From his hiding place amidst the meager foliage, he watched two mysterious figures across the street. The two could not have been more dissimilar. The taller figure, his clean-shaven head clearly identifying him as male, stood directly underneath what sparse light the vacant street afforded. He carried a small traveler's case with him and was impeccably dressed in the clean, flowing robes of the upper class. The other was harder to ascertain. This one scrupulously kept out of the light, making impossible any indication of gender - small for a male or large for a female. The pair had been in conversation for several minutes when the large one handed his traveling case to the other. Instantly the small one fled around the corner, clutching the bag as if it held the wealth of the entire world. Meanwhile, the imposing one remained where he was, apparently awaiting the other's return. Seeing his opportunity, the watcher left his cover and warily approached the lone figure.
"Are you the Dark One?" the watcher asked in a cautious, gravelly voice.
"Are you the Dark One? Have you come to kill me?" the watcher yelled this time. "I have prepared for you. You won't kill me as you did the others."
"My friend, you have me confused with someone else. I suggest you go on your way."
"No, I'm not confused. You are the Dark One," the watcher screamed this time. "I shall rid the galaxy of one so foul as you."
"Now listen here," the wealthy man responded, his voice rising in obvious irritation. "Leave this instant or I shall be forced to hurt you."
"You'll do nothing to me. Your evil ends here."
With that the watcher reached beneath his tattered robe and withdrew a metallic cylinder. At first, the wealthy one laughed in contempt at the sight of such a worthless weapon, until a violet blade flared into existence with a ferocious snap-hiss. Before he could do more than raise an arm in pointless protest, he was struck down and lay dead at the watcher's feet.
Although it had been over a year since I had been to the Jedi Temple, as I strode through the maze of corridors it felt as if I had never left. Unlike my days here as a student, I was now a Jedi Knight who had been summoned by the Council. Anticipation thrilled me as I pondered what important mission lay ahead. Even more, I wondered why I'd been chosen.
As I approached the entrance to the Council Chamber, I was surprised when a sense of calm overcame me. I was about to enter the very heart and soul of the Jedi Order and face the eyes of twelve of the most respected Jedi Masters in the galaxy, yet my thoughts centered only on the successful completion of whatever mission awaited me. Perhaps there is more to becoming a Jedi Knight than just a change in title. Or maybe the fact that my former Master now sat on the Council allowed me to retain my focus.
The view from the Council Chamber atop the Jedi Temple is perhaps the most remarkable sight in the known galaxy. As I entered, the morning sunlight was streaming in through the windows, bathing the room in a warm glow. I took my place in the center of the chamber and awaited the Council's orders.
"Calep, it's good to see you again," began Master Anakin Solo, the newest member of the Jedi Council and my former teacher in the ways of the Jedi. Master Anakin occupied the seat that had been vacated by his sister, who had chosen a Padawan and returned to the life of travel she enjoyed so much.
"It is good to see you again, Master," I returned with a familiar nod before once again returning my attention to Master Jacen Solo, the head of the Jedi Council.
"Calep Seth, your presence is required to assist Master Jaina Solo in her negotiations with the government of Saccra," Master Jacen began in his usual businesslike manner. "Her talks have stalled due to unforeseen circumstances and we feel another representative is necessary."
"What are these new circumstances?"
"There has been several murders in the smaller towns surrounding the planetary capitol where the negotiations are taking place. Eyewitness reports are vague and contradictory, but they all agree on one point - the killer used a lightsaber. Master Jaina has been allowed to see one of the victims and she confirms that a lightsaber was the murder weapon. My sister and her apprentice are the only Jedi on the planet and local suspicions are running high. Jaina's Padawan is young yet and might be more of a hindrance than help should trouble erupt. Your role will be to assist Master Jaina in whatever manner she deems necessary."
"I'll do whatever I can," I vowed.
"I'm sure you will," Master Jacen replied with a hint of a smile at my eagerness. "Jaina and her apprentice have temporarily left the planet and will meet you in a few days. You'll be given her coordinates before you leave. May the Force be with you."
My mission placed before me, I turned to leave. I admit I was disappointed that I was being sent to only assist another Jedi. When I had received the Council's summons, I had hoped that I was finally considered ready to handle matters of importance. This meeting obviously proved otherwise. As I approached the open doors to the Council chamber on my way out, I once again heard Master Jacen's voice.
"If there is no other business this morning, the Council stands in recess."
Sensing an opportunity to speak with my former Master, I stood outside the Council chamber and waited his arrival.
"Let me guess, Calep," Master Anakin said as we strode down a vaulted corridor, "you're disappointed that you're not being sent out on your own."
"A little. I felt I was ready to be on my own."
"You are. But believe me, this mission is more important than it seems. My sister was sent because of her diplomatic expertise, and the news surrounding the murders is severely undermining her efforts. Jaina can't be spared from the negotiations and we want you there to work with the local officials investigating this situation. If matters get out of hand, you'll also be needed to make sure Jaina and her apprentice are allowed to leave safely."
"Do you think there might be trouble?"
"Jaina thought there might be. That's all I know. She requested that somebody be sent to assist her because of that possibility. I had heard that you were about to arrive on Coruscant so I spoke with Jacen and we volunteered you for the job," Master Anakin said with a hint of a grin before becoming serious again. "A few Council members expressed concern that you might not be ready for a diplomatic mission, so don't let me down."
"I always try not to," I answered, unconsciously slipping back into the role of a student. "How soon until I'm supposed to meet Master Jaina?"
"Here," Master Anakin said as he handed me a data chip. "This has the time and coordinates that my sister transmitted for a rendezvous. You won't need to leave until tomorrow morning, and I was hoping you'd fill me in on what you've been up to over lunch."
The restaurant my Master chose was a small street caf? - a small street caf? suspended on a balcony half a mile above the actual street. From our table, we were offered a view of the Senate Chamber and other government buildings too numerous to count. Judging by the prices on the menu, this place was not for the everyday crowd. Eating here twice a day for a month would cost the same as a small, personal spaceship.
"So, what brought you back to Coruscant?" Master Anakin asked after we had ordered our midday meal. "I didn't think anything could get you away from Chandrila."
There was no questioning the reproving nature of my Master's words. Since becoming a Jedi Knight I'd served most of my time on my home planet of Chandrila. Though occasionally I'd assisted other Jedi on various missions in nearby systems, the time spent on Chandrila had been sedate to say the least. Now during my first visit back to Coruscant I was coincidentally being assigned a mission that would keep me from immediately returning to my home planet? If Master Anakin was attempting to be subtle, he was failing miserably.
"Surely your brother told you why I was coming?" I asked skeptically. Master Jacen's wife was in charge of testing all potential students brought to the Temple. I'd contacted her the day before I'd left Chandrila so that everything would be ready for when I arrived. I now wondered how long it had taken after I'd sent that transmission before Master Anakin had found out and 'volunteered' me for the mission to aid his sister.
"Jacen was short on specifics," Master Anakin answered, somewhat evasively. "He said you were bringing us a young Chandrilan."
"A three year old girl, actually. Lilan Kobier. Her parents are poor farmers from Chandrila's southern continent. She was transported to the local hospital after she broke her arm trying to climb a petar tree while her mother's back was turned. Her arm was badly fractured and a portion of bone broke through the skin. The hospital ran a blood test to check for infections and found out she was a Force potential. Word eventually reached me and I volunteered to bring the entire family here to have her tested further. Master Jacen's wife said that if she is accepted her parents could be given work at one of the local botanical gardens."
"Do you think the family will be able to adjust to life here on Coruscant?"
"I hope so. They have a better chance of succeeding here than back on Chandrila. From what I was told heir farm was located in one of the poorest sections of the continent, and the soil was barely able to support a crop. Lilan's father said that within another five years the land might have given out entirely and the family would have been forced to become migrant workers rather than accept public charity. I admire his spirit, but that's no life for a young girl."
"I agree," Master Anakin said as he raised his glass. "Here's wishing that little girl the best chance of success."
As we drank this toast, I noticed Master Anakin's eyes surveying our surroundings. I had noticed his eyes were wandering as I told him my story, but I assumed he was enjoying the view like I was. It suddenly struck me that his eyes hadn't been directed at the scenery, but at the other occupants of the caf?.
"Are you expecting someone, Master?"
"What?" he asked, sounding a bit surprised that I'd noticed. "No. Just wondering what our fellow diners were up to today."
I immediately pegged this answer as a dodge. From the way we were received when we arrived, I could tell that Master Anakin was known here. Surely he didn't spend his spare time wondering about the everyday lives of everyone he saw - especially not on a planet as populated as Coruscant. Despite my curiosity, I felt that further questioning would not be welcome and reluctantly decided to let the matter drop.
"So how do you like being a Council member?" I asked in an attempt to change the subject.
"I can see why my sister gave it up. Do you realize it's been over a month since I've gotten off planet? It's not that I'm unwilling to accept the responsibilities of being on the Council, but I miss the more relaxed way of life we had when you were my student."
"Funny, I don't recall being relaxed very often," I joked.
"Of course not. You were pushing yourself too hard to learn. All that time you spent practicing with your lightsaber I spent in relaxed contemplation as the starlines flared by. Someday when you take a student you will see what I mean. Ah, here comes our lunch."
The rest of our conversation ranged on topics of little importance. Everything from the spiciness of our meal to the architectural style of the skyscrapers that were constantly being built on Coruscant was fruit for discussion. Throughout our conversation, I caught Master Anakin casting furtive looks about the caf? when he thought I wasn't looking. Though intrigued by the mystery of Master Anakin's actions, I reaffirmed my decision not to press the matter.
After our lunch, we returned to the Jedi Temple where I introduced Master Anakin to little Lilan. Lilan's mother proudly told us that Lilan had passed her tests as was to be accepted as a student. I spent the remainder of the afternoon with Lilan and her family, discussing her future and answering her parent's countless questions - the same questions all parents ask when they bring their child to study the ways of the Jedi. As evening approached I returned to my ship to make sure it was ready for my morning departure as well as uploading the coordinates of my meeting with Master Jaina. When all was ready, I returned to Master Anakin's apartment, where I found him with his brother.
"Calep, I was hoping to see you again before you left," Master Jacen greeted me as soon as I entered. "You and my brother disappeared so quickly after the Council session was over. I was afraid I'd missed my chance to wish you well on your mission."
"Master Anakin took me to lunch at the caf? that overlooks the Senate building."
"Really?" Master Jacen asked with a smile as he turned to face his brother. "Was she there, Anakin?"
"Who?" I asked with growing interest despite Master Anakin's obvious discomfort, or rather because of it. "I noticed he was constantly glancing about while we were eating."
"I'm not surprised, Calep. He was looking for Neive Sunlani. Anakin met her at the state reception that was held after Senator Hasamya was elected Chancellor. Apparently he's become quite smitten with her. She's the niece of Coruscant's trade representative and she co-chairs the Arts Commission. She's quite a successful artist in her own right, which allows her to dine at expensive restaurants like the one you were at today. Ever since my little brother found out the Overview Caf? was her favorite place to eat, he dines there at least twice a week just for the chance of bumping into her."
"How romantic, I think," I remarked with a grin. I wasn't trying to be impolite, but how often does one get the opportunity to tease his former Master.
"Of course this whole matter could be solved if Anakin had the courage to ask her out to dinner. But it appears that our intrepid Jedi Master has finally met his match."
"All right you two, that's enough," Master Anakin interrupted before rising from his chair. "Jacen I believe you know the way out. As for you, Calep, the spare bedroom is down that hallway. I'll see you off in the morning if you promise to never speak of this again."
"Agreed, Master," I responded with a laugh. "Good night."
"Good night to both of you," Master Jacen said before he left. "If I don't see you before you depart Calep, be sure to tell my sister I miss her and hope to see her again soon."
Dawn found me at the landing pad atop one of the Temple's towers. The first rays of sunshine silhouetted the mile high skyscrapers along the eastern horizon. The ship's computers were completing the pre-flight check while I spoke with my former Master at the base of the ship's ramp.
"Give my sister my best when you see her," Master Anakin spoke as I was about to board my ship. "Tell her to stop by soon before I forget what she looks like."
"I will. Any other news you'd like me to pass on?"
"No, that will be enough," Master Anakin said with a look of warning in his eyes, obviously catching my veiled reference to my discovery the night before.
"All right. I'd better get aboard. It takes a while to get this hunk of junk in the air."
"I meant to ask you where you found this thing. It might just be the ugliest ship I've ever seen. What's her name?"
"I named her the Nomad. I picked her up third-hand from a dealer on Chandrila. She was once an ore hauler that worked the space lanes between Chandrila and the asteroid mining colony in a neighboring system. One of the previous owners jettisoned everything but the ship's command center and the original engines, which were integrated into the hull. As a result she's way over-powered at sub-light speeds and has shields to spare, but unfortunately the Nomad still has the original hyperdrive system, making her slow, but dependable, in hyperspace."
"At least she has a good name," Master Anakin offered in an attempt to find something positive to say about my ship. "You'd better get going or you'll be late for the rendezvous."
"You're right. I'll see you when I return, Master."
"I'll see you then. Good journey, Calep."
As I settled into the pilot's chair, I saw my former teacher standing clear of the landing platform, his arm raised in a silent farewell, the same way he had when I returned home after passing the trials and becoming a Jedi Knight. Since I had become a Knight, Master Anakin and I never said good-bye. We always parted with a promise to see each other again. As the Nomad rose into the sky, I returned my Master's silent salute before merging into the always-busy skyways of Coruscant. In only a few minutes, the navicomputer told me I was free of the planet's gravity well. With the simple pull of a lever, the ship leapt forward and entered the realm of hyperspace.
A similar flip of the same lever ended the distortion of the starlines as the stars returned to small points of light. The coordinates given to me by Master Anakin had brought me to an asteroid belt in the outer reaches of an uninhabitable system. I had only begun a routine sensor sweep to find Master Jaina's ship when the Nomad was rocked by fire from an unseen attacker. Instinctively, I punched the shields to maximum and gave full power to the engines. Faster than my attacker could adjust his shots, the Nomad streaked forward, away from the cone of fire. A quick check of the incoming sensor data revealed the identity of my attacker, an old X-Wing fighter leaving its protective orbit around two linked freighters.
Temporarily clear of the X-Wing's line of fire, I decided to give diplomacy a shot. Activating the comm on all channels, I attempted to hail one of the freighters.
"Unknown freighters, call off your attacker and prepare to be boarded. I am Calep Seth, Jedi Knight."
The only response to my transmission was the disconnection of the umbilical connecting the two ships. Apparently announcing myself as a Jedi incited them to jettison the umbilical entirely rather than to delay the few minutes that were required to retract it into one of the ships. Their connection broken, both freighters activated their engines and accelerated away in opposite directions.
I was forced to break off any thought of pursuit as the X-Wing regained firing position. From above the Nomad's rear port quarter came another volley of shots, which the shields easily absorbed. To get myself clear of my attacker's fire, I cut power to the engines and rolled the ship up and to port, into the firing X-Wing. Although this small one-man fighter was infinitely more maneuverable than my converted ore hauler, every ship requires space to make a turn, and I had no intention of allowing him that space.
Forced to break off his attack run, the X-Wing broke to starboard to get clear of me. Spinning the Nomad on her central axis, I once again caught sight of my attacker and punched full power back to the engines. Using the Force, I was able to keep on the X-Wing's tail by mirroring its movements before it made them. Unfortunately, this time spent in pursuit of the snub fighter allowed the freighters to make their escape; the sensors dutifully reporting as each ship leapt into hyperspace. Left with only one target, I redoubled my efforts and attempted to approach within the Nomad's tractor beam, a holdover from her ore hauling days. While not powerful enough to restrain another ship, it would prevent the X-Wing from escaping to hyperspace. I had closed to within the extreme range of the tractor beam when the ship's comm beeped and a familiar voice spoke.
"Let him go, Calep. Our mission lies elsewhere."
"I can get him, Master Jaina," I answered, unwilling to give up the person who had fired on my ship.
"Capturing him will accomplish nothing. You and your ship are fine. Let him go," Master Jaina responded, her tone of voice changing from request to command.
Reluctantly, I powered down the engines and watched as the X-Wing escaped. It had just entered hyperspace when another ship appeared on my sensors as it cleared a large asteroid. Unlike the Nomad, Master Jaina's ship, the Celestial, was beautiful in appearance as well as in name. It was a throwback to the days when a ship was not just built to be functional, but was built to be a work of art. Although designed on a basic delta-shape, there was not a straight line or angle to be found anywhere on the hull. Rounded curves molded the bridge, engines, and living section into one flowing shape. The Celestial was a small ship, only capable of accommodating five or six people comfortably, as it was originally built to be strictly the personal craft of Master Jaina and her family, not a transport or freighter.
The Celestial was designed and built by Master Jaina's husband as a wedding gift. Goran Dross had been the youngest son of Mikon Dross, founder of one of Corellia's most exclusive ship building empires. Though his empire was small by the standards of other ship building companies that constructed freighters and capital ships, Mikon Dross found his niche by building smaller, faster ships for the wealthy. Goran, unwilling to merely live the comfortable life of a rich man's son, had spent his early years struggling to expand his father's business into the dangerous world of racing.
A fine racer in his own right, as a young man Goran earned a reputation for his intelligence, rather than the recklessness common in other racers. The sport of Nav Racing, more commonly referred to as buoy racing, is an exciting mix of navigational skills and reckless daring. Contestants are required to fly at breakneck speeds through a star system dotted with nav buoys and fly within fifty kilometers of each buoy, the total number of buoys and the location of each nav buoy kept secret until the start of the race. The buoys could be placed anywhere from the heart of an asteroid field to the surface of a planet. The excitement grew as racers who realized they were behind took greater and greater risks to make up lost time. More cautious racers merely pushed their ship's engines beyond the design limits, or followed in the wake of comets to reduce the drag of solar wind. More intrepid racers used the gravity wells of gas giants as a slingshot, skimming the outer atmospheres of these large planets in a dangerous attempt for more speed.
In a sport where nerves of steel were considered a pilot's greatest asset, Goran proved that the skills of a great navigator were more valuable than the sheer guts of a reckless pilot. Goran became known for his uncanny ability to map out a flight route in his mind better than the one that came out of his ship's navicomputer. When flying through a star system at incredible sub-light speeds in an attempt to rendezvous with up to one hundred nav buoys, the shortest route was not always the fastest. Things such as momentum, fighting solar wind, and an instinct for the easiest approach to each buoy determined who won or lost. With a little luck to complement his skills, Goran Dross soon became widely known as one of the best buoy racers in the galaxy, and attracted the attention of a young Jedi Knight named Jaina Solo.
The two felt an instant kinship with each other. Although any lasting relationship was impossible at the time, as Jaina was training her first student, the two saw each other at every opportunity. As often happens, their attraction turned into love. Three years later when Jaina's student passed the trials, Jaina and Goran gave their full commitment to a relationship and were married less than two years after that. The happy couple settled on Coruscant so Jaina could be close to her family, and this afforded Goran the opportunity to expand his father's ship building business to include the numerous wealthy citizens of the capitol world of the Republic.
Goran gave up racing entirely after the birth of their first child, a daughter. Another daughter and a son soon followed, and life proceeded blissfully for the racer and the Jedi. However, events soon transpired that ended this picture perfect life. While returning to Corellia to discuss the further expansion of the family business with his father, Goran's ship collided with a frigate. The frigate was on its return from a shake down flight and exited hyperspace too late, entering the orbital traffic lanes. The collision destroyed Goran's company ship, killing him and two employees, and punched a hole in the side of the frigate, killing eleven men and women who were part of the engineering team overseeing the frigate's inspection flight.
"It's been a while since I last saw you, Calep," Master Jaina began after we settled into the Celestial's small, yet comfortable lounge. "I didn't think I would see you again so soon. Weren't you serving on Chandrila?"
"I was. I volunteered to transport a young girl and her family to Coruscant after it was discovered that she was a Force potential."
"The family came with her?"
"Yes, it was the best way to keep them all together. The parents are poor farmers and couldn't have afforded to travel back and forth to spend time with their daughter. Your brother's wife believes she can find them jobs at one of Coruscant's botanical gardens."
"I'm glad to hear that. How are my brothers?"
"They both asked me to tell you they miss you and hope to see you again soon. Master Anakin added that he's beginning to forget what you look like."
"That's the same message I sent every time I asked him to come home," Master Jaina said with the hint of a smile. "I suppose that's his way of turning the tables on me. Perhaps I should return to Coruscant after these negotiations are over."
"Perhaps you should. I think Master Anakin could use your advice," I said, adding a sly smile.
"Advice on what?" she asked, obviously intrigued.
"He appears to be on the verge of falling in love."
"What?" Master Jaina exclaimed, obviously surprised by the news. "When did this happen? How did this happen? What's her name?"
"Her name is Neive Sunlani," I began, deciding to answer the last question first. After that I recited everything else that Master Jacen had told me, which didn't take long. When I was unable to answer any of her more probing questions, Master Jaina paused for a moment in seemingly deep concentration.
"I swear my brothers are helpless," she declared suddenly, her voice and expression the very epitome of the word frustration. "Jacen at least knew he was in love. His problem was that he couldn't decide if he would be a better Jedi with or without a family. Fortunately for him, I was there to set him straight before he messed things up beyond repair."
"As I understand it, Master Jacen is attempting to assist his brother in his romantic adventure."
"That's only going to make things worse. When this mission is over, I can see I'll need to spend some time on Coruscant before Anakin dooms himself to being a bachelor forever."
"All I ask is that when you confront Master Anakin about his faltering love life, don't tell him you heard any of this from me. When I left he seemed rather adamant that I take this secret to my grave."
"Don't worry, Calep. Years from now my brother will want to thank you for what you've just done."
"So what's happening on Saccra?" I asked, hoping to understand the circumstances that had brought me halfway across the galaxy.
"In short, Saccra is soon to become one of the wealthiest planets in the Republic."
"How?" I asked in stunned amazement. "I thought Saccra had nothing to offer in way of natural resources. The planet is far from the galactic core and has nothing to entice people to come out here. The climate is almost as inhospitable as Tatooine."
"It won't be the people who come to Saccra. It will be the miners and the freighters who come. Spice has been found on Saccra. Spice in quality and quantity second only to the spice mines of Kessel. The planetary government of Saccra realizes that along with the legitimate businesses will come the smugglers and the crime lords. They've asked the Republic to help them protect their world from these criminals. That's where we fit in, and where the problems arise."
"How does the assistance of Jedi Knights cause a problem?"
"To understand that you need to understand the Saccran people. Externally they're remarkably similar to you and me, although biologically we're miles apart. What drives the Saccran people is the drive for cultural purity. Their society has changed very little since their planet was discovered in the days of the Old Republic. Even after joining the Old Republic, they basically kept to themselves. The Empire left them alone because they were no threat, and their planet was of no strategic value."
"But they asked for the Republic's help," I stated, still confused as to the problem. "How can they expect us to aid them without interacting with them?"
"What they've asked for is Republic forces to establish an orbital defense of Saccra and to stop any unauthorized ship that tries to land. Since they are only asking for protection from smugglers and other criminal agents, the Republic must by its own laws accede to their wishes. Of course, the Saccrans will be asked to pay a large percentage of the costs of this protection, but that's something they will easily be able to afford once trade routes are established. A Jedi presence will be based on the planet, because no matter how good the defenses are, eventually someone will make it to the planet."
"And the Saccrans aren't willing to accept our presence in the name of cultural purity? Pardon me for stating the obvious, but when criminal syndicates do establish a presence on the planet, the Saccran culture will receive a greater shock than anything the Jedi might do. There will be Saccrans willing to align themselves with the criminal element and the government knows it, or they wouldn't be asking for the Republic's help."
"Yes, Calep, the Saccran government does know this," Master Jaina patiently explained, "and a majority of its representatives are willing to allow the Jedi access to the planet. What they won't allow is for Saccran infants to be tested to find Force potentials. That is why I am here."
"Do I understand you correctly?" I inquired, stunned at what Master Jaina had revealed to me. "The Jedi Council is demanding that the Saccrans allow us to test all Saccran newborns to find potential Jedi? I've never heard of the Council trying to impose its will like that."
"The Council is not imposing its will. All they want is for the testing to be allowed and for Saccran parents to be notified that their child might possibly become a Jedi. The choice whether to have that child trained will still remain with the family. The same choice that your parent made."
"But to dictate terms in this manner, it doesn't seem right," I protested, still feeling uneasy about the Jedi Council's strong-arm tactics. Would the Jedi Council really withhold their assistance over this?
"It's the way negotiations are done," Master Jaina stated matter-of-factly. "They get our protection and we gain access to another world of possible Jedi. If you consider it closely, the Saccrans are getting the better deal. Our protection of their world is guaranteed, whereas any Force potential we discover could still be denied to us if the parents don't wish it."
Any further protestations on my part were cut off when Master Jaina's apprentice - a young Twi'lek who couldn't have been more than fourteen standard years - entered the lounge.
"Master," she spoke, her voice filling the room with its sweet, high tones, "the Republic negotiator on Saccra would like to speak with you. He mentioned he has arranged our return with the Saccran government."
"Excuse me, Calep," Master Jaina apologized, "duty calls. If you're hungry help yourself to whatever you can find. Parla here will show you the way," Master Jaina indicated before disappearing into the Celestial's cockpit.
"So what does the Saccran government have to tell us?" I asked Master Jaina as we sat down to our meal. This was my evening meal, but I had learned this was breakfast for my two hosts. I was still operating on Coruscant time and would need to adjust to the Saccran day cycle.
"It appears that some of their concerns about us have been relieved and they are ready to let us return to the negotiations."
"Then the Saccrans no longer believe one of you is responsible for the killings?"
"Not anymore," Master Jaina said sadly. "There was another murder last night. We've been asked to return to Saccra immediately."
After a quick trip through hyperspace, we entered orbit around Saccra. From space the planet appeared to be mostly a brownish-red in color, with small pockets of green and blue dotting the landscape. While descending, I noticed that the darker colored parts of the planet were not rolling vistas of fields and crops as I had first assumed, but were instead jagged, rock-strewn mountain ranges. These ranges comprised roughly eighty percent of the total land area of the planet, with the green and blue areas filling in the lowlands where enough water accumulated to foster plant life and to fill small inland seas.
Upon landing, we were greeted by a delegation of Saccran dignitaries and the other two Republic negotiators. The Senate had seen fit to send three representatives to the talks to cover every phase of the impending agreement. Ambassador Leshi Vayrun was charged with overseeing the talks and was the woman with the authority to sign the protection agreement with the Saccran government. Admiral Garron Keros had the responsibility of arranging the Republic fleet protection of Saccra while Master Jaina had been tasked with solving the problem of a Jedi presence.
"Welcome back to Saccra, Jedi Master," Ambassador Vayrun greeted Master Jaina warmly. "Our hosts are ready to continue the negotiations whenever you are ready."
"Thank you, Ambassador," Master Jaina returned in an equally friendly manner. "I will be ready to continue our talks tomorrow morning."
"Who is your young friend?" Admiral Keros asked, nodding in my direction. "If he is to take part in the negotiations, we will need to arrange it with the Saccrans."
"This is Jedi Knight Calep Seth," Master Jaina declared while urging me forward with a sweep of her arm. "He's here to assist the Saccran police with their investigation into the recent murders. The Council became concerned after I confirmed the reports that the killer was using a lightsaber."
"Does the Jedi Council have any insight into who is behind all this?" Ambassador Vayrun asked.
"No, but we all share the same worries. It would be bad enough if a Jedi has turned to the Dark Side, but if the Sith have reemerged and are behind this, it would spell trouble for the entire Republic. I assure that there is no evidence to support either theory. These are just the worst case scenarios."
"I share your hope that these theories turn out to be unwarranted fears," Admiral Keros added with a stern look toward Master Jaina. "I'm an old man and I have no desire to lead young men to their deaths in another war. Heaven help us all if the Sith have returned."
"And this is neither the time or place to discuss our fears," Ambassador Vayrun interjected, casting a cautious look at Master Jaina. "You and your apprentice will be staying in the same apartments as before. I'll arrange something for our new arrival."
"Thank you, Ambassador," Master Jaina said with a bow of her head. "I know Calep is eager to get started, but he has had a long journey and should get a good night's sleep before beginning. Can you arrange to have the investigators provide Calep with all the murder reports?"
"I'll request that they be delivered to him in the morning," Ambassador Vayrun promised.
Morning arrived too soon with the obligatory sunlight streaming through the colored glass of the window decorating my room with a dizzying multitude of colors. The beauty of the scene was lost on me as I covered my head with the blanket in a futile attempt to get more sleep. Sleep, however, was denied to me as the arrival of the morning sun was soon followed by a knock at the door.
"One moment," I called out as I untangled myself from the floor mat and coverings that was my bed and hastened to make myself presentable.
Opening the door, I was confronted with a young Saccran male smartly dressed in his police uniform. His shaved head, the Saccran symbol of manhood, offset his apparent youth. Master Jaina had informed me that the Saccrans were similar in appearance to humans, but up close the differences were more noticeable.
Though I was only of average height, on Saccra I would stand a full head taller than any other male. The women were smaller yet. The woman who had shown me to my room last night was only chest high to me. The ramifications of this did not strike me until I failed to duck my head far enough as I entered my room.
Other obvious differences soon presented themselves. The shape of the ears, the color of the eyes, the small, flattened nose. Any other observances were unavailable as the uniform the young man wore covered the rest of him, down to the four-fingered gloves.
"Good morning, sir. I am Inspector Azim Gibral," the young man spoke sharply.
"Good morning to you," I returned. "My name is Calep Seth, but I would prefer it if you would call me Calep. May I call you Gibral?"
"You may call me that if you wish," the inspector said with a hint of satisfaction. Master Jaina had informed me the previous evening that the Saccrans gave their family name first and their personal name second. Apparently my knowledge of his culture pleased Gibral and put him somewhat at ease with me.
"I have brought you the investigation reports that the Jedi Master indicated you would need. If you would like I could come back later, after you have had a chance to examine them."
"Actually, I would prefer it if you would explain the cases to me yourself. As an investigator I'm sure you have some insights into these murders that would not make it into an official report. We could discuss it over breakfast."
"Very well," Inspector Azim said. "I realize I have awakened you after a tiring trip. There is a small caf? two blocks east of this apartment. I shall meet you there shortly and we can discuss matters. Good morning," Gibral repeated, this time as he backed out through the still open door, closing it before walked away. Tossing the case files onto the small table, I opened my small travel bags and prepared myself for the day.
The small caf? stood adjacent to one of the city's many marketplaces. Gibral waved to me as I approached, and amid a wave of looks from curious pedestrians I joined him at his table. The table was already laden with an assortment of fresh fruits and freshly made pastries.
"I was unsure as to what you might like so I had our server bring you a variety of items," Gibral declared as I sampled the dishes. "According to my knowledge of your digestive system, none of these items should prove harmful."
"Well let's hope you know more about my biology than I know about yours," I admitted with a small chuckle. "I should confess that I was sent here without the proper time to familiarize myself with all of your customs and beliefs. I hope you will forgive any mistakes I am bound to make."
"During my studies I have come to know much of the ways of life in the Republic. If I see you are about to make a mistake, I will do my best to prevent it," Gibral promised.
"Thank you. Now what can you tell me about these murders?" I asked as I popped a small purple fruit into my mouth.
"I should first warn you about the seed in that fruit. It is not harmful, but it has a very bitter flavor. I would suggest that you not swallow it, and in the future make sure any seeds are removed from the foods you are about to eat."
"Thank you again. It appears I am already in your debt," I declared after I removed the seed from my mouth and placed it in the empty dish next to my plate.
"By looking over some recent unsolved case files, we have determined that the string of murders has gone on longer than we thought. We are still going over the reports that are coming in from the smaller surrounding towns that match the descriptions of the murders that have recently occurred here in Al Hambra. So far we have identified twelve murders that we believe to have been committed by this same killer. Four of the killings have taken place here and the rest are scattered throughout the smaller towns."
"What do these murders have in common?" I asked.
"Besides the weapon used, each of these murders took place in the outskirts of each town, usually in the poorest sections. Every victim has been male. The killer needs to be able to get close to his victims, so we have determined that he either ambushes them, or he is able to approach without alarming his intended victim."
"And what of the wounds inflicted?" I asked between mouthfuls of warm pastry.
"Most victims have a single wound, a diagonal slash across the shoulders and chest. Some of the earliest victims we have uncovered have several non-lethal wounds in addition to the killing blow."
"So the killer is getting better at what he does," I added.
"Yes," Gibral agreed. "Hopefully he will not be allowed much more time to become more proficient."
"I notice you keep referring to the killer as 'he'. Have you ruled out the possibility that the killer might be a woman?"
"Not at all, but when we are speaking of anyone who is unknown it is customary to refer to them as a male. As it is in many areas of the Republic."
"Okay, I just wanted to make sure I understood you. I hoped you weren't overlooking the possibility that the killer might be a woman."
"I don't overlook any possibility," Gibral stated coldly. Suddenly his demeanor went from open and friendly to rigid and formal.
"I hope I didn't offend you," I apologized quickly. "I assure you that wasn't my intent."
"No. It is I who should apologize," Gibral said as he lowered his gaze toward the table. "I have let my misgivings override my good judgment."
"What are your misgivings?"
"I know that my government is in talks with the Republic to negotiate terms of protection for my planet once the spice trade begins. I'm also aware that Jedi will be stationed here on the planet. However, I don't believe it is necessary to place the local police under the authority of the Jedi. We have always done our jobs with pride and do not require outside control."
"Then I'm afraid you misunderstand, Gibral. The Jedi who come here will come to assist and serve the local police, not control them. Just as I am here to assist you."
"Then why have the Jedi and the Saccran government seen fit to assign you to this case when the police have not requested your help?"
"Because of the possibility of who the murderer might be. The only proven evidence so far is that the killer is using a lightsaber, the weapon of a Jedi. A weapon like this," I said as I placed my lightsaber on the table between us. "There is the possibility that someone with Jedi skills might be behind the killings, and if that is the case, you will need my assistance. If it weren't for that possibility, I wouldn't be here."
"Then you don't think that those of us investigating these murders could handle someone with Jedi training?" Gibral asked pugnaciously, still bridling at the perceived slight to his abilities.
"To be honest, no. I have trained my entire life to become a Jedi and increase my understanding of the Force. If the killer has undergone the same training, he is more dangerous than you could possibly imagine. Dangerous not only to you and me, but if this person is attempting to revive the Sith Order, he is a danger to the entire galaxy."
"Do you think this is possible?" Gibral asked, his voice now tinged with a hint of worry.
"Possible, yes. Likely, no." I answered. "However, the Jedi Council has decided not to take a chance by ignoring this slim possibility."
"Well, I thank you for your honesty, and for clearing this matter up. Since the negotiations with the Republic began, my fellow officers and I have feared that our authority was to be usurped and handed over to outsiders."
"I understand your worries," I told Gibral, glad the misunderstanding between us had been settled. "If I were in your position, I probably would have reacted the same way. Now that we have matters cleared up between us, shall we get to work?"
"Right away," Gibral agreed as we rose from our seats. As we left the table, I noticed Gibral watched very closely as I re-attached my lightsaber to my belt. Little wonder, since a weapon similar to it was being used in a series of killings and he had never seen one in use. Hopefully, he never would.
"And how are you getting along with the local police?" Master Jaina asked, her voice sounding oddly metallic through the comlink.
"We're not friends, but I'd say Gibral and I have come to a working arrangement," I reported.
"That will have to be enough for now. What do the police have planned to find this killer?"
"The last four murders have all occurred here in Al Hambra. Tonight one of the officers is going to act as bait. Gibral, myself, and two other officers will keep up surveillance to see who shows up."
"Be careful," Master Jaina admonished. "If this killer has had Jedi training he will be able to sense a trap."
"That's why we've been forced to limit the number of people on watch. The police here are professional and very well trained, we'll be all right."
"Good luck, Calep," Master Jaina added before our connection was ended.
Returning the comlink to the belt underneath my robe, I stepped out from the shaded alley where I had stopped to report to Master Jaina. It was now only a few hours from sunset and I had spent most of the day getting to know Gibral's fellow officers. A good idea since they would be asked to trust their lives to me, as I would trust them with mine. Gibral and I were walking to the northeast section of Al Hambra, where the latest murder had taken place, to prepare our evening's stakeout.
"Does the Jedi Master approve of our plan?" Gibral asked. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was not seeking approval, but rather was testing the waters of our relationship. My assurances to him over breakfast were only words. Words that I could see would have to be backed up with deeds.
"She didn't say, but she did wish us luck," I answered in an attempt to put Gibral at ease. "Do you think it's too early to set up our surveillance?"
"Yes. The cool evenings are the busiest time of the day. The streets will be crowded with people visiting the markets and families out for the evening. Besides, none of the murders have taken place before midnight. We'll have plenty of time."
"So what shall we do until then?"
"We could join the crowds if you like," Gibral offered. "There's quite a lot you can learn about a people by watching how they spend their leisure time."
"Lead the way," I said, indicating with a sweep of my arm. "You can explain the sights to me as we go."
Sundown approached on Saccra much as it does in the rest of the galaxy. The sun changed color from a bright yellow to a warm orange to a final deep, thick red. Stars soon became visible in the east, while the western sky was still lit in the cool shades of violet. On my home planet of Chandrila, this was the hollow part of the day. The time when the streets became almost deserted as businesses closed and people went home to be with their families.
The early nightlife in the capitol city of Al Hambra was almost enough to overwhelm my senses. Colored lights were strung up between the two and three-story buildings. The evening breeze served to carry the delicious odors from the street kitchens of the food vendors out to the flowing crowds. Gibral described each vendor's specialties to me as we passed. These descriptions, in addition to the pungent smells, were enough to make my mouth water in anticipation of our evening meal. Gibral had promised to treat me to a dinner from his favorite vendor and I looked forward to collecting on that promise.
As we strolled through the lighted district, music from every corner accompanied us on our way. Wherever I turned I witnessed crowds dancing to the halting, yet rhythmic beat. Every block had its own music as well as its own dancers. To my surprise, the groups were not defined by age. Rather the crowds were a mix of young and old, man and woman, rich and poor; all brought together only by their common preferences for music. Amazed at the diversity of the scenes as we made our way through the throng of people, I turned to Gibral.
"Is it always like this?"
"The crowds you mean?" Gibral asked clarifying my question. "No. Usually there more people out on a night like this. The news about the killings is keeping some people home."
"I thought that maybe tonight was a special festival. On my homeworld people don't congregate like this in public, even during special occasions."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Gibral consoled me with a frown. "How do you get to know your neighbors if you shut yourself off from them?"
"That's a question I could ask you. Your planet does not take an active role in galactic affairs. For its entire history the world of Saccra has shut itself off from the other worlds."
"That is beyond my scope," Gibral replied. "I am a simple police officer."
"Wouldn't you like to know more about other worlds?" I asked, hoping to understand how the Saccrans could be so friendly towards each other yet so indifferent toward outsiders.
"In my studies, I've learned the basics of Republic culture. What would I gain by having more knowledge of worlds I will never visit, or of alien species I will never meet?"
"Isn't curiosity enough?"
"Perhaps for you, Jedi Knight, but not for me. My life began here and it will end here. My wife and children are here. My ancestors are buried here. I could never leave."
Before I could ask any further questions, Gibral grabbed me by the arm and directed me to a small booth at the edge of the district's central square. Behind the counter was an obviously old man wielding his cooking utensils with the easy familiarity of an expert.
"This is my father's brother, Azim Ehruk. He has operated this small stand since he was my age," Gibral explained with obvious pride.
"Greetings, Ehruk," I said to the man behind the counter, returning his abbreviated bow.
"Gibral, you bring one of the off-worlders to my humble shop? I didn't know you were involved with the negotiations."
"I'm not uncle. This is Calep Seth, a Jedi Knight. He is here to assist us in finding the man who has committed the recent murders."
"I wish you and my nephew success, Jedi Knight. It's a pity that an old man can not walk home at night without fearing for his life."
"I've told you I would escort you home, Uncle," Gibral said.
"No, Gibral. Your duty is to find the killer. That way you will protect everyone, not just me."
"With luck, this killer will be in custody tonight," I added to give the old man hope.
"You will need a good meal before a long night's work," Ehruk offered. "Gibral, can your friend's stomach handle Jaklama?"
After a moment's thought, Gibral replied, "Nothing in it should harm him. However, Calep, I should warn you, it is not your stomach that is in danger. My uncle's Jaklama has burned the tongue of more than one customer."
The space of four hours found me sitting atop a wall watching as a Saccran officer walked up and down the empty street and regretting the fact that I had ever even heard of Jaklama. While I had been eating it, the dish seemed only moderately spicy. Twenty minutes after I had finished eating, my mouth felt like the inside of a blast furnace. Gibral warned me too late that it was the moisture in a person's saliva that really activated the intense heat of Jaklama. By now the throbbing pain had been reduced to a dull ache, but only Jedi techniques for pain relief had allowed me to survive with a modicum of dignity.
We had been watching Officer Kalim walk back and forth for the last two hours as he offered himself as an easy victim to attract the killer. Two other officers were assisting Gibral and me in our surveillance. The route Kalim walked had been well planned. At no time was he out of sight of one of us.
"Calep, do you see anything?" Gibral's voice asked through the open comlink.
"Just Kalim. I haven't seen anybody else in over an hour."
"Do you sense anything?" Gibral asked cautiously. I had explained to him the abilities and limitations that came with being a Jedi. While I'm not sure Gibral believed everything I told him, he at least seemed assured that I believed it. Reaching out, I let my consciousness expand to take in the thoughts and feelings of those around me. Most of the minds I encountered were asleep, but there were still several citizens of Al Hambra awake at this late hour, mostly children who seemed to delight in each other's company for the excuse it gave them to ignore their bedtime. Besides Gibral and his fellow officers, I only sensed a handful of people still out on the streets. Of these, only one stood out from the crowd.
I sensed an incredible amount of fear emanating from this individual along with feeling of grim determination. The fear I could understand. The news of the murders was everywhere. I was more amazed that I didn't sense fear from more people. However there was something else mixed in with this person's fear and determination. Something wrong, but the imprint it made upon me was fuzzy. I was about to push harder to get behind the confusion when my comlink buzzed.
"I've spotted someone." I quickly identified this voice as belonging to Officer Behnon, who was watching the extreme southern end of Officer Kalim's route. "He's wandering about as if he is lost. He's seen me, he's coming my way."
"Hold on, we're on our way," Gibral's voice shouted across the comlink. "Wait for one of us to arrive before making contact with him."
"It's too late, he's almost upon me. I'll leave the link open."
I quickly jumped down from my perch atop the wall and ran toward the Behnon's position. I was the next closest to him after Gibral. We had been dispersed in a rectangular watch pattern, unfortunately I was at the wrong end of the rectangle along with Kalim and the fourth officer. As I made my way to Behnon's position, I heard his conversation with the stranger.
"Can I help you, friend?" Officer Behnon asked.
"Are you the Evil One?" a raspy voice asked. "Are you the one who has come to kill me?"
"I can assure you I am not," Officer Behnon replied. "You should go home. It's not safe to be out at this late hour."
"You are the Dark One," the voice screamed this time. At that moment, I was hit by a wave of emotion. This was the man whose fear I had sensed. A fear that was now replaced by an overwhelming rage. Rage that demanded its revenge.
"Behnon get clear," I yelled into the comlink as I neared his position. "That's the killer. You must get out of there."
Before I could round the corner to Behnon's position I heard two more sounds come across the link; the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber being ignited and Gibral's warning before he fired two shots.
Reaching the scene, I found Gibral huddled over the form of Officer Behnon. Leaning against the alley wall, Behnon grimaced in pain as Gibral assessed his wound. Opening up Behnon's police tunic revealed a blackened scar across his chest. Looking closer, there was no doubt this wound was created by a lightsaber.
"What happened?" I asked.
Behnon, his face a mask of pain, blurted out the answer between gasps. "Heard your warning. He reached for his weapon ... I jumped back. Would have gotten clear if ... hadn't hit this wall. Gibral arrived ... before he could finish it."
"I was able to fire off two shots," Gibral explained, continuing the description of the events which had just taken place for Kalim and Officer Mareel, both of whom had just arrived. "I don't think either one hit him. He ran as soon as I shouted a warning. I would have kept silent, but I could see he was about to deliver the fatal blow."
"You did the right thing," I said. "Behnon is still alive. Though I am no expert as to your biology, the wound does not look fatal to me. We should get him to a hospital."
"You're right. Behnon's health is the most important matter," Gibral agreed. "Besides, I got a good look at our suspect. He is an Exile."
"Yes, Master Jaina. According to Gibral, any Saccran convicted of a serious crime is offered two options; punishment or exile," I explained the following morning. "As a condition of their exile, convicts are tattooed and are no longer allowed to shave their heads. According to the Saccran beliefs, a shaved head is not only a symbol of manhood, but also a mark of decency and goodness. By denying Exiles this right, they are effectively castigated from society. An Exile who shaves his head and attempts a new life in a different town risks his very life if he is caught."
"Sounds effective," Master Jaina said after a moment's thought. "Criminals are still allowed a chance at life while society is protected against them."
"There are a several Exile communities scattered through the mountains. The nearest such community is called Al Ancham. It's a mining town in the mountains to the east."
"Will you and Gibral be going there today?"
"No," I answered. "Almost nobody lives in the town itself. Once a month, doctors travel into the mountains to offer medical care to the Exiles. Al Ancham is the meeting place. Nobody else goes there except for the occasional businessman who operates on the margin of legality. There are scattered veins of precious metals in the mountains, and the Exiles are often willing to trade for food and clothes."
"So what are your plans?"
"There is only one mountain pass that leads to Al Ancham. Now that we know the murderer is an Exile, we can narrow our surveillance to that pass."
"Sounds like you and Gibral have everything in hand. How is the wounded officer?"
"He'll be fine. He jumped away just in time and the lightsaber only scorched him across the chest. Gibral said if the cut had been two inches deeper, Behnon would have been killed."
"Were you able to sense anything from the killer?" Master Jaina asked. "Is he a fallen Jedi or a Sith?"
"I only sensed fear from him. A fear that was replaced by rage when he encountered the officer. I did hear him ask if Behnon had come to kill him. I believe his exact words were 'Are you the Evil One?' Whatever that means. I don't know why he was so frightened, Behnon never made any threatening movement towards him."
"It appears the killer is looking for revenge. The only problem is he doesn't know whom he is seeking revenge against. Consequently, he suspects everybody who crosses his path and kills indiscriminately. His use of a lightsaber remains a mystery however. One that you need to clear up."
"I am meeting with Gibral at midday. With a little luck, tonight our questions will be answered. How are the negotiations progressing?" I asked.
"Better now that Parla and I are no longer suspects. Half of the ministers are willing to allow infants to be tested for Force potentials, while the other half remains unsure. Of these, only a handful are directly hostile to the idea. I spent the better portion of the meeting yesterday discussing whether it was actually possible for a Saccran to be a Force sensitive."
"It doesn't sound to me like you're making much headway."
"You must consider that when I began, none of the ministers were willing to accept our position. In the end, we will get what we want."
Following my early morning meeting with Master Jaina, I returned to the small apartment that had been arranged for me. As I walked the streets, I noticed that the mornings on Saccra were as busy as the evenings. Appropriate for a world with such an inhospitable climate. Although someone from Tatooine might consider that Saccran day pleasantly cool, the rest of the galaxy would wither from the midday heat. Most Saccrans wore light colored, loose fitting robes to combat the heat. Only those citizens who required a recognizable uniform, such as the police, deviated from this norm. For these civil employees only the style of their garments differed, the light colored fabric remained the same as the rest of the population.
Lost in my thoughts, I rounded the corner to my apartment and found Gibral waiting for me outside my door. Waving to Gibral in greeting, my pleasant thoughts abruptly disappeared when I saw the disturbed look on his face.
"Is something the matter?" I asked. "Is it Behnon?"
"No, Jedi, Behnon is well. He has already returned to his home and will be back to work tomorrow. However the news from my superiors is not as good."
"What do they have to say?"
"I'm sure you know the rumors of what happened last night have already spread throughout the city, getting wilder with each telling. The public demand for police protection has reached a fevered pitch. All officers will be required to stay in the city tonight to assure the public that the police can protect them. I tried to explain to them that we knew the killer was an Exile and that we could lay in wait for him in the mountain pass, but they wouldn't hear it. I finally managed to get them to allow you and I alone to watch the pass."
"Occasionally, we must all bow to the public's wishes, and sometimes a show of force, empty as it may be, is just what is needed to calm people's fears."
"I wouldn't mind so much," Gibral explained, "if it didn't mean that you and I will be without backup tonight."
"Then we'll have to be careful and not need any backup," I returned with a laugh, hoping to lighten Gibral's mood.
"I'm trying to decide if you're brave or foolish, Jedi, but I hope you're right." Gibral agreed with a slight smile.
Once again under the cover of night, Gibral and I waited at the base of the mountains east of Al Hambra; waited at the foot of the only path into the mountains. Behind us, the city of Al Hambra was lit up like a beacon despite the late hour. Gibral had informed me that the city had been put on alert and every police officer was out walking the streets. Groups of citizens had also banded together and were walking the streets of their neighborhoods to protect their loved ones.
"This is the worst part of my job. At times the waiting seems almost unbearable," Gibral said, breaking the silence that was screaming out to be heard.
"Believe me I understand," I responded. "Patience is a lesson drilled into every Padawan from the beginning of their training. It's a lesson I was afraid I'd never learn."
"Any part of that lesson you could pass along to me?"
"My Master always told me 'Every event happens in its own time. You can't hurry it and you can't worry it. All you can do is wait and let it happen.' I think tonight I understand those words better than ever."
"Your Master sounds like a truly wise man."
"He is. As was the one who taught him. And the one who taught him. I have the advantage of receiving the collected wisdom of over a thousand generations of teachers."
"Being a Jedi sounds like a lot of work."
"It's a difficult life, but one well worth the sacrifices required. Like yours, my life is one of service to those around me. I was born with a special gift, and it would be wasteful to use it for my own selfish ends."
"Can you really do that much? I've heard the stories of what Jedi can do, but it seems almost magical."
"I can assure there's nothing 'magical' about it. It takes great effort and discipline to become a Jedi. There are really no limits to what can be done, as long as one is in touch with the Force."
"And perhaps someday there will be Saccran Jedi?"
"You've heard about that? I thought the negotiation points would be kept secret until the deal was struck."
"My position as Inspector allows me access to certain information. When I found out you had returned with the Jedi Master, I asked some questions in the right places and found out what was going on at the negotiation table."
"What do you think about the Jedi Council's demands? If you knew one of your children had the potential to be a Jedi, would you allow that child to travel to Coruscant to be trained? Would you trade seeing your child every day to allow him or her to become a Jedi?"
"No, I don't believe I would. Every day I spent with my children is a gift. Knowing the joys of fatherhood, I could never give them up," Gibral explained after a moment's pause. "Is this the choice your parents made?"
"Yes. My parents sacrificed their own happiness to allow me the opportunity to become a Jedi. I'm sure this was especially difficult for them, as I am their only child. It's not as if I didn't know them growing up. The Jedi Temple ensures that every student maintains close ties to their families. Before I came here, I took a young girl and her family to Coruscant so she could begin her training. Her parents were poor, so we brought them along so they could be a part of her life. My parents were able to afford regular trips to visit me, and I went home whenever there was a break in school. I can honestly tell you that my parents and I are very close, and none of us regret their decision."
"I'm pleased to hear that Calep. Family is the most powerful force in one's life."
"I couldn't agree more," I replied with a hidden smile. Few knew as well as I did how the love between father and son had brought down an empire.
"Did you hear that?" Gibral asked, suddenly fully alert, his eyes and ears searching for the source of the noise.
"Yes. Someone just kicked some rocks down the path. Let me see who it is."
Reaching out with the Force, I quickly located one individual coming down the mountain path. His thoughts were a maze of conflicting images, and his emotions even more so. Fear along with pride was overlaid with a sense of rightness. Whatever his motives, the killer believed he was the instrument of justice.
"It's him," I informed Gibral. "He'll be here in moments. Get ready."
It's amazing how much can change in a few moments. Less than a minute ago, Gibral and I had been sharing a relaxed conversation. Now, intense focus and stiff alertness replaced our casual demeanor and relaxed posture. At any moment, the confrontation would occur that might cost either of us our lives. I turned my gaze to Gibral, and he returned my look with a curt nod, signifying not only that he was ready for whatever might happen, but that he was ready to face it with me. There is no bond stronger than the bond between men who face possible death together. I felt honored that Gibral had come to trust me in our short time together. Reaching beneath my robe, I held my deactivated lightsaber in hand as the object of our search walked into view.
My first glimpse of our adversary did not fit the image I had in my mind. Before me stood an old, weary man in tattered robes. His long, dirty hair clearly marked him as an Exile. Whoever this was, this was no Jedi. There had never been a Saccran Jedi. As Master Jaina had informed me earlier, the Saccrans denied the possibility that any Saccrans could become Jedi. Part of me was thrilled that the wait was over and that our questions would soon be answered. Calming myself, I let go of those thoughts and focused on the matter at hand.
"So you've come to find me, Dark One," he said, though I was surprised to discover that he was speaking to Gibral instead of me. "You won't kill me as you did the others. Your evil ends here tonight."
"You're the only killer here," Gibral responded, raising his pistol. "We're here to see that you pay for your crimes."
"You call me a killer," the old man said, his eyes now wild with shock. "You and the one you serve are responsible for the deaths of my brothers. You have hunted them down across the galaxy, but you won't take me. This ends here tonight." With that, the old man raised his arms to the heavens. Then in one smooth motion he pulled a lightsaber from the sleeve of his torn robe and leapt at Gibral. I knew that Gibral had set his blaster to the 'stun' setting, and I feared that might not be enough. Using the Force to push Gibral clear of the fight, I ignited my own lightsaber and met the blade of our attacker.
Through the pulsing of our crossed blades I saw my opponent's eyes narrow in confusion, then open wide in exultation. Disengaging his saber from mine, he leapt backwards to allow some clearance between us. For a moment I thought he was about to run, then he lowered his blade to his side and spoke.
"At last I have found you, Dark One. No longer will you haunt my sleep. Either you shall strike me down as you did the others, or Justice will guide my blade and end your reign of evil."
"You are confused, old man," I said as I repositioned my lightsaber to a more defensive posture. "You are the one guilty of murder here."
"I have only slain the ones you sent to kill me," he spoke forcefully. "I did what was needed to draw you out, and now you're mine."
With that he lunged at me with a frenzied attack. Blow upon blow was delivered, but none with the skill and technique of a competent swordsman. I easily blocked each blow while luring my attacker away from Gibral, lest the madman turn his anger upon him. Despite the illumination provided by Saccra's two moons, the rolling, rocky terrain provided treacherous footing and I was forced to be cautious.
"You must believe I am no threat to you," I assured the old man as he paused to catch his breath. "I'm only here to end the killings. Put down your weapon."
"You'd like that wouldn't you. That I would let you complete your strangle hold on the galaxy without a struggle. Only one of us will walk away from this encounter."
No sooner were these words spoken than our contest was renewed. Realizing my opponent was no danger to me, I decided to end our struggle quickly. As he swung wildly at my left side, I pivoted on my right leg and stepped back with my left to meet his blow directly. Putting every ounce of strength into my own blow, I struck his blade just above the hilt and knocked the lightsaber from his grasp. Making the most of his confusion at the loss of his weapon, I knocked him backward into the mountain wall and called his lightsaber to my hand.
As I attached it to my belt I saw Gibral walking over to my position, his blaster now holstered. I was about to extinguish my own blade when I heard a voice shout out, "There he is. There's the murderer." Realizing they were pointing at me, I raised my voice in protest to the mob that had assembled, doubtlessly attracted by the sounds of the previous struggle. For a moment it appeared my words had stopped the crowd, when suddenly someone among the group raised a blaster and fired.
Instinctively, I raised my lightsaber and deflected shot after shot. Above the noise, I could hear Gibral shouting for the shooter to cease his fire. Finally, the shooter stepped to the front of the mob, continuing his barrage of fire. I was still considering how to end the standoff, when Gibral fired at the crowd, stunning the man with the blaster. I extinguished my blade and ran to join Gibral as he checked on the downed man, when a slow, thunderous rumble filled the sky.
Every head turned in unison to identify the source of the noise. Our questions were answered as small rocks began bouncing after one another down the steep slope. Apparently started by some of the blaster shots I had deflected, the trickle of stones gave way to larger boulders and sediment tumbling down the mountain. The mountain pass acted like a funnel, sending much of the falling rocks and debris directly toward us. There was no time to flee.
"Quick, everyone huddle up behind me," I commanded. With Gibral's assistance, I herded the panicked throng into a tight pack around the still unconscious shooter. Once they were knotted into a tight group, I turned to face the rockslide. Realizing I had no other choice, and uncertain about what I was about to attempt, I immersed myself in the Force and prepared to defend us all from the crushing weight of the mountain that was raining down upon us.
At first the boulders came slowly, and I was able to select the ones that were headed for us well before they presented a danger and deflected them to another course. Soon however, smaller rocks the size of my fist and smaller that were too numerous to deflect one by one made their way through my defenses and pelted me and those huddled behind me.
"Hang on. This is going to get rough," I shouted, hoping to be heard above the cacophony. It quickly became apparent that the loose material sliding down around was at least as dangerous as the falling rocks. There was no way I could divert any attention to counter this and already I was buried up to my knees. Unless the slide ended soon, there was the very real possibility we could be buried alive.
For nearly a minute, the rockslide continued, and occasionally a large rock almost fell upon us before I was able to sense it and cast it away. The stress of maintaining my focus was exhausting. I was relieved when the deluge of falling rocks slowed to a small torrent, and then to a minor trickle. By the time it was finally over, I was covered almost to my waist by pebbles and dust that had come down around us all.
"Is everybody okay?" I asked, my voice more hopeful than my spirits.
One by one the Saccrans dug themselves out, each of them covered from head to foot with the reddish-brown dust of the mountain range. Only the brightness of their eyes contradicted the condition they were all in. We all shared bruises and cuts too numerous to count. I began to grow hopeful that we had made it through the slide unscathed, when a young boy shouted out.
"My brother. Where is Tinal?"
My eyes locked with those of Gibral, who had been helping an elderly man to his feet. Our elation at having survived was suddenly replaced with dread at the thought of losing a young boy.
"Did anybody see what happened to the boy's brother?" Gibral asked the group.
"He was here with us when the rockslide began," claimed one of the Saccrans. "Maybe he became frightened and ran off."
"We must find him. Everyone spread out and look for him," Gibral ordered as he frantically scrambled to the top of the largest rock pile and retrieved a light from his pack. Several of the other Saccrans whose lanterns had survived the slide spread out and began the search for the missing boy. Over and over the boy's name was called, with silence as the only response.
Climbing atop a large boulder that had come to a rest nearby, I closed my eyes and reached out with the Force to try to sense the young boy's presence. Filtering out the rage of emotions emanating from the searchers, I finally located a small voice mutely crying out in terror.
"Gibral, the boy's still alive. He's trapped underneath that rock pile just ahead of you. Right behind that large rock."
Gibral and several other searchers scrambled to the pile I indicated and frantically began removing the rubble. Realizing the futileness of running from the rockslide, Tinal apparently took shelter behind a large boulder. The smaller rock pile in the wake of this boulder allowed us to hope that a rescue was possible.
"Calep," Gibral hollered. "I've found his arm but I can't move him. We need to get him out now."
"Everybody stand back," I ordered. Reaching deep down within myself, within the Force, I cast one heavy stone off the pile, then another. Once the rest of the stones were removed, Gibral and a few others dug away the sediment until Tinal was uncovered.
"He's still alive, but he's badly hurt," Gibral reported. "Calep, we need to get him aboard the skiff and back to the city."
Despite the weakness in my knees, I hopped down from the boulder I stood upon and sprinted away from the group now huddled around Tinal's injured form. When Gibral and I had come to this mountain pass, we had parked the small police skiff behind a mountain bend roughly one hundred meters from where we decided to await our quarry, lest it be seen and betray our presence. Now those hundred meters seemed a foolish precaution fated to delay treatment for young Tinal. My lungs burning from my recent efforts, I hopped aboard the open skiff and piloted it back to Gibral's location, where we cautiously loaded the boy aboard.
"The rest of you should go home," Gibral stated to the crowd once he was behind the skiff's controls. "It is not safe to remain on this mountain."
Only the unfamiliar bump of a second lightsaber against my leg reminded me of our original purpose this evening. Wondering what had happened to my adversary, I briefly surveyed the base of the mountain pass where our struggle had taken place. The old man was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he had been buried by the rockslide, or perhaps he had survived and retreated back up the mountain pass. I had little time to ponder the possibilities of his whereabouts before Gibral turned the skiff to the west and we raced back to Al Hambra with our wounded cargo.
For the second time during my brief stay on Saccra, I spoke a silent reproach against the fluttering sunlight as it broke through the multi-colored windows of my apartment and awoke me from my slumber. A glance at my chrono informed me that I had been asleep for less than three hours, a fact my body was eager to confirm. The return trip from the mountain had been uneventful, and the doctors we spoke with at the hospital seemed optimistic about Tinal's chances for a full recovery. Remembering that I had a standing engagement with Master Jaina every morning to discuss the progress of our investigation, I arose from the mat that was my bed and prepared myself for the day.
Twenty minutes later, feeling somewhat refreshed and alert, I left my apartment and entered the pedestrian traffic of Al Hambra. The stim tea I had drunk was hard at work attempting to negate the effects brought on by lack of sleep. In this morning's commute however, I noticed a subtle change. Since arriving on Saccra, I had stood out from the crowd and drawn a modest amount of curious looks from those around me. This was, of course, to be expected on a planet like Saccra and I was certain my effect on the population would decline as my presence became more familiar to them. The uncommon amount of attention I attracted this morning, along with the hushed conversations between people as I was pointed out, seemed to dispute this theory.
A mother halted in her daily routine to point me out to her children. Several men I passed greeted me with a polite nod. Somewhat puzzled at the notice I was receiving, I soon covered the two blocks distance between Master Jaina's apartment and mine.
"Good morning, Calep," Parla greeted me as she opened the door in response to my knock.
"Come in, Calep," Master Jaina called from the small table at the far side of the room where she was enjoying her breakfast. "Will you share breakfast with Parla and me?"
"Yes. Thank you," I responded as I sat down in an empty chair and helped myself to the wide assortment before me. "It was a long night and today looks like it may be even worse."
"No luck in your investigation?"
"On the contrary, we've had all kinds of luck. Good and bad," I said between mouthfuls of fresh fruit. "Gibral and I met up with the killer last night only to lose him again when a group of Saccrans, who apparently found out the suspect was an Exile, interrupted us. Then there was the rockslide, which nearly buried us all, followed by a frantic search for a young boy who attempted to run and became buried beneath a pile of rubble. By the time we rescued the boy, our suspect was nowhere to be found. After we got the boy to the hospital Gibral sent a detachment back to the mountain last night to search through the rubble for a body. I'll find out what they discovered when I meet Gibral later today."
"What did you find out about the killer?"
"He's no Jedi. Or Sith for that matter. As far as I can tell he is just a crazy old man from the mountains who believes he is fighting someone he refers to as the 'Dark One'. I was able to relieve him of his weapon," I said as I removed the lightsaber from my belt and handed it to Master Jaina. "How he came by it remains a mystery. Gibral and I plan to search the mountains this afternoon. I have now been in the killer's mind twice and Ifeel certain I can locate him again if he is still alive."
"The Council will be relieved to hear that. We've all dreaded the possibility of the killer being one of us, or worse yet a Sith. You've done well, Calep."
"Thank you," I responded, my face flushing slightly at the compliment. "How is your part of the mission proceeding?"
"It appears I've lost ground since the last time we spoke. The ministers who are most outspoken against our position have rallied a few of their fellow ministers to their cause. They're using the argument that Saccrans can't be Jedi and therefore any testing is a waste of time and money. I've explained time and time again that all living creatures are connected to the Force and have the potential to utilize it. Last night I transmitted a request to Coruscant to search through the old records to try to find any account of a Saccran who left his homeworld and became a Jedi. It's a long shot however and I'm not optimistic. I believe the Saccrans opposed to our proposal hope to delay long enough that Ambassador Vayrun intercedes and asks me to back off from the Council's demands."
"I wish I could help you," I said sympathetically. "It seems my task has turned out to be much easier to solve than yours."
"Changing people's opinions is never easy," Master Jaina admitted with a slight frown.
A knock on the door interrupted our morning conversation. I rose from my chair to answer it and noticed Parla doing the same. I motioned for her to remain seated and walked across the room to open the door. There I found Gibral waiting. I urged him inside and introduced him to Master Jaina and her apprentice.
"Good morning, Inspector. Will you join us for breakfast?" Master Jaina offered.
"Thank you, but no," Gibral answered nervously. "I have already eaten."
"At least join us," I said as I ushered Gibral over to the table. "We were discussing the investigation earlier. Is there any news?"
"No trace of your attacker was found underneath the rubble. He must have escaped back up the mountain. The doctors say that the boy Tinal should eventually make a full recovery. The police have arrested the man who fired at you and are considering what charges to file against him and the rest of the mob."
"I hope they'll be lenient," I suggested. "I don't approve of mob justice any more than you do, but they were frightened and wanted to protect themselves. The rockslide was as much my fault as anyone's. I should have been aware of where the deflected shots were going."
"That is gracious of you," Gibral said. "There will of course be at least some sort of token punishment to discourage this sort of behavior in the future."
"Is something the matter?" I asked Gibral. He had seemed out of sorts since he arrived. I noticed he was constantly fidgeting in his chair and he only cast surreptitious looks at Master Jaina and me. I had thought that our days of working together had allowed us to feel comfortable with each other, but Gibral's attitude seemed anything but relaxed.
"No, nothing's the matter. It's just that I'm a little unnerved about what I witnessed last night," Gibral confessed. "I'd always assumed the legends of the Jedi were exaggerated, but after seeing you protect us from that rockslide, I can't help but wonder what else you're capable of."
"What we're capable of, no one knows," Master Jaina said to Gibral. "I wish I could tell you that there are defined limits, but there are none. The Force emanates from all living things and is the mechanism which binds the galaxy together. The only limitations that exist are the limitations the user places upon himself. It is for this reason that potential Jedi are trained from a very young age. Not only must a Jedi be able to fully explore the possibilities of his powers, but he must also be able to judge when to use those powers, and more importantly when not too. The Force is meant for knowledge and defense, not for attack or personal gain. We've seen what power in the wrong hands can do, and must remain ever vigilant that those entrusted with that power are worthy of it."
"If anybody asks me I'll tell him that in my opinion Calep Seth is more than worthy of the power he wields," Gibral stated boldly as he turned his gaze to me. "When the mountain began to fall on us I was certain I would never see my family again. Every day from now on that I spend with them I owe to you."
"Remember, I was there too, so don't pretend that my motives were wholly selfless," I said in an attempt to deflect some of Gibral's praise. "I was protecting myself as well."
"Modesty too," Master Jaina said. "However Calep, if you insist on going around performing heroic deeds, you need to learn to accept the appreciation of those you help. Don't trivialize your actions or their gratitude. Accept it and move on"
"Speaking of 'moving on', we'd better be going. I have requisitioned a transport to take us into the mountains to search for our missing suspect," Gibral reminded me. "It could be a long day and we'd best get an early start."
Once Gibral and I were back in the flow of pedestrian traffic I couldn't help but notice I was receiving the same stares as before. Some people pointed me out to their children as I walked past while others hid their children behind them.
"Why do I feel as if you're not the only one unnerved about what happened last night?" I asked Gibral as I indicated the reactions of those around us.
"You must remember that I was not the only one you saved last night. There were over a dozen others and..."
"And word has spread," I finished for him. "I'd hoped to avoid this. Being the center of attention makes it hard to get any work done."
"Well then, when we get into the mountains I promise I shall pay no attention to you," Gibral joked. "Would that make you happy?"
An hour later our transport landed in what passed for the town of Al Ancham. The town itself was comprised of several lean-tos and shacks laid out on the only flat piece of land on the mountain. Only the small medical building maintained by the government gave this bleak town any semblance of permanence. Gibral assured me that Exile living conditions were better than this, and that the decrepit buildings were only used once or twice a month as temporary homes when doctors from Al Hambra came to attend to the Exiles' medical needs.
We alighted from the transport to search the town in case anyone was staying here and could aid us in our search. Gibral was not surprised when nothing turned up.
"I guessed as much. The team of doctors was here only a week ago, so there is no reason for anyone to be here. It didn't hurt to look though, and Al Ancham is a centralized location in these mountains and is as good a place as any for us to begin our search."
"I'll get started." Reaching out with the Force, I cast my awareness over the mountainside. I found that this was much easier to do here in the mountains than in the city below. There was no ocean of minds to sort through; in fact it was some time before I encountered any sentient minds at all. The first group I encountered was a company of miners working deep within the south slope of the mountain.
Moving on, I expanded the range of my search and came across other groups of Exiles engaged in similar work. It wasn't until I focused my attention further up the mountain that I got any results. One mind, alone and afraid, hiding within a cave. Narrowing my search to this lone target I was able to confirm that this was indeed our man, and received a bit of a shock. Along with his presence, I sensed the remnant of another, one infused with the Force. The sensation was weak, almost an aftertaste. Whoever had left this sensation was no longer there, but the presence left behind was unmistakable.
"I've found him. He's up there," I reported as I pointed up the north face. "He's gone into hiding in a small cave. There should be a path around here if we can find it. I also sensed something odd, but I'm unsure what it was. We should be cautious."
The incline of the slope and the lack of any landing area further up the mountain dictated that we proceed the rest of the way on foot. In a way, I was glad for this as it allowed me to calm my anxieties about the unusual presence I had sensed. Gibral on the other hand seemed less pleased. The difficulty of the terrain combined with the altitude had him huffing and puffing in no time. I admit that I too needed a break from climbing when we came to a fork in the path, allowing us to stop.
At this closer range, I was able to pick out our quarry much more quickly. "We need to follow this path," I said indicating the left-hand path that twisted up and out of sight behind an outcropping.
"Don't be too hasty, Calep. You should double check to be sure," Gibral blurted out between ragged breaths. "Maybe you should look again in about fifteen minutes."
"That's not necessary," I teased. "I'm quite certain that's the correct path."
"Well you may be certain but I'm not," Gibral conceded. "I think I'll sit here on this rock and think about our situation for a while. I'll get back to you when I've made my decision."
"As you wish. Of course I'll stay to keep you company."
"That's very generous of you, now shut up and let me think."
Gibral was obviously very concerned about our situation and spent quite a bit longer than fifteen minutes thinking about it. It was almost half an hour before he was on his feet and declared that he agreed with my assessment of which path to follow. Without saying a word, I joined him and continued our trip up the mountain.
Another half-hour of climbing brought us to the end of the path. The path ended when it disappeared into a fissure in the mountainside. "Is this the place?" Gibral asked in a serious tone.
Expanding my senses, I confirmed our suspect was nearby, and that we were even closer to the other presence I had sensed. Though still weak and diffuse, the sensation was stronger now than it had been earlier. It appeared all our questions were about to be answered.
Almost as if on cue, a shadowy figure slipped from the darkness to meet us. Once clearly in the light, there was no doubt that this was the same man who had attacked us the previous day. Making no threatening gestures, the old man calmly strode toward us and stopped roughly ten meters in front of us.
"I knew you'd find me," he said in a broken, defeated tone. "I was no match for you. Please, kill me quickly."
"We're not here to kill you, we're here to arrest you for your crimes," Gibral said as he reached for his binders.
"What crime is it to defend myself? I only killed those who had come to hunt me down."
"You're wrong. Those people were law-abiding citizens you slaughtered in the night. They were no threat to you. You killed them for no reason."
"No. That's not true," the old man cried out in confusion. "He sent them to find me. Ask him. Ask him!"
"He doesn't understand, Gibral," I said, halting Gibral as he marched forward to arrest the old man. "He truly believes what he is saying."
"I understand everything, Skywalker!" the old man screamed, spitting that name out as if it were a curse. "I know what you've done and I know of your crimes against your comrades."
"How do you know that name?" I demanded. This mystery had taken another sudden turn; one of a personal interest to me.
"I know all about you. I know how you took the name Darth Vader and helped the Empire purge the galaxy of its guardians. Except you couldn't find them all. Some escaped your hunt like I did. You came here looking for me once before but failed to find me. Now you've finally succeeded, and it's all over."
"Yes, it's now over," I agreed. "You must be tired. You should sleep."
Gibral turned to me with a look of surprise when the old man obeyed my suggestion and collapsed into a deep sleep. "The Force can have a strong influence," I explained. "This man knows things he should not know, and I must find out why. I believe my answers lie in there," I said pointing to the fissure. "Place the binders upon him and we'll bring him inside with us."
As I entered the fissure, I was overcome with the presence I had sensed earlier. Stronger than ever before, it still felt like an echo rather than a solid presence. The opening in the mountainside was barely wide enough for two men to walk abreast and sloped downward into the mountain. Gibral lit our way with his powerful lamp as we worked our way through the twisting tunnel. Looking ahead, we could see the tunnel ended abruptly. It wasn't until we came to the very end of the passageway that we were able to locate a small side tunnel. Following this new avenue, we came to an enlarged room deep within the mountain.
This room was obviously the source of the presence that I had been feeling. The room had clearly been lived in for some time, but only on corner showed recent use. The rest of the room was covered in layers of dust and seemed to have remained undisturbed for decades. Whoever the old man was, he was not the first to live here.
Using my own smaller hand-light, I searched the dark corners of the room that Gibral's lantern failed to illuminate. On a rough-hewn table I found a glow lamp whose charge was depleted. At each end of the table stood a handmade, three-legged stool. Two chairs? Whoever the previous occupant was, he had had company. Continuing my search, I found a small niche at the back of the cavern room. There my light revealed a small cot. The feeling that had been buzzing around my awareness surged as my light fell across the occupant of this cot.
He was a Jedi, or rather had been. Judging by the condition of the bed coverings and his clothes he had been lying here dead for quite some time. His features had been somewhat mummified by the dry mountain air, but he was obviously a Sullustan.
"Calep," Gibral said, his voice seeming a shout as it echoed within the room, "you should come over here and see this." Gibral had been searching the area of the cave that had been occupied by the old man. Attracted by the dying embers of a fire, he had come across a rather large book lying on the bedding nearby. Taking the book from him, I returned to the table with Gibral in tow. There I sat in one of the small chairs and opened the book.
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year One
What follows will be a record of my time in hiding. I am Jedi Master Muan Momb. It has been less than a year since the Betrayal. In that time hundreds of my fellow Jedi have been slaughtered by the one who was our Great Hope. The Temple now lies abandoned as the Scattering has left us alone and on the run. It grieves me that I may never again enter that sacred place to teach the young children as they begin the long arduous path to becoming a Jedi. I have taken refuge on Saccra in an attempt to escape notice, although it seems no one is able to escape the attention of the Dark One and his Master. I write this journal in the hopes that though I may die, the truth may live on.
I arrived here two days ago. Under the cover of night I descended in my small ship near the northern pole and began a search for a suitable hiding place. Using the sensor data I obtained from orbit and letting the Force guide me, I settled on this small cave hidden high atop the mountain. The position is doubly advantageous, as there is a city within a few days' walk. I'll need more than my sorrow to sustain me, and the lowlands seem to be the only sources of food and water.
Despite the inhospitable climate and terrain, I have sensed a few dozen natives also living on this mountain. Why they choose to live in such a desolate place when the lowlands below seem a garden paradise by comparison is beyond me. Perhaps they are separate tribes. If so it may be safe for me to reveal myself to them without fearing that knowledge of my presence would leave the mountains.
"What is it, Calep?"
"It's the journal of the original inhabitant of this cave," I answered. "He was a Jedi Master hiding from the Purge."
"What do you think his connection is to the old man?"
"Judging by appearances, I'd say the old Jedi died before the old man was born. I'd have to guess that the old man found this cave and the Jedi's journals. In his madness, he came to believe that he was the Jedi and that he was being hunted by the Empire. Eventually his fear became too much and he took the old Jedi's lightsaber and went after his imagined attacker."
An hour later, I was back at the old Jedi's home reading through his journal. Gibral had wanted to get his suspect back to Al Hambra, so I'd joined him on the journey back down the mountain to Al Ancham where the police skiff was located. Before he left I used the skiff's comm to contact Master Jaina. I told her what Gibral and I had discovered and requested that she join me.
Reading Muan Momb's words, I felt as if I was reliving those dark days when being a Jedi was a death sentence. Simple words opened up a window to the past and showed the thoughts and emotions of a Jedi Master forced to give up his life's work and start over on a foreign planet.
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year One
Today I learned the peculiar relationship between the people of the mountain and the people of the city below. The Exiles living on the mountain are the criminals who have been cast away and allowed one last chance at life, slim as it may be. They have learned to depend on one another and by necessity have established a hierarchy up here. A few of them even retain ties to their families and accomplices below and manage to smuggle extra food and water to the rest of the Exiles. I have come to an agreement with the leaders of the hierarchy and in return for my meager skills as a Healer, I am brought what food and water I require. My only condition for this agreement was that no one other than the healers know that I now resided on their mountain. My only patient so far was encouraged to forget she ever saw me.
Other passages revealed the truth about life in hiding as only a Jedi could experience it.
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year One
I was awakened this morning by a resounding call in the Force. Another of my brothers has been lost; the Dark One's rampage continues. The frequency of these disturbances has diminished and I am left to wonder whether the Purge is ending, or if there are just so few of us left. I am afraid it is the latter. Curse the day that boy was ever found.
I met Master Jaina and her apprentice Parla outside the cave when they arrived late that afternoon. I had been reading Master Momb's haunting words for several hours and needed a break to collect myself. It reminded me so much of Master Skywalker's death and the way he shared his life with us before he died, only Master Skywalker died with his loved ones, living and dead, in attendance while Master Momb died alone on a foreign world with no one to mourn his passing.
"You seem troubled, Calep," Master Jaina commented as they approached.
"I've been reading Master Momb's journals. It's not easy to read the thoughts of a man who had his life torn away from him."
"Is the Master still inside?" Master Jaina asked.
"Yes. He's remained there undisturbed for so long. I didn't think it proper to do anything until you arrived. I've been looking through his writings while waiting for you."
"I've brought some extra lights like you suggested. Let's see what else there is to see and take care of an old comrade," Master Jaina suggested before she led the way into the cave.
Fully lit, the room seemed much smaller than before. The small niche in the back where Master Momb lay remained dim but still attracted attention. I noticed Parla casting frequent glances over there as I showed her and Master Jaina what I had already uncovered.
"Gibral found the first journal among the old man's belongings. I found the others later when I returned after calling you."
"How many have you looked through?"
"I've been through the first one entirely and I read the ending of the last one. He was here for nearly twenty years. At the very end he described two strong disturbances in the Force. I figure they correspond to the destruction of Alderaan and the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The entries end a few weeks later. Feeling the death of one last Jedi might have broken his spirit."
"Possibly," Master Jaina mused. "All of his belongings should be taken to the Jedi Temple for study, including his lightsaber," she declared as she retrieved the article she spoke of from beneath her robe.
"Would you like to look upon him?" I asked Parla, catching her in another furtive look at the back of the cave.
"Yes. I mean no. I mean... I've never seen a dead person before, let alone a Jedi Master," Parla finally managed to blurt out.
"Don't worry, there's nothing to it," I reassured her as I led her to the back of the cave.
"He looks so sad," Parla remarked as we stood near the small bed.
"He probably believed he was the last of the Jedi," Master Jaina spoke from over her pupil's shoulder. "I know that would make me sad. We should take care of the body, Calep. It's long overdue."
"You're right. We can use the furniture to build a proper funeral pyre for him. I'll go back outside to try to find some place to construct it."
It had been dark for over an hour by the time the funeral pyre was built and Muan Momb was placed upon it. I had found some scrub brush clinging to the mountainside and we were able to use that to supplement the few pieces of wooden furniture in the cave. When completed, the pyre seemed small, but was adequate to suit our needs.
"Shouldn't one of us say something first," Parla asked as I handed the lit torch to Master Jaina. "It doesn't seem right to not say anything."
"Calep," Master Jaina said, "you've read some of his diaries. Would you say a few words?"
"We're here to acknowledge the life of Jedi Master Muan Momb, a Jedi who died before any of us were born," I began, my eyes firmly fixed upon the object of my eulogy. "I wish I could speak of all his accomplishments in life, but I barely know him. He was a teacher in the Temple at the height of the Jedi's power and influence. He died with no one even knowing of his existence. We are left with only his journals and a few other belongings. Perhaps he is waiting to tell us his story when we leave this life behind. For now we release his body and allow the wind to carry his ashes onward."
With silent reverence, Master Jaina stepped forward and placed the torch among the smaller kindling at the base of the pyre. Dried by the mountain's harsh winds the tinder quickly caught and soon the entire pyre was ablaze. Though he died alone, he would not be forgotten. The three of us - a Padawan, a Knight, and a Master - bore witness as the flames consumed his body.
For the first time in my brief stay on Saccra I was up before the sun. After Master Momb's funeral pyre had flickered out, the three of us had gathered all of his belongings into the trunks where I had found his other journals and carried them down the mountain. Once back in Al Hambra, we loaded the relics aboard the Celestial for Master Jaina to transport to the Jedi Temple at the completion of her mission.
My mission was completed, but I didn't feel like leaving yet. I had only scratched the surface of Master Momb's journals and I greatly desired to learn more. I knew the proper course of action would be to return the journals to the historians at the Jedi Temple, but it might take years for them to be studied. All the way to Master Jaina's apartment I rehearsed the speech I would give to convince Master Jaina to let me study the relics before she left.
"Good morning, Calep," Master Jaina greeted me as I entered the apartment she shared with Parla. "You've not come to take your leave of us already, have you?"
"No. I was sent to assist you and will continue to serve in whatever capacity you choose, but I have come to ask a favor."
"And what might that be?" she asked. Judging by her tone and attitude, she already knew what I intended to ask.
"I would like to read more of Master Momb's journal's before you return them to the Temple," I stated. "I feel like I've come to know him just a little, and it might take years for the scholars at the Temple to examine them and publish their findings."
"Didn't my brother teach you patience?" Master Jaina queried.
"Along with the desire to learn things for myself and not always rely on the views of others," I stated, defending my position.
"You don't trust the opinions of others?"
"Yes, but I'd rather be allowed to form my own. How else do I decide which path to follow?"
"Very well, Calep," Master Jaina conceded grudgingly. Under the surface however, I detected she was pleased at my desire to learn. Her reluctance had merely been a fa?ade to see how strongly I'd argue. "Parla will accompany you. She knows the entry codes to my ship and will be able to assist you in going through Master Momb's writings. There's much to cover, and I may only be here a few more days."
"The negotiations are going that well?"
"Hardly. Opposition has stiffened under the belief that Saccrans are incapable of becoming Jedi and that our position has no merit. The historians at the Jedi Temple have been unable to uncover any hint of a Saccran Jedi at any time during the Old Republic. Granted our records are sketchy, but I was holding out hope for some clue."
"So what will you do now?" It would be a shame if all of Master Jaina's hard work were to yield no results. The Jedi ranks were stretched pretty thin putting out fires all across the galaxy, and any new source of potential Jedi would be a great help to us all.
"I honestly don't know. The Saccrans are hardly xenophobes. They're open and friendly to any that visit; they just don't encourage guests. They also prefer to keep to themselves. How do I convince them to let their children to be taken from their homes and trained on another planet to follow a way of life that many of them know nothing of?"
I wanted so badly to be able to answer her question, but my mind was a blank. For the first time I was glad that my role in this mission had been to assist Master Jaina. Only a few days ago my pride had been wounded when the Council sent me on a mission where I was not in command. Now I felt fortunate the burdens of the talks rested on shoulders other than mine.
"Forget it," Master Jaina dismissed with a casual flip of her hand. "I should not be troubling you with my problems. Go and read the journals. Learn about Master Momb."
"Are you looking for anything in particular?" Parla asked as I sat at the table in the Celestial's lounge, a table covered with the old Jedi's journals.
"I'm mainly interested in the events that occurred during his period of hiding. I know there are several books dealing with the teaching methods used in the days of the Old Republic, but I'll leave those for the scholars at the Temple to study. I'm more intrigued by what a Jedi Master forced into hiding goes through. His thoughts. His disappointments."
"I guess that narrows it down a bit," Parla said. "I'll put these other journals back in the trunks and we'll begin sorting through the rest."
"So how are the negotiations really going?" I asked later while I was giving my eyes a rest from reading. "Master Jaina tries to sound optimistic, but I believe the difficulties of the talks is beginning to weigh heavily on her."
"The negotiations are troubling her deeply," Parla admitted sheepishly. I could understand her reluctance to talk about her Master to another. "These last few days she hasn't been sleeping well at all. She stays up until the early hours of the morning trying to devise some new strategy to sway the Saccrans' opinions. I wish there was something I could do to help her, but this is all still new to me."
"When I was Master Anakin's Padawan I attended several conferences and treaty negotiations. I must say I still don't understand all the nuances involved," I admitted. "I think the trick is to get the opposition to adopt your position as their own. That's easier said than done of course."
For the next hour I poured through the journal detailing the end of Master Momb's first year in hiding. I had just read of his exploits concerning the rescue of three miners trapped by a cave-in when Parla interrupted my reading.
"Calep, you should read this," Parla exclaimed barely containing her excitement. Her eyes danced and her hands almost shook as she handed me the book across the table and pointed out the proper passage.
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year Four
Today I find myself faced with a dilemma. One concerning the life I thought I'd left behind. While helping to set the broken leg of a young boy who had slipped on a steep rocky trail and fallen, my attention was suddenly drawn to the boy's older sister, Kiera. Children are rare up here in the mountains. One condition of being an Exile is that any children they have will be accepted into society if their parents give them up and renounce all claims to parental rights. Most Exile parents are eager to give their children the opportunity to have a full and happy life, but there are a few who can't bear to give up their offspring to be raised by others.
Meeting Kiera face to face, her presence cried out to me. A few quick mental probes confirmed my suspicions; the girl is Force sensitive. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never teach another in the ways of the Force, and now she has been placed before me. Do I risk training her knowing the galaxy that awaits her? The girl's age is also to be considered. She is at that indeterminate stage between child and young adult. If I train her do I risk turning another monster loose on the galaxy?
And yet I wonder if this might be the only chance to pass on our teachings to another generation.
"Which journal is this?" I almost shouted, suddenly reinvigorated.
"I skipped ahead to Master Momb's fourth year in hiding." Parla explained, her excitement almost matching my own. "I'd been skimming it for a while and was about to put it back when this passage just leapt out."
"I read the last part of Master Momb's final journal yesterday while I was waiting for you and Master Jaina to arrive. He made no mention of this Kiera. Get everything following year four up here on the table. We must find out what happened to this girl."
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year Five
Kiera grows stronger in the Force every day. I am constantly amazed at the level of advancement she exhibits. I feared her late start to the training might hamper her progress, but it seems to have accelerated it. I am somewhat bothered that she doesn't have the caution of a Padawan trained from birth. To her the powers are new and exciting; they demand to be explored. I constantly advise caution, lest her exhibitions attract the attention of our fellow mountain dwellers, or others with more sinister motives. Kiera's answer is always the same, "No one ever comes to Saccra, let alone into the mountains." I pray her youthful optimism is not put to the test.
"So he did train her," Parla exclaimed with joy. "I knew he would. Do you think she might still be in the mountains, hiding like he was?"
"I don't know, Parla," I answered, trying to calm her, "but the answer is in here somewhere."
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year Seven
The hum of Kiera's lightsaber has become a daily companion for me. Since she completed its construction, she practices with it constantly. Sadly, this is one area of training in which my knowledge is limited. Teaching lightsaber basics was the purview of another instructor. The best I can do is tell her to trust the Force to guide her actions. If Vader comes for her, it won't be enough.
"That's the first time he's mentioned Vader's name since the first journal," I said. "Ever since he's always referred to him as the Dark One or the Betrayer. It's almost as if he was afraid to speak the name."
"Why would he suddenly mention it again after all this time?" Parla asked, confused as I was at the Jedi Master's change of habit.
"I could only guess. Perhaps seeing his student learn to become a warrior reawakened his fears. Those fears had a name."
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year Ten
He is coming. I can feel it in my bones. My training of Kiera has finally attracted his attention. We must leave this place. Even in my youth I would have been no match for him; now I am a feeble old man. Part of me welcomes his arrival, as it would put an end to the years of pain and loss. When I look at Kiera, I see the fire that must continue to burn. Time is short; we must make plans.
"So they were discovered," Parla stated sadly. "Why didn't they just leave in the ship Master Momb had when he arrived on Saccra?"
"He mentioned that back in the first journal. There were almost no spacecraft on Saccra when he arrived, and he feared that if the Imperials decided to extend their presence to include Saccra, his ship might give him away. For that reason he programmed the autopilot to send the ship into the sun."
"But Master Momb was not killed," Parla argued. "He died years later in his bed. They must have escaped somehow."
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year Ten
Try as I might, I can't dissuade Kiera from facing the Sith Lord. She still has the false confidence of youth, as well as the illusion that nothing bad can happen to her. I've told her that we must attempt to hide. She could easily blend into the Exile community and might escape the Dark One's notice. I don't know what I'll do it she insists on this course of action.
"So she ran off to confront Vader," I spoke quietly. The mood in the ship's lounge crashed when Parla and I read that passage. We both knew there was only one possible outcome.
From the Journals of Master Momb: Year Ten
It's over. Kiera is dead and the Dark One has left. When I awakened I could no longer feel her through the bond we shared as teacher and student. It has been three days since she confronted Vader, four days since I withdrew from consciousness. I entered a state of being beyond hibernation bordering upon suspended animation. During the Betrayer's appearance, including his battle with Kiera, I was cut off from everything around me, my heart beating only once every hour.
The leaders of the Exile community were waiting for me when I left my home. The relayed to me the news of what happened. When Kiera left me, she went to these same leaders and proclaimed to them that she was going to rid Saccra of the evil that was about to arrive. She then went to Al Ancham to await the Dark One's arrival; every overhang and outcropping was dotted with a pair of eyes.
Vader landed first at Al Hambra. Then after he located Kiera, his shuttle brought him to the mountains. The battle was intense, brief, and entirely one-sided. They said that when it was over, Vader looked around as if searching the mountains, boarded his shuttle, and left. I must never give him reason to return.
"Calep, when I loaned you my student I assumed you would return her to me eventually," Master Jaina said from the entrance to the ship's lounge. "Have you two been reading those journals all day?"
"All day? What time is it?" Parla asked.
"It's at least three hours after sunset. I tired of waiting for you at the apartment and decided I'd come see what was keeping you."
"I'm sorry I kept your Padawan busy all day," I apologized, "but if it will make you feel better, we may have found something that could turn the tide of the negotiations in your favor. Master Momb trained a Saccran child in the ways of the Jedi."
"Tell me you're not joking," Master Jaina exclaimed. The normal reserve of a Jedi Master was temporarily forgotten as she rushed to the table to examine the books that we had been studying.
"To be absolutely truthful, Parla found the first reference to Master Momb's student. Her name was Kiera. She was born and lived in the mountains with her Exile parents. From there we just had to scan through the following years to find more information."
"What happened to this student?" Master Jaina asked as she leafed through the pages that Parla and I had considered important enough to place markers in. She was all business now, and read with an intensity which amazed me.
"She was killed by Vader," I answered. For a moment Master Jaina paused, doubtlessly affected by this reference to her grandfather. She closed her eyes more a moment, most likely saying a silent word for the dead, then continued.
"How long ago?"
"It was during Master Momb's tenth year in hiding," I explained. "About nine years before the Battle of Yavin."
"Vader came here?"
"Yes. According to the journals his shuttle first landed at Al Hambra before leaving again for the mountains. Kiera was waiting for him there. They fought. She lost."
"How did Master Momb escape?" Master Jaina asked as she discarded one journal and began skimming through another. Her questions were brief and to the point, an obvious illustration of her state of mind.
"He wrote that he entered an extreme form of the Jedi hibernation trance before Vader landed. Apparently, this is what allowed him to escape detection."
"Okay," Master Jaina said as she pushed herself away from the table and collected her thoughts. "Calep, I need you to get your friend, Gibral. Bring him with you to the negotiations tomorrow. We'll need his help. Parla, help me go through these entries."
"I don't feel comfortable doing this," Gibral said as we entered the conference room the following morning. Seated around the large central table were the political, religious, and social leaders of Saccra. I could understand Gibral's nervousness. "I'm a police officer, not a diplomat."
"I doubt Master Jaina asked you here for your diplomatic skills. Here comes Parla, she'll explain what's expected of us."
"Good morning, Calep. Good morning, Inspector," Parla greeted us with a nod.
"Good morning," I replied with a similar nod. "Do you know what Master Jaina expects of us?"
"She just wants you both here to answer any questions that might come up. I believe she thinks a few of the more vocal representatives might raise some questions about the journals."
"Anyone in particular I should watch out for?" I asked to prepare myself for what lay ahead. Master Anakin had always stressed to me the importance of knowing your opposition as well as your allies.
"That would be Representative Kaled, the leader of the minority party," Parla said as she pointed out the tall man who was prominently seated at the center of the table directly across from where the Republic ambassadors would be seated. Studying him, I could see he had the self-assured demeanor that commanded respect from those around him. "He's leading the opposition to the Jedi Council's conditions. Master Jaina believes that if we can convince him, the rest might fall in line."
"Why do I have the feeling that that's easier said than done?" I asked wryly.
Any answer to my question was interrupted when Master Jaina finally entered the room. By being the last to enter, she had immediately made herself the center of attention. This strategy also gave her opponents the impression that she was reluctant to continue with the meetings. She would give the appearance of weakness before playing her trump card.
"Good morning to you all," Master Jaina stated as she approached her seat. "I apologize for my tardiness."
"Think nothing of it," Representative Kaled responded graciously. "I don't know how much longer you can keep up this same argument anyway."
"Oh, I don't plan to argue that point anymore, Yulan," Master Jaina returned, using Representative Kaled's second name in a gesture of familiarity. "As far as I'm concerned that matter has been settled."
"I'm glad to hear that. Does this mean the Jedi Council's condition has been dropped?"
"Hardly," Master Jaina said with conviction. "Saccrans can be Jedi, and I have proof."
"I find that hard to believe," Yulan answered in a cautious tone. He was obviously caught off guard by Master Jaina's confidence. "If there had ever been a Saccran Jedi, there would be a record of it somewhere."
"There is, we were just looking in the wrong place," Master Jaina claimed as she placed one of the journals on the conference table. "Inspector Azim, would you please step forward."
I gave Gibral a look of encouragement as he rose from where we sat along the wall and approached the assembled diplomats. I didn't need to use the Force to be able to tell that he was wary of being caught between two strong personalities.
"Inspector Azim, could you please identify this book for everyone here?"
"Yes, that is the book I found in the cave above the town of Al Ancham. It was among the belongings of the old man who has been accused of the recent murders here in Al Hambra and some nearby towns."
"Was there anything else in that cave?"
"There was a body lying on a cot at the back of the cave. I didn't recognize the species; Calep informed me it was a Sullustan. We read some of the first passages of that book and identified the Sullustan as Jedi Master Muan Momb, who came to Saccra during the early days of the Empire to hide from the Purge."
"One last thing, Inspector, what is the official case against the killer?"
"The official report states that the Exile read the diaries and came to believe he was a Jedi who was being hunted by the Empire. He then took the Jedi Master's lightsaber and came to the towns below. In his madness he saw enemies everywhere, and killed at random until we were able to catch him."
"Thank you," Master Jaina said with a smile. "That will be all for now."
"I hope this is going somewhere," Representative Kaled stated with feigned boredom. "I fail to see how this proves that Saccrans are capable of being Jedi."
"Have patience," Master Jaina replied. "I was merely verifying the authenticity of the journal. Calep, would you please join me at the conference table."
I immediately understood why Master Jaina asked me to join her at the negotiation table. By introducing a new element into the talks, she hoped to set the opposition off balance. Representative Kaled knew nothing about me, except the exaggerated reports of what happened on the mountain three nights ago.
As I took my place beside Master Jaina at the table, I noticed several members of the Saccran delegation turning to their assistants who were seated along the wall behind them. These assistants leafed through their notes, presumably to inform their leaders of who I was and what I had been up to recently. I hoped Master Jaina wasn't counting too much on my dubious celebrity to sway opinions here.
"Calep," Master Jaina began, "please inform everyone here as to the contents of Master Momb's journals."
I studied the faces of my small audience as I began my recounting of the facts found in Master Momb's journals. A few were smiling beneficently and nodding their heads as I told them of the discovery of Kiera, the Exile child who studied the ways of the Jedi. Most faces were serious and contemplative. Only a few openly expressed disbelief. Representative Kaled however was impossible to read. He gave nothing away and his face remained impassive. For some reason my mind compared him to a sabacc player, patiently waiting for the cards to turn in his favor.
When I finished my tale, Representative Kaled leaned back in his chair, apparently planning his next move. Several of the other Saccrans at the table cast questioning looks at him, waiting to see how he would respond to this news. Some appeared to be awaiting guidance, while others seemed eager to see if this new evidence would be refuted.
"You offer us evidence based upon the existence of two people we have no knowledge or records of," Representative Kaled began as he leaned forward again, looking Master Jaina square in the eyes. "This does nothing to verify your earlier statement. All that can be proven is that a Jedi Master hid and died in the mountains, leaving behind journals which may or may not accurately depict the final years of his life."
"You're right, Yulan," Master Jaina readily agreed. I could not believe what I was hearing. The journals were concrete evidence. How could Master Jaina weaken her position by agreeing with Representative Kaled? Shocked at her careless lapse, I turned to her with what must have been a stunned look upon my face. A look that Master Jaina answered with a barely noticeable grin.
"You're right. The journals may have been nothing more than Master Momb's imagination. Spurred by his sense of loss, Master Momb may have created this whole history to deal with the pain of the apparent end of the Jedi Order. But if none of this is true, then why did Lord Vader come to Saccra?"
"I beg your pardon?" Kaled was obviously taken aback by this unexpected question.
"According to your own records, Darth Vader himself came to Saccra. I studied your local history this morning and confirmed that Vader came here, and was here for less than a day. I guess an Imperial Star Destroyer and a visit from a Lord of the Sith were deemed as occurrences important enough to merit recording."
"Don't you all understand?" Master Jaina continued, this time addressing herself to the rest of the Saccran delegation and ignoring Kaled for the moment. "You've asked us to come to Saccra to protect you from the smugglers and the criminal syndicates. I offer you the chance to defend yourselves. By allowing your children to be tested and choosing to let them be trained, you can relieve your dependence on us. I won't lie to you, all of your children may not return home. Some may come to love life beyond the stars and follow that life wherever it may lead, but many will return to serve their families and their people."
"That is something we have considered since you arrived, Jedi Master," said Cleric Jiham, who I later found out had been one of Master Jaina's strongest supporters. An aged official highly placed in the Saccran religious structure, he had long been known as an advocate of openness with other worlds. "While self-reliance is an admirable goal, some of our children will carry the beauty of our culture to others who have no knowledge of us, while those who return will enlighten us with cultures of other worlds. That is, only if they are allowed to leave us."
"Yes," interjected another member of the Saccran negotiating team. "It is all well and good for us to decide that Saccran children may become Jedi, but will any parents allow this to happen?"
"They will," spoke a familiar voice behind me. I was surprised to hear Gibral speak out of turn, and even more surprised by his answer. "Calep," he said after I turned in my chair to face him, "when we were alone on the mountain I told you that even if one of my children had the potential, I would not allow them to be trained as Jedi because I could not bear to be without any of them. Since then I've come to know you better and have been amazed by the incredible things you can do. I would be proud if any of my children could someday become a Jedi Knight."
"Are there any further objections to the Jedi Council's position?" Master Jaina asked, returning her focus to Representative Kaled.
There were none.
None of Gibral's children were candidates to become Jedi. Their testing was a major news event, and the disappointment at the results was fairly widespread. Gibral bore it well, and I believe he was secretly pleased that he would have all his children around him for years to come.
Once the negotiations were ended, Master Jaina returned to Coruscant with all of Master Momb's belongings. I remained behind to become the first Jedi Knight to serve on Saccra, a fact my hosts insisted upon due to my small fame among the local populace.
Other Knights soon joined me in those first hectic days of the spice trade. It seemed that everyone now knew of Saccra and we were busy day and night dealing with smugglers and other crime lords. I shudder to think of what the Republic Navy went through with their orbital defense.
It wasn't long before I transported the first Saccran Force potential to the Jedi Temple, a trip that meant much to me since I knew first hand of all the work that had gone into seeing that that day finally arrived. Tearful parents watched as the Nomad departed one bright morning only to return several days later without their child. Money from the spice trade was set aside in a special fund to allow the parents of this and all future Jedi candidates to visit the Jedi Temple as often as they'd like.
Soon, however, my year of service was over and it was time for me to leave Saccra. Gibral quietly informed me that the government was planning to buy me a new ship as a thank you for my service. I politely refused their offer, declaring that although my ship was an eyesore, it was mine and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The day of my departure arrived, and among the friendly faces that came to see me off was one person who I didn't expect to see.
"Have you come to see me off, Minister Kaled?" I asked, remembering his recent elevation to higher office.
"And to wish you continued success," he answered. "You've done quite well here. You are to be commended. Saccra is safe and in the years to come our children will return to us as Jedi Knights. The future is indeed promising."
"I'm confused, Minister. A year ago you argued strongly against Saccran children being tested, now you praise the results."
"Never enter politics, Jedi Seth," Minister Kaled advised as he took me by the arm and led me aside. "You don't appear to have the knack. Things are not always what they seem to be. When I was selected to be a part of the negotiations, I immediately recognized what it would mean to have Saccrans become Jedi. I was determined to see that nothing stood in the way of that eventuality. So I became the most vocal member of the opposition. That way when I removed my objections to the Jedi Council's position, the rest would follow suit. You and Master Jaina are to be congratulated. I placed a heavy burden upon you both, and you gave me sufficient reason to back down."
"I think Master Jaina deserves most of the credit," I responded.
"Nonsense. It was you and Inspector Azim who found the journals. Also your friendship showed that the Jedi way of life was not so alien from our own. You stood out as an example of what a Jedi could be. If the people in that negotiation room hadn't respected you, they might not have followed me when I removed my objections."
"You certainly fooled me," I admitted. "I wish I had known your true motives before now."
"That couldn't be helped," Minister Kaled stated. "If we had become friendly, others might have come to question my actions at the negotiations. Such an allegation would end my career as a politician."
"Would it be all right if I told Master Jaina about your scheme?"
"Don't bother, I told her the same thing before she left. Have a good journey," he said before he turned and walked away.
I made the rest of my farewells to those I had come to known while on Saccra. Finally, I boarded the Nomad and left the planet behind as I returned to Coruscant to report to the Council, and then returned to my own home. It wasn't long before the Council entrusted me with my first solo mission, but that is another story.
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