Sarolyn Lordan meditated, gazing into a Jedi scrying-glass as she gathered her thoughts in preparation for her Test. An ornate, handheld device similar to a mirror, the scrying-glass acted as a focus for the Force, allowing its user to see far-off events and to communicate with others across the galaxy. In terms of basic Jedi equipment, the scrying-glass was as important as the lightsabre.
The events of the last few days circled her mind like the traffic outside: Riots against the MHG police on Sorensia, her Master sacrificing his own life so that she could escape, her heart-to-heart with Yoda, and that strange beast she saw wandering the corridors of the Temple that night.
Sarolyn could sense that it needed her help. There was a great disturbance in the Force. She could feel it, but the scrying-glass remained blank. It was as if something was being concealed from her.
Abandoning her meditation, Sarolyn gently placed the glass on the table next to Bil-Kit’s armchair, and went into the tiny kitchen for a sandwich. Jedi food was very simple and wholesome, and was nearly always home made. Compared to the processed ready-meals consumed by the majority of Coruscant’s population, Jedi food was packed with natural, unadulterated goodness.
Sarolyn carried the plate of sandwiches and mug of ardees over to Bil-Kit’s chair and sat down. She felt calm and at peace as she gazed out at the cityscape of Coruscant. I’m becoming just like him, she reflected as she sipped her drink. Here she was, sitting in her Master’s favourite seat and contemplating the Force, just as he had done when he was alive. A feeling of warmth flooded through Sarolyn’s body at the thought of her Master, the same feeling she use to have as a child after he had hugged her when she felt sad. Vima was right, thought Sarolyn. We are luminous beings, not clumsy flesh and blood.
* * *
Ayo Verna sat in the smoke-filled cockpit, breathing a sigh of relief and rubbing his face in his dirty hands. They were safe, but they were lucky. The MHG fighters had been firing heavily upon the ship; the shields were dead and Peetoo had been on fire. That was not the only damage sustained by the Red Planet, for the warning siren continued to wail in Ayo’s ears. He stared at the status display and swore. The direct hit had blown the coolant from the reactor.
Ayo had had to muster all of his ten years’ worth of flying experience in order to escape in one piece. Early in his career, he had to manually program ships’ hyperdrives, as not all navicomputers could cope with the massive amounts of data required for each jump. A Merchant Fleet pilot needed an encyclopaedic knowledge of planetary co-ordinates, the relative positions of the stars, and the vastly complex machine code routines that had to be entered into the hyperdrive.
As Yarua extinguished the fire, Ayo had to think at light speed. He could just about remember Despayre’s position, and he had to rack his brains in order to think of a nearby, inhabited world where they could repair the ship. If they returned home with a damaged ship and a burnt-out Peetoo, the Guvnor would have a tantrum, which would certainly cost the pair of them their jobs. Not only would they be sacked, but also Thraurrallgisc could easily face prison if it became known that he had sent his crew to spy on Mandalore. Coruscant and Sorensia were both off-limits, so he had programmed the ship to jump to the small, provincial world of Naboo.
Ayo got up and made his way, coughing, to the sickbay, where Yarua was tending to the Zephoid Zez whom they had rescued from Mandalore’s thugs. Ayo gazed at Peetoo and tutted at the mess. The droid was silent and his function lights were dark. His casing was blackened with soot and molten plastic had oozed from the cooling grilles, where it had set into long tendrils.
Ayo crouched next to Yarua. The Zez was asleep and the Wookiee kept a vigil at his bedside
"How is he?" whispered Ayo. Yarua growled softly.
"Still bad, eh?" Ayo turned to the pitiful creature curled up on the bunk. The Zez’s face was swollen and bruised, but the bleeding had stopped. Dried blood had crusted around the creature’s nose and mouth, and his breathing was shallow. Yarua produced a surgical swab from the first-aid container and gently wiped the wounds.
"Hang on in there, little’un," said Ayo gently as the creature slept. He turned to Yarua. "Listen," he began, speaking softly as not to waken the Zez beside them. "The reactor’s taken a bit of a kicking." Yarua grunted with concern. "There’s been a coolant leak, but I’ve managed to shut it off."
Yarua looked at Ayo and asked him where they were going.
"Naboo," said Ayo wearily. "It’s not too far, and there’s enough juice in the emergency batteries to get us there." Ayo looked at the sleeping Zez and stroked the creature’s matted hair. "And I think we may be able to get our little friend there in time."
Yarua barked in disbelief. Surely Ayo must have realised who lived there.
"What?" asked Ayo, his heart racing with shock. "Mandalore’s Country Residence is on Naboo?”
Yarua worfled and nodded. Ayo could not believe how stupid he had been. He swore under his breath as his Wookiee companion barked and growled at him, telling him what an idiot he was.
"I know, I know!" yelled Ayo as Yarua told him off with a barrage of roars and growls. "I forgot, man. I didn’t have time to weigh up the pros and cons when I made the jump." Ayo slumped his shoulders in defeat and looked sheepishly at his co-pilot. "I’ve screwed up, haven’t I, Yarua?"
Yarua softened his berating and rubbed his paw on the top of Ayo’s head. He growled softly.
"What, Yarua?" said Ayo. "Ask the Gungans for help?"
Yarua’s eyes lit up and he nodded, gently punching the pilot’s arm. The pair of them had been to Naboo before, when the Guvnor had been invited for talks with Senator Sondleman and the elderly King Eadwig. From what Ayo could remember from their visit, there was a considerable amount of animosity between the native Gungans and the human Naboo, and they tended to keep as far away from each other as possible.
Ayo considered the possibility of Gungan aid. The Red Planet was crippled; its reactor had no coolant and they were limping their way to Naboo under battery power. Ayo had calculated that they should have enough power left for a safe landing if they economised on heating and light. However, once they had landed, he and Yarua would have no option but to scout for parts so they could fix Peetoo, who could, in turn, patch up the ship.
Ayo shivered from the cold as Yarua sloped off to his bunk. The pilot stroked the Zez.
"We’re going to get the bastards who did this to you," promised Ayo solemnly. The Zez whimpered. He’s still with us, but only just, thought Ayo as he silently rose to his feet.
Yarua had saved the creature’s life. Ayo pictured his huge, strong companion, crouched in the sickbay, gently tending to the dying Zez as if it were a baby. He thought of the dead pups that he had buried back on Despayre; the creature’s young, and wondered what had become of the Zez’s mate. A young family destroyed. Ayo’s eyes began to water.
Ayo slowly walked back to the cockpit, past the charred husk of Peetoo. He flopped heavily into the pilot’s seat and kicked off his boots and socks. Resting his bare feet on the control panel, Ayo stared sadly at the hyperspace vortex, as if he were praying for light at the end of the tunnel. He sincerely hoped that they would be able to find help, or they could be in very serious trouble.
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