded to acknowledge Talin’s conclusion, then lost consciousness.

Talin said, “I’m going to go back to the bridge with Bernecki and see if I can find any more information or evidence. We’ll be back shortly.”

Talin left with Bernecki.

The corpsmen joined us, pulling out equipment to start treatment.

Jolee put the oxygen breath mask on her. “Hold on, De’layn. Just hold on,” he said in a soft voice near her ear.

“Jae, we’re going to check the hyperdrive. We’re getting odd readings from the nav'puter. We’ll be done in a couple minutes,” Talin said over the com.

“I’ve healed De’layn’s lungs enough to get her breathing stabilized, but we need to get her into a kolto tank as soon as possible,” I replied.

“We should be done by the time you get her on the shuttle.”

A couple minutes later, all our coms crackled at the same time. “Evacuate! Evacuate! Bomb in the hyperdrive!”

There was no time for us to do a textbook patient extraction. The four of us rolled her onto the stretcher, grabbed each of the handles, and ran to the shuttle.

“How much time left?” Bernecki called over the com.

“Six minutes, thirty-two seconds, sir!”

“Shuttle engines firing now, sir,” one of the Ops members called from the shuttle. “We’re ready to leave yesterday.”

“Everyone out now!” Bernecki ordered.

We heard a dozen pairs of footsteps sprinting towards the shuttle. The hatch sealed, and Bernecki said, “Get us out of here, MacFinlay!”

MacFinlay banked and accelerated away so fast that the gravity generator couldn’t keep up. I lurched and nearly fell on top of De’layn, who thankfully did not move since she was now fully secured into the stretcher.

Talin came back to see how De’layn was.

“You’re working hard,” he commented, noting the sweat on my brow. “Let me help with the healing. Now’s the time for me to see if all my work means something.”

Jolee looked up. “Damn well better. I’ve worked with you enough on it. Quit talking and get to work.”

With all three of us focusing the healing techniques, we were able to stabilize her condition enough that we knew she would survive. Jolee breathed out his relief, and held his head in his hands, fighting the exhaustion.

Carth, seeing the shuttle leaving the ship abruptly, said over the com, “Report, Bernecki. What’s going on down there?”

Bernecki answered, “We’re trying to get away before the ship explodes, sir. We found a bomb and we couldn’t disarm it in time. We have approximately 3:12 before it goes off.”

If Carth hadn’t keyed his comlink off, we would have heard a colorful string of words.

“Thorn was on board with a very small crew, sir. All are dead except a Twi’lek who apparently was his prisoner,” Bernecki continued. “She’s female, approximately 60 years, and was the victim of Force Scourge. The Jedi report she’s in critical but stable condition.”

“We’ll have the med team waiting,” Carth said.

MacFinlay poured everything into the shuttle engines to maximize speed, and then somehow managed to come up with a little extra. It still felt like the shuttle crawled away from the other ship too slowly.

The timer expired, and the Rapid Vengeance exploded, flames racing out and threatening to engulf us.

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 10:23 PM
Searching for a Sith Lord

All eyes were riveted on the orange and red inferno that boiled out from the center of the Vengeance with such speed that it made us feel like we were standing still. A few of the older Ops team members shared grim expressions as they looked out the shuttle windows. The silence hung like a dense fog in the air and was broken only by the engine whine and MacFinlay’s chatter with the Osprey.

“Yes, open the fracking bay doors! I can make it in time!” MacFinlay commanded.

“If you don’t make it, the entire bay fries and we’ll lose more people,” was the reply from the Osprey.

“I don’t have time to argue with you, Riallian. Open the blasted doors!”

There was silence on the other end for a few moments. MacFinlay muttered a few choice words under his breath and made a couple of unique hand gestures towards the com.

“Steady, MacFinlay,” Bernecki said.

“I know I can make it, sir. There’s no way I’d let something happen to that ship.”

“I know that, too.”

The com keyed on again, and Riallian said, “Captain ordered me to open the doors, MacFinlay. But he says you better haul your skinny rump in fast because he’s charging you personally for any ship damage, even if he has to find you in hell to collect.”

MacFinlay grinned. “You tell him not only will I make it in with no damage, but I’ll get a 10 on the landing and he’ll owe me one of his best Dew Mountain whiskeys.”

“You’re on,” said Captain Onasi.

MacFinlay pushed the shuttle towards the now-open bay doors at top speed, with the wall of fire only seconds behind. He started nodding a tempo to himself. When it reached some point he had determined, he said, “Osprey, MacFinlay. Start closing the bay doors.”

“You aborting?” Riallian said. I could hear his alarm even over the com.

“No. Coming in now.”

“You’ll hit the doors!”

“Close them. Now! We’ll argue later.” MacFinlay made another hand gesture at the com, one I’d never seen before. It undoubtedly would cause fights in cantinas.

The bay doors started to come together slowly as MacFinlay approached. He gripped the controls tightly as he entered his final approach only moments away from the ship. The doors continued to close together, and it looked like the shuttle would crash into them. MacFinlay finessed the controls with delicate hand movements, and the shuttle slipped through the opening that was shrinking rapidly. The bay doors closed just after he entered, missing the shuttle by a few centimeters. The Osprey’s shields went up immediately. The stream of fire was repelled, curling back on itself and creating swirls that slowly burned out.

MacFinlay bellowed out the military cry, “Hoo-ah!”

The other members of the Ops team roared “Hoo-ah!” in reply and then clapped so loud in appreciation that the small ship nearly shook.

MacFinlay set the shuttle down so perfectly I never felt it stop. The corpsmen were ready to go even before the shuttle doors lifted open. They carried De’layn’s stretcher out to the waiting team, who rushed her to the medical bay.

Jolee said, “Carth will want a chat. I’ll go see about De’layn and then join you.”

Carth waited for the medical team to take De’layn and then approached the ramp. We all debarked, and the Ops team stood at attention in front of him.

“That was some of the finest piece of flying I’ve seen in a long time,” Carth said.

“Thank you, sir.”

“He’s strong in the Force,” Talin said. “We wouldn’t be here without him.”

“Something for you to think about, MacFinlay, though I’d like to keep my best pilots.” Carth handed MacFinlay a small bottle of a greenish liquid and shook his hand. “I don’t get too many of these from Bear, so don’t waste it.”

“No, sir. Special occasions only, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Bernecki, I need to speak with you. Talin, Jae, would you join us?”

We followed Carth back to the meeting room off his quarters.

“What happened over there, Bernecki?” Carth asked.

“Sir, we entered the ship approximately 1420. We did a standard search through the ship for any threats. When we got to the bridge, we saw the crew of three. They were dead from that Scourge. One of the men found De’layn and called the Jedi in. They left, I checked the navicomputer, and downloaded the data.” Bernecki handed the datachip over to Carth.

“This should have some very interesting information,” Carth said, plugging it into the computer port for processing.

“Jedi Talin returned. When he looked at the navputer, he saw something odd in the hyperdrive. I sent Gadaitis with him, and they found the device. Gadaitis saw how much time there was, decided it was too complex to disarm in time, and I ordered the evacuation. MacFinlay kept our butts out of the flames, sir.”

“Write him up for an award when you write your after-action report. I better let you get back to your team.”

“Aye, sir.” Bernecki stood up and left the room.

“Talin?” Carth motioned for him to go next.

“I don’t have much to add. When we got to the bridge, we saw the crew lying on the ground, dead from the Scourge. When I looked at the navputer to find out where they’d been, I noticed some of the data had been wiped. The hyperdrive status indicator was off, but I heard the hyperdrive humming in stand-by mode. When Gadaitis and I checked the engine, we found the device. It looks like it triggered as soon as we opened the hatch. Gadaitis saw the time and how little of it we had left. He made a good call evacuating. I don’t think demolitions could have disarmed it in time.”

Carth nodded understanding. “Anything to add, Jae?”

I frowned at the wisp of an idea floating just at the edge of conscious thought.

“What is it?” Talin asked.

“Something De’layn said. I’m trying to remember all of it.”

“About Thorn?”

“No, though learning he wasn’t the Sith Lord is disturbing.”

“Thorn’s not the Sith Lord?” Carth’s brows lifted in surprise.

“De’layn said it wasn’t Thorn before she lost consciousness. Thorn was one of the three on the bridge."

“Just great. We’re back where we started.” Carth grimaced.

The door chime sounded, and Carth called Jolee in.

“How’s De’layn?” I asked.

“The med team got her into kolto and they seem happy with how she’s doing.”

Talin and I both scrunched our faces at the mention of kolto, to Jolee’s amusement.

“Of course, they’re happy if you can flick an eyelash, so you can never really tell,” Jolee continued. He gave a small weary sigh as he sat down.

“We were discussing Thorn,” Carth said.

“Thorn’s not the Sith Lord, and we won’t know who it is until she gets out of the kolto,” Jolee replied.

“If he’s in the area, we need to know now,” Carth said. “We’re already underway for Telos, but I still don’t want to be a sitting gizka.”

“That’s still not it,” I frowned again, trying to recall the entire conversation.

“What’s not it?” Jolee asked.

“De’layn said something else that didn’t make sense.”

“All she talked about was Thorn, Dycen’a, and this Sith Lord.”

“That’s it. She said she told Thorn that Dycen’a was dead.”

“Because we told her that,” Jolee said.

“But Thorn told her he was going after Dycen’a."

Carth said, “How would Thorn know, unless…. Damn it, it’s Aichon or Raxton. It’s one of mine. They’re the only ones besides us who knew about Dycen’a.” He shook his head in frustration and bit back a variety of comments.

"I'm sorry, Carth," I said.

“Pull up the ship list again, Carth,” Jolee said.

The single ship appeared once more.

“Is that all the ships?” Talin asked.

Carth looked over the original list of ships. “No, the Republic ships were left off.” His lips thinned in anger.

Jolee reassured him, “Carth, if I were looking for an Exchange ship, why would I include the Republic? You’re not the one responsible. This Sith has been hiding his tracks pretty well for a long time.”

“I know, but I dislike the thought of one of my crew intentionally misleading everyone, and I hate the idea of my crew and me being this close to him for a long time. Force only knows what he’s been doing to my crew,” Carth sighed. He tapped in some more data, and another list came up. There were two ships this time, the Fujita and The Nightshadow.

“None of us likes knowing we’ve shared supper with him. Bet whoever owns Nightshadow is our bad guy,” Jolee said.

“That’s Raxton’s ship,” Carth said. He pulled up some more data. “Looks like he was a little busy when he was supposed to be doing some intelligence work on Telos. He went off-system for a few days.”

“He’s been very sneaky so far. I think we ought to have a little chat with Aichon to make sure he's not involved,” Jolee suggested.

Carth was about to hit the com to call for him when Jolee added with a wicked grin, “Why don’t you let us get set up a bit and then give him a nice reception and all, just in case it’s him.”

When Aichon came to Carth’s meeting room in answer to the summons, he was stunned to find himself surrounded by three Jedi with lit lightsabers and a captain holding a blaster.

He looked at all of us, eyes shifting warily as he looked at each of us before looking back at Carth. “Uh, sir, is there something wrong?”

“Yes, there’s something very wrong. One of my top men has betrayed both this crew and me. I want to find out who.” Carth’s voice could have frozen space, it was so cold.

“Sir, I’d sure like to know what you’re talking about, and why you all have weapons pointed at me.”

His eyes glazed over for a minute as Jolee concentrated on a mind probe.

Jolee said, finally, “It’s not him, Carth, though it looks like Raxton’s been tiptoeing through his brain a bit. There are some missing memories and some planted images in there.”

Aichon shook his head and rubbed his temples once the disorientation dissipated.

“Sorry for the headache, but it was the only way to know,” Jolee said, clasping the man’s shoulder gently in sympathy for the pain.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I still don’t understand.” Aichon looked from Carth to Jolee and then back to Carth again for an explanation.

Carth explained to his bewildered commander, “Thorn’s not the Sith Lord. Raxton is.”

“There’s no way. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a good man."

“You think he’s a good man, because he planted those images and memories,” Jolee said. “Raxton is the one.”

“Aichon, you have to trust us on this. He’s the only other person who knew Dycen’a was alive, and Raxton is the only way Thorn could have found out. We’ll figure out how Raxton did this, but right now we need to find out where he is.”

“He was supposed to be doing some intel work around Telos while we went on this mission. He said he had found some leads on the Exchange that couldn’t get cold, so I had him stay. Oh, Force, what if he’s doing something to Telos?” Aichon said, holding his head again in pain and shock over the revelation.

“Carth, I need an image of Raxton and a secure link to the Jedi Temple. I need to contact the masters there for a little chat about this,” Jolee decided.

* * *

Masters Vandar and Vrook listened as Jolee explained our narrow escape, De’layn’s brush with death, and our discovery.

Master Vrook stroked his chin as he looked at the image Jolee had transmitted. “He’s had some facial reconstruction, but I’m pretty sure it’s Ter Miraxton.” He pulled some data up on the man.

Master Vandar said, “Yes, it is a match. It would also fit with the facts in this case. He was a Padawan here about 27 years ago. He left the order about 20 years ago after he killed another Padawan in anger. He disappeared a few years later, and we had feared the worst.”

“You feared his death. That’s not the worst,” Jolee said.

“Point taken,” Vandar acknowledged.

“Can you send us any holovids of him sparring, or any other information?” asked Talin.

“We’ll transmit any information we have in the archives. We should have something very shortly.”

“All right then, we’ll sign off.” Jolee made a move to terminate the link.

“A moment please, Jolee. We have something to discuss with the three of you.” Master Vrook said.

I detected a subtle shift in his attitude. If I had been sparring and saw that look, I would have prepared for a nasty attack. I glanced at Talin, and he looked back at me, wary of Vrook's tone.

Master Vandar continued, “We received an anonymous transmission late this morning. Normally, we discount anything anonymous. However, the contents were disturbing, and analysis indicated it was an unaltered transmission. It is something we feel you must address immediately.”

“What are you talking about?” Jolee asked them.

“This,” Master Vrook answered, stabbing a button to turn on a copy of the transmission. “Your Padawan and Talin have been a bit busy and less than discreet.”

A holovid of the evening Talin and I spent together played on the projector. I looked down and put my forehead in my hand. Talin stood impassively for a time next to me and then placed a hand gently on my back in support. Jolee stood with his chin in one hand, carefully inspecting the holovid images.

When it faded out, he looked over at both of us. He smiled broadly and gave a jaunty wink. “You sure steamed up some windows there.”

“Jolee! It’s not a porn vid, for heaven’s sake. We just kissed!”

“Eh, it’s a good start, anyway. I can recommend a few books on the subject, you know."

Talin couldn’t quite suppress his chuckle, and I put my head back down in my hand.

“You approve of this behavior?” Vrook’s eyes were wide in disbelief.

“I don’t just approve, I encourage it. I’m watching love blossom before my very eyes. Makes my curmudgeonly heart feel like there’s something good in the universe.”

“Master Jolee, you know the Order’s stance on attachments.” Master Vandar chastised.

“And you know I think it’s a foolish notion that the Order should abandon because it’s a pile of bantha schutta. More Jedi might be prevented from falling if they had someone in their lives to keep them happy and balanced.”

“This is very dangerous thinking, Jolee. After this mission is finished, we’ll reassign Jedi Talin, and we may have to discuss your mentoring,” Vrook frowned.

Jolee stood tall and leveled a fiery gaze at the Masters. “You go right ahead and do that. I’ve left the Order before, and I can leave it again. I stay because I can make a difference, not because I need your approval. I might even start my own branch of Jedi that believe love is something good, not terrifying. Now if you want to draw the ire of not only me, but also the Queen of Onderon, a Prince of Alderaan, and the soon-to-be Admiral Onasi, then go ahead and reassign them to try to break up their relationship. You know that if the Force wants them together, they’ll be together, no matter what some ridiculous council of Masters decides.”

Master Vrook’s face reddened as he tried to control his anger, and Master Vandar sighed, frustrated by Jolee’s defiant attitude.

Master Vandar said, “We will meet the rest of the Council shortly and discuss the situation. We will send all the information we have on Miraxton as soon as we can. Master Supat will go to Telos to evaluate De’layn so we can learn more about the Scourge and its effects on sentients. In the meantime, you three need to concentrate on tracking this Sith Lord and either capturing or destroying him.”

“Now you’re talking sensible,” Jolee snorted.

“We don’t need to be provoked, Jolee,” Master Vrook growled.

“I’m a rebel. What do you expect?” Jolee raised his hands in question and gave them a mischievous grin.

“Exactly that,” Master Vandar sighed.

“We’ll stay out of trouble,” Jolee said.

“I doubt that. Trouble seems to find you quite easily. Still, I wish you well when you meet up with Miraxton.” Master Vrook’s face softened a bit as he spoke.

“May the Force be with you,” Master Vandar signed off.

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 10:29 PM
RZ A22

“I’m glad that’s over,” I breathed out a sigh of relief.

“So am I. Now you can be ‘in cute’ in public like every other normal couple. Watching the two of you act like nothing was going on was like watching a soap opera.” Jolee stopped and thought a moment. “Well, except you two actually talk to each other instead of everyone else. And you don’t bed every other sentient that walks by. And you haven’t fallen in love with Hank’s uncle’s secret-half-brother, stolen at birth by the Mandalorians, who turned into a Sith Lord but then got captured and redeemed. Except when the moons are both full on Corellia, and then the evil side comes out. But that’s episode 12,357.”

“Who’s Hank?” Talin asked, confused.

“If you get kicked out of the Order, you could have a second career writing those things."

“You kidding? They drive me nuts. I’m glad you’re smiling again. It’s hard to have the Masters come down on you like a fleet of warships. The thought of leaving the Order can be pretty scary, but truth be told, there are far worse things in life. I didn’t stop being who I was when I left. Oh, some things were harder, but it also meant I didn’t have to take orders from a few of the twits. How some of them became Masters I’ll never know.”

“I’ve never known anything outside the Order,” Talin sat down, the possibility of leaving the Order weighing most heavily on him.

I sat down next to him and laid my hand on top of his. He looked up at me.

“No one’s asked any of us to make any decisions.”

“I know, but it never hurts to be prepared for all possibilities.”

“There’s not much to prepare for, Talin. You can’t even control the Force to alter the outcome. Darksiders like to think they can, but they’re a little delusional on the control issue.”

“‘You can’t get off the ship til it docks’, eh?” Talin said.

“Exactly,” Jolee nodded.

“I’d like to know how that holovid ended up in the Masters’ hands,” I said.

“Wasn’t me. I was looking for De’layn.”

“I didn’t think you did it."

“Well, I’m certainly ornery enough for that, but I wouldn’t turn you in to the Masters for a little smooch. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t turn you in for anything unless you turned into a baby-eating Sith.”

“Who had the capability to follow and film us, and who stood to gain?” Talin asked.

“You weren’t exactly paying attention to the fact that you were being followed, so ‘capability’ is hard to judge. Considering the recent attacks, that probably wasn’t one of your more brilliant moves, but you’re both safe and that’s what counts.”

“So we’ve narrowed it down to anyone on this station who could carry a holovid camera. That’s helpful,” I groaned.

“Nice sarcasm. I knew you’d learn something from me.”

“Whoever did this knew enough about the Jedi’s internal rules to know the Masters wouldn’t approve,” Talin noted.

“Carth would know, but he wouldn’t do this. As long as I’m happy, he’s happy.”

“I doubt you could do anything to make him unhappy,” Jolee said. “He thinks you’re the greatest thing since rain on Tatooine.”

I just shrugged my shoulders and grinned back at him.

Talin thought a bit and then said, “I think this was done specifically to cause problems for us with the Council and with Jolee. One of the best ways to take down a fighting force is to create dissent in their own ranks and make them fight each other. Why fight them when you can make them fight themselves?”

“Miraxton’s in intelligence and he’s an ex-Jedi—he’d understand the psychology and know the Jedi rules,” I said. “This is just the kind of thing someone like him would do.”

“Heh, he didn’t count on me supporting you, now did he? He probably thought it would drive a wedge between us. We might be able to use that to our advantage.”

“If we trace the holovid to its source, we might be able to find Miraxton,” I said.

“It could have been sent from anywhere or by anyone if Miraxton wanted that. Still, it’s better than nothing. Now, I’m very tired from healing and all the excitement, and if I’m right, you both are, too. I’m going to sleep. Don’t stay up too late fooling around.”

“Jolee! You know I’m not that kind of a gal!”

“Ha! Maybe you should be. Being naughty is fun."

“You stay out of trouble if you’re not naughty."

“Well, when you put it that way, then, carry on.” He turned and left for his room.

“We all should get some sleep,” Talin yawned.

I turned where I sat and looked at him.

“You know I’d never ask you to leave the Order. There’s time to break it off if you want,” I said. My stomach knotted at the thought of how it would feel if he walked away, but I knew I had to give him that option.

“Oh, come here, dear,” he said, folding me into his arms. “I already knew you’d never ask. The Council was going to find out eventually, though I wish it had been from us and not second-hand. I knew from the start they might ask us to leave if we pursued this. I told you I’d leave in a heartbeat. I still would, because I love you.”

“Oh,” I said, as I realized what he’d just said. I sat back up to look at him again.

“Did I say something wrong?” His brows knit together in concern.

“No, no, it’s just…I didn’t…No one’s…I mean--” I finally stopped talking so I could gather my wits. I tried to breathe slowly and calm my racing heart.

“You’re surprised that I'd say that?” he asked, tipping his head as he looked at me.

“You're sure?”

“Good heavens, of course I'm sure. I'm very sure."

“You’d be making a huge sacrifice,” I said.

“Not for you. In fact, I’m afraid I’m forcing you to make that sacrifice.”

I wrapped my arms around his neck and held him tight. “Talin, dear, you don’t have to worry. I love you, too. If we have to leave the Order, we’ll do it together.”

He wrapped his arms around me to return the embrace. “You have no idea how much I like hearing that.”

“The leave part or the love part?” I grinned at him.

He shook his head and sighed. “Now what do you think?”

“Kiss me, love.”

“That’s the answer I was hoping for.”

* * *

The Masters had transmitted all the information they had on Miraxton within hours of the call, but they had not been able to track down the source of the holovid. Talin immediately started poring over the sparring vids. Jolee and I combed the other data for anything that would help us find him.

After a few hours of studying the information, I went over to Talin to see which sparring session he was watching.

“I wonder how the Masters missed his pride,” I noted, after watching the vid for a few minutes. “He’s cocky with his opponents.”

“They were watching his technique rather than the overall picture, though attitude is a big part of any fight. They may have passed it off as confidence. Something for us to keep in mind, though. If he was cocky then, he’ll be cocky with us now. There, he’s doing Xi-ro.” Talin slowed the vid down to watch every move in slow motion.

“What’s that move? I don’t remember it,” I pointed at his arm.

“That’s a wrong move, is what that is,” Jolee said, joining us.

Talin added, “And he’s doing it at full speed, which means he’s practiced it wrong a lot. That’s one of the weaknesses we’re looking for. He’ll either do it wrong at that point with us, or he’ll hesitate there a moment to think about doing it right.”

“He seems to prefer that form, too,” I said.

Carth came into the room to share the information he had learned.

“Anything interesting in the other data?” Talin asked, taking a break from the holovids.

Jolee replied, “He spent a lot of time with a Bothan Master, and so his intelligence skills are superb. His infiltration and manipulation skills are strong, and his ability to glean information from his sources is excellent. He was able to get into places many others couldn’t.”

“No wonder he got as high as he did in the Navy,” I said.

“He’s been on the fast track in the Navy for some time. The top brass had their eye on him as future admiral material and he was getting promoted as fast as the regs would allow. We checked out the stolen goods, and we tracked the supply drain to him. It was always small enough to not really be pursued heavily or written off as an Exchange attack. Any time the attention shifted his way, he redirected it or got himself transferred.”

“He’s as elusive as a Twi’lek dancing girl,” Jolee said.

“If he’d reached one of the top admiral posts, he could have taken over the Navy and done Force-knows-what to the Republic,” I said.

“He’s already solidified a position with the Exchange. If we don’t stop him, he could use Norelden’s resources and force a battle with the Navy. We can’t afford to lose any more ships right now,” Carth said. "More importantly, the Republic needs to recover, and it can't with a Sith Lord attacking."

“Norelden’s base is still on Telos, isn’t it?” Jolee asked Carth.

“It hasn’t moved as far as I know, but I can’t trust my intelligence right now. I’m off to meet with his subordinates so I can start to sort out what’s real and what’s not, but I wanted to let you know what we found so far.”

“So, he’s got the Exchange in his pocket, maybe some of the Navy, too, and is running around with a lot of Republic supplies,” I said.

“Sounds like something for Mik’oth to check out,” Jolee grinned.

The call went through quickly, and Mik’oth appeared at the other end.

“Hey, Tail-headed Tornado! Nice outfit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a unique shade of yellow before. How did you manage to get an entire suit made in that color?”

“Lekku-less wonder! Isn’t it wonderful? I commissioned it personally.”

“It’ll burn my eyes if I look at it too long.”

“That’s why I have the turquoise and fuschia accessories. It tones it down a little.”

I stifled a laugh.

“Oh, it’s my favorite lovely Padawan. How could I possibly have missed you? Hello, dear!” he waved at me, the large rings clinking against each other as his fingers wiggled.

“Always good to see you, Mik’oth,” I smiled and waved back.

“When are you coming back to Coruscant, dear? The planet is grey and drab without your beauty.”

“Keep wearing that suit and it’ll never be drab,” I replied, grinning.

“Oh, you say just the nicest things!”

It was Talin’s turn to suppress a laugh.

“Mik’oth, we need a little help. We thought Thorn was the Sith Lord, but we found out it’s a guy named Miraxton. He’s ex-Jedi, was working his way up the Navy ladder and skimming off a bunch of supplies. He’s in with Norelden’s branch of the Exchange. He disappeared a few days ago and we need to find him fast. We think he’s going to take over Norelden’s fleet and make trouble. Did I mention we need to find him fast?”

“Very clearly, Jolee. Give me a little bit and I’ll get back to you.”

Mik’oth took just under an hour.

“Ah, any opportunity to see your lovely Padawan once more,” he said to Jolee.

Jolee smiled. “Stop, you’re embarrassing the poor girl.”

“She looks just fine to me."

Carth came in just then. “That better not be my niece you’re talking about,” he said, keeping his voice neutral.

Jolee said, “Mik’oth, Captain Carth Onasi. I’ve fought with both of you and can trust you both. Anything said here will stay here.”

“We think we’ve found Miraxton’s base on Telos—he’s working out of Restoration zone A22,” Mik’oth announced.

“What took you so long?” Jolee smiled broadly.

“You call 53 minutes long?”

“How did you get this in only 53 minutes?” Carth asked. “It’s taken the Navy several days just to track down the leads on our own supplies.” He crossed his arms and looked at Mik’oth in disbelief.

“All hyperspace routes lead to Coruscant. Just follow the money. It always leads back to the source. Captain, I have many more resources than the Navy. And I mean many.”

“Carth, you might not trust him, but you can trust me. If Mik’oth says it’s in RZ A22, it’s there,” Jolee stated.

Carth thought for a moment more, still looking at Mik’oth. He touched a button. “Aichon, as soon as we transfer our patient to the med team on the station, put us on course for RZ A22.”

“RZ A22. Aye, sir.”

“Tell Bernecki I’ll have a job for him tomorrow.”

“Aye, sir. He’ll be very happy to hear that.”

Carth turned back to look at Mik’oth. “All right, I’m going on your word. I hope I’m not flying all of us into a trap.”

Mik’oth said, “More likely you’ll be trapping them—they won’t be expecting an attack this soon. They’ll be expecting military speed on the paperwork, you know. Besides, I want to see the lovely Padawan Jae again, so you all better take care and get this schutta before he does anything to harm her or the rest of the galaxy. He’s got too much power already. Jolee, let me know if you need anything else. Talin, be good. Jae, dear, do be careful, please.”

Talin put an arm around my shoulders. “We’ll all be careful.”

Mik’oth smiled widely. “Oh, aren’t you two cute. If you don’t have the wedding reception at my cantina I’ll be very, very upset.”

“The only thing we’ve said about weddings is that it’s way too soon to talk about them,” I laughed.

“Of course,” he rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Talin, I hope you figure this out faster than you did holding hands.”

Talin grinned. “Whenever we have news, you’ll be one of the first to know.”

“Wonderful. Now, I’ll leave you to go find this Sith and save the galaxy.”
Mik’oth’s image faded out.

Carth opened another link. “This is Captain Onasi. I need to speak with Admiral Dodonna, please.”

He looked over at us. “If Raxton’s got access to an Exchange fleet, we’re going to need some help.”

Jae Onasi
08-04-2006, 11:49 PM
Chapter 30: The Story of the Wolves


“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Carth announced at the meeting of the senior staff. “Once we get to RZ A22, Admiral Dodonna wants us to do recon on the Exchange fleet. If we get the opportunity, we’ll take out as many ships on the ground as we can. We’ve learned Raxton is the one the Jedi are after. None of us is happy about that, and we want to get the sneaky schutta. However, we know he’s able to kill with the Scourge and I hate losing people. If you see him, call in the Jedi immediately.”

“What if we have a clear shot, sir?” Bernecki asked.

Jolee answered, “From the data we received from Coruscant, we know he’s had training in deflecting blaster bolts. You’d have to catch him off guard, and that will be very difficult—he’ll be able to sense you long before you could reach him. Even a squad will get eaten alive, and I don’t want to see that. Unless he’s distracted by something else and you have overwhelming numbers, you won’t be able to take him. Even if you do have that, you’re going to take heavy casualties.”

“There’s a big difference between courage and stupidity,” Carth added. “No one goes alone against Raxton.”

He took a moment to look at each of his officers to make sure everyone understood. Muted ‘yes, sir’s circled the room.

Continuing, he said, “We’re going to circle the planet like we don’t know where he is and get a full scan of the area before we send the team down. Bernecki, I’d love to give you more time to plan, but I think we’re going to have to go in fast if we want to get the advantage of surprise.”

“I’d like the chance to make a detailed plan, but we’ve had to wing it before. However, more info is always better, sir.”

Jolee said, “We could always use more time to figure out Raxton, too. We have a lot of research to look over, but we’ll be ready whenever you are.”

“All right. The Admiral’s going to be here with a fleet in 4 days. We’ll get the scans, go over the intel, make those plans, and in 2 days head down. That should give us enough time to get in position and see how much damage we can do before she arrives with her task force. Is that going to work for you, Jolee?”

“It’ll have to. We’ll just speed-read, then.”

A chime sounded, and a voice called over the com. “Captain, Comm. Call for the Jedi, sir.”

“We’ll take it in my quarters, if you don’t mind,” Jolee said to Carth. “We’ll meet back with you later, then.”

The call was from Master Vandar.
“Jolee, Dycen’a has come out of the kolto, and we were able to extract some information on Miraxton for you,” he said.

“Good, because we found Miraxton on Telos. We’ve got 2 days to get ready to go get the gizka-brain.”

“I’m pleased to see you’re taking this so seriously,” Vandar said.

Jolee caught the irony. “You know I can be serious when I need to be.”

“Since I haven’t found any record of it, I’ll have to take you at your word.”

Jolee laughed, “Vandar, did you just make a joke?”

“Give me another 100 years and I might be able to come up with another.”

“I’ll have to take you at your word, then. I’ll be a pile of dust by that time. What did Dycen’a say?”

“Miraxton recruited him several years ago, specifically for his ability to slip through time. Once he saw Dycen’a had Force potential, he started training him. Miraxton had been working on consolidating the Exchange and moving up in the Navy. Once he learned what the Li’adans could do, however, he decided to add that planet to his list of conquests.”

“If he had taken over a planet of time-sensitive people, he would have been able to steal more items from Ossus,” I said.

“Or alter major events over the last 40 or 50 years,” Talin added.

“Exactly,” Vandar nodded.

“Speaking of Ossus, what else did he get?” Jolee asked.

“As best we can tell, some documents—historical records on some of the more recent Dark Lords--and a couple of holocrons. He couldn’t take anything large with him. He also had to get them out without someone seeing him.”

“Maybe he got a library card and took them on loan. Of course, after 50 years, that would be one nasty fine.”

“So Miraxton could be running around with something nastier than Scourge,” I said, after giving Jolee an amused look at his quip.

“We don’t believe so. Dycen’a didn’t know what he was taking some of the time. We did research on the items that went mysteriously missing from Ossus. It seems the holocrons he did take were fairly innocuous except for the one that dealt with Force Scourge.”

“You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that,” I said.

“No more than me, Padawan. I would like to see all three of you again. If the Council’s meditations are correct, we see more positive about the near future than negative, but it’s very unclear.”

“Did you learn anything else about Miraxton?” Talin asked.

“He was always a brash student, confident and talented. When we started reviewing his case, we learned that he may have murdered more than just the Padawan. There were several unsolved homicides during the last two years he was on Coruscant, but there was no evidence other than the most circumstantial linking him to any of the crimes. He was never a suspect in them, but comparing the information we have now with those homicides, we begin to see very disturbing coincidences between his movements and the timing of the crimes.”

“What kinds of murder?” I inquired.

“Just about any kind—they all died in different manners, but all died vicious and unpleasant deaths. The only common thread seemed to be that they were all Exchange or Hutts. The prevailing thought at the time was that it was a rival gang war.”

“He may possibly believe he’s killing for righteous reasons, or he just hates the Hutts and the Exchange. That makes his current association with the Exchange very unusual,” Talin said.

“That’s something we also wondered about.”

“How’d he ever make it through the psych profiling?” Jolee asked.

Vandar ticked off the answers on his fingers. “He’s smart. He lied. He arranged to have the profiling done by another Jedi who knew him and thought he was a charming man. Then he altered the records. He’s a cunning man, Jolee, and if he was involved in those homicides, he’s calculating and ruthless. Something all of you need to remember.”

“I don’t understand how he got to be a Sith Lord. Don’t they typically apprentice to another one to learn those dark side powers?” I asked.

“Yes, he would, and we’ve been trying to find out who he worked with so we have some insight on what he’s learned. Darth Chilopos and Darth Traya are both possibilities. Both were active at the time in different parts of the galaxy, and both disappeared rather mysteriously about 10 to 15 years ago. However, he’s covered his tracks very carefully. We know what we’re looking for now, but it’s going to take time for us to sort it all out, and we may not have that information for you in the next two days.”

“Send us what you have on both, then. Try Mik’oth, too,” Jolee said. “Tell him I sent you. He might come up with something. He’ll give you the family discount, too.”

“He does seem to have unusually extensive connections, doesn’t he. He has quite the network."

“Some things I just don’t ask about,” Jolee smiled.

“I’m transmitting the data now. May the Force be with you.”

* * *

“Here are some stims based on the research I did with De’layn,” Master Supat said, handing one to each of us. He had arrived on Telos not long after we had transferred De’layn to the med center. He had taken care of her and then shuttled up to the Osprey.

“That was fast. I didn’t know you could get De’layn evaluated and then these made up that quickly,” Jolee said.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t work that fast, because I could only make one for each of you. I started the research with the holocron, but I couldn’t develop them until I evaluated De’layn and saw its effects first hand. I believe it’s only going to be effective if it’s used right at the time of attack. It’s not going to stop it, either—it’s only going to blunt some of the effects.”

“So, it’ll keep us alive, but not much else, eh?”

“Precisely. I don’t think it will work if you are attacked multiple times. The best way to deal with Scourge, of course, is not to allow yourself to get hit with it in the first place.”

“That’s my line,” Jolee said.

“It’s every Master’s line,” Master Supat answered with the Ithorian equivalent of a smile. The smile faded as he added, “Please, come back safe. May the Force be with you.”

* * *

“We’re going to insert teams here, here, and here,” Carth said at the briefing the night before our attack, pointing to a holovid map of RZ A22.

Everyone listened in rapt attention, leaning forward slightly. The tension coiled through everyone, aching to be released. Even the veterans of many battles breathed just a bit faster, adrenaline beginning to flow in anticipation of the mission.

Carth continued, “You’ll make your way to your respective buildings. Red team is going to take out their communications, which is in this building, here, and then take out hanger bay 3. Yellow team is going to have the demolitions people and will take out these other hanger bays. Blue team is going to go into this building, which is serving as their command center. They’ll support the Jedi.”

Bernecki said, “Blue team, when we get to the building, we’ll secure this entrance here. Ettelson is our best cracker—he’ll be in charge of accessing the computer systems, downloading intelligence, and shutting down whatever he can. MacFinlay’s going to keep the shuttle warm for us and keep us updated on anything unusual going on outside the building. Sal’ton is on demolitions—she’ll handle anything that needs serious blowing up. The Jedi will do their thing, which is get Raxton. The rest of us are going to do what we know best, which is go in and take out those schuttas.”

The other team leaders gave their instructions.

Carth said, “You leave tomorrow at 0600. Your team leaders will tell you when to muster. Anyone late owes dinner to his teammates. Jae, Jolee, Talin, if you could come to my ready room after the meeting I’d appreciate it. Everyone else, dismissed.”

We all filed out of the meeting room, with everyone else heading to their quarters to make final preparations. I watched as they all left, the higher pitches and volumes in their voices giving away their excitement even when they appeared calm. We made our way to the ready room.

Carth turned to look at me. “I don’t suppose there’s any way to convince you to stay on the ship here where it’s safer, is there?”

“The only way to stop Miraxton is to work as a team. I have to do this.”

Carth sighed. “I know, I just had to ask. Miraxton’s smart as a fox. I just don’t want to see you hurt.”

“We just have to outfox the fox,” Jolee said. He thought a moment, and then continued, “You know, that reminds me of a story.”

All three of us sat down.

“You know, one of these days I’m going to get a complex from you all doing that,” Jolee snorted.

We grinned back and waited for him to go on.

“Let’s see—I was on Irowanol. Planet’s in a system not too far from Yavin. I think they’re making a resort planet out of it now, but at the time it was a little hole in the galaxy, even if it is gorgeous.”

“There seems to be a common theme in the planets you’ve visited. All lush or tropical types….” I said.

“Pfft. Ever been to Korriban? Nar Shaddaa? The scenery puts me to sleep. Oh, wait. I forgot about the red light district on Nar Shaddaa. Never mind.”

I held up a hand. “I’ll pass on the red light stories.”

“They have services for women, too, you know. The Hutts don’t discriminate when it comes to making a credit.”

“We were talking about Irowanol?”

“Oh, I suppose I should get back to that. Elorri’ani and I were sent there by General Motani to scout out any Sith camps or bases. Well, we found one, all right. We followed a soldier into the middle of the forest where we found an entire garrison. We thought we’d even the odds a bit and called for Motani to bomb it before we went in. A patrol got lucky and heard us talking to her. We took off into the forest in our speeder, and they followed close behind in theirs.”

“How many were chasing you?” I asked.

“Does it matter? Oh, for your history thing I suppose it does. Well, I think it was about 7 or 8. But you can put down a dozen or 15 or something like that.”

I tipped my head at him and cocked an eyebrow.

“Don’t you give me that ‘Now, Jolee…’ look, missy. I’m not asking you to lie, just maybe embellish a little.”

I continued to give him that ‘Now, Jolee…’ look.

“OK, tell the truth, though I think it’ll be boring.”

“Jolee, nothing about your adventures has been boring,” Talin said.

“Heh, at least someone appreciates my little tales. Where was I? Oh, yes. We dodged over, under, around, and sometimes almost through the trees, trying to get away from that patrol. One of them must have been a Force user, because he got in a lucky shot that made our speeder lurch out of control. We bailed out just before the speeder kissed the tree. I landed, rolled, jumped up on my feet, and ran into some brush. Their speeder was still going full speed, of course, so they shot past us and had to circle back around. I found Elorri’ani. He’d fallen hard on his shoulder and face.”

“Was he hurt bad?” I asked.

“Bad enough to dislocate a shoulder and tear up a knee. He got some nasty cuts, too, and was bleeding like no tomorrow, though not bad enough to kill him. I only had enough time to heal the bleeding when those speeders came back and started searching for us. Elorri’ani got this brilliant idea. He’d play dead, since he couldn’t walk much anyway, and that would lure them over. Then I’d jump down out of the tree on top of them in a nasty little surprise. He’d get them in the legs. It was perfect, except we didn’t count on the wolves.”

“Oh, no. Elorri’ani’s wildlife problem strikes again. He gets along with them about as well as a blaster bolt gets along with jet fuel,” I explained to Carth and Talin.

“Hey, I’m going to have to use that some time,” Jolee said.

“So just how bad was the wolf attack?” I asked.

“Pretty bad. For the troopers, that is,” he replied.

“What?”

“The wolves didn’t attack Elorri’ani. When he went down, they smelled the blood and slipped in around us. I was up in the tree when I saw the mama wolf sniffing him. She was big, almost man-size, and had sharp, pointy teeth. I was about ready to throw the lightsaber at her when she started licking his wounds.”

“He must have nearly had a heart attack,” I said.

“He said it was all he could do not to laugh after he realized he wasn’t a chew toy, because she was tickling him. One of the soldiers, not seeing the rest of the wolf pack sitting in the bushes, came over to see if Elorri’ani was dead. Mama wolf apparently decided he was her new baby and laid down next to him. When the soldier got close, she growled at him and her hackles raised up. The soldier thought she was trying to protect her kill. He ignored her and poked Elorri’ani with the end of his rifle to make sure he was dead. Well, she didn’t like that at all. She jumped up at him while he still had his rifle down, hit his chest, bowled him over, and went for the jugular. That was the end of him. The rest of the pack went after the other soldiers.”

“You’re not making this up?” Carth asked.

“Do I look that creative? No, don’t answer that. Anyway, the soldiers were so busy trying to attack this pack of wolves that they didn’t notice at first that I was picking them off by throwing my lightsaber. I had to even up the odds for the wolves, you know. Well, maybe not—the soldiers were outnumbered to begin with, and these wolves were pretty feisty. I took a bunch of those soldiers out just sitting on that branch before they got it through their thick skulls to run away from wolves and a lightsaber-throwing Jedi.”

“So you never even had a chance to get out of the tree?” Talin asked, starting to chuckle.

“Are you kidding? Jump down in the middle of a snarling wolf pack doing its job? I didn’t have ‘get eaten’ on my ‘to do’ list that day. I waited till they all ran off chasing the soldiers down.”

“Did any soldiers make it?” I asked.

“No. They all ended up as wolf dinners that night. With that armor they had on, they were extra crunchy on the outside, too.”

Talin grimaced. “My life would have been complete without that image, thank you.”

Jolee grinned. “I was healing Elorri’ani when mama wolf came trotting back and saw me. I held still, hoping I wasn’t going to end up as dinner, too. She walked slowly towards me, growling softly. Just when I thought I was going to get pounced on, she sniffed me, decided I was OK, wagged her tail, and laid down next to Elorri’ani again. When I finished healing him, she gave him another lick on the face and bounded off into the forest to join her pack. We grabbed the soldiers’ speeder and went to our rendezvous point.”

“I can just imagine what General Motani said after that,” Carth said.

“She gave us an award that she made up special for the occasion. It was for something like ‘coordinating attacks with indigenous life forms and displaying admirable sneakiness.’”

We couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“She must have really liked Elorri’ani playing dead,” I said.

“Hey, that’s it!” Jolee said.

“What’s it?” Talin asked.

“I have a plan for dealing with Miraxton.” He gave an evil little smile that even the devil would have appreciated.

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 12:16 AM
The Mission Begins

Two hands dropped down gently on either shoulder, breaking my meditation.

“I came to wake you, but you were already up,” Talin murmured, trying not to startle me. He stood behind me, and we both looked out at the pinpoints of twinkling starlight.

“I didn’t mean to wake up early. Probably nerves. I thought I’d meditate.”

He circled his arms around and gently pulled me back to him. I sighed and closed my eyes again, smiling as I leaned on his strength.

“Promise me you’ll stay in the Order if something happens to me,” I said in a quiet voice after the long, calm silence.

“Is that how you see the vision? Because it’s not the way I see it. Anything could happen there. ‘The future is always in motion’.”

“Jolee left after Nayama was killed, and he wandered around for 20 years until he could sort it all out. I don’t blame him for leaving, but if he had stayed in the Order, they could have helped him get through it much faster. The Jedi may have their faults—we all do—but they do far more good than harm.” I turned in his arms and looked up at him, taking in the details of his face--his deep blue eyes, straight nose, and the set of his lips. I burned the image into my memory.

“You’re serious,” he said, looking down at me, searching my face.

“Very.”

“All right, I will, on two conditions.”

“What’s that?”

“First, if something happens to me, you stay in the Order, too.”

“Done. And two?”

“You give me a kiss that I’ll remember forever.”

I obliged. Our lips met in a desperate fury, nearly bruising in force. We held each other so tight I couldn’t breathe. It was a raw passion and paradise all at the same time, and when we finally broke apart, we both had to take a moment to catch our breath.

“You can’t die. You’re not allowed,” Talin said in a ragged voice.

“Why?” I asked, after finally quieting my breathing.

“Because if I don’t get more of that, I’ll die.”

I smiled up at him.

Jolee gave a discreet knock on my door. “Time to move out.”

* * *

The strike was on. Our three assault shuttles launched out of Osprey’s bay and headed to the restoration zone on the surface of Telos. MacFinlay flew our shuttle through the shield surrounding the RZ.

“MacFinlay, Yutan’s going to stay here with you. Stay sharp while we’re gone.”

“You guys get all the fun,” MacFinlay said with a mock pout, but he couldn’t restrain his grin for long.

Bernecki retorted, “We get all the fun? What’d you call that little maneuver through the closing bay doors?”

“Fun, of course.” He announced loudly to everyone else, “Two minutes to landing. Pack up your toys, children.”

“Remind me not to go to a party with you if that's your definition of fun,” Bernecki replied, double-checking his gear and straps.

Everyone grabbed their gear and inspected their armor, making sure everything was secure. I double-checked to make sure my lightsaber was on my belt, and Jolee looked amused by that. Talin gave my hand a squeeze just before the door opened. I gave him a quick kiss, and then we dashed off the shuttle one by one. We made our way over to the rendezvous point, and Bernecki gathered us all around.

“Strike teams Red and Yellow are going to come in on the flanks and wait for our signal. We’re going to all stealth in towards the command center. Once we’re all in our places, Ettelson’s going to slice the door, but if he can’t, the Jedi are going to open it for us. Geordel and Fa-Meng are going to take out the guards in front of the doors, the rest of us are going to get positioned to move in quickly. Our stealth is shot as soon as the door opens or a lightsaber appears, so be ready to attack. When we’re in, the other two teams are going to start their attacks. The Jedi’s objective is the Sith Lord. They’ll keep him busy and take him out while we lay mines to blow the place. Sal’ton will coordinate the demolitions. Jolee, once we’re done with the mines, we’re going to contact you so you can get out.”

“If we don’t answer, it’s because we’re too busy to acknowledge. Give us 15 minutes from then to get out. If we’re still in there after the 15-minute mark without saying anything, it means we’re probably dead. Do not come after us unless we call. I don’t want anyone running head-long into a Sith Lord while trying to play hero. If we don’t take him out, the building coming down around his ears should do the trick.”

“We know he’s an intelligence expert and a calculating murderer. Expect anything, including traps,” Talin added.

I continued, “Raxton’s profile tells us he’ll likely confront us. He has tremendous confidence that he can beat us. We’re his target rather than anyone else, so if you see him, stay out of the way. He’ll likely send a team of soldiers after you instead of attacking you himself, because he won’t think you’re important enough. If you get in his way, though, expect him to try to take you out. He could also try something unusual like sneak out in another soldier’s armor, so be ready for anything.”

“Everyone got their gear?” Bernecki scanned the team members, all of whom shook their heads and acknowledged him with “Yes, sir.”

“Any other questions or suggestions?”

No one had any.

“Ok, let’s move out. Watch your back and your buddy. May the Force be with us all.”

* * *

We made our way quietly towards the small base. Bernecki’s team was skilled and moved nearly as soundlessly as we Jedi did through the trees and brush. We approached a clearing and saw the hangers that marked the southern edge of the base. I sensed a couple Sith troopers patrolling the perimeter of the clearing. Silently, I pointed them out to Bernecki and we edged up towards them. When we got close enough, Jolee put one in stasis and I stunned the other. The team grabbed both of them and pulled them quickly back under cover. Jolee put a strong enough stasis field around them that they’d be out for hours, and we secured them under some brush.

Bernecki pulled out their weapons and equipment. “Always good to know what the enemy is saying,” he whispered with a malicious glint in his eyes as he handed a comlink over to Jolee.

“I think I’ll send out an order over the com and put some of them on a wild goose chase into the woods when this all gets started,” Jolee grinned.

“Thank the Force you’re on our side,” Bernecki replied in low tones. He assigned us designated points for all of us to go to and then gave the signal for us to go in stealth mode.

We made our way slowly over to the command center, silent ghosts. Ettelson was about to slice the door when it suddenly opened and a trooper walked out. Ettelson slipped in while the door was still open. I tripped the man in the doorway so it couldn’t shut, and Jolee stunned him. It looked all the world like he’d injured himself in a bad fall.

“Medic!” one of the guards yelled into a comlink, bending down to help his fallen comrade.

The communications center exploded in a large bloom of fire that made the other guard run to see what happened. The guard helping the trooper tried to pull him through the door to safety but was flattened by Talin’s Force stun. We dropped out of stealth as a unit, and the two guards in the lobby found themselves surrounded by a large team of grinning Republic soldiers before they could even reach their guns. They surrendered. Ettelson found a computer terminal and started working.

Bernecki watched as the building schematics came up. “Download that. Change the access codes so only we can get in with our code.”

“Done. Looks like the armory’s here, sir.” Ettelson pointed to a room on the lower level. He tapped some more keys. “Oh ho, look what we have here, sir. Gas lines going everywhere.”

“Gas everything you can, then disable the entire system. I don’t want someone gassing us accidentally while we fight a Sith Lord,” Jolee instructed.

We watched as numerous troopers collapsed before they could get to their gas masks. There was only one section of the center that was unaffected.

“That’s where Raxton’s has to be,” I pointed on the screen. “There’s no gas there.”

Ettelson pulled up some exterior camera shots. “Our teams have hit the buildings,” he noted, watching our soldiers picking off the troopers and dashing inside the hanger bays and communications building.

We heard urgent chatter on the comlink asking for backup in the communications center. Jolee got on our comlink and told Red team, “We’re going to send some of them into the forest. Be ready.”

Then he took the comlink we took from the perimeter guards. He said in an excited voice, “Got some Republics escaping in the forest east of the comm center. We need backup!”

Another couple of blasts rocked other buildings.

“Roger. Sending backup now,” came the reply.

We watched as a platoon of troopers left the communications center and dashed off into the forest.

“Nice. Where’d you pick that idea up?” Bernecki asked.

“Saw it on a holovid one time. There’s some good stories out there."

I shook my head and smiled as Bernecki just stared at him in disbelief.

Then Jolee explained, “The holovid happened to be based on the Battle of Keer-wallen. We had one sneaky schutta for a commander. I couldn’t believe how many platoons he got to run all over high heaven. Some of them started shooting each other, thinking the other was the enemy. Best misdirection I ever saw.”

“You were in the Battle of Keer-wallen?” Bernecki asked, eyes wide in surprise.

“I don’t have enough breath left to waste it telling lies, son.” He keyed the enemy’s comlink again, and in a slightly different voice, but just as excited, said, “More Republics! We’re getting invaded from the southeast!”

“Roger,” came the reply. Another platoon dashed out to look for a non-existent enemy.

“You’d think they’d at least remember to ask for the security code,” Jolee snorted. “How many more do you think I can send out?”

“Force have mercy on us all. The enemy doesn’t stand a chance with you around. Not too many more—we have to trek back through the woods to get to the rendezvous point, and I don’t want to come up on 5 platoons.”

Jolee sent another platoon off to the northeast. “OK, enough talk. Time for us to get moving.”

We heard another explosion outside, and the images on the exterior cameras all disappeared.

“Good job, Red team,” Bernecki smiled to himself. “Communications is down, people. Let’s get to work. Geordel, you’re with me and the Jedi. Sal’ton, get to the armory and set the charges with everyone else.”

We ran down the hallways, passing troopers lying unconscious on the ground, and made it to the section that was unaffected by the gas.

Bernecki found a terminal and tapped in our code. We saw several camera shots of soldiers. In one room, there was a lone figure, standing with his hands behind his back, seeming to peer serenely out the window as he watched the chaos erupt around him.

“There’s the son of a schutta,” Bernecki spat out. Several rooms filled with Sith separated us from Miraxton.

“We all know what to do,” Jolee said.

Talin and I nodded in response. Bernecki shut down the terminal and we all arranged ourselves. The soldiers prepared their grenades. I keyed the door, and they threw their charges towards the troopers. The plasma grenades exploded in large fireballs that charred everything in their paths. Only a few soldiers survived the initial blasts, but they were well armed and started shooting at us. Talin and I ducked around the door and started deflecting the blaster bolts as we steadily approached the shooting soldiers. Jolee took off for the two troopers on the other side of the room. Bernecki and Geordal backed all of us up, trying to pick off the Sith troopers. When we got closer, their team of three pulled out vibroswords.

Talin saw the opening as the center trooper lunged towards us, and he sliced out and down, catching the trooper’s arms and sword. He screamed as he fell to the ground, his arms and sword falling away from him.

I concentrated on my opponent, watching his eyes closely for any signals. He feinted a lunge and then threw a flurry of blows that initially pushed me back and forced me to counter with defensive moves that had my saber moving in a blur of light. I remembered to relax and let the Force flow, and I could start to feel what moves he was going to make just before he slashed or parried. He tried to swipe at my head. I blocked it, blades crackling, and sensed that he was going to swing his blade down towards my hip. I stepped to the side and his blade flew by millimeters from my leg. He never saw my blade hit him as it came down the side of his head into his shoulder. He collapsed in a heap at my feet.

Talin had finished off his other trooper a few moments before me, and we both looked around for other troopers. All of them were down, and most were beyond hope.

“Nice dodge after that last block. I could tell you were feeling what he was going to do next. Keep that up,” Talin said.

“My Padawan did well, eh?” Jolee said, joining us to look over our fallen troopers and catch his breath.

“No singed hair, either,” I added proudly.

“Great job. Don’t let your head swell up,” Jolee said.

Bernecki sliced the door to the next room. Inside were several troopers and a team of dark Jedi.

One of the dark Jedi stepped forward, lightsaber lit at his side, dangerously casual. “You’ve done enough damage for one day, I think. Your little mission is over. You’ve failed.”

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 12:24 AM
The Command Center

“I think the party’s just getting started. What do you think, Jae?” Jolee asked, as our lightsabers all ignited as one.

“I think they’re mad because we didn’t send out invitations. We’ll have to remember to do that next time.”

The dark Jedi’s face turned red with rage.

“Gentlemen, we’re more than willing to have you join us if you’d like,” Talin offered, projecting calm. “This doesn’t have to end up in a battle.”

One of other dark Jedi smiled thinly, the kind of self-satisfied, treacherous smile an assassin might use as he looks into the eyes of his prey while killing him. “I think they mock us, Master Xerel.” The quiet restraint of his tone warned me how dangerous he was.

“I think bringing their charred bodies to our Lord would make him very happy,” the third one said.

The dark master smiled as bolts of electricity snaked from his hands towards all of us. Talin and I repelled the electrical strike with our lightsabers, while Jolee deflected the current back towards the last dark Jedi who spoke, stunning him instantly.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the grenades that Bernecki and Geordel launched fly overhead towards the troopers behind the dark Jedi. Shrapnel exploded out, taking down several troopers before the firefight began in earnest, the two sides trading a hail of blaster fire as the smoke started to fill the air around us.

The two remaining dark Jedi charged us, hate emanating out in waves of heat. Talin and I took on the master while Jolee engaged the other one, their sabers whirling in a brilliant light show.

The dark master swiped sideways at us, and I jumped out of the way as Talin made the block and then tried to trap his blade. I slashed down to take advantage of the opening to his head, but he was too fast. He caught my saber with his in a shower of sparks. His blade slid down the edge of mine as he tried to clip my arm, but Talin attacked. Xerel had to break off to deflect Talin’s blade in time. I saw his open arm and lunged for him; Xerel whirled his blade to catch mine and almost stopped my progress. I nicked his shoulder, and he howled in pain and fury.

A fire ignited in his eyes, and he threw a flurry of blows, blindingly fast. Talin and I were pressed back by his aggression, both of us on the defensive parrying his attacks and simply trying to stay alive as the blaster fire flew around us.

I willed myself calm to allow the Force to flow better. A thin link formed between Talin and me as I concentrated, and it broadened to bridge our thoughts and feelings. I could feel the moves he was about to make against Xerel and adjusted my attacks. We stopped his press, and Talin took the offensive, swinging his blade with an efficient grace that prevented Xerel from finding any openings.

Just as Talin caught his blade against his, I lunged forward. Xerel was forced to step back to break the blade lock and parry my blow. Talin knew through the link where I would attack, and during the split-second opening that Xerel had, speared his lightsaber through the dark master's chest. Xerel’s eyes and mouth opened wide more in surprise than in pain, and then the life-light in his eyes went blank as he fell to the ground.

There was no time to rest. I turned around to see how Jolee was doing with the last dark Jedi, and our enemy was lying in a pile of robes on the ground, lifeless. Jolee had run over to help Bernecki and Geordel take on the Sith troopers.

Talin and I ran after them and entered the fray of shouts and lightsabers clashing against vibroswords. Our link stayed, and we fought together against the troopers, often times with one of us parrying a blow and the other driving in an attack before the trooper could free his blade to guard himself.
Geordel’s agonized scream ripped through all the other battle sounds, and I couldn’t help but look over at him as he collapsed, badly injured by a vibrosword strike.

“Focus. Stay on our target. We’ll help Geordel when we stop the troopers,” Talin said through the link.

I grit my teeth in concentration and tried to ignore the cries of pain. We all worked our way through the rest of the enemy fighters, and when they were all dead or incapacitated, I dashed over to help Geordel. He was lying on the ground in a pool of blood, shaking from the pain and shock.

Bernecki ran over to help his fellow soldier. “Oh, Force, Geordel, you have to hold on,” he said to the fallen man.

Geordel turned his pale face slowly to look at Bernecki. “I’m cold, sir.” He could only manage those few words in a broken voice.

“Shhh. Hold still. We’re here to help now,” I said in a soothing voice, placing a hand on his forehead and sending a healing force through him to stop the bleeding and mitigate some of the pain. Talin applied one of the lifepaks, and the kolto it contained helped stabilize his condition.

“That cold feeling will go away soon, son,” Jolee added. “You’re going to be OK.”

“We need to get him back to the ship,” I said.

“Blue 2-0, this is Blue 1,” Bernecki called to Gadaitis. “We have a casualty. I need several troops and the corpsman to section 1-5-6.”

“Blue 1, Blue 2-0 acknowledges troops and corpsman to 1-5-6. ETA 3 minutes. Out.”

“Blue 4-2, Blue 1.”

“Blue 4-2 here,” MacFinlay said. “We’re warming up to come get our buddy.”

“Hold till I give the order.”

“Aye, Blue 4-2 will hold position until orders to move are received. Just make it fast, please.”

“He never pays attention to my comm lectures,” Geordel smiled weakly.

Bernecki gave a small squeeze of encouragement to his uninjured arm. “When we get back, I’ll make sure he has to sit through a lesson, just you and him. It’ll be fun watching him squirm trying to sit still for more than half an hour.”

We waited the few minutes for the other team members to arrive.

Bernecki said, “We’ll take him to that spot just outside that first room. Once Sal’ton has all the charges in place, she’ll give us a fifteen-minute count. Then we’ll all evac out as a unit—we’ll have a better shot of making it across the open section that way.”

Jolee added, “We’re getting to the point where we Jedi should go it alone, Bernecki. We’ll meet you near the front of that building as soon as we get Sal’ton’s signal, if we aren’t busy. Don’t wait for us.”

“May the Force be with you, then,” Bernecki saluted.

The teammates rolled Geordel carefully onto the stretcher and lifted him away towards safety.

“If you both have any injuries, now’s the time to heal them,” Jolee advised, applying a medpak to himself. “Damn, but that dark Jedi I fought was one tough guy. Smart, too. Reminded me of Revan when he was storming the galaxy. But we don’t have time for stories right now. Like you could copy them down in the middle of a battle anyway.”

Talin and I exhaled.

“You don’t have to sigh that loud in relief, you know. At least wait till I turn around so you can do it behind my back,” Jolee snorted in mock annoyance. He tapped on the datapad, pulling up the schematics of the building. “Looks like we have one more section before we get to Miraxton’s quarters. Let’s get moving.”

We stood to the side as Talin tapped the control to open the doors. We peered around the corner of the doors. The long, sunlit corridor was empty, except for someone lying on the floor, a victim of the Scourge. The unmistakable scent wafted towards us.

“I’ll never get used to this kind of senseless evil. The Sith have many ways to kill, but this is one of the most cruel I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty,” Jolee said, shaking his head.

The victim moaned and moved a bit before falling silent again.

“Oh, Force. He’s alive! Jolee, we have to save him!” I called out and started to move down the corridor.

Talin and Jolee each grabbed one of my arms.

“What are you doing?”

“Wouldn’t be a trap now, would it?” Jolee asked Talin, a wicked glint in his eyes.

Talin replied, “No, not at all. Who’d expect a Sith Lord who’s a spy to be sneaky and plant traps?”

“I hope you’re wrong,” I said to both of them, frowning, but knowing they likely were right and that I nearly had done something very foolish.

“So do I. However, none of us wants to find out the hard way if I’m right,” Talin said, looking at me with warmth, and a touch of…fear?

“I’ll be more careful. Promise,” I told him, giving his hand a squeeze.

“How about you two quit making moony eyes at each other and help me find the damn traps—ah, I think I found it. Or rather, them.”

I squinted, looking down the corridor, trying to find anything unusual. Jolee went back and picked up the empty lifepak container.

“Stand back,” he said. He tossed the package at a particular spot on the floor about eight meters away, halfway between the Scourge victim and us.

It landed on the floor, and the floor exploded, sending the remnants of the shredded lifepak and shrapnel in all directions. We were far enough away not to get hit, as was the victim.

“‘I’m just a new floor tile, not a plastic explosive or anything,’” Jolee said in a falsetto, reaching down carefully to one of the floor tiles that was slightly shinier than the others. He concentrated through the Force, and I heard a click. He lifted the tile, and underneath was a pressure sensitive explosive device.

“Good catch. Where’d you get that line?” I asked.

“Some movie. Hilarious one. It’s about this guy trying to get some tunnel animal out of his lawn. I saw the new floor tiles and realized they’d just laid these things down, and the only reason could be to lay traps. At least they’re not hard to disarm.”

We searched the rest of the corridor, top to bottom, looking for any other surprises. Once I stretched out through the Force, the energy signatures of the floor mines started to shimmer slightly, just at the very edge of my sight.

“The mines are there, there, and there,” I said, pointing out all the dangerous tiles. “I don’t see or feel anything else,” I said.

“Neither do I,” said Talin.

“Looks clean except for all these little bomblets in the floor. Let’s disable these fast so we can get down to the poor guy,” Jolee said, finally seeming satisfied that nothing else posed a danger.

“It’s possible that he’s booby-trapped,” Talin warned.

“Wouldn’t put it past Miraxton to do that. Jae, go around the tiles and see if you can help, but don’t move him at all. Try to touch him as little as possible. I’ll check him over carefully before we pick him up in case Miraxton’s left us another nasty little present.”

I picked my way rapidly around the mined tiles, which had been laid out to be in the spots where we would have most likely walked.

“Please, don’t hurt me anymore,” the man moaned as I approached. His face was so swollen and cracked that he couldn’t see.

Something in his voice registered, and I scanned my memory, trying to place it.

“Jaxin? I'm not going to hurt you. I’m the Jedi who helped you with your arm.”

If Jaxin had been able to cry, he would have. He said in a broken voice, “Leave, ma’am, please. Miraxton’s back there. I don’t want you to end up like this. You’re too nice.”

“I’m here to help, Jaxin. Hush now. You have to save your strength.”

The Force flowed as I concentrated, and the healing started.

“I’m dying. Leave me.”

“You’re not going to die.”

Concentrating on all the techniques I’d learned from the holocron, I started to counteract the effects, but he had been lying there for some time after being struck down. I found him fading faster than I could keep up with the healing. I pulled out the stim that Master Supat had given to all three of us. Master Vrook’s warning about Jedi risking themselves unnecessarily floated through my thoughts, but I shook off that image. Looking at the stim and then back at Jaxin, I scanned his body for a big enough patch of skin to inject it.

“Jae, don’t!” Talin called out. I heard him run towards me.

I found a spot and applied the stim. Nothing happened.

“What are you doing?” Talin asked, a flash of anger flaring on his face. “You’ll be in more danger fighting Miraxton now. You needed to keep that stim!”

“He had no chance without it. I had to try. I couldn’t let him die and neither could you, Talin,” I answered, closing my eyes once more in concentration and trying the healing techniques again. I smiled as the drain of his life force stopped, and his body started to heal.

“It’s working!” I cried out.

Jolee finished his work with the floor mines and joined us to evaluate Jaxin. With our combined healing, his condition started to stabilize rapidly, though he would still need extensive treatment.

“Not bad. Old Supat knows what he’s doing. He’ll be happy to hear that it’s working so well. Jae, you sure you had to do that?” Jolee looked at me, searching my intent.

“He had no chance any other way,” I insisted. “At least we know it works.”

Jolee took a few steps away to call Bernecki for the corpsmen once more.

Talin pulled out his stim. “You have to take this one,” he urged, holding out his hand.

Closing his fingers back around the stim and putting my hands around his, I looked at him and told him quietly, “No. If my vision is right, you’re going to need it. You have to keep it, and I won’t take it, no matter how much you insist.”

I pushed the hand with the stim back to him gently.

“And I’m not taking yours, either, Jolee, so don’t even bother,” I said, as I saw him reach for his. “I’m the one who has the healing techniques down best. I’ve practically lived with that damn holocron the last couple weeks, you know.”

Jolee snorted and then grinned. “True. You said in your vision your hands were Scourged, though. You need to keep this stim.”

“The vision also shows it’s not spreading. Whatever happens, it must have been a mild hit, because it stops there. You’re the one that’s down, Jolee. If you don’t keep yours, I’ll be worrying about it the whole battle. You don’t want me distracted, now do you?”

“Don’t give me that coy look, missy. You shouldn’t be worrying, anyway—that’s a sign of fear.”

“I see you lying on the ground, Jolee. You won’t have any way to escape his attack. You have to keep it, and you know it.”

Jolee grumbled, “I hate it when young people think logically. I don’t like this idea one bit.”

“I’m right, and you know it. If it comes down to me or you, you have a better chance of taking him out. I’m not going to take it anyway, even if you order me to.”

Jolee had just enough time to say, “Humph! We'll see about that,” before Bernecki arrived with a small group of soldiers, including the corpsman.

We searched Jaxin carefully for any booby-traps, and found none.

"We're lucky he's arrogant enough to think the tiles would do the job," Jolee commented.

“Sal’ton’s about three-quarters done,” Bernecki informed us as we all helped put Jaxin on the litter and the corpsman continued the treatment we had started.

“Miraxton’s past that door,” I said. “I don’t think we’re going to be too long.”

“You all stay safe. We don’t need any more casualties. Captain would be very upset if I don’t bring you back safe, ma’am.”

“Captain would get very upset if someone looked at me the wrong way for a millisecond, Bernecki. But I’ll keep that in mind.”

Bernecki grinned for a moment before he returned to a more serious look. “We’ll see you shortly after you get rid of that fregging schutta, then. Strike him once for me and everyone else he tried to screw over.”

“Get in, get him, and get out. Got it,” Jolee said.

“Yes, sir, you do.”

“We’ll be along as fast as we can. Now get him out of here. We can’t go forward until you’re gone and in a safe place,” Jolee ordered.

I wiped my sweaty palms on my robe and meditated briefly on the Jedi Code to calm my beating heart as they hurried off, carrying Jaxin. I could feel Miraxton behind the door, his evil presence extending even this far out.

Jolee looked at both of us. “Clear your minds of any worry, anger, and fear. Peace and calm. Concentrate. He’s strong, but there are three of us. All our skills complement each other. Together we are more powerful than three separate Jedi, and we’re certainly more powerful than he is. We know his strengths and weaknesses, and we have our little surprises on our side. Now we all know what to do, and we’re going to do it well and get out of here. Am I clear?”

“Yes,” Talin answered.

I breathed deeply and released the anxiety. “Yes, Jolee.”

“What are we waiting for, then? Let’s go get him. We’re not getting any younger, you know.”

We positioned ourselves, and Jolee opened the door to Miraxton’s quarters.

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 12:29 AM
The Battle With Miraxton


The door slid open slowly, almost as if it was reluctant to admit us into Miraxton’s quarters. Miraxton was facing away from us with his hands lightly clasped together behind his back, standing at the window in a casual stance. I couldn’t decide if that was because he truly felt confident enough to turn his back against three Jedi or if he was using it as a subtle psychological ploy.

“Welcome,” he said in an even voice, as if he’d just invited us in to share coffee. “You’ve made a great effort to come to me today.” He slowly turned around to face us. He peered at each of us with his amber eyes, trying to impale us with a mere gaze.

“You haven’t made it easy for us,” Jolee replied. “The tile trap was quite ingenious. My Padawan nearly became splatter on the ceiling.”

Miraxton smiled thinly and chuckled to himself. “Yes, I rather liked that one. Jedi always want to help, you see. And I knew your Padawan would be unable to resist the urge to try to heal poor Jaxin.”

“Why did you do that? What did Jaxin do to you?” I asked.

Miraxton shifted his gaze slowly from Jolee to me. “Why, nothing at all, my dear. He just happened to be the slowest of the mercenaries I sent out to greet you.”

I forced back the bile that started to rise up my throat. “How can you do such a vicious thing?”

“Steady,” Talin thought to me through our link. “He’s just trying to throw you off balance. Concentrate on his stance, his demeanor, and the way he moves, not his words.”

“Vicious? Hardly. I bore no malice towards Jaxin. He simply was unfortunate enough to be there. My former master preached utilizing one’s assets as fully as possible, and he would have been pleased by my efficiency. Sadly, he’s not here to see that.”

“What a surprise,” Jolee said sarcastically. “A Sith Lord dying at the hands of his apprentice.”

“That’s so pedestrian. Chilopos died when his ship was destroyed. He was flying into Nar Shaddaa to meet with some Hutts. Somehow the Navy got information that he would be there, and they attempted to capture him. An ensign misread a sensor, and the Navy thought his weapons were powering up when he was standing down. These things happen from time to time, you see.” The thin smile widened as a smug look crept into his eyes.

“I can tell you were deeply affected by the loss. You must have spent hundreds on funeral flowers. I suppose that ensign got removed from duty for that. Did they ever find the sensor you rewired?” Jolee shook his head in disgust. “Betraying someone under your command to further your ambitions. How very Sith.”

Miraxton’s chuckle chilled the air. “Betrayal, eh? I’ve studied your career quite carefully, Jolee. Hypocrisy was never mentioned as one of your traits. I suppose there’s always a first time.”

He pressed a button and a holovid played. It showed Jolee sending off a data chip to Coruscant. I looked over at Talin and saw his set lips and the anger sparking in his eyes. The fury rose in me and made my face redden with its heat. I allowed it to build.

“I arranged to get a copy of that data chip. It showed a rather passionate evening between Talin and your Padawan, Jolee. I wondered why someone would want to send that to the Jedi temple, and I could only conclude that it was betrayal.”

Jolee looked at the holovid looping through the action repeatedly as if Miraxton was hammering on the point. “Remarkable likeness. My compliments to the actor. Or did you find some footage somewhere and slice me into the spot where your lackey was?”

I poked my finger in Jolee’s chest and went nearly nose-to-nose with him, shaking in outrage. “I knew it. You sent that holovid and turned us into the Jedi Council. You were the reason the Council wants Talin and me to leave the Order. Of course, we’re supposed to help you take out a Sith Lord and then leave, so you can get all the glory. You betrayed me, you lying piece of bantha schutta.”

“Jae, calm down. You’re giving in to your anger,” Talin urged.

“I didn’t send it, Jae, and you know that,” Jolee insisted. “You need to get control of your emotions, Padawan.”

“Padawan? I’m no longer a Padawan, because I no longer have a master,” I fumed. I pulled out a small dagger and cut off my Padawan braid. I threw it down and ground it into the floor with my boot. “When Vrook showed all three of us that holovid, you even pretended to act sad when they pronounced their sentence and ordered us to leave after this mission. How dare you act like you weren’t responsible. I suppose now you think you’ll get a place on the Council, old man.”

He took my hand in both of his, and looked at me with his deep brown eyes. “Come on. You know it’s all Sith lies. I didn’t send it, and I’m sure not doing anything to get on the Council."

Something stung on my arm momentarily. I glanced down. Jolee had palmed the stim when I wasn’t looking and had just injected me with it. He flashed a wink so subtly, only I could see it. I allowed a look of dismay to break through before I immediately put my hard face back on.

Glaring at him, I said, “That’s right. You’re not going to do anything to get on the Council. I’m going to make sure of that right now.”

I gathered my Force strength, and with a wave of my hand, I sent Jolee flying. He crashed into a wall and then fell to the ground in a heap. He was very still. Slowly, I walked over to him and knelt to feel for a pulse.

“Jae! What are you doing?”

I stood up and looked over at Miraxton. “He’s dead,” I declared, and then I was able to let the anger flow out to let the calm return. Turning to Talin, I continued, “I’m preventing him from betraying any other Jedi.”

Talin just stood there, eyes wide and jaw slack in amazement.

Miraxton’s surprise and pleasure played across his face. “What a very interesting turn of events. When I saw the holovid, Jae, I knew you were a woman of passion. Obviously, I underestimated how deeply that passion runs.”

“You don’t know me at all."

Miraxton ignored the edge of warning in my voice. He sauntered towards me, and I found myself suddenly unable to move, gripped by his stasis field.

“I know you quite well, my dear. Perhaps better than you think,” he said, circling around me once. He stopped, facing me, and smiled. He fingered a lock of hair that had escaped from the band holding it off my face. “Such a lovely color. I wonder what it looks like loose. I bet Talin likes it loose, cascading over your bare skin.”

He untied the band and my hair tumbled down.

I felt the anger rising in Talin.

I thought to him, “Calm, Talin. He’s trying to bait you. He’s not going to do anything. I’m fine.”

“He does and he’ll find a lightsaber up his--”

“Talin!” I smiled slightly, which was about as much movement as I could make besides breathing while in the stasis field. “He’s all talk. ‘There is no emotion....’”

“There is peace.” He exhaled his ire.

Miraxton misinterpreted my smile as pleasure at the touch of his hand running through my hair.

“I see you enjoy that,” he said. He had the look of a voracious panther. While still peering at my face, he said, “Tell me, Talin, do you think when she’s my apprentice that she and I will share that passion, too?”

Talin and I both heard the tiny beep from our comlinks. Bernecki was giving everyone the 15-minute count.

“You not going to have a chance to find out. You won’t leave here alive.”

Miraxton ignored Talin’s answer. He slid his hand slowly from my hair all the way down to my waist and pulled me in hard against him. He locked his amber eyes with mine once more as a small smirk played across his lips. “I won’t even have to use force, Talin. She’ll beg.” When he saw the anger in my eyes, he just laughed. “You don’t believe me. Let me give you a little taste, my dear.”

He tipped up my chin and placed a kiss on my lips that was curiously soft even in its power. There was some reason for that, and I searched. I reminded him of…a woman he had loved? I followed that faintest thread of light through the twisted morass of darkness that was Miraxton, past the hate, the murders, the anger, and even the hurt. The flash of insight startled me.

“He is not going to get away with that,” Talin thought. “While his hands are occupied I’m going to attack.” He tensed in preparation for his attack.

“I think they’re probably occupied enough, dear.”

I felt Miraxton’s arm shift at the same time Talin made a dash towards him, lightsaber glowing.

“Watch out, Talin!” I told him through our link.

The duel had begun.

Talin stepped slightly to the side at my warning, and Miraxton’s thrust towards his chest missed him by less than the thickness of spider silk. Talin’s lightsaber swung around and clashed against Miraxton’s in a sizzle of sparks. They circled away from me, trading attacks and parries.

I concentrated, and the iron grip of the stasis field broke. Igniting my lightsaber, I ran at the pair, taking a powerful swipe at Miraxton just as he tried to attack Talin. Miraxton broke off his lunge at Talin to block my attack. He looked almost disappointed that I was fighting alongside Talin, but the hard gleam of hate returned to his eyes, and he stepped forward, sliding his blade along mine and pushing it away as he thrust his blade toward my heart.

I jumped back to escape the attack while Talin countered with another whirl of his blade, trying to take advantage of the opening. The tip of his blade caught Miraxton on his cheek, and while it was a very minor wound, it infuriated him. He jumped and used his momentum to bring his blade crashing down on Talin’s head.

Talin blocked high, but the power in Miraxton’s attack pushed both their blades down, threatening to slice down into Talin’s head. I threw my blade up to help Talin keep Miraxton from pushing down further. The blades stopped dropping and we held that position for long moments, arms shaking in our efforts to break the stalemate.

The link between Talin and me strengthened again, and we coordinated our attacks. Talin disengaged his blade and dodged while I whirled mine in the opposite direction, both of us trying to catch Miraxton on his flanks. Miraxton jumped back. He caught Talin’s blade with his as my attack swished through the air, missing him. His anger and frustration drove him to make fierce attacks, and it took every bit of energy for both of us to counter the power of his blade as it pounded against our sabers in loud crackles. We traded blows back and forth, sparks flying everywhere, dancing sabers carrying the promise of death at any moment.

Then Miraxton saw the opening. He caught my lightsaber with his, and I pushed against the blade, trying to break the lock. He shifted his lightsaber abruptly, and my blade shot out away from him as he swirled his blade to attack Talin. Talin parried the attack. Miraxton held that parry and gave me a brutal kick in the stomach that threw me back several feet and knocked the breath out of me. I curled up on the ground in pain, trying to catch even the tiniest bit of air for a few minutes until my stunned lungs could recover.

Talin and Miraxton continued to trade blows, circling and whirling their blades, the loud hums of the lightsabers echoing throughout the quarters. They locked their weapons together once more. I saw the little wave of the fingers on one of his hands, and Talin went flying back. He hit the ground with a loud thud and lay still. I was relieved when I saw him take a breath.

Miraxton saw it, too, and took a step towards Talin to finish him off. I scrambled to my feet to try to cut him off before he could reach Talin.

“Tell me who Constance is,” I yelled across the room.

Miraxton stopped. He turned abruptly to glare at me, eyes narrowed. “How do you know about Constance?”

“Tell me who she is,” I insisted, taking slow steps towards him.

“I never want to hear you speak her name again! You couldn't possibly be worthy enough to say her name,” His knuckles were white as he gripped the lightsaber and pointed it at me. He shook with fury.

“She’s the reason you’re what you are today. You were just a young boy when you watched her murder. Who killed her? The Exchange? The Hutts? Or was it Chilopos himself?”

Had I not put a mental block up, Miraxton’s howl of pained rage would have flattened me.

I pressed the questions. “Who killed her, Miraxton? Who gutted her while you were hiding behind the pantry door, praying they wouldn’t smell your fear or see the puddle on the floor when you wet yourself? Who butchered her so badly that you could hardly recognize your grandmother when they finished?”

“The Hutts killed her, the bloody sons of fracking schuttas,” he screamed.

The fragile constructs in his mind connecting him to reality were starting to break down as he relived the long-suppressed memories.

He took a moment to collect himself and then continued in a more normal tone of voice, “Chilopos heard my cry through the Force and arrived while they were still hacking on her, even though she was dead. He cut them down in seconds, and when the authorities came, he told them the Hutts had killed her and the Exchange had killed the Hutts in a gang fight. Mind tricks work very well on the unsuspecting.”

“What did Chilopos do?”

“Chilopos found me in the pantry and took me in. He saw my Force potential and made arrangements for me to be trained by the Jedi. We would meet now and then and discuss how I would get my revenge and how I could hide my true feelings from the Jedi. Jedi, just like everyone else, see what they want to see many times. They wanted to see a smart but compliant child, and I showed them that side.”

“But then you killed a Hutt one day.”

“I killed many Hutts, and I killed anyone in the Exchange who tried to collaborate with them. Chilopos fed me the information until I learned enough intelligence techniques from my Bothan master to find it myself. He made sure to teach me Force techniques that the Jedi would never teach so that I could avenge her one day—one of the filthy giant slugs for every cut they gave my grandmother. I still have hundreds left to go.”

“And then you had a lightsaber duel with a Padawan who happened to also be a Hutt.”

“I killed him. At that point, I left the Order and joined Chilopos as his apprentice.”

“I don’t understand why you joined the Navy.”

“It’s very simple. If I control enough ships, I can destroy Nal Hutta. With the combined ships of the Navy and the Exchange, I command enough fire power to take out any planet I want. Then the slimy quivering bags of schutta will finally be exterminated. Join me, Jae. Join me and I'll show you what power and control really is.”

“You need to know something,” I said to him in a quiet voice.

“There’s nothing more I need to know except how many more of those Hutts I have to kill before they’re extinct.”

“The Council found a record of Chilopos meeting with Hutt bounty hunters just before your grandmother died. They never found out who he had put the death mark on. Now I know it was your grandmother. Chilopos ordered her death and made sure you were there to see every last stab that they made. You must have suspected, too. That’s when you had his ship blasted out of space. You did it because you knew he was the one guilty of your grandmother’s death.”

A tidal wave of both sonic and psychic sound crashed in all directions as he screamed his pain and hate at both the Hutts and Chilopos. The brittle grasp he had on sanity strained with his howls.

He drew up his Force strength, and streams of a greenish-yellow light flew from his hands. It hit me, and the pain nearly dropped me to my knees. I gasped as my hands started to blister and the skin began to crack as the Force Scourge took effect. My mind scrambled to find the defense techniques just to stop the agonizing fire burning through my hands. It was all I could do to keep hold of my lightsaber. The blistering got only as far as my wrists before the defenses and the stim were fully active, but the pain was overwhelming enough to make me nearly want to cut off my hands. The streams kept flowing, but the effects went no further.

“Oh, no, Jae!” I heard Talin yell. I realized he hadn’t seen what Jolee had done with his stim.

“NO! Talin, don’t do it!”

Talin launched himself into the air, throwing himself between Miraxton and me in an effort to break up the stream between us. The Scourge hit him full force, and he dropped to the ground, breaking out in the lesions, skin splitting everywhere. His throat was so cracked he couldn’t even scream. The stim flew out of his hand and clattered away. He could only lay on the ground, quivering as the pain coursed through him.

Miraxton picked up the stim. “What’s this?” He started laughing. “Stims don’t work. I know, I’ve tested them many times.” He tossed it down on the ground, like so much garbage, and then looked at me again. “You must have studied the holocron extensively to protect yourself like that. Too bad your precious Talin was too foolish to do the same. When he dies, you will be mine.”

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 01:32 AM
The Vision and Miraxton

Even through all his agony, Talin sensed my worry for him. “Relax, Jae. I took the stim.”

The relief was nearly overwhelming. “Thank the Force. The defense techniques will work. Concentrate on them, and the pain will decrease.”

I wanted to bend down to help him so badly my heart ached, but I had to turn away to focus on my adversary before he destroyed us.

“It’s not just an ordinary stim,” I told Miraxton. It took very little of the Force to make it fly into my hand. “It combats the Scourge. We’ve found a way to stop you and your horrible attacks.”

He attacked as I feinted a move towards Talin with the stim. I dropped it to put both hands on my lightsaber, preparing for the first powerful strike. I slipped to the side a bit and parried his blow. His lightsaber glanced off mine, sliding off to the side. I swung around to slash at his open side. He twisted to stop my blade and then launched a blinding series of attacks that forced me back as our sabers flashed and snapped with each blow. Our blades locked in front of each other, and we circled, trying to find each other’s openings and weaknesses.

“Chilopos was the one who killed your grandmother, not the Hutts. You already killed him. You don’t have to avenge her anymore. The fleet is coming in to stop the Exchange ships that manage to make it through our attacks.”

Miraxton sneered, “I don’t care who was responsible anymore. The Hutts are a plague. The galaxy will be a much better place without them.” What was left of his connection with sanity began to crumble.

“The Republic won’t let you exterminate an entire species. Neither will the Navy.”

“How you underestimate me. Not all of the Navy swears allegiance to the Republic. I have friends in influential posts, and I’ve managed to see that sentients loyal to me captain a good number of those ships. Admiral Dodonna is going to have quite a surprise when some of them suddenly turn and start attacking her. Your precious Uncle Carth is first on the list.”

I swallowed hard as the despair sank heavy in my stomach, threatening to make me ill.

“Concentrate, Jae. Now he’s baiting you.” Talin noted. I could still feel the intensity of his pain, but it was improving slightly.

“You won’t be around to give the order for them to attack."

Miraxton made a little laugh, darkness somehow coloring even that. “My fleet knows what to do, and I’ve already given the order. You see, I anticipated that Carth would call in the fleet to take out my forces down here.” His hungry amber eyes locked on mine once more. “You’re not strong enough to kill me, Jae. And I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to turn you. We will destroy the Hutts and make the galaxy in our own image. I might even make you my wife.”

I grimaced at that thought. “You really are delusional. You might take me, but it won’t be alive.”

His eyes darkened with rage. “I will take you whatever way I please. If I want you to kneel and kiss the floor at my feet before you pleasure me, I will make you do it. You will be unable to resist me.”

He gave a furious push with his lightsaber, and I fell back on the floor. I rolled out of the way just as he slammed his blade down on the floor behind me. I jumped to my feet and immediately had to leap over his lightsaber as he swung the blade low, trying to strike me while I was still on the ground. I kicked hard while still in the air, catching him under the chin and sending him flying back. He landed on the ground with a loud grunt but was immediately on his feet again, screaming his rage as I rushed in for the attack. I lunged, and he blocked it and circled his blade, trying to lock up my saber and pull it out of my hands. He had stopped thinking and started to throw fierce blows randomly. I dodged and blocked, fighting fatigue as the blows rained down relentlessly.

“Use the Force, Jae. He’s reverting to Xi-ro,” Talin thought to me. He sent the tiny bit of strength he could through our link, and though it was not much, the encouragement alone helped bolster my strength and resolve.

Miraxton slashed and lunged as he began the pattern of the form. I nearly missed the initial blocks because of his speed, but I caught up and began to anticipate his moves. Our blades continued to swirl and then crash together in loud hums and snaps. My heart raced as I recognized the pattern from the vision, but I had to put the vision aside to concentrate just to survive each slicing attack.

He swung his blade around to try to hit me in the head, and I threw up my blade to catch his saber in front of me. He circled the blade down. I parried and tried to slide my blade up his to stab him in the chest. He stepped back and caught my blade before I could hit him. He went for my head again and I blocked.

"Join me, Jae. Join me or die."

I felt his attempt to draw my mind to his, trying to claw at the inside of my head to force me to his side. I fought it, pushing back against his will, pushing him back out of my mind.

"No."

He made a move to strike my legs, and I snapped the blade down to catch his.

It was a feint.

He dropped his blade slightly but then whirled it up above his head. My blade was still traveling down. I had no time to bring my lightsaber up to block him, and no room to dodge out of the way.

“NO!” Talin could hardly cry out loud, but I heard the psychic wail as he saw what was happening and realized I was going to be cut down.

“I love you,” I thought to him.

A violet lightsaber whirled through the air.

Miraxton’s eyes widened in surprise, and he looked up. I followed his gaze. Jolee’s lightsaber had severed his hands at the wrists, and they fell away, the lightsaber extinguishing itself automatically.

I took a deep breath, relief pouring through.

He looked back at me, pain filling his eyes and the hurt pinching his face. He cocked his head at me and said, “You lied to me. You said he was dead.”

I winced as I felt his sanity shatter. He roared in torment and struck out blindly with the Scourge. The spring-green waves shot out, deadly in their beauty. I fought through his Force attack and drove my blade in and up, hitting him in the hip and slicing all the way through to his opposite shoulder.

The screaming and all the streams of green light stopped simultaneously, extinguished by Miraxton’s mortal wound. He tried to take a breath but could only manage one more gasp. He collapsed, dead before he ever hit the ground. I could only stand there, trying to catch my breath and shaking with fatigue.

When I looked over to Talin, Jolee was already there, employing his healing techniques.

“Come on, Jae. I know you’re exhausted, but we only have about five more minutes before this place blows. Help me get him healed enough so he can get up.”

Both of us concentrated, trying to counteract the effects of the Scourge before the lack of time forced us to haul Talin to his feet. We put him between us, one arm over each of our shoulders, and half-jogged, half-dragged him towards the front of the building. Talin grit his teeth against the agony and put all the effort he had into just moving his feet along with us.

“Nice piece of acting there, Jae. You almost had me believing you were mad at me, and I’m the one who made up the whole damn thing,” Jolee said, breathing heavy as we moved down the corridors.

“The braid thing--perfect,” Talin said, his voice croaking but starting to return.

"I was worried that cutting it off might be a little over the top. It came to me right then, but I thought it might just work.”

“Oh, it worked, all right. Remind me to nominate you for Best Actress at the next Holovid Awards.”

As we approached the rendezvous point in the building, Bernecki saw the three of us and signaled to his team for another stretcher. We dropped Talin onto it as gently as we could.

“Move, people, now! This place is going up in 2 minutes!” Bernecki shouted at everyone. “Everyone not carrying a stretcher, surround those who are and lay down suppressive fire. I don’t want to see one single Exchange head popping up, and if one does, you better take it off.”

We dashed out of the building, and streams of blaster bolts started flying all around us. The soldiers on the team laid down such a heavy layer of fire I almost couldn’t see separate bolts anymore. An entire squad of Exchange mercenaries dropped, taken out by the furious shooting, their shouts no longer contributing to all the battle noise. Smoke and dirt plumed in the air as the grenades hit the ground or their targets and exploded.

MacFinlay was just setting the shuttle down, and Yutan manned the large guns on the shuttle to provide extra cover fire while we ran across the field.
We clattered onto the shuttle and secured the injured. I went back to the entrance with a blaster to cover the soldiers still pouring into the shuttle. Bernecki was the last to jump up the ramp.

“Everyone’s on. Go, go, go!” Bernecki shouted forward to MacFinlay.

MacFinlay took off before the hatch had even started to close. Bernecki and I kneeled and stayed at the opening to shoot any Exchange troopers that might try to attack us.

The shuttle jerked as MacFinlay dodged a rocket grenade. “Strap in and hold on tight, boys and girls!” he called back to all of us.

The shuttle rocked again as MacFinlay banked sharply to avoid another explosion. Bernecki lost his balance and slipped out the hatch opening. The tether caught him, and he swung around furiously in the whipping winds as the shuttle accelerated.

“MacFinlay!” I called out. “Lower the hatch! Bernecki can’t get back in!”

“Hatch is jammed. I think the tether’s caught,” he yelled back.

I looked down, and the line keeping Bernecki connected to the shuttle was stuck in the hatch opening. I pulled out my lightsaber, ignited it, and leaned out the opening.

“I'm not letting you go. Grab my arm. I have to cut the line!” I yelled, trying to be heard over the wind. My hair whipped around and I could hardly catch my breath because of the speed.

“Just let me go so the hatch can shut! If I grab on, you’ll fly out, too.”

“Trust me! If I can take out a Sith Lord, I can haul you back into a shuttle!”

He took my arm. I sliced through the cord, and used the Force to pull him up over the opening and back on the ship. The tether released and the hatch was able to shut. We both fell to the deck, breathing hard.

The command center blew up a few seconds later. I heard the boom even through the armor of the shuttle. I thought about Miraxton’s body being there in the middle of the fireball, and it brought me no joy. Instead, there was only relief that such a tormented soul could no longer torture anyone else, and that the battle was over.

After lying there a minute to catch our breath, Bernecki said, “Ma’am, you can be on my team anytime.”

“Thanks, Bernecki.” He helped me up off the deck and then took a hard look at my hands, turning them over briefly to make sure there were no serious injuries.

“Fa-meng!” Bernecki called aft.

“Sir!”

“Make sure you take care of her hands. And don’t take ‘no’ for an answer from her!”

“Yes, sir!”

Bernecki looked back at me and grinned. “Captain said the Onasi women can be stubborn sometimes, ma’am.”

“The Onasi men are just as bad.”

“If anyone says I agree with you, I’ll be required to deny it, of course."

“As soon as we can get good communication, we have to let Captain know that Miraxton said the fleet’s compromised.”

“What?” Bernecki said, face darkening with anger.

I told him what Miraxton had said during our duel.

“I’ll let him know as soon as we can get a secure line. Now go aft and let Fa-Meng take care of those hands. Ma’am.”

Jolee and one of the corpsmen were working on Talin. He looked terrible, blisters still covering the skin, but he was beginning to show signs of healing.

“You look a little better, dear” I said to him.

“Not enough to escape the kolto tank. I despise the taste of kolto.” His voice was still a bit hoarse, but at least his throat had healed enough to have a voice.

“I’m just glad you’re OK. I wanted to help you so bad when Miraxton hit you.”

“Jae, you took him out. That was a whole lot more help than anything else. By the way,” he stopped for a moment.

“What is it?” I asked, concerned that something was wrong when he stopped talking.

“I love you, too.”

Jolee smiled at that one and then said, “Talin, I’ve gotten about as far as I can. We’ll get you and Jae back to the ship and then to Telos station where Master Supat is. You two will be up and smooching in no time.”

“When you put it that way, Jolee, I’m feeling better already."

“You men!” I snorted, sitting down to let Fa-Meng treat my hands.

He applied the medpak, and the kolto in it started to heal up the raw areas of skin. Jolee sat down next to me. I rested my head back, closed my eyes, and breathed out a sigh, as much from the pain relief as from the fatigue.

“Our ruse worked pretty well, didn’t it?” I smiled. “How did you know he was going to have a holovid like that?”

“I didn’t right away. I ran into my ‘double’ in one of the cantinas when I was searching for De’Layn. He didn’t see me, thank goodness, and at the time I thought it just was an odd coincidence. However, I filed that away because ‘odd coincidences’ and the Force working its way usually end up being the same. When the vid of Talin and you showed up at the Jedi Temple, I put two and two together and came up with an educated guess. I would have figured out some other way to get ‘dropped’ if he hadn’t played that vid of ‘me’ sending off the transmission. Maybe a heart attack or something, since I’m so old, you know.”

He rolled his eyes, and I smiled again.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

He made a show of rubbing the back of his head. “Not too bad, but I’ll definitely feel it tomorrow.”

“About that stim—I thought I told you I wasn’t going to take it.”

“I exercised my prerogative as your master to override your decision. I was the only one in the vision not hit with the Scourge. It made sense for you to get it instead.”

“I suppose you were right.”

“Of course I was right. I’m the only one running around without any blisters decorating my skin.”

“I’m just glad you got that lightsaber throw in perfectly. I thought I was dead.”

“Believe me, I was watching very carefully. Vrook would never forgive me if I allowed something to happen to you. Besides, I’ve gotten rather used to having you around. You’re a good fighter and a good friend.”

I smiled. “Thanks. I’ve grown rather fond of you, too.”

We enjoyed a few moments in quiet. Fa-meng finished the treatment and went over to see if the corpsmen needed more help.

I started to think about the report we’d have to give to the Council. “I don’t know if the Council will ever believe that we play-acted sections of a vision. That has to be a first in Jedi history.”

“We’re a ground-breaking team, that’s for sure,” Jolee replied.

“Then we have to deal with the relationship between Talin and me.”

Jolee gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze as he got up. “There’s plenty of time to think about that after we all get a little rest. Besides, if you can deal with a Sith Lord, taking on the Council will be a piece of cake. And you have me in your corner.”

“Refresh my memory—is having you in my corner good or bad?” I grinned.

Jolee affected a look of disdain and sniffed. “You young people are never grateful.”

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 01:37 AM
A Question of Loyalty

“What do you mean, we can’t raise the Osprey?” Bernecki asked Yutan.

“I’m getting chatter from the other strike teams, sir, but I can’t reach the Osprey. Her communications system is out,” Yutan said.

Jolee and I looked at each other when we overheard that and went forward. Yutan tried to contact the ship once more.

Bernecki said to MacFinlay, “Tell me if we’ve got enough fuel to make it to Telos station. We may have to fly in there if we can’t dock with our ship.”

“What’s the situation, Bernecki?” Jolee asked.

“Comm appears to be down. We don’t know why. Since Miraxton had been on board for quite awhile before we figured out the schutta was a traitor, sabotage or even mutiny has crossed my mind.” He looked over at me, sad eyes softening his normally hard features. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I hope nothing’s happened to Captain.”

I closed my eyes and concentrated. “He’s not in distress. It feels like he’s still in charge.” I opened my eyes again. “I wish I could give you better information, Bernecki, but we’re too far away for me to sense anything more.”

Bernecki looked from MacFinlay to Yutan and back to us. “Options?”

MacFinlay frowned, “I’m not sure we’ll have enough fuel to get to Telos station, and I don’t want to try to coast in on fumes with casualties needing care. If Captain’s fine, then we want to get to the ship.”

“MacFinlay, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you play it safe,” Bernecki said.

“Hopefully the last, too, but our fuel is just too low. If we were all fine, we could take that chance. If we ran out of fuel, we’d sit around for a while until someone came to help. The injured can’t wait, sir. I sure don’t want to be a sitting duck if Dodonna comes in with some wolves in sheep’s clothing, too. We’re not going to lose anyone while I’m flying, thank you.”

“Understood. Yutan?”

He pressed on an earpiece, straining to hear anything from Carth’s ship. “I’m still not getting anything. It’s not looking good, sir.”

“Do you Jedi have any suggestions?”

“If Carth’s not in distress, then I think we have to go to the ship. The only problem we’ll have is getting their attention so we can get back on board,” I said.

“Not a problem,” Jolee said with a wide smile. “Mik’oth and I had something similar happen after escaping from Ukatis. Except it was our comm system that was out. Actually, pretty much everything was out. We’d taken a few bad hits. We couldn’t talk with the Republic ship. Imagine our surprise when they powered up their weapons.”

“How’d you handle that one, sir?” Bernecki asked.

“We activated our distress beacon. Then we flew close enough for them to see us, but stayed outside our weapon range so we weren’t a threat. I don’t know any military types that like someone getting in strike range, unless they’re fools. Anyway, when we got to where they could see us, we started blinking our lights on and off. Once they decided we weren’t going to try to blow them up or something equally idiotic, they got someone who could read the light-flash code. We had a very nice conversation, and the Republic ship sent over a team to greet us.”

“Heh, I bet they sent over a team. Complete with weapons armed and ready. Now, flash code just might work. Only problem is, I haven’t done that since basic training,” Bernecki said.

“Not a problem. Leave it to me. Carth should be able to figure it out, or get someone in there who can,” Jolee replied.

“I don’t know how you manage to know all this stuff.” Bernecki shook his head slightly in amazement.

“I’m old, dammit. You pick up a few things along the way.”

* * *

“Talin told me he’s going to be OK. That’s not just bravado talking, is it?” Carth said to Jolee as he walked down the shuttle ramp after the injured had been unloaded and whisked off to the medical bay.

“Well, knowing him, I’m sure some of it is, but he’s better than he was even a little while ago.”

I followed Jolee down. “He should be fine, especially after Master Supat treats him,” I added.

“And what happened to you?” Carth asked, taking both of my hands to look them over. He scanned both of us up and down to make sure we weren’t injured further.

“Miraxton hit me with the Scourge, but he only got that far. I’m OK. You have to get communications back up, Carth. Before Miraxton died, he said he put his people in place on some ships in Dodonna’s task force. He seemed to think they had taken control of them. He ordered them to take you and the Osprey out.”

“This just gets better and better.” Carth’s face darkened with anger. “I worried about sabotage, and we had to comb the life support and weapons systems before we could tackle any others. We just ran out of people and time to check everything. Blasted Miraxton set up charges in the critical parts of the comm system and wiped nearly everything. It’s out until we can dock for repairs because he so nicely stole the repair parts. The fleet’s coming in about 30 minutes, and I have no way to communicate with Dodonna or track who might be trying to attack us.” He ran his hand through his hair, trying to contain his frustration.

“She’s well aware of the situation with Miraxton. If you’re running silent, she’s going to consider the possibility of sabotage and maybe even mutiny,” I said.

Carth nodded his agreement. “I know. I could do shuttle to shuttle communication, but she’s going to be suspicious of anyone on my crew right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t even trust you Jedi, Jolee.”

“Hmmph. She’s the one who pinned that damn Cross of Glory on my robe. She better trust me.”

“We’ll go to her, then. If we’re the only ones she can trust right now, then we’re the ones who need to fly to her ship,” I decided.

“We?” Jolee lifted an eyebrow. “We aren’t going anywhere. You are going to go to the med bay and soak those hands in a nice little kolto bath. I will fly over to her flagship and have a little chat with her. It only takes one of us to do that. She knows me, after all.”

“Who’s going to do the shooting if you’re flying?”

“I can pat my head and rub my belly all at the same time, thank you. They teach you these things in Jedi School.”

I crossed my arms and tilted my head. “You know if things get hairy, like if one of those ships decides to attack or the Exchange manages to get some ships off the ground, that having a gunner will be a good thing. My hands are healed enough to shoot.”

“Can I stop you?”

“Um, no.” I grinned.

Jolee looked at the ceiling, shook his head, and then looked back at me. “Come on, then, before you start tapping your foot in irritation, too.”

“You can use that fighter over there—we’ll get it ready for you now. Bernecki will be our liaison,” Carth said.

“Sounds good. We’re off,” Jolee said. “We’ll call in as soon as we can.”

* * *

Like most admirals, Dodonna was punctual. The fleet dropped out of hyperspace at the precise spot and time that she had specified.

“K2 fighter, identify,” came the order from Dodonna’s flagship, The Crusader.

“K2-7799. Requesting permission to board. Jolee Bindo needs to speak to Admiral Dodonna about the Osprey ASAP.”

“Negative, 7799. Hold position until we confirm the status of Eye of the Osprey.”

“Her communications are down, and we’re a little concerned you all will get the wrong idea about what’s happening over there. I’m here to tell Dodonna just what her status is.”

“The Admiral is not available at this time. Maintain position.”

“I need to talk to someone—anyone--about what’s happening over there right now.”

“Hold your position, 7799, or we will be forced to fire.”

Jolee keyed off the com and breathed out a frustrated sigh. “I hate, loathe, despise, and otherwise bear negative sentiments for anything remotely resembling idiot bureaucracy.”

“Tell me how you really feel, Jolee.”

“Don’t you get sassy, too, Miss I-Just-Took-Out-A-Sith-Lord.”

“You don’t think Miraxton compromised Dodonna’s ship, do you?” I concentrated and tried to feel for her presence. I was relieved to sense that she was occupied but not in distress. “No, it feels like she’s OK.”

“Good. I figured she would have picked her senior staff long before Miraxton was on the scene.” He keyed the com again. “Listen to me, sonny. This is Jedi Master Jolee Bindo. Find your supervisor. Tell that person that I need to chat with the Admiral before someone accidentally blows Carth’s ship out of space. You can either follow that request, or you can explain to the Admiral why you threatened to fire on someone she personally pinned the Cross of Glory on.”

“Please hold, sir.”

Jolee muttered a few choice words.

“Master Bindo. Dodonna here.” The Admiral herself was calling.

“Forn! About damn time that kid got off his butt to go get you.”

She laughed. “You’re Jolee, all right.”

“Listen, Carth’s communications system is down—our favorite man left him a little going-away present. I have a couple other urgent matters I have to discuss with you in private, too.”

“I’ll see you as soon as you dock. Dodonna out.”

We were given clearance and ushered to Dodonna’s office with remarkable alacrity.

Admiral Dodonna shook hands with Jolee, smiling. “It’s good to see you again, Jolee. You’ll have to forgive my over-eager ensign. It’s his first cruise and he’s a by-the-book type. We're educating him on this incident.”

“I bet you are. Admiral, this is my Padawan, Jae Onasi.”

She was about to shake my hand when she saw the bandages and deferred. She asked, “You’re all right?”

“Yes, Admiral. Thank you.”

“She took out Miraxton earlier today. He put our partner Talin in the medical bay and gave her one hell of a fight.”

Dodonna looked at me and nodded her admiration. “Congratulations. We’ve been learning just how dangerous he truly was to the Navy and the Republic.”

“Forn, we’ve got a problem over at the Osprey. Miraxton set charges that took out communications and stole the replacement parts. Even worse, Miraxton told us he had some ships in your fleet that are now loyal to him, and he gave the order to take out Carth’s ship. We don’t know how many or how they’re planning to do it.”

Dodonna sat down at her desk and started inputting data. “I’m pulling up a list of all senior officers who’ve had any contact with Miraxton. Hmm, there are a lot of officers here, but that's not surprising since he was supposedly a rising star. Let’s see what ships they’re all serving on.”

Her fingers flew over the computer screen.

“Damn, that’s quite a list.” Jolee said.

“Half of my task force might be compromised.” Dodonna shook her head as her lips tightened.

“Admiral, bridge. About fifteen Exchange ships flying directly towards us.”

“Raise shields. Fire if fired upon, otherwise keep them from escaping. Give explicit orders to every ship here that they are not to fire on the Osprey unless I give the order personally.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

She keyed off the com.

“Not bad,” Jolee nodded in appreciation. “There used to be about 4 or 5 dozen before the teams went down to Telos and had a little romp in their hanger bays.”

“One-to-one odds are definitely better than four-to-one odds. Now we have to figure out which ships might mutiny. I don’t know how we’ll be able to do that immediately. If I know which ones are going to be trouble, I can get their shutdown codes from Command. However, they’ll be dead in space when I do that. I don’t want to put innocent people in danger, and I don’t want to lose any firepower unnecessarily.”

“I think you’ll have to shut them down all at once, too, or some of those ships might flee,” I said.

“Exactly,” Dodonna nodded.

“Well, we can’t just call them up and ask who they like better. I think the only way we can find the defectors right now is if Jae and I fly in close to sense who’s on our side and who’s not.”

“I’ll never say no to help from you, Jolee.”

“We’ll check through this list of ships. We’re off, then.”

* * *

“All right, two more ships to check,” I said.

“Only one ship that Miraxton poisoned so far—the DeRecho. Let’s look at these last two and get back to Dodonna. This firefight is getting a little nasty.”

The Exchange ships had started targeting the Osprey, and the fleet had engaged them. We had been dodging the fire and the dogfights.

Our com crackled. “Admiral! This is Storm Rider. Osprey is targeting my ship! We’re being attacked!”

“Storm Rider is on the list, isn’t it?” Jolee asked.

I scanned the datapad. “Yes, and it’s one of the last two we have to check.”

“Not any more. They just gave themselves away. They’re pulling something funny here.”

Storm Rider’s captain said, “Admiral, I’m uploading the attack runs to you now as proof. We have to take that ship out!”

“We saw no attacks. You will not fire on the Osprey. Anyone disobeying that order will be relieved,” Dodonna ordered.

“Jolee, the captain’s going to disobey those orders,” I warned him.

Jolee tried to call Bernecki several times. “Damn, too much interference. I think they’re trying to jam communications now.”

I reached out to Talin. “Storm Rider is about to attack. Can you warn Carth?”
“I’ll do it.” Talin replied.

Jolee flew us to the last ship, the Hoth Crystal and slowed enough to try to sense the officers’ intent. “This one’s bad, too. All right, let’s get back.”

“Look out!” I called to Jolee.

He pulled up to get out of the line of fire of two Exchange fighters, and I fired. The first ship disappeared in a stream of fire and I tracked the second ship, shooting it as soon as it was in my crosshairs. It exploded.

I looked back at the ships that Miraxton had contaminated. Storm Rider and Hoth Crystal powered up their weapons and fired on the Osprey.

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 01:39 AM
Storm Rider


Talin, Hoth Crystal’s attacking, too. I warned him.

Carth has shields up. I’ll tell him.

I sighed my relief. “Talin says Carth has the shields up, Jolee.”

“Good. That should buy them some time. Tell them not to fire on any Republic ships. He does that, and they’ll really think he’s a defector.”

I relayed that to Talin.

He’s holding fire.

Jolee tried to raise The Crusader.

Dodonna was waiting for him. “What’s the word, Jolee?”

“Three ships—DeRecho, Storm Rider, and Hoth Crystal. We’ve told Carth to hold fire.”

“We’ll do our best to protect him. I’m going to shut down those ships. Until I can, see if you can take out the weapons on Storm Rider.”

“Done. Bindo out.”

Dodonna sent an announcement to all the Republic ships. “DeRecho, Storm Rider, and Hoth Crystal, you are ordered to stand down immediately. Raxton is dead. The Exchange fleet on Telos has been decimated. Your plans will not succeed.”

Three ships detached from the task force and arranged themselves around the Osprey, facing off their combatants to protect Carth’s ship. Storm Rider and Hoth Crystal continued their attack on the Osprey as the DeRecho and the remnants of the Exchange fleet joined up with them.

“Nice try, Dodonna. I see quite a few ships here already, and it really doesn’t matter if Raxton’s dead,” replied the captain of Storm Rider.

“Timan, those are the only Exchange ships that made it off Telos, and they’re freighters, not warships. They won’t survive long in a fight. Cease your fire on the Osprey and shut it down right now. There are a lot of people on your ship. You’re putting them all at extreme risk.”

“Planning on blowing my ship to bits, Dodonna? Go ahead. My people understand their orders, and so do the people on DeRecho and Hoth Crystal. Every one of them made their choice to be here. You might have that steely reputation, Dodonna, but I’d like to see you try to take us all out.”

“If you know my ‘steely reputation’, Timan, then you know that I will not hesitate to fire on your ship as traitors. You can stop this right now. Save yourself and your people.”

Timan’s response would have made even a smuggler blush. He broke off the attack on the Osprey, but he turned towards The Crusader. The other ships allied with him followed suit. Admiral Dodonna transmitted the shutdown codes. The shields dropped on the DeRecho, and her progress slowed as her engines cut out. The other two ships continued to accelerate towards Dodonna’s flagship. Jolee spun our ship around and sped towards them.

“Expecting something, Dodonna?” Timan mocked as the codes failed to disable his ship.

“Your surrender,” Dodonna retorted.

“Nice try with the shutdown code. Unfortunately for you, Raxton anticipated your move and made a little suggestion to us to change the program. Some of us even followed that suggestion. Enjoy your last few minutes of life.” Timan opened fire on Dodonna’s ship.

“All ships, your targets are Storm Rider, Hoth Crystal, and any remaining Exchange ships. Fire to disable. You have kill orders only as a last resort. You will not fire on DeRecho or the Osprey,” Dodonna ordered.

“Timan’s obviously the leader in this group,” Jolee noted to me. “Let’s go see what kind of fun we can have harassing his ship.”

“I can think of better ways to have fun.”

“Yeah, well, he’s a little too injured for ‘fun’ right now. At least give the poor boy time to heal.”

“Jolee!”

“You really have to stop leaving me openings like that. Ah, here we are. Let’s see how many turrets we can take out and then get out of here.”

Jolee accelerated and I targeted their weapons. Little explosions of fire mushroomed out as we strafed the length of Timan’s ship.

The proximity alarms rang. “We’ve got one on our port and one on our six,” I called out.

“I see them,” Jolee said. He dove down closer to Storm Rider, skimming the very surface. The fighter behind us followed, but flew too close to the ship. It hit a turret, shearing off one of its wings. The fighter crashed into Storm Rider, and fire erupted from the hull breach. The other fighter started to shoot at us. Jolee turned sharply and ducked under the bottom of the ship, the other fighter following.

“Have those guns ready,” Jolee said. He did a rapid deceleration that pushed me forward hard against the seat straps. The enemy fighter, not seeing us slow down abruptly, shot past us. I fired on him as he entered my crosshairs. One of his engines took a hit, and flames streamed out behind him. He lost control, his ship spinning wildly around. The fighter collided with another fighter flying in to engage us, causing the fiery explosion of both.

I looked out the canopy and saw several dozen ships and fighters in battle, their blaster fire filling the blackness of space with constant flickers of light. Battle chatter continued to pour out of the com as Republic fighters engaged the defectors. Storm Rider and Hoth Crystal traded blaster cannon fire with The Crusader, great bolts of laser fire crashing into the shields and threatening to tear into the ships.

“Looks like Dodonna’s shields are holding, but with two ships firing at her, it’s going to be a tough fight,” I said.

“I think we need to get on board Storm Rider and take out Timan directly. If we shut down his ship, Hoth Crystal might surrender,” Jolee said. “You up for another fight? And answer me honestly. I don’t need you playing hero and then collapsing ten feet inside his ship.”

“I’m hurting, but not bad enough to stay back.”

Jolee opened a com channel to Dodonna. When she came online, he said, “Forn, I need the schematics of Storm Rider. We’re going to infiltrate and see if we can make Timan rethink his position.”

“Jolee, you’re crazy. We’re firing on that ship.”

“I’m old, Forn, not blind. It’s kind of hard to miss laser cannon bolts. Go mess with the other bullies for a while and do an occasional token shoot towards Timan, as long as you make it a miss. I don’t want your ship taking major damage, and I don’t want to see a bunch of innocent sailors and soldiers go up in a fireball just because Timan can’t figure out where he left his brain last. Maybe if he stands down, Hoth Crystal will, too. You know we can take care of it.”

Dodonna sighed, “I don’t like it, Jolee, even when I know you’re right. Schematics are being transmitted now. Do you need anything else?”

“Some troops to back us up would be very nice.”

“I’ll reassign a couple squads. Give me a few minutes.”

“We’re going to head in. They can catch up. We’ll draw arrows on the walls so they can find us.”

Dodonna chuckled, “They can just follow your path of destruction. May the Force be with you.”

Jolee found an open landing bay and flew in, surprising the small group of soldiers who were not expecting to see any ships so soon. I shot at them, and a number of them fell in a heap right away. Those that ran were just as quickly cut down.

“Hope that’s all there is here,” I said.

“With that kind of welcome, I’m sure we’ll see more.”

“I looked over the diagrams. We need to get from this bay to here,” I pointed at the bridge. “What about this route? Looks like it’s the fastest.”

“‘Fastest’ isn’t always ‘best’. They could have troops waiting for us in the two cross corridors. If we go this route--” he paused as he traced a line on the datapad, “it’ll take a little longer, but we won’t get flanked. Now grab those packs and we’ll get going before the hospitality committee arrives. Look sharp.”

Jolee jumped out of the cockpit and gave me a hand down. We raced across the empty hanger bay floor to the door and stood on either side.

“Got your shield up?” he asked.

I nodded, and he opened the door. We jumped back as a hail of blaster fire flew through the doorway. Jolee gave me a silent three-count, and I followed him as he ducked through the door, deflecting blaster bolts along the way. The six soldiers were all at short range, and we closed on them so quickly several of the troopers didn’t have time to pull out any melee weapons. Jolee cut through two of them in one shot each and engaged another who had pulled out a vibrosword. One of them shot at both of us while the last two drew their vibroblades and ran towards me. I ducked under the swipe to my head by one of them and blocked a blow aimed at my arm by the other. I twisted my blade up and severed one of the trooper’s arms. He dropped to the ground, howling in pain. I turned to put the second trooper between the gunner and me, then flurried a number of attacks at him. He kept making the blocks and parries until I feinted to his head. He raised his guard up, and I dropped my lightsaber down, the blade melting through his armor and legs.

I turned to see where Jolee was. The soldier with the vibrosword was on the ground, eyes staring away. Jolee was disarming the gunner, who had surrendered. After he was secured, we continued our run down the corridor towards the bridge. Jolee stopped at a corner, peeked around it slightly, and just as quickly pulled his head back. Laser bolts peppered the wall opposite us, and I turned my head, closing my eyes instinctively to protect myself from the shrapnel.

“Droids—three smaller ones and one big nasty-looking one. HK would probably go out bar-hopping with that one.”

“HK?”

“Revan’s assassin droid. Remind me to tell you about it when we get out of this jam and back to Telos. I’m going to Force-disable those droids. You go and take them out.”

“Got it.”

He closed his eyes and concentrated. The blaster fire suddenly went silent. “Go!” Jolee urged, focusing on holding the droids in stasis. I rushed over and neatly sliced through the three small droids. The larger droid took several strikes, but it clattered to the floor in pieces as well. Several datacards spilled out on the ground. I plugged one of them into my datapad as Jolee rounded the corner to join me.

“We can’t stay here too long. What have you got there?” he said.

“Where’s the nearest computer terminal?” I grinned.

Jolee looked at the schematics and turned around. “Right here, actually.” He stood to the side to open the door, prepared for a fight, but the room was empty. He motioned me in and then closed the door.

“These are the programs that Timan took out to disable the shutdown routine. I think we should upload them again.”

Jolee chuckled, “Heh-heh, I love it. We’re going to have to keep Timan busy while it loads, though. We’ll shut down all the cameras, upload that program, and go get Timan.” He stopped and thought for a moment before giving me a devilish smile. “Ever pull the fire alarm to get out of class at school?”

“Are you kidding? I would’ve gotten in big trouble.”

Jolee rolled his eyes. “You really need to live a little.”

“Today doesn’t count?”

“I suppose I’ll count today. Trip the fire alarms in a couple of compartments away from the bridge. The combination of that and the hull breach should get a lot of the troopers out of our way.”

“That’s wicked. I love it.”

“You don’t get to be my age without being a little ornery. I don’t want to kill or injure them unless I have to.”

I programmed in the fire alarms, cut off the cameras, and uploaded the shutdown program while Jolee spoke with Dodonna to let her know what was going on. We heard the fire alarms sound through the ship and a number of sailors running to fight the non-existent fire. After slipping out of the room and down the hall, we headed to the bridge. Our comlinks beeped.

“Good, the marines have landed. They should be following along soon,” Jolee said as we turned the corner to the short corridor that lead to the bridge.

I stopped. “Something’s not right. There are no guards at the door.”

“You’re right. The danger is making what’s left of my hair stand on end, which means we should back up a bit and wait for the help--”

The door to the bridge opened. A squad of soldiers was waiting on the other side, weapons trained on us. Another squad ran up behind us.

“Come in, please. I’m a civilized captain, no matter what Dodonna may have told you,” Timan said. “I think you should hand over your weapons to my XO, however. Don’t worry, he’ll take fine care of them.”

I gave my lightsaber up, and Jolee slapped his into the XO’s hand. We walked onto the bridge.

Timan was sitting in his captain’s chair. Like most Echani, he had the pale hair and eyes, and that only made his icy stare worse. “I don’t appreciate losing an entire platoon of soldiers and some very specialized droids to a couple over-zealous religious fanatics who think they have to save the universe.”

“We’re not trying to save the universe. We’re just trying to save your ship,” Jolee said.

Timan said, “My ship will be just fine. We’ve made a few modifications. As soon as Dodonna’s ship is nothing more than glowing space dust, we’ll gather our ships and continue our plan to take out Nal Hutta.”

“Raxton’s dead. You can stop all of this right now if you surrender,” I said.

Timan looked at me and then laughed. “Do you really expect me to believe you?”

“Do you think I would be standing here with Force-scourged hands if he were still alive?” I answered, holding them up to show him.

The smile disappeared slowly off his face as he considered this. “No matter. I hate Hutts, perhaps almost as much as Raxton does. It will be gratifying to see their planet wiped from the galaxy.”

“I’m afraid we can’t allow you to do that,” Jolee said.

Timan raised a blaster at us, narrowing his eyes. “Who’s going to stop me?”

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 01:55 AM
The Final Battles

“We are,” Talin said. I turned to look at him, surprised. He was standing next to Master Supat, both of them with lightsaber blades glowing. While he still showed Scourge damage, he was more healed than not. At least one squad of Republic soldiers stood behind them, weapons trained on Timan’s troopers.

Talin? You’re OK!

For the most part. Master Supat heals fast. Now let’s get this over with.

Jolee cocked an eyebrow at me. “I guess Talin wanted some fun, too.”

I smiled briefly towards both of them.

Timan stood up, blaster still pointed at Jolee and me. “You’re still outnumbered. And now you’re going to be very dead.” He pulled the trigger.

Jolee and I dove away, the Force helping us to dodge the blaster bolts. The heat of the blaster fire burned past my arm, but I escaped being hit. I rolled, jumped up, and willed my lightsaber to fly to my hand. The XO lost his grip on it, and it sailed into my hand. I ignited the blade, deflecting several blaster bolts from Timan’s troopers who had opened fire the moment he tried to shoot.

Supat and Talin calmly waded into the fray, lightsabers whirling to strike the troopers or deflect their shots. Blaster bolts flew everywhere as Dodonna’s soldiers traded fire with those allied with Timan.

The XO ran at me with a vibrosword. I stepped out of the line of attack and he nearly ran past. I whirled my blade around to strike him as he passed, but he whipped his blade up to parry my lightsaber before it could hit him in the chest. He did a half-spin and tried to push my blade away and slip his sword under my guard. I released the hold on his blade and stepped back out of the way as his sword shot past, then thrust straight through his chest. His eyes shut as he fell to the floor. I looked around to assess the battle.

Master Supat, Talin, and Dodonna’s fighters had forced many of the troopers and officers that survived to surrender. They were quickly secured for transport to the brig.

Jolee was still fighting the captain, the experience of both men showing in the rapid exchange of parries and attacks. I hurried to join the fight when I saw Timan feint high and then trip Jolee. Jolee fell, landing hard on the ground with a grunt. Timan held the point of his vibrosword just above Jolee’s heart, both men breathing heavily after the fierce battle.

Timan looked at Jolee on the ground. “Well, Jedi, it seems I have you at my mercy.”

“Drop the sword, Timan,” I said. “If you try to kill him, I’ll be forced to kill you. You can still come out of this alive.”

Timan kept his sword on Jolee but moved towards his captain’s chair. “Seems we’re at an impasse, then. If I kill him, I’m dead, and I refuse to surrender. There’s only one other option I have, then.” He reached for a small control on his chair and pressed a button before I could move to stop him. Alarms started sounding through the ship.

“You’re going to self-destruct,” Jolee stated.

“Even better. I’ve just engaged my tractor beam on The Crusader. When this ship self-destructs, it’ll take Dodonna’s ship and all of us along with it.” Timan gave us a self-satisfied smile.

Concentrating and using every ounce of Force power I could muster, I engaged a stasis field around Timan. His will was strong, and he started to break down the field. Then I felt Talin and Master Supat join me, and Timan’s movements were stilled. He stood locked in place, glowering at us. One of the soldiers cuffed him.

I walked over to Jolee and pulled him up. “Are you OK?”

Jolee brushed himself off. “Nothing but my pride got injured there. I knew it was a feint but I went for it anyway.” He looked over to Master Supat and all of the soldiers. “Everyone who can needs to evacuate, now.” Those that weren’t injured grabbed their comrades who were and moved quickly towards the escape pods. Master Supat left, leading whomever he could to safety.

I went to the controls and tapped the tractor-beam controls. “Tractor beam’s not shutting down, Jolee.”

Jolee called Dodonna. “Forn, we’ve secured Timan. We’ve re-entered the program so you can use the shut-down code, but I don’t know how long it’ll be before it fully loads. Timan locked the tractor beam on you and entered the self-destruct. We’re trying to shut it down, but you may have to fire on the bridge to keep the ship from exploding and destroying all of us.”

“Understood. We won’t fire unless we absolutely have to. I’ll see if we can find any bypasses.”

“How soon before the self-destruct initiates?” he asked.

I looked over at the monitor. “Looks like two minutes. That’s not enough time to get everyone off the ship.” My heart sank. It wasn’t enough time to search every circuit to find the right one to disable the self-destruct, either.

Dodonna said, “We’re going to keep transmitting the shutdown code. You have 100 seconds, but I’d really like you out of there instead.”

“Can’t do it, Forn. They’re evacuating, but we can’t get people out fast enough. We have to try to stop this instead or a lot of innocent people will die. Now quit trying to change my mind and let me get to work.”

Dodonna considered that for a moment, and then said, “I’ll respect your decision, Jolee. May the Force be with you.”

Talin felt the wave of my emotion. He walked over, kissed the top of my head, and put an arm around me. “Focus. I know you can get the self-destruct disabled.”

I turned and met his eyes. “You need to get off the ship, Talin. I may not be able to stop it.”

“I’m not leaving you. We’ll work on it together. Feel through the circuits. We’ll both do part of it.” He gave me a crooked grin. “Besides, I can hardly walk right now. There’s no way I can make it to any of the escape pods. You’re stuck with me.”

I took a deep breath to let go of the worry. “All right. Let’s go to work.” We both slipped into a meditation state.

I flew along the maze of wires, searching, and saw Talin in a distance doing the same.

I could hear Jolee talking with Dodonna somewhere far away. “Sixty seconds. No luck yet, but we’re getting closer.”

“Shutdown still hasn’t initialized.”

Where’s the circuit…. I can feel it now. Coming closer, closer. Talin’s found it now, too. Thirty seconds left…

“They’ve found it, Forn. They’re trying to disable it now.”

Oh, so complicated. Trying to pry open the switch, but it’s locked down….

“Fifteen seconds, Jolee.”

“Almost there,” Jolee said. “Shutdown codes are working! Tractor beam’s down, power’s on emergency backup. I’m using emergency thrusters to move us away.”

But the self-destruct is still active! I can’t budge the switch! Time’s up!

“Self-destruct is still online. We have to fire, Jolee.”

“We’re moving away from each other. Just give us ten more seconds,” Jolee urged.

Countdown commencing, ten, nine, eight…Focus, focus…Talin’s power flowing, joining mine, pushing with our combined strength to break open the circuit….

“…three, two….”

“Hold fire! Hold fire! They shut it down!” Jolee yelled out.

Both of us dropped out of our meditation. Talin leaned against one of the workstations and slowly slid to the ground, exhausted. I sat down next to him and pulled him into my arms, gently embracing him. “I’m glad you decided to stay.”

He looked up at me and managed a tired smile. “I never want to leave you.”

* * *

Master Supat looked over my hands and dipped them in a small tub of kolto. “Miraxton did a lot of damage. However, a few hours here and they should be much better.”

Jolee said, “Actually, she did pretty darn good. He was throwing everything he had at her.”

“And without her efforts, we wouldn’t be here,” Admiral Dodonna said, striding into the medbay with one of her aides. She gestured for everyone to remain as they were.

“I saw Hoth Crystal surrender,” Jolee said.

“They saw the light when you took Timan’s ship. The captain wisely decided she didn’t want to fight a boarding party lead by Jedi. All three captains and the other officers involved are in the brig, and we’re interrogating them to find out the extent of the plot. I expect more arrests down the line.”

“Have the Hutts been warned?” Talin asked. He was resting in one of the medbay beds, the effects of the Scourge dissipating as he continued to heal.

“We advised them of Miraxton’s plans and your part in thwarting them. They want to offer Jolee, Talin, and you a freighter and supplies as thanks.”

Jolee sniffed. “Probably stolen from the Republic in the first place.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” I said.

“You didn’t come all the way down here just to tell us this, Forn,” Jolee said.

“I came personally to give Jae and Talin the Medal of the Sacrificial Heart for injuries sustained in service to the Republic. I never want to see anyone get hurt in service to the Navy or the Republic, but it is a deep honor to present these to you both. In several days I will be holding an awards formation, and I will be presenting all four of you with the Naval Medal of Valor.”

“Forn, I don’t need any more doo-dads on my robe. I don’t need the Navy’s highest honor for doing what a Jedi is supposed to do.”

“We would not be here without your work. You’ve saved the Navy, Nal Hutta, and quite possibly the Republic from a terrible plot.” She smiled, “Besides, I don’t recall asking if you wanted it, Jolee. I’m awarding it because it’s the right thing to do. I want to show my people what valor truly means.”

“You’re telling me to just say ‘thank you’ and shut up?” Jolee asked.

She nodded once. “In a word, yes.”

“We’ll be there in our fancy dress robes, then.”

“Good. You’ll be informed where and when. I see Master Supat wants to continue his work, and it looks like fatigue has gotten the better of Talin, so I’ll leave you for now.” Dodonna and her aide left.

I looked over towards Talin, who was resting in one of the beds. “He’s healing fast. I won’t be able to tell how badly he was injured by the Scourge in a few more hours.”

Master Supat followed my eyes. “He’s remarkably motivated. Captain Onasi asked if I would fly up to his ship while you were down on Telos so that I could help with any healing. When Talin learned I was on board and then heard you two chattering about boarding Timan’s ship, he was adamant about getting healed to the point where he could help.”

“He hates kolto,” I said.

Jolee chuckled and gave me a meaningful look. “It wasn’t the kolto that was motivating him, Jae.”

I tried not to blush and failed miserably. “I suppose not.”

“I know it’s not.”

“All right, Jolee, your turn. Even Masters need attention,” Master Supat gestured for him to sit down and have his injuries healed.

I carried the kolto tub with me to go sit next to Talin. He cracked his eyes open a bit.

“I didn't mean to wake you. It’s just me,” I said.

“You’re not ‘just’ anything.” He pulled me towards him gently, and when I leaned over and laid my head down on him, he cradled it.

“Just your love, then?”

“Just the one I want to be with forever, if you’ll let me.” He thought a moment and shook his head a bit. “You know, that was not the way I envisioned proposing. We can go out in a few days and I’ll do it right.”

“Do I have to wait that long to say yes?”

He smiled, tightened his arms around my shoulders, and tilted his head to give me a kiss.

* * *

The wait to meet with the Council on Coruscant seemed interminable. Jolee sat in one of the chairs, confident and serene. I looked out the window and down at the Thousand Fountains again, trying to center myself. Talin stood next to me, hands clasped behind his back, looking up into the sky.

He looked over at me after a few moments. “Pulling on your collar won’t make it any better,” he said, taking my hand from up at my neck and holding onto it. I felt the love flow, and it gave me peace.

One of the Padawans called us into the Council chambers.

Jolee stood up and winked. “Don’t forget to play it up for Vrook. Groveling will be even better.”

He walked into the Chambers. Talin and I followed, and he didn’t let go of my hand. We all made slight bows to the Council. There were more Masters there than I had ever seen before at one time, testifying to the gravity of our situation. Vash, Dorak, Vandar, and Kavar sat in meeting, as did Zez Kai-El, Atris, Zhar, and Vrook.

Master Vandar opened the proceedings. “We have gathered today to discuss a most unusual development, one that is very rare in the Jedi Order. We are reviewing the relationship between Jedi Talin and Padawan Jae, and, if they choose to continue with that relationship, whether they should remain members of this Order.”

Vrook gave us a severe look when he saw us holding hands. “I see your defiance of the Order’s rules extends even to these Council Chambers.”

I swallowed hard and Talin gave my hand a slight squeeze of encouragement. His face remained a neutral mask. I willed the peace and calm to flow in order to concentrate on the words and thoughts of the Council.

Jolee looked at Vrook for a moment, and then in a frosty voice said, “Are you always this crabby, Vrook, or is this just one of your good days?”

“I do not appreciate comments that border on disrespect, Jolee,” Vrook retorted. “We shall concentrate on the issue of violating the Order’s stand on attachments and whether Talin and Jae should remain in the Order.”

“Yes, we shall, because it would be wrong to separate them. Even you can see that both of them are far more centered and in tune with the Force than the last time all of us were here. That can only be a good thing. Yes, they’re in love, and their situation is rather unique. If you’ve read any of the records of the past months, you know it’s the will of the Force for them to be together. They’re connected on a deeper level than even the Sunriders were. The only conclusion you can come to is that they should remain together as members in the Order.”

Kavar looked at both Talin and me, leaning forward to address us. I could feel the concern coming from him in warm waves. “Are you sure you want to pursue this? It could turn out to be a very difficult path for both of you. The path of a Jedi can be hard enough without adding extra challenges.”

Talin and I looked at each other briefly and then back at Kavar. We answered in unison, “Yes.”

“You are aware that pursuing an attachment can and has led to expulsion from the Order?” Atris said, her severe look nearly matching Vrook’s.

“Yes, Master, we are,” I answered.

“They’re Jedi, Atris, not idiots,” Jolee snorted. “They read the rule book a long time ago.”

“I would like to know why you allowed this to continue once you knew what was happening,” Atris accused Jolee.

“Because I think the rule on attachments is stupid, made up by some clueless Jedi who never understood love. Yes, passion can be dangerous, but answer me this—how many Jedi would have turned to the dark side in the Mandalorian Wars if they’d been grounded in the love of those back home? How many would have destroyed planets full of families if they’d had families of their own? Yes, we need a certain detachment to do our job properly, but we need more empathy and understanding, not less, and we have failed in that more often than we like. We should be teaching Jedi how to handle the responsibilities and challenges of their relationships, not avoiding them altogether because we think those challenges are inconvenient.”

Vrook said, “By asking us permission to allow this relationship to continue, you are asking us to change generations of tradition. These rules were not put in place without reason.”

“We don’t know what reason the Masters had when they created that rule. For all we know, it could have been a Jedi who was rejected by someone he loved and decided to make some idiotic regulation in response. Laws certainly have been created for less reason than that.”

“As Jedi historian, I researched the origin of this rule. It does not specify one way or another, Jolee. It’s impossible to speculate on the intent of the Masters who created that rule,” Dorak said.

Jolee conceded that point and went on. “Understand, Vrook, I am not asking the Council permission for the relationship to continue. They have already decided they will continue their relationship, and more power to them. I’m asking that they be allowed to remain in the Order. There's nothing you can do to their love.”

Vash said, “This is a difficult situation. Very few of our Order ever marry or have close relationships. We are not prepared to give appropriate guidance because of our inexperience. Our mistakes could have deadly consequences.”

“And what would you do if this request is refused?” Zhar asked, looking at all of us.

“Be mindful of your thoughts,” Zez Kai-El added. “There is a fine line between defending your decisions and outright rebellion.”

“While we are very committed to this Order and have no desire to leave, we would unfortunately have to resign,” Talin replied without hesitation. “However, we will continue our work because the need for help won’t go away. The galaxy doesn’t care if we’re members of the Order.”

Kavar said, “Your actions defeating Miraxton, saving two battleships from destruction, and uncovering the mutinous plot within the Navy were commendable. It required a great deal of skill to accomplish all this, and you’ve done what good Jedi are supposed to do. It would be detrimental to the Order to lose any one of you, much less all three.”

Vandar, who had been contemplating the proceedings, finally spoke to us. “Your case has created considerable controversy. We have done a great deal of research in the archives, and we reviewed your reports of the Miraxton affair. We have spent much time meditating and discussing this. We have concluded that the connection between Jae and Talin cannot be denied. It has strengthened as their relationship deepened, and it has saved them and quite possibly the Republic from disaster. Few Jedi have ever had, for lack of a better term, this love-bond. The histories have shown that when separated, the Force brings those with this type of bond back together, despite all efforts to the contrary. It would be foolish for us to try to violate the will of the Force in this matter.”

Kavar looked at Talin and me and added, “We agreed that asking you to separate would be wrong. However, the truth remains that we are not well-equipped to train you two on how to balance your relationship with the needs of the Jedi and the ways of the Force.”

“Despite my better judgment, I am forced to agree with the Council’s decision that Jolee is the only one who has the experience necessary to guide you in this area,” Vrook said.

Vandar continued, “Jae and Talin, the Council has decided you will remain in the Order under the guidance of Master Jolee. Jolee, we hope you will continue their training. It is your responsibility to develop the great potential that we see in all of you.”

“I’ll be glad to have them stay with me. Are you seriously worried about me giving it anything but my best?”

Vrook growled, “We’re not worried about you not giving your best. We’re worried about what strange ideas you’ll be planting in fertile young minds.”

“I understand. I’ll try not to corrupt them too much. By the way, even you are invited to the wedding.”

Vrook lifted an eyebrow but held his peace.

“The Council is adjourned,” Master Vandar said. “May the Force be with us all.”

I managed to contain my excitement until the Council doors shut, and then I wrapped my arms around Talin, joy radiating out to all of us. He picked me up in a bear hug, set me down again, and planted a solid kiss firmly on my lips. It deepened, and we didn’t let go until we had to breathe again.

He looked in my eyes, brushing a lock of hair of hair to the side, then kissed my forehead and murmured, “I love you.”

I hugged him tight. “I love you, too.”

Jolee had wandered over to the window to look out at the Fountains, but finally cleared his throat to get our attention. “This is probably not the best place to get all kissy-face,” Jolee pointed out. “You already made them nervous enough just holding hands. Let’s go see Mik’oth and give him the news. If we’re lucky, he might not even charge us for dinner.”

The reception from Mik’oth was no less effusive than any other time, and he was as colorfully dressed as usual.

“Hey, Tail-headed Tornado, didn’t anyone tell you that orange and purple plaid is a little over the top?” Jolee called out.

“Ah, it’s the Wonder! You know how I love to try the latest styles. And here is my favorite Padawan!! And my dear friend Jedi Talin!” Mik’oth came straight over to us, hugging Jolee and Talin and then kissing me loudly on both cheeks. “You both look no worse for the wear. What’s this?” he spied the ring on my hand.

I gave him a shy smile. “A betrothal ring,”

“Ha! I knew it the moment you two came in.” He took my hand and peered closer at the ring. “Alderaan Blaze Sapphire, eh? A rare gem for a rare beauty. It matches the color of your eyes, you know. He chose something worthy of you. I approve. And I’m very happy for you.” Mik’oth hugged me, then turned and poked Talin in the ribs. “You devil you, you’ve taken one of my greatest dancing possibilities off the market. Let’s go sit down and celebrate. When’s the big day? I have to clear my calendar for the reception!" He found a table for all of us, and then dashed off for meals and drinks.

“We don’t have a choice on where the reception is, do we?” Talin asked Jolee.

“Not unless you really want to upset Mik’oth,” Jolee answered.

“If he’s like this when he’s happy, I hate to see what he’s like when he’s mad,” I said.

“It’s very scary, trust me. I know.”

Mik’oth returned, poured us all champagne, and then sat down. “It’s Telosian, very rare. The vineyards in the Restoration zones are still small, but the Ithorians have cultivated an amazing wine grape that creates this exquisite delight for us. Cheers.” We raised our glasses and then sipped the champagne, savoring the subtle flavors.

“So, have you decided on a date yet?” Mik’oth asked.

“Six weeks. The Council has a mission for us in two months, and we want to have time for a honeymoon,” Talin told him.

“My, you took me at my word when I said I hoped it wouldn’t take you too long to figure it out.” Mik’oth pulled out a datapad and tapped on it a couple times. “Perfect! I’m free that day! Someone can marry you at that stuffy Jedi Temple, and then you can come straight here and have some real fun.”

“We’d like you to join us in the ceremony, too, as one of Jolee’s best friends,” I said.

Mik’oth was overwhelmed. “What a wonderful honor! Of course, anything! Oh, dear, now I have to find something to wear!”

“You look like you’re going to cry, Mik’oth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you quite so emotional,” Jolee said.

“If they name their children after me, I will cry.” He smiled broadly and looked at Jolee. “You know, we’re going to have to take bets on how soon the first little one comes along.”

“Come on, Mik’oth, you’ll embarrass them,” Jolee replied. Then he grinned. “Put me down for two years.”

Mik’oth studied us for a few moments. “I say nine months after the wedding.”

“Six months,” I chimed in, smiling broadly.

All three of them were stunned motionless, mouths agape in silence, staring at me.

I couldn’t contain my laughter any longer at their looks of utter surprise. “I’m joking!”

Talin shook his head, smiled and then drew me in close. “I think I’m going to be selfish and keep you all to myself for awhile.”

“Jae, it’s against the Jolee Jedi code to give your master a heart attack like that! You could kill me with that kind of joke.”

I grinned back at him. “Jolee, you’re way too ornery to die. Besides, I have a feeling the Force is going to keep the three of us busy for quite some time to come.”

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 02:24 AM
Acknowledgments and Big Thank You's....
My hubby Jimbo and my kiddos, who put up with me being absolutely consumed at times writing this story. They also sat down to read it (or let me read it to them) and laughed at my jokes. There's true love. :)
Cutmeister--you gave me some great ideas. I appreciated that a lot, and the time you took for this.
JediMaster12--the civilization info was helpful for the Li'adin chapters. Your encouragement kept me going, especially when a chapter was frustrating me and made me want to pull out my hair. :)
Pottsie, RenegadePuma, Hallucination, and everyone else who took the time to read and make comments here and at kfm--your support meant a lot. Just reading it means a lot. It's not hard to write something up, but it is hard to post it publicly for others to see, especially the first few chapters. You all were patient with the good and the bad, gave helpful feedback and were never unpleasant about pointing out mistakes. I was grateful for that.
Jiara over at kotorfanmedia--you make me see the chapters in ways I never conceived and you've taught me quite a bit in a short time. Thank you.
My nemesis, Emperor Devon--your beta-reading of the later chapters during the revision process was very helpful and very informative. Thanks much.
Bioware--for creating Jolee in the first place and making him so much fun! :)
And I totally apologize if I've missed anyone.