Ayo Verna and Yarua sat in Senator Thraurrallgisc’s lounge as the morning sun formed curtains of smoke around them. Ralrracheen was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.
Yarua looked quizzically at Ayo as Thraurrallgisc spoke to them, for the Guvnor had never before invited his crew to eat with them. They had always been left to fend for themselves. Was this sudden act of generosity an apology for him setting off the emergency siren in the middle of the night?
"Cheers, Ralrra," said Ayo with a smile as his host placed four large mugs of steaming coffee on the table before him. Ralrra re-entered the kitchen and returned with four plates on a large, wooden tray. Each plate was piled high with slices of toast thickly coated with a sticky, black spread. The appetising smell of toast and coffee filled the lounge, mixed with that of Thraurrallgisc’s ever-present cigarette.
Wookiees had large appetites, and as Ayo stared at the mountain of food set before him, he surmised that should he eat too many meals of that size, he would begin to look like a Hutt.
Ayo bit into his toast. The spread had a strong, yeasty taste that tickled his palate and made him thirsty, but the flavour was not disagreeable. The Guvnor enjoyed strong-tasting food, and the smell of smoke and spices lingered in his fur.
Ayo had once tried the Chalactan Bin’dhar-laow. It was the Guvnor’s favourite dish; meat marinated in a red sauce served with boiled grain. At the time, he had no idea that bin’dhar-laow was one of the hottest curries in the galaxy. Ayo’s mouth had taken a long time to recover from the shock.
Thraurrallgisc explained to Ayo and Yarua what he wanted them to do. The two of them listened intently as they ate their breakfast. They were to take the Red Planet, alter its ID profile and gather information about MHG’s suspected activities on Despayre. Thraurrallgisc needed proof that Mandalore was exploiting and enslaving an intelligent life form for the pursuit of profit, in order to convince the Senate to allow the Jedi to act.
The mission was of utmost importance, something which Thraurrallgisc could not sufficiently emphasise. Success, he warned, was paramount; else they could all end up in prison.
* * *
Japhta Fett relaxed on a sun bed in the rooftop garden outside Mandalore’s Coruscant penthouse. She wore nothing but a skimpy swimsuit, and her eyes were concealed behind a pair of designer shades. Her outfit cost more money than the average Sorensian manual worker earned in ten years.
Japhta closed her eyes and dozed, listening to the traffic. She was regarded as the most beautiful girl in the Republic, and the richest man in the galaxy loved her. She felt contented.
Japhta had no memory of her parents or birthplace, for she had been raised in the Jedi Temple, brought up by Jedi Knights almost from birth. Her feeling of contentment vanished at the sudden reminder of her past, as she recalled her expulsion from the Order soon after her thirteenth birthday. She could have been a powerful Jedi by now, had it not been for one person; a girl with whom she had trained.
This girl was the same age as Japhta, and she had blamed this childhood rival for all of her failings, failings that had left Japhta bitter and twisted by the Dark Side of the Force. In Japhta’s opinion, this rival was stuck-up and precocious, and all through her childhood, she had wanted to put this snooty little madam into her place once and for all.
This former nemesis occupied Fett’s thoughts as she lazed in the sun, oblivious to the hustle of the Capital World. A tall, thin doe-eyed girl appeared in her mind’s eye. What was her name?
The vision persisted. Japhta remembered this girl humiliating her, winning every duel with the training sabres, and even earning praise from that wrinkled old Yoda. Fett was left hurt and angry after each defeat. She used to bully this girl, but her taunts never worked. The girl would merely look down her nose at Japhta and walk away.
What was her name? Suddenly Japhta remembered the name of the girl whom the late, lamented Bil-Kit Jinn had chosen as his Padawan over her.
Bil-Kit Jinn, reflected Japhta, had paid for his recklessness with his life. The old man had had an accomplice back on Sorensia. A Padawan, perhaps? Japhta was now certain: the other Jedi on Sorensia, the one who had given her the slip, was none other the Sarolyn Lordan herself.
Japhta’s thoughts were interrupted by a sensual kiss on her lips. She sighed with pleasure as the kissing spread to cover her neck, torso and arms, opening one eye dreamily to see Darth Rakshas gazing at her. The Dark Lord was naked except for a towel around his waist, and his sallow skin shone in the sun. Throwing off the towel, he jumped on Japhta and kissed her. The sun bed protested beneath the extra weight.
Mandalore had no inhibitions, for he owned the airspace above his apartment to a radius of a hundred miles, ensuring that he and Japhta were safe from snooping eyes. His ownership of such a penthouse was proof of his vast wealth. Living space on Coruscant was at a premium, with apartment prices far beyond the means of most people. With the current economic boom secretly engineered by Rakshas, even the seediest areas of the planet had been regenerated, and were thus expensive.
Mandalore owned much real estate, and the inflated rents boosted his riches still further, allowing him to pursue his more secret ventures; ventures which would ensure that the resurrection of the Sith Empire would become reality, as foreseen by Darth Bane all those centuries ago.
With the help of Mandalore, the economy of the Republic had never been stronger. MHG had donated billions of dataries to the Commonwealth of Free Worlds, the cause of Levette Rhoufheigh. Financial speculators had repeatedly predicted that this economic bubble would burst, but they were wrong. They were ignorant of the Sith.
"I’ll have to throw you in the pool, My Lord," cooed Japhta. Rakshas rolled from the sun bed and grasped Japhta’s hand, kissing it repeatedly with a squelch.
"I can’t help having one of such beauty as my Hand," he said with a purr.
Japhta Fett felt lucky to be Rakshas’s partner, and she loved the Dark Lord with all of her heart. Darth Rakshas had discovered her as a teenager, where she was earning a few skillin as an underage prostitute, a dangerous, illegal occupation that had rendered her pregnant at thirteen.
This was the only time that she had witnessed the strength of Rakshas’s Sith powers. He had killed the pimps and perverts around her with a mere wave of his hand, frying their brains and crushing their souls. Darth Rakshas knew that the Force was strong with Japhta Fett, and he could feel her anger and bitterness at being expelled from the Jedi Order. Rakshas foresaw that the twisted, emotionally scarred young Fett would make a powerful ally if her abilities were nurtured.
Japhta’s new-born child was adopted by farmers in the Outer Rim, allowing her to be trained by Darth Rakshas as his Hand; the eyes, ears and weapon of the Sith. To the greater Republic, the Sith had died out centuries ago, and were little more than a myth.
The two of them kept their secret well. He posed as the flashy entrepreneur, and she was his glamorous girlfriend. They were seen as the closest thing to royalty that was possible in the Republic. Being a former Jedi student, Japhta’s Force abilities were known, so there was no doubt among the Jedi of her training. To the Jedi Council, Fett was merely a student who had failed to make the grade. She was severely underestimated, and Rakshas preferred it that way.
Darth Rakshas caressed Japhta’s hands. "I’ve got a job for you, my love. Someone’s trying to free the dryvoices. Our plan could be leaked."
Japhta Fett knew what he meant. The hidden base on Despayre must not reveal its secrets to anybody.
"I want you to go to Despayre and stop them."
Japhta smiled. "Yes, my Lord."
"Good-good," said Rakshas with a nod as Japhta rose from the sun bed and slinked indoors.
* * *
On the Senate District landing platform, the Red Planet had been given a new identity and registration in order to deceive the ATC. Ayo and Yarua strapped themselves into their cockpit seats and prepared for takeoff.
"Peetoo, give us a systems check," said Ayo as Yarua pulled down a display unit and positioned it before his eyes.
Peetoo, parked as usual in his alcove, whirred into action, flashing his function lights as he monitored each component to ensure that everything worked as it should. The droid’s status gong chimed to indicate that the check had been successfully completed. The results appeared on Yarua’s display unit.
The Wookiee turned to Ayo and barked.
"We all set, then?" asked Ayo. Yarua nodded and grunted as Thraurrallgisc spoke over the comlink, his growls tersely wishing the two of them success in their mission.
"Thanks, Guv," said Ayo as Yarua powered up the ship’s engines. He turned to the comlink. "Senate District ATC, this is Sienar GS courier ship Blue Justice, requesting permission for takeoff."
A voice crackled over the radio. "Roger, Blue Justice. Transmit your IDP and await further instructions."
"Transmission commencing," said Ayo as he turned to Peetoo in his alcove. "Peetoo, link up with ATC and transmit IDP." Peetoo bonged and sent out the altered profile.
"Roger, IDP," confirmed the voice. "Blue Justice, you are cleared for takeoff. Is your astrodroid on line?"
"Affirmative," said Ayo as he flipped a row of switches.
"Switch to auto and enjoy the ride."
"Roger ATC, over and out." Ayo turned to Yarua. "Here we go."
As the Red Planet floated up from the platform and manoeuvred into the traffic stream, Ayo and Yarua looked at each other with doubt. They had no idea what could be in store for them.
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