Alright folks, here's Chapter 4. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
EDIT: See Jae grinning at JM12's comment above....
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 duelling 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 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 we 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 interrrupt 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 one-to-ten 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 2 men were obviously military-trained—they walked with a certain confidence and held their arms away from their bodies as miltary 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 with the 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 saber hilt and then bounced off of it into 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.