(Author's Note: This is Part 10 of the "Vremya" series. You get 10 bonus points if you figure out what the Russian title gets shortened to. Hint: It's a sinister Communist organization in the early James Bond films--*NOT* Goldeneye or Casino Royale. Think Sean Connery's day. The 10 points means your character earns a cameo appearance in my next installment! )
With Archivist Jolee Bindo aboard our ship, the Ebon Hawk
was at last ready for what might be her final adventure. So were we all, as much as we could be. Out of the goodness of his heart (or perhaps to prove his great skill despite his age,) Jolee made some final repairs to our vessel's hull and interior with T3-M4's help. I was grateful to him, and I admitted it freely. Rodion, however, was a bit more reserved. He trusted the old man, as far as I could tell, but there was something about the way he looked at both of us that made me uneasy. His eyes, though rather cloudy, penetrated to the core.
Once we were cleared for takeoff and had launched into hyperspace, things could finally settle down a little. The ship seemed to breathe easier in airless, starry blackness, and truth be told, so did we. We were not being chased, hunted down, pursued, or sucked into the tractor beam of someone else's airborne vehicle. The Hawk
had suffered every single one of these trials, sometimes dozens of times over, and it was time for her to rest. Calm and patient introspection were the moods of the moment, for sentients both metal and flesh--all except for Jolee. The former Jedi tried to hide his pacing.
Cautiously, I stepped up toward him. "What's wrong?" I asked, and then, "I don't mean to pry, sir. It's just that--something seems to be troubling you."
Jolee glanced into my eyes. "I might as well tell you the truth," he said, "as there's no hiding it from a Jedi. You might not be a practicing one right now, as I am not, but I can sense the Force swirling around you like a shield of strength. You're going to need it in the days ahead, I'm afraid." I nodded. "I'd like you to levitate with me. Cross your legs, Vandar-style, and--that's it." His eyes twinkled. "You never forget how to lift yourself in the air with a little lift from the Force. It's like riding a speeder or a swoop bike, but more fun."
Rodion and Basta, making their routine inspection rounds of the ship, noticed us. After Jolee answered their questioning looks with a very slight nod, they both sat on the cold metal floor beside us. Basta, I noticed, preferred not to levitate, though my guess was that she could. Jolee coughed and began:
"Now, then. This holocron-scavenging assignment was not the only one on which the Jedi Council sent me. It's a stroke of luck, or the Force, whatever you wish to call it, that Archivists such as I sometimes take on the role of amateur detectives. I've served as an arbiter at a few trials, and the Jedi know that when I question prisoners or take them in, I'm acting officially. I've been ordered not only to search for holocrons that might reveal the location of Revan, but also for suspects in the deaths--the murders--of two spies."
"What kind of spies?" Rodion asked. He kept his tone measured, neutral...
"Jedi spies. As you all may or may not know, the Jedi Order and the Exchange have long been at odds. The latter is the galaxy's largest criminal syndicate, and the former are the galaxy's guardians of peace and justice--or at least, they're supposed to be. We are certain that our agents weren't 'dirty', but all the same, they were likely thought to be true members of the Exchange, and thus killed. I have no leads so far in the case, but I'd appreciate your help if we come across anything--or anyone--on the Outer Rim or Unknown Regions."
"Tell me more about these two agents," I said. "What did they look like?"
"One was a Rodian, Yurran Thul, and the other a human, Sal Draund. Both of them were highly trusted, and thus assigned to one of the most corrupt and Exchange-infiltrated of all worlds--Eriadu. It's famous for its heavy industry, but it's even more famous for its heavy graft and heavy strongmen. We Jedi swore to take down the Exchange on that dark world, but it seems Yurran and Sal were killed in the line of duty before they could accomplish their mission. They were scouting for recruits in the shipyards and salvage yards of factories across the planet, and that's the last we ever heard of them."
"I see," said Basta, and then, "How easily could they have been mistaken for true Exchange members? Was their cover airtight?" Jolee nodded sadly. "It seems to me that either the Exchange found them out and thus had them eliminated, or rivals or desperate but well-meaning people took them out. Either way, it's imperative that we bring these agents' killers to justice."
Jolee folded his hands in front of his belly. "I agree. However, we mustn't stoop to vigilantism or plans of revenge. The maximum penalty under the law for the guilty is twenty years at hard labor apiece, and the minimum eight. That's the only punishment I'll have any of you even think of considering. We're Jedi, not hired assassins, or as the galaxy's more authoritarian civil governments say, 'agents of hostility termination.' Got that?" We all nodded.
"One more thing," said Basta, raising a delicate eyebrow. "Was there anything suspicious about the way the spies were killed? Any telltale marks or signs?"
"There was something odd," said Jolee. "The bodies of the spies were riddled with blaster scorch holes, as I expected there to be, but also, strangely..."
"What?" I asked, or should I say, croaked. My mouth had gone dry as sand.
"Someone had been beating the spies with their bare fists, someone of rather surprising strength. I suspect, and am almost one hundred percent certain, that the Force was involved--plus a heavy dose of rage, fear, or both."
"I see," I replied, almost whispering. Rodion made not a move, not a sound.
"Is there anything else you'd like to tell us, Jolee?" Basta asked, and with a calm shake of his head in the negative, we all departed for our various bunks.
Once we were alone in the cargo hold, where we sometimes slept and where the hum of the hyperdrive could mask our long embraces and conversations, Rodion took me in his arms. "Tysyacha," he said with infinite tenderness. "It's okay. We don't have to confess. Remember, we're all on our way to rescue the galaxy from the Sith--the true Sith. Think of the good we'll do! The lives we'll save on our journey will blot out our transgressions. It won't bring the spies back, but at least their sacrifice will not have been in vain. All we have to do for now is play the Quiet Game, because leaving Jolee Bindo to search on some other planet now, unless he himself requests it, is not an option."
My body trembled. "What's the Quiet Game?" I asked. "How do you play it?"
"If you have a secret, whether it be a good one or a bad one, all you must do is stay silent for as long as your mind is on it. When it surfaces in your thoughts, think of the quietest person, place, or object you can. Think of perfect calm, perfect peace. Like the depths of deep space. Let the full and complete quietness relax you; let it guide your mind toward other things. You may not think we Mandalorians would ever play the Quiet Game because of our warlike nature, but trust me, it's the only thing that's kept me sane at times." His lips curled upward into a slight smirk. "Otherwise, I'd scream."
"Let's play the Quiet Game now," I whispered, and pulled him close for a kiss. This kiss was full of passion, full of love, but even more full of sorrow. If we survived this endeavor, this plunge into the chaos of the Unknown Regions, then we would stay silent forever. Either that, or we'd confess to the world, with voices as loud as a ship taking off. Quiet tears streamed down our faces.