The seeker darted about the large, windowless room with a swish of its thrusters as it moved to fire a laser bolt at the hooded figure that stood in the centre. The figure brandished a lightsabre whose dazzling, blue blade hummed and buzzed as it anticipated the tiny robot’s next move.
The seeker fired, but its opponent was ready, deflecting the bolts with an efficient twist. The seeker, unrelenting, drifted towards the ceiling and paused, watching in case the figure dropped its guard. Anticipating a lapse in concentration, it swooped and fired again, only to be batted aside once more by the bright wand of light.
An elderly man crept into the room and watched the game. He, too, sported a long, brown cloak, but his hood was down, revealing a near-bald head of white hair and a kindly face. Bil-Kit Jinn was over ninety years of age, tall and distinguished, with watery, blue eyes. He smiled as the practice continued, watching the lightsabre flash and crackle as the seeker dodged and weaved about the room.
From behind, Bil-Kit crept forward and stuck out his foot. The figure tripped over and yelled as the seeker, sensing its moment, attacked.
The hood fell loose, revealing a tall, slender, doe-eyed girl, no more than twenty years of age, whose dark, wavy hair was tied back in a pigtail behind her pale, serious face. A long braid of hair dangled from behind her right ear: the mark of the Jedi apprentice.
The girl looked angrily up at Bil-Kit. “Hey, Master! That’s not fair!” She spoke in a soft, contralto voice of forthright confidence.
Bil-Kit smiled gently at his protégé. He did not wish to hurt her feelings, but she must improve her concentration if she were to succeed as a Jedi Knight.
“Always be mindful of your blind spot, young Sarolyn,” admonished the old man as the girl stood up, rubbing her stinging rear.
Sarolyn smiled. “Yes, Master,” she said. She knew that her teacher was right.
Bil-Kit handed Sarolyn’s lightsabre back to her. “Remember,” he lectured kindly, “if you’re not aware of your blind spot, then your enemy will find it and use it against you.”
“Try again,” said Bil-Kit as he reached into a deep pocket in his robe. He produced a second seeker and activated it. “Only this time, we’ll raise the stakes.”
The old man released the small metal globe, which flew into the air with a hiss. The seekers danced around Sarolyn like two insects as she ignited her weapon.
Sarolyn Lordan had been the Padawan apprentice to Jedi Master Bil-Kit Jinn for the last seven years. He smiled as she turned and parried with her lightsabre, moving gracefully as befitted her tall, willowy figure. The old man thought about how much Sarolyn had developed over those years. She was now a young woman: calm, sensitive and strong with the Force.
Bil-Kit was proud of his Padawan. She was a capable Jedi and there was little more he could teach her. Like himself, she was a highly skilled technician with a natural empathy for the Living Force that made her duty-bound to befriend and protect the underling. Soon, he thought, Sarolyn would face the Trials and become a fully-fledged Jedi Knight.
Another Jedi scuttled in through the open doorway, causing the old man to turn from Sarolyn. He smiled at his visitor.
“Vima,” he beamed. “How are you?”
Vima-Da-Boda was a smallish woman in her mid-sixties with a careworn but pretty face. Her mop of light-brown hair was flecked with white and her grey eyes lit up at the sight of the old man before her.
“I’m fine, Master,” she said in a sibilant, somewhat croaky voice. The two of them watched as Sarolyn continued her lightsabre practice, leaping and twirling as she battled the two floating seekers.
Vima looked at Bil-Kit. “You should be proud of young Sarolyn, Master,” she said as she took the old man’s arm. “If you’ve trained her as well as you trained me, she’ll become a great Jedi Knight.”
Bil-Kit was deeply touched by Vima’s remark. Decades ago, he had taken her as his Padawan learner, just as he had taken Sarolyn under his tutelage. Vima was now a powerful Jedi: a testament to his formidable command of the Force.
“It’s so good of you to come and see me, Vima,” said Bil-Kit warmly. “How’s your daughter?”
“Neema’s very well, Master. She’s now working as a solicitor on Naboo.”
Bil-Kit recalled Vima’s only daughter and sighed ruefully. If only she had been born in the Republic, she could have become as able a Jedi as her mother and the generations of her family before her. The Council had deemed her too old to begin training.
“Master,” prompted Vima, trying to return to her original reason for seeing her old mentor, “the Council wants to see you immediately.”
“Did they say why?” asked Bil-Kit, puzzled.
“No, Master, but they want Sarolyn to come with you.”
Bil-Kit raised his hands and the two seekers that had been taunting Sarolyn suddenly rushed towards him. He caught the deactivated globes deftly in each hand and stuffed them in his pocket before calling his apprentice.
“Have the Council sent for us, Master?” asked Sarolyn as she clipped her lightsabre to her belt.
Bil-Kit put his hand on her shoulder and smiled. “That’s very perceptive of you, my dear Sarolyn. I think they may have a mission in store for us.”
“You’ve certainly come along since I last saw you, Sarolyn,” said Vima. She pointed to the girl’s braid. “It won’t be long before that comes off.”
Sarolyn smiled warmly at the older woman’s words of encouragement. “Thank you, Vima,” she said as she straightened her cloak.
Bil-Kit put his arm around his young student. “We’d better not keep Them Upstairs waiting.” He turned to Vima. “Well, all the best, then. We must meet again soon. May the Force be with you.”
The Jedi Temple towered over the urban landscape of Coruscant. Whilst the planetwide city was in constant motion, the Temple was dark and still: an imposing silhouette against the bright night sky of the Capital World.
It was built over three thousand years ago, following the destruction of the original and ancient Jedi planet of Ossus during the Great Sith War. The Sith Lord Exar Kun had turned a once-respected Jedi Knight named Ulic Qel-Droma to the Dark Side of the Force. Together, they ignited the nearby Cron star cluster, resulting in a chain reaction of supernovae that incinerated the planet. The Jedi hurriedly salvaged what they could as they rushed to evacuate the doomed world, and the surviving relics were scattered about the galaxy with their guardian Masters.
The Jedi believed that the Republic needed a focused Order if the Force were to remain balanced. The most senior Masters met with the Supreme Chancellor and requested permission to construct a new, purpose-built Temple on Coruscant. The Senate, remembering the events of the Great Sith War, allowed the Jedi to build their new headquarters upon the summit of a long-extinct volcano that poked up through the urban sprawl, one of the few remaining open areas of the planet.
The completion of the Jedi Temple led to a complete overhaul of the training policy. Instead of the many isolated schools scattered across the galaxy, nearly all initiates were now trained in one place, overseen by the twelve members of the Jedi High Council.
It was before these most senior Jedi that Bil-Kit Jinn and Sarolyn Lordan now stood. The Council Chamber was situated in one of the five pinnacles that topped the pyramid of the Temple, its windows looking out in all directions across the skyline. The elevation of the Chamber and the resulting view gave it an air of peace and spaciousness.
Sarolyn shuffled nervously on her feet as she studied the twelve Jedi Masters seated in a circle around her. Although she had met some of them before, during her training as a child, this was the first time she had visited this hallowed room.
Bil-Kit, on the other hand, had been before the Council on more occasions than he could remember during his long career, and he knew every one of the Masters around him. He looked around and noticed those present: the large Chevin, Paq Derma; the Shistavanen Wolfman, Nannab Salokin; the stern and stately Bothan lady, Soo-Kut Laa, the young and beautiful Lyssa On’Yanth, and all of the others. He stared ahead at the three most senior Jedi, the ones doing the talking.
The Trandoshan Master Dessk and the scruffy, bearded human Parlio Venstromence flanked the Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda sat cross-legged in his chair, a small, green, wizened creature with long ears and a thoughtful face, embellished by a moustache and sideburns that merged into a snake of white hair.
“Concerned, the Council is,” sighed Yoda in his guttural, purring voice, “about the unhappiness on Sorensia.”
Parlio Venstromence scratched his beard. “There’s much civil unrest in the capital city. The people are protesting against MHG and we fear it could turn violent.”
Bil-Kit nodded. He had been to the industrial, frontier world of Sorensia before, and was familiar with its grimy, urban sprawls. The Sorensia system lay close to the boundary between the Republic and the Hutt Empire, and formed an important centre of trade between the two regimes.
Both the Hutts and the Neimoidians eyed Sorensia with jealous greed, but there was no question of it being conquered whilst Mandalore owned the majority of the planet’s assets. Not only did MHG own Sorensia’s durasteel plants, shipyards, mines and factories; it had also won the franchise that allowed it to control the system’s privatised police and armed forces. The sheer magnitude of Mandalore’s army of cracktroopers ensured that his rivals thought twice about any plans to invade.
Bil-Kit Jinn was well aware of MHG’s hold on the planet, and he could sense that it would lead to trouble if the Republic refused to intervene.
“Master,” said Bil-Kit respectfully as he straightened his posture, “I sense that the policies of the Senate are helping MHG to suck the goodness from the galaxy. So much has been taken from the people since Chancellor Rhoufheigh came to power and the privatisation of the Republic Police has led to unnecessary suffering,”
“Not just on Sorensia,” hissed the reptilian Dessk in his choke-gargling voice, “but on many other systems.”
The Jedi Council conferred amongst themselves. Nannab Salokin growled a tone of quiet concern to his neighbour, a burly, bearded Cerean called Bullit Backstar. Backstar nodded in agreement as he leant forward in his seat.
“We want you and your Padawan to go to Sorensia.” said Parlio, “and observe any public unrest that may occur.”
“Yes, Master,” said Bil-Kit. “We will leave at first light.”
Parlio Venstromence smiled. “May the Force be with you.”
Sarolyn bowed to the Council and began to leave the Chamber. She stopped when she noticed that her Master was still facing the Council. Yoda looked at him quizzically.
“Master Bil-Kit,” began Yoda as Sarolyn returned to her Master’s side, “more to say have you?”
Bil-Kit cleared his throat. The entire issue of MHG had been nagging him for a long time. He had seen much of life during his long career. He had visited much of the galaxy, including a long stint sixty years ago when he had protected a band of Republic scientists of the remote desert world of Tatooine, whose base was repeatedly attacked by strange, warlike raiders. The old Jedi Master was concerned for the morals of the Republic and was fearful for the future.
“Is it right that one company can own virtually an entire planet?” he asked, staring into Yoda’s eyes.
Yoda wrinkled his face. “Sorensia you mean, hmm?”
Parlio leant forward in his seat and ruffled his uncombed hair. “We’re not here to discuss the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of the issue, Bil-Kit. Sorensia’s assets are legally owned by Lord Mandalore, and if it’s above board there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Bil-Kit, bristling from being put in his place so brusquely, stood to attention and gazed steadily at the bedraggled man before him. “What about the people?” he asked with a hint of defiance. “Don’t they count any more?”
Yoda wrinkled his face as he cradled his walking stick on his lap. He returned Bil-Kit’s gaze. “Proof of His Lordship’s actions, and the approval of the Senate is needed, if to change things we are.”
Dessk flicked his tongue. “Our hands are tied,” he said kindly, trying to make his old friend see reason and abandon his fruitless crusade.
“We must be mindful of what we say,” said Parlio, cutting off Bil-Kit.
“Not above the law the Jedi are,” said Yoda. “Sued by His Lordship’s lawyers we could be.”
Sarolyn was disgusted by the treatment of her Master, but she kept it to herself. It was not the done thing to show emotion before the Council.
“As employees of the Public Sector, we are all bound by the Republic’s equal rights policy,” explained Parlio. “All beings must be allowed the opportunity of free enterprise regardless of their species, age, sex or religious beliefs.”
We might just as well hand the Republic over to the Hutts, thought Bil-Kit. He had to say something. “We are the guardians of peace and justice. Where is the justice in allowing a private company to exploit and subjugate those less fortunate than us? We must act to change the law.”
“Servants of the Republic we are,” lectured Yoda, “not its dictators. Remember that we must.”
Bil-Kit was visibly crestfallen. He stood next to Sarolyn, staring at his shoes as if he were a small boy being reprimanded at school. “Yes, my Master,” he said quietly.
Parlio Venstromence scratched his hairy chin, his tongue poking out as he thought. “Take Sarolyn with you to Sorensia and note how the police handle the situation, but do not act, whatever the provocation. We must have proof that MHG is illegally oppressing the people of Sorensia before the Senate can authorise us to intervene.”
“Yes, Master,” said Bil-Kit as he and Sarolyn bowed to their superiors. As they turned to leave, the old man considered what Parlio had just said to him, and he knew that there would be virtually no chance of the Senate taking his findings seriously. Rhoufheigh’s party held most of the seats in the Senate, and they all ate out of her hand. There was something in the Force that worried him.
It was not Rhoufheigh that concerned Bil-Kit Jinn, not in the short term. The Supreme Chancellor was the byword for freedom. Since she had taken office, Levette
Rhoufheigh had cut much of the “red tape” that had stifled the economy of the Republic, but in Bil-Kit’s opinion, that very “red tape” had held society together like the stitches that bound his cloak. The economy was booming, but Bil-Kit was worried for those who were excluded from this new prosperity.
When he had first entered Jedi Knighthood, nearly seventy years ago, the Republic seemed ordered. Everybody knew their place within society and they were happy. The people were as free then as they were now, and the Jedi Knights protected them from those who might abuse their freedom. Slavery had been banned and a minimum wage had been introduced at the suggestion of the trade unions.
The sense of comradeship and togetherness from Bil-Kit’s youth had been swept away by Rhoufheigh, and it saddened him. People thought only of themselves and their money. There was no kindness, no generosity. He only had to step outside the Temple and he would see the New Rich: young, elevated professionals who had cashed in on the soaring economy, splashing around their wealth as if it were water.
Bil-Kit knew that a coin always had two sides: The ever-growing army of unemployed had not escaped his notice; respectable people who had been rejected by the wealthy corporations as unprofitable. They and their families received very little welfare aid, and had consequently turned to crime. Others, particularly those in essential services, were poorly paid; in most cases a salary insufficient to make ends meet in a society where the cost of living had trebled in the last three years. They, too, were ignored. The minimum wage had been scrapped in recent years and the influence of the trade unions was negligible. For the underclasses of the modern Republic, things looked very bleak indeed.
Bil-Kit Jinn could sense every part of this suffering through the Force, and it frustrated him that there was nothing the Jedi could do to change the policies of the government. Yoda was right. The Jedi were servants of the Force and not its masters, for there was an unwritten rule that they must not become involved in politics. So much had been taken away and Bil-Kit wished that it could be given back.
As he and Sarolyn left the ancient turbolift that connected the Council Chamber with the main body of the Temple, a warm, soft hand squeezed his fingers. He turned to see Sarolyn’s big, brown eyes gazing calmly at him. She smiled.
“You seem sad, Master,” she said gently.
“I’m getting too old for all of this, young Sarolyn,” conceded Bil-Kit with a sigh. He coughed loudly. He had not been feeling too well all day and his throat felt swollen and raw. Was he to be the latest case of flu that had dogged the Temple over the last few weeks? He shook his malaise aside and returned his Padawan’s gaze. “I just hope that I’m wrong about Sorensia.”
“The Council were horrible to you, Master,” said Sarolyn, deeply hurt by the way they had dismissed so curtly the opinions of a Master of such experience. She was proud of Bil-Kit Jinn and felt honoured to be his Padawan.
Bil-Kit sighed and smiled in resignation. “Perhaps I deserved it. Anyway, our instructions are plain enough. If they want to be ‘politically correct’ and let the Republic fall apart, then we must let them.” He smiled at his Padawan as he put a hand on her shoulder. “We must get ready, Sarolyn. We’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”
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